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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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Would Sandy bring “October surprise” in US elections? Militant rival party-list groups doubtless view with tinge of envy Akbayan’s unparalleled political fortunes, but its list of who’s who in P-Noy administration---as well as the Aquino-allied donors to its 2010 war chest--- is truly staggering.


US President Barack Obama


No matter how much the build-up about ‘Franken-Storm' Sandy, when it finally hit the US East Coast its magnitude---a total of 13 states in its gigantic swath of destruction---was just awesome and horrifying. We in this Third World country are visited by some 20 typhoons a year in varying degrees of ferocity, so we're no strangers to disasters. But to see Sandy devastate this most powerful and developed country in the world and leave its people so seemingly helpless in the face of Nature’s triple wrath (hurricane, tropical storm and snow blizzards) was just unbelievable.

Human interest stories such as how 20 sick babies from a neo-natal intensive care unit of a New York City hospital had to be evacuated, attached only to battery-powered respirators as gusts of wind blew their blankets, and how people in darkened skyscrapers in Manhattan had to climb up and down to get food, were gripping.

Our prayers go to the American people at this most trying time.

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Republican challenger Mitt Romney
Sandy devastates at a worst time---as the American people prepare to elect their President and Vice-President.  The floods, power outages affecting 6.2 million people, shut-down of mass transport, forced evacuations of many millions and other disasters covering huge areas across the eastern seaboard could severely impact the elections.

For one, it could lead to postponement in some areas of the elections scheduled next Monday. Then too, it could affect the outcome of a race already in dead heat for three weeks now, so that there could be what political pundits over time have termed the “October surprise.”  This time, could it be that the Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney could stop President Obama’s dash for a second term?

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I had a chat yesterday with my good friend Gene Ballesty, husband of script-writer and director Ma. Luisa Fatima Nebrida, and he noted that in disasters of such magnitude the incumbent leader tends to lose the elections because people would always blame him for what they’re going through---they would never be satisfied with preparations and relief efforts of the federal government. Gene reasoned that US President George W. Bush was severely blamed for what was considered government's the ill-preparedness during hurricane Katrina in 2005.

I agree. Obama, remembering the castigation of Bush too well, cut short his Florida stumping and rushed back to the capital, lest he suffers a similar fate. Already I heard over CNN Obama stressing that his administration had adequately prepared for the super-typhoon. But of course, it’s never enough for people.

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Moreover, the impact on the US economy of Sandy, (including the unprecedented shut-down of Wall Street) is now estimated at  $20 billion, but it definitely would be more. Hence, it could well be that with the already ailing US economy taking enormous super-blows from the super-storm, the electorate would prefer to entrust the next four years to Gov. Mitt Romney, who built up a reputation as a successful business executive and later governor of Massachusetts, instead of Obama.

But we shall see---as right now the race between them is so tight that no one dares predict its outcome.  October surprise, indeed.

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The party-list system has come under heavy scrutiny lately with the review Comelec has been undertaking in connection with which party-list groups qualify and which do not. It’s generally accepted that the party-list concept has departed from what the Constitution had in mind 25 years ago---i.e., representation of marginalized sectors which are authorized under Sec. 2, Art. VI on the Legislative Department, and the enabling act that fleshed it out (RA 7941, the "Party-List System Act), to fill up 20 percent of total seats in the House of Representatives. 

Today there are 44 party-list groups with 58 representatives in the 287-member House.

Part of the problem is that Comelec's perceived as going easy on groups affiliated with the administration, and hard on those that are not.

In the past two weeks the Comelec has disqualified over two dozen groups claiming party-list representation, from some 295 applications for the 2013 elections. Political observers note that party-list applications mushroomed since the Supreme Court eased up on the constitutional requirement of garnering at least 2 percent of votes nationwide to qualify. Now, it's noted, winning 100,000 votes already qualifies a group to have one House seat that entitles the occupant to the P70million pork barrel enjoyed by district reps.  

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But one group defies categorization.  The 14-year old Akbayan is deemed by rival militant groups as no longer a party-list group as its leaders have been appointed to numerous government posts, including juicy Cabinet positions, and it enjoys government support and funding. Rival militant groups led by Bayan, Anakbayan and the National Union of Students of the Philippines have filed petitions before the Comelec to disqualify Akbayan, on the ground that it no longer represents the marginalized sectors of Philippine society.

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Actually controversy over Akbayan’s classification as a party-list group blew out in the open when it was revealed that the three Aquino sisters and Katrina A. Yap alone contributed some P17 million---which constitute 15% of the over P112 million campaign kitty of Akbayan for the 2010 elections. Moreover, as columnist Bobi Tiglao pointed out, the rest of the donors were businessmen closely allied to the Aquino camp, and in fact many of them were subsequently appointed to various posts in P-Noy's administration.

It was quickly pointed out in the media that Akbayan's campaign funds were larger than even the P80 million the Nacionalista Party raised from donations in those elections.

Moreover, published reports about where these funds went to, especially in the run-up to the May 2010 elections and the week immediately after (e.g., radio ads with Manila Broadcasting Company  P1.1million;  ABS-CBN ads P7.3 million, P8.323 million and P2.297 million, GMA Network ads P2.3 million and P7.7 million) showed that Akbayan has moved into the big league already. In fact, its P1.1 million radio ad with MBC alone was equivalent to the entire campaign budget of other left-wing party-list groups.

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Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas
Among those petitioning to disqualify Akbayan, aside from poll watchdog Kontra Daya and UP student leader Cleve Kevin Robert Arguelles, are  Anakbayan (which sought to disrupt a press con of Akbayan recently ), Bayan, Hacienda Luisita’s Ugnayan ng Manggagawa sa Agricultura, and Pamalakaya-southern Tagalog.

Doubtless there’s the element of envy at Akbayan's political fortunes, but the oppositors’ main argument is that it has ceased to represent the marginalized because many of its members have been appointed by President Aquino to various posts. Moreover, it has undue advantage over other party-list groups because of the government aid it has been receiving.

At a recent TV forum Akbayan spokesperson Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez III flatly denied that his group receives government aid.  Okay, so perhaps not in the way other marginalized groups are receiving aid, but if we consider all its members who are receiving salaries in high government positions, then there’s truth to the claim of rival groups.

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The number of Akbayan officials serving in this administration is staggering. In the executive branch are Presidential Political Adviser Ronaldo Llamas (said to be the most powerful Cabinet member, next to Budget Secretary Butch Abad), and his deputy, Undersecretary Barry Gutierrez himself,  Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Ann Rosales (former three-term representative, now Akbayan Chair Emeritus), National Anti-Poverty chair Joel Rocamora, NAPC spokesperson Risa Hontiveros, GSIS Board member Mario Agujo, SSS Commissioner Daniel Edralin, National Youth Commission Commissioner Percival Cendana and Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor Commissioner Angelina Ludovice-Katoh.

Apart from these top-notch officials in the executive branch, there's also a second and third rung of officials appointed to lesser posts there. 

In the House, on the other hand, are two Akbayan representatives, Prof. Walden Bello and lawyer Kaka Bag-Ao. 

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The complaint seeking to disqualify Akbayan cited a previous statement of then ex-Rep. Loretta Rosales that criticized then President GMA’s alleged moves to create a “sizable camp” of (GMA) allies in Congress by “populating the party-list elections” of 2010 with her “administration lapdogs.”

Now the shoe is in the other foot and Akbayan fulfills Etta's prophecy for this administration.

Akbayan member Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel is running under the LP coalition for the Senate in 2013 and she vows not to touch a single centavo from the administration for her campaign. But then, she gets maximum exposure such as when she rode aboard the relief truck with P-Noy in Muntinlupa after a recent calamity and appears as frequent guest at Kris’ TV show. 

To paraphrase Senate President Ponce Enrile talking long ago about another Aquino, if you have the President for a friend, you don’t need any other friend. That's very true of Risa.

Next: positive side of party-list representation


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