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, April 25, 2012

Four victories for the people scored by SC in one day! We need Lagman at Comelec. I don’t believe JPE would be so petty as to ascribe his poor showing in 1987 to Lagman. Surely, JPE recognizes the need for an IT expert at Comelec.

Yesterday, Tuesday, April 24, was a day filled with spectacular victories for the people, courtesy of the Supreme Court. So many people were high over these developments that they clogged the internet!  First, of course, was the SC’s final 14-0 decision to junk Hacienda Luisita’s motion for reconsideration of the SC’s Nov. 22, 2011 ruling that ordered full distribution of its 5,000 hectares to the long-suffering 6,000 farmer-tenants.


Then came the SC ruling by a tight vote of 8-6 to peg the valuation of Luisita lands to be distributed to the farmers (and to be paid by them for 30 years) at prices of  November 1989. That was the year when the Cory administration, through a series of power  machinations by her officials, succeeded in enticing Luisita’s farmer-tenants to avail of so-called stock options---instead of outright land distribution as provided by the CARP Law that, ironically, was touted as the centerpiece of her administration.

The minority SC bloc of six justices, led by P-Noy appointee Justice Ma.Lourdes Sereno, voted to leave this issue of how much the farmers would compensate the Cojuangcos to the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Solicitor-General to determine. No, insisted the majority bloc of eight SC justices, let’s peg it at 1989 land value which, records bear out, is P40,000 per/ha., or about P196 million total for the Cojuangcos---as against Sereno’s calculation based on 2006 value, which amounts to about P1 million per/ha., or P5 billion for that family.

This issue would predictably be appealed by the Cojuangcos to the SC, and because of the tight vote there could be a TIE or EVEN A REVERSAL. This is where the citizenry’s militancy has to come in. Let's write the eight SC justices, led by CJ Renato Corona, who stood pat on the 1989 valuation as CJ proposed. Let's tell them they have to stand firm on their vote and if possible, persuade their other colleagues to join them.


In this connection, I find the statement of prosecution spokesperson Juan Edgardo Angara lauding the “independence” of the three P-Noy appointees--- namely, Justices Bienvenido Reyes, Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Estela Perlas-Bernabe---quite inane and self-serving. Angara congratulated them for joining the eleven other magistrates in upholding the distribution of Luisita’s lands, despite their appointment by the President, one of the hacienda owners. But actually, the unanimous 14-0 vote is mere indication that all the magistrates recognize this INEVITABILITY. 

In 1958, the Garcia administration, taking off from its Magsaysay predecessor, authorized GSIS to extend a huge loan to the Cojuangco family and to stamp the republic's sovereign guarantee on their US bank loans, so that the Cojuangcos would be able to purchase the hacienda from Tabacalera. But the government's condition was that after 10 years---in 1968---Luisita's lands would be distributed among its farmer-tenants.

That didn't happen---but yesterday's final SC ruling gives them hope that AFTER 44 YEARS,  the farmers would see their dream come true. The 14-0 vote is also a realization that the alternative to full distribution of Luisita’s  lands could be a terrible unrest reminiscent of the November 2004 massacres at its gates.  


It’s in the valuation issue that the P-Noy appointees showed slavish fealty to him, as they backed up Sereno’s 2006 formula. What’s more interesting, however, is why three GMA-appointees---namely, Justices Lucas Bersamin (who penned the SC decision that, with an 8-5 vote, paved the way for GMA to appoint CJ Corona in May 2010), Mariano del Castillo (who recently underwent a successful second bypass shortly after being threatened with impeachment even earlier than Corona. He's due for retirement later this year, and therefore probably wishes to avoid any hitch.) and Diosdado Peralta--- joined the three P-Noy appointees in the minority.

 We’ll never know for sure why, as the en banc deliberations in Baguio did not allow even stenographers to be present. But I can guess that the magistrates did a BALANCING ACT. While the distribution decision was an overwhelming 14-0, some of them, perhaps talking among themselves, may have decided to present a tight vote on valuation, para hindi naman masyadong mukhang nagulpe si P-Noy.  


The third people’s victory in the SC was the participation of CJ Corona in all the recent deliberations, despite unbelievable pressure from the Aquino administration and its lapdogs in Congress and the media for him to inhibit  because of his impeachment. Instead of inhibiting, however, he loudly proclaimed that the reason for his impeachment last Dec. 12 was the adverse ruling of the SC three weeks earlier on Luisita. This put the administration on the defensive. 
Now we know why CJ was subjected to unsubtle pressures from Palace emissaries to resign soon after his impeachment; when he refused and instead fought back like a true Batangueno, he was subjected to the most ferocious demonizing that veteran media practitioners claim they have never seen before, courtesy of P-Noy’s House and media allies and survey companies with interlocking Cojuangco directorates. Today, just a little over a week before the resumption of the Senate trial, there are reports of all manner of persuasions being extended to senator-judges.


Because he stuck his neck out for the Luisita farmers, even that yellow newspaper now acknowledges that Corona has become the hero of the underdog farmers, who now regard him as "the champion of agrarian reform."  It’s easy to imagine how voting on the Luisita valuation would have gone had CJ caved in to political bludgeoning and quit the SC.

Today the senator-judges, who will be voting next month on CJ’s fate, would find it extremely difficult to ignore the delirious joy of the farmers  and the Catholic bishops. Note that Baguio Bishop Carlito Cenzon, who’s hardly political, celebrated mass for the farmer-demonstrators in front of the SC Compound last Tuesday afternoon.


The fourth victory scored by the SC for the people is the TRO it issued on the P1.8 billion purchase by Comelec of 82,000 PCOS machines from Smartmatic, referred to after the last elections as the “hocus-PCOS" machines. The SC has scheduled oral arguments of both the poll body and anti-Smartmatic petitioners, including former Vice-President Tito Guingona, on  May 2. The IT community has been up in arms since a year ago over this rumored purchase of the PCOS machines, in view of their many glaring defects and those of the automated election system, as borne out even by TeddyBoy Locsin's House committee on electoral reforms in June 2010. Many electoral protests are pending in various levels.

But the original sin was Comelec’s surrender of its “sovereignty” over our 2010 elections to this Venezuelan company with a bad reputation abroad; in 2013 it wants a second surrender. The SC TRO is most welcome, as it would allow the IT community to bring out all its grievances at the May 2 hearing. 


I find it totally unjustified that P-Noy should fail to push the confirmation of Commissioner Gus Lagman, the only IT expert in the poll body, simply because of reports that he would not pass the Commission on Appointments anyway. This is a cop-out, for DWSD Secretary Dinky Soliman and Peace Process Secretary Ging Deles have repeatedly been rejected by the CA and yet P-Noy keeps re-nominating them, because he is beholden to the Hyatt 10.

Reports say Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is against Lagman because he believes  Namfrel manipulated his dismal performance in the first post-EDSA elections in 1987 and blames Lagman for it. I don’t think JPE is that petty; besides, he should be the first to recognize that Comelec needs an IT expert with an unsullied reputation to safeguard our 2013 automated elections (where his son Jackie would be running for the Senate). I suspect that it’s actually P-Noy’s congressional allies who don’t want Lagman in Comelec as he would be able to detect the anomalies they perpetrated in 2010.  


In this connection, I don’t buy the argument of outgong Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, that in place of Lagman P-Noy should appoint a person with disability (PWD) as a token of support for PWDs. I agree that we should employ more PWDs who are capable, but at Comelec what we need is AN IT EXPERT.  Besides, the job of commissioner calls for moving around so much, especially during election time, that a PWD might have a tough time. We could use a PWD at DSWD, instead of Soliman, so we could be assured of one at its helm who truly understands the plight of the disabled and marginalized---BUT AT COMELEC WE NEED AN IT EXPERT. 

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