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, September 15, 2012

If JPE is ousted from Senate presidency, no one would be surprised, for Senate seems to have become quite servile to P-Noy. Did Al Qaida use region-wide protests over anti-Muhammad film as smokescreen to launch attacks on US embassies---and thus punctuate 9/11 anniversary? Tough balancing act for Arab leaders.

Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has intimated about a plot to oust him from that chamber’s leadership. This is not hard to believe, and as in any ouster plot, one has to look for motivations.  Recall that midway through the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the first half of this year, the same ouster rumor spread about JPE.  I thought at that time that such plot would hinge on whether JPE is pliant to the importuning of Malacanang to get rid of Corona. Enrile voted against Corona and stayed on as Senate Chief.

Now there’s talk again of a coup plot against him (a prime suspect is Franklin Drilon). There are a number of issues that could critically affect JPE’s fate.  One is the RH bill pending in Congress. Enrile has been vocal about his opposition to it, correctly arguing that a young and growing labor force is a definite economic asset to the country; hence, no reason to pass the RH bill to curtail the population, which is already low at 1.8 percent annual growth as per official UN statistics.


Right now JPE can count on his own band of loyalists, which he delivered in toto to oust Corona. But If President Aquino were truly decided to push the bill in this pre-election period---fighting the bishops head on---he could apply the same pressure on JPE:  push RH---or be ousted.

Then too, the summoning by Sen. Miriam Santiago of resigned DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno to explain a number of things---e.g., Puno’s alleged jueteng links, the controversial importation of tens of thousands of guns for the PNP and his raid on the late Secretary Jesse Robredo’s office and even his condominium in Manila the day after Robredo’s plane crashed---may also have an impact on JPE’s fate.


This morning Miriam told media she’s stopping further hearings of her committee on constitutional amendments and the revision of laws because she could not get her fellow senators to attend it; and neither was she getting honest answers from Puno, who’s so close to P-Noy...As Miriam put it, bviously the Palace had a hand in stopping the senators from attend her committee hearing (the only two who attended were Koko Pimentel and Alan Peter Cayetano). .

President Aquino obvious has the senators by the nose and the independence of the Senate (as manifested so clearly in the Corona trial) hardly seems to matter now, as the filing of candidacies on Oct. 5 draws near. Thus, if JPE were to be ousted from his high perch any time, this would not surprise anyone at all.


The world woke up last Thursday to shocking and outrageous news of the violent rocket grenade attacks by Muslim militants on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya last Tuesday, Sept. 11. This resulted in the death apparently by suffocation of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy personnel--- including two marines who guarded him in the safe-room of the consulate.

What reportedly triggered the reprehensible attack on the US Ambassador and personnel was the showing in a militant Cairo TV station last Sept. 8 of an amateurish, low-budget film, titled “Innocence of Muslim,” said to have been produced by a man of Israeli origin living in California and financed by Coptic Christians in the US.

According to militants the film portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a depraved man given to womanizing and it was shown in the TV channel in Cairo of the Salafi movement, a fundamentalist Islamic group said to be more radical than Muslim Brotherhood.


The attacks on US personnel in Benghazi spread to other parts of the Arab world, including the more militant Yemen as well as the moderate societies of Tunisia and the Gaza Strip, and there’s now a tight watch around the world of US diplomatic establishments in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as in Indonesia and Manila.  

The attacks and assault in the Middle East and North Africa appeared at first blush to be spontaneous violent protests over the film considered highly blasphemous of Muhammad. But there’s now a theory that those protests were mere ruse or smokescreen by militants closely linked with the Al-Qaida, to divert attention to their real target. This was, to punctuate the somber  commemoration in the US of the 11th anniversary of the  bombings of the Twin Towers in New York City and part of the Pentagon complex in 2001, by another dastardly terrorist act---the killing the US Ambassador and three other US personnel in Libya.


This smokescreen angle being investigated by US and Libyan authorities and seems to be gaining ground, especially if one considers that this film was first made and uploaded on YouTube much earlier this year, with no reaction. Then it was shown last Sept. 8 in a Cairo militant TV channel, just three days from the 9/11 commemoration---and came the series of attacks against US installations in the Middle East.

Whatever may be the reasons for this latest political conflagration in the Arab world, the fact is that this region remains so volatile---a tinderbox so susceptible to manipulators and terrorists. Comparison can be made to a very dry cogon field in the hot summer, awaiting that one match stick that would set the whole field aflame and burn down the house in its midst.


Unfortunately, the volatility of the situation in the Arab world retards the forces of democratic progress and development in countries that have just recently overthrown their autocratic regimes---when these are the very elements badly needed to install stability there.

The problem is that these new pro-democracy regimes in Egypt and Libya find themselves doing some tough balancing between the demand of the Western powers, especially the US, to install democratic structures in their countries, so Western businesses can come in---while on the other hand, satisfying the new lust for power among their own people who have tasted unbridled freedoms, but don’t know how to handle these.

Egypt is a good example. New President Mohammad Morsi is set to visit the US next week where he hopes to have $1 billion in Egypt’s debts to the US condoned; last week Moors welcomed a delegation of US business leaders looking for investments. But with the recent mob riots against the US embassy in Cairo, the US government and business leaders are now demanding more assurances from Morsi of a crackdown on the radicals.


What needs to be marshaled and nurtured in this volatile Arab region by the US and its allies among the more progressive and democratically-inclined Arab leaders are citizen forces and organizations dedicated to peace and non-violence--- that can counter the seething anger and resentment of mobs against America and the forces of democracy.

A related problem is there is too little economic development in many countries in the Arab world---too many youths who have too little to keep themselves busy, making their idle minds and hands real targets for manipulation by militant Islamist demagogues and jihadist hot-heads. Before you know it, these youths are throwing Molotov cocktails at US embassies.

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