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, August 29, 2012

Ironic of brand-new CJ Sereno to invoke “dignified silence” when she gained a reputation not only for readily making public her dissenting opinions, but also details of heated closed-door exchanges among justices. Did the JBC fail to provide Palace psych report or did functionaries withhold it from P-Noy? Would shifting burden of scrutiny to CA correct failings of JBC?

Brand-new Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno wants to return the Supreme Court to its “golden days” of “dignified silence,” when, she said, "justices  were heard through their writings and when (the) actions of the Court were best seen in their collective resolutions.” But her first public statement is being interpreted now as her way to avoid talking about the burning issue of the day as far as the SC is concerned---the psycho-psychiatric report on the CJ commissioned by the Judicial and Bar Council. This issue is being talked about and rightly so, considering that her reputed psychiatric condition could affect her decisions in the High Court and the direction it could take during her long stewardship.


It is ironic that CJ Sereno now invokes an era of “dignified silence,” when it was no secret within the judiciary and lawyers’ circles that in a number of disputes during the administration of impeached CJ Renato Corona, it was Sereno who didn’t think anything about airing her dissenting opinions, be they about the TRO issued by the Justice Department against former President Macapagal Arroyo, or on land valuation in Hacienda Luisita. The world knew about the very heated closed-door exchanges within the SC where her positions were telegraphed, especially during the impeachment trial of Corona. Now that the shoe is in the other foot she invokes “dignified silence.”


I agree that new appointees deserve a honeymoon period. CJ Sereno perhaps deserves just that over her SALN (folks are ready to leave the scrutinizing on this to “The Firm”), but there’s one issue that should be questioned and this is the psychiatric state of the CJ. The reasons are simple: this could affect the decisions of the new CJ and to a large extent the conduct of the SC; and there is an entity that should be held accountable here---the JBC.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, through its president, Atty. Roan Libarios, incidentally a classmate of CJ Sereno in UP Law “84, has dared the new CJ to waive the confidentiality rule and “bare mental records.” But Roan should also hold to task the JBC for what it obviously failed to do.


According to the Manila Times story last Friday, Aug. 24 (strangely, or perhaps not, this story has not been picked up by the larger-circulation media), the JBC submitted an 11-page report on the psych tests conducted on her and the other nominees for the CJ post by two psychiatrists and two psychologists, and duly noted by a lawyer. According to the Times, Sereno, interviewed last July 18, 2012, got the lowest grade of “4,”together with Solicitor-General Francis Jardaleza, and yet she was still included in the short-list submitted to the President (so was Jardaleza!). This, despite the fact that “It is a policy of the JBC that an applicant to any position in the judiciary who garnered a grade of four shall be considered ‘Not Recommended.’ “

The Times claimed, “The rule was changed in Sereno’s case.” My query: could it be that Jardaleza was also thrown into the short-list to give the impression that Sereno was not being given special treatment?


The psych report is quite disturbing, as it portrays the CJ as “dramatic and emotional, she appears energetic and all smiles and agreeable, but with religious preoccupation in almost all significant aspects of her life. She projects a happy mood but has depressive markers too. There is a strong tendency to make decisions based on current mood; thus, outcome is highly subjective and self-righteous.” 

The last two sentences are particularly worrisome vis-a-vis the conduct and dispensation of the law. For while judges and justices may not help injecting some subjective feeling from time to time into their deliberations, they are nevertheless expected to fight basing their decisions on “current moods,” in order to prevent a “highly subjective” outcome. And to think that Sereno, barring unforeseen events, will have until 2030 to issue and influence the High Court decisions.


Complications quickly set in after the Times story was published. News of her appointment came later that day and by next morning she took her oath before P-Noy. Queried by media about the psych report, Palace spokesperson Abigail Valte said it was “unverified” and that the JBC should be asked about this issue. But the Palace could easily have verified this report from the JBC member handpicked to represent the executive branch, Justice Undersecretary Michael Frederick Musngi.

The question is, was the President even informed of the psych result at all by the JBC, or did his advisers get to read it, but kept it from him?


 On the other hand, Jose Mejia, the JBC member representing the academe, asserted that there was no waiver required of the new CJ “because the psychological report was covered by the doctor-patient confidentiality rule.”

Mejia’s reasoning here is absolutely stupid, for Sereno was not a patient seeking psychiatric help which rightly should be held confidential. She was undergoing routine testing for psychiatric stability as one of JBC’s nominees for the highest judicial post of the land, and the decision-maker in her case, the President, as well as the Filipino people are entitled to know how Sereno and the others fared in that test and other criteria.


A JBC member was quoted as admitting that that the JBC did not pay that much attention to the psych report. This is astounding, for as any corporate person knows, in any job interview---be it for janitor or the highest post---psychiatric stability is given premium concern.  One conclusion that can be drawn here is that the JBC was already apprised of P-Noy’s choice and so effort was made either by the JBC members or the Palace underlings to hide the psych test result from him.  Or P-Noy, fully aware of the report, just went ahead and appointed the one he could trust fully.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda tried to drive this issue away by stressing that CJ had already taken her oath of office. Meaning, wala nang magagawa.  The wedding is over, no sense claiming the bride back.


This brings us to the inutileness of the JBC---and the need to amend the Constitution to rectify this situation. As I said earlier, if this were the US situation and a presidential appointee to the judiciary with such detrimental information was submitted for confirmation by the US Commission on Appointments, the appointment paper will head straight for the trashcan.

But in our setting, the JBC, whose principal function, as Sec. 8 (5), Art. VIII of the Constitution says, is to recommend appointees to the Judiciary, seems to have become a political tool. This is lamentable, for while the JBC's regular members are appointed by the President with the consent of the CA, the Constitution sets fixed terms for them; hence they don’t have to be afraid to do their job.     

The JBC won plaudits for opening its interviews of SC applicants to the public via television in this round, and for respecting the IBP decision to go ahead with the investigation into two disbarment cases against Justice Secretary Leila de Lima---despite P-Noy’s open campaigning for her (Otto kayang primary choice niya si Leila?). But how the JBC arrives at its decision on whom to include or exclude from the short-list is its own tightly-guarded secret. In the psych result this obvious old boys’ club failed. We citizens should demand that the JBC publishes its rules on recommendations. 


CJ Sereno made history by being the first female to land at the SC’s helm and the second youngest and with the longest term that could span four presidencies. But the future is tough for her for she comes with heavy  baggage---the Hacienda Luisita valuation super-favorable to the Cojuangcos that she fought for, and the psych test results. As CJ Corona put it, "Sereno’s appointment speaks for itself."

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Barring unforeseen events, Justice Sereno stays for the next 30 years at SC top post. P-Noy bats for loyalty instead of seniority and experience. Queries in many minds: What happens to Luisita valuation issue? Why did JBC ignore fact that Sereno scored lowest in its psychological exam conducted among over 20 CJ nominees? Did it think this is unimportant? JBC should explain.


Early last week I cited here informed sources who said that SC Justice Ma. Lourdes Aranal Sereno, President Aquino's first appointee to the SC, would be appointed the new CJ---that is, if the President does not appoint a "transition CJ" first in SC Justice Roberto Abad. I opined that Abad could first be appointed and after he retires in May 2014 Sereno would then be appointed  CJ---or P-Noy could appoint Sereno directly this month. Of course, I also opined that after a transition CJ, P-Noy could also end up appointing his original choice for CJ, Leila de Lima, after Abad retires in 2014---by which time the two disbarment cases against De Lima presumably would have been resolved.  

Well, P-Noy listened to my advice (joke only!) and appointed the first lady justice ever in the history of the Philippine judiciary at age 52 (what distinguished lady jurists Cecilia Munoz Palma and Ameurfina Melencio Herrera failed to achieve!). This means that barring any unforeseen event, Sereno stays as CJ for P-Noy's four remaining years, the twelve years of the next two Presidents after him and the first two years of the fourth President---until 2030 for a total of 18 years. That would be an incredible feat in itself.


Lobbying rabidly for the CJ post was the camp of Acting CJ Antonio Carpio who was pushed by a lot of columnists and law practitioners, and the powerful Sigma Rho Fraternity. Many thought he had it in the bag. Hence Sereno’s appointment is a terrible let-down for him, especially since it’s the second by-pass for him after losing to CJ Renato Corona in 2010.

 Frankly, however, I never thought that Carpio, easily one of the most brilliant justices, was seriously in the running, as I surmised that P-Noy would be afraid of the heavy political power-playing of "The Firm” he founded. It doubtless was not lost on P-Noy that this firm went against GMA mid-way through her term, after getting a lot of concessions from her as well as from the presidencies before.  I heard that P-Noy could not trust the loyalty of The Firm--- not to mention that Carpio could be independent-minded if he chooses to be. Obviously Avelino Cruz, Carpio’s close associate in The Firm, and Mar Roxas couldn’t do anything for him.   

The buzz now in coffee shops and texts is, if CJ Corona openly admitted at the start of his impeachment that Carpio’s law friends and frat brods had been involved in making life difficult for him, how much time before they begin their campaign vs. Sereno?


Justice Sereno was quoted as saying that her appointment came as a surprise to her. In fact it came as a surprise to seasoned court observers too, inasmuch as she’s perceived in some quarters as hilaw pa. But where she may be short in judicial experience, one factor that went for her is that she's perceived as loyal to P-Noy. Loyalty is a trait obviously premium to him. In fact Sereno’s  appointment is plainly thought of in some quarters as P-Noy’s buying insurance for some of his actions and decisions that teeter on the unconstitutional---which, as in the case of GMA, could be pursued by a hostile successor when P-Noy exits the presidency.

There were also whispers within the Court in this administration that even before SC decisions and rulings could be made public, the Palace would already be tipped off about them. Whether these could have involved P-Noy’s first SC appointee cannot, of course, be established, but there were such talks.


Recall that Sereno voted to uphold the DOJ’s TRO against former President GMA’s travel abroad for medical treatment in November 2011---going against the SC’s majority decision.  It will also be recalled that there was a long and bitter debate about just compensation for the Cojuangcos in Hacienda Luisita, following the SC's unanimous 14-0 decision (that included Sereno's vote) to order full  distribution of its lands to the farmers.  Sereno differed from the majority vote, however, when she fought for a compensation package for the Cojuangcos valued at 2006 prices for the lands, amounting to at least P5 billion; whereas CJ Corona batted for 1989 valuation---at P196 million, much lighter for the farmers to pay back.

As everyone knows, the Hacienda issue was the trigger for Corona’s impeachment, so that Sereno’s opposing view in the land valuation would appear to be a major factor for her favorable appointment by P-Noy.  

The question on many minds now is, what would happen to Hacienda Luisita? While the Corona Court ruled its 14-0 vote as final, there’s studied opinion that the SC could now reverse that decision with a vote of ten justices. Moreover, the disputed valuation issue remains open.   


I have attended a number of SC deliberations and I invariably found Justice Sereno, valedictorian of the UP Law class of 1984, bright, studious and well-prepared. Ponencias she has written were always very long and studiously argued, while her dissenting opinions are even longer than majority ponencias. But I also noted that in Court hearings she also tends to be too long-winded in her questions to witnesses or lawyers, sounding like she's back in the classroom lecturing to her student---so much so that a number of times they lose the train of the question.

Sereno also gives the impression of being so full of herself. At the IBP forum on the CJ nominees last month she took more than half an hour when the allotted time was seven minutes each, to build up the case that the SC will be in for a memorable journey with her at the helm. This leaves some observers to wonder whether she could be the healer badly needed in the Court at this time; but apparently she impressed a lot of the IBP members in a mock poll, for she was their No. 2 choice after the topnotchers, Justices Arturo Brion and Roberto Abad.


There also remains the query as to whether she declared a truthful SALN (at the height of the SALN controversy during Corona’s impeachment she and Carpio presented summaries of their SALNs).

Above all there’s the question that persists in texts and whispers: is Justice Sereno bipolar? As a follow-up: a Times item which the Star picked up today said “It was reported she score lowest among the 20 bets for chief justice in the psychological exam conducted by the Judicial and Bar Council.” The question is:  Did the JBC  think the psychological  factor is very low priority as qualification for CJ?  JBC should explain.


I was among those who batted for a “Transition CJ” to effect the healing of the Court and the judiciary, especially since the prolonged impeachment process against Corona had pitted him against Carpio and Sereno in and out of the Court. In fact many lawyers and non-lawyers thought that either Justice Abad or Brion---non-controversial but bright, studious and well-respected jurists---could fill that role. But obviously P-Noy wanted someone he felt he could trust, or so the perception goes. But this would not invalidate the argument that either Brion or Abad would have been a good choice for a healing and reformist CJ.

 I listened to Abad as he explained at the IBP forum his reform program for the judiciary, and found it quite impressive.  Abad chaired the 2011 bar exams which for the first time gave bar examinees a combination of multiple-choice questions and an essay portion---an innovation that his bar exam committee made after discussing the concept with over 1,500 law professors across the country; they all agree that grading of the old all-essay exams for over 6,000 examinees yearly had become haphazard. This year saw the highest percentage of bar passers yet.

 Abad’s committee, working with the Legal Education Board, is also considering the possibility of reducing the number of bar subjects from eight to four, so law schools, as he argues,  could free more units in the third and fourth years of schooling and tune them to specific career paths in litigation, adjudication and commercial practice.”  


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pundits note P-Noy’s earlier discomfort with Robredo’s style in DILG, which could explain CA’s failure to confirm him. Was MMC pressured to distance from position of GMA’s cardiologist? House solons spooked by recent events impacting on RH battle. Fr. Villarin assures Ateneo support for CBCP position on RH.

Someone in FB pointed out that in the unceasing avalanche of tributes to the late Secretary Jesse Robredo, one of the finest came from Camarines Sur opposition Rep. Dato Arroyo.  Dato was quoted as saying that Jesse so seldom wore that yellow ribbon on his shirt---meaning, he didn’t seem to want to capitalize on the fact that he’s with the administration (the way many other officials serving P-Noy always do) while lumping others on the OTHER SIDE.

As the FB entry put it, he seemed to just want to serve the entire Filipino people. That’s probably why, at this time of great divisiveness over many issues, it was Robredo’s tragic passing that---for one single moment in our time--- united our people regardless of political ideology.


The Makati Medical Center startled a lot of people, especially its patrons of decades, when it issued a disclaimer that the views expressed by cardiologist Roberto Anastacio on former President GMA’s medical problem is his alone and not the MMC’s. Dr. Anastacio said at a recent press con that the blockage of CGMA’s esophagus arising from a displaced titanium plate and a blocked coronary artery could lead to her “sudden death.” He recommended immediate repetitive surgery in either NYC or Austria, the only two places where this is done skillfully.

The MMC denied that Anastacio’s views reflect the hospital’s stand---something I cannot recall it doing before to a doctor in its roster. This shows how political the issue of CGMA’s foreign treatment has become and the power-politics being played on it. Let's call on Speaker Sonny Belmonte as the leader of the House to weigh in on this issue.  


Several political pundits and FB subscribers have queried why the Palace had tarried in submitting to the Commission on Appointments Jesse Robredo’s appointment papers for the DILG post---which apparently was a direct reason why the CA had failed to confirm him in over two years. Given the President's tight grip on Congress, as demonstrated by the impeachment trial of CJ Corona, it was unthinkable that Robredo would fail to be confirmed. 

Pundits traced this to the fact that P-Noy seemed uncertain about how he felt about his Cabinet official and their differences in the “style" of doing things;  how, finally, in December 2011, P-Noy was able to reconcile himself to it and Robredo's appointment papers landed in the CA. Certainly Robredo had a firm grip on the LGUs which he understood very well, having been six-term mayor of Naga City. But it was no secret that he did not have a tight hold on the PNP, its jurisdiction having been left more to Undersecretary Rico Puno.

Thus the public manifestation of grief by P-Noy and his Cabinet over Robredo’s tragic accident could be a way of ASSUAGING THEIR CONSCIENCE over their late appreciation of their fallen colleague.  But never  mind: the Filiipino people already “confirmed “Secretary Jesse with their tremendous outpouring of grief over his passing. Looking back at events, it’s not easy to think who could have been mourned as much in current officialdom.


The battle over the RH bill---which is bitterly dividing the nation as few issues have---is being fought with heated arguments as well as intimations into the  “supernatural.”  Last Aug. 6, while viva voce voting in the House on whether or not to terminate the debates over this bill was being pushed by its proponents (after 180 members returned from the Palace luncheon where P-Noy exhorted them to vote one day ahead of the agreed-upon schedule---to the protestations of the bishops later), tremendous rains were being poured by the habagat into the metropolis and surrounding provinces. The deluge---still unexplained to this day---caused massive evacuations. 

Then, in the wee hours of Aug. 7, the co-sponsor of the RH bill, Rep. Sonny Escudero of Sorsogon, died in his sleep after a long bout with cancer. Later that same afternoon, as the House prepared for debates on RH amendments, the Ms. Cecilia Lagman, mother of the bill's principal sponsor, Rep. Edcel Lagman, also died (it’s a testimony to Edcel’s determination that he stayed on in the chamber, keenly watching developments). That night the import of those recent events was discussed in hushed whispers among House members.


Next day, Rep. Roilo Golez of Paranaque, an anti-RH advocate, stood up on personal privilege to propose that instead of debating the RH bill, the House ought to look into the vast swathe of devastation in the metropolis, and showed slides to drive his point. When Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin tried to shut up Golez after 45 minutes, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez grabbed the mike to second Golez's motion to adjourn. Deputy Speaker Crispin Remulla had no choice but to bang the gavel and re-set the House session to Aug. 28, when this “live” motion will have to be taken up again.

This time it was the pro-RH’s turn to complain of railroading, but they did not have the numbers to rebut the quorum challenge of the anti-RH. Expect fireworks on Aug. 28.


Since that fateful Aug. 7, it became noticeable that many pro-RH solons had begun to stay away from session. Some were said to have started early election campaigning, but some colleagues whispered that  the absentees were simply spooked by the hair-raising train of events since the habagat floods. Then last  Aug. 18, the one-engine plane carrying Secretary Robredo went missing, and the long agonizing search for him and the pilots transfixed the nation. Then a Navy chopper, part of the Robredo rescue mobilization, plunged into the sea in Sorsogon.

All these recent developments have provoked questions in many solons’ minds---as well as the public: e.g., why push this bill that has become so divisive, when so many problems are facing the nation?  Shouldn’t P-Noy seek to decipher the import of all these events? 

In the realm of the rational, debates could go on, but when it comes to the meaning behind events, fears take over.  The House seems spooked enough to archive the bill.


In the level of the rational, a big debate is going on, spearheaded by CBCP President and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma. Some 160 professors of the Ateneo University recently signed a manifesto urging passage of the RH bill to uplift the plight of underprivileged women who allegedly suffer from too many pregnancies and poor health care (I later learned that a number of the signatories are students and admin personnel).  

Archbishop Palma challenged the signatories to resign from this Catholic institution of higher learning and teach in sectarian schools instead, if they don't want to teach the Church position. He also asked the Ateneo to state its position vis-à-vis that of the Church on the RH issue (news accounts spoke of Catholic schools abroad that had lost their “pontifical” status owing to open disagreements with Church positions).

Staunch pro-lifer and professor Rosemarie Pasimio-Padre quickly supported Palma’s challenge to the Ateneo signatories, while a group of alumni-parents applied the squeeze on the school’s youthful president, Fr. Jett Villarin, and the Jesuit Order. They asserted that they had entrusted their children to the Ateneo in the expectation that the latter would imbibe Catholic views on issues; they protested the stand of the professors.   


Villarin replied to the alumni parents by declaring openly Ateneo’s support for the Church’s anti-RH stand, even as he said the school respects the academic freedom of the dissenters and appealed to them to work for "more discernment." It remains to be seen whether the parents and the bishops would find his response satisfactory, and how this issue would impact on other Catholic institutions. One school that could be caught in the vise is De La Salle University whose former president, Bro. Armin Luistro, is now Secretary of Education. 

The bishops appear to be REVITALIZED by the challenge of the RH issue;  far from shirking, they seem to be in fighting form not seen since the end of the Marcos era. But this issue could also create a fissure in our political and moral society that could profoundly impact on values and direction.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nation keeps praying for Robredo. Evelio Javier’s widow Precious passes away, to be buried beside her beloved in Antique. Reports from grapevine: Abad to be transition CJ, succeeded by Sereno, or she lands straight in top post. Nene bats for compassion for GMA.

As I write this online column early tonight, news came in that the body of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo was found very near Masbate island, following the crash of his one-engine plane yesterday. And yet, just half an hour later, a friend who keeps close tab of the news said the earlier report was not true---a hoax. At this point the entire nation remains prayerful that somewhere he is alive and will surface eventually, for Jesse Robredo is one of the few unqualifiedly admired in the Cabinet of President Aquino. 

My most recent encounter with him was last year---after a whole-day forum in Makati he came to guest in the radio program Cecile Alvarez and I had run for a good number of years over DZRH. We had a good dialogue about his pet political principle—the participation of people from the broad base, power pushing upwards instead of the common notion of it trickling from above.  Robredo lived this principle as mayor in his native Naga City, which is why he’s so loved there.

Across the nation, Filipinos value his simplicity, naturalness and lack of pomposity; he enjoys high credibility--- so much so that despite the criticisms about how the Cabinet handled its baptism of fire, the Luneta massacre, Robredo escaped its scathing intensity, unlike Rico Puno who had to be shipped to Harvard for a while. May God comfort his loving family in these trying times.


Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile raised a good point when he criticized the security people of Sec. Robredo in making the latter fly in a one-engine light plane at night over water (from Cebu to Naga City, ditching it over Masbate when the plane developed engine trouble). Enrile said this should be a no-no. He can say that again.

I remember when I, then a political reporter for the black-and-white Mr. and Ms. Magazine, flew in one such plane, hardly bigger than a tutubi, with two prominent Jesuits, Fathers James Donelan and Bienvenido Nebres (who both became president of the Ateneo University), to San Jose, Antique, for the funeral of its beloved hero for democracy, Gov. Evelio Javier, at dawn on February 18, 1986. We returned the same day to Manila as dark was approaching.  Fr. Donelan, the pilot, kept the plane hugging the shores, but when we got to San Jose, Sen. John Osmena, who followed us in his twin-engine plane on the cogon-runway, was horrified that I could even think  of flying in that single-engine tutubi.

In the return flight I got so terrified because of what John had said, but Fr. Donelan, his Irish wit ever-flashing, sought to comfort me by saying, “Don’t worry, if we should go down either Fr. Nebres or myself could give you absolution.” Then Fr. Donelan related how once, returning to Manila from Culion Leper Colony where he made regular visits, his engine conked out  over Merville Subdivision;  he simply let it glide to the airport runway. By then I was frozen with fear, but luckily we made it alright.


Reminiscing about Evelio Javier, let me report that his lovely widow, Precious Lotilla-Javier (sister of former Usec Popo Lotilla), passed away a few days ago in California, after a long bout with cancer. Her son Gideon travelled there and will accompany her remains here, to be buried beside her beloved Evelio in San Jose, Antique. Precious had lived in the US for many years.

I recall in one of those gatherings in October 1985 of kindred folks working for the restoration of democracy in our country, Evelio intimated to me about how he longed to see his wife and children in the US. He was full of yearning for them, and Precious sacrificed so much in their being apart. I encouraged Evelio to fly there right away even for a quick visit, but he felt he just couldn’t yet, as the fight here was just beginning to heat up. 

Four months later Evelio was gunned down by henchmen of his political enemy in Antique, as he guarded the ballots of Cory Aquino. Her son Noynoy should never forget how much his family owes to people like Evelio Javier.


The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the national lawyers’ organization set up by law, and the Judicial and Bar Council which is mandated by the Constitution to screen nominees for the judiciary, deserve heartfelt congratulations for standing up to tremendous pressures not to insert the name of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima last minute in the JBC’s short-list for CJ. Had the IBP caved in to pressures to discontinue its investigation of the disbarment cases filed by two lawyers against De Lima, the JBC could have had reason to include her in the short-list, and as the President has stated, he would not have been “disappointed.”  

But because the IBP stood its ground, the JBC couldn’t do anything; despite the stubborn fight Undersecretary Musngi gave on behalf of the Palace to have De Lima’s name in the JBC short-list. There was also tremendous public pressure on these two organizations to respect the rule of law and not alter their rules of engagement.


There’s now a lot of speculation on who’d be the next CJ. Rooters of acting CJ Antonio Carpio, led by the almighty Sigma Rho frat and his media sympathizers, are exerting all kinds of pressure to have him appointed, but they may be in for a disappointment.

From the grapevine, reports say that SC Justice Roberto Abad, who retires in May 2014, may be a transition CJ, after which P-Noy will appoint Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, his first appointee to the SC. But then again, there are persistent reports that he would directly appoint Sereno to the top post. If this happens, and assuming she gets to the retirement age of 70, she’ll not only be the first female CJ, but she’ll figure in four presidencies---part of P-Noy’s, two full succeeding presidencies, and four years of the fourth presidency.


Palace officials are now saying that the state of health of former President Macapagal Arroyo ought to be studied by “independent doctors” after her cardiologist at Makati Medical Center, Dr. Roberto Anastacio, had said in a press conference that GMA’s  blocked esophagus and a coronary artery could lead to “sudden death” if not attended to. Anastacio recommended immediate treatment in either New York City or Austria, where repetitive surgery is practiced well.

But before this, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said that verification should be made whether doctors and health facilities abroad could be brought here to look at GMA. And still earlier, the Palace was quoted as saying that it’s leaving this issue of GMA’s foreign treatment to the courts. 

Kung ano-ano na lang excuse for not letting her leave, which is her right under the International Declaration of Human Rights.  


Every person of note has weighed in on letting GMA leave for foreign treatment. There’s former Sen. Nene Pimentel, a staunch critic of GMA, who argues that “while justice must be served, it should be carried out with compassion.”  Nene stresses that he is not a supporter of GMA, “but in the cases filed against her, there must be compassion because that is the right and moral thing to do.” He added that part of that compassion is making sure her medical needs are properly addressed---and this includes being allowed to seek medical treatment abroad if that is the best option for her.”

But P-Noy seems determined to ignore all the pleas on behalf of GMA and  keep her here at all cost. There should be people who can knock some sense into his head, or better still, knock at his hard heart.

Earlier I argued that even Ferdinand Marcos allowed a convicted and sentenced Ninoy to leave for Texas for his heart by-pass, even though this was already being done here. P-Noy must also remember that Imelda Marcos, who was already being tried at the Sandiganbayan, was allowed to leave for a glaucoma operation abroad. 

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Friday, August 17, 2012

P-Noy should not forget that his father, then a prisoner convicted, albeit, by a kangaroo court, was allowed by Ferdinand Marcos to leave for his Texas by-pass. GMA should be allowed to leave for treatment abroad. Sotto exposes international tentacles of pro-RH advocates. No need for a divisive RH Law that's hazy on use of abortifacient contraceptives.

Palace Spokesperson Abigail Valte had earlier said the Palace is leaving to the Pasay RTC and the Sandiganbayan the issue of whether to allow former President Macapagal Arroyo to leave the country for medical treatment. But from past experience it's evident that the Palace does weigh in on GMA’s fate; hence, those of us who believe she should be allowed to seek medical treatment in New York City, as her attending doctor at Makati Medical Center, Dr. Roberto Anastacio, has recommended, have to address this humanitarian appeal directly to President Aquino. A signature campaign is currently going on in support of this appeal.

Dr. Anastacio has pointed out that the displacement of the titanium plate in GMA's spine and a blocked right artery could be life threatening; and since he is one of the country’s foremost cardiologists, we cannot think he’d allow himself to articulate something he doesn’t believe in.


P-Noy must remember that Ferdinand Marcos allowed his father Ninoy, then a convicted prisoner (albeit by a kangaroo court), to leave for a heart bypass in Texas. The hold-order against GMA still has no basis as her PCSO plunder case is still in the investigative stage. If the administration were worried that GMA would not return, it could send security personnel with her; but she should be allowed to leave for medical treatment in NYC, as even the worst dictatorships abroad have shown humanitarian considerations to their opponents.


Sen. Tito Sotto is being accused by pro-RH advocates of having plagiarized US-based blogger Sarah Pope in his recent Senate speech against the bill. The pro-RH people have found a new issue, now that they are running out of arguments and with the pro-Life people exhibiting incredible strength of purpose. Last night Sotto insisted that he and his researchers accessed only the works of Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride and not any blogger.

It’s easy to believe Sotto as his knowledge of the Internet must be very limited; moreover, as in the case of the SC Justice and the UP Law professor whose researchers failed to properly credit lifted passages, Sotto must be totally dependent on his own researcher’s responsible write-up. Today, however, after some investigation, his Chief of Staff admitted the error in the senator’s speech as the failure of the researcher, and he apologized to Pope who is, of course, not mollified.


But to me the really significant issue Sotto raised was the terrifying plan of international organizations and a foreign government to push population control through the widespread use of contraceptives---some of them plainly abortifacient and therefore violative of our Constitution. Sotto asserted that these organizations, together with their allies in the international pharmaceutical industry, seek to tighten their grip on our country and people---through the flow of unlimited funds for a supremely well-oiled media campaign.  Their control strategy has been discredited in the developed countries that are now plagued by a “demographic winter,” and so they wish to export it to poor and helpless Third World countries, especially in Africa, but to include the Philippines.

In his recent speech Sen. Sotto succeeded in focusing on the nature of contraceptives, which has been at the heart of the RH controversy over the decade. He tearfully alleged that his five-month old son died of complications when his wife, actress Helen Gamboa, got pregnant despite the contraceptives she was taking. Sotto cited that Ms. Gamboa’s late attending physician, the famed Dr. Carmen Enverga Santos, had ascribed the infant’s death to the contraceptives; but this was immediately disputed by pro-RH advocates, including the former Health Secretary and director of the Philippine Heart Center, Dr. Esperanza Cabral, who demanded that Sotto produce his son’s death certificate, so his claim could be verified. 


There is little question, however, that there’s a lot of suspicion among people, especially in the poorer sectors of society, about the abortifacient nature of certain contraceptives. There’s a lot of studies to back up this fear, especially about the use of the IUD, which induces bleeding, and certain pills such as the so-called “morning after” pills (officially known as “post-coital contraceptive” or PCC). A young woman, mother of one boy, who works as supervisor in my son’s food outlet, is not pregnant but her stomach has been bloating.  Ultrasound found a big tumor and her OB-Gyn flatly opined that it’s due to her long use of contraceptives.


Fear of the ill-effects of contraceptives---and the fact that it goes against the morals of the Catholic faith and are expensive---have made the natural family planning method increasingly popular. 

Not long ago I was invited to sit in at a seminar on NFPM being pushed at the grassroots in various parts of the country by the dedicated group of Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma. The lady conducting it, former DSWD official Mila Rivera, explained a woman’s monthly reproductive cycle and indicated which are the safe and the unsafe days for sexual intercourse---by using two kinds of colored beads very similar to a rosary given to the attendees. Its success can be attributed to the fact that many husbands join their wives at these seminar. Mila explained that among the reasons why the men are eager to learn this method are their fear of the ill-effects of contraceptives and their high costs.

One drawback, of course, for some couples is that the natural method works only for those women with a regular cycle.


The RH bill puts so much emphasis on contraceptives, but critics point out that it’s vague and hazy about those that could lead to abortion. To that great communicator, the late US President Ronald Reagan, however, “Economic growth is the best contraceptive” and he’s right. If our economy is being touted now by the P-Noy administration as the strongest in Southeast Asia, it leads anti-RH folks to ask, why the need for a law that proposes a drastic cut on population growth?

In the first place, Ph population growth has already vastly declined---from 2.6 percent in the ‘80s to only 1.9 percent at present, as per NSO statistics; the UN even says it’s now only 1.8%.

Pro-RH people also lament that daily some 11 to 15 mothers die from childbirth complications, but how true is this? Sen. Sotto said he sent his staff to survey government hospitals around the country and in Northern, Central and Southern Luzon, for instance, he asserted that the highest toll recorded for the entire 2011 was seven deaths out of 2,584 deliveries in the Batangas Regional Hospital. In other hospitals it was far lower.


Pro-RH advocates argue that they’re pushing the RH bill so that couples can have an “informed choice” about options open to them. I have no quarrel with this, but why do we need to pass a law to this effect in our day and age of UNLIMITED INFORMATION ACCESS (yes, even to bloggers)? It’s a fact that a good number of private organizations and UN agencies devoted to population management (euphemism for control) have been operating in our country and disseminating their information campaign, e.g., the Planned Parenthood of the Philippines and the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines. All of them enjoy enormous funding from the US-AID, some UN agencies and private organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Why do we still need this law that has divided the country so badly? A legislator has admitted that even the leadership of the House (but apparently not that of the Senate which is anti-RH) is badly divided over this issue.  

The only reason I can think why pro-RH advocates are pushing the bill is the prospect of more and bigger funding for their cause. But our legislators should question what the real motives of these “donors” are.

There’s no need for a law on RH that has become so divisive. There is need only for growth opportunities that can train our young population---which is the envy of our graying neighbors in the region and the world--- and provide them gainful employment. Indeed, economic growth remains the best contraceptive.      

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dick Pascual’s column cuts into heart of population issue: Ph growth rate has declined from 2.34 percent in 1990-2000 to 1.9 percent in 2000-2010, as per NSO statistics. If so, why is Aquino administration still pushing the RH bill, to point of dividing the nation and sapping precious energies that ought to address our gargantuan problems, e.g., climate change and rehab of devastated areas?

Star columnist Dick Pascual, my early editor at Inquirer, has this fantastic gift for cutting into the heart of an issue and putting it in such simple manner that its clarity actually stuns. In his column today Dick cited actual statistics from the National Statistics Office that showed that Philippine population growth rate slid down from 2.34 percent in 1990-2000 to 1.9 percent in 2000-2010; on the other hand, the latest UN report places Ph population growth at only 1.8 percent.  

These are actual statistics one can't quarrel with.  The question is, given these stats, why is the Aquino administration pushing the RH bill to the point of dividing the nation and sapping so much energies that ought to be devoted to the terrifying problems of climate change and the gargantuan demands of rehabilitation? Is it because this administration’s under the dictates of a foreign ideology that makes compliance with certain conditions (such as limiting population) the quid pro quo for funding under the Millennium Development Goals? What about the tremendous pressures from gigantic pharmaceutical companies that manufacture contraceptives and other birth control devices?


Dick Pascual cited various periodicals from around the world that spoke of the dire effects of the aging populations vs. the ticking time bomb of falling birth rates in the more advanced  countries, such as China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea here in Asia, as well as in America and in Europe, such as in Spain, Greece, Germany, Italy, etc.

The problem, as Pascual cited in Andrew Loh's article last Sept. 11, 2011, appears to be most severe in Singapore, where former PM Lee Kuan Yew again raised---almost 30 years later---the worrisome problem of falling birth rates, ironically, following his government’s “aggressive and highly successful anti-birth campaigns in the 1970s." As the article said, “This is set against the backdrop of an even grimmer statistic---Singapore’s present fertility rate of 1.15, one of the lowest in the world.” 

Despite all inducements to have more babies, the city state's population has stagnated, to the point where foreign workers have to be imported to sustain the labor force needed (studies have shown that Singapore needs six million people to run the country efficiently, but the population is only about four million. Today it campaigns actively for college students from Ph to spend their fourth year working there).


The same problem is true in China where the 30-year old one-child policy is back-firing as the population ages. In Europe and in America, the graying population cannot sustain the economy and the No.1 problem is preventing the collapse of the social security system and stretching retirement benefits.

 As the Wall Street Journal put it, “The math is simple. Birth rates have fallen so far and so fast that the thinning ranks of the young can no longer support the burgeoning numbers of retirees in country after country. Greece and Spain are already going over a demographic cliff.” WSJ traced the problem, at root, to the “birth dearth” and the “strange barrenness of this generation,” which, in turn, are traceable to “delayed marriages, wealth, divorce, legalized abortion and accessible contraception.”

Do all these methods of controlling population sound familiar? Indeed, this is what one hears in certain sectors of our media nowadays that try to sound “liberated,” as well as in the halls of our Congress. But we should learn from the examples of countries that are now having problems with their labor force and the economy.


Pro-RH solons in the House, where this bill will undergo a period of amendment in the next few days, argue that our galloping population growth is hampering our economic progress, but the statistics show actual decline in growth. The pro-RH representatives also argue that we have a population explosion, but they know that in their own provinces there is no such thing; in fact, in many parts of Mindanao and the Visayas one can drive for two hours and hardly meet any people or run into settlements. 

It is only Luzon---and its cities for that matter---which seem to be bursting at the seams. Why? Because opportunities for work and employment are found mainly in the so-called Luzon corridor that runs from Dagupan to Lucena. It is a question of poor national allocation of resources.

I once had a driver whose family lived in Romblon; because of the separation he always felt miserable. It got to a point where I gave him money to go home and get a job there so they could all be together. After two months he was back---no work opportunities in my province, he said. This is true of so many places in the country.

The overpopulation in the cities strains all facilities---work, schools, health, etc., so that indeed mothers have to die at childbirth because of poor maternal care and many children grow up without ever seeing a doctor. Distribute the national resources well and we can set up health centers and schools, as well as training centers for our young labor force---which is the true asset of our country and the envy of many other countries. 


Our pro-RH legislators want to inculcate a contraceptive mentality---distribute condoms and other contraceptives to prevent teen-age pregnancies. But Thailand did that and it became the AIDS capital of Asia. The way to tackle teen-age pregnancies is to give better access to education and training for our young people---so that they can get better employment opportunities and not have to plunge into early marriages or live-ins. It's when they don’t do anything with their lives that problems begin---teen-age marriages they're not ready for, pregnancies, drugs, thievery, etc.

I once had a young house-help named Marie whom I sent to Punlaan School for a year's training in cooking, as she had a knack for it. On a vacation she went home to Sorsogon and found all her high school contemporaries married with already so many kids, and their equally youthful husbands or partners were struggling for work. 

I always like to point to South Korea as example. Decades back SK had the same problem---how to handle the burgeoning of the population. Its leaders rightly realized that economic progress would be the more meaningful solution. And indeed, as the economy began to boom, many Korean couples engaged in multiple family businesses---and the birth rate dropped. In fact today SK's problem is its graying population.


We should learn from the lessons of other countries, WHICH HAVE TRIED TO MONKEY AROUND WITH POPULATION CONTROL TO THEIR DETRIMENT.  Pro-RH people do not want to use the term "population control," but the fact is that that’s what they seek to impose; and the Department of Health and local government agencies have been implementing policies in this direction for some time now, though quietly.  The RH bill only seeks to legalize these policies so that they could be implemented widely and openly.

Let’s open our eyes to the problems of other countries which made the wrong moves. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, "the problem with the Philippines is not overpopulation.  It is too few growth opportunities.”  Let’s allocate our resources to real growth opportunities for our people's benefit.

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