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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.

Monday, December 30, 2013

From Annus Horribilis in 2013, may 2014 be Annus Mirabilis---“full of wonderful miracles from God’s Divine Providence.”


Philippine House of Representatives in session
From radio personality Carmen Ignacio comes this vigorous greeting for the New Year:

“Ang 2014 ay tinaguriang ‘Year of the Horse.’ Sa pagpasok ng taon sana ay SIPAIN ka ng walang tigil na swerte. Lingkisin ka ng saya, maging mabilis ang pagkaripas ng pera patakbo sa iyo. Gapangan nawa ng limpak-limpak na yaman sa lahat ng aspeto ng iyong buhay.

Ipasa mo rin agad ito sa ibang mga mahal sa buhay at mahal na kaibigan. Ipasa mo, sige, na parang bola. I-shoot mo humahagibis. MABILIS. DALI. PARA DUMATING NA MADALI ANG SWERTE.”

XXX

From a friend from Alabang comes this reaction to my Dec. 21, 2013 blog about how 2013, with all the natural and man-made calamities and disasters this year has brought, is more like ANNUS HORRIBILIS, to borrow a term quoted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth some years back on problems in the Royal Family.

My friend agrees with my diagnosis of Annus Horribilis for 2013, and he reports that “this is the reason why I heard that the attendance at Simbang Gabi Masses all over the country had increased exponentially---people clung to God to hope and pray to Him and His Blessed Mother that 2014 would be an ANNUS MIRABILIS---full of wonderful miracles from God's Divine Providence.”

Amen to Annus Mirabilis in 2014.

XXX

Another reaction from a friend from Dasmarinas Village on this same blog:

“I fully agree with your observations. Though the Binay incident supposedly happened last November and came out just a few days ago, it is quite disgusting that the Binays as well as Ram Antonio (owner of the security agency whose guards defended Dasma’s Banyan Gate---BOC) and even Rep. Rex Gatchalian defend such arrogant behavior.


“While (Sen. Alan Peter) Cayetano's pronouncements are a case of the ‘pot calling the kettle black", he is right in this regard....it is not about the Binays but about the arrogance of power which corrupts many of those who came from humble beginnings and now strut around with a sense of entitlement.


“On the other hand, the Senate elevator incident involving Senate President (Franklin) Drilon and the removal of media presence in the (Pasay RTC Court) hearing featuring (Architect Jun) Palafox vs. (former Sen. Edgardo) Angara all attest to this and are only a few examples of this aberrant behavior.


“This is truly an ‘Annus Horribilis’ for our beloved country and as we try to discern why God allows these to happen, may we, as a people transform ourselves? A change in men has to begin with all of us, from the highest ranking official to even God's poor. Only when we observe and fight for the Rule of Law, Social Justice, Human Rights, Compassion and Charity towards all will we get the government we truly deserve.”


Amen to this observation too.

XXX

My brother Danny Olivares, co-convenor of the group called “Movement against Dynasties” (MAD) that was quite active in the May 2013 elections and hopefully in the next elections, is quite ecstatic about media reports that the anti-dynasty bill is one of the first measures due to be taken up in plenary session when the House of Representatives resumes session on January 20. The report quoted House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II.

Hope springs eternal even on this dubious topic, but we can’t really bank on the move of members of Congress---for dynastic politics has become a way of life over the decades. It should be noted that while the 1987 Constitution has ruled out political dynasties, it left the circumstances of abolition to the legislators; sadly, however, despite efforts of the great Senate President Jovito Salonga starting in 1987 to legislate an anti-dynasty law, NOTHING has remotely moved in this direction. It is really like asking the legislators, whose dynasties never have it so good, to rule against themselves.

XXX

In fact I see the noises on anti-dynasty from Boyet Gonzalez, one of the most trapo of politicians, and others like him as mere pa-consuelo---not to be taken seriously. Merely establishing the degree to which politicians are to be excluded in the definition of dynasty could take forever in floor debates.

But there are recent developments that may be the hand of God.

The dynasties could be in for some drubbing by sheer force of political circumstances in the next elections---due to the ABOLITION of the PDAF which used to rake in for House members P210 million each for their three-year term and P1.2 billion each for the senators for their six-year term. All these were clear money guaranteed in the annual budget, but now, with the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court late last month, they are no more.

XXX

Last week I had a long dialogue with a veteran legislator and he admitted that they’re hurting in Congress because, to quote Fr. Joaquin Bernas in his column today, they “were stripped of a major and almost unrestricted tool for politicking.” Now solons have to think twice on whether to pull out from their own pockets the funding for constituents who approach them for medicines or scholarships---where before this would all come from their PDAF. The lawmaker admitted that the current situation could dampen plans of a good number of House members to run and that definitely this would affect political dynasties, some of which have successfully fielded four or five members simultaneously.

I added that the pork’s abolition could also scale down political spending as the politicians would now have to spend their personal funds.

If only for these benefits, the abolition of PDAF is something to rejoice for.

XXX

I took advantage of our conversation to understand from my legislator-friend how PDAF had worked and the enormous “sideline” that members of Congress have obtained from it. As we now know from the Napoles exposes and which my source confirmed, the PDAF is not handled directly by the lawmakers; rather, they identify the implementing agency to which they wish to channel their pork barrel in specific projects in their districts or at large in the case of senators.

In the recent Napoles scams the fave agencies were the Departments of Agriculture and of Agrarian Reform and offices such as the Technology Livelihood Resource Center.

After the lawmaker complies with certain conditions, the Department of Budget and Management issues the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) to the implementing agency, which can then go into bidding for procurement, after which the agency and the contractor strike up a MOA. Within several weeks DBM issues the notice of cash allotment (NCA) to the implementing agency.

XXX

This is where the interesting part begins. Many lawmakers’ projects normally involve “consumables” which easily disappear from public view, and the most popular choice is fertilizers (after the ground is wet this element disappears).  Other faves involve training of people (mainly relatives of the lawmaker or of his followers) and scholarships of fictitious students.

Since the national budget is for one year, issuance of NCAs to implementing agencies is by quarter, and at the end of the year what’s “not obligated” is returned to the national treasury as savings. Hence the national frenzy for spending toward the fourth quarter.

But as the lawmaker-source explained, savings are already estimated even before the end of every quarter---known to both legislators and contractors, although the latter course the “porsiento” or commissions not directly to Congress members but to the implementing agency.  There's undoubtedly great collusion between staffers of the latter agencies and those of a good number of lawmakers---which results in everyone being happy. As the Napoles scams showed, commissions can go as high as 70% for the lawmaker.

The source admitted that some congressmen are “more equal” than others in that they rake in more. This inequality operates well during the budgetary process and the period of amendments to bills---and involve both administration and opposition lawmakers.

XXX

Recent news quoted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as tweaking the public’s nose again about the “fake SARO” racket in DBM, allegedly involving among others, a driver and a janitor in the office of Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, and a woman regarded as the DBM SARO Gang’s “Supremo.” Has it sank that low and pilfering public funds is that easy that a mere driver and janitor are running the racket there?  

De Lima’s special genius, however, is that she leaves the public twisting in the wind once again on whether the discovered fake SARO scams involved just the Arroyo administration or the current one---pretty much like what she did in the Napoles scams, zeroing in on the GMA years and going blank on the Aquino era. 

She was also quoted today as hinting that no congressman seems to be involved in the fake SARO scams. After all the lawmakers involved in 82 fake NGOs, is it really believable that no member of Congress is involved here? 

Shall we say, abangan? Hope springs eternal once again?   



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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Story on reconciliation and forgiveness. A touching display of political civility aboard Air Force One by US leaders and spouses enroute to and from Mandela funeral services. Will we ever see similar civility among our own leaders beyond Veterans Hospital?


Blessed Pope John Paul II as model of humility
Christmas is the time when we ponder on the humility of God who descended on earth on a day such as today over two thousand years ago, and became one of us, in order to offer His life for our salvation.

In a past blog I wrote about the behavior of some of our politicians which smacks of arrogance and puffed-up sense of self-importance and power--- in total contrast to the humility of the God-Man.  Allow me on this special day to recall a beautiful story that will make us feel the redemptive power of grace---as triggered by the humility of one special person. This is a true story.

XXX

One day a priest who was in Rome for a religious event was walking toward the Vatican when he came across a beggar in a street corner.  The priest walked past him, but then something tugged at his memory strings and he walked back and queried the beggar, “Don’t I know you? The man began shaking his head as though to say, how can you possibly KNOW ME? But the thought that he had seen the man before continued to nag the priest and he stood scrutinizing the beggar’s unshaven, dirty face.  Then it dawned on him.

Wait a minute, he said with incredulity, weren’t you and I ordained together? Yes, yes, we were, we were. But the beggar continued to shake his head and crying, no, no, as he tried to wave the priest away.

The priest walked away but later in the Vatican, he found the chance to speak to Pope John Paul II and he told him of his encounter at the street corner and how positive he was that this was the same man who was ordained with him some time back. JPII listened and then called his secretary and asked him to prepare two tickets to a meal with him for the priest and a friend.  Bring him here, ordered the Pope.

The priest was by now extremely excited, but unsure of his mission. He went back to the beggar and told him about the tickets given to him. Imagine, said the priest, you and I can dine with the Pope! You have to come with me. But the beggar kept saying no, no. How could he, grimy and smelly as he was?

The priest begged him, “please don’t turn down the Pope,” showing him the tickets. Finally he wore out the beggar’s will and they went to his hotel room where the beggar had a good bath and shave, and a decent haircut. The priest got him some presentable clothes.

At the appointed meal event, they showed up and the Pope was solicitous and put the beggar at ease with some chit-chat. Then came the big moment: John Paul II asked the man to hear his confession. But Holy Father, said the beggar, I can’t. If you only know what kind of life I went through, my very dark past, all the sins…”

He begged off but JPII was insistent, stressing to his visitor that once a priest, always a priest.  And they went off to a corner where JPII confessed to the beggar.  At that point the man, deeply touched by JPII’s humility and doubtless God’s grace, began to weep inconsolably. As theologians like to say, he must have seen his whole life parade in front of him and this time it was his turn to ask Pope John Paul II to hear his confession.

Afterwards, the Pope gave him a unique but predictable assignment: to look after the beggars of Rome.

XXX

Pope John Paul II, to be canonized with Pope John XXIII this coming April 27, was such a humble man. The story is also told that in one gathering of cardinals and bishops in the Vatican, one eminent personality sought to rationalize why some things that needed to be done weren’t done by saying he was quite busy. To which the Pope retorted with a touch of impatience and irritation: “But aren’t we ALL busy?“

Then, perhaps realizing that he might have hurt the high-ranking prelate’s feelings and even his ego, John Paul later asked him to hear his confession. That was his way of stressing two things: the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation with God and as a way to reconcile with one's fellowman.

XXX

One of Star columnist Alex Magno’s best pieces definitely was his account yesterday, Christmas Eve, of former President Joseph Estrada’s visit last Sunday to his successor, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in Veterans Memorial Hospital. Veteran political analysts are usually razor-sharp in analyzing political events, but they become all too human and therefore so touching when they analyze encounters of human beings. As Alex put it, “Last Sunday’s visit…was infinitely more than returning an act of humanity (referring to PGMA’s two visits to Erap in detention), a gesture of political civility” and he recounted the warm exchange of pleasantries between the two leaders who have shared a common experience.

I suppose that Archbishop of Jaro, Iloilo Angel Lagdameo was so similarly moved by Alex’s account that he now suggests that in view of the recent visit of Estrada visit to GMA and last October of former President Fidel Ramos to her, President Aquino should now, in the spirit of Christmas, go and visit GMA too.

XXX

That Archbishop Lagdameo’s suggestion would be honored by P-Noy may be as long a shot as PH’s sending a man to the moon. Erap, however, is a naturally warm personality who’s easy to empathize with a fellow sufferer, especially if it’s a female under duress (talagang may pusong mammon siya for the “weaker” sex).

But one day some years back I saw a different Erap from the person who emerged from Alex’s Veterans account. That time he was going down an escalator in a Pasig Mall after attending the launch of Joe de Venecia’s autobiography, and by a fantastic coincidence, former President Ramos was on the other escalator, going up to the book launch. I happened to be on the ground floor and I saw the two former presidents on the escalator, completely snubbing each other by looking in the opposite direction---so much so that I feared they could both tumble down. 

They did look quite silly acting that way and I thought, what it would have taken if suddenly one of them said Hi! to the other one? Similarly, what would it take if quite suddenly P-Noy dropped in on GMA at Veterans this season?

XXX
 
Former bitter US political adversaries  having big 
laugh aboard Air Force One in published photo
 by White House photographer Pete Souza
In contrast to the lack of communicability among our officials I found quite moving a series of photographs taken by White House photographer Peter Souza, which accompanied an article in “Policy MIC” entitled “8 Photos You Didn’t See from  Obama’s Trip to South Africa” by freelance writer Nino Ippsolito.

The article stressed that there was a lot of international to-do over the “selfie” photo of Obama with the comely Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British PM David Cameron, showing them smiling broadly for the cell-camera at the memorial service for the late Nelson Mandela, or of former US President George Bush posing with pop star Bono. Aside from overshadowing the memorial services themselves and heartfelt messages delivered by Mandela’s family and former colleagues, writer Ippsolito said such outcries “overlook the close quarters in which our Democratic and Republican politicians actually live and work.”

XXX

And indeed, how heartwarming it was to see Peter Souza’s photos taken inside Air Force One showing past and present US Presidents, the incumbent First Lady and two other former First Ladies enroute to or returning from the Mandela services, sensibly sharing one plane for the long trip to and from South Africa and having a grand time inside. All bitter political campaignings vs. one another or in support of rival candidates in past years were comfortably left behind. 

One photo depicted the Bushes, the Obamas and Hillary Clinton gathered around the Air Force dining table chatting amiably and another with them  having a good laugh over an Ipod showing Bush’s paintings.

Wrote Nino Ippsolito: “It’s time that we acknowledge that conservative and liberal (US) politicians spend more time together and have more in common with one another, than we’d like to believe.”

Will we see more of “such gestures of civility” as Alex Magno put it, beyond the confines of the Veterans Memorial Hospital? When was the last time the National Security Council was even convened?




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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Annus horribilis for PH. Seeking to divine God’s message of repentance in the string of biblical malevolence in our country. Reflections on political power and its abuse in this fourth week of Advent.



Makati Mayor Junjun Binay
It has been, to borrow that famous quote from Queen Elizabeth of Britain, referring to the turmoil in the Royal Family in another era, an annus horribilis for our country, and seeming to be without merciful let-up as Christmas approaches. Everywhere in the last few days it seemed that people have been reeling from catastrophes, accidents, slayings, politicos’ foibles and internecine wars, etc. and they just have to hold on to their faith in God’s mercy and providence to go on with their lives and survive.

Many have questioned the message in the string of malevolence and comparison is being made with biblical times when folks would don sackcloth and put ashes on their heads in repentance. Such recollection is timely, for we have entered the fourth week of Advent and vestments of the priests in churches are purple, the color of penitence.

XXX

After the prolonged Zamboanga warfare between government and MNLF forces came the magnitude 7.2 earthquake of Oct. 15 and the super-typhoon of biblical devastation of Nov. 8.  And just when some semblance of community life was stirring in the Visayas  came the horrible Don Mariano bus accident on the Skyway south of the metropolis that claimed 18 lives and seriously wounded many others; then the Martilyo Gang’s strike at an SM mall that sent hundreds of X’mas shoppers into hysterics.  Next day a speeding van at NLEX ran over passengers descending from a bus with engine trouble.

Then comes delayed disclosure in the news of the arrogance of power of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay, who chose to claim his “entitlement” from humble security guards to exit from a closed gate of an exclusive village in that city. While this controversy raged, a Mindanao mayor, his wife and relative were killed upon arrival in Manila’s NAIA 3, in what’s obviously a political vendetta---with a stray bullet claiming a young boy’s life and the wounding of many others in the bloody fray. On another front the wife of a prominent lawyer was shot in the head after emerging from mass. Killings of media practitioners continue, meanwhile, prompting Unesco to press for their investigation. 

XXX

All these happenings, except for the natural calamities, give the impression of unbridled lawlessness matched by police laxity and helplessness in enforcing laws against criminals and maniacal drivers. What these episodes have done is to steal the spirit of Christmas from a crestfallen people already reeling from physical and economic dislocation in many places.

Tough and trying times indeed, but life has to go on and on this score Filipinos have to bank on their reputation of being a tough race.   

XXX

Like many readers, I got a text supposedly from VP Jojo Binay earlier today, pleading for courtesy for his Mayor son, to which I quickly responded with this text: “Mas tama kung si Mayor Binay ay nagpakita na siya mismo ay sumusunod sa regulacion. After all, 150 meters lang ang pagitan ng saradong Banyan gate at ng bukas na Palm Ave. gate. Tama ang ginawa ng security ng Dasma Village, at saludo ang mga mamamayan na nanindigan sila!”

XXX

The reaction of Mayor Binay and his sister Sen. Nancy Binay to the Dasma security guards, who refused to allow them to exit at midnight through that gate that closes at 10 pm., is not surprising---this is very much human nature, especially in our Third World setting. The more prevalent mentality here among powerful personages seems to be, you give me my entitlement as a politician, a general, a bureaucrat or any other person of authority and power, by bending a regulation or two.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano was quoted as opining that VP Binay should have asked his son to take a leave from office while this controversial issue is being investigated, and he has a point. But it makes me wonder, knowing how full of themselves the Cayetanos can be, how Sen. Alan would have reacted if he himself was refused exit by those guards.

XXX

Mayor and Sen. Binay missed a golden opportunity to teach valuable lessons in humility in this episode. If they had just directed their security to turn around and exit at the other gate that’s open and only 150 meters away, they would have loomed larger than life. Instead they threw their weight around and their security even drew a long arm while another cocked a short arm and they called in their Makati security to forcibly raise the bar of the closed gate.

Luckily the security guards of Dasma didn’t get nervous enough to draw guns too---they just played it cool. What a costly blunder for the Binays. As I expected, the Dasmarinas Village Association is standing squarely behind its three security guards and will decorate them and shower them with gifts at the village Christmas party.

The one who looked pathetic was Ram Antonio, owner of the security agency who said on TV after that unfortunate incident that there are only three figures who could have access to that closed gate at all times: the President and Vice President of the Philippines and the Mayor of Makati. But obviously his own security guards didn’t know anything about these “exceptions” and the owner appeared as though he had just invented that line in deference to the powerful Makati dynasty.

XXX

As a journalist I have covered politics in this country for 30 years and I must understate that definitely our politicians exhibit behavior different from that of ordinary mortals.  Three weeks ago, I was in the Senate and sat in on a committee hearing on electoral fraud.  As I was leaving the building, I walked past a half-filled elevator  standing still on the ground floor;  what struck me was that a couple of senators were inside with other people and they looked like schoolboys forced to stand at attention, looking quite bored.

I slowed down and sort of waited to see whom they were all waiting for. From the car park emerged Senate President Franklin Drilon and his aides and I deduced that they had radioed for the elevator to wait.  I suppose that was protocol but the situation certainly looked really funny---and unflattering to the Senate Chief.

XXX

A month ago I sat in on a hearing at the Pasay RTC sala of Judge Francisco Mendiola on the libel case filed by former Sen. Edgardo Angara against prominent architect-urban planner Felino “Jun” Palafox over the APECO project  in Aurora.  Angara had earlier enlisted Palafox’s services in APECO but they had a bitter falling out. I have been interested in the APECO issue since the Dumagats began repeatedly marching from Casiguran in protest of this multi-billion ecozone project in the Pacific typhoon belt. The Dumagats claim their ancestral lands were grabbed from them. 

That morning at the RTC, Angara was represented by topnotch lawyer Leonardo de Vera, who left a lucrative practice in the US decades ago to join street rallies after Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. Joining him were two young lawyers presumably from the Angara law office (ACCRA).  Jun Palafox was represented by Atty. Ric Ribo, who incidentally is also president of the association of ex-seminarians (of which Palafox is also a member).   

XXX

That morning an assortment of media and cause-oriented people were in the sala, and when the judge walked in, De Vera, who didn't seem too eager to see media, immediately moved to exclude from the hearing “all those persons who had no direct interest in the (APECO) case” inasmuch as, he asserted, the hearing could involve “sensitive issues.” Palafox’s lawyer Ribo immediately opposed De Vera’s position, stressing that APECO involved huge public funds and therefore is of urgent public interest. The court hearings would have ventilated many related issues that were never discussed in the half-hour hearing in the Senate on APECO.

Judge Mendiola listened to both sides with an air of disinterest, and then ruled in favor of De Vera’s argument--- all the media as well as sympathizers of the Dumagats and Palafox were ordered out of the sala.  In the hallway we all grumbled that what could rightly be considered “sensitive” are crimes against persons such as rape and and other salacious violations---but that a development project costing over P3 billion of public funds definitely cannot fall under this category.  To my mind, the issues would only be "sensitive" for former Sen. Angara.  

The public had the right to know the real truth about APECO, but the judge ignored this. What this Pasay RTC episode clearly demonstrated is the awesome power of legislators.





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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Honorary law degree from Sophia, recommended by Ateneo prexy Fr.Jett Villarin, doubtless raises eyebrows in international community. Comelec order for 422 elected officials to vacate posts due to failure to submit SOCE meets with derision, as this has never been enforced---except in case of Raul Manglapus in 1966 who allegedly spent beyond P7, 200. Comelec move seeks to divert attention from 9.9M votes missing last May?



President Aquino receiving an honorary doctorate degree
from Sophia University in Tokyo  
The prestigious Sophia University in Tokyo, run by the Jesuits, conferred an honorary doctorate degree in law to President Aquino during his current visit to the Japanese capital to attend the 40th Asean Commemorative Summit. It was noted in various reports from Tokyo that Aquino was decorated by the university for his “significant achievements in the promotion of good governance and peace in the Philippines, which have contributed to the remarkable economic development of the country in recent years.”

This honorary doctorate degree in law is P-Noy’s second in his three and a half years in the presidency, but interestingly enough, these two honorary degrees were both conferred by Jesuit universities---the first being Fordham University in New York City in September 2011, and now Sophia U’s during the centennial of this Tokyo educational institution’s foundation.

XXX

It would appear to many Filipinos that only the Jesuits have been gullible enough to honor P-Noy with such high distinction. The fact that this second honorary degree, in law no less, from Sophia U was recommended by Ateneo de Manila University President Jose Ramon T. Villarin speaks volumes about the continued inexplicable support by the leadership and a good portion of the faculty of our local Jesuit university in Q.C. for P-Noy---despite glaring violations of Philippine laws and principles of good governance, as well as the lack of a semblance of comprehension of real leadership by the President.

Ateneo prexy Fr. Jett Villarin, a contemporary of P-Noy at the Ateneo, has the distinction of being able to communicate directly with the Chief Executive and he is reputed to advise his friend---or criticize his actuations---by text. Media reports say that Fr. Villarin recommended the honorary degree for P-Noy in a letter to Sophia U on Jan. 21 this year. But he should have been the first to realize that in the past year and a half so many things have happened to change public perception of the President---so that such an award by Sophia could raise quizzical eyebrows in the international scene.  

XXX

The fact is that the President’s credibility and acceptance rating with the Filipino people is at its lowest ebb and this is reflected not just in survey ratings but in the social media where he is lampooned day in and day out.

Contributing to this fact was the corruption in the form of unashamed bribery that has marked his relations with members of Congress---particularly to effect the ouster of a sitting Chief Justice and the passage of the RH Law. Then there’s the administration’s gross mishandling of the super-typhoon’s impact and the politicization of relief and rehabilitation---known only too well to the international community, on account of foreign media such as Anderson Cooper’s CNN team.

Poverty statistics have remained dismal despite massaging and the phenomenon of jobless growth. At this moment too, a dozen citizens’ groups are  challenging  the constitutionality of the President’s humongous pork barrel before the Supreme Court and there could be an even chance that it could be struck down if the high magistrates could shed their fear of impeachment and invest in personal integrity.  

Under his watch various institutions have suffered considerable damage in credibility, notably Comelec that has conducted the two worst elections in recent memory, and COA which has been an instrument in Aquino’s highly selective justice.

XXX

The credibility of the administration is such that serious allegations are being raised in media, which notes the panic mode in the Palace about his failing ratings, about a “Palace coup” in the offing to extend President Aquino’s term. Reports insinuate that his minions are making sure that he does not befall the fate of his predecessor GMA.   

An honorary degree in law from Sophia for the President?  The late great Jesuit historian, Fr. Horacio de la Costa, one of two other Filipinos honored similarly by Sophia U in the past (the other being the late UP President Carlos P. Romulo), must be turning in his grave.

XXX

One institution increasingly discredited over time---but more so now with the manipulation of the PCOS machines that resulted in the questionable results of the 2010 presidential elections and some 9.9 million votes unreported in the 2013 congressional and local elections---is the Comelec. Evidence that it’s treated with either cynicism or derision is that there’s almost uniform disbelief about its recent order to 422 winners in last May’s polls to vacate their posts for their failure to submit their Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) within 30 days, as required by RA 7166, or the Synchronized Election Law of 1991. The law mandates that elected officials cannot assume office until they have fulfilled this and other requirements.

Some of the officials under question assert that they have submitted their SOCE but perhaps with inaccurate entries; but many more have not even bothered to submit a SOCE. The problem is that the poll body had never implemented that requirement---the one and only politician ever dismissed for “overspending” was the late Sen. Raul Manglapus in 1966. Now, suddenly, Comelec decides to enforce it but obviously few have complied or did so defectively.

Moreover, as I said above, Comelec has ignored serious complaints by IT experts about the failures of the PCOS system, so one hardly blame politicians if they ignore the SOCE requisite. In fact it's tempting to assert that Sixto Brillantes' Comelec resorted to this vacate move in order to divert the public attention from the 9.9 million missing votes in the May 2013 elections. 

XXX
 
Sen. Raul Manglapus
This is as good a time as any to recall that episode, as written up by Ed Kuinisala on Feb. 26, 1972,  titled “Constitutional Convention: Nakakahiya!”  As he narrated it, when Raul Manglapus ran for the Senate in 1961, the uniform ceiling for campaign spending for Congress was a total of one year’s salary (as set by the 1935 Constitution), P7,200. The electoral tribunal ruled that Manglapus had in fact under-spent, but also, that a TV contract entered into by some of his supporters, which was never paid as it was written off in the station’s books, was charged to him.

Before Manglapus’ term expired in 1967, he was dismissed in what the press at that time ridiculed as a “hypothetical farce.” Manglapus’ case became a sensation, so that in the following elections he was invited as a common candidate of both the NPs and the LPs, but he declined and chose to run instead in 1970 as delegate to the constitutional convention where his top showing vindicated him.

It was also an admission of his innocence that in the ensuing Senate, the very same senators who voted against him for “over-spending” amended the election laws---so that a candidate may then spend an amount equivalent to the total salary for the senator’s six-year term, instead of for one year.

XXX

Manglapus became a leader of the “Ban-Marcos” movement in the Con-Con of 1971 (President Marcos was elected in 1965, but that early he was clearly out to prolong himself in power). Valiant efforts of this movement undertaken by Tito Guingona, Mary Rose Espeleta, Jesus Barrera and a few others in the “progressive-independent bloc,” were shot down in various committees by staunch pro-Marcos supporters. Thus, the committee on suffrage and electoral reforms which Manglapus chaired,  was thought of as providing the “last hope” to get the “Ban Marcos” move taken up in the committee on transitory provisions, which was to discuss the final items in the proposed charter.

As writer Kuinisala narrated, Marcos supporters realized this early enough, and knowing they couldn’t corrupt Raul, they chose to play dirty by resurrecting an old ghost---they filed a resolution to ban Manglapus from public office “for having violated the election law.” Embattled Raul termed it a gambit to  get  progressives to withdraw their support for the Ban-Marcos movement.

As Kuinisala put it, “The 'Ban-Manglapus' move is a shameless resort to political squid tactics. Its purpose is simply to confuse the issue. The Filipino people are not likely to fall for it. What is saddening is the degeneration of the highest deliberative body of the land into a virtual political convention where issues are decided not on the basis of merit but of political partisanship if not money.

Familiar words.



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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reports buzz with -6 rating for P-Noy and Palace in panic mode. Voting on DAP issue perceived very close. Would P-Noy get to retain DAP as X’mas gift? SC paves way for Justice and HRET Chair Presbitero Velasco’s son to occupy Rep. Gina Reyes’ lone Marinduque seat---by disqualifying her as alleged US citizen. House members alarmed at possible loss of independence.


President BenignoAquino III, SC Justice Presbitero Velasco &
Rep. Regina Ongsiako Reyes
There’s a reliable report that in a recent survey conducted nationwide in the aftermath of the PDAF and DAP controversies and the mishandling of government’s response to super-typhoon Yolanda, President Aquino garnered a rating of negative 6. This item’s not being reported in media, but reliable reports from Malacanang indicate that the presidential staff is panicking about the plunge of his survey rating and they’re now burning the midnight candle to see how further erosion could be stemmed.

In fact talk is rife in media about emergency rule being contemplated by some Palace bright boys, that would give P-Noy extraordinary powers to deal with the serious image crisis---and a perfect excuse to extend P-Noy's term beyond his six years!
The recent resignation of Presidential spokesperson Ricky Carandang is perceived as part of the Palace’s new image-building, crisis-management efforts---to pull away from gross perceptions of its ineptitude and incompetence. So too the appointment of former Sen. Ping Lacson as Rehab Czar, except that unfortunately, it only stirred memories of his murky past---the last thing the Palace would want to resurrect.

so XXX

There has been pressure from various quarters that surveys be conducted now on how the Palace is faring---to get the true pulse of the people in the light of P-Noy’s sharp decline in ratings. But even without official confirmation of results, a negative 6 rating for P-Noy is not remote as there’s palpable and widespread discontent with the administration in all levels of society.

In fact, there are tell-tale signals of feigning official indifference---which could actually be a cover-up for panic within. For instance, recently readers might have noted a small item buried in the inside page of a national newspaper, quoting P-Noy as saying he does not pay attention to survey ratings.  I found this utterance a far cry from the way he would be so sensitive to any movement upward or downward in his comparative ratings in earlier months.

For sensitive readers, this could be indication of a serious negative decline that the Palace is having difficulty confronting. A negative 6?  Malacanang, kindly confirm or deny.

XXX

One crucial issue that could further plunge P-Noy's rating is the “Disbursement Acceleration Program” (DAP) pending before the Supreme Court---the second of the twin financial packages, the other being the PDAF for members of Congress that was earlier struck down by the SC. How the SC decides the DAP issue would have incredible and far-reaching significance for the nation.

In fact, the High Court is the current hot battleground for three very crucial issues: the constitutionality of DAP, whose oral arguments would be heard this Tuesday; the disqualification of Marinduque Rep. Regina Ongsiako Reyes which the SC has ruled on “with finality,” and the constitutionality of the RH law, where the two protagonists submitted their respective memorandums last month and which the SC is expected to rule on early this January. 

XXX

On the DAP, the issue is whether the many billions in lump-sums that the President has at his complete disposal---and not subject to COA audit at all---is legal or not. Judging from the stunning 14-0 vote earlier of the magistrates on the  unconstitutionality of lump-sum pork allocations of P200M for senators and P70M for House representatives, the lump-sums for the President---his presidential pork---amounting to nearly P1 trillion should also be struck out as unconstitutional, if reason and logic are to prevail.

As former SC Chief Justice Reynato Puno opined, if the lump-sum PDAF is unconstitutional, more so the DAP. And doubtless the whole nation agrees with him, except for administration partisans.

But it’s not that simple for the SC justices, for the DAP now has become the sole source of power for the President---to persuade allies (read, bribe) to vote on crucial issues or to prevent his own impeachment by the House on blatant constitutional violations. But perhaps more importantly for P-Noy, he needs this huge lump-sum pork to bolster the victory of his handpicked LP candidate in 2016, who could provide the by-then ex-President the protection he would need from possible prosecution and jailing---just like the fate of GMA.

XXX

From media accounts, SC magistrates are now being subjected to all manner of persuasions, friendly and not so friendly, including possible impeachment for some of them. Recall that after the pure hell Chief Justice Renato Corona was mercilessly subjected to in media by Palace operatives, this has become a terrifying possibility for some justices.

At the moment, SC sources put the possible vote on DAP at 9-6---nine against DAP and six for it.  Perceived as four solid votes for DAP will be those rendered by the four P-Noy appointees, including Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno who wrote a concurring dissenting opinion about the “unwarranted conclusion” of invalidating all lump-sums.

In addition, two magistrates are also likely pro-DAP---Justice Mariano del Castillo who figured in an inadvertent plagiarism case years back, and Justice Presbitero Velasco whose son could well come to claim the Marinduque legislative seat of Gina Reyes after she was disqualified due to her alleged US citizenship. Two other justices are also perceived to be very negotiable.

Thus, it could be an 8-6 final voting and P-Noy could get to keep his DAP as a sparkling Christmas gift. Citizens have to be super-vigilant. Let’s also pray that the magistrates’ integrity and the welfare of the nation would prevail.

XXX

The SC recent final decision to disqualify Marinduque Rep. Gina Reyes on the ground of her alleged failure to renounce American citizenship puts the SC and the House in a truly lamentable CONSTITUTIONAL COLLISION COURSE. Reyes has presented many evidences of her renunciation of US citizenship, including her use of a PH passport for some time now, but the SC has ignored them---thus paving the way for defeated candidate Lord Allan Velasco, son of Justice Velasco, to sit in her post.

The valid question is, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING, when it’s clear as a bell that Sec. 17, Art.  VI of the Constitution provides that, “The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each have an Electoral Tribunal which shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of their respective members.”

Under this provision, authority conferred upon the Electoral Tribunal is full, clear and complete. The use of the word “sole” emphasizes the exclusivity of the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) over all contests relating to the election of House members. The circumstances confirm this in Reyes’ case.

XXX

Reyes was proclaimed winner by over 4,000 votes by the provincial board of canvassers (PBOC) of Marinduque last May 18, 2013, and sworn into office as its duly-elected representative by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte last June 5 and again, together with other elected representatives last June 30, the official opening of Congress.In fact Reyes filed two (2) bills on July 1 in the exercise of her legislative function and it was formally accepted by the House on the 4th Monday of July, when President Aquino delivered his Sona before the joint Congress.

But ignoring these facts and events with indecent haste, the COMELEC and the SC have been issuing resolutions and decisions BEYOND THE LEGAL PERIOD when Reyes’ case was still under their jurisdiction.

XXX

What’s clearly affected by the Comelec stand and now the SC disqualification of Reyes is the central fact of the case:  that  Reyes fell under the HRET once she was sworn into office by Speaker Belmonte last June 5. If there was/is a protest to be filed by Velasco, this should fall in line in the HRET. But no, the SC had to intervene and nullify Reyes’ eligibility now---and the perception is that it’s clearly because Velasco’s father is a sitting SC justice.

It’s also obvious that the Velascos don’t want to wait for the HRET decision which, admittedly, could take months and even years. The big irony is that Justice Velasco also chairs the HRET. 

But the High Court ought to be the first institution to respect strict compliance to the exclusivity of jurisdiction of HRET---as the latter is an independent CONSTITUTIONAL BODY adjunct to the House.

XXX

Media reports said Speaker Belmonte has asked his lawyers to study this case, stressing that the House could not just disregard Reyes’ wide vote margin over Velasco, and the Speaker’s official proclamation of Reyes. He also wants to ensure that HRET “is not being rendered useless” by the hasty and heavy-handed SC interference.  

In the meantime, he has asked Regina Reyes to remain at the House.

Obviously many House members are fearful that the same fate as Reyes’ may befall them, and they are urging Belmonte to take a stand on this case---to adhere to the time-honored principle of the exclusivity of HRET jurisdiction over all contests relating to the election of House MEMBERS once they're sworn in. They rightfully insist that Speaker protect and fight for the independence of the House. He has no choice, so that this brings the House in direct collision with the SC.

Again this is politics rearing its ugly head in the SC. The question is, why is this sort of thing happening? Why are our institutions being destroyed one by one?




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