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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.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

HK Int’l Airport classifies PH with Syria and Egypt in “Severe threat (avoid all travel)" category, played up repeatedly on in-house monitors. What happens now to “More Fun in the Philippines?” P-Noy admin scored for being selective on ‘corrupt’ personalities. Rene Villa, Drilon’s protégé and frat brod, admits to being lawyer and financial adviser of Janet N., but denies knowing sources of her wealth. Was Villa conduit of Janet's funds to LP in 2010 and 2013?



LWUA Chief Rene Villa, former Napoles lawyer and financial adviser







I was in Hongkong recently to attend the small wedding anniversary celebration of my elder sister, the former Angustias Olivares, 76, and her husband Oscar Mañalac Caluag, 85. They brought the families of their three children here for a special mass celebrated by Irish Jesuit Father Sean Coghlan in the lovely chapel of the Jesuit-run dormitory at the University of Hongkong, followed by a delicious lauriat dinner at a downtown Kowloon restaurant.

It was truly special, for the Caluags have reached 50 years of married life---the first in both our clans to achieve this milestone in this our era of shorter and shorter married-life spans. But it was most meaningful too, as Oscar was confined last year for nearly three months in the Makati Medical Center ICU for a seemingly endless series of complications that began with some abdominal pains.

At some point we didn’t think he’d pull through, but under the best medical team perhaps assembled in our country, led by his elder cousin, the venerable cardiologist Florina Kaluag, Oscar managed not only to survive his terrible ordeal but actually got well.

Hence the much-deserved HK celebration for his family.

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But to my consternation, as I awaited my PAL flight to Manila yesterday, I read the Outbound Travel Alert (OTA) being played over and over on the HK airport screens. The Philippines is classified in Category 1 under “Severe threat---avoid all travel,” together with troubled Syria and Egypt! In Category 2, under “Significant threat---adjust travel plans and avoid non-essential travel” was solitary Lebanon. In Category 3, under “Signs of threat, monitor situation, exercise caution” are Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, Tunisia and Turkey.

I thought it was most unfair to lump PH with Syria and Egypt. To be sure, HK has only five million people, but the problem is that its airport is one of the world’s busiest and tens of thousands daily read those travel warnings.

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I can only ascribe the severity of HK Airport’s warning on PH to the Luneta fiasco of August 2010, where 11 Hongkong tourists were killed by a lone gunman, the failure of the Aquino government to properly carry out the hostage rescue and its subsequent refusal to apologize to the people of HK, as its government insists until now.

Indeed, masyado pang mainit ang sentiment against Pinoys in HK, as President Aquino felt in his encounter with HK media at the recent APEC gathering (I thought I could feel it too as I passed HK immigration twice in my visit). Last week efforts by Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada to negotiate a closure with the HK government failed on the issue of compensation to the victims.

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Analysts continue to assess the import and impact of P-Noy’s surprise televised seven-minute caustic speech last Wednesday--- now nicknamed the “I did not steal” talk---where he sought to split hairs over the Disbursement Acceleration Program and the legislators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund. He stressed that the brouhaha over these two funds is all about “corruption,” that of abusive legislators and not his nor his allies’ doing.

The most obvious compulsion for that speech was that P-Noy panicked after  the office of presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas commissioned an honest-to-goodness survey of the administration. It found that contrary to findings of SWS and Pulse Asia, which placed P-Noy’s rating at 49% and 79%, respectively, last September ("Really?" asked skeptical Times columnist Ricardo Saludo of the 79%) P-Noy’s approval rating this time has dropped to only 35%.

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This story of P-Noy’s all-time rating drop, buried in the inside pages of Philippine Star this week and denied quickly by the Palace next day, is quite believable, given the temper of the times. Equally alarming to the Palace was that VP Jejomar Binay’s approval rating, while declining like P-Noy’s (Pulse Asia rated VP at 77%), still remains much higher at 57%, while Justice Secretary Leila de Lima even got a higher score than P-Noy, 38 percent.

But expectedly, other Aquino allies got negative ratings: Speaker Feliciano Belmonte zero rating, Senate President Franklin Drilon minus 14%, and DBM Secretary Florencio Abad and Palace Spokesman Edwin Lacierda minus 20% and minus 16%, respectively.

Small consolation for the Palace was that the three opposition senators accused of plunder in connection with the P10-billion Janet Napoles pork scam also hovered in negatives: Jinggoy Estrada minus14%, Bong Revilla minus15 % and Juan Ponce Enrile minus 21 percent.

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P-Noy’s and his key officials’ plunge impelled him to rescue his tattered image by professing publicly that he does not steal---and that it’s  corrupt senators “identified with the old regime” who seek to sow confusion in the public. But his 7-minute public address only raised more queries.

For one thing, the issue of DAP's constitutionality is pending before the Supreme Court, challenged by half a dozen individuals and citizens' groups. Was P-Noy nakedly seeking to influence the High Court, anticipating perhaps a dreaded anti-DAP ruling? 

Then too, P-Noy kept insisting he does not steal---only the three accused senators and 34 others in COA's special audit report of 2007-2009 did. But as various commentators such as Babe Romualdez, Randy David and Neal Cruz, and even the yellow-dominated Makati Business Club (MBC), are now stressing loudly: produce the records for both opposition and allies of P-Noy, so the people would get the total picture of corruption. MBC called on P-Noy to “ensure that all found guilty of wrong-doing, whether inside or outside government, IRRESPECTIVE OF POLITICAL ALLEGIANCE, be cast behind bars.” (emphasis mine).

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The problem is that the P-Noy administration has been so selective all along. Its hand-picked COA Chief, Grace Pulido Tan---who, as former undersecretary to Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima resigned with him in July 2005, in the Hyatt 10's effort to bring down GMA over the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal---has refused to show audit records beyond 2009.

Moreover, P-Noy’s hand-picked Ombudsman Carpio-Morales appears to be taking her sweet time investigating others outside of the three opposition senators.

Why? Perhaps because disclosures would show how the P-Noy admin has marshaled massive public funds to ensure passage of a number of crucial legislations. DBM Secretary Butch Abad has admitted that apart from their regular PDAF funds,  the 20 senators who voted to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona had received P12.8 billion in DAP funds for projects of their own choice last year. Heaven knows how much changed hands to pass the RH Law.

In my book, buying the moral judgment of the solons is a far worse corruption than actual stealing of funds.

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Speaking of Hyatt 10, GMA's former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rene Villa, who heads LWUA in the P-Noy administration, was among those who resigned en masse on July 8, 2005. Villa was first brought into the Erap government in 1998 by his political patron, fraternity brod in Sigma Rho and province-mate, Senate President Drilon---appointed presidential adviser for Western Visayas with rank of Usec, and returned to the same post in GMA’s first four years. In 2004 Drilon moved to have Villa appointed by GMA as DAR Secretary until the Hyatt 10 mass resignations, and in the new P-Noy era, he again brought Villa to become LWUA Chief.

By Villa’s own admission, in the interim after the Hyatt 10s’ resignation, he, being jobless, lawyered for about four years for Janet Napoles and was her financial adviser. By then Napoles was already infinitely busy with her multi-billion scam among legislators, using among her conduits the DAR that Villa had once headed;  but the latter says he didn’t have anything to do with Napoles' activities in DAR.

In the Inquirer banner story earlier this week, Villa was also quoted as saying he was a “constant food companion” of Napoles in her Discovery Suites in those years, but that he didn’t have a clear idea where her wealth was coming from, except that it was quite hefty. But what kind of financial adviser would he be if he didn't know?

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That lawyering bit was a most crucial admission by Rene Villa, for in that role he appears to have become---as Napoles’ former staffers and now turned whistle-blowers against her, have testified---the crucial conduit of Napoles’ funds to key LP politicians.

Not only did “Ma’am Janet" fund Villa’s failed campaign for representative in Iloilo in 2010 under the LP. According to the whistle-blowers, Villa would come very regularly to Napoles’ Pasig office to receive enormous amounts of funds (contained in big brown envelops) in the months leading to the 2010 elections, where P-Noy ran for president under the LP banner with LP Chair Drilon among its senatorial candidates. 

In the 2013 elections, Drilon served as LP campaign manager, but asked if "Ma'am Janet" had donated campaign funds to the party, he denied knowing anything about it, arguing that raising funds was not his job.

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When the P10-billion scam broke out three months ago and it became a favorite national past-time for politicos to deny even knowing this ingenious scam empress, P-Noy was quoted as saying he didn’t know her and that  she might have just posed for photos with him in a Cebu function. On the other hand, Drilon initially denied knowing her, but when photos surfaced in the internet, he admitted meeting her only a few times socially, and that it was his wife Mila who was invited to Napoles’ socials.

It would be interesting to watch Drilon’s jaw drop from the dais, if someone shoots a direct question like this to Napoles on Thursday, under oath: how much did you contribute to the LP campaign funds in 2010 and 2013?  Those many millions donated to the LP campaign by "Ma'am Janet" were fruits of the poisoned tree---no different from the funds allegedly stolen by opposition senators now charged before the Ombudsman.


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