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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.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Who can rev up ailing US economy is still the question on election day. Party-list reps attend sessions more regularly, file more bills and speak out their minds on issues, far more than district colleagues. Justice Brion and ex-Justice Nachura shouldn’t have consented to be wedding sponsors of daughter of SC litigant.


U.S president Barack Obama
At this point, a day before the US presidential elections, the race between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney remains perhaps the most nail-biting in US political history.  And despite the fact that Obama has had a tiny edge in some of the most crucial battlegrounds, according to the major polls over the weekend, still, few pundits would like to predict Tuesday’s outcome.
 Hurricane Sandy, whose bill on the East Coast’s huge swath of destruction promises to be the most gargantuan in US history, remains the possible main determinant of the outcome of the US elections. It would still boil down to economics, as in the start of the election campaign---would there be jobs and more jobs at the moment? As for the long haul, who can rev up the ailing giant economy after Sandy’s mind-boggling destructions?

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Republican Challenger Mitt Romney

Obama’s campaign is elated at the latest jobs report that said his administration was able to generate 170,000 new jobs; but as Romney countered, some 12.5 million Americans still can’t find jobs. As the hurricane whip-lashed in full fury, Obama sought to project the decisive hands-on Commander-in-Chief image. On the other hand, Mitt Romney sought to remind the electorate of his success as a big-time business executive and putting Obama on the defensive on the issue of jobs, he tried to reassure his fellow Americans that he knows how to overhaul their troubled economy and get the country moving again.

The question is, will the American people continue to trust Obama’s promise in his second run to move the country forward? Or will they trust Romney’s pledge to be the real agent for change and rev up that laggard giant economy. We’ll know by late Wednesday morning.

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Many observers are amused that various party-list groups are fighting for domination of the party-list system, and that rivals are picking on Akbayan, doubtless with a tinge of envy at its incredible political fortunes. Rivals now assert that Akbayan no longer represents the poor and the marginalized, and should already convert into a political party; or better still, integrate with the Liberal Party. After all, they stress that well over two dozen Akbayan members are now serving in the Aquno administration, nine of them in very high posts, led by Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas.

Akbayan promptly returned the criticism by calling on its rivals to abandon their communist drift---which, of course, sounded like a strange challenge to the average listener.  As they are wont to say, hindi ba kumunista naman lahat sila? 

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The acrimonious fighting among party-list groups has provoked pundits to question their direction and effectiveness in carrying out the constitutional mandate to promote the welfare of the poor and marginalized. But I must say that not all is negative about the party list system. I caught Akbayan spokesman Barry Gutierrez stressing on TV how it’s the party-list members in the House who religiously attend sessions and participate in deliberations. In fact, he said the party-list guys have filed more bills than their district counterparts.

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Agham's Rep. Angelo Palmones
Because I regularly follow House sessions, I can also attest that It’s the party-list reps who are often more independent-minded and speak out on strong issues, whereas district reps would choose to keep silent out of party loyalty or fear of reprisals. For instance, in budget hearings at the House, it was Rep. Angelo Palmones of Agham who questioned a number of “hidden” and “unspecified” items---totalling over P284 million---in the whopping P2.1 trillion budget of the Aquino administration for 2013. Palmones and civil society leaders such as former National Treasurer Leonor Briones term it the “election budget.”

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On the other hand, Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino has openly pressured the P-Noy administration about the gargantuan allocation this coming year for the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program managed by Dinky Soliman’s DSWD---up from P39 billion this year to P45 billion for 2013. On the other hand, none of the administration district reps have spoken out against the CCT despite numerous criticisms heaped on this dole-out program.

Palatino stressed that after a UN report recently gave the Philippines failing marks in four of the seven Millennium Development Goals (MDG) adopted by UN member-states in 2000---one of them the eradication of extreme poverty---it was time to review the CCT and other supposedly poverty alleviation measures. Palatino decried that “the CCT is nothing but a Band-Aid solution whose effectiveness has been exaggerated by the Arroyo and Aquino Administrations because they have nothing else to offer, to end once and for all the inter-generational poverty in the country.”

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Kabataan's Rep. Raymond Palatino
Well-spoken, Rep. Palatino. Reports from my own sources indicate that the CCT program is frightfully difficult to monitor on the ground, which makes it so susceptible to graft and corruption by those who run it at the grassroots. Reports also indicate that in some areas cash dole-outs are subject to erratic delivery, e.g., sometimes three months late, and amounts are reduced without explanation (binulsa siguro at grassroots, but who among the beneficiaries can complain?).

This program, which the Arroyo administration tried out briefly but stopped precisely because of its proneness to manipulation at ground level, ought to be changed into something more manageable, such as direct employment of warm bodies that could be recorded.  

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I agree with the family of former Occidental Mindoro Rep. Ricardo Quintos, whose son publicly lamented the impropriety of behavior of Supreme Court Associate Justice Arturo Brion and retired SC Justice and former Solicitor-General Antonio Nachura. This is truly what makes being in the judiciary so difficult. To be sure, there’s a lot of honor and service to country in serving in a judiciary post, but there’s also such high demand for propriety of behavior. Like Ceasar’s wife, a jurist has to be above reproach.

Robert Quintos, son of former Rep. Quintos, recently deplored in media  that the two justices are slated to stand among the sponsors at the wedding of the daughter of his father’s old political rival in Mindoro, former Rep. Jose Villarosa (whose wife, Rep. Amelita Villarosa, is current Deputy Minority Leader in the House).

The complication, opined Quintos, is that Justice Brion is a member of the SC’s Second Division that’s currently hearing the appeal of the Quintos family. The family has asked the SC to overturn a ruling of the Court of Appeals, which had earlier reversed the conviction by a QC RTC  of Rep. Villarosa and six farmers for the fatal shooting of the two sons of Rep. Quintos, Michael and Paul Quintos, in March 2006 in Mamburao.  The elder Quintos had accused his bitter rival Villarosa of allegedly masterminding the killings.   

Retired justice Nachura was the former Solicitor-General who in December 2006 had recommended to the CA to throw out Villarosa’s conviction for lack of evidence. He was subsequently promoted to the High Court by President GMA.

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Robert Quintos was quoted in a text message as opining that justices “are not supposed to talk with litigants or worse, socialize with them. The worst thing to do is to stand as wedding sponsors and become kumpadre with those facing lawsuits.” He insists that standing as sponsors to the wedding of a litigant’s child shows how close they are to the Villarosas. 

Young Quintos has asked Brion not just to inhibit from the Division’s ruling, but to resign for what he terms the jurist's improper action (no such call for Nachura as he had already retired from the SC).  This blogger cannot argue on the merits of the pending SC case or its lack; I also know both jurists to be well-respected by their peers. But I also think that their act of standing as sponsors to the wedding of an SC litigant is a poorly-thought out decision, most unfortunate.

Members of the judiciary really have to be super-careful about their actions. .


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