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.

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.


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. 


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.   


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!”


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.


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.


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.


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).   


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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1 comment:

  1. Bel, tama ka about the term ANNUS HORRIBILIS for 2013. That is why, I heard, the attendance in Simbang gabi Masses all over the country have increased exponentially. Let's hope and pray to the Lord and His Blessed Mother that 2014 will be an ANNUS MIRABILIS -- full of wonderful miracles from God's divine providence. Teban of Alabang, Muntinlupa City.