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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Continuing bitter fight of Dumagats vs. Apeco project in Aurora and nagging queries that demand answers from Apeco law co-author, Rep. Sonny Angara

Recently a friend sent me the article reprinted below, titled “Fight for Casiguran,” which appeared in the Ateneo University's official publication, the  Guidon, last Dec. 14, 2012. 

All kinds of write-ups, favorable and unfavorable, about candidates have surfaced in mainstream and social media and the tabloids. For instance, the Inquirer has been merciless against Jack Ponce Enrile and Nancy Binay, as well as Cynthia Villar; yet last week two successive articles in the same newspaper about the protest march against the Aurora-Pacific Economic and Freeport Zone (Apeco) omitted mention of a key detail---the name of the object of protest, the Angara clan of Aurora. Journalistic amnesia or protectionist policy?


Accounts have been written of the two 350 km.-marches undertaken by members of the Dumagat tribe from Casiguran, Aurora, to protest the P3 billion Apeco project, created in 2010 when RA 10083 sponsored by the Angara pere et fils was allowed to lapse into law. The Dumagats allege that the ambitious 12,923 hectare ecozone-tourism project grabbed their ancestral lands and fishing grounds unjustly from them without due process and proper consultation, in violation of the "Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (RA 8371).

The tribe’s first march from Casiguran, supported fully by Fr. Joefran Talaba, parish priest of the capital of Baler, took 18 days in December last year. Their second march was two weeks ago to Baguio, to question the constitutionality of Apeco before the summer Supreme Court compound. They then marched down to Manila where they have since camped out before the Department of Agrarian Reform. They are pressing President Aquino on why NEDA has not yet come out with its evaluation report on Apeco, as he had promised them during the unforgettable December confrontation at the San Jose Major Seminary at Ateneo Loyola premises, when the tribal folk were reduced to "wailing", as reported by Fr. Victor Gascon, S.J. in Facebook.


When I read the account in the Guidon (author undisclosed but an extremely good writer) I felt that Rep.Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara---co-author with his father, outgoing Sen. Edgardo Angara, of the law that created Apeco, with the full cooperation of his aunt, Aurora Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, now running for the House, and his uncle, Mayor Arthur Angara of Baler, now running for governor of Aurora and a couple of other related local officials---should  answer disturbing questions about this P3 billion project.    

For instance, there’s this nagging query: in the light of scarce resources that necessitated the recent slashing of budgets of state colleges and universities and government hospitals, how come this project in the Pacific typhoon belt, an isolated region given to floodings, could draw such huge funds? Which businesses would really relocate there?

If Apeco is truly for the benefit of that region, why are the indigenous farmers and fisherfolk there so bitterly against it, to the point of repeatedly marching 350 kms. in scorching heat for weeks, to press for resolution of their problem from the President, a staunch ally of its ruling dynasty? Are the marchers all leftists as some parties have alleged? Why are bishops and Ateneo students supporting their crusade?  Paging Sonny Angara.

“Fight for Casiguran”
By The GUIDON (December 14, 2012) 

"The chants reverberated throughout Katipunan.
Lupa namin, inagaw, inagaw! Bundok namin, inagaw, inagaw! Dagat namin, inagaw, inagaw!
"The marchers had been walking for 17 days, tracing a 350-kilometer route all the way from their hometown of Casiguran, Aurora. They arrived in Metro Manila last December 8, on the 15th day of the march, with the intention of taking their fight to MalacaƱang to dialogue with the president.

"The reception at the Ateneo last Monday morning, December 10, was planned as one of their major stops, with a dialogue with Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and a press conference scheduled for the day. True enough, as the marchers approached the campus, a palpable sense of hope took over them. For a group weary from days of sacrifice, it must have been a sight to behold: a huge crowd welcoming them with open arms, passionate about their cause and eager to join them in their fight.

"They had been walking for six hours that morning, starting their day in Novaliches and resting only at stops at DAR, UP Diliman and Miriam College. As the 124 marchers from Casiguran and their sizeable entourage of supporters—many of them Ateneans and Jesuits—neared Ateneo Gate 3, the intermittent breaking of voices began to color the chanting. Tears began to flow—visible, though perceptibly restrained, perhaps so as not to detract from the urgency of the struggle at hand.

"Nevertheless, the chanting only grew louder and louder. The words took on a newfound audacity in the face of a crowd keen on listening to their plight. “Sinong nang-agaw? Apeco! Angara! Bakit inagaw? Gahaman! Gahaman!

"Everybody was prepared for a protest, but not for a homecoming. As the marchers occupied one of the lanes of the University Road right after entering Gate 3, the welcoming party erupted into cheers. Only their voices were raised higher than their banners, as they echoed the cries of the farmers, the fisher folk, and the indigenous people (IPs) who had come to seek justice from their government.

"There was no longer any hesitation: the fight that had to be fought was clear. The crowds coalesced—Atenean, Casiguranin, or otherwise—and what broke out was a chorus unashamed of its demands.

Lupaing ninuno, ibalik, ibalik! Lupang sakahan, ibalik, ibalik! Pangisdaan, ibalik, ibalik!” Slowly, the marchers—now beefed up in numbers—made their way through the whole stretch of the University Road, their indignation resounding boldly throughout the Ateneo.

"Along with the vibrant student movement fighting for Casiguran that the community has come to meet and admire these past few days, The GUIDON stands in solidarity with the marchers and the 2,983 families they represent. We fully support their fight for their ancestral lands, farmlands and fishing grounds, which the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco) project is threatening to take away.

"Apeco is an ongoing multibillion-peso industrial project that aims to develop a 12,923-hectare economic zone in the town of Casiguran. It lapsed into law in 2010 as RA 10083, amending the prior RA 9490 from 2007. The creation of Apeco was spearheaded by Senator Edgardo Angara and his son, Lone District of Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, with the endorsement of Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo.

"On its website, Apeco promises to “promote tourism and rake in investments in aquamarine, agro-industrial, commercial trading, banking, outsourcing and financial industries.”

"On the surface, the project looks promising—exciting, even. However, before the proponents of Apeco claim that the project will yield economic progress and development not just for the people of Casiguran but for the entire country, they must first address the numerous legal questions and apparent irregularities hounding Apeco.

"There is a need for a thorough review of the previously mentioned law establishing Apeco, which passed in Congress despite inadequate consultation with the people of Casiguran. Rep. Sonny Angara himself admitted as much in a meeting with concerned groups last June 2010 at the Ateneo.

"Furthermore, the project violates many other existing laws. For one, Apeco violates the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms law (RA 9700), as the infrastructural and industrial developments it is expected to put in place will destroy around 300 hectares of agricultural land that serve as a food source for the locals of Aurora. Apeco also failed to follow the Fisheries Code (RA 8550), displacing fisher folk without securing their relocation and support. Additionally, Apeco intrudes into the ancestral lands of the Agta Dumagat without their free, prior and informed consent, in violation of the Indigenous Peoples "Rights Act (RA 8371).

"Last December 11, the day following their arrival at the Ateneo, the Casiguran marchers met with President Benigno S. Aquino III along with many of his cabinet secretaries in a dialogue at the San Jose Major Seminary covered courts on campus. It was a surprise move—many saw it then as the Palace finding it in its heart to reach out, but now the so-called dialogue only seems to have been a preemptive tactic.

"As soon as the marchers voiced out their opposition to Apeco and appealed for Aquino to hold the Apeco budget in order to suspend ongoing constructions, they faced utter disappointment.

"Ordering the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to conduct a review of Apeco in the form of a feasibility study, Aquino asked all parties involved to be “open-minded”: “Ako, nakikiusap lang, sana magbukas tayo ng isip. (I’m just asking you to be open-minded.)”

"However, in a dismissive and condescending tone he maintained for much of the so-called dialogue, Aquino told the marchers, “Sandali lang ah. Sabi niyo tigilan ko ‘yung budget, o ibigay mo ‘to. Hindi ako diktador eh. Bilang pangulo, chief executive, ano ba ang i-eexecute ko? ‘Yung batas. Kailangan kong ipatupad ‘yung batas. Kung mali ‘yung batas, papalitan natin ‘yung batas. Pero habang batas ‘yan, obligado po akong ipatupad. (Wait a minute. You’re telling me to stop the budget, or give this. I am not a dictator. As the president, chief executive, what should I execute? The law. I have to execute the law. If the law is wrong, we’ll change it. But while [Apeco] is a law, I am obliged to execute it.)”

"While Aquino’s respect for due process is nothing but admirable, he falls short of taking his own advice about being open-minded. Throughout the entire so-called dialogue, he was no less than an outright defender of the project. One marcher perhaps said everything that needed to be said as the president exited the venue after the event: “Bingi! (Deaf!)”

"The president said that he will base his supposed reconsideration of Apeco on whatever findings the NEDA review will have. However, Aquino fails to see that it is not just the economic assumptions of the project that the protesters are questioning, although it is true that many of the project’s economic assumptions are also built on shaky ground and that the massive amount of money that had been spent on the project so far has yielded all too little for the people of Casiguran. What goes beyond both the economic and legal objections to Apeco is the more human side to the issue—in particular, the competing views of human development at the heart of the dispute.

"Lawyer Christian Monsod, the marchers’ legal counsel, offered a proper rebuke to Aquino as he consistently limited his apologetics to technicalities—themselves questionable—and the vague promise of an economic review. “The solutions that we are hearing, while they sound good, do not address that basic premise,” Monsod said to much applause. “That’s why they’re asking for a thorough review of the concept itself of Apeco.”

"Apeco is turning out to be a specter raising what may be, to some, uncomfortable questions. Cardinal Tagle was right when he said in his dialogue with the marchers last Monday, “Nagpapasalamat ako dahil sa lakad at pagkwento, nagbibigay kayo sa sambayanang Pilipino ng mahalagang tanong. (I am thankful that because of your march and your stories, you have posed important questions for the Filipino people.)”

"Indeed, the issue demands that we revisit what many of us have come to accept as the non-negotiables of a development agenda. There is a need to ask again: what is our idea of development? What is the point of such development in the first place? Who is it for? And what conception of the good do we have that leads the government to intrude into peaceful farming and fishing communities and IPs’ lands for the sake of “investments,” “commercialization,” “industrialization,” and all the other buzzwords of globalization?

"One of the most profound confrontations during the tense dialogue last Tuesday came during the speech of Agta tribesman Armand dela Cruz. To a dismissive president the marchers sought out and marched 350 kilometers to meet, he spoke about the simple lives of his people. He spoke about deep contentment, about genuine fulfillment, about happiness—“Nabubuhay kami nang malaya (We live free),” came his striking words.

"In the face of such deep happiness, who is the government—or Aquino, or the Angaras, for that matter—to virtually tell these people that they are not truly happy, or that they are not happy enough, and that their happiness can in fact only be secured through the imposition of this aggressive development project on their lives?

"The GUIDON stands vehemently against Apeco because, like other development projects of its kind, it misses the point. It mistakes the entry of investors and all sorts of commercial establishments as indicators of true development. Apeco and its proponents in high places are so blinded by the dominant yet overwhelmingly narrow discourses on development that they fail to see genuine happiness where it is present. Instead, they stubbornly insist on their own formulas, revealing an attitude that is insidiously totalitarian and marginalizing.

"The so-called dialogue ended with dejection on the part of the marchers. It didn’t take long for the tears to flow freely, for the desperate cries to ring out throughout the venue. Perhaps no one really thought the dialogue would be that futile—never mind that the Apeco CEO attended as part of the government delegation, and that he and the government officials were all coming to each other’s’ defense. Besides, who can blame the farmers, fisher folk and IPs for pinning their hopes on a man who promised them that they would be his boss?

"As Aquino left, the eeriness of the scene would have struck anyone who was paying attention. Amid the widespread wailing was the triumphant music on brass instruments, blaring through the loudspeakers to signify the president’s departure. It was a picture of oppression accentuated by “Blue Eagle the King”—apparently our Atenean president’s preferred exit march. It was completely cinematic—breathtaking, even, when you realize that it’s through the kingship of our kind that oppression prevails.

"But thank God our kind is a fickle kind. For every little king that comes riding gloriously from the hills of Loyola, there is an Atenean—or twenty—out to offer his or her life for the crucified peoples of the world. And last Monday morning, December 10, on the 153rd anniversary of our school, they were easy to find. They came together in droves at Gate 3, welcoming home those whose homes are in danger.

"The fight for the people of Casiguran is not over. We must not stop engaging the government, in hopes that the president, as well as other involved officials, may discern with a deeper understanding of the issue’s implications and with a more heartfelt compassion for the people of Casiguran.

"We must assert that the way to achieve true development is through the empowerment of people to genuinely participate in the building of a just society that promotes their authentic human flourishing, not through the marginalizing impositions of the powerful. Thus, in the concrete, we must fight to see that the people of Casiguran are not uprooted from the land that is their life for the sake of Apeco.

"The marchers have left the Ateneo last Wednesday, and are now still marching across Manila to continue their protest. They have not lost hope—and that should be reason enough for us not to waver. After all, the fight for the people of Casiguran is also a fight for all the other oppressed peoples of the Philippines.

"Let the chants of the marchers reverberate bravely throughout the halls of the Ateneo until we see them through to victory. The fight for Casiguran is not yet done. Tuloy ang laban!"
For comments/reactions, please email:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

T’is the season for pikunan---napikon si Brillantes ki Gus Lagman, at napikon si P-Noy ki Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Balisacan. CCT a failure in addressing poverty. Recto puts thumb on problem: the poor barely finish grade school. From FB: “What’s the opposite of progress? Congress!”

Former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes backed out of his daring dare to Gus Lagman, his former Commissioner whom President Aquino did not reappoint after politicians ganged up on him in the Commission on Appointments and refused to confirm him. Brillantes challenged Lagman to debate the necessity of the source code, after the latter had criticized the poll chief for claiming that the source code (the human readable instructions to the PCOS machines), is not necessary to conduct the automated May elections. 

Napikon si poll chief and accusing Lagman of spreading false criticisms of him, challenged him to debate this issue. The IT guy, founder of the STI Computer School, readily accepted, merely asking for a few days to clear his schedule. Brillantes must have realized that Lagman was serious and he backed out, inviting him instead to a “dialog.”


Brillantes insists that the “binary code’ would suffice for use in this May AES, but as IT expert Jun Estrella asserts, the binary code is for the computer while the source code is the instruction for the humans, the programmers. In case of errors in the machine the Comelec would still fall back on the source code. But this won’t be available since Dominion Voting Systems, which owns the technology, has refused for some time now to yield it---and in fact never yielded it to Smartmatic even for the 2010 elections.
Smartmatic had told the Locsin committee in 2010 that the source code was deposited in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, as the AES Law mandated; but this was never done, as the law suit eventually filed by Smartmatic against Dominion in the US last year showed.  Binobola lang tayo all along ng Smartmatic.


The Filipino electorate is now at the crossroads. Should we go ahead with the May 13 exercise when, as the experts say, the absence of a source code would not guarantee genuine and honest elections---or should we boycott them as useless?

 All security measures for the coming elections seem to have been pulled out by Comelec in resolution after resolution---no digital signatures of the machines, discarding of UV lamps that would certify genuine ballots, no verification of voters' choice. In the Hongkong advance overseas voting, paper ballots blotted and were rejected by the PCOS machines. OFWs noted that the ballot boxes no longer had padlocks.

Then too, the critical random manual audit (RMA) of at least one clustered precinct per congressional district, as the AES law provides---which is to serve as  counter-check to the veracity of automated poll results---was entrusted once again to the same person who botched this same job in 2010, obviously because she is close to the poll body---PPCRV Chair Henrietta De Villa.

The list of factors for anticipated failure of elections seems to be getting longer and longer and many of the electorate are increasingly re-thinking their options for May 13.  There’s enough reasons to be apprehensive.


Napikon din si President Aquino ki Socio Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan when, on the eve of P-Noy’s departure for the Asean Summit in Brunei, the Secretary ordered the release of statistics from the National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) that said that poverty statistics had remained virtually the same from 2006 to the first half of 2012. Nothing has improved.

For his candor Balisacan was bumped off the passengers' list to Brunei by his piqued boss.

P-Noy assumed the presidency on July 1, 2010, but the NSCB statistics showed that in the first two years of his administration there was hardly any dent in poverty---28 out of every 100 Filipinos still lived below the poverty line, with 10% in extreme poverty.  Worst off was Mindanao, topped by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with poverty at 46.9%, followed by Region  12 at 37.5%, Region 8 at 37.2% and Region 9 at 36.9%. . 


These depressing stats from NSCB robbed the glow from euphoric data from various international agencies such as Fitch, Moody’s Analytics and Standard and Poor’s, that show the economy growing and promising to be the “rising star” and the next tiger economy of Asia. Independent senatorial candidate Teddy Casino aptly opined that all the glowing testimonials from rating agencies do not amount to much if the poverty stats continue to be appalling.

Because the rural areas are gripped in poverty, rural folk flock to the aleady bursting cities where there's some hope for finding work; the grinding poverty is a rich mine for the NPAs. And the vicious cycle goes on.


The problem is that, as Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a staunch ally of P-Noy and widely rumored to be the next DILG Secretary, put it, his everyday trips around the metropolis validate the NSCB findings. The poor appear to have even grown in numbers.

Yesterday I was going down Pasong Tamo Extension in Makati and I passed by a totally naked little boy, perhaps no older than three years, washing himself off in a basin with water. I thought where are his parents? They probably were eking out a living in the teeming city. My heart went out to the boy.

Recently I took my family to Roxas Blvd. to watch the famed sunset and I was shocked to see a number of families lying around in the patches of grass next to the sidewalks, with children half-naked and mothers begging for food. This wasn't the same place where my future husband and I would sit around and munch peanuts after office many decades ago.


Campaigning politicos offer various analyses of the dismal findings and solutions. I found Senate ways and means committee chair Ralph Recto’s analysis simple but direct to the point. He opined that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, and the gap between them wider and wider. Recto batted for more investments in educating poor families and creating more jobs for the poor, for as he observed rightly, a great majority of those living below the poverty line have not finished even grade school.

Indeed, one has only to look at the long line of tricycles parked everywhere to realize this.

The tragedy is that the budgets of state colleges and universities were even cut last year. Our economic gains have benefitted the rich and the middle class, but the great masses remain poor because they have inadequate education and skills-training to qualify for the few jobs available, especially in the countryside where agriculture barely survives owing to the lack of capital for small tillers and rampant smuggling of food commodities from abroad. 


The Palace said P-Noy needs more help from Congress to tackle the poverty problem. It should be noted, though, that he already got the Conditional Cash Transfer in bigger and bigger volumes over the past three years---from P21 million in 2011, to P35 million in 2012 and a whopping P45 million this year. Every year Congress goes through the motions of questioning the huge jump in the CCT, but it still passes untouched despite so many complaints from COA.

 I’m reminded of a Facebook entry: "If the opposite of pro is con, what’s the opposite of progress? Congress!"

UNA senatorial candidate Ernesto Maceda correctly observed that the dismal NSCB poverty statistics show that the CCT has been a failure. Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo recalled in an interview some time back that during her time she hesitated to push the CCT program that aggressively because she realized it had to have the proper infrastructure and support system first.

By contrast, the P-Noy administration pushed the CCT too fast in three years’ time. The result, as COA has repeatedly noted, is that there's a lot of anomalies on the ground, e.g., gross expenditures that cannot be accounted for properly. In this election season too, it has become a political tool for the administration.


The yaya of my sister’s grandson recounted to me recently about how she lined up with hundreds of other women from sunrise to sunset in a Metro Manila barangay, so that they could finally get their CCT, known locally as "Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program" or “4-Ps.” After four months of spending their own money and getting leave from already-irritated  employers to attend interminable seminars run by DSWD, finally,the women received notice to show up in their locality.

This yaya  was supposed to get P500 as a mother and an extra P300 per child, but at that awarding she only got two months of P500 each, and no explanation as to what happened to the children’s stipend.  

The CCT handlers warned them first thing not to complain to anyone about what they would receive, and "to just be thankful that at least you have your ATM now.” The handlers promised to deposit regularly into their ATM---but the recipients are not too hopeful after waiting for four months, only to get incomplete amounts. This is the problem: who among the poor could complain? Where does the rest of the CCT funds go?

For comments/reactions, please email:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ironic for Guingonas to be targeted by NPAs. Is Time’s selection of P-Noy in world’s 100 most influential paving return of US bases? Bishops finding their voice in coming elections, reminiscent of last years of Marcos rule; but Church lay organizations such as tri-council of St. James the Greater Parish lead the way

The ambush last Sunday night of Mayor of Gingoog City, Ruthie de Lara Guingona, wife of former VP Tito Guingona and mother of Sen. TG Guingona, that wounded her and killed her two bodyguards was a dastardly act. Thank God Ruthie survived and condolences to the two men who protected her with their lives.

The ambush is quite ironic in many ways. The 78 year-old mayor is on her third term and retiring from politics, and  daughter Marie is running in the elections under the LP banner; thus this ambush claimed by the NPA is a slap on---and a major embarrassment to--- the administration party that's perceived to have formidable links to various shades of the Left.

Secondly, her husband former VP Tito Guingona has been involved in many pro-people causes over the decades (he and I were in the struggle against the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in the early 80s). In fact Tito is perceived as left-of-center, as is his senator-son TG.


News reports said the lady mayor failed to coordinate movements within the “NPA-controlled” territory and disregarded its warning not to bring bodyguards along. Her high-profile ambush indicates the growing boldness of the dissident movement.

In another instance, a prominent candidate in the Visayas recounted to this blogger some weeks ago that the NPAs had demanded a tidy sum from him in order to be allowed to campaign in their “controlled” territory; because he does not have the kind of money demanded, he simply does not venture there. 

I also heard that in the Bicol region some menfolk choose to move out rather than be caught between the rebels and the military, both of which are trying to recruit able-bodied people.

The military/PNP recently admitted that the NPA constitutes the biggest threat to the elections, as it continues to wield "strong influence" in more than 60 of the 72 provinces of the country. These data show the growing strength of the dissident movement, which can be attributed to the slackening of effective campaigns by the AFP/PNP. But there are a number of other factors: the continuing poverty and woeful lack of gainful opportunities in the countryside, the wanton abuse of public funds by legislators and the military, and continuing corruption in government that aggravates the poor’s condition.


For ethical reasons I won't comment on the faux Time magazine cover supposedly of President Aquino, his mouth agape, displayed last Saturday in the front-page of this major newspaper. But there’s a few things that ought to be pointed out about Time’s selection of him among the “100 most influential people in the world” in  2012. 

The Manila Standard put it very well when it editorialized that the view of a leader up close, by his own people, may not tally with that of the outside world.  Thus, while the Filipino nation recognizes the honor accorded the President to be in this exclusive list, it’s evident to many that there’s substantial buttering up to him by the magazine---may pagka-pilit ang choice---that leads one to suspect reasons behind the endorsement.


In the first place P-Noy is far from having achieved the international leader status the Time listing would suggest. Note that in the Davos conference last year he addressed only a sparsely-attended side event. In the still running Sabah saga with Sultan Kiram the President was ignored by our small but financially powerful neighbor Malaysia, and the same thing in the West Philippine Sea with China.

The economy sure bagged investment-grade rating from Fitch earlier this year, but it remains to be seen if our foreign direct investments, now still second from the bottom for PH in Asean, would roll in, with the massive power outages in Mindanao. As for the anti-corruption campaign, Pinoys will debate this till they get hoarse.  

The only undeniable issue cited by Time as factor for P-Noy’s inclusion in its annual roll of honor was his ramming through Congress of the RH bill---using the pork barrel as steam-roller. But this may have only succeeded in waking up a sleeping giant---the Church.


So, was Time a willing tool in the buttering-up and why? It’s evident, as  commentators have noted, that the US wants its bases back in PH, with China flexing economic and military muscle and P-Noy’s co-Time leader, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, rattling the region and the US with his missiles.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Chief Volt Gazmin have more than hinted openly recently that bringing back the US bases could be done---to the chagrin of P-Noy’s leftist allies---but this would need a mutual treaty to be approved by the Senate of both countries. Could the bases be the reason why P-Noy is campaigning fiercely---to ensure the 16 votes in the Drilon Senate that would pass the treaty this time? Recall that his mom Cory failed to extract it from the Salonga Senate after twelve senators stiffly said No in 1991.


The RH bill may have awaken the sleeping giant that’s the Church, because the “White Vote Movement” that 45 lay organizations have organized to get anti-RH legislators elected appears to be gathering enormous momentum.  Across the land various bishops are summoning the faithful to vote solons who are for the culture of life, vs. the culture of death through contraceptives and abortion.

Different strokes for different folks: thus, while the likes of Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra and Bishop Florentino Ferrer Cinense of Tarlac have openly endorsed specific anti-RH legislators, other bishops have refrained from doing so. But the bishops’ position is absolutely clear in their strongly-worded pastoral letters---as Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas put it, “to be pro-RH is to be anti-Life.” They  include archbishops such as Nueva Caceres' Rolando Tria Tirona, Tuguegarao's Sergio Utleg and Cagayan de Oro's Antonio Ledesma.  More are expected to publicly join in.


But while certain bishops refrain from naming outright legislator-candidates they support, it’s certain that Catholic lay organizations in their respective domains are working hard to see these candidates win.  For instance, Frank Padilla, national chair of the Couples for Christ Foundation, has endorsed the White Vote Movement. On the other hand, the tri-council of St. James the Greater Parish in Ayala Alabang issued last April 12 a resolution titled the “Catholic Conscience Vote” that endorsed the six “Team Buhay” candidates and three anti-RH candidates of Kapatiran Party, namely, JC de los Reyes, Lito David and Marwil Llasos.

Expectedly, the pro-RH movement has sought to belittle---and therefore discourage---Church lay organizations’ efforts to mobilize, dishing out surveys purporting to show that support for the Church has dwindled and asserting that there is no Catholic vote. The pro-RH folks also seek to criticize prelates openly campaigning for anti-RH candidates.


But the St. James the Greater Parish’s tri-council best articulated the dominant sentiment in the Church now, when it asserted in its resolution supporting various Catholic groups’ campaign for pro-Life candidates:  

"...It has long been said that there is no such thing as a Catholic vote. Perhaps this is true. It is good that our Catholic Faith allows us to exercise individual conscience in choosing our political leaders. It is even better that the Catholic clergy are prohibited from using the pulpit to endorse or campaign against candidates. Perhaps this self-imposed vulnerability has paved the way for the reckless attacks on the Church we now experience.

“But when Catholic Faith and Morals are assaulted through legislation, it is the duty of the faithful laity to stand up and be counted, not so much to prove that there is a Catholic vote but to exercise our rights and influence the legislative agenda of our Congress. This is our right and our duty.

' “The lay faithful should also be encouraged and helped to assume their duty and responsibility to participate in public life and reform it according to Gospel values (Art. 42.2, PCP-II).” '

This document addressed to “fellow parishioners” was signed by Rene Evidente, Eugene de la Cruz and Ricky Presa on behalf of the tri-council of St. James the Greater Parish last April 12. That parish is leading the way, but all over the country many other parishes are also finding their voice and mobilizing for the coming elections with one aim: to influence the legislative agenda of Congress for pro-Family, pro-Life laws.

For comments/reactions, please email:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Brillantes should make good his threat to quit. Ateneo Computer Chief Manalastas warns of massive voter disenfranchisement due to rejection by PCOS of defective paper ballots in HK, but 50 million ballots already printed. One minute of campaign ad in ABS-CBN now costs one million pesos, but it reportedly will cost even more: P1 million per half minute in homestretch!

The Boston Marathon is one of this historic peaceful eastern US city’s biggest and most beloved events and many thousands participate in it from all over the world yearly. But last Monday, as the marathoners sped to the finish line, two deadly bombs exploded, turning the event into a massive carnage that killed three people, including an eight-year old boy, and injured about 200 others (as I was writing this blog, a deadly explosion ripped through a Texas fertilizer factory, followed by a fire, which authorities fear could cause casualties and injuries in the hundreds.  But terror attack is not being eyed).
The London Marathon which I was privileged to witness from the sidewalks with my two young sons in 1989, is scheduled to be staged very soon and of course many are worried and scared about participating there. But the organizers say the London Marathon will pull through. This is pure grit.
What I found particularly disturbing and terribly saddening in the Boston Marathon bombings is that, as reports put it, the bombers “sought to maximize the suffering," through the use of innumerable pellets and nails (including “carpenter-type nails”) packed into pressure cookers, that dug mercilessly into hundreds of  human bodies. A man was quoted saying that his friend's leg was torn by 70 nails. 

This inhumanity of man against man boggles the mind, demonstrating how deeply disturbed some could be to think up such devilish schemes.
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes is being dared in many quarters to make good his threat to resign after the Supreme Court gave him his fourth reversal in two weeks.  After all the fiascos that the automated election system (AES) has displayed and continues to display (such as the PCOS’ refusal to accept ballots during the recent Hongkong Overseas Absentee Voting) and the slaps from the High Court, the only decent option left to Brillantes is to resign.
But wouldn’t such act jeopardize the coming elections? In the minds of many people fed up with the bunglings, things couldn’t get any worse. In fact, many are now seriously considering participating in the elections as useless.
But the problem is that Brillantes has compromised even President Aquino when he was quoted after his fourth SC set-back that he will have a talk with P-Noy on “whether he wants me to still stick around or maybe leave now.”  Brillantes, a former longtime election lawyer, knows that Comelec is a constitutional body and that while he was appointed by P-Noy, his tenure is not up to P-Noy as his post can only be vacated by death, resignation or impeachment. Consulting P-Noy about his future only reinforces the impression in people’s minds that the poll body is a stooge of the administration.
Regarding the SC’s decision to slap a TRO (not a status quo ante, as SC spokesman Teddy Te had earlier announced) on Comelec’s petition to regulate exposure of candidates on radio-TV, I must confess that I’m siding with Chair Brillantes on this issue. The SC argues that such regulation would curtail the individual candidate’s freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. But there’s also the over-spending by candidates who seem to have UNLI campaign funds---to the detriment of those who don’t have this kind of money to throw .  
There’s also a serious moral consequence of heavy spending---such candidates would seek to recover their spending through their pork barrel and other public and private funds. It’s a vicious cycle that makes politicos and their clan cling to their posts come what may---the EVIL of DYNASTIC POLITICS which the civic group “Mad Against Dynasties” is ardently fighting.   
Even in the US, candidates and political parties have to abide by stiff spending ceilings dictated by election laws and they dare not exceed these limits, even if they have raised many many millions of dollars in campaign funds.


UNA senatorial candidate Mitos Magsaysay
Many are shocked to know that ONE MINUTE of campaign exposure in ABS-CBN costs ONE MILLION PESOS, and in fact, as the campaign season swings into the homestretch, it will cost a million bucks for JUST HALF A MINUTE!  Thus, what chances for such TV exposure would Mitos Magsaysay (whom DBM Secretary Butch Abad candidly admitted recently was denied her pork barrel all these years because she was critical of P-Noy) have, or even Dick Gordon? 
UNA senatorial candidate Dick Gordon
I recently ran into Dick’s most ardent campaigner, his wife Kate Gordon, and she admitted that the manipulated surveys showing him trailing hurts him, in that  it makes donors’ contributions slacken.

Their lack of exposure on TV should all the more prod us who believe in these candidates to campaign for Mitos Magsaysay and Dick Gordon---let’s make them win despite their lack of TV ads.  Mitos is articulate, intelligent and courageous;  I’ve observed her for a long while now in the House and I’ve always found her a serious student of issues, not given to stupid flippant remarks like many of her glamour-puss colleagues. 
 As for Gordon, he has a long track record as a doer and visionary for the country.
The recent HK overseas voting by our OFWs was witnessed personally by Chair Brillantes (the various commissioners fanned out to different overseas posts for the absentee voting to be participated in by 737, 759 registered overseas voters), but a new AES problem has cropped up which could be a foreboding of MASS DISENFRANCHISEMENT of Filipino voters.
What happened in HK was that PCOS machines flown to HK rejected the ballots because of “bleeding”---the ink from shading pens spilled out of the ovals in front of candidates’ names and on to the back, and as a result the machines rejected the ballots. After a substitute machine again rejected the votes, an embarrassed Brillantes ordered head office to fly in additional PCOS machines from Manila.  He tried to make light of the fiasco by saying these were “minor glitches” owing to  “long storage.”
But Mr. Comelec Chief, all of the 82,000 PCOS machines have been stored for long, and despite your claimed repairs they keep malfunctioning.  What’s tough is that in addition to the thousands of clustered precincts all over the country, there are 227 voting centers in PH overseas posts. How can we keep flying in PCOS machines to them in case of malfunction?

Dr. Pablo Manalastas
Morever---and this is the more serious aspect of the problem---according to Dr. Pablo Manalastas, chief of the Ateneo University IT Dept., the root of this problem lies in the quality of the paper ballots and that “proper thickness and quality could solve the ‘bleeding problem.’ But apparently this was not followed, hence the overflow of the ink.
Manalastas points out that Sec. 19.3 of the Comelec Terms of Reference for 2009-2010 specifies that “The ballot paper shall be of such quality as to prevent markings on one side of ballot to bleed through the other side.” He asserted that if same paper thickness and property quality used in the HK ballots were used to print the rest of the  50 million ballots for May 13, 2013, “WE JUST MIGHT HAVE THE SAME BALLOT BLEED-THROUGH PROBLEM NATIONWIDE."(emphasis BOC’s).
What Dr. Manalastas is saying we just might have a whole nation of Filipinos here and overseas deprived of our sovereign right to vote because of wrong specs used in the paper for ballots, causing massive rejection by the PCOS machines. The unfortunate thing is that, as Brillantes has bragged, everything is already in place, including printed ballots---so that the Commissioners could afford to now fan out to various overseas voting centers to just watch proceedings.
I seem to recall there was a controversy about the ballot paper supplied, with one bidder complaining about how the bidding went. It could have been that this bidder was just sour-graping, but then, given the paper ballot deficiencies in HK, is it possible that money changed hands so that proper specs were not followed?

For comments/reactions, please email:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

White Vote Movement for Life and Family launched by 42 Catholic lay organizations---led by Council of the Laity with El Shaddai as core---vows to get pro-life officials elected. Brillantes finally admits: no time to review source code. “AES Watch” of Pinoy IT experts confirms: no time for “honest-to-goodness source code review with pirated software.” AES Watch warns that “PCOS glitches evident in 2010 will hound Election Day 2013, affecting integrity of votes and transparency of election process.”

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes would have been effective as a snake oil salesman, because he can improvise cures from thin air and fool his patients.  But he is ineffective as chair of the Comelec, which has to stick to rules and regulations if the elections this May are to be credible. But it seems that right now, to this silver-haired salesman of the coming elections, credibility is the least of his problems.  

For example, the Hongkong Filipino community began absentee voting yesterday but there was no indelible ink for use of the voters, as the law requires. When queried why there was no indelible ink used, Brillantes, who personally supervised the voting there, simply opined that “eh, nakatipid ang Comelec,” adding that even if they wanted to vote twice, the OFWs in HK cannot do so anyway.  Note that brazen statement of unconcern in following the law.


The same unconcern marks his recent huge blunder about the source code---the human readable instructions that define what the computer equipment will do. Over the months Brillantes kept assuring the public that has become increasingly concerned about Comelec's refusal to install safety features of the automated election system (AES) discarded in 2010, especially the  IT experts, that negotiations are going on to obtain the source code from Dominion Voting Systems. He said prospects for getting that code look bright even during the months when Dominion, which owns the PCOS technology, and Smartmatic, the vendor of this machine, were fighting in a Delaware court.

At some point Brillantes said Comelec may still proceed with the PCOS source code review by interested parties---but first it would have to check if it’s the same source code certified by SLI Global Solutions, Inc., the third party reviewer used by Dominion!

But you readers will recall that many months back I already pointed out that in its court suit vs. Dominion, Smartmatic had asserted that it NEVER RECEIVED the source code from Dominion and that this was NEVER deposited in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for the 2010 elections, as the law mandated. Smartmatic’s revelation caused many columnists, including this blogger, to point out that the results of the 2010 elections, all the way to the votes for President, MIGHT HAVE BEEN COMPROMISED.  

If the source code was never surrendered, anong program ang ginamit ng PCOS for 2010?


Two days ago, finally Brillantes admits that even if the source code is released by Dominion NOW, with less than a month to the May 2013 elections, there would be no time anymore for the source code review by various political parties and IT experts. In Brillantes’ plan, the elections via PCOS will have to go on without the source code. If so, then what instruction would the machines follow?  

AES Watch sadly had to confirm what the Comelec Chief said: “As AES Watch has been saying since 2010, there is no more time for source code review if Comelec opens it up only a month before Election Day. A real source code review TAKES AT LEAST SIX MONTHS TO ONE YEAR with the nature of the election data in PH elections. And there WILL NEVER BE ANY HONEST-TO-GOODNESS SOURCE CODE REVIEW WITH A PIRATED SOFTWARE…Ergo, the program errors found in the software in the May 2010 elections as demonstrated nationwide in the PCOS glitches, REMAIN and will hound Election Day, affecting the INTEGRITY OF THE VOTES AND THE TRANSPARENCY OF THE WHOLE ELECTION PROCESS in the May 2013 elections” (underscoring BOC’S).


The above narration shows the series of lies Comelec has resorted to for the coming elections.  The query in many minds is, why is this so? What is the agenda? Frankly I am at a loss, for President Aquino is not running for reelection in 2016, so there should be more impartiality in the moves of the Executive’s poll arm---unless the idea is to ensure the victory of the LP in 2016, predicted to field Secretary Mar Roxas and, if reports are true, Kris Aquino as presidential and vice-presidential candidates vs. VP Binay and his runningmate. 

Council of the Laity President,
 Atty. Aurora A. Santiago

This seems to be the only explanation at the moment for all the manipulations by Comelec---as well as the trending that yellow-friendly pollsters are conducting to project “winners” in Team Pinoy and the supposed weaknesses of the Church. A survey purporting to show declining Church attendance suddenly popped up after the Church's lay organizations, led by Council of the Laity President Aurora A. Santiago (UP College of Law '75), launched last week what could truly be the massive “White Vote Movement” for Family and Life. The movement, which counts with some 42 church lay organizations, vows to counter those forces that rammed through Congress, by means of the PDAF, P-Noy's population control agenda, the RH bill, last December 2012.   


A political analyst I was talking to recently noted that while in earlier years of the P-Noy administration there was no clear opposition (with GMA detained in the hospital by the second year on various charges unsupported by evidence so far produced)---with the formation of the UNA for these elections a political opposition has emerged. Add to this the Church whose ranks have been galvanized by the RH bill battle in Congress as no other issue in recent memory has.

As this analyst opined, even assuming that with the machinations of the PCOS and the formidable LP machinery (which sees P-Noy himself campaigning at the grassroots for his candidates like no other President has ever done), the opposition fails to garner  majority in the national and local elective posts---still there would now be opposition where there used to be virtually none.


This analyst opined that a primary target of the Aquino administration in the coming months could be the impeachment of VP Binay, and for this P-Noy needs at least 90 votes in the House to initiate (doubtless VP Binay is well-aware of this, which is why UNA is moving hard to win votes at the local level too).

The complicity of the Supreme Court is also talked about. The way the SC voted  8-7 earlier this year to uphold the Comelec ruling to throw out Imus Mayor Emmanuel Maliksi---only for the SC to reinstate him this week through a shift of one vote--- shocked political pundits. Mayor Maliksi happens to be the son of a close political ally of P-Noy, Gov. Ayong Maliksi of Cavite which has two million votes.

Thus, as you can see, the elections of May 13 have immense implications. 

For comments/reactions, please email:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How to solve a problem like Larry Henares

Hilarion “Larry” Maramba Henares---economist and former Cabinet member, inventor, industrialist, writer, poet and film-maker--- celebrated his 88th birthday last night, April 9, at the Manila Polo Club in Makati, in a grand party organized by his six children.

It turned out to be a grander reunion of his friends and relatives, colleagues and admirers through the many decades, as well as a sprinkling of people he had once tormented in his Inquirer columns. A splendid orchestra played---predictably---romantic favorites from the 40s, 50s and 60s, all carefully selected by Larry, a music connoisseur whose Frank Sinatra collection is probably the most formidable around.

I was walking into the party as the beguiling Moonlight Serenade filled the ballroom. Then at some point the orchestra shifted to boogie and former Sen. Eva Estrada Kalaw, smile a bit wan but still walking straight in her early ‘90s, began to wiggle boogie steps as she greeted Larry who boogied right back.


Actually the party was held on the very last night of Larry’s 88th year, as today, April 10, he turns 89. But 88 had to be celebrated, as it is “double infinity,” an intertwining of the two “8” figures---typically a Larry idea.

His children (three girls: Elvira, the breastfeeding advocate; Juno the Repertory actress and youngest child Rosanna, and three sons: Ronnie,  Atom and Danby) put together a tribute to Larry that focused mainly on his lesser-known but equally impressive activity---as a father who painstakingly filmed his children’s growing years, as he shepherded them into acting out the arts and the classics.

The fruition of his efforts was obvious in the stage talents his children, led by actress-singer Juno, displayed last night. How they can sing!


Last night was also a trip down memory lane, as one segment of the family show focused on the beautiful Cecilia Lichauco-Henares, whom Larry had briefly met in Manila before he flew off to Boston to study in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the mid-40s. By some fate, she ended up in the East Coast too, to seek treatment after a leg was damaged by a sniper’s bullet during the war in Manila and had to be amputated.

Hearing about her being in a hospital there, Larry renewed acquaintances and rapidly began to fall in love with the lovely young woman. He invited her to the MIT prom but she protested that she was in crutches. But her irrepressible beau had a solution for that: unable to dance the night away with his lady love because of her condition, he instead parked Cecilia---crutches and all---on the dance-floor and started dancing around and around her.  She convulsed with laughter and the Pinoy love-pair stole the show.


I’ll never forget what Larry wrote after his beloved Cecilia collapsed in his arms as they were checking into the Hotel Intercontinental in Paris, across the Louvre, upon arrival from Manila in 1993, for what was supposed to be their umpteenth honeymoon. He cradled her in his arms as she breathed her last in the hotel lobby.

Some time later he wrote a farewell tribute to his wife in his Inquirer column, which has to be one of the most beautiful odes to Love ever written.

Sure, Larry had his naughty moments, but I witnessed up close the love they had for each other. One day I teased Ces about Larry’s column photo, which was probably taken 30 years back. She rallied to his defense right away, arguing that he had to look young as he was surrounded by all of us younger columnists.


Back in our days at the Inquirer, a major consideration of its venerable founder, the legendary Eggie Apostol, was, how do you solve a problem like Hilarion M. Henares? Always sparkling with wit and devilish humor, but alas, also terribly irreverent and unorthodox, Larry’s daily columns necessitated, as the joke went in the newspaper, the hiring of a law firm virtually full-time for him. Lawsuits rained on his head practically every week.

And why not? Blessed with an inimitable power over words that could move people to tears---or grrrr...rage---one day Larry wrote about a prominent family famous for being such tightwads despite their old wealth. He wrote that its members were under strict orders to conserve water, so that they could only flush the toilet after using it five times. In fact it became a family practice, wrote Larry, for the members to mark on the wall facing the throne how many times they did it---one, two, three, four and, slash, five, etc.

How would you react if you were and written up that way?


With his sardonic wit that very much recalled that Baltimore arsenic in the morning readers' coffee, H. L. Mencken, Larry would poke fun at a lot of people, and even we his fellow columnists were no exception.

Soon after the big coup d’etat of December 1989, we were talking in the newsroom about it and I recounted that my husband, then a brigade commander in Southern Luzon, had the unenviable task of defending Camp Aguinaldo from the rebels and saving Cory's government. Then Col. Cunanan lost 16 soldiers in the process---in the accidental strafing of his people by friendly fire outside the camp and during the enemy attack itself.

But Larry, ever the tease, opined that that was just “acoustic warfare.”  I was getting angrier by then but he wouldn’t stop, so I burst out, “Larry, if you don’t stop, I’ll pull off your toupee!” He yelled, “Help,” and ran clear across the newsroom for dear life.


Indeed I had my own excruciating moments over how to handle the problem that was Larry, but he sure made up for them.  Many years back I was in Berne, Switzerland, doing some articles on the Marcos hidden wealth and I brought my two young sons with me. Entering Italy from Switzerland aboard a long transcontinental train, we three Filipinos were suddenly ordered by the Italian border police to get down with our suitcases. Those were the years when Pinoys were treated so shabbily in Europe.

The police furiously poured over one thick book after another for half an hour and we didn't know what hit us. Meantime the entire train was waiting and everyone there wanted to kill us for the hideous delay. Finally the police let us go---with no explanation or apology whatsoever. 

My son Buddy felt so humiliated that he stayed in the back of the train for the rest of the ride to Rome.


In Manila I recounted to Larry our Italian border nightmare as well as that of the Erda Founder, 98-year old French-born Fr. Pierre Tritz S.J. who in 1974 acquired Filipino citizenship and also suffered the same humiliation in Italy despite his aquiline nose and accent. 

Larry exploded in anger and a day later wrote such an insulting column about Italy, calling it the “smelly armpit of Europe.”  This time it was the Italian ambassador's turn to fly into a rage. Tom Concepcion, the Rome-based, multi-awarded Filipino painter-sculptor, who was our host there, also felt that Larry's column was too much, but that's Larry.

To Larry, may you have many more years with your six children and their spouses, and your 18 grandchildren!  I think St. Peter is still trying to process the problem of what to do with you up there. So, relax and boogie your way to your 9th decade.    

For comments/reactions, please email: