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 2, 2013

F. Sionil Jose turns 89 years old tomorrow, Dec. 3. The nation he has served with distinction through his novels hopes with him that perhaps when he turns 90, “those old men in Stockholm” would finally see fit to award him the Nobel Prize for Literature that has unwisely evaded him all these years. Ping’s appointment as “Rehab Czar” certain to politicize that post.

National Artist for Literature
F. Sionil Jose
In his column in Philippine Star yesterday, Dec. 1, F. Sionil Jose was candid and humble about his disappointment in not getting the Nobel Prize for Literature that other noted writers in the world have felt he has longed deserved. In his piece titled “The Nobel Prize and I: Reaching for the top and not getting there,” Frankie philosophized that so many world-famous writers, “creators of far more works of literature than I”---such as Carlos Fuentes, Chinua Achebe and Norman Mailer---“died without being honored with a Nobel Prize. So who am I to want what, with their superior achievement, they did not get?” he rued.

Frankie Sionil Jose goes on to confess: “The truth is that I have stopped dreaming of the Nobel Prize for some time now. In the first place, as a poor boy from an anonymous farming village (in Rosales, Pangasinan---BOC) the Prize had seemed so distant and unreachable.”


The noted Filipino novelist has won just about every prestigious award there is, except the Nobel. He has won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts in 1980, the National Artist Award in 2001, the French Legion of Honor Award in 2000, the Order of Sacred Treasure, Gold rays with Neck Ribbon from Japan in 2001, the Pablo Neruda Centennial Award from Chile in 2004 and so on.

For some time now he has been the bet of various international writers as the Southeast Asian writer most eligible to win the coveted grand prize from Europe---but it has been disappointing so far. But who knows, perhaps he'll still get his heart's desire from those "old men in Stockholm" next year when he marks his 90th birthday. 

Meanwhile, Frankie, enjoy your 89th birthday tomorrow---also the feast of that great Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier, after whom you doubtless were named.  And keep in mind that with all your works you've long been enshrined in the hearts of your countrymen---Nobel or no Nobel.


I came to know Frankie and his amiable wife Tessie when I was working as assistant to Fr. Pacifico Ortiz, S.J., Regent of  the Ateneo College of Law in Padre Faura in the ‘60s. I would hang out during lunch break at Frankie’s bookshop down the road.

In September 1963 my boss Fr. Ortiz “loaned” me to the political office that Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez formed to capture the Nacionalista Party nomination for President in 1964. Pelaez proved no match for Senate President Ferdinand Marcos’ political cunning and after EP’s defeat at the NP Convention, I joined the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, headed by lawyer Belen Abreu, as special projects officer. 


When I became a young bride in January 1966, my second lieutenant- husband, then earning all of P180 a month, had the audacity to put me up in a tiny and bare house won by his elder brother from the GSIS, with no electricity and fences. I had to quit my job with Belen Abreu after I got married and to help augment my Army husband’s meager income I turned to writing feature stories for the Chronicle’s Woman and the Home Magazine, edited by Eggie Duran Apostol (who was to change my entire life less than two decades later when she converted her innocuous and harmless woman's magazine, Mr. and Ms. Magazine, into a political black-and-white weapon for the opposition to Marcos after Ninoy was assasinated).

At that time I'd take a bus from time to time from our GSIS cottage to the Proj. 8 Subdivision where Frankie and Tessie Jose were living, in order to use their phone and pursue my list of contacts to interview. They were always kind and accommodating to a young woman looking for a way to help out a husband with bare-bones pay.  

May you realize the dream you richly deserve, F. Sionil Jose. Happy 89th.


The appointment of former Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson as “Rehabilitation Czar” is, as expected, already controversial even before the formal announcement by the Palace (look up Bobi Tiglao today in the Manila Times). Not that Ping Lacson can’t do the job---he headed the 15,000-strong Philippine National Police, hence he must have acquired some kind of management ability. In fact, he’s thought of as an action man of sorts.

I find his appointment to take charge of the gargantuan, mind-boggling task of rehabilitating devastated Visayas, however,  truly disappointing for an entirely different reason. I fear that sooner than later, President Aquino’s decision to name him Rehab Czar would sadly politicize that super-demanding post right within the Aquino Cabinet---when the appointee needs to be acceptable and credible to the populace and the politicos, in order to be truly effective.


Despite his being out of the Senate already, Lacson is perceived as harboring ambitions for 2016 and doubtless a good number of equally moist-eyed politicians would feel threatened by all the attention he as Rehab Czar would be getting from local and foreign media. I can easily see VP Jojo Binay, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and Sen. Alan Cayetano getting hot under the collar once the spotlight focuses on Lacson, a natural before the cameras.

By appointing a person who’d stir frenzied rivalries within the Cabinet, it’s as if P-Noy were not serious about getting the gargantuan job in the Visayas done.

BobiTiglao asserts that the Rehab Czar post is a pay-off to Lacson for convicting Pi-Noy’s pet hate, Chief Justice Renato Corona and to keep the former PNP Chief in check. There’s that point of view, no doubt, but to me the certainty that early rivalries for 2016 would be whipped up by Lacson’s appointment is a far more serious reason to keep him out of that job.


Weeks back, even as relief goods were still to reach many isolated and devastated areas, I already was stressing in this space the need for a "Reconstruction Czar."  The most urgent demands of the folks in the Visayas are to rebuild their destroyed homes and find means to feed and support their families once supply of relief goods dries up.

I ran an informal poll here on who could best fill this post and repeatedly 'nominated' were Dick Gordon (although many wanted him retained in Red Cross because he's doing a great job there), Bayani Fernando and Rodrigo Duterte. But there were those who wanted this Czar plucked from the private sector and they threw in the names of aggressive industrialist Ramon Ang and Gawad Kalinga top honcho Tony Meloto.

Running like a thread through all those names was a public reputation for achievement, but note that no one in the list was thought of as a 'presidential aspirant'---perhaps because of the havoc such a person could create in the Cabinet. Many of those who submitted their “nominations” felt that a top management person from the private sector sans presidential ambition but with full backing of the President would be perfect.

I agree to this perception. A pity P-Noy was again so poorly advised.  


Plus and minuses for the administration:

BIR Chief Kim Henares acted with more arrogance than prudence in slapping Manny Pacquiao with tax evasion and the writ of garnishment of P1.1M of his bank account.  But now comes Justice Secretary Leila de Lima throwing out the BIR’s move by saying that Pacquiao couldn’t have responded to a summons he never received. Obviously, with De Lima never acting without checking it out with the Palace, it is the latter’s way of damage control---the realization that P-Noy was the bigger loser in the BIR scuffle with Pacman, as the masses from where the Champ sprang were solidly with him.

Stepping up the BIR case the day after Pacman returned from his stunning Macau victory was just unbelievably stupid---reinforcing belief that no one does any thinking by the Pasig. Timing is truly everything!


On the other hand, Customs Chief Ruffy Biazon won points for the Palace when he resigned after his name was dragged into the “second batch” of legislators involved in PDAF scandals.  Biazon’s days had been numbered since P-Noy delivered his 4th SONA last July 29 castigating, among others, the Bureau of Customs for unbridled corruption. But he managed to hang tough amid P-Noy’s indecision---until the second batch of solons came out.

As Standard’s Alvin Capino put it, Ruffy Biazon was “unfairly and cruelly made into a billboard by some officials of the Aquino administration.”  Meaning, he became Exhibit 1 that close allies of the President are being accused of PDAF abuse too, and not just opposition solons.

Biazon was quoted in part as saying that he resigned irrevocably  “in order to prevent the exploitation of the controversy by parties who would like nothing better than to have an issue to throw against the Aquino administration. Being a presidential appointee to a sensitive post, critics will surely have a field day taking potshots at the president if I stay in the post.

How right, Ruffy Biazon, but one day you'll doubtless again enter Paradise for your loyalty to the President.

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