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.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

SP Enrile and Speaker Belmonte’s order for Escudero and Tupas to boycott JBC hearings could encourage P-Noy to appoint new CJ without waiting for JBC list. Manila Times daringly raises questions about Carpio’s ties to his old law firm and moral fitness for CJ job.

I’m very disappointed in the recent order of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte to their respective representatives in the Judicial and Bar Council to boycott participation in the JBC’s hearings on various nominees to the Supreme Court’s CJ post.  Enrile’s and Belmonte’s joint order was apparently in protest of the SC’s decision to recognize only one vote from the entire Congress in the JBC’s impending voting on its recommendations to the President for the CJ post. 

This decision by the two top Congress leaders, backed up by other chamber leaders, only serves to complicate a situation already fraught with unusual---even emergency---conditions. These include the sudden vacancy at the SC’s helm owing to CJ Renato Corona’s impeachment and ouster by the Senate trial court, and the resulting absence of the constitutionally designated chair of the JBC, the CJ.  Enrile questions, for instance, whether   having an acting JBC chair---in this case SC Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta--is valid. (At this point I'm so tempted to say, Ikaw kasi, Mr. Enrile, why did you engineer CJ Corona's ouster despite the prosecution's bunglings?).  


The other members of the JBC have been quoted as saying that the boycott by Congress will not affect its task of making that short-list of CJ nominees to be submitted to the President. But it is also totally possible that the current mess in the JBC COULD ENCOURAGE President Aquino to appoint a CJ without waiting for that short-list, as the Constitution provides.  

In reality this may be something P-Noy really wants to do (talk is that his choice for CJ is really Justice Secretary Leila de Lima). But we all know that it’s not healthy to depart from constitutional processes, given P-Noy’s dictatorial tendencies.

Thus, it's lamentable that SP Enrile and Speaker Belmonte have acted like SPOILED BRATS who lost their candy-sticks. Their  saner action on the JBC issue should have been to live with this oversight in the Constitution---so that it could be corrected in a future cha-cha effort, as they  want to do anyway. Pero wag ibitin ang trabaho ng JBC.


What am I talking about? You readers might ask. 

Former Solicitor-General Francisco Chavez filed a motion in the SC protesting the presence of Sen. Francis Escudero and Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. in the JBC. Chavez maintains---and many lawyers agree with him---that this practice of having two representatives of Congress in the JBC---a practice prevalent over the years since the Constitution was enacted in 1987---violates its provision for a SINGLE VOTE of Congress in that body. 

Not surprisingly, the SC recently upheld Chavez and in effect ordered Congress to choose only one--- Escudero or Tupas---- in the JBC.

Enrile and Belmonte balked at the SC decision. This appears to be an indication of the arrogance of Congress, which, in turn, is undoubtedly is a repercussion of the overwhelming success of Corona’s impeachment, despite the infirm process it went through. This apparently made both chambers of Congress swell-headed with power.


Congress leaders are now pressing the SC to make a final decision on this JBC vote issue, even as the boycott by Escudero and Tupas stands. They argue that the framers of the Constitution had originally reckoned with creating only a unicameral legislature, but that when two chambers emerged in the end, the framers failed to correct this single-vote provision for the bicameral legislature in the JBC.

I doubt, however, if the SC would buckle down from its single-vote stand on Congress, for that is what the Constitution says. The SC can only interpreted its provisions. Until this JBC oversight is corrected or amended this provision stands.

Distinguished lawyer Jose Aguila Grapilon, who headed the Integrated Bar of the Philippines from 1997-1999, has defended the SC’s position of one vote only for the entire Congress, terming its demand for two votes  “Absolutely ridiculous, totally incomprehensible and (il)logical!” Grapilon joins his lawyer friends who argue that “there is no ambiguity in the constitutional provisions that all the components of the membership of the (JBC) are limited to only one representative from each sector.”

Pray tell, how can all such illogical thinking emanate from Congress, kung hindi ito power-drunk?


Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and his supporters are making a hard pitch for the appointment of an "insider" to the CJ post. Obviously Justice Carpio is thinking of himself, as he has been known to aspire for this post since CJ Rey Puno retired. But why is it that lawyers, almost to a man, roll their eyes to heaven when the name of this nominee, who enjoys the reputation of being one of the most brilliant jurists, is mentioned as possible next CJ?

For two decades now talk has buzzed in the legal community and in coffee shops about the alleged smart manipulations and intense power play the firm Carpio founded, originally known as the “CVC Law” and nowadays referred to as “The Firm,” has been resorting to. A prominent lawyer I spoke to recently, when queried on the chances of Carpio to be appointed, said, “Pwede pa, he and his cohorts have been manipulating appointments to the judiciary for three presidencies already!  Tama na, sobra na, husto na.” 


To be sure, any reference these days to “The Firm” is invoked with a mixture of AWE (at its reported over P6 billion billings yearly, its swanky building in Global City and the fabled lifestyle of its partners) and FEAR of its political power and clout. The Manila Times, however, startled the legal community last July 24, a day after P-Noy's SONA, when it raised all the dark queries about this law firm that previously were only whispered about.

The Times editorial questioned the appointments to various positions in the judiciary---from fiscals and other lower-echelon personnel all the way to judges and justices---that "The Firm" allegedly extracted from various presidents in an attempt to control this branch of government.  It queried about loyalties supposedly squeezed by the firm from these judicial appointments. It also questioned Carpio’s continuing ties with his old firm, which suggested alleged improprieties he committed in the bench, as well as his moral fitness for the CJ post. 


Asserted the Times editorial: "The new (CJ) must not only be a man (or woman) of integrity guided by the highest sense of morality and patriotism. He or she must also be an inspiring figure and a decisive chief executive officer who has the personal skills to reform the entire Philippine judiciary and rid it of scalawag justices, judges and clerks. Anyone who has been a protagonist in destructive partisan politics and a contributor to creating the sorry state of the judiciary today must be screened out at once."

In the Times' mind, "front-runner" Justice Carpio, "more than any other applicant...appears to have contributed the most to creating the dire state of our judiciary." Hence, it asserts, he cannot be the SC's knight in shining armor.


In typical Pinoy fashion, however, the JBC failed to confront Justice Carpio with that Manila Times editorial in his interview last Thursday. Left hanging, therefore, were answers to many disturbing questions raised about the power-driven firm he founded as well as his personal conduct in the SC.

Had such an editorial been raised about a judiciary appointee pending before the US Congress' Commission on Appointments, all the allegations would have been brought out in the open, and US senators and representatives would have confronted the appointee with them over live TV. 

One must commend Dante Ang and the Manila Times for their courage in raising these issues against perhaps the most powerful figure now in the SC---thus continuing the fearless tradition started by Don Chino Roces in the martial law regime.

(Next: SC Associate Justice and CJ nominee Roberto Abad cites his reforms in the judiciary, beginning with chairing the committee that restructured the recent bar exams, in his speech before the IBP).

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

IN SONA P-Noy addresses gut issues straight to masses whose support he assiduously courts in view of his slipping ratings, but he avoids some really big issues. House impeachment “montage-gallery” divisive and in bad taste. Carpio Morales gets acclamation from P-Noy over her role in CJ impeachment, affirming their conspiracy.

For the third straight time President Aquino delivered his State of the Nation address entirely in Filipino, as obviously he’s more at home in it than in English (members of the diplomatic corps were furnished ear-phones to be able to follow in English, and giant statistics visuals employed by P-Noy also helped). Coached in the proper facial expressions and relaxed in the native language, he exuded earnestness as he addressed his main target---the broad masses of Flipinos. 

In this third SONA, it has become a matter of urgency for P-Noy to address the masses directly, as they have been the main pillar of his political support since he began his quest for the presidency after his mother Cory passed away. As a side commentator observed during the reception after the SONA, “P-Noy is already in the 2013 election campaign mode.” 

This time around, however, the urgency is more real, for the May 24-27 SWS survey showed that his popularity and acceptance ratings have slipped to just 42 percent.


P-Noy strove hard to involve the people in what he claimed were the positive transformations in our society, saying they were responsible for those changes and not him. He sought to stir pride in being Filipino and asserted that it’s a  “great time” to be one. But in the face of continuing hunger and poverty, widespread joblessness and rising criminality---as Manila Times columnist Ric Saludo put it last Monday, “an unprecedented one in every four Filipinos suffered hunger, one in every three workers could not find work and more than half of the nation considered themselves poor” ---P-Noy’s call to arms by stirring innate patriotic pride was not easy to sell.


As the Standard noted, P-Noy chose to stir this Pinoy feel-good by ‘DROWNING” us all in one and a half hour of seemingly endless statistics---- how many classrooms, books and chairs added, how many millions rescued from poverty through the controversial conditional cash transfer, how many jobs created and how many millions more had gained access to PhilHealth, how many children vaccinated against various diseases, how much rice importation was cut down, etc, etc.

All gut issues---the everyday nitty-gritty--that the masa can appreciate and be impressed with, enough to vote his party by 2013.

But such recitation, while representing progress to simpler minds, is bound to make thinking people look for the larger issues beyond the data-drowning.  As prominent lawyer Lorna Patajo-Kapunan remarked, P-Noy sounded more like than a class president reporting to his classmates how the class funds were used. The principal audience was targeted and  method identified---everyday gut issues; but unfortunately P-Noy left out a good number of vital issues equally important to the nation's life, and crying for resolution.


For instance, he said he’d push his mother’s CARP to fruition, but left out the most important symbol of feudalism---his family’s Hacienda Luisita. He touted the energy program and hailed his classmate Secretary Almendras, but failed to say how he’ll solve the massive power outages in Mindanao.  He cited the renewed confidence of investors, but failed to tell us how much investments have already come in. 

He touted his anti-corruption campaign that bagged GMA and CJ Corona, but he failed to say why another classmate of his, PAGCOR Chair Cristino Naguiat Jr., was not investigated over the "industry practice" of multi-million perks in Macau, or why the Bureau of Customs cannot seem to stop the rampant smuggling everyone’s talking about (such as smuggling of rice and oil). Or why Margie Juico's PCSO board helped themselves into a couple of millions in bonuses and allowances, without even a slap of the hand from P-Noy? Why does he pick only on Manoling and the old board?

Or what P-Noy proposes to do about the rising criminality--- both the petty crimes that affect HOUSEMAIDS ON THEIR DAY-OFF and students on the university belt, as well as the big high-profile crimes (the day of the SONA, former Tourism official Nixon Kua died from gunshot wounds inflicted by hoods who also wounded his brother).  P-Noy also failed to tell us what he proposes to do about the human rights violations and extra-judicial killings that, as his ally, Commission on Human Rights Chair Etta Rosales admitted, continue unabated.


In his SONA P-Noy asserted that perhaps “responsible parenthood” would help alleviate the inability of government to provide enough classrooms and chairs for the student populace; the RH advocates in Congress quickly interpreted that one-liner as his bat for their crusade, and they delivered the loudest applause of the afternoon. But as anyone can see, the problem is in the wrong allocation of gargantuan funds that go largely wasted, such as the CCT that will climb to P45 billion next year.

If this administration were to invest in more classrooms and in pushing the PhilHealth program to really cover the medical needs of the poorer populace (P-Noy’s claim that 85% are already covered is too bloated to be believable), rather than the CCT program, those funds would be put to better use---because there would be records to speak of, unlike the CCT that disappears into the pockets of corrupt DSWD personnel and ultimately the politicos in 2013.


P-Noy called for unity of the people and support for his administration, but that’s more like more talk. Take, for example, the huge mural in the House of Representatives that greeted guests last Monday, featuring a montage of  all the House “heroes” of the recent impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, led by lead prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. and Rudy “Palusot” Farinas.

The montage-gallery was obviously set up to feat the Corona impeachment as one of the two principal achievements of the P-Noy administration---the other being the rushed detention of President Macapagal Arroyo on electoral sabotage, based the testimony of a single discredited witness (she became guilty by association), and now on alleged plunder of PCSO funds.     


That montage-gallery, said to be a brainchild of QC Rep. Jorge Banal, one of the prosecutors, is HIGHLY DIVISIVE and in utter BAD TASTE, as it gloats over an issue that has bitterly divided the nation. This is the highly controversial “victory” of the prosecution that saw it violating all the rules of court and constitutional procedure. 

This began with the 188 House votes accomplished in blitzkrieg fashion, without the signatories reading the verified complaint. During the Senate trial, House prosecutors presented evidences that were either false (such as the 45 properties brazenly offered by another P-Noy classmate, LRA Administrator Eulalio Diaz III---shouldn't he have resigned over this fiasco?) or illegally obtained, such as those turned over to Rep. Rey Umali by the “little lady” or left on a rainy night at Rep. Banal’s gate.

These also included raw and unverified foreign account entries of Corona, as provided ILLICITLY by AMLA, that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales then presented UNDER OATH, with the help of IT hocus-pocus by COA, as 82 different accounts of Corona---when in truth he had only three such accounts.

All of these “evidences” are glorified in our House of Representatives’ montage-gallery as its achievement?  And to think that except for three members, all 286 representatives refused to disclose their SALNs.   


For creatively spinning false evidence against Corona, and playing such a vital role in his impeachment, Ombudsman Carpio-Morales was rewarded with public acclamation from P-Noy in his SONA and the TV cameras focused on her smiling shyly for a fleeting moment. Said P-Noy: I thank you for your work, and I thank you for being “an instrument of true justice especially at the height of the impeachment trial (of Corona).”

Philippine Star reporter Delon Porcalla wrote in his story yesterday that he found this public toasting of Morales’ role in the impeachment trial “rather surprising,” inasmuch as she “supposedly holds an independent and constitutional body separate from the executive department.“  Obviously Delon was inferring that P-Noy just confirmed their conspiracy in Corona’s trial.

As we can all see, young people like Delon have more sense and wisdom than our older officials.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

IBP helped make JBC selection process for next CJ more transparent and with more intellectual gravitas; Justice Lourdes Sereno makes hard-sell pitch for her credentials at forum; P-Noy labors on SONA for two weeks, was invisible during the storm and floods.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), led by its president, Atty. Roan Libarios, launched last week two forums at its conference hall in Pasig that dwelt on various aspects of the selection of the next Chief Justice. These forums were laudable, as they contributed to greater transparency and hopefully more intellectual gravitas to the selection process that's so crucial to the nation's life. 

The Constitution has entrusted to the Judicial and Bar Council the  screening of nominees for the top judiciary post and the drawing up of the short list from which the President will choose his appointee. Over the years, however, little information about the selection process has filtered down to the people. Thus, the interviews of CJ nominees that the JBC will open to the public via TV for the first time this year (starting this Tuesday) hopefully  be more thorough and in-depth. 


The relative secrecy and shallowness of the JBC’s screening/selection process is unlike the process in the US which is quite open and public. This is because  presidential appointments to the US Federal Supreme Court and other courts pass through the tough high-profile confirmation process by the Commission on Appointments of the US Congress.

For instance, I followed the confirmation proceedings for the two most recent female appointees to the US Federal SC over CNN, and found them to be so incredibly thorough. In the case of Justice Sonia Sotomayor the CA members combed through all the decisions she had penned since the start of her judicial career and grilled her on them---probably because Sotomayor is the first Latina to get to the US SC. Wow!  

The JBC screening process for our court nominees here is nowhere near the US CA's kind of thoroughness. Thus, the recent IBP forums were welcomed as adding to the transparency and depth of the CJ selection process here. May we have more of them.


The interest in the next CJ has becom keen inasmuch as the impeachment process for Chief Justice Renato Corona is deemed as having set a higher bar for his successor and other members of the SC. This is only right, so that Corona's sordid conviction---deemed by many of us as a purely political process that was unjust and with little legal and moral basis---would not have been in vain. Hopefully a real catharsis.

The first IBP forum last July 6 tapped 16 distinguished resource persons that included retired SC Justice Alicia Martinez, retired CA Justice Raoul Victorino, Philconsa vice-chair Froilan Bacungan, several law deans and officials of lawyers’ associations and prominent law firms. Their audience drew lawyers and law students as well as media.

The resource persons highlighted the various criteria for selecting a CJ, as provided by the Constitution, as well as qualifications they personally deem necessary in the nominees in view of the recent impeachment. They also stressed the reforms needed in the judiciary, such as the need for an inspirational and unifying leader, more openness and transparency in handling the judiciary’s budget,  speedier dispensation of justice in clogged courts, and attracting the right people to the bench.


The second IBP forum last Friday drew about a dozen of the 24 CJ nominees who had been initially screened by the JBC. There’s no need to repeat those names as they have been announced in the media, except to note that the most high-profile nominees, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Acting CJ Antonio Carpio, didn’t show up (was the IBP forum too small for them?).

Another interesting point was that while most of the nominees---among them SC Justice Roberto Abad, law deans Raul Pangalangan and Amado Valdez, PCGG chair Andres Bautista and Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento---chose to dwell on needed reforms in the judiciary as they saw  fit, the lone nominee who did a hard-sell of her credentials was Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, P-Noy’s first appointee to the SC.

Justice Sereno, 52, is conceded to be among the more brilliant SC magistrates; but at that forum I thought (and this sentiment was doubtless shared by many in the audience) that she stressed a trifle too emphatically her work experience, competence and integrity. Many doubtless thought Sereno came across as masyadong bilib sa sarili, as she promised 18 years of “great possibilities” at the SC if appointed.


On the eve of the third SONA of President Aquino, the nation stands in breathless expectation of what he'd say. He has been quite incommunicado despite the storm and floods in the metropolis and  the Palace says he has been working hard at the draft.  The SONA is an annual accounting by the Chief Executive to the nation and the pluses and minuses would have to be there, as well as many promises kept and still to keep. By general consensus, however, P-Noy's two-year old administration is deemed as having earned more minuses, deficiencies and shortcomings than pluses and fulfilled promises, than those of his predecessors.

Thus, to cover up for the negatives P-Noy is expected to be more generous than his predecessors in exaggerating claims and resorting to all the tricks of the trade that all Presidents take recourse to every year---to merit a passing grade from the nation.  


In continuance of his “daang matuwid” he's expected to drag the spectre of detained GMA and ousted Renato Corona across the national stage once again; but this time he shouldn’t expect much sympathy. For there are clear segments of the populace who feel that GMA has been persecuted beyond justice (no convincing evidence on both the electoral sabotage and  PCSO plunder cases), and that Corona was “politically assassinated,” to borrow TeddyBoy’s memorable phrase.

Besides, many other problems are crying for resolution and judging from recent surveys, Filipinos of all social classes are urging our President to devote more time and energy to them, rather than remain obsessed with his persecution game. What are those problems?


Criminality has risen in Metro Manila by 61 percent and in fact, Star’s columnist Babe Romualdez wrote today about a European diplomat and his wife being attacked in Quiapo recently while taking a look at the market there. Babe also related how the wives of a European and an Asian ambassador, respectively, found their handbags slashed and cell phones snatched in areas considered safe.  Babe, who has been quite pro-Aquino, rightly points out that once diplomats are victimized, that’s bound to hurt the country's tourism.   

While the economy has become quite attractive to foreign investors, given our two recent investment rating upgrades and the worsening of the Eurozone’s problems, the investments still haven’t come to our shores. Investment bankers ascribe this to continuing perceptions of instability and conflicting or fickle business policies, e.g., EO 27 on mining.  On the other hand, the administration’s much-touted Private-Public Partnership (PPP) is now derided as only a “power-point-presentation” since only one PPP project has come in over the last two years.


The conditional cash transfer (CCT), a.k.a. the Pantawid Pampamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), doubtless will be lauded as the major weapon against poverty in the SONA.  The CCT began as a P10 billion project in GMA’s time, but this was discontinued soon after because of the enormous difficulty in monitoring it and the quick realization of its immense potential for abuse and corruption.

P-Noy picked it up and zoomed it to the skies too fast, with too little planning to back it up. This year the CCT was granted P35 billion which is programmed to shoot up to P45 billion next year. But the COA recently come out with an extremely disconcerting review of the CCT that reported various anomalies. These include deficiencies in the screening process that has resulted in multiple payments to beneficiaries, the inclusion of those “not extremely poor,” unliquidated fund transfers, etc. 

These shortcomings have prompted COA to cast “doubt on the propriety and regularity of the disbursements of the 4P grants as well as the reliability of the balance of the cash in banks, local currency current accounts (of various 4Ps accounts), etc. Small wonder that in coffee-shops the CCT is now called "Dinky's and P-Noy's ATM." 


But these sordid details about the CCT uncovered by COA should surprise no one, for this is what always happens when so much money is lying around with too little planning, loose accounting and even looser screening (to be left to politicians for the 2013 elections).  The galloping funding of the CCT is conducted at the cost of cutting down the budget of state hospitals ministering to the poor, and state colleges and universities, and the proper implementation of PhilHealth.

Congress---and not just the LPs there--- should review this program before it’s raised to nearly P50 billion, much of which could sadly be wasted away by the politicians.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Was the silencing of the microphone at Phnom Penh Asean meet as Del Rosario began to speak a mere “technical glitch” or deliberate? Good query on eve of SONA: did Ombudsman slap plunder charge on GMA to keep her in jail---in case Mupas is forced to allow bail on electoral sabotage case?

Usec. Erlinda Basilio of the DFA

I read with interest the long article published by Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio of the DFA regarding what she termed the “facts” and the “fiction” in the recent 45th Asean Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Usec Basilio’s piece sought to separate the chaff from the grain amid all kinds of speculation about how tense that recent gathering had become and whether the Philippines, in roiling the waters in the West Philippine Sea, was to blame for the disarray of the regional forum.  

But to me the most intriguing detail of Linda Basilio's article is found at the very bottom. She recounted that just as our Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario began to speak on the Scarborough Shoal issue, “his microphone went silent.” The question now is, was that a “technical glitch” as Phnom Penh now explains, or was the mike deliberately silenced so the assembly couldn’t hear what Del Rosario had to say. 

Sec. Albert Del Rosario

In a country like Cambodia which is not up to First World standards, it’s easy to believe that the sudden silence of the mike was a “technical glitch.” The question is, why did it blink when it was Del Rosario’s turn? Why not during ASEAN Director-General Surin’s turn, or Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa’s? Given how host, Phnom Penh broke a 45-year tradition by refusing to allow issuance of a joint communiqué by the conferees, it’s totally believable that the mike was ordered turned off as Del Rosario was about to speak. But such tactic, if deliberate, is insulting as well as hilarious (found only in slapstick comedies). 

As the wife of the former ambassador to Cambodia I find it hard to believe that Phnom Penh would resort to such “glitch” in order to silence our Foreign Minister at a crucial point in the conference; but then again, weighing the China connection and the strongman tactics of the country's leader,  it’s not that hard to believe.  


On the other hand, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda was queried by Palace reporters as to why Usec Basilio kept referring to China as “the neighboring country” in her article. Lacierda, who seemed to have a tough time trying to handle his own pique at Basilio's oblique reference to China, told the media he would have to query the DFA.

But I think the best way to handle this detail is to trust the judgment of Usec Basilio. She's a career DFA official with ambassadorial postings to a good number of countries, who  was called out of retirement at the start of the Aquino administration to assume the undersecretary’s post at the Foreign Office. Let's trust that she must have a good reason for resorting to this phrase repeatedly (perhaps to defuse current tensions between the two countries).  


Former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Malacañang denies it to high heavens, but few believe that on the eve of the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), the Palace has nothing to do with the filing of a plunder case in the Sandiganbayan against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in connection with the PCSO intelligence funds. It's in fact vastly anticipated that this new non-bailable case is meant to be the star item in P-Noy's SONA. But so rushed up was this case filed by Ombudsman Conchita Morales that GMA’s camp still had to receive a copy,  yet it was already all over media.

Obviously Malacañang is hewing closely to the script it has been following since Day One of the P-Noy  administration---which is to prosecute GMA and everyone who has been connected with her administration, including Chief Justice Renato Corona who was ousted  by the Senate impeachment court last May 29.  The administration’s major campaign line in this third SONA of P-Noy apparently will still be anti-corruption and the “tuwid na daan” (now grown labyrinthine and baku-bako) and GMA and Corona will be offered as its stellar props of “success.” 

The continued prosecution of GMA and allies becomes necessary for P-Noy in the light of the continuing dismal performance of his administration against poverty and joblessness, and with corruption rearing its ugly head these days in the traditional haunts such as Pagcor, PCSO and the Bureau of Customs, and now the CCT.


The plunder charge against GMA in connection with the alleged misuse of PCSO funds has a deliberate agenda: to continue keeping GMA in jail, in case the electoral sabotage case (which Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes and Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay RTC rushed in November last year to justify DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima's defiant hold-order) fails to stick---and Mupas is forced to grant the petition of GMA’s lawyers for bail. The weakness of that sabotage case lies in the fact that there’s only one witness against GMA, former provincial administrator Norie Unas, who made up his hearsay testimony to escape implication in the Maguindanao mass murder case.


P-Noy will need to continue putting GMA behind bars in his anti-corruption campaign,  in order to divert the people's attention from the worsening poverty and joblessness. But they already see the Unas testimony as conjured and pilit.  As recent surveys note, over 61 percent of the people now agree that GMA should be allowed to post bail and seek medical treatment abroad. This is a far-cry from the negative percentage in earlier months.  

Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz

Moreover, some of GMA’s most severe critics have now turned into the biggest pleaders for bail and treatment abroad for her. Retired Dagupan Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz was quoted in the recent CBCP forum as asserting that “Justice (in the filing of cases against GMA) should come from what is true and not from revenge or vengeance. Let us put a stop to vindictiveness because that will do the country no good.” Cruz opined that “You don’t kick a person when he’s already down,” adding that he prays that GMA gets “compassionate justice.”

Former Sen. Nene Pimentel asserts that GMA should be allowed to seek medical treatment wherever she wants it. On the other hand, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago stresses that the international repercussions of denying GMA bail, even when not a single falsified certificate of canvass has been presented, could be very serious for Ph.


As for GMA’s appointed CJ, Renato Corona, a good deal of the people  viewed his impeachment and Senate trial as dictated by Malacañang in retaliation for the Supreme Court’s 14-0 vote last November 22, 2011 ordering the decades-delayed distribution of Hacienda Luisita lands. Many viewed the trial as fraudulent and violative of the rule of law inasmuch as much of the evidence presented by the prosecution was defective or illegally obtained.  Moreover, Corona invoked as his defense the absolute secrecy guaranteed by RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA), while his lawyers argued that the rectification of inaccurate SALN declarations is allowed by law.  

P-Noy just has to rely on more solid ground for scoring points in his SONA than persecuting GMA and those associated with her era.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ph and US represented by their respective top diplomats meet dogged opposition from Cambodian host Hun Sen, whose country enjoys massive Chinese investments and aid. Rico Quicho in formally protesting De Lima’s nomination and Tupas’ inclusion in JBC deliberations: “We cannot cherry-pick our morality.” DWIZ guests tell Drilon: we’re only getting P500 instead of P1,500 from CCT.

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton
It’s all over the papers: the Philippines represented by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and the United States by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met dogged opposition from Cambodian strongman Hun Sen on the China Sea dispute.

 At the close of the 45th Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh earlier this week the 10 members of the regional forum failed to get their act together about issuing a joint statement that would give a good push for a code of conduct in the volatile South China Sea. It was the first time ever in Asean’s 45 year-history that such meeting had failed to come up with a joint communiqué. Moreover, that code had been talked about over the past ten years, but in view of Ph’s on-going conflict with China, it had acquired new urgency.  Yet it was ignored.


 Observers from around the world quickly interpreted Asean’s failure as a resounding victory for China---which has advocated a bilateral resolution instead of the multilateral approach invoked by Ph and the US to settle the exploration and sovereignty issues in these waters.  What was obvious, said one account was the total disarray of Asean.  On this point, doubtless there are those in Asean who belittle the belligerence of the Aquino administration toward the Chinese claim at Scarborough; who feel that a softer approach at lower levels might not have roiled the waters the way the President did.


What added color to this first-time development in Asean’s 45 years was that host Cambodia consistently opposed any mention of Scarborough Shoal at all, despite heated arguments among the attendee nations. Obviously, as Southeast Asia expert Carl Thayer put it, Cambodia is showing itself as China’s stalking horse. In fact, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong expressed regret over the discord within Asean, but he also stressed that he “could not accept that the joint communiqué has become the hostage of the bilateral issue” between China and Ph.

On the other hand, it was evident that Cambodia has become "hostage" to China’s foreign aid and vast business investments.


This writer was most interested in how, as one paper put it, Cambodia “gagged” Asean.  This was because my husband had been tasked by President Ramos in January 1995 to re-open the Philippine Embassy in that war-torn country, after it closed down for 25 years owing to the Khmer Rouge conflict in the mid-70s.  Last month, as tensions flared up between China and Ph over the oil-rich territories in the South China Sea, I said in this space that it would be difficult to get sympathizers from our Asean co-members to Ph’s side vs. China. This is because many of them are doing brisk business with the world’s second largest economy.  

Nowhere is this truer than in Cambodia’s case.


Even in those years when my husband served as ambassador to Cambodia (from February 1995 to November 1998) China was already pouring massive investments and was a major donor of direct aid for various infrastructure projects there. From 1994 to 2011 more than 400 Chinese investors developed large scale projects in Cambodia such as mining and hydro-power as well as a couple of big gambling endeavors on what used to be public lands (alarming environmentalists). 

In 2006 a state-owned Chinese company built as a 44-year BOT project costing $280 million (finished at the end of 2011) the Kamchay Dam on the mighty Mekong River in southern Cambodia---its first-ever large-scale hydro-power plant and the biggest single foreign investment then. Since then this dam has been overtaken by larger and more expensive plants all developed by Chinese companies.

Given this reality, Cambodia’s dogged resistance to the adoption of the code of conduct that China’s trying to block in the region’s seas becomes thoroughly understandable. For that's how nations behave---their interest first before those of others.


Atty. Rico Paolo Quicho
 The former defense lawyer of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Atty. Rico Paolo Quicho, has made good his promise to file, as a private citizen and officer of the court, his formal opposition to the nomination of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for incoming Chief Justice. Rico has also called for the voluntary inhibition of Rep. Niel Tupas from the deliberations of the Judicial and Bar Council that’s tasked to screen nominees and applicants to the CJ post.
 He correctly argued that after all, “there is no dearth of good men and women from whose ranks the next CJ may be selected; and not a scarcity of competent and impartial men and women to participate in the selection process.”

 Both moves are good and sensible, since De Lima and Tupas figured prominently in the prosecution of Corona and thus, participating as nominee or judge in the selection process for Corona’s successor would be highly self-serving for them.


 Besides, De Lima is the superior of Land Registration Authority Administrator Eulalio Diaz III, who presented a false list of 45 properties of CJ during Corona’s trial. Under the principle of command responsibility she should have resigned with Diaz (who’s really super-kapalmuks) over this fiasco. In addition, De Lima blatantly defied the SC on the TRO it ordered against her  watch-list hold-order on GMA---at a time when there was still no case filed in court vs. the latter.
On the other hand, Tupas was caught lying when  he denied to a senator-judge about personally knowing the general manager of the PSBank. where he has a personal account (she turned out to be his  townmate and wedding co-sponsor). Tupas also engineered use of illegally-obtained evidence by the prosecution in the Senate trial. These cases speak poorly of his probity and integrity as a judge at JBC.  


I particularly like Rico Paolo Quicho’s phrase, “We cannot cherry-pick our morality.” He stressed in his statement that “The same lofty legal and moral standards that were applied in unseating a Chief Justice should likewise be the bases in naming a new one. That, or we irreversibly erode the faith and confidence of our countrymen in the Judiciary---which is the bedrock of credibility and respectability upon which stands any and all democratic institutions.” Amen to that.


Sen. Franklin Drilon got a rude awakening about the conditional cash transfer (CCT) that’s planned by this administration to be jacked up to a gargantuan P45 billion for next year, from P39 billion this year. At an interview over station DWIZ, he was confronted by folks who asserted that they only receive P500 monthly when it should have been P1, 500 per family as the program allotted. They also hinted about threats and intimidation they received from the DSWD personnel if they disclosed the discrepancy.

This is the reality on the ground about the CCT:  can the impoverished recipients truly complain when CCT amounts received are drastically cut and the rest end up instead in the pockets of administering personnel?


Juxtaposed against these gargantuan amounts being manipulated by CCT personnel, consider the reduction of the budget of state hospitals that service the poor, led by PGH, and recent complaints of personnel of the Department of Science and Technology, such as those in Pag-Asa, and the Health Department about non-payment of their hazard pay and back wages. To which Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte was quoted as riposting that the administration is still looking for funds for those items! 

Atty. Abigail, please tell P-Noy: scrap the easily-corrupted CCT and you’ll have more than enough to pay legitimate pay claims.

A serious appraisal of the CCT is needed, but LP stalwarts like Drilon should not be the ones to do the “over-sight” as there’s valid, well-founded suspicion that the LP intends to use those gargantuan funds for its political gain in 2013.  Giving the LPs the oversight function is, to quote a favorite phrase of my distinguished tocaya, Dr. Belinda Aquino of the University of Hawaii, like yielding the blood bank to Count Dracula.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dolphy and my brother-in-law,Oscar Caluag, both 83, shared cliff-hanger confinement experience in MMC’s ICU; former President Erap said to be ahead of Mayor Fred Lim by over 20 percent in recent survey in Manila; Karen Jimeno now licensed to practice in New York

Comedy King Dolphy Quizon

Last Tuesday evening, July 10, I was at Makati Medical Center’s Floating Island Restaurant  to help celebrate the 75th birthday of my elder sister, Tita Olivares-Caluag, when we learned that Dolphy had just passed away at the MMC’s ICU from multiple organ failure due to acute pneumonia.  Dolphy and my brother-in-law, businessman Oscar “Oca” Caluag, one of the seven surviving members of Ateneo’s class ’50, (as Standard’s eminence grise,and Oca's classmate, Emil Jurado, likes to point out in his column), were confined at the same time at MMC’s ICU for a whole month. And though they never knew each other, the parallelism of their personal and medical circumstances was just incredible.

Both men were admitted at 83 years old, with Oca turning 84 this July 20, while Dolphy would have turned also 84 this July 25. Both were  roller-coaster cases at the ICU the past whole month---quite ill with pneumonia, heart complications and renal problem needing regular dialysis, and stoically enduring a number of procedures.  Both patients shared common medical expertise applied on them---in Oca’s case, his medical team was led by his first cousin, the famed cardiologist Dr. Florina Kaluag, who's still going strong and holding clinic at MMC at a phenomenal 92 years of age.


Dolphy was confined on the other side of the ICU, but since entrance was through the same hall, our family would see Zsa Zsa, Eric Quizon and the rest of the Comedy King's large brood, as well as many movie celebrities walk in and out over the weeks. Oca’s nephew, Fr. Tito Caluag, would regularly celebrate mass for his uncle’s steady recovery in the hospital chapel and our clan would include Dolphy’s recovery in our prayers.  

So much so that as Dolphy’s condition began to worsen---at the end of the second week he needed a tracheotomy which became infection-prone---we somehow felt a sense of oneness and identification with the Quizon family.


Last Tuesday night, therefore, as we celebrated Tita Caluag’s 75th birthday in the hospital’s restaurant (she refused to have it anywhere else), complete with  mass by Fr. Tito, some sinful lechon and blowing of birthday candles – and  as we rejoiced over Oca’s transfer three nights earlier to a regular room after over a month of wearying cliff-hanger confinement at ICU and seemingly interminable delicate procedures---the news about Dolphy’s death hit us too. Even though the deterioration of Dolphy's health was chronicled daily by the big horde of media camped outside the hospital, sadness still enveloped our family gathering when the news came. We felt we had lost a relative.

As the news spread throughout the hospital, the sense of loss became  palpable even among the guards at the front entrance and the hospital personnel. 


For me, however, it was more than sadness. Like millions of other Filipinos my siblings and I grew up with Dolphy’s humor in those days before the advent of television. John en Marsha, his long-running radio serial with Nida Blanca as his ever-loving wife and Dely Atay-Atayan as his over-bearing and imperious mother-in-law, was simply an event we didn’t miss at dinner time.  My father, a radio freak who enjoyed “Kwentong Kutsero” and other radio series as well as political commentaries, particularly loved “John en Marsha.” In my mind’s eye I can still hear him bellowing with laughter over Dolphy’s punch lines.

To me one of the aspects that made Dolphy a great comedian was the incredible sense of timing of those lines of his---so natural and effortless. Also, “John en Marsha” was invariably good clean fun for us listeners of all ages, unlike nowadays when there are deplorable vulgar undertones in TV shows that render  many a parent uneasy about their kids of tender age.  


Former Pres. Joseph Estrada
 The Liberal Party, bereft of candidates despite its being the ruling party, has coalesced with the Nacionalista Party of Manny Villar and the Nationalist People’s Coalition of Danding Cojuangco.  With this grand alliance the LP hopes to bag the two senatorial reelectionists said to be front-runners, Francis Escudero and Loren Legarda, even though they had been mentioned months back as certain to run under the UNA coalition of VP Jojo Binay and former President Estrada.

I would not be surprised if these two senators jump to the LP, but I’m quite taken aback by the sign-up of Manny and Cynthia Villar with the LP. For I recall how bitterly then NP presidential candidate Manny was demonized by the LP campaign that raked up the alleged questionable circumstances of his family’s poverty, and maliciously linked him to former President GMA, to the point of coining the term “Villaroyo.” That coinage was perhaps the biggest single damage to Villar’s presidential campaign.

Now LP stalwart Franklin Drilon was quoted as saying that “Villaquino” is much better than “Villaroyo.” For sheer tactlessness, indeed Drilon has few rivals. Moreover, it shows that in politics there are no permanent enemies, only transitory interests.


I was at the 46th wedding anniversary celebration of former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and wife Beng at the Century Park Sheraton Hotel last Monday surrounded by their eight children, notably ABS-CBN host Kim Atienza and former candidate Ali Atienza. Former President Estrada was among the honored guests and I note that he has trimmed down, doubtless in anticipation of his running for mayor of Manila against LP’s incumbent Fred Lim. The fight for the capital city would doubtless be the most watched local battle, as Lim would doubtless be backed to the hilt by the rich resources of the LP (after all, he defied election laws by flying Cory’s and Ninoy’s yellow flags in the Luneta and Roxas Blvd. for many months of the 2010 campaign).

 But word is that a recent survey shows Erap ahead of Lim by more than 20 percent. I don’t doubt this---there’s still that undeniable charisma of this guy over the masses.  I can see his winning campaign line: Kinuha sa akin ang pagka-pangulo. Pagbigyan naman ninyo ako na mapaglingkuran kayo ditto sa Maynila.


Atty. Karen Jimeno
 News came via Tweeter that Corona defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno is now licensed to practice law in New York City, after she was sworn in at a court there. Congratulations, Karen. You're the type who, as the song goes, can make it anywhere, and of course, nothing bigger than NYC.

I followed the six months of CJ Renato Corona's impeachment trial and there were many things I came to admire in Karen (the other also much-admired spokesperson was Atty. Tranquil Salvador). Both Karen and Tranquil were always calm, cool and collected even when things were not going well for the defense panel. Countless times they had to think fast on their feet before hordes of cameras even when issues were not yet very clear to them.


But for me, one thing that stood out about Karen is her conviction. During the trial she never denied that she was among the lawyers who objected to what’s termed the "midnight appointment" by GMA of CJ Corona. But she stressed that after the Supreme Court spoke and ruled that appointment as valid and constitutional, she felt the issue was over and the country ought to close ranks around Corona. As she argued, “that’s what we lawyers are trained to uphold---the supremacy of the SC in interpreting the Constitution, the RULE OF LAW.

When the post of spokesperson for CJ became available, Karen said she didn't hesitate a second to accept it. And she did a good job---presenting issues in a clear but graceful manner, with a pretty face to boot.

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