Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, 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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