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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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