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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

China rejects shipload of bananas from Mindanao---which could compound the effects of prolonged blackouts on big island's economy. After a six-week recess, is there a change of wind in Senate impeachment? Whither JPE and Jinggoy? Political developments could impact on CJ’s fate.

The nation has been readily taken up by the resumption of the Senate trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona and the reported jockeying for slots in various political alliances gearing for the mid-term elections. But in Mindanao, problems are quite serious and they could gravely affect the economy and the peace and order situation---and ultimately the outcome of the 2013  elections.

For one thing, as we have been reading in newspapers, Mindanao has been experiencing long blackouts and no immediate relief is in sight. At the Davao energy summit some weeks back, all President Aquino could offer to Mindanaoans as solution was to grin and bear the blackouts---and pay the high price of electricity. This is affecting a lot of business.


To make matters worse, China has been cutting down her banana imports from Ph, recently rejecting a whole shipload of bananas from Mindanao. The big island's banana exports to China constitute ¼ of our total exports and this boycott could create quite a serious domino effect in Mindanao's economy. 

If this continues, many laborers would lose their jobs, which could, in turn, drastically reduce the island’s purchasing power for food, medicines, etc. In addition, the demand for industrial supplies regularly sold to banana plantations, such as plastic covers, cartons, fertilizers, etc., would be severely affected. Such dislocation in Mindanao could easily create a disastrous ripple effect on the whole economy.


Affected planters in the Davao provinces are in a dilemma over what could substitute for the product they have traditionally been planting, even as some of them have already begun to cut down their banana trees. What about new markets?  For one, it’s not easy to export bananas to Europe and the US due to their proximity to South America which also exports this product.

On top of this, reports indicate that China will also cut down on its imports of minerals from Ph, such as copper and nickel, much of which come from Mindanao. Truly, it seems, when it rains it pours.


This seeming economic retaliation by China may stem from its being miffed over the high-profile way the Aquino administration has handled the conflict over Scarborough and our running to the US for help---only for the Obama administration to reject direct involvement in this election year. 

This is not to advocate  “surrender”---far from it; but as Sen. Joker Arroyo has argued, a small and militarily weak country like ours shouldn’t argue with a loud voice and a big stick; rather, it should quietly take recourse in negotiations such as in the UN, where many nations invoke the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas to settle disputes. As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile quipped when the Scarborough conflict first broke out, what do we retaliate with---firecrackers?

To complicate the problem, we still don’t have an ambassador to Beijing as P-Noy took forever to let go of his earlier nominee, Domingo Lee, said to be a big contributor to his campaign. Finally, he no longer re-nominated Lee to the CA, but the problem with Scarborough has aggravated and now China’s boycotting our bananas and possibly our mineral products. There are two candidates for the Beijing post. Let’s hope either of them is a veteran China hand who understands our problems with that country and not some ding-a-ling political appointee.


I must confess that like many others assiduously following the Senate impeachment trial, I was startled by Senate President JPE’s caustic remark to Corona lead counsel Serafin Cuevas at trial’s resumption yesterday. Cuevas strongly batted for due process as he stressed that charges hitherto brought against his client, such as his having allegedly amassed properties he did not declare in his SALN, were not “impeachable.” Cuevas insisted that the defense has witnesses to prove there is no such violation, or if there were, “these are not impeachable in character.”

Enrile snapped back, “Don’t lecture us about due process,” and then sprang the critical question: “Is it your position that there is no prima facie (impeachable) case presented in this court?” Cuevas paused for one second and answered with a straight, “Yes."  JPE then retorted, “If that’s your position that’s your problem.”


Obviously Cuevas was going by Sec. 2, Art. XI of the Constitution that lists down five categories for removal through impeachment of high officials, namely, culpable violation of the constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.” In the defense’s opinion, obviously, the prosecution sought to pin down CJ Corona on Article 2 of the complaint---the failure to declare acquired properties in his SALN. But as Sen. Ralph Recto pointed out, the law allows rectification of the SALN.

Yesterday, the defense tried to prove that a condominium unit of the Coronas acquired in 2007 was declared in his SALN only in 2010, because the need for repairs had made the unit unacceptable to them before then. But JPE suddenly ruled all these details “immaterial, irrelevant and impertinent” to the trial. I found this ruling quite unfair, for JPE and the Court had allowed the prosecution to present all the details of CJ’s alleged properties FOR FOUR MONTHS, but now the defense's counter-presentation is being rushed up and ruled as immaterial!

The pressure from JPe and some senator-judges to rush the defense case---and the vote on CJ’s fate---by this month’s end is understandable, given the June 7 adjournment;  but the Senate leaders should have anticipated this need and not indulged the prosecution in all its bungling for four months. Now the defense is being blamed for every "delay."


Astute pundits like to say that where the Senate President is, there goes the chamber, and perhaps this held true for Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada. Yesterday Jinggoy demanded the appearance of CJ Corona himself, so he could explain his bank accounts, including the $10 million allegations filed by Liberal supporters of P-Noy in three forfeiture complaints before the Ombudsman. This new allegation, which has all the markings of a “malalim na kuryente,” as a prosecutor admitted to me, was never included in the House’s complaint and yet Sen. Estrada did not hesitate to raise this issue at the trial.

Earlier the 50-page allegations on these $10 million accounts were floated by P-Noy allies in the internet---bereft of evidence and even account names and numbers! Just computer print-outs of allegations. Yet it was dignified in the Senate trial!


To understand the ramifications of the Senate trial, it’s necessary to put recent developments in political context---the relationship of each politico to the power in Malacanang. As a commentator put it, the Senate judges are also politicians.

Recall talk in media that Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman was not reappointed, in deference to JPE who felt Lagman had something to do in Namfrel with his poor showing in the 1987 congressional elections. JPE’s son, Rep. Jackie Enrile, is finishing his third term and plans to run for his father’s Senate seat, but some analysts say he needs P-Noy’s blessing.


Recently, too, former Sen. Migs Zubiri was inducted into the Partido ng Masang Pilipino of former President Estrada and this has upset his former rival, Sen. Koko Pimentel.  Reports say Koko has drifted away from the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) that was recently founded by VP Jojo Binay, with two main support groups: the PDP-Laban founded by Koko's dad, former Sen. Nene, and the PMP of Erap. Talk is that Koko has gravitated toward the LPs who are recruiting candidates full-blast for 2013.  Buttressing this report is that Nene Pimentel has left the University of Makati, where Binay supported the establishment of the Aquilino Pimentel Center for Local Governance.

Koko and Nene may have strayed away from UNA, but the vacuum appears to have been filled up by no less than presidential uncle Peping Cojuangco, who was recently appointed PDP-Laban Sec-Gen. This is perhaps to ensure that this party doesn't wander too far from Malacanang's clutches.

When VP Binay put up UNA two months ago, which made a lot of noise recruiting senators up for reelection, it was thought that at some point he would separate from P-Noy as he will run for the presidency in 2016 vs. Mar Roxas.  But lately talk is that Binay is sticking it out with Noynoy (because Mar has declared he’s not running in 2016?). If that's the case, it may also explain Jinggoy Estrada’s rather unfriendly stand toward Corona last Monday.

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