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, September 22, 2013

The President of the nation cannot disappear for nearly a week without any explanation--- as the alternative is to create perception of weakness and incompetence, and harmful vacuum in leadership. Various Presidents used pork barrel for their own ends.

President Aquino welcomes arrivals from Manila
 in newly re-opened Zamboanga City Airport.
President Aquino reminded the nation at a press conference in Zamboanga City last Thursday that “I am both commander-in-chief and the President. Therefore, at the end of the day, everything is my responsibility, so I am very involved---from everything to getting briefed and putting some of my inputs into the security operations.” 

The President’s reminder---and assurance---that he was-- and is---in command in the continuing crisis in Zamboanga City was well and good, for indeed many of us groped for that fact---after he disappeared for nearly a week. As fierce battles raged there and dozens of people were getting killed, hostaged or displaced, and a bus was blown up, the question many people across the nation were asking was, “Who’s in charge?


To be sure, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas was dispatched posthaste to Zambo City soon after fighting broke out last Sept. 9, and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and top Mindanao military and police commanders were there, followed later by AFP Chief General Emmanuel Bautista and PNP Chief Alan Purisima.

Then the President flew into Zambo City last Friday, Sept. 13 and was seen distributing goodies and phone cards to the soldiers. Next morning he was quoted by Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda as rejecting the attempt by Vice President Jejomar Binay to broker a cease-fire with MNLF Chief Nur Misuari, his classmate (seatmate, in fact) at the UP in the mid-‘60s.

 But beyond that, NOTHING WAS HEARD of P-Noy for the next five days.


No one, in fact, seemed to be sure whether P-Noy was really still in Zambo City or he had already flown back to Manila, and as a result, rumors began to fly thick and fast. Some surmised that P-Noy was again having his periodic leave of absence from the workday–world. Others hinted that he was flown secretly to Malaysia to negotiate the exit of Nur Misuari under third-party auspices.

Others thought the Zambo crisis was blown up to cover the fall-out from Kit Tatad’s naughty story about Janet Napoles being in the Palace all morning up to afternoon of Aug. 28, only to return that evening.

Citizens became more apprehensive after two bombings  in Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s Davao City, followed by reports of the captivity of the PNP Chief of Zamboanga himself by the Muslim dissidents. Was the Zambo situation spinning out of control? Will it spill out to other parts of Mindanao? What will happen to the big island?


Adding to the confusion over the Zambo siege (as in other presidential problems such as the presence of Napoles in the Palace) is the fact that Secretary Lacierda simply fumbles all over when having to look for excuses or indulge in lies (kung sa bagay, what an unenviable job he has!).

Lacierda excused the prolonged news black-out on P-Noyby initially saying that security demanded news embargo of his movements. Then, Lacierda said, “there are no planes flying in and out of Zamboanga City and therefore no newspapers. No TV news either.” Hence, the President couldn’t comment on various issues affecting the nation, kuno.

This prompted the Inquirer carabao mascot to say that naman, isn’t the newspaper on line? P-Noy should really get another spokesperson, or make that two, as the once precise and confident Abigail Valte is now also faltering.


Finally, last Thursday, Sept. 19, P-Noy surfaced to become the official welcoming committee for folks flying into or out of Zambo City, as flights  suspended for more than week, paralyzing business in this most important Western Mindanao population center, resumed .

Today a national newspaper featured on front-page a Malacañang hand-out photo showing P-Noy surrounded by top defense and police officials in Zambo City yesterday. The intent was obviously to counter thickening criticisms about his nearly week-long Houdini act. But HARM WAS ALREADY DONE---it created the semblance of weakness and indecisiveness.


What the Palace has to understand is that it cannot resort to the tactic of now- you-see-him, now-you-don’t. The Chief Executive has to be visible AT ALL TIMES, even in the WORST OF CRISES ---or perhaps most of all in such crises.  Such is the steep price of leadership.

The option would be to create a vacuum at the top that could be filled by alternatives, such as the talk now rife about a transition council being pondered on now to take over, as Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa wrote.

Recall that US President George Bush had to be momentarily hijacked by US Secret Service after the 9/11 bombings, but soon enough he emerged with a report to the American people and the world.

Besides, as Star columnist Dick Pascual argues, P-Noy should leave the soldiering in crisis-laden Zamboanga to the professionals.


A friend from my Ateneo Padre Faura days, Manny Valdehuesa of Cagayan de Oro, recently emailed to ask for my comment as to how a congressman’s token pork barrel ballooned to “humongous scale” under former Speaker Jose de Venecia’s watch.  Manny alleged that “Fattening the pork was JDV’s irresistible way of getting everyone to fall in line and join his coalition-building schemes…So that the bloated indecent pork we know today may be Lakas-NUCD’s dubious legacy for our times.”

In answer, I referred to Winnie Monsod's recent column in PDI, where she traced the history of pork barrel from the later years of Cory when she caved in to the clamor of the politicians to include it in the budget, to the present.

Indeed the pork grew as various presidents and Congress chiefs FOUND IT USEFUL FOR THEIR OWN INDIVIDUAL ENDS---especially presidents who were insecure about their tenure, e.g., Cory Aquino over the many coup attempts where she had to lean on Congress for support, and Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who were beset by so much political instability. FVR had the most stable post-EDSA regime, but then, it was quite conceivable that JDV---FVR’s speaker for two House terms and GMA’s speaker for nearly three terms---needed the pork barrel to allow him to claim an unprecedented five terms in the House.


GMA used pork generously to win majority in the 2007 congressional elections and thus escape impeachment. On the other hand, P-Noy appears to have used it to the hilt to achieve two major victories: to impeach his fierce object of hate, Chief Justice Renato Corona in late May 2011, and to pass the RH bill in December 2012.

In fact I strongly suspect that what lured then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and the seven senators in his stable to deliver their anti-Corona votes to P-Noy---a compact that could have been sealed at their dinner in Sen. Loren Legarda's Forbes Park home a few days before the Senate impeachment vote--- was a deadly list JPE might have shown them, containing their respective involvements with Janet Napoles through their pork barrel funds.


I suspect it wasn’t individual bribes to the senators of many millions of pesos in cold cash, as Corona’s lawyers had alleged at some point, that might have cornered their votes for CJ's conviction. For apparently, if we go by COA records on the Napoles scams, the senators had plenty of moolah. It could have been the incriminating evidence of crimes committed with their pork.

Recall that as per Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s admission at the third hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee last week, where whistle-blower Ben-Hur Luy was the witness, her people were already looking into the pork barrel scam since over a year ago. I suspect that by voting time at the Senate Corona trial, COA already had its disastrous special audit report.

As to the Palace’s bribery to secure congressmen's votes for the passage of the RH bill, this was quietly admitted to media by a number of them after they got back from a Palace lunch two weeks before the voting on that bill. The P250 million bribery per solon was denounced by ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio in ace-reporter Christine Herrera’s Standard article, but never denied by Palace.

Hence, Manny Valdehuesa’s observation that "indecent pork may be Lakas-NUCD's dubious legacy" may not be that accurate. Rather, it's the legacy of the entire Congress over the past few decades. 

For comments/reactions, please email:


  1. Excellent analysis of the situation. Thanks for speaking from your heart. We are hoping for some dramatic changes in the country. We hope that morality comes back so that there will be decency in political leadership.