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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.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Story of excising a boil in the body politic.


Earlier this afternoon I had to finally yield to physical frailty at a hospital, seeking medical help for a boil in my left arm that had swollen and needed to be drained of its pus. Of course I was terribly nervous and while the two doctors were “operating” on me I thought I’d divert my fright by repeating to them a text joke about how a congressman’s wife woke up her husband in the middle of the night to say that she heard noises outside. “Honey,”  the wifey said, “there’s a thief in the house.” Replied the sleepy husband, “I know, dear, but there are far more in the Senate!”

The two docs and the nurse burst into laughter but one of them picked it up and exclaimed, “sobra na talaga, ano, ‘Ma’am.’ ” One doc asserted that there’s probably only 1 percent who’s honest in the entire two chambers of Congress, and this time it was the medics' turn to pour out what’s inside them---their disgust and the outrage at the shenanigans of our politicos.

XXX

I suppose that doctors, more than other professionals, feel so strongly about the plunder of taxpayers’ money because they know how it hurts the poor Filipinos the most, in terms of health services. They know that when the poor get sick they are worse than the rats during dispersal of an informal settlers' area---nowhere to turn to. The poor go to the barangay health centers with their sick children, but their invariable complaint is that there are no doctors and almost no medicines available, not even cold tablets.

If the RH Law is declared constitutional by the Supreme Court this December or in January next year, then those health centers will contain nothing but contraceptives of all kinds (can the Food and Drug Administration really screen all the contraceptives to be imported from abroad for the teeming masses of our poor?), as the budget to be allocated for those will run into many billions.

Dr. Joven Cuanang of St. Luke's Global
At this time, when we just had elections for our barangay officials, it’s timely to recall what Dr. Joven Cuanang, one of the country’s most prominent neurologists and former medical director of St. Luke's Hospital, said to Nellie Natividad Valdez, wife of Dean Amado Valdez of the UE College of Law, and myself during a consultation visit by Nellie, to which I accompanied her. 

Invariably we fell into talking about the poor state of health services in the country and Dr. Cuanang opined that what we need to bring back is the sanidad of the olden days---the public health officer who would studiously go from house to house, checking up on the people in a given locality for health problems.  

Nowadays, however, as we saw in yesterday’s elections, many barangay officials seem to be infected with the same malady of big-time politicos--- avarice for money. Reports say a good number of barangay candidates paid anywhere from P300 to a thousand pesos per voter. How can they ever recover such investments if not through corruption?

XXX

Some years back, when Health Secretary Enrique “Ike” Ona was still medical director of National Kidney Institute (NKI) Cecile Alvarez and I interviewed him and his staff for dzRH and afterwards he toured us around the premises. Dr. Ona was quite respected for running this government hospital as clean and well-managed as a private one, but the facilities were woefully inadequate, as attested by the incredible number of patients waiting outside the building for their turn at dialysis. It’s like that everyday, said Ike Ona. A heart-breaking sight.

Recently I accompanied a worker of mine to PGH for consultation on his hernia problem and I was appalled at the number of people who were waiting for their turn. One elderly woman I chatted with said that she lives in Nueva Ecija and has been coming daily to PGH and spending a lot of money, but still she could not be attended to.

The doctors operating on my arm earlier today agreed how badly we could use more NKIs and PGHs in other regions of the country.

XXX

Dr. ReynaldoG. Fajardo of PHC
The Philippine Heart Center is now being slowly refurbished after literally being in tatters for many years. It used to be that the elevators in its medical arts building are so slow and people were packed like sardines, that to go for a check-up with my cardiologist, Dr. Salvador Solis, I’d rather climb four flights of stairs. Now it has a new elevator, but it will take many billions more to bring it up to its old glory in looks as well as in state-of-the-art equipment.

Dr. Lorenzo Rommel Cariño of PHC
PHC has very good cardiologists and surgeons, and I can name three immediately: cardio-clincians Dr. Solis and Dr. Reynaldo Fajardo, and cardio-surgeon Dr. Lorenzo Rommel Cariño, who was perhaps the only doctor brave enough to operate on then First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, to close a valve in the latter’s badly leaking heart some years back.  

If doctors of their caliber had stayed in the US, they would be raking in, but they persist in PHC because they love their country and people.


XXX

What I’m driving it is that the many many billions in PDAF, DAP, the Malampaya Fund, the President’s Social Fund and whatever else goes into the alphabet soup of corruption in the executive and legislative branches have triggered enormous outrage and anger in professional people who normally are apolitical---mukhang sobra na, sukdulan na.  

Which brings me to two discernible movements stirring to life these days.

XXX

There is the move for a “people’s initiative” to enact a law that would abolish the pork barrel fund in whatever form it takes and whoever would get to plunder it---be it the President of the Republic or the members of Congress.  Outrage and anger over the pork barrel are such that given the support networks that could be mobilized for this move--such as the Catholic Church and other faiths and denominations, and innumerable civic and professional groups---it shouldn't be so tough to gather ten percent of total registered voters (which means, ten million signatures nationwide, with three percent per legislative district) to enact this law abolishing the pork barrel.

The problem is more in the Comelec that’s mandated by the Constitution “to enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum and recall.”

Given the current composition of Comelec and its disposition to election scripts (e.g., the 60-30-10 scenario of the May 2013 elections down to precinct level) it does not look too encouraging that the poll body would correctly verify the signatures gathered.

XXX

There is also the move to write a new constitution to replace the 1987 Constitution, as Star columnist Chit Pedrosa has been writing about, encouraged by the model of the people of far-away Iceland, who have sought to “crowd-source” their basic charter. It seems that this new constitution gelling here will be a revolt against the pork barrel-infested presidential system and the redundant and corruption-prone bicameral legislature---in favor of a parliamentary form of government and a unicameral legislature (the latter concept losing by just one vote in the 1986 Constitutional Commission).  

This idea of a “crowd-sourced” constitution, whereby we citizens can get to participate in drawing up its provisions according to what we need and believe in, grows more exciting by the day. The man emerging as leader of these twin moves, which could really be mutually reinforcing, appears to be former Chief Justice Reynato Puno---plucked by destiny from retirement. 

I believe these twin moves would be supported by the Filipino people---we have been battered enough by the old system that we really are ready to try a new one.

Earlier I began this blog with a story about the excision of the pus from an unwanted boil, which was painful and which frightened this old blogger. These twin moves, however. will constitute the story of the political excision of the unwanted boil in the nation's body politic, but we don't have the luxury of being afraid. 


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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

MRT-3 Gen. Mgr. Al Vitangcol as fall guy in Inekon extortion case---victimized by new wave of ‘Kamag-Anak, Inc.?



Al Vitangcol
MRT-3 General-Manager

Two weeks ago the Daily Tribune bannered the headline, “Bid to use MRT exec as fall guy bared,” and this caught the nation’s attention. The Tribune story written by Charlie V. Manalo alleged that MRT-3 General-Manager Al Vitangcol is “likely to  to take the fall in the alleged $30 million extortion attempt against the MRT coach supplier, the Czechoslovakian firm Inekon, to cover up for the alleged participation of presidential relatives, a source privy to the botched deal told the Tribune.”

Writer Manalo cited a letter sent by Inekon Board Chair and Director-General Josef Husek to Atty. Vitangcol, belying Husek’s earlier statement made to the NBI that it was Vitangcol who dictated the terms for Inekon to qualify for the bidding of additional MRT train coaches. 

The Tribune quoted Husek as telling the NBI earlier that Vitangcol had proposed the creation of a joint-venture company as a “precondition” for Inekon, the successor of the original MRT train supplier CKD-Tatra,  to get the multi-billion dollar MRT-3 expansion contract, and that it was also Vitangcol, through businessman Wilson de Vera,  who “fixed  the price of the tram coaches that Inekon would supply at $3 million per coach.”

XXX

But, said Manalo in his Tribune story, subsequently the Inekon Czech executive changed his story and said that in a meeting on July 9, 2012 at the residence of Czech Ambassador to Manila Josef Rychtar, wherein De Vera and a businessman named Manolo Maralit, said to be a consultant of the Czech Embassy, were also present, it was De Vera who proposed that Inekon pay $30 million to an “unknown entity.”

De Vera and Maralit are said to be close to some relatives of the President, principally his first cousin Jorge Aquino-Lichauco (son of Ninoy Aquino’s sister Maur), who is said to have drafted the “sample terms” for the Light Rail Vehicles (LRV) negotiation’s terms of reference (TOR). There’s opinion that Lichauco, who’s suspected to have been the “unknown entity” that De Vera and Maralit were allegedly reporting to that night at the ambassador’s residence, had submitted a sample TOR so stringent that it would have excluded all other bidders.

Inekon Chief Husek claimed that he protested this demand for a $30 million cough-up.

XXX

The conclusion Manalo arrived at in his Tribune article was that Al Vitangcol, who is a novato in government circles, having been recruited by former DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas on  January 2, 2012 from the ranks of IT practitioners, is being made the fall guy by a circle close to the President.  The implication in Manalo’s piece is that it’s a sort of a second-generation Kamag-anak, Inc. attempting to corner the LRV enchancement program of the DOTC.

When this Inekon issue first broke out in media, the names of presidential sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and husband Eldon Cruz came out as allegedly brokering for the Inekon Group, which is represented here by Yorgos Psinakis (nephew of the late Steve Psinakis, a close friend of the Aquino family from way back, whose wife, Precy, is connected with the family that owns ABS-CBN).

This suspicion was fueled by the fact that the Cruzes had travelled to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, in 2011, with some businessmen about the time that the Czech company began making overtures to supply the Philippines with more MRT trains.  But the Cruzes explained that like many other Filipinos they were just there to make a pilgrimage to the Sto. Nino de Praga.

XXX

The MRT controversy died down after a while, but it resurrected after its GM, the benign-looking soft-spoken lawyer and  former IT practitioner Al Vitangcol, 50, appeared to media to be groomed as the “fall guy” for the hot story on the Inekon extortion issue. When that story first broke out about Vitangcol leading the pack of extortionists vs. Inekon, I was immediately skeptical about it. I hardly knew the guy personally, but during the month-long hearings conducted by the House committee on electoral reforms on the 2010 elections and the PCOS fiasco, as chaired by former Rep. TeddyBoy Locsin, I found IT resource person Vitangcol to be quite credible and straightforward---apart from his looking like a seminarian.

Reading the front-page story of Charlie Manalo and subsequent Tribune columns on the MRT-3 issue by Herman Tiu Laurel,  I became quite interested  and began checking out the DOTC websites as well as sources in the know.  I tend to agree now with the conclusion of Manalo that Vitangcol was being set up to be the object of blame for the MRT-3 fiasco, for a number of reason.

XXX

For one thing, as GM of the MRT-3, Vitangcol only ranks at third level in the hierarchy of DOTC officials, so that he does not carry the power to decide on procurements of big-ticket items, such as the MRT-3 expansion project that’s said to have been costed by Inekon Group at US$174.460 million for 52 trams. I find it incredulous that this third-level DOTC official could possibly guarantee award of such a huge project on his own for a fee.  At worst Vitangcol could have been acting on behalf of his superiors, but there's no evidence of this from documents checked out.

In fact, the proposal submitted by Inekon on July 12, 2012 was way above the bid of other manufacturers, including the China North Dalian Locomotive which eventually became a complying bidder. Inekon’s proposal was forwarded by Vitangcol under a First Indorsement dated July 23, 2012 to Jose Perpetuo M. Lotilla, chair of DOTC’s Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) and Undersecretary Rene K. Limcaoco (brother of President Cory’s media bureau chief Dodie Limcaoco) who handles the “Rail Sector”of DOTC, for “their appropriate actions.”

In that same indorsement, however, Vitangcol pointed to the huge discrepancy in Inekon’s offer vis-à-vis other offers. He wrote: “Cursory perusal of the (Inekon) proposal shows that the unit cost of each LRV is USD 3,355,000.00, which is way above the ABC (Neda-approved price) of USD 3,000,000.00 per LRV.” Vitangcol also stressed that “The average cost of an LRV from other train manufacturers is about USD 1,500,000.00.”  

Those statements hardly qualify someone as itching to make money from Inekon; in fact Vitangcol was actually shooting down Inekon's proposal and making his superiors realize there were other CHEAPER bids.

XXX

On Nov. 7, 2012 Vitangcol sent to new DOTC Chief Joseph Abaya, through  BAC Chair Lotilla a memo stressing that the approved general appropriations budget for 2010 recommended only USD 108.590 million for the MRT-3’s expansion project (far lower than the Inekon offer of USD 174.460 million for 52 trams). Vitangcol also invoked “open competitive public bidding procedures as found in RA 9184, the ‘Government Procurement Reform Act.’ ”

Again, these were hardly conditions set by one out to mulct the highest bidder.  
For his determination to make DOTC consider lower bids, Vitangcol was given a rough time. On Nov. 28, 2012, Asst. Secretary Jaime Raphael Feliciano ordered him to submit documents to JUSTIFY his assertion that lower bids for the LRVs ought to be considered (shouldn’t it be the other way around?).

Vitangcol argued that the NEDA-approved budget contract of USD1.895M per LRV---which would bring in 48 additional LRVs instead of only 26 units---would save the government the amount of USD 41.69M or roughly P1.79B.  With the full backing of the MRT-3 engineers this estimate was endorsed to DOTC’s bids and awards committee on Dec. 21, 2012.  

On February 2, 2013, the DOTC came out with a published invitation to bid and the Terms of Reference. Bidding took place on June 13, 2013 with China North Dalian as complying bidder. Nawala ang Inekon.

XXX

But the woes of Vitangcol, who hasn’t even been to Prague, didn’t end there.

The conscript media began its demolition job on him, making him appear as the villain in an alleged extortion case vs. Inekon, instead of the victim.

On July 22, 2013 in a meeting with Secretary Abaya, Vitangcol offered to take a 30-calendar days leave which Abaya  announced. On August 27 he returned to work but the day after, Mark Abaya, son of the Secretary and his chief of staff, asked Vitangcol again to take another 15 days leave; on Sept.10 he returned to work, but next day young Abaya again asked Vitangcol to take a leave, this time of indefinite duration.  

This time, however, the MRT-3 GM refused to do so and asked management instead, through his lawyer Pablo Sanidad, to file charges against him. Until now, however, there are none.

It’s a sad plight for a new and idealistic guy recruited into government service. I checked out Al Vitangcol’s record at MRT-3, and it seems that he did save taxpayers' money a lot.

Consider this:  Before he came in as MRT-3 GM on Jan. 2, 2012, recruited by Secretary Mar Roxas, MRT-3 was paying P14Billion/year for maintenance fees; after he came in he was able to reduce it  to P700M/year. Insurance coverage before 2012 was P200M/a year; now it’s P96M/year. The fare-box collection at MRT used to be only P3-4M daily before 2012; today it’s P6-7M a day; in projects, it used to be P196M for security; now it is P30M.




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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dauis in Bohol on my mind this Sunday evening


Church of the Assumption in Dauis, Bohol, before and after the earthquake
While I commiserate fully with the plight of tens of thousands of families who suffered death or injury, destruction of homes and severe dislocation in Bohol, Cebu and the rest of the Visayas following the  magnitude 7.2 earthquake last Tuesday, I feel just as affected by the destruction of our heritage churches in those provinces.

For several centuries these early Spanish-era edifices of stone, egg and lime had defied the test of time, but the killer quake damaged 28 of them in Bohol alone, some utterly destroyed. The question now is what do we do?  How do we go about the reconstruction of those destroyed churches?

XXX

Over the many years of my wandering around the Philippines and abroad I made it a major preoccupation to visit churches for both their spiritual and cultural value. When my children were still small we would make a visita iglesia in the quaint ancient churches of the Cagayan Valley;  we also visited those in various provinces of the Visayas, especially when my husband was assigned as Visayas Commander in the early ‘90s.

The churches of Bohol were a special favorite of mine, and in fact, in one outing with my husband’s staff in the SSS Commission, we spent a few days in Panglao and were treated to a special visit to Loboc Church, where the province’s cultural adviser, my friend Gardy Labad, arranged for the Loboc children’s choir to hold a special concert for us. Now the Loboc Church which one could enjoy during a tour of the river is gone.

XXX

I loved the Loboc Church, but  for  sheer beauty of location I was enchanted by the town of Dauis. especially the picturesque and well-preserved Church of the Assumption there, which has a huge convent and a patio beside it, lorded by a giant tree (is it an acacia or a mango tree?) in the center, that looks out on the river and Tagbilaran in the distance.  


The whole setting was just so beautiful that as we were touring the place, I was totally entranced---so much so that  I entertained the option of having our golden wedding anniversary with relatives and close friends, right in that church. I had imagined a reception afterwards al fresco in that church patio, with all the capiz lamps ablaze from the gigantic tree and a native orchestra playing (another option I toyed with was the lovely "Balay Negrense" in Silay City, which I had discussed with its curator, my friend Lyn Gamboa, who agreed readily to such a party).


Unfortunately the Lord summoned my husband home to Him at our 45 thanniversary, and now, it’s doubly tragic that the church in Dauis is in ruins as a result of the quake.


XXX

Tess Lopez
Below is the reaction of another friend, civic-leader Tess Lopez of Valle Hermoso, Negros Oriental, on the recent earthquake---a most timely piece for reflection today, Sunday.


“Watching the footages of the recent earthquake that shook Bohol, Cebu and the entire province of  Negros, I somehow recall a song popularized by Simon and Garfunkel in the 60’s entitled “ The Sound of Silence.” There is a stanza that flashed through my mind in relation to the recent disaster, whose lyrics resonate with these foreboding words:


‘ And the sign flashed out its warning
   In the words that it was forming
  And the sign said the words of the prophets are written on the
  Subway walls and tenement halls…’


“28 Catholic churches in Bohol damaged, several  of which are national historical treasures, such as the Loboc, Dauis and Baclayon churches, all totally destroyed, along with the belfry tower of the Basilica of  Sto. Niño in Cebu. More than a hundred Filipino lives were snuffed out in a matter of seconds and many more still buried beneath the rubble, while tens of thousands rendered homeless and now suffering cold and hunger in tents.
The fallen cold stone walls, the deceased, the bells that can no longer peal in glory---they speak  in their muted silence, they are sending a message.


“Is it a reminder of our vulnerability, the transitory nature of material things and one’s powerlessness over his immortality, or in many ways a warning that no one has control over LIFE except God. He alone can control the population of a country. Thoughts subsequently streamed through my mind as I recalled that last December 12, 2012, feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the unborn, the RH Bill was passed in the Senate. On December 28 of last year, Feast of the Holy Innocents, the President quietly signed it into law, without the usual fanfare. Then last Tuesday the shrine of the Holy Infant Jesus (Sto. Nino) in Cebu was shaken, causing its bell tower to crumble. 

"Were all these a lamentation on the killing of so many innocent children due to wars, crimes and abortion?

“In a footage, viewers witnessed the miracle of life when a three-month old baby sleeping in a “duyan” was spared by a beam which fell on a chair beside the “duyan,” thus preventing it from falling on the baby! The miracle of LIFE amidst the foul stench of death and destruction everywhere.


“Several churches consecrated to the Blessed Mother in Bohol were destroyed. The Baclayon Church, the oldest in the country, fell to pieces, except, miraculously, for the statue of its patroness, St. Anne, mother of Our Lady which remained intact in its glass enclosure. In Bohol, another church dedicated to Our Lady of the Light was destroyed except for her image found  intact under the rubble.


“These can be viewed as miracles if the reader wants to believe--- a visible sign of the role of a mother protecting and watching over her children---St. Anne being the mother of the Blessed Virgin and Mary being the Mother of Jesus. Is the survival of both their statues symbolic of the  FAMILY---perhaps a call for the strengthening of families which are slowly being destroyed in our society? Needless to say, it is a reminder of the ever constant love of Our Lady for us which no earthshaking event can ever destroy.


In many ways, I saw the merciful hand of God amid all the massive disaster. Consider that if the earthquake had happened on a Sunday when churches would be packed with devotees, more deaths would have occurred.  If the quake had happened on a Friday in Cebu, the day of devotion when there are many candle vendors, it would have ended in indescribable tragedy.


“Again let me refer to another line of “ The Sound of Silence:”
‘Hear my words that I may teach you;
 Take my arms that I may reach you…”


“Do we dare look deeper into the message of these disasters or do we simply ignore them and make them fall ‘like silent raindrops to the ground’ as another line of this song goes? In the wake of what’s happening to our country and the crisis in the Catholic Church, what are all these epochal events telling us?


“My prayers for the fallen, the wounded, the missing, the suffering in this recent disaster.”

                      


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Thursday, October 17, 2013

President Aquino should have stayed with the quake victims instead of flying off on his two-day ego-trip to Seoul. High-calibre AIM-sponsored forum featuring former CINPAC Chief Admiral Blair and former US Defense Chief Slocombe fails to attract Palace and Congress officials---meriting sarcastic ribbing from FVR that drew laughter from AFP top brass. P-Noy's capability and disposition to tackle our gargantuan problems increasingly questioned, directly or obliquely. Let senators and reps give up pork for Visayas rehabilitation.



Bohol's heritage churches
 severely damaged by the recent earthquake


I agree with commentators who opine that President Aquino shouldn’t have travelled to South Korea in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake that hit the Visayas, most especially Bohol, the epicenter, and Cebu. The killer quake killed scores of people and severely affected the lives of an estimated three million people who now have to survive in tents amid scarce resources, and the still largely uncalculated damage to property---including the tragic collapse of centuries-old heritage churches in Bohol and Cebu.  Medical facilities will continue to be scarce as even hospitals have been hit.

The magnitude 7.2 quake of just two days ago and its huge swath of damage and disaster should have been enough reason to cancel---or at the very least postpone--- P-Noy’s two-day visit to Seoul, where he was billed as the first Head of State to be received by new and first female South Korean President Geun-hye. Aquino is to receive an award for his father’s Manila Times coverage of the Korean War at the age of 17.  Palace spin-masters also lost no moment pointing out that South Korea is our major source of tourists.

XXX

But the Koreans would have understood if P-Noy cancelled his trip, but he did not.  Masyado siyang nali sa gloria (pardon the pun).

The only thing good that could conceivably come out of that Korean trip is the certainty that the President would receive hefty contributions from the moneyed Koreans to his calamity fund---but his absence from his countrymen’s side at the disaster scene at a time like this would be difficult to explain even to the Koreans.

XXX

Our country will need gargantuan amounts of funds to undertake the massive reconstruction of the quake-affected provinces. Yes, this should include the full restoration and reconstruction of our damaged centuries-old churches in Bohol (28 in total in Bohol, three of them totally destroyed, namely Loboc, Dauis and Baclayon churches) and Cebu (the belfry of Sto. Nino de Cebu Basilica totally destroyed) with public funds, as these churches are part of the national cultural heritage.

The damaged or totally destroyed churches should be reconstructed and not leveled to the ground and new churches built instead---as the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) is said to be mulling as an option, according to NCCA lawyer Trixie Angeles-Cruz. There are extant records of how these damaged/destroyed Visayan churches looked, so that a faithful reconstruction can be made. It will just take money, determination and modern technology and expertise.

XXX

The gargantuan funding that the massive reconstruction of Central Visayas will need immediately brings us citizens to think of the much-maligned pork barrel funds. Senate President Franklin Drilon asserts that the senators could either realign the PDAF item in the proposed P2.268 trillion budget for 2014 to government agencies. The entire Congress allocation for PDAF in 2014 would be a little over P25 billion, and realignment could be done with mere manifestation of their intention to give up their respective allocations, said Drilon.  

Then, by all means, let all 24 senators and 280 representatives redeem themselves somewhat by channeling their over P25 billion pork funds to the massive reconstruction fund for the Visayas.

Interestingly, House appropriations committee chair Isidro Ungab of Davao thinks that such realignment for quake victims can be done but “it’s a long process, as we still have to conduct committee hearings for this purpose.” Really now, Mr. Ungab, when you and your fellow pork-feeding reps grabbed those PDAF funds, you did it in a jiffy---no hearing, in fact, not even projects in the case of many reps and senators, just fake NGOs. You know darn well realignment can be done fast when you want them!

XXX

Going back to the President, he should really buckle down to work, for disasters have been hitting us not just in the Visayas.  The Mindanaoans haven’t even recovered from the crisis in Zamboanga that spilled out to other provinces in the big island; now there’s floods in many parts of storm-battered Luzon, including severe threats in the area of the huge dam in Pangasinan. In Central Luzon, such as Tarlac, there have been prolonged brown-outs.  

Someone I know who went to Quiapo recently to look for spare parts for his commercial lawn-mower was shocked to find the whole area looking like a big flea market, with generator sets displayed out in the streets. As this fellow told me, there’s panic-buying out there as folks from Central Luzon are grabbing gen-sets to bring home for the long brown-outs.

XXX

With all the huge problems piling up on our country, a serious issue seems to be coming to a head, as more and more of our media colleagues asserting this (the latest is Star columnist Dick Pascual today), not to mention business and political leaders. There’s now an earnest questioning of the capability---and disposition---of President Aquino to tackle the increasing and gargantuan problems of our country and whether he should be called upon to resign and a replacement be seriously considered. 

Sometimes the call takes the form of an oblique or caustic remark or two, or even a pointed wisecrack. Let me cite a most recent case.

XXX

Last Oct. 4, a significant high-powered forum was held at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), titled “US, China and Asean: The evolving realities in the West Philippine Sea.” Sponsored by the AIM Policy Center, the forum drew about 60 leaders from the American and European Chambers of Commerce, the Management Association of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club, top brass of the AFP as well as retired officers such as former AFP Chief and Defense Secretary Renato de Villa and former PAF Chief Antonio Sotelo, and a few political personalities.

The all-morning forum was perceived as a sort of precursor to the visit of US President Obama which was later aborted on account of the perilous US budget crisis. Announcement then came that US Secretary of State John Kerry was to come here in lieu of Obama, but the Kerry visit was also called off allegedly due to the typhoon here.

A popular perception was that the two top-level US visits were called off owing to the political typhoon in the Philippines.

XXX

At any rate, since American officials were already here as advance party, the AIM forum was held on the complexities of the trilateral issue involving the US, China and Asean, with presentations by Walter Slocombe, former US Secretary of Defense, Admiral Dennis Blair, former Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Command, and SC Senior Justice Antonio Carpio.

Their papers were subsequently posted on the web, but what was more interesting---and perhaps indicative of the prevailing political mood in our country---were the subsequent comments of former President Fidel Ramos during the open forum.

FVR congratulated the speakers for their “excellent” papers and then he queried whether there was any official from Malacanang Palace present. Up rose a hand from the audience, but apparently that Palace personality was not known to the crowd (Defense Secretary Volt Gazmin wasn’t around and neither was the National Security Adviser). 

That’s the problem, huffed FVR, "whenever there is a high-level briefing such as this, no one from the Palace shows up." It was a missile aimed at the student government. 

Then the former President queried whether there was anyone from Congress in the audience. But before Bukidnon Rep. Joey Zubiri and a committee chair could raise their hands, FVR had already quipped, “Why, are you already all in jail?” 

The remark was, of course in direct allusion to the pork barrel scandal and charges filed before the Ombudsman against three opposition senators, and perhaps soon vs. presidential allies in both chambers of Congress. 

The generals shook with laughter over that remark.




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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why couldn't INC's 'medical-dental mission' in MM, involving 1.6 million participants tomorrow have been scheduled today, so traffic wouldn't be snarled; but apparently it's just a cover for INC's mounting disgust with P-Noy admin---a super-typhoon of a political statement and A THREAT. Drilon asked for senators’ list of “priority projects” running into many millions, just weeks before Corona trial began. Knowing this generous bounty, could 19 senators have voted no to CJ conviction? Naked bribery in this trial worst form of corruption.



The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) central headquarters in QC.
Tonight we heard MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino quoting Education Secretary Armin Luistro's announcement that classes in elementary and high school levels in twelve cities in Metro Manila will be suspended tomorrow, Monday, Oct. 14. The reason, according to Tolentino, is that DepEd fears that students would be caught in horrendous traffic owing to the medical and dental mission of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), called “Kabayan Ko, Kapatid Ko Lingap sa Mamamayan,” tomorrow which is expected to draw some 1.6 million participants.   

At first I thought it was the report of an approaching typhoon in the wake of the departing “Santi” that caused the classes cancellation. It turned out  it was really the INC mission that caused it.

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I have nothing but praise for such a mission, as heaven knows how badly our people need such such medical services, given the woefully limited health programs of the Department of Health. But my first instinct was, couldn’t the INC have held it today, Sunday, instead of tomorrow when it would surely choke up even more the already monstrous traffic in the metropolis? 

I felt that there have been already too many cancellations of classes for our students, whereas holding that INC out-reach today instead of tomorrow would produce for the INC the same effect, without affecting classes.

It's turning out, however, that Monday HAS TO BE THE DATE OF THE OUT-REACH---FOR ONE GOOD REASON. 

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An observer opined today that perhaps the INC is driving home a statement not only of its sense of mission, but also its capability to paralyze an entire metropolis. I note that INC held a similar mission in Davao City many weeks back and that city came to a standstill for a whole day. These medical missions are also perceived as a build-up to the INC’s 100th Anniversary celebration next year, led by Ka Eduardo V. Manalo.

It turns out, however, that this massive out-reach project tomorrow is not just a medical mission; it's aimed to be A POWERFUL POLITICAL STATEMENT from the INC of its mounting disgust for the P-Noy administration that it helped install in power over three years ago.

Recall how the INC also came out in a massive rally at Luneta prior to the Senate vote on CJ Renato Corona in May last year. 

In my blog last Wednesday, I already reported that INC was planning mass action for tomorrow, Oct. 14, in Mendiola, in protest of the pork barrel anomalies and corruption in this administration. But it turns out that INC would be delivering a super-typhoon of a statement in the ENTIRE METROPOLIS tomorrow---aimed at the Palace . 

With the seeming unification of various religions, led by the Catholic Church, the Protestant Churches and now the INC, President Aquino should not just sit up and take notice. He should read the writing on the wall: RESIGNATION as the graceful way out for him. 

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The shameless employment of pork barrel and other public-fund projects in both chambers of Congress continues to hog the headlines, as new secrets  about them are revealed, it seems, by the day. A big story in the Inquirer today indicated that six administration senators received in 2011 funds from supposed government savings coursed through the controversial “Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), over and above their regular pork entitlements of P200 million each a year.

The senators mentioned, namely, Alan Peter Cayetano, Ralph Recto, Antonio Trillanes IV, Teofisto Guingona Jr., Sergio Osmena III and Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, were said to have addressed their request letters for P100 million each to then Senate Finance Committee Chair Franklin Drilon, who disbursed these amounts accordingly.

These requests were part of the whopping P1.1 billion in additional lump-sum funds released from October to December 2012, months after the conviction for inaccurate SALN of Chief Justice Renato Corona by the Senate impeachment court.

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It seems that we citizens are by now getting inured to these revelations but what I find most significant in this recent story was the TIMING of the disclosure inside the Senate of the availability of these extra lump-sum funds for the senators.  

According to the story, Sen. Drilon, now Senate President, had made known on Nov. 22, 2011 a directive to a senator, asking him to submit to the Office of the Legislative Budget Research and Monitoring Office his list of priority projects requested. The same directive appeared to have been issued to other senators and many of them submitted their priority lists on the eve of Drilon’s imposed deadline.

The story said that the six senators’ priority lists came a month after the DBM had announced implementation of the P72.11 billion in additional projects funding for the senators from savings from 2010 and 2011.

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What is interesting in the story about these new lump-sum funding entitlements was that these were made known as available to the solons JUST WEEKS BEFORE THE FILING OF THE IMPEACHMENT CASE AGAINST CHIEF JUSTICE CORONA by 188 members of the House representatives (sans reading the complaint as the Constitution mandated) in December 2011.  For weeks before the actual commencement of the Senate trial on Jan. 16, 2012, rumors were already blowing wild that Corona would be impeached.  

It was obvious that the announcement of the DBM's P72.11 billion in additional projects and Drilon’s subsequent letter asking the senators for their list of priority projects WERE ALL MEANT TO INFLUENCE THE VOTE OF THE SENATORS AGAINST CORONA that early.  And influence them it did.

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Sometime during the one-month break in the impeachment trial in the Senate early in April 2012, the defense lawyers of Corona called a press conference at Club Filipino where they denounced reports of alleged bribery of the senators of about P100 million each to vote conviction.  When the Senate court resumed later that month, the senators ganged up on the defense lawyers, forcing Atty. Judd Roy to issue an uncharacteristic apology to the senators who, in the words of Sen. Pia Cayetano, were exposed to undeserved public opprobrium by that allegation.

It turned out that Judd Roy was right all along---Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, in his privileged speech three weeks ago, laid wide open the charge of bribery in the vote of 20 senators, including himself.

As I have said in this blog a couple of times---which cannot be overstated---nothing is worse than the corruption of bribery of the senators’ votes during the Corona impeachment trial. For it was the public’s hope and belief all along that the honorable crimson-robed senators would vote according to their individual conscience, as God gave them the light to see. 

It turned out that the Senate trial was all pera-pera lang---a morality play whose moorings came loose in the first burnish of blinding gold.



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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Under fire from SC Justice Teresita de Castro, COA Chair Pulido Tan blames her failure to stem PDAF abuses on predecessor. CJ Puno prods Filipino people to resort to “people’s initiative” to scrap pork. Church leaders should join up with mainstream Protestant and evangelical groups for massive rally and to gather initiative signatures. CJ Corona’s lawyers mull nullification of Senate conviction in light of huge bribes, but which venue?


Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno

Former Senator Ping Lacson recently talked over radio about how his former colleagues collected pork barrel and DAP funds like they were loose change---barya lang. He said senators were collecting additional P300 million, P400 million, P500 million, and in fact, he was aware of a senator in the past administration who collected P1 billion.

In the light of all the DBM releases on pork and DAP that have been revealed, Lacson’s disclosure is entirely believable. In fact we can assume that the public doesn’t have the complete picture yet, for as he admitted, the practice of giving extra pork to solons gained currency in the Arroyo administration, but it continued in the Aquino administration and in fact has become worse.

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The reason for the worsening lies in the admission of COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan, under heavy fire from Supreme Court Justice Teresita de Castro at the recent SC hearing on the constitutionality of the DAP, that she  has failed to check the misuse and abuse of the PDAF. In a banner story by the Daily Tribune today, Tan said she assumed the office only in the Aquino administration and blamed her predecessor, Ray Villar, instead for its failings.

But Justice de Castro shot back that COA “is not bound by the regulations of the DBM and that COA has a constitutional mandate to police public spending, but has failed it miserably.

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What’s just as troubling, however, is Tan’s admission that while a special audit report has meticulously concentrated investigation only of Arroyo years 2007-2009---which pinned down four senators as having channeled PDAF funds to Napoles bogus NGOs---COA would no longer be conducting any such special audit of PDAF utilization in Aquino years 2010-2013. The reason, said Tan, is that data on these years "have already been integrated in the regular audit.”

This is being taken to mean that Tan wouldn’t be giving special attention to investigating the allies of President Aquino, so that from hereon any information on them would be coming out in trickles---discover them if you will.  It’s obvious that Tan's following Palace orders to go slow on P-Noy’s allies--- coursed doubtless through her former boss at Finance Department, Secretary Cesar Purisima, to whom she owes her present job.

Another thing: now she's talking about demanding that solons who malversed  P6 billion in PDAF funds in the Arroyo years and channeled them to fake NGOs to refund the money. But this is like closing the barn door after the horses have fled. The best medicine is still preventive.

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It looks like there’ll be suppression of more news on PDAF and DAP abuses in this current regime, and even more difficulty getting the Palace and Congress to scrap the hated pork. Which leads us right to the suggestion of former Chief Justice Reynato Puno: let the sovereign people directly propose and enact laws, such as abolition of pork of all kinds, through  “PEOPLE'S INITIATIVE" as provided in Republic Act 6735.

Under the “people’s initiative---a great constitutional innovation never beore tried in our country despite its being enshrined in the 1987 Constitution---what’s needed for the sovereign people to enact a valid law is to secure its endorsement from 10 percent of TOTAL NUMBER of registered voters---provided that at least 3 percent of  registered voters is raised per congressional district.

In the light of people’s outrage vs. the pork, people’s initiative is absolutely doable, BUT IT NEEDS A LEADER.  Former CJ Puno, who chairs the Puno Memorial Methodist Church’s administrative council, may be just the right person to lead the anti-pork movement, BUT HE NEEDS ALLIES. 

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In this regard, the Catholic Church has ordered the ringing of church bells simultaneously across the land this Friday, Oct. 11, at exactly 1 pm. to express solidarity with the people's demand for abolition of the pork and all corruption in the Aquino regime.  But I have a better proposal.

Why don’t the bishops join hands with former CJ Puno and leaders of the mainstream Protestant sects and various evangelicals---to launch a massive anti-pork march, in unison with various parishes and church organizations, students in various colleges and universities, civil society, office workers, etc.? Let the leaders of various churches and faiths march together with their respective flocks soon and fill the streets of Metro Manila to protest pork venalities. Let our bishops march with us. 

But in addition, Church leaders have to participate in the people's initiative and help secure all the needed signatures to enact abolition of the pork--and ultimately---very important---to draft a new 'CROWD-SOURCED 'CONSTITUTION for the new Philippines. 

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There’s a report of a big Iglesia ni Cristo rally this Monday in Mendiola against pork, to be announced in its churches the day before. Imagine if all the faiths and churches, led by the Catholic Church and the INC, get together and march on this issue---it would shake the very foundations of the Palace.

The protest rally has to be massive in order to make the Palace and Congress, where greedy solons still don’t want to give up the pork, recognize the outrage of the people. The anger is directly specially toward the bribe money to senators disguised as DAP during and after the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

That Palace multi-million bribery has to be the height of perversion---as what was supposed to be an individual moral judgment on the senators’ part turned out to be pera-pera lang. 

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A few days ago the brilliant lawyers of CJ Corona, led by Justice Serafin Cuevas and former Ateneo Dean Dindo de los Angeles, met for fellowship, and over dinner they assessed the impact of the P1 billion bribery in DAP funds of senators in exchange for their conviction vote. The idea of questioning the bribery before a given court and demanding the nullification of the impeachment proceedings on this issue was tossed around, but it was deemed difficult to find a suitable venue.

I would agree that it would be tough to find such a venue, given the hold of the Palace on the judiciary in the matter of the supposedly independent judicial funds. But it doesn’t matter---in the minds of the people there was massive bribery of the thoroughly corruptible senators, judging from records of DBM on PDAF and DAP, and certain senators have admitted to this evil. 

That P-Noy would assert that the huge sums given to the senators cannot constitute “bribery” as these were dispensed “after the fact” of impeachment, is, of course, a stupid argument---for plainly one does not pay a bribe before a deed is accomplished; it’s down payment first.

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Those of us who were present daily at the impeachment trial of Corona in the first half of 2012 noted that after the return of the senators from their month-long trial recess in early April, the mood had changed. After that infamous dinner at Loren Legarda's Forbes Park home, the swing votes of seven senators swung to conviction.

By all logic, the defense lawyers should have won the case, for no graft was proved in Corona’s case, as the alleged 45 properties and the wild claims of the “little lady” proved to be largely mythical.  CJ Corona's foreign currency deposits were protected by the Foreign Currency Deposit Act while the Civil Service Law provides an opportunity to correct inaccuracies in a public official’s SALN within a given period. Certainly all these didn't constitute high crimes such as treason and culpable violation of the Constitution.

But the huge fund outlays from the Palace spelled the difference between conviction and innocence of a good and honorable man. Stories abound of high-ranking administration officials inviting senators for a ride in those weeks of the trial---with propositions in the many many millions made aboard changed vehicles.




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