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

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

CJ Sereno has to answer issues raised by Bobi Tiglao on her integrity. Former Nat. Treasurer Leonor Briones and Rep. Angel Palmones score “hidden” items in P2 trillion admin budget for 2013--election budget na kaya? Leni Robredo would be great as RTC judge---or PCSO Chair vice the controversial Margie Juico.






On the first day of flag-raising presided over by new Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno at the Supreme Court, only six of her colleagues showed up, while seven stayed away.  According to reports the “snubbing” magistrates wanted to telegraph the message that they didn’t feel good about her appointment.


It’s obvious that the rift within the Court is serious and deep, and this has to be recognized and addressed by the new CJ. The Palace earlier pooh-poohed such rift, but at this time the better thing is for it to distance itself from that problem, as the solution lies within the SC.


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A number of prominent lawyers and opinion-makers argue that Sereno deserves a chance to prove herself---and there are those who are open-minded about her. In fact, soon after her appointment to the top post, her office issued a “correction” on her SALN and it seems to be generally accepted, whereas Renato Corona was ousted from the same post because of alleged mis-declaration in his SALN. 

Of course it could be argued that in Corona’s case the amount of wealth involved was far bigger, but that’s not the point. The fact is that the principle of rectification of SALN was not accepted in his case, whereas allowance was given to Sereno to "correct" hers---a clear case of double-standard.


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But if the rift between Sereno and her colleagues in the Court is to be addressed, the CJ has to resort to the only solution---a sincere dialogue  with her colleagues, as Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has exhorted her to do.  A number of issues have greeted her brand-new SC reign and for starters, perhaps she could explain away the very serious issues raised by columnist Rigoberto Tiglao last Thursday, which go into the heart of her integrity as a person and an official. 


Then too, SC Associate Justice Arturo Brion has asked that the result of his psychiatric test conducted on orders of the JBC be made public, which it’s resisting. It would make a big difference, however,  if Sereno, now as JBC Chair, orders full disclosure of the psychiatric tests on all the nominees---never mind if she suffers in the process, being kulelat in that regard among the eight nominees in the short-list.


As has been touted repeatedly in the Corona impeachment trial, transparency should be honored in the Court.





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At the flag-ceremony Sereno’s statement startled a lot of people when she said that her appointment was “neither the work of man nor of any political bloc…not a product of lobbying from business or economic interests but by God who knows all the plan of our nation.” She said plainly it was God who appointed her, which led a commentator to wryly observe that now P-Noy has been “deified.”


Given what I read in the Manila Times about Sereno’s psychiatric report, however, where it mentions how she exhibits “religious preoccupation in almost all significant aspects of her life,” I’m not surprised by this statement---especially since reports indicate that she is a born-again Christian said to regularly attend the Victory Church in Global City.


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Former National Treasurer in the Estrada administration Leonor Magtolis-Briones and her allied group of 100 NGOs, led by the Social Watch Philippines and Alternative Budget Initiative, are doing patriotic service to country and people by exposing unexplained “insertions” into the P2 trillion government budgets for 2013. In an excellent front-page story in Manila Standard by ace reporter Christine F. Herrera, Liling Briones was quoted as saying that some P282.4 billion were “hidden” in unproductive allocations in the 2013 budget, such as bonuses, doles and “retirement.”


Briones has promised to make government account for every centavo of this biggest budget ever in local history, which party-list Representatives Angelo Palmones and Raymond Palatino have characterized as “an election budget.”  

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It’s not hard to believe that allegation. For instance, one item in the budget that especially raises the hackles of Prof. Briones and civil society groups is the jump of the Conditional Cash Transfer budget from P39 billion to P45 billion for next year. Briones has been criticizing the CCT as corruption-prone and heightening the dole-out mentality and negative traits such as inggitan and laziness among our people. I totally agree with her---in fact I opine that instead of outright dole this gargantuan fund should be used to pay salaries of citizens hired to work on the rehab of environmental disaster-stricken regions, e.g., in the new quake-devastated areas.


Another tough problem of the CCT is the near-impossibility of monitoring its huge funds. COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan revealed her office finding of unaccounted “over-the-counter” disbursements of P3.77 billion for the CCT, while senators question the huge part of its budget eaten up by administration.


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I checked out the Standard story with Agham Rep. Angelo Palmones the complaints of Prof. Briones and civil society about the hidden, unreported items in the “National Expenditures Program” submitted by the Palace, which will become the basis of the House bill on the General Appropriations Act.


Palmones agreed with Briones. He cited as example the presence of the P1.7 billion item in the 2012 budget, called “Pamana,” which are being distributed to various agencies this year. Interestingly, he said, in the 2013 budget submitted by the Palace, line agencies such as  DOH, DPWH, DA and ARMM still kept reporting projects under “Pamana” when this item has already disappeared in the 2013 budget.  When Palmones queried them about it, they cited as their fund source the “Priority Social and Economic Project Fund” that had apparently replaced “Pamana”---now worth P22.4 billion!


Palmones also cited an “unprogrammed” fund worth P17 billion as well as  "retirement funds" under the Special Purpose Fund that have jumped from P34.4 billion last year to P98.7 billion in 2013!. Sobra naman ang laki, Palmones says, “It’s as if they’ll be retiring the entire bureaucracy already.” 


Palmones stressed that it is the duty of the House, as the purse-keeper of the nation, to scrutinize the budget and he prays that it would conduct this task with persistence and independence. It should target especially those gargantuan items that are clearly suspicious-looking and perhaps designed  "in aid of the LPs' election." 

We citizens ought to support representatives dutifully committed to carrying it out.


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I got interesting reactions in FB and the email on what kind of life citizens want for the late Secretary Jesse Robredo’s widow, lawyer Ma. Elena “Leni” Robredo. Nearly all were unanimous in recommending that she spurn the offer of President Aquino and the LP to run in its senatorial slate in 2013. I had opined in my blog that such action would be making political capital of her husband’s passing that was mourned by the entire nation and it wouldn’t look kindly at that venture.


In fact two good friends of mine, Lyn Besa Gamboa and Neny Apostol Regino, said on FB that let’s leave the lady alone to handle her grief;  to which I wanted to argue back that perhaps taking up an advocacy or two is actually the best antidote to the awesome grief she must be feeling now (I speak from experience).


But not surprisingly, many readers welcomed the JBC’s announcement that Leni Robredo has been nominated for appointment to a regional trial court. That, to my mind, is something that she, a lawyer, can handle on her own, and the incredible outpouring of grief for her husband doubtless has carved out such a spiritual depth in her being as to make her a sensitive judge.


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Some folks also suggested that Leni be appointed to chair the PCSO--- as they feel she’d be the right person for that job, after all the controversies that have hounded the board of controversial chair Margie Juico. A lot of complaints have come to this blog’s attention about the PCSO---how it has marginalized the very poor and needy by drastically cutting its budget for them, beginning from the time when it moved its site from the Quezon Institute that President Quezon had envisioned decades ago to house and treat patients with TB, still the biggest killer disease in our country, to the inaccessible PICC. The PCSO also has gotten embroiled in a number of scandals in the past two years, among them the scandalizing of Catholic bishops by accusing them of having received Pajeros  from the GMA administration, when in reality these were mainly second-hand inexpensive vehicles for far-flung areas of the country.  No apologies from the PCSO.


Given the deep well of compassion and the sensible head on her shoulders that Ms. Robredo seems to be gifted with, she would make a terrific PCSO chair who could straighten up that agency. But it seems that she has her eyes set on the judiciary, as she was already on the JBC’s list of applicants since early this year, after she was interviewed last February. 





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