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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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mindanao eight-hour power outages conjure images (and fears) of crippling twelve-hour brown-outs of last years of President Cory. P-Noy should listen to ANC anchor Vic Lima: "pls. ban word ‘impeachment’ in Malacanang and leave CJ Corona’s trial to the senator-judges." Rep. Mitos Magsaysay asserts that House energy chair Henedina Abad has little grasp of energy problem. What P-Noy needs is not emergency powers but FOCUS.







President Aquino was quoted last Monday in Philippine Star as stressing that “I’m in control.”  He was referring to the power situation that has worsened in Mindanao and is feared to hit Metro Manila in the next few weeks. But it’s a well-known fact that when a leader has to stress that he’s “in control,” HE’S NOT IN CONTROL. 


Now both chambers of Congress are debating on the issue of granting him emergency powers to handle the power crisis, but P-Noy doesn't need emergency powers as he has strong backing especially in the House. More than anything, WHAT P-NOY NEEDS NOW IS FOCUS. He needs to focus on our country's problems.


xxx  

What’s happening is that images of the crippling 12-hour brownouts in the last years of President Cory Aquino in Malacanang are being conjured, and because there’s no effective leadership, there’s a lot of buck-passing and blaming going on. Unfortunately for Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, he’s being made the “fall guy,” as Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino recently noted, because the second President Aquino has “noynoyed” the problem of energy. He has preferred to focus on prosecuting his political enemies rather than to sit down with his energy advisers and see how the power crisis can be solved with the least disturbance to the economy. 


Reports indicate that P-Noy used to spend all afternoon watching the trial of CJ Renato Corona on TV in the past two months. In fact, popular ANC commentator Vic Lima has gone to the extent of offering unsolicited advice to P-Noy: “Please ban the word ‘impeachment’ in the Palace, Mr. President, and leave the fate of Corona to the senator-judges”.

XXX

 In fairness to Secretary Almendras, I had heard about this brewing crisis from him at a social gathering a year ago, but he must have felt like a Cassandra at that time. Now his worst fears have come true.  Much of the solution to the energy crisis lies in the hands of Congress because it involves new capital outlays of government for repairs of energy facilities, new power franchising and the like. But the House, where the  the national budget bill originates, is quite dysfunctional at the moment because of its super-focus on the Senate impeachment trial.

Because government is largely leaderless, it’s common to resort to the blame game. For instance, feisty Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay has opined that the chair of the House committee on energy (and vice chair of the powerful appropriations committee), the super-powerful Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad of the Abad Trinity in government, does not have a firm grasp of the energy problem. In fact, asserts Mitos, Abad sits on several bills that could help alleviate the crisis.


 I agree---Rep. Abad comes from tiny Batanes which has little energy problem  because it's sparsely populated. The House energy chair should come from Mindanao which has always had grave problems in this field. It could also be that Abad was, like her husband, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, also too preoccupied with getting the 188 votes for CJ’s impeachment, so that her energy committee failed to do its job.

XXX

The story of blogger Raissa Robles that merited front page for several days in yellow media---that CJ Corona and his wife own two properties in the US--- dripped with tremendous MALICE. Robles has alleged that from records CJ appears to own properties in Florida and California, and her basis is---like that of the notorious list of 45 properties furnished the prosecution by Land Registration Authority Administrator Eulalio Diaz III---that her search yielded the names of CJ and his family in those properties. In so writing, Robles obviously did not aim to be factual, but merely to resort to all kinds of innuendoes in another trial by publicity for CJ---even when he made a prompt denial.

CJ asserts that in Tampa, Florida, he stayed a few times in the past in the home of a family friend whom he identified as Dr. Venerando “Bernie” Batas,  who’s said to be willing to personally testify about this property hullabaloo, were it not for the fact that he lives in the US (perhaps his deposition can be obtained).  Corona said that during his stay with Dr. Batas he registered the latter's address for mailing purposes. On the other hand, he and his wife have pointed out that IT’S NOT THEY who own the Roseville, California property but their daughter Ma. Charina, who has been a practicing physical therapist in the US for the past ten years.  

XXX

In contrast to Robles’ blog assertions, former Cory Press Secretary Tomas “Buddy” Gomez was more forthright and responsible. Gomez wrote: “To be sure ---the Coronas do not have any piece of real estate registered in any of their names in the vicinity searched. However…Renato C. Corona is reflected as “has lived in” 1401 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa, Florida--- 33606.” He continued: “Please note that there are three properties related to the Coronas…not shown as owners…but that are all in the same zip code---33606. It says ‘has lived in those addresses.’” At least Buddy Gomez made some effort to be truthful, whereas Raissa Robles was just intent on sensationalizing her “find,” which yellow media predictably seized and headlined. 

The Inquirer even asserted that Corona “changed his story” as he now admits that his daughter owned the California property, whereas the day before, it said, he completely denied that “we” own property there.  But anyone reading the two succeeding stories would easily see that, as Corona defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador stressed, the denial pertains to ownership by him and his wife, as in truth it’s their daughter Charina who owns the property.

XXX

Caught in her lies, Robles finally asserts that she never said in the first place that Corona owns the properties. Oh really, what does she make of readers, fools? But it is easy to see why she and her media patrons would try to sensationalize what she stumbled upon.


It will be recalled that the prosecution was walloped in two days of faulty witnessing by LRA Administrator Eulalio Diaz (who turns out to be the nephew of Justice Antonio Carpio) over the 45 properties. Robles now is obviously trying to help the prosecution recoup by continuing to demonize CJ and his family in the media.  But after that listing of the 45 properties it would be tough to sell another incredulous list to a public grown wary of the prosecution's tricks. 

XXX

 But in addition, Robles and critical media have opined that Corona’s daughter could not afford to buy buy the California property just less than a month before her McKinley Hill purchase (that remark gets the cake for cattiness, I must say). Obviously she was trying to give readers the impression that a physical therapist (PT) is something of a masahista as we know it here. Nothing could be more remote.  


Here in the Philippines physical therapy is a full-blown degree course that has recently been upgraded to five years and as in the past, subject to board exams.  Successful practitioners even here earn quite a bit of money, being paid by the hour. In the US, however, it’s no secret that successful PTs get into contracts with their patients that can run into months (among the biggest PT patients are sports celebrities and celebrity cardiac or stroke rehab  patients). They can earn even more than doctors----according to industry figures, anywhere from $90,000 to $180,000 a year. 


Robles had the temerity to question the capability of Corona’s daughter to pay for her California property when as CJ stressed, she has a thriving practice and bought the property “dirt cheap” On INSTALLMENT, during the great real estate collapse in the US early in 2008. I recall that time how so many Filipinos in the US zapped up real-estate properties offered at practically zero down-payment, with 30 years to pay the balance.



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Sunday, March 25, 2012

JPE declares triumphantly, “I survived!” The latest COA ploy to portray the Basa-Guidote-Manila City Hall transaction as irregular is another instance of persecution, says defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra. I smell, though, more of political intramurals. Sinbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB) and CEAP should deal even-handedly with the pursuit of "truth" in Corona trial



The latest in the realm of the incredible as far as the Senate impeachment trial of CJ Renato Corona is that the Commission on Audit, obviously on orders of Malacanang, has disallowed the P34-million purchase by the city government of Manila of the Basa-Guidote property negotiated by Ms. Cristina Corona eleven years ago.  The COA issued a “notice of disallowance” last Monday, March 19, 2012 of this old transaction on the claim that certain requirements were not met and there was allegedly over-pricing.
Corona defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra labelled the COA delayed reaction as another case of "persecution" of CJ by the P-Noy administration; but to me it looks more like a grudge settlement by the Liberal Party faction dominated by Sen. Franklin Drilon, who has been at odds with the LP faction headed by former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza. This seems to be the COA's direction, for  reports say that graft charges will be leveled at Atienza and his former city hall officials for this transaction. 

XXX

But the people will be able to see through this latest ploy by the administration party. As Atienza testified last Thursday, this eleven-year old transaction went through the proper process that contracts undergo at City Hall, despite the efforts of Senators Franklin Drilon and Sergio Osmena to pin him down on the alleged absence of due diligence. 
But what does the P-Noy faction want to happen then? If the Coronas return the P34 million, will the administration return the lot that’s now occupied by the Sampaloc market, which had to be moved due to the construction of the LRT that's now benefitting millions of people daily? The COA ploy is really carrying absurdity to the extreme.

XXX

Last Thursday, March 22, the 34th Senate impeachment trial session drew to a close and the chamber adjourned for Congress’ month and a half-long Lenten break. It’s a respite the senators, the defense and prosecution panels and indeed the entire nation, by now reeling from some kind of “impeachment fatigue,” cherish.
As we impeachment habitues filed out of the Senate session hall that day, we ran into Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, already sans his judge’s crimson robe and rushing to leave the building. He had a wide smile as he exclaimed, like a triumphant little child, “I survived! I survived!”  JPE received super-deserved congratulations left and right for he had faced perhaps the biggest challenge of his long career. Indeed he has managed to successfully steer the various political interests in the Senate in this historic trial, and balance with clarity and impartiality the conflicting concerns of Corona’s defense team and the prosecution that’s backed up by the entire machinery of the Aquino administration.

XXX

In the elevator I ran into Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada and I recounted what I had heard from JPE about “surviving” the trial ordeal. Sen. Jinggoy replied, “JPE put the face of justice into this Senate trial and given this chamber a new respectability.” The relationship between the two top officials of the Senate is obviously one of mutual respect, despite the wide disparity in their age. As reports had stated, the 88-year old JPE took pains to take Jinggoy under his wings and tutor him on basic courtroom trial, just in case he himself would be unable to sustain the role of presiding judge. But of course, even Jinggoy, a non-lawyer who had four years of law studies, would admit that he’d prefer that JPE himself continue to play that role until trial's conclusion.  For it’s a role that would frighten even the most prepared of them all.

XXX

 President Noynoy and the Palace were quoted as complaining that because of Congress’ single-minded focus on the impeachment trial, important bills such as the amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering Act failed to pass.  In the first place, how can anything get done when the House of Representatives has had enormous difficulty mustering a quorum (few House members outside of the prosecution appeared at the Senate trial---clearly, naglalakwatsa lang ang karamihan. You can check out the attendance record at the Senate, Speaker Sonny Belmonte).
P-Noy, however, should be the last person to complain about unpassed bills---for we the people have far more to complain about. For instance, the people of Central Mindanao are now experiencing eight-hour blackouts that are damaging countless appliances there and forcing industries to under-produced and workers to just go noynoying.  The frightening power failure at the Zamboanga Airport that was triggered by the switch to a generator the other day, forcing a shutdown there, could happen again and again elsewhere.  Here in the metropolis we face prospects of brown-outs too in the coming months.

XXX

P-Noy and his spokesperson Abigail Valte have no business complaining about Congress’ inaction on certain crucial bills, for in the first place P-Noy should not have filed that impeachment complaint against CJ Corona. We all knew that being a single-focus mind, P-Noy would not be able to attend to other problems if that impeachment case was filed.  But he had to file it because he was stung by the Nov. 22 unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to order the redistribution of Hacienda Luisita lands to its long-suffering tenant farmers. Obviously Hacienda was the trigger---napikon si Noynoy especially after Corona insisted on the farmers’ compensating the Cojuangcos based on land values of 1989 (or about P196 million only), vs. the Sereno formula computed at 2006 values (or a whopping P10 billion for the Cojuangcos).

XXX

But as lead prosecutor Niel Tupas admitted during the two-day appearance of Land Registration Authority Administrator Eulalio Diaz III at the Senate, at the time of the filing of the impeachment complaint by the House, all the prosecution had as lead were reports of some condo property of CJ. On Jan. 12, Diaz submitted his nefarious list of 45 properties churned out by  computer “name search,” and the prosecution went to town with the yellow media with this list. 
The Senate trial spent many weeks uncovering the truth about that nefarious 45-property list, with the defense succeeding in proving that CJ owns only five of those---which was what he had claimed on the steps of the SC on Jan. 16, 2012, just hours before the trial kicked off.  Hindi nagbago si CJ sa pananalita niya; in contrast, it was the prosecution that kept alleging properties to his name, thanks to LRA Administrator Diaz.

XXX

Incidentally, my good friend, Fr. Jose Quilongquilong, S.J., President of Loyola House of Studies at the Ateneo campus, submitted to the Supreme Court an appeal on behalf of the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB) and the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines (CEAP), for Corona to disclose his bank accounts now---“in the interest of truth.”  The defense has promised to tackle those accounts when trial resumes on May 7 and the SLB/CEAP, which never complained about the prosecution's two months on the stand, should await the defense's evidence.  
 In the meantime, I’d like to suggest to the SLB, which was organized by the Jesuit order (which is, in turn, still dominated by yellow components), and the CEAP that if they are truly after the truth and desirous of inculcating the right values in our people, especially among our youth, they should look at the two sides of the Corona controversy. 

XXX

For instance, these groups should also take it upon themselves to denounce the way the prosecution has twisted the truth in a number of instances in this trial---such as its resort to a nakedly erroneous and irresponsible listing of the 45 properties by Eulalio Diaz, that Rep. Tupas used to get document subpoenas from the Senate court. It was a clear case of kuryente all around, but for which the prosecution refused to apologize to the Corona family for destroying their good name.  In fact, Diaz displayed not a tinge of remorse for his irresponsible, and to my mind malicious, act. 


Then there’s the fairy tale that Rep. Rey Umali wove about the “little lady” who supposedly gave him the copies of CJ’s bank documents, and QC Rep. Banal, who invented another fairy tale about finding bank docus on his gate on a rainy night and who boldly sought to get verification of these from the PS Bank. Then there’s the obvious leakage of these documents by the investigator of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
 All these  were incredibly underhanded tactics resorted to by the prosecution, and as Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago noted, mere inquiry of another person’s dollar accounts is illegal and criminal as per the Foreign Deposits Act.
What do the educators, who are in impatient pursuit of the “truth,” have to say about these activities? Or do they think that only the accused should be fair game for their criticism? By remaining silent about these nefarious activities that were roundly denounced at the Senate trial by the senators themselves, the SLB/CEAP is applying a double standard.


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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kuryente in North Cotabato and kuryente in the Senate impeachment trial; senators perplexed by the magnitude of LRA Administrator Eulalio Diaz III’s incompetence and his cavalier attitude about the gross errors of his 45 properties list



In North Cotabato, as its courageous lady governor Emilou Talino-Mendoza complained to Manila Standard star reporter Christine F. Herrera, the problem is the lack of KURYENTE:  the horrible eight-hour blackouts in Mindanao.  Gov. Mendoza asserts that “Imperial Manila” is “noynoying” the problem of Mindanao’s electricity (translation: doing nothing)---she alleged that the Palace wants the big island “to submit to its plan to privatize the hydrothermal power plants and accept power barges from big business that charges exorbitant fees of P14/kilowatt hour.” 


 Gov. Mendoza asserts that the government agencies in “Imperial Manila” that ought to deal with the massive black-outs in Mindanao are simply “noynoying” the problem, in order to please the powerful business empires that own the energy sources there. In the meantime, asserts Gov. Mendoza, the people of her province, which, ironically, hosts the Mt. Apo Geothermal Power Plant run by the Lopezes, are also “noynoying” as “they have nothing to do and are helpless about the blackouts that hit us every day.”  

XXX

In the Senate, as was evident in the past two days of impeachment hearings, the problem is also KURYENTE, but of another kind. Land Registration Authority Administrator Eulalio Diaz III resorted to kuryente of the media, the prosecution, the senator-judges and ultimately the Filipino people when he presented an official listing of 45 properties allegedly belonging to Chief Justice Renato Corona and his family;  but in the last two days of the hearing the defense summoned Diaz as its witness and extracted from him the admission that 29 titles had been cancelled from that list.


Diaz, a batch-mate of President Aquino at the Ateneo, who served as Aquino’s former staffer at the Senate for three years and was part of his legal team in the May 2010 campaign, resorted to WHOLESALE KURYENTE when at the request of the prosecution in early January, he turned over an unverified computer-generated listing that included properties of “namesakes” of the CJ and other people completely unrelated and even unknown to the Coronas.

XXX

Senators Loren Legarda and Bongbong Marcos sought to establish how the listing of 45 properties came about. Loren, sounding quite techie, got Diaz to admit that it was a “general name search,” i.e., including those belonging to people with the same family names. Marcos, a keen listener, caught that line of Diaz where he said that the system used in generating those 45 properties was DISCONTINUED right after the list was submitted to the prosecution. Queried by Marcos why, Diaz said the system showed some “weakness” that could be capitalized upon by unscrupulous elements, so that his office wanted to rectify it (how true is the rumor that the person who actually produced that list was already terminated?).

In another strange twist, Diaz admitted that the “Corona search,” as Bongbong termed it, was not subject to “rules” as it was for use in the Corona impeachment "where I had to help out.” That flabbergasted Marcos even more, and by then all the senators---and doubtless everyone else in this country tuning in on TV---were reeling from confusion.  Because of the delicateness of the Corona properties information sought from LRA, shouldn’t rules have applied in its handling, more than anywhere else?

Diaz’s testimony in the past two days was studded with inconsistencies which, though minor in some aspects, only showed that he and the prosecution led by Rep. Niel Tupas were lying. Even Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, usually very studied in his words, was forced to utter, “Companero, medyo malabo ang istorya mo.” (Ah, but in the light of such bare-faced lies, we victims run to humor to save our sanity. Savor this texted wisecrack: “Sabi ni Tupas ipinakuha niya sa driver niya ang LRA docus; sabi ni Diaz ipinahatid daw niya iyon ki Tupas sa driver niya.  Di kaya nagbanggaan ang dalawang drivers?”).

XXX

To me there are two most troubling aspects of this Diaz fiasco. One was his “cavalier attitude,” as Sen. Joker Arroyo put it, in merely shrugging off the errors in that list. As yesterday’s session ended, of the 45 properties in Diaz's   stupid list the defense claimed only five as truly owned by CJ and his wife, while prosecution still disputed a sixth one. Diaz displayed little remorse in having destroyed a family’s name and reputation---parang wala lang sa kanya! 


In a related manner, Sen. Pia Cayetano correctly pointed out that because the list of 45 properties was the OFFICIAL RESPONSE of the LRA Administrator to the official request of the prosecution, it carried tremendous weight and undoubtedly caused so much harm to Corona. For as Pia and other senators stressed, Diaz made no effort to qualify in his accompanying letter that the information is raw and needs item-by-item verification.

XXX

It was left to Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to point out that the giant media outfits went to town with this eye-popping disclosure from LRA.  Jinggoy asked Diaz whether he made an attempt to rectify the error in the media and the witness didn't seem to even comprehend the question. The damage to CJ Corona is evident from the Pulse Asia survey taken from Feb. 26 to March 9, just before the defense began its presentation of evidence and witnesses. No matter whether Pulse Asia and SWS have “interlocking directorships” dominated by Cojuangco relatives,  the fact remains that a sizable chunk of the population believes Corona is guilty. The major reason was that shocking  and highly erroneous listing of 45 properties. 

The prosecution shares considerable blame for the properties fiasco, for it obviously did not bother to check out the data in Diaz’s listing.  I recall how that obnoxious prosecution spokesperson with generous serving of gel in his hair, Rep. Miro Quimbo (he of the Globe Asiatique controversy, where as head of Pag-Ibig  he stands accused of unjustifiably accommodating Delfin Lee with over P6 billion in loans) kept waving that list in press conferences, trying hard to sound like Mr. Clean. It was a grand conspiracy between Diaz and the prosecution from the outset, and the longer the listing the better for them. As Sen. Jinggoy queried, “Upon whose orders were they both acting?”

XXX

As in the case of North Cotabato Gov. Emilou Talino-Mendoza, it took the three brave lady senators to lead the way in stripping this Diaz fiasco of its falsities and putting it in stark perspective. Loren Legarda deplored the “inaccuracies, incompetence and sloth” that characterized Diaz’s work, and how it obviously showed “that no complete staff work was done. “ Senadora Miriam Defensor Santiago, eyes slitting in wrath, lambasted Diaz for not checking his data when he fully knew that “there was already a brewing political firestorm.”


Citing a number of SC and other court decisions that she always presents in a scholarly manner in every argument she takes head-on, Miriam pointed out violations of standards of human behavior embodied in the Civil Code, as codified by Justice Jorge Bocobo, grandfather of Leslie Bocobo and Gary Bocobo Olivar. These are as follows: Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, l). Act with justice, 2) Give everyone his due and, 3). Observe honesty and good faith.” It should also be pointed out that these basic tenets have also been the pillars since forever of every major religion in the world.

Sen. Miriam adjudged Diaz guilty of gross negligence that “borders on malice,” and warned him that “you are standing on the brink and all I have to do is to push you with one finger and you will fall.” If Diaz does not resign out of delicadeza, a case should be filed against him for gross negligence and irresponsibility or dereliction of duty. Otherwise, government officials would think they could always get away with just a slap on the wrist. 



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Sunday, March 18, 2012

What the impeachment case vs. CJ Corona has pointed out is the confusion arising from the unclear SALN form and the law, which have to be remedied. But discrepancies in CJ’s SALN entries do not constitute high crime punishable by impeachment. House prosecutors upset about Corona’s P21 million earned in ten years in the SC, but House members each earn P30 million a year in allowances alone, quite apart from their yearly salaries and PDAF.

Members of the prosecution panel computed CJ Corona’s assets as worth P80 million, largely based on “acquisition costs” of his properties, whereas most people base their own SALN computations on the much-lower “assessed value” as dictated by local ordinance for tax purposes. Last Thursday, the senators seemed all confused as a whole controversy was kicked up over what should be the correct entry for one’s properties in the SALN, following the testimonies of several local assessors. Should it be “assessed value,” or “acquisition cost” or “fair market value” or even “current fair market value?” No one seemed to know for sure, not even the senators.





It’s safe to bet that many of the senators also chose to compute their properties on assessed value, although they’re not telling. But the furor kicked up by the House prosecutors--- many of whom, together with their colleagues in the Movement 188, have admitted that they didn’t even file their SALNs---about Corona’s prosecution-estimated P80 million wealth is QUITE IRONIC. This is because, according to insiders, House members get an estimated P30 MILLION EACH IN ALLOWANCES ALONE YEARLY, apart from their monthly salaries and yearly PDAF. This makes CJ’s P21 million in salaries and allowances over a TEN-YEAR PERIOD, as revealed at the Senate hearing earlier this week by the Supreme Court’s chief disbursement officer, look like peanuts.





XXX





Along comes Budget Secretary Florencio Abad himself admitting that like CJ Corona he based the computation of his properties in his SALN during his entire stint in government on “assessed value” and not the other considerations. Abad, sounding quite contrite when the revelations about his SALN were recently made by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, promised to start anew from here on and compute properly and accurately.





Maybe Secretary Abad should also convince President Noynoy to come up with more accurate entries in his own SALN. It will be recalled that a month or so ago, P-Noy’s SALN showed how his net worth suddenly shot up in 2010 to 55 percent over the previous one, and how he so undervalued his inherited Times Street property at P2,000 per sq.m. that it blew Winnie Monsod’s mind and prompted blogger Wilfred Avila to offer to buy it out. P-Noy has stonewalled explanation on these startling entries but he may find himself having to do this, should he end up  impeached in the future.





XXX





One positive off-shoot of the impeachment of CJ Corona is the realization that all the confusion and conflicting views about SALN entries call for remedies. In fact, at the Senate trial, Senator and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III publicly called on the Civil Service Commission to remedy the SALN forms that it mandates from all government personnel, so there can be no ambiguities. I support Sotto’s call.





The good thing is that as Sen. Ralph Recto pointed out some weeks ago, those who may have made discrepancies in their SALN entries---so long as it’s obvious that these were not committed with malice---can be given the opportunity within a given period to correct those errors. Perhaps the SALN Law should also be given another hard look by Congress.





As noted even by the defense lawyers, CJ Corona’s SALNs in the past few years may not have been all that accurate (is there such a thing as an accurate or perfect SALN? Did former CJs Rey Puno and Art Panganiban execute perfect  SALNs?), but it’s also obvious that these arose from the same confusion that bedeviled Secretary Abad and countless other government officials and personnel, AND NOT FROM MALICIOUS INTENT TO DECEIVE.





XXX





It's easy to conclude that Corona would not be so brave as to go all the way with his impeachment trial, had his conscience not been clear about his SALN---which has become the main battleground between the prosecution and the defense. As CJ has said in various forums, he is staking everything in this impeachment case---his honor and reputation and those of his family, and his life-long career---all that he has worked for. If convicted he can never again serve in government and he would forfeit his retirement pay as well as his pension (which under normal circumstances he would begin to enjoy five years after his retirement in October 2018).





Moreover, if convicted, CJ almost certainly be slapped with various court cases by the Aquino administration, which is out to pulverize him because he led the SC’s unanimous vote vs. Hacienda Luisita and pushed for a lower pay-back to the Cojuangcos by its farmer-tenants.





XXX





Various pressures have been exerted on CJ to resign soon after he was impeached by the House, with all sorts of accommodations promised him, just so that P-Noy doesn’t have to engage in a titanic battle with Corona (P-Noy knows that if CJ is acquitted he, P-Noy, would be reduced to lame-duck status). But CJ has chosen to fight to the finish to defend his honor and the independence of the institution he heads, so as to prevent all the branches of government falling under Aquino’s control.





xxx





The Senate remains the last battleground in this titanic battle. If CJ had any qualms or reservations about his own innocence he would have doubtless caved in and resigned before being impeached, like former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. But instead he chose to fight on and many right-thinking Filipinos are with him in this battle.





Given the prevalent failings about SALN entries, undoubtedly mainly by the politicians, the question that comes to many minds is, would the inaccuracies in CJ Corona’s SALN constitute an impeachable crime? To my mind and those of many Filipinos, especially lawyers, it does not---for it’s clear that government agencies supposed to regulate the SALN have failed to exact and even encourage more accurate entries.





XXX





Under Sec. 2, Article XI, “Accountability of Public Officers,” the Chief Justice, along with the two highest officials, members of the SC, the Constitutional Commissions and the Ombudsman, may be removed from office through impeachment, for “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.”





Despite all efforts of the prosecution to link him to graft and corruption, Corona has shown that he has earned the wherewithal, through his salaries and allowances in the SC, plus those of his own family and his wife’s family, to buy his five properties over the years. His defense lawyers admitted that there may have been some discrepancies between the fair market value of those properties and what he declared in his SALN, based on their assessed values. But the SALN law allows reconciliation of figures and CJ could do so.





What's appreciable even to non-lawyers is that definitely such discrepancies in the SALN entries don’t constitute any of the constitutional grounds for impeachment and conviction. THE SENATORS HAVE TO ACQUIT.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Toby Tiangco felt awful about not being able to question anything at House caucus; Former President Erap declares he’ll respect Sen. Jinggoy’s independence; Is Senate trial court applying double standard in cases of lawyers Roy and Aguirre? Why has prosecution’s reckless bandying of “45 properties” and illegally-obtained bank documents of CJ Corona gone unpunished?



My elder brother, Edgardo “Ed” Olivares, who was married for 50 years to the redoubtable Ninez Cacho-Olivares, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Daily Tribune, died peacefully in their home in Paranaque last Monday, March 12, at the ripe age of 79, after a long bout with cancer. His wife and family as well as we his siblings were at his bedside as he breathed his last, after a good confession and the last sacraments were administered by his close friend and contemporary, Jesuit priest Fr. Bert Ampil the week earlier. Ed was the jolliest and easiest to get along among us ten siblings (six boys and four girls) and one of the things he liked best was hosting the entire Olivares clan at his home for Christmas Day dinner and exchange of gifts, year in and year out---where we would gorge ourselves on Ninez’s fabulous Spanish cooking and fine wines.

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Having a huge family is so consoling in moments such as last Monday’s rainy evening, when we brought Ed to Loyola Guadalupe for a mass by Fr. Ampil and then a lusty send-off to his cremation, singing and shouting Ateneo basketball cheers (the Olivareses are a true-blue family for four generations). We all bade our goodbyes at his deathbed that afternoon and it was really tough; as I struggled through my own tears I thought I’d lighten the family’s mood a bit by whispering in Ed's ear, who by then was already in coma, that our Mom and Dad and eldest brother Rod were around to welcome him into the Great Beyond, along with my late husband and sister-in-law Nena Barretto Olivares.

I also warned my dying brother to be prepared again to be castigated by our Mommy with her shrill voice over his mischiefs as in the old days, and that he ought to bring an extra shirt to heaven, as during their bachelor days Rod used to get furious when he’d see Ed walking down the street wearing Rod’s favorite shirt given by his girl-friend then, noted interior designer Sonia Santiago (whom he later married). Amid tears everyone in the room broke into laughter with my little speech, and believe it or not, shortly afterwards Ed suddenly opened his eyes and gazed far away with a faint smile (did he see Mommy and Pappy waving to him?). Then Ed gently slipped into eternity and  God’s embrace.

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Because Ninez has hobnobbed with politicians for decades, Ed’s wake at Santuario de San Antonio brought all manner of them; in his lifetime Ed truly enjoyed chatting with them. Sally Perez, Chit Pedrosa, Marietta Cuyegkeng and I were delighted to share a table with former President Joseph Estrada. And though it was a wake, I didn’t pass up the opportunity to query President Erap about an item in the internet, quoting him as already having “promised” the vote of his son, Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada, to P-Noy.   Erap flatly denied that story, stressing that “I wouldn’t compromise my son” and that “I’ll respect his judgment and independence.”  We'll hold you to that promise, President Erap.

Erap asserted that Sen. Jinggoy is “very capable of making a good judgment” as he has had four years of law studies” (he didn’t get to finish his law degree as he was elected mayor of San Juan).  Erap’s parting shot: “Please write that in your blog.”

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Another star guest at Ed’s wake was Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco with his inimitable “frightened-look” hair-style. He had testified last Monday at the Senate  on the manner whereby House leaders gathered majority of the members in a caucus last Dec. 12, 2011, to solicit signatures right then and there for the impeachment complaint to be filed against Chief Justice Renato Corona that same day.  For appearing before the Senate court and spilling the beans on that caucus, Tiangco was threatened by House Majority Leader Neptali “Boyet” Gonzalez Jr. with expulsion. Boyet’s threat was met with sadness by those of us who had known his distinguished father, the late Senate President Neptali Gonzalez Sr.---how different the son has become from the father!

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Listening to Toby’s account, I think that more than being deprived of his pork barrel for a couple of months as “sanction,” what he found most odious was how the House members in that caucus were deprived of the opportunity to even raise questions about the most serious act they were being asked to do---to impeach the Chief Justice of the land.  I agree with Rep. Tiangco: such an act is most difficult for those who are used to think like free individuals.  Sources in the House say that after the members filed out of the caucus room with the 188 signing the impeachment complaint, many of them felt so resentful of the way they were treated; but they couldn’t complain obviously for fear of political reprisal.

Three months later, Toby’s act of defiance has resonated with his colleagues---sources say that around ¾ of the House members are in full sympathy with him, except that they’re keeping quiet for political survival.  I can see that, for how many can be like Tiangco whom the folks of Navotas have voted for mayor for three terms. Now on his first term as representative, he vows to continue his love-affair with his constituents for another two terms before seeking another option.

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Speaking of sanctions, defense lawyer Jose “Judd” Roy, who articulated for the defense team in a press conference some weeks back reports about a Palace offer to the senators of P100 million each to vote conviction of CJ Corona, has been handed a “reprimand” by the Senate after a recent caucus.  Roy’s reprimand, which will be on his record as lawyer for life, came a full week after Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto informed the chamber that the senators would deliberate on the course of action concerning him. Obviously the week-long interval was meant to time Roy’s reprimand with the Senate’s action on prosecution lawyer Vitaliano Aguirre, who was accused of disrespect toward Sen. Miriam Santiago (he covered his ears in full view of the TV cameras in the entire time that she perorated on the finer points of  conduct in a courtroom).

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Interestingly, Aguirre was meted out only an admonition while Roy got the more severe reprimand; but apparently, to help lighten the impact on Roy, his penalty had to be served after Aguirre’s penalty.  Kunyari para patas, but it was far from  patas.

In the first place, he never accused any senator of accepting any bribe or even being remotely susceptible to any such attempt by the Palace.  It did not cast the senators in a bad light, but perhaps helped pre-empt any improper conduct toward them. Then too, the bribe disclosure by Roy and the other defense lawyers was far less serious than the obvious “sins” of the prosecution.

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For instance, the prosecution was utterly irresponsible in disclosing the list of “45 properties’ to media, only to start subtracting from it after evidence began surfacing that the list was highly erroneous. By then, however, they had already cast CJ Corona and his family in a bad light. The same is true of the “fairy tales” Representatives Umali and Banal wove about how they got hold of the CJ’s bank documents through the “little lady” and how docus were left at Banal’s gate on a rainy night. As in the list of “45 properties,” the prosecution irresponsibly chose to attach those docus to their request for subpoena of CJ’s bank documents from the Senate court.

Sen. Miriam pointed out, however, that mere possession of such docus could already constitute a crime under the Foreign Currency Deposits Act, let alone Banal’s inquiring on their veracity from the PSB branch manager. Yet Umali and Banal, and Rep. Niel Tupas who attached those illegally-obtained bank docus to the request for subpoena, have until now gone unpunished. Worse, these bank records have been admitted by the Senate court as evidence. 


Clearly a double standard. 







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Monday, March 12, 2012

P-Noy says nothing less than a conviction of CJ is “acceptable” to him, but he is dictating to the senators how to pass judgment on CJ. What happens if CJ is acquitted? C’mon, Mr. President, show us that you’re Cory’s and Ninoy’s son---accept what comes. That’s how the game is played in a democracy---or don’t you believe in it anymore?



As the Senate impeachment trial reopens today after a week and a half’s rest, with the defense team of Chief Justice Renato Corona prepared to argue his side before the nation, President Aquino was quoted as saying there will be “no acceptable condition” except a conviction of CJ Corona, given the “overwhelming evidence” offered against him by the prosecution in the past two months.  Presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte, right on cue, affirmed her boss’ “condition.”  


Both the statement and its timing ON THE DAY THE DEFENSE TAKES THE FLOOR are SHAMELESS flexing of presidential muscle, as they’re meant to dictate to the senators what they ought to do, even as they themselves still have to hear the defense’s arguments. As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile keeps reminding the senators, CJ Corona has to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, but obviously P-Noy is not waiting for that. He can only accept CONVICTION of CJ.

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This indeed is the problem: can P-Noy accept an acquittal by the Senate? At this juncture everyone and his uncle have already made a list of the senators and how they think these would vote. Everyone concedes that getting 16 votes to convict even in one Article of Impeachment is quite tough---NOT IMPOSSIBLE, BUT TOUGH, given the disposition in the Senate, the bunglings of the prosecution and the realities of politics, such as the Iglesia vote;  whereas all Corona needs to be acquitted are eight votes in each of the three Articles. The likelihood is that with the defense’s expertise and the appearance of CJ and his wife Cristina at the trial, they can explain the issues that are now hanging in the air and a perplexity to the citizens.

 But the bigger problem is getting P-Noy to accept a defeat, for he has thrown just about everything against Corona. Never before and perhaps never  again will any impeached official undergo such demonizing as what CJ and his family have suffered on orders of the President. Malacanang has mobilized all the agencies of government, including the BIR, the BSP/Amlac and the Palace propaganda machinery, generously aided by ABS-CBN and the two major newspapers. 


Given all these, what would P-Noy do if CJ were still to be acquitted?  

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If P-Noy has everything to lose in an acquittal of Corona, so does CJ have everything to lose in a conviction. It’s zero sum game for the two leaders.  JPE is correct: Corona has no option but to appear at the Senate and disclose his foreign bank account, and to CJ’s credit he has said he would do both. There is no way he can evade these two situations now, and like the true-blue Batangueno that he is, Corona undoubtedly will show up.  This is the reason also why I think that the two scenarios recently spoken of by my good friend Ellen Tordesillas of Malaya, and repeated in her popular blog, are difficult to believe. 
Let me quote Ellen:
 “Reliable sources said even as Corona was going on an offense, he has asked another retired SC justice (not Nachura) to relay a message to Malacanang that he might consider resigning if he would be allowed to name his successor. Malacanang, we were told, said, ‘No way.’
“Corona’s latest offer, our source said, was he is willing to resign on condition that he keeps everything that he has now.
“It’s still ‘No way’ from Malacanang.
“Ano siya, sinuswerte?”

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Frankly, I cannot imagine CJ Corona asking any favor from Malacanang such as those two reported in Ellen’s column (perhaps a more imaginable petition from CJ could be: "lay off the Senate.").  Even during the 2010 campaign P-Noy was already targeting Corona; and as the BSP/Amlac developments showed, as testified to by PSB President Pascual Garcia III and which JPE is inclined to believe, there appears to have been a conspiracy in financial/banking circles to get CJ through his bank accounts as early as the last quarter of 2010, when P-Noy was barely in office for a few months. 


Some observers familiar with the corridors of the banking institutions allege in that issue the possible orchestration by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Sen. Franklin Drilon and “The Firm” of Pancho Villaraza, which is the legal counsel of the BSP?
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Moreover, with the deluge of bad publicity against Corona raked up by the combined forces of government (INCLUDING THE DESPICABLE RESORT OF THE YELLOW MEDIA TO MILK A 30-YEAR OLD FAMILY FEUD OF THE BASAS, highlighting the so-called testimony of a 90-year old religious who obviously wasn’t aware of the legal complications of that feud over time), would CJ have any chance at all for a “settlement” of his case?

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But above all, coming to terms with P-Noy about his impeachment seems out of character with CJ. From the very beginning, when the impeachment case against him was filed by the House’s ROBOTIC 188 on Dec. 12, Corona had vowed before the cheering horde at the steps of the SC that he would fight to the end to clear his name and answer all the issues. Walang atrasan, he had promised---which is why the judiciary personnel almost to a man as well as the board of governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines have consistently supported him. I cannot see Corona now seeking favors from the Palace.


In fact, as he has repeatedly said in media, it was the Palace that had sought favors from him, which he unequivocably said he couldn’t accommodate on LEGAL GROUNDS.

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For Corona, it’s a lonely quest for justice for himself and to shield the judiciary from the executive’s encroachment. What he probably thought would be easy sailing as the highest magistrate until his retirement on Oct. 14, 2018 was not meant to be. But he has come this far in his fight against tyranny and one man’s dictatorial desire to control all the branches of government---that CJ just has to keep fighting to the end. But in this quest he has the support of right-thinking Filipinos who fear the resurgence of one-man rule and want to protect that last bastion of independence and the rule of law---the Supreme Court.  

Corona has reiterated that he has not lost faith in the fairness of the Senate impeachment court and that he is ready to accept its verdict---win or lose (he must be aware that from the “original offer” to the senators of a bribe of P100 million each, the game is now said to have become “name your price.”).  Corona knows that he could lose the shirt on his back, but he said he will accept whatever comes.

For P-Noy, however, the only acceptable condition is his protagonist's conviction. We citizens should then ask: why can’t P-Noy display the same nobility that CJ displays? For once, P-Noy, can you show that you’re Ninoy’s and Cory’s son?  Abide by what will come---win or lose. That’s how the game is played in a democracy. Or do you no longer believe in it?


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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

If the Basa-Guidote family quarrel were a telenovela, type-casting CJ Corona as a violent man barging into court hearings with his armed goons is stretching the imagination too much. Senate admits CJ bank records as evidence, but the Filipino people hope JPE would get to bottom of “conspiracy” theory on how these docus were leaked.

tighte

As CJ Renato Corona’s defense team prepares to take center stage next Monday, after the prosecution last week abandoned five Articles of Impeachment and concentrated its ammo only on three Articles, the media have raked up the Basa-Guidote family controversy that involves Cristina Roco-Corona. The family squabble, common in the Philippine setting, makes colorful enough copy for a telenovela or block-buster movie, but there’s a part that’s not easy to believe. 


If this were a movie, the type-casting is not too credible about how a violent Renato Corona, then a Malacanang functionary in FVR’s administration, had allegedly threatened to “blow away” the face of the Basa family’s property caretaker.  There’s also the detail in the caretaker’s affidavit, said to have been executed soon after that incident, where the latter alleges that Corona, still a Palace functionary then, would barge into court hearings with his bodyguards and even into the chambers of presiding judges, allegedly seeking to influence the courts to his wife’s side of the controversy.

Anyone who has dealt with CJ through the years would find those blustering details difficult to believe, knowing how mild-mannered he is and how he would move around with the least security even as the 5th highest official of the land. Definitely some details in this story that merited such huge billing in the media are far harder to believe than the others.

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Earlier today the senators in caucus decided to admit as evidence the bank records of Chief Justice Renato Corona, even though they were obtained illegally, i.e., through a obvious leak in the banking system. The Corona defense team had filed a motion with the impeachment court to dismiss these bank records owing to this illegal recourse to the CJ’s docus, through what has been termed incredible “fairy tales” woven by the prosecution about a “little lady” and an envelope left in a solon’s gate on a rainy night. But then, few perhaps even in the defense panel actually expected that the senators would dismiss these pieces of evidence submitted by the prosecution in their final presentation last week.
  
BUT WHAT THE PUBLIC EXPECTS is that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile would make good his pledge to get to the bottom of the leakage. JPE was heard in various interviews a few days ago asserting that he suspects that the unauthorized disclosure came, not from the Philippine Savings Bank (PSB) branch where Corona keeps accounts, but from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas/Anti-Money Laundering Council (BSP/Amlac). JPE got even more upset over reports that the BSP is not doing anything to investigate the leak. which both the BSP and Amlac have denied as coming from them (nobody expects these two agencies to admit leaking it out, do we?). 


Enrile, in fact, asserted that the Senate would sit on the House bill that seeks to amend the Anti Money Laundering Act (Amla) presumably to tighten its provisions in accordance with stiffer demands of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force. The House has passed it on second reading but JPE refuses to act on it in his chamber, arguing that such amendment would be useless if the Corona documents leakage is not solved.


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Let’s hope for the sake of the Philippine banking system that JPE makes good his word on this, as the documents leakage has sent a chilling effect on both the banks and their clients. This writer heard a member of the House asserting two weeks ago that the local banks are experiencing capital flight to Singapore after the said leakage surfaced at CJ’s trial (Singapore is said to now have one of the stiffest secrecy laws on foreign currency deposits and is in fact termed the “new Switzerland”).

Sen. Joker Arroyo has warned about the perception that bank records deemed by law as absolutely confidential could be used by the Palace against its enemies. On the other hand, Sen. Manny Villar, whom his colleagues always listen to in the rare times he speaks out at the Senate trial, has warned about the dire effects on the economy of a possible capital flight, considering that the local banks now hold about US$31 billion or P1.33 trillion in foreign deposits, which are of great assist in importation of raw materials and equipment, etc. 
 
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At the Senate JPE asserted that his main suspect was not BSP branch manager Annabelle Tiongson nor BSP President Pascual Garcia III, but the Amlac official who went with the BSP audit team that dug into Corona’s records; JPE's suspicion apparently was reinforced after the Senate committee on banks’ hearing last week revealed that the request for CJ’s records was merely added to the list of those being investigated “as politically exposed persons” between September and November of 2010.


JPE was quoted as decrying that such investigation can only be justified by a court order, which, in turn, could be handed down only if there was a “predicate crime.” But at that time that Corona’s bank records were being looked into, there was not no accusation whatsoever of wrong-doing on CJ’s part.  In fact, at the outset of President Aquino’s term it was already well-publicized that he did not like the way CJ’s barber cut his hair, but no one could have predicted that P-Noy’s antagonism would lead to the impeachment express by the House last Dec. 12, 2011.

On second thought, however, it now appears that CJ's ouster was planned from Day One of this administration.


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Let's assume that as JPE has asserted, BSP investigator Jerry Leal, the Amlac’s designated officer in that bank audit to whom CJ’s bank documents were turned over, had photocopied them and subsequently leaked them to the prosecutors more than a year later. But HE COULD NOT HAVE ACTED ON HIS OWN. Curiously, Malacanang’s spokesperson Abigail Valte was quick to dismiss Senate allegations that BSP/Amlac was the source of CJ’s confidential records (how did Valte know this for a fact?).

Until the Senate digs into the leakage, anyone looking at the issue has to begin with a cursory look at the personalities involved in BSP-Amlac that had authorized the audit of Corona’s bank records.  Such exercise yields some interesting relationships among P-Noy’s closest allies that could encourage the theory of conspiracy in this issue. Yet there are also career officials who have been in office since GMA’s time, on whom this theory won't stick, AT LEAST NOT THAT EASILY.  


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There's the BSP deputy governor for the supervision and examination sector, Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. , a graduate of the UP School of Economics and holder of a master’s degree in policy science from the Graduate Institute of Policy Science in Tokyo, who has been with BSP since 1981. There's also  the executive director of the Amla secretariat, Vicente C. Aquino, who is a kabalen of P-Noy from Tarlac, whom P-Noy handily re-appointed to the Amla  secretariat when he assumed the presidency.

Aquino Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, the pillar of Hyatt 10, joined the Monetary Board, the BSP’s seven-member policy-making body, to represent the Cabinet. Purisima is credited with plotting the downfall of GMA in July 2005, together with Sen. Franklin Drilon.  Did Drilon, who’s P-Noy's fierce lieutenant in the Senate, and anti-GMA plotter Purisima have a hand in  orchestrating the bank leakage?  Then too, given the various mischiefs that have lately been alleged to "The Firm," it's interesting to factor in that this super-sikat law firm is the legal counsel of BSP. 

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The Amlac is headed by BSP Govenor Amando M. Tetangco Jr., a GMA appointee who was reappointed by P-Noy, but he is deemed too professional to give his okay to a BSP/Amlac illegal leakage. Working with Tetangco in Amlac are two members. One is Atty. Teresita J. Herbosa, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a former senior partner at ACCRA law office where she worked under the tutelage of then Atty. Drilon. It was Sen. Drilon who recommended her to P-Noy for the SEC.  

The other member of Amlac under Tetangco is Insurance Commission Chair Emmanuel F. Dooc. I was actually curious about this official as I had never heard of him before; assiduously seeking to check up his public and personal records I found only the thinnest entry possible---that he is a Bedan, Law ’79---nothing else in the Insurance Commission website nor in the Bedan alumni directory.  


Unlike in the case of Atty. Herbosa who comes with laudable credentials to SEC (UP bachelor of arts and bachelor of laws, cum laude, and master’s of comparative law degree from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the alma mater too of Senators Edgardo Angara and Miriam Defensor Santiago) plus Drilon's backing, one is led to query just what qualifications Chair Dooc had possessed that led to his appointment to the Insurance Commission?


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