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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.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Clean antiseptic Singapore shrouded in haze while we have floods. Militant party-list groups make overtures about joining minority for effective fiscalizing, but are they only targeting couple of juicy chairmanships? Where Makabayan swings its vote for Minority Leader would be crucial. First, fake returns, now fake proclamations from fake board of canvassers in Baybay City?


A blanket of haze over antiseptic Singapore

The above photo says it all in the current contradictions in the tiny island state of Singapore: a rabid No Smoking in distinct areas, but in the background its proud skyscrapers are hardly visible through a deadly haze that has shrouded the state in the past two weeks.

The haze was caused by the burning of huge hectares of forest lands in the big island of Sumatra in Indonesia, in preparation for the planting of palm oil. Singapore, directly in the path of the burnings, caught all the smoke, resulting in a thick blanket of haze expected to last some months.

The Singapore government is quite angry about the haze and has complained to the Indonesian government, but the latter retorted that many of the corporations that caused the burning are Singaporean-owned. Now the two nations are talking about the problem, which is sensible.

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As of yesterday, the pollution standard index (PSI) reading, which measures the air quality, had already breached 400 (anything over 100 is considered dangerous).  The more meaningful PNI2.5 index similarly breached 100 and is now at 270.

Singapore is one of the world’s strictest in adhering to environmental laws, but now it’s on a virtual shut-down, as supply of masks has run out and everyone is advised to stay indoors, especially the sick and elderly.

A multinational executive working in Singapore put its predicament quite vividly:  “For a country which relies on outdoor life, from family picnics through to tourists and Sentosa, one can see its suffering in so many people’s eyes, tears of sadness.” 

Singapore is indeed so antiseptic, clean and orderly that an environmental problem like the haze would be so tough indeed for its people to handle.  Inevitably one is encouraged to make comparisons: how would the Filipinos, so used to putting up with so many tough environmental problems, oftentimes simultaneous, handle a problem like that?

Civic leader Lynn Gamboa of Bacolod, commenting on the internet, said it succinctly, “Singapore has the haze. We have the floods.”  Indeed, we have many more problems.

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News reports indicated that militant elements in the House of Representatives, led by party-list groups under the “Makabayan bloc,” are contemplating splitting with the LP-led majority in the House.

Talk is that the militants are thinking of joining the Minority whose leadership is currently being fought over by Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, president of Lakas-CMD, and come-backing San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, who won under a local party, Partido Magdiwang. Minority Leader Danilo Suarez is “graduating” as three-termer, and who between the contenders the seven-member Makabayan bloc swings its vote to would be critical.

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Former Rep. Satur Ocampo, who heads the Makabayan bloc that counts Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, was quoted as saying that if his group goes minority “we’ll feel freer and more effective in speaking out and taking action, unrestrained by alliance considerations.” 

When I read this report I was actually glad, because I feel that many crucial issues facing the country could be aired in Congress with the help of the militant groups, especially after one militant leader was quoted as saying the party-list bloc would sponsor an investigation into the PCOS machines and May 13 electoral fraud in the 16th Congress.  I felt that the left-wing party-list groups would be the best to handle this issue since the LP-allied district representatives cannot be expected to move against Malacanang and its subaltern, Comelec.

We saw how an overwhelming number of House members were led by the nose in the RH issue, thanks to the PDAF dangled to them; but it was also the Alliance of Concerned Teachers' Rep. Antonio Tinio who exposed the Palace bribery in the Manila Standard, which was never denied by Malacanang nor the solons. 

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I checked out this report about militants splitting from the LP coalition with a veteran member of the House, however, and he readily shot down my enthusiasm by saying, “Don’t bank on it.” He claimed that the eve of an incoming Congress is always season for fierce competition for committee  chairmanships--- and the militants are no different from the district reps.

My source noted that the militants remember only too well how An Waray Rep. Bem Noel got the chairmanship of the powerful Accounts committee in the outgoing Congress, so now they’re salivating to get something as big.  “Nagpapa-precio lang ang mga yan.”  

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In addition, there’s the central fact of political life that if the militants forsake the LP coalition and join the minority, they could lose their P70 million annual PDAF---just like what happened to the Arroyo brothers and former Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay in the outgoing Congress.  Are they as idealistic as Mitos?

Besides, his analyst points out, the Makabayan group remains terribly jealous of its keenest rival, Akbayan, whose members enjoy juicy posts in the administration, led by Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Ronald Llamas, Commissioner on Human Rights Loretta Rosales, Anti-Poverty Chair Joel Rocamora and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Tomasito Villarin. Hindi magpapahuli ang Makabayan sa Akbayan.

(Next: the battle for oversight committees with their huge budgets).

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Readers will remember that I wrote several blogs ago about the 38-year old UNA candidate for mayor of Baybay City, businesswoman Malot Veloso Galenzoga, who, with the support of the religious and the academic community there, courageously challenged 83-year old reelectionist LP mayor Carmen Loreto Cari of the powerful Cari/Petilla dynasty of Leyte. I had termed the situation in this biggest city of Leyte as the microcosm of the country’s depraved political system, especially of the ills of the dynasty system.

I reported here that two days after the elections, with only 25% of voting results transmitted electronically, transmission to central server was suddenly stopped and the Comelec BEIs began transmitting manually from various precincts. And in full violation of the AES Law and the Omnibus Election Code that states that only electronically transmitted results can be the basis for proclamation of a winner, Cari was proclaimed  as having won  by what Malot claims is an illegally composed Board of Canvassers---led by a certain Susan Collamar, against Comelec Resolution no. 3848.

Malot immediately filed for failure of elections with Comelec and demanded new elections in Baybay.

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Indignation rally in Baybay City vs. Mayor Cari
It was at this point, claims Malot, that her opponent's  dirty tricks department  got to work: A week or so later, she received what appeared to be a genuine proclamation of her as winner of the Baybay mayoralty race, signed by no less than Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes and attested  by the other commissioners.  Great rejoicing erupted in Baybay City over this and Malot’s followers, including a number of academic institutions, began hanging tarpaulins of support---to celebrate the end of the 32-year “dictatorship” by the Cari clan.

But the communication from Comelec turned out to be FAKE again, and Malot’s supporters suspect it was churned out by the Cari camp to make Malot look like a power grabber. In fact Mayor Carmen Cari was quoted in a national newspaper as warning her youthful opponent that she’d take her and her supporters to court if they continue "to confuse the people about the real results of the elections."

When news spread about the fake Comelec Board of Canvassers and the fake Malot proclamation document, the academe, religious, peasants, workers and other sectors staged a peaceful but emotional indignation rally at City Hall---the first ever such rally staged vs. the 32-year Cari dynasty. It culminated with Fr. Patrick Paraiso decying the alleged fraud, massive cheating, vote- buying and terrorism of the Cari era.

The Comelec should act with dispatch on Malot’s pending protest case, if only to calm down roiled political emotions in Baybay. But would it have the guts to go again a super-entrenched dynasty with strong Palace connections?



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