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, September 19, 2012

JPE-Trillanes open fight eclipses Miriam's abandonment of her Sec. 20 motion on two Cabinet members in grand CA moro-moro. A coup in progress vs. JPE? P-Noy should let go of controversial Puno---permanently. Ilocos farmers should explore raising high-value veggies for juicing, instead of fretting over lost tobacco market. Pope Benedict gambles personal safety in fabulous Lebanon visit.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago
Recent news report said Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago was mobbed at a book fair at Mall of Asia, with 600 people bursting into applause after her presence was announced as special guest. It was obviously the people’s favorable reaction to her much-publicized protest of the “snub” she received from Cabinet members and eight senators who all failed to show up at the committee hearing she called last Friday to investigate allegations of wrong-doing of resigned DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno (continuing jueteng, illegal and questionable gun contracts, etc.).

The feisty Ilongga senadora grandly announced that she would invoke Sec. 20 in the powerful Commission on Appointments, against the snubbing Cabinet members whose confirmations are still pending; moreover, she said she would boycott Senate sessions in retaliation against her colleagues.  


The spontaneous applause for Miriam was reminiscent of the standing ovation she got at a performance of prima ballerina Lisa Macuja, soon after the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona where she and two colleagues voted for him. In succeeding days she was also mobbed in supermarkets.

These reactions can be read as protests of ordinary folks against excesses of the Aquino government, to which only Miriam seems to be standing up these days amid a pliant Congress. Of course, earlier today we saw how she eventually caved in and revoked her Sec. 20 motion against Secretaries Mar Roxas of DILG and Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya of DOTC, which led to their quick confirmation (had she not abandoned her Sec. 20 motion, President Noynoy would be forced to extend interim appointments to them).

 But by now we all know how politics works in this country with its imbedded pakikisama, moro-moro and grandstanding. Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto earlier talked to Miriam who was quickly mollified in the case of Roxas and Abaya, though she still bristles at mention of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and DENR Secretary Ramon Paje (whom she also summoned last Friday but didn’t show up).  Vamos a ver.

Malacanang obviously worked hard to render Miriam’s committee hearing inutile in investigating Rico Puno---with the no-show of the Cabinet members and all 10 senator-members, except for Koko Pimentel and Alan Peter Cayetano who rendered token presence. Contrast this earlier snub of the Puno hearing with the senators’ openness now to investigate the new scandal affecting the PDEA chief. 

As Star legal columnist Joe Sison puts it, what makes Puno so malakas?


A week and a half ago, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile himself floated  rumors of an impending coup against him; the temptation at that time to connect that alleged plot to his judicious handling of the Puno hot potato couldn’t be ignored. But just as the Senate session today was winding up, JPE detonated a bomb in the form of an open accusation against Sen. Antonio Trillanes about the latter's alleged acting as spokesman for China---and against Ph interest---in the Scarborough conflict, and how his back-channeling in Beijing has worked to the detriment allegedly of our government.

Trillanes accused JPE in turn of making public what he's not supposed to---the supposed confidential notes of Ambassador to Beijing Sonia Brady on Trillanes' back-channeling effort (she was taken ill in Beijing two months ago and there's speculation that this could have been due to the pressure of tiptoeing between the senator and the DFA?). 


Apparently there has been a simmering feud between JPE and his junior colleague for sometime now, with JPE critical of the latter's frequent presence in Palace security meetings on China. But what appears to have angered JPE today---bringing the feud out in the open---was Trillanes' allegation that JPE was pushing hard to accommodate Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, a frequent Senate visitor lobbying for the division of his province with the creation of Nueva Camarines. 

Even former President GMA's name was dragged when ABS-CBN commentators quoted Trillanes as alleging that GMA personally called up JPE earlier, to push CamSur's division (allegedly to accomodate her son Dato in the new district, thus averting a political battle with Gov. L-Ray Villafuerte).  The allegation about GMA's call was denied by  spokesperson Elena Horn.

With the tension-filled name-calling and charges and counter-charges between the two senators,  the picture's far from clear. Trillanes, who walked out as JPE began his rebuttal, was quoted as saying he's resigning from the majority, to join the minority. At this point, it's hard to say who's in the majority and who's in the minority in the Senate, but Trillanes, an NP, is quite close to P-Noy---who obviously gave him the authority to back-channel with China (no less than 16 times daw!)---and he'll run for reelection under the LP coalition. 

I think we're staring at a coup in progress. Insiders say, however, that for the moment JPE has the majority's support. 


As political pundits noted, the controversial Rico Puno lied about his lack of jurisdiction over the PNP and being only coincidentally in Israel with a lead supplier of guns for the PNP, even before the purchase contract was signed. Then too, there was public uproar not only about his “lockdown” of the office of his boss, the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, which to me is justifiable; what’s not is Puno’s mysterious visit to Robredo’s condo unit the day after the latter’s plane crashed into the sea off Masbate.

If Puno were truly concerned about the safety of the condo, guards could have been posted outside. But there seemed a frenetic search for documents inside---which, in popular perception, tallies with rumors that at the time of his tragic death, Robredo was investigating some issues connected with his subordinate. When the hullaballoo over the condo search became too loud, however, President Aquino was forced to issue a statement from Vladivostok---where he was meeting with fellow APEC leaders---that he had authorized Puno to do all those things.


The President was featured in today's newspapers as accepting the “integrity consortium cooperation agreement” from Makati and foreign businessmen at the “Second Integrity Summit” in Makati. Touching on this rare virtue, P-Noy was quoted as saying he has “a mindset different from typical politicians” and he seeks a successor who could “fortify the culture of integrity that we are building now.”

But the way he has been protecting his KKK buddy since he assumed power (after the August 2010 Luneta hostage fiasco Puno got a mere slap on the wrist and was spirited away to the US for a while), P-Noy is acting like a trapo indeed. Reports say the Palace is looking for another post for his buddy, but if P-Noy were to ask Miriam’s fans, the best thing is to let this character go---permanently.   


With the tightening of screws on “sin taxes” on cigarettes and alcohol, there’s worry about how farmers from the tobacco-producing regions would survive. My humble suggestion is that the Ilocos farmers should be encouraged to cultivate high-value crops, the way they do in Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, Tagaytay, Tanay and other places. I refer to high-value veggies, which so many people (including myself) now take in the form of juice daily for health.

Every morning I take green apple, romain lettuce, celery, cucumber, broccoli, green bell pepper, singkamas, carrot, sugar beet, cauliflower and asparagus---all thrown into a juicer and one tall glass afterwards---before breakfast. I know so many people who have now taken to this healthy drink in one combination or another-- which explains why their prices have gone up.

True, the Ilocos region may be unable to breed all these high-value crops due to climate, terrain etc.; but surely the farmers there can cultivate some, and government should assist them with research. Instead of fretting over the loss of their traditional tobacco crop, they can switch to cultivating the healthier veggies, which will also help us juicing freaks with lower prices too.


Last Sunday I watched the live coverage by Vatican Radio-TV over EWTN of the Holy Mass celebrated in the massive City Center Waterfront of Beirut, Lebanon, by Pope Benedict XVI with some 350,000 people in attendance--- Catholics, Christians of the Eastern Churches and of other faiths, including Muslims. It was a glorious day in Beirut and the Mass was a beautiful celebration of faith, life, hope and love for God and one another.

"To serve justice and peace is extremely necessary in these troubled times," intoned Benedict, as he called for reconciliation and tolerance for one another, regardless of race or beliefs, throughout the Middle East---where violent protests and riots were exploding everywhere in protest of an obscure low-budget video denigrating Prophet Mohammad. It resulted in the death last Sept. 11 of the US ambassador to Libya and several other US personnel, and the virus of violence has spread toward Asia and our own country.

In his three-day visit to Lebanon at the very time bloody riots were exploding in the ME, the 84-year old Pontiff took an enormous gamble in personal safety. But the unity and grace of that Mass in Beirut (attended by the Lebanese President who's a Maronite Christian, his wife and other dignitaries), filled with religious music rendered by five major Christian churches in Lebanon and prayers in various languages, doubtless had a great calming effect on the seething region. Violence subsided this week.


The most significant part of Benedict's "Apostolic Exhortation" for the ME was his reminder to Christians of the various churches that Jesus Christ lived and died in this region---born in Bethlehem in Israel, lived as an infant in Egypt and travelled all over Galilee in His 33-year ministry. Thus, said Benedict, the ME "witnessed His actions and heard His words," adding that  the "cedars of Lebanon" were continuously mentioned in the Bible. Of course, we know how St. Paul travelled all over the ME (struck by the bolt of  conversion on his way to Damascus in Syria, now the scene of bitter civil war) and Asia Minor.

Let's all pray that true peace descends on this holiest---but bloodiest---of regions and that its peoples learn to respect one another regardless of race or creed. 

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