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.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Senate in its lowest pit---never before have we seen senators quarrelling as they do now. 34 organizations, led by former VP Tito Guingona and IT experts, file complaint vs. Republic of the Philippines before UN Human Rights Committee. Things fast coming to a head between Comelec and angry citizenry in this "winter of our discontent settling fast on the land, even in this sweltering summer!"

The Senate is really at its lowest pit. Never before have we seen senators quarrelling among one another or suffering such public black-eye as they are now in. Those among us who had known the Senate in earlier eras can only pine for when that chamber operated on an august and elevated plane characterized only by civility and dignity. Remember, for instance, how Senators Jovito Salonga and Lorenzo Sumulong heartily insulted each other in the running debates on the Sabah issue in the early ‘60s, their daggers sharp and pointed, but their tone always civil, lofty and dignified---so that it was easy to remain friends.


In contrast, note what’s happening among our senators. Sen. Loren Legarda has been accused by a "self-appointed guardian" of the public interest of withholding from her SALN information about her 2006 purchase of a swanky $700,000 condo in Park Avenue, New York City, apartment---but listing it down in her SALN only in April 2011 as the impeachment trial of CJ Renato Corona peaked. The pet theory is that the lady senator became apprehensive that she could be accused of the same offense she handily pinned on the CJ in her oust-vote.

But Loren tossed back the bomb to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano whom she flatly accused of having orchestrated the malicious leak to media, in order to dethrone her from her consistent topping of the surveys and crowning himself. To many aware of Sen. Cayetano’s burning ambition Loren’s accusation would not be difficult to believe.


Then there’s Sen. Chiz Escudero, publicly accused by no less than the parents of his lady love of being a drunkard and a no-good guy unfit to be in their family. There’s a theory going on that the behind-the-scene manipulators of the Chiz episode in the media are presidential/vice presidential wannabees for 2016---Alan Peter Cayetano and Jinggoy Estrada, who are allegedly only too eager to eliminate one more rival.

With the recent escape of former police superintendent Cezar Mancao from NBI custody, after several years in detention for alleged complicity in the Dacer-Corbito double-murder case, focus of media has veered toward Sen. Panfilo Lacson. Mancao, interviewed in hiding, confessed that he feared for his life with the plan to transfer him to the city jail. Therefore he escaped---but not before putting the blame squarely on his former superior, Sen. Lacson who, said Mancao, wanted to have him killed. Lacson labeled the Mancao story pure yarn.

Before all these recent allegations and counter-allegations in the campaign season, however, there were the open and bitter quarrels in the Senate over Christmas gifts of tax-payers’ money, e.g., between the young Cayetano and his father’s first patron, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, which also involved Sen. Miriam Santiago as co-combatant against her wedding godfather JPE. In turn JPE’s ally, Ping Lacson, accused Miriam of corruption herself, when he alleged that she was renting an extra office in her own building with Senate funds. Miriam countered by calling Ping something else.


If the incumbent Senate is no inspiration for the citizens, neither are many of the applicants for the Senate inspiring. It's sad that  those candidates with tested caliber and track record, such as Dick Gordon and Mitos Magsaysay, who are woefully short on campaign funds, are unfortunately still trying to get a footing into the Magic 12.

Young Sonny Angara is the object of the Casiguran marchers who accuse him and his father, outgoing Sen. Edgardo Angara, of having allegedly grabbed their ancestral farming and fishing grounds for the Angara-sponsored P3 billion-APECO project in Aurora, which until now seems to be lying fallow (was it Sen. Serge Osmena who noted that only the Angaras' private plane flies in and out of the plush airport?).. The Angaras are also reaping the ire of netizens for having authored the Cybercrime Prevention Act which, mercifully, was consigned to limbo by the Supreme Court.

The Enrile family is spending quite a fortune now in the tri-media to get Rep. Jack Enrile into the Senate and counter all the unsavory items about Jack’s past. Then there’s the dynastic Binays that drafted the totally inexperienced Nancy to fill in an UNA slot---she had to get a court order so as not to have to engage in debates with her rivals.  At least the dynastic Estradas are fielding JV Ejercito who has had political experience as San Juan Mayor and later as one term representative.

There’s Risa Hontiveros whose fanaticism for the foreign-imposed ideology that seeks to control Philippine  population through contraceptives and the inevitable abortion has the all-out support of P-Noy.


Earlier today, 34 Filipino civil society groups, led (in absentia) by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, elevated a complaint against the Republic of the Philippines before the UN Committee on Human Rights “for violating their right to suffrage in connection with the use by the Comelec of the PCOS machines in the 2010 elections.” The 34 member organizations asserted that their right to suffrage “stands to be violated again in the forthcoming May 13, 2013 nationwide.”

With this complaint raised to a UN committee by petition lawyers Harry L. Roque Jr., Gilbert Andres, Romel Butuyan and Romel Bagares, the issue of the Comelec-selected PCOS machines has been elevated to international status, inevitably drawing the attention of the world to our coming elections. There’s no turning back.


The 34 civil society organizations’ complaint, submitted through the individual complaint mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is based on Art. 25 of the treaty. Significantly Art. 25 provides that “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity without any of the distinctions mentioned in Art. 2 and without reasonable restrictions, to…“vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors…”

According to the complainants, however---and this is the most significant point---their right to free expression was violated by the Republic of the Philippines through the Comelec, when the latter gave “complete control of the technical aspects of the automated elections” to a “foreign-marketed system” that has become “illegal, uncertified, unverified, non-transparent, inaccurate and worst, untrustworthy.”


Evita Jimenez, CENPEG Exec.Dir.
& convener of AES Watch
The complainants, all wearing black bands on their arms and many of whom represent the most distinguished names in the IT profession, lamented that “there is no way that the voter, without an independent source code review by political parties and other interested groups, is assured of accuracy and integrity of the election software.” They stressed that the Supreme Court on Sept. 12, 2010 had ordered the Comelec to produce the source code, which is "the ‘mind’ of the AES," but the poll body had simply defied the SC order.

Decrying that the Comelec has given a tongue-lashing to accredited poll watchdogs like Namfrel “for telling the truth” and even threatens to withdraw their accreditation, the experts also lamented that Comelec has taken to calling them “election saboteurs” and “doomsayers” instead of cooperating with their requests for review of critical aspects of the AES.


Said the AES Watch, the umbrella organization of IT experts, in its statement released today, “The policy of arrogance, exclusiveness and non-transparency is condemnable and has no place in a democracy where the right to suffrage should be protected. As a constitutional body the Comelec should be the first to obey the law. Circumventing it constitutes abuse of power."

Things are indeed quickly coming to a head between the poll body and the citizenry, and the submission by 34 organizations of a complaint to the UN is yet another development that may buttress and strengthen  what Standard columnist Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino argued today in his column, 'Pensees"---that “(Comelec Chair Sixto) Brillantes is provoking a boycott.” 

Fr. Aquino cited that “many citizens may just find that (such move) is the only way they can save their decency and self-respect. It will also be a very eloquent statement of their refusal to be part of the present dispensation.”  He stressed that “it is not just a sprinkling of Filipinos who think this way. The winter of discontent is settling fast on the land, even in this sweltering summer!”


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