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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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Startling admissions by Sol-Gen Jardeleza and DBM Secretary Abad on DAP---that the President authorized its use in 116 projects that were ‘unconstitutional’---should be enough to doom it in the SC. Ombudsman Carpio Morales slaps Corona with perjury and forfeiture charges, but the ex-CJ vows to fight his ‘persecution and harassment all the way.’


Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza and DBM Secretary Florencio Abad
It was obvious to anti-DAP petitioners that yesterday, Feast of towering Catholic theologian St. Thomas Aquino, the Dominican Saint’s wisdom was at work in helping to knock down the arguments of Solicitor-General Francis Jardeleza and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad before the Supreme Court.

The two executive officials surprised not only the SC justices but also the Filipino people yesterday, Jan. 28, during oral arguments at the Court when they announced that the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) had been scrapped since the middle of last year “because there was no longer any use for it.”

Therefore, argued the government’s chief lawyer and chief purse-keeper, the issue of DAP’s constitutionality, challenged by nine organizations, has become moot, so that the High Court “has no occasion to exercise its powers to allocate constitutional boundaries.”  

XXX

Jardeleza and Abad instead challenged the anti-DAP petitioners to question just which of the 116 projects to which the President authorized use of the “impounded savings” of about P149 million from late 2011 to the middle of last year are "unconstitutional." Jardeleza submitted to the Court documents on these 116 projects as duly signed by P-Noy, as well as records showing that DAP was formally instituted in July 2012 by National Budget Circular No. 541, issued by Abad.

But the most startling development at yesterday's hearing was, as a newspaper quoted it, when Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio “asked Jardeleza if savings used to augment items out of the budget was unconstitutional and the latter agreed with him.” Jardeleza AGREED that DAP was unconstitutional.

Right then and there, the Sol-Gen's admission should have finished the oral arguments. P-Noy should now be squirming---and pondering what to do with his chief lawyer.

XXX

The question is, why did the two executive officials choose to moot the DAP issue?  My educated guess is that it was obviously meant to pre-empt any move by the High Court to rule against its constitutionality, and thus rescue the President from prospects of being impeached on this issue. 

Legal luminaries and political analysts argue that savings from the executive department cannot be allocated to projects outside of that department without the benefit of congressional appropriation. As former diplomat and Washington-based analyst Ado Paglinawan points out, the power of appropriation is an act assigned specifically by the Constitution to the Lower House of Congress; so that when the President can lump these sums and re-allocate them as he pleases, such as for the impeachment of the Chief Justice, “this is a brazen usurpation of powers that the Lower House does not even share with the Senate.”

XXX

With yesterday’s stunning admission by the executive department that the DAP has been scrapped,  a citizen posted the query in FB:  does cancelling the commission of a crime cancel as well its criminal liability? Obviously not. As former National Treasurer of the Erap administration Leonor Magtolis Briones, one of the anti-DAP petitioners, put it, “Government’s attempt to make our DAP petitions moot is in effect an attempt to make illegal acts impossible to punish.”

For one thing, the movement launched two weeks ago by former Sen. Kit Tatad to gather one million signatures for the impeachment of President Aquino has just gained added impetus from the clear admission, supported by documents, of Sol-Gen Jardeleza and Sec. Abad that P-Noy himself had designated those 116 projects to be funded by DAP. The two officials admitted  that it was “an executive decision” to use those savings to stimulate the economy---instead of channeling them to the National Treasury for re-appropriation by Congress the following year.

XXX

To presidential critics lusting after the impeachment of P-Noy, this admission of his authorization to spend the savings outside of the budget constitutes the “smoking gun.” Impeachment, however, may be tough to prosper in the House, considering his control of that chamber.

But then again, given the temper and mood of the public and all the blasted problems bedeviling this administration---and the fact that, as per the two executive officials’ admission, there's no longer any DAP to "influence" representatives---it’s tempting to recall the line in a song by Frank Sinatra, “Who knows where the road will lead us?" Indeed, only a fool can say. 

XXX

The DAP had been a secret weapon tightly-guarded by the Palace for some time, but it was blown out in the open in the privilege speech of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada last September, wherein he spoke of extra bonus amounts varying from P50 million to P100 million handed out to the senators who voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona at the end of May 2012. 

A letter from then Senate Finance Committee Chair Franklin Drilon was revealed by Estrada, seeking from senators where they wanted their allocations bestowed prior to the conviction of CJ Corona.

At the SC hearing yesterday Justice Lucas Bersamin pointedly asked Secretary Abad to clarify reports that senators benefited from the DAP during Corona’s trial. Abad denied the allegations, arguing that, as media reported, “the senators merely recommended to use savings to augment certain items deficient in the items of budget of certain departments.”

Abad’s assertion raises another question: why did it have to be the senators to make the recommendations about filling deficiencies of certain departments? Why not the executive department itself, which is then allowable? It’s easy to see how suspicions of kickbacks to the senators would be kicked up by such statement.

XXX

The interesting thing is that so studded with holes is the DAP issue that even justices appointed by the President, such as CJ Lourdes Sereno and Justice Marvic Leonen joined the more independently perceived justices such as Arturo Brion and Lucas Bersamin in lambasting various aspects of this issue.

After that damaging oral argument session by Jardeleza and Abad, it’s difficult to think that SC would vote to uphold the DAP. As former Chief Justice Reynato Puno opined to an informal group weeks back, if the Court votes to uphold DAP after ruling 14-0 against the PDAF, “masisira ang SC.”

XXX

The entire impeachment and trial of Corona in Congress has reeked of bribery in the many millions of pesos and skulduggery reminiscent of gangster movies---one of the darkest episodes in the history of the Philippine legislature.  But that didn’t end in Congress, for today Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales slapped charges of perjury and forfeiture against former CJ Corona.

The embattled CJ has issued a statement that the administration obviously is not content with removing him from office. Professing that "whatever we have is the product of 45 years of hard and honest work," and that "I have never been involved in any anomalous or illegal transaction in my life," Corona vowed to fight his persecution and harassment all the way, "knowing that truth is on my side."

With all the charges of bribery, dirt and trickery raked up within the House since Corona's impeachment was pushed by a vengeful administration angry about a 14-0 vote vs. Hacienda Luisita in the SC under his watch---and which marred his trial in the Senate with equally generous helpings of PDAF and DAP---public sympathy is definitely with the former Chief Justice.




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Sunday, January 26, 2014

P-Noy would badly need his DAP when Congress starts deliberations on crafting Bangsamoro Basic Law to govern the Bangsamoro entity. SC refusal to delay oral arguments on DAP as Palace has sought shows welcome streak of independence. Inquirer should have honored the truly heroic relief workers in Yolanda-stricken Visayas---instead of Luy and cohorts who were neither heroic nor virtuous, as they only broke away from Napoles to save their skin.


Government and MILF panels sign last
annex to Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro
No right-thinking Filipino would be unhappy with the signing in Kuala Lumpur the other day of the annex on “normalization,” the last of four annexes to the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).“ This last annex paves the way for the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MILF.   

For if this CAB works, it could hasten the end---or at least the considerable reduction of the strife that has characterized the relationship between the government and the Moro people for many decades. All the weaponry against the armed Moro warriors and the astronomical defense budget to obtain and maintain the peace in troubled Mindanao could then be marshaled for rebuilding the Muslim communities, among the poorest constituencies in the country.

XXX

But precisely this is where the term “normalization” begins to acquire a deeper meaning, for ahead lies the tougher part---the implementation stage of the comprehensive peace agreement. For this stage would involve the decommissioning of the 11,000-strong MILF forces and tackling the issue of security, as armed MILF groups morph into a “social movement,” as its chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal put it, tough though it is to imagine.

MILF vice-chair Ghazali Jaafar was quoted by the Daily Tribune as asserting prior to the recent signing in KL that the toughest part would be the creation of the Muslim region’s police force and detailing how it would interact with the PNP.

Indeed it’s tough to imagine this decommissioning becoming a reality for hardened warriors whose race has defied subjugation since prior to Spanish conquest of our islands. But it’s even tougher to see them involved in a “social movement.”

XXX

But perhaps the toughest part comes when Congress begins to deliberate the enactment and crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would finally create the autonomous Bangsamoro political entity that will replace ARMM. Its birth will be subjected to a referendum in Mindanao. The 15-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission chaired by Mohagher Iqbal is now drafting the BBL for submission to Congress in May this year. 

This stage in Congress is where hard political bargaining comes in and use of presidential pork barrel to soften congressional resistance would be handy---if President Aquino is to enjoy this much-awaited law as the “legacy” of a presidency marred by faulty moral decisions over the past three years.

But it’s also good to remember that pending before the Supreme Court is the petition by many civic organizations for abolition of the President’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).  Could this reality of the future action of Congress on the BBL have been among the reasons for the Palace’s plea for postponement of the oral arguments on DAP, set before the Supreme Court for Tuesday, Jan. 28?  In a laudable show of independence the SC has denied this plea. 

Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte has called for citizens to “keep an open mind” on the peace agreement that both sides are hammering out, and it’s tough not to acquiesce to this request for once. Tell you what, Abigail, I’ll not only keep an open mind, I’ll pray that all goes well with CAB and the BBL.

But perhaps those who will challenge its constitutionality before the SC would be quicker on the draw. And we can't discount the terribly disgruntled MNLF.

XXX

I do not agree with the decision of the Inquirer editors and assistant editors on their choice, as announced last Jan. 19, to honor as Filipino (s) of the Year 2013 the whistle-blowers involved in the P10 billion Napoles scam, led by Benhur Luy.  If I were in the editors’ shoes I would have voted for the relief workers in the huge swathe of calamities wrought by super-typhoon Yolanda, who, I had read, were among the nominees for “Filipinos who made the biggest positive impact on the life of the nation in the year just past.”

The relief workers toiling in the post-Yolanda Visayas and in relief centers in Metro Manila unselfishly came to the succor of their stricken countrymen. Many of them remained nameless and faceless---and therefore publicly un-thanked---but they confronted enormous dangers as they toiled for days and weeks in a race against time and the elements---to save countless lives. Together with millions of survivors of Yolanda these workers displayed the true grit and resilience—as well as the unselfishness and dedication--- that became the toast of the world especially after the CNN team paid glowing tribute to these superlative virtues of the Filipino race.

XXX

By contrast, the Napoles whistle-blowers were neither virtuous nor heroic.  In fact, they were operators of Janet Lim Napoles, some like Luy for more than a decade, supporting her nefarious activities and profiting from those stolen public funds themselves---in conspiracy with corrupt legislators. These whistle-blowers only came to a parting of the ways with Napoles when she locked up Luy in her posh condo suite for three months---after she discovered that her wily operator was allegedly apt to something wicked himself. 

According to reports Napoles became furious when she discovered that Luy was trying to set up a rival organization after he mastered the tricks of their evil trade.

After Luy decided to go to media and tell all about Napoles, his cohorts decided to break away from the big boss too---obviously to save their own skin as the truth was already out and the authorities would hunt them down.

XXX

To be sure, the Napoles whistle-blowers indeed helped break the backbone of the scam, but they did it TO SAVE THEMSELVES---there was nothing noble and virtuous about them that they ought to be honored as “Filipino(s) of the Year.” Had Benhur Luy not been “imprisoned” it’s thoroughly possible, given the huge profits the whistle-blowers were raking in, that the PDAF scam would have continued on and on.

Thus, to compare them, for instance, to Clarissa Ocampo, as some writers have done, is a great disservice to Clarissa and the nation. Clarissa came out in the open and testified to the veracity of former President Estrada’s signing himself as “Jose Velarde” in incriminating bank deposits. She didn’t have to come out in the open about this fact, but risking her life and that of her family, she obviously wanted to serve her country. And for this her alma mater rightly honored her.

By contrast, Napoles whistle-blowers thought only of themselves to the end.

XXX

While on the subject of the JLN scams, whatever happened to the 74 other fake NGOs that Sen. Chiz Escudero had queried about months back?  There was a frightfully huge to-do in media about the eight fake NGOs that were in JLN’s stable, but there were actually 82 such fake NGOs .  As Escudero noted, where are the 74?  Why did the investigation being conducted by COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima appear to have stopped at the JLN-involved NGOs only? 

For that matter, why were only three opposition senators charged before the Ombudsman for corruption in years 2007-2009, when reports indicate there were about 15 senators said to have been involved, including allies of the President? Then too, whatever happened to 371 members of the House of Representatives also said to have been involved in fake NGOs in various years, including close allies of P-Noy such as Niel Tupas and Boyet Gonzalez?  

As a result the opposition has been raising the issue of “selective justice.”

XXX

Confronted about this issue of "selective justice," COA Chief Pulido-Tan complained some weeks back that the Department of Budget and Management has refused to submit records on those implicated. With all the powers assigned to her by the Constitution, including a fixed term and removal only by impeachment, the COA Chief seems helpless about the DBM's intransigence. 

If this is the case, the only way to obtain public documents, it seems, would be to pass the Freedom of Information Act; but despite the open endorsement by Sen. Grace Poe, as chair of the Senate committee on public information, for the FOI bill’s passage, it seems to have little chance of passing in P-Noy’s term---despite his campaign promise to support it.
It all adds up---so many secrets to hide.


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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

P-Noy is not afraid of impeachment, as he controls both chambers of Congress. But it should still be challenging for the tiny opposition or the gutsier leftist groups in the House if they file that impeachment---even if it won’t prosper. Corona defense lawyer Judd Roy back to his pugnacious self after his contrite apology to senators during the trial---asserting now that P-Noy violated provision of the Revised Penal Code on direct and indirect bribery and corruption of public officials.


Sen. Bong Revilla
Last Monday in his privilege speech at the Senate, Sen. Bong Revilla did not manage to clear his name in the PDAF scam one bit despite his father’s tears. The people still believe he abused his PDAF by channeling it to fake NGos.  But what Revilla achieved was to damage President Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid” so gravely with his revelation about his meeting with P-Noy, Mar Roxas and Butch Abad in Bahay Pangarap at the height of the Corona impeachment trial in 2012.

Coming as Revilla’s expose did in the wake of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s revelation---eventually confirmed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson---months back about the multi-million Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) package given to some 20 senators in varying amounts---from P50 million for most of them to P100 million for the Finance committee Chief Franklin Drilon to P90 million to then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile---Revilla’s revelation about his hijacking was instantly and totally credible.  

So much so that the President himself and his cohorts were later forced not only to admit that meeting, but they had to name other senators who were likewise invited to rendezvous with P-Noy. The Filipino people are now waiting for those senators to explain P-Noy’s explanation about them.

XXX

It is, however, the explanation of the rationale for those meetings with the senators that takes the cake. Palace Communications Chief Sonny Coloma was quoted as saying that P-Noy’s aim in his historic tete-a-tete with the senators was his desire “to verify persistent rumors” that they were being pressured by interest groups to influence the outcome of the Corona impeachment trial. Coloma said the President only asked that the senator from Cavite and presumably the other invitees to decide the Corona case “on the basis of its merits.”  

XXX

Talagang ginagago ni Coloma ang taong bayan. In the first place, why did DILG Secretary Mar Roxas go through a cloak-and-dagger scenario to bring Revilla to Bahay Pangarap if the Palace group didn’t have what Lyceum Law Dean Ma. Soledad Mawis termed a “sense of impropriety” about what they were doing.   How citizens wish the other senators similarly invited could also spill the beans.

Then too, who but the Palace would have the resources to do any influencing of the senators.  Recall how Malacanang marshaled all the agencies of government to nail down CJ Corona---from the “45 properties” listed and fully publicized with shocking carelessness by the Land Registration Authority headed by Eulalio Diaz, a classmate of P-Noy at the Ateneo, to the DOJ, to an appointee of P-Noy at the Supreme Court and the coiffed Ombudsman who enjoyed counting every dollar deposit of Corona as a new account, and even the BSP.  And yes, prosecution team leader Niel Tupas whose PDAF shenanigans are being glossed over by the DOJ-COA-Ombudsman team.

The only real pressure group one can think of as pro-Corona was the Iglesia ni Cristo, but even that P-Noy didn’t let go of. Recall how he personally dropped by the INC headquarters one morning to talk to its supremo. In the end the INC clout was neutralized as the senators, elected at large, lost their fear of this powerful sect and believed instead in the infinite power of the PCOS.

XXX

Those in media who followed the Corona trial distinctly remember that rainy evening during the one-month break in the trial, when the Chief Justice’s team of lawyers gathered at Club Filipino to denounce what was being wildly rumored---a payola of P100 million for each senator for a conviction vote. At that point I thought it was just a trick of the defense lawyers to win public sympathy and attention---the payola amount being cited seemed just incredible. No one had any idea of the DAP at that point.  

When the Corona trial resumed, the senators were quite angry and they demanded a public apology from the defense, the threat of disbarment palpable in the air. Lawyer Judd Roy, normally pugnacious as a bulldog, was tasked to deliver that speech and he was uncharacteristically subdued and even truly contrite. Parang natuka ng ahas si Roy, which mollified the senators and the trial went on.  

XXX

Atty. Judd Roy
After Monday’s expose by Sen. Revilla, however, Judd Roy was back to his old pugnacious self. “If you can impeach some guy for not filing in his SALN completely, you can surely impeach someone for trying to distort the outcome of the case, improperly,” he said over a morning TV program. Roy rightly stressed that it’s okay for the President to lobby with legislators about programs, BUT NOT WITH SENATOR-JUDGES.”


Speaking in the present tense, Corona’s lawyer asserted that the President can go out and talk about the impeachment case publicly, but if he wants to say something to the Senate Court he should enter his appearance and testify if he wants “But never never talk to the judges, even if they are your partymates,” he stressed.

XXX

Roy asserts that the President “violated provisions of the Revised Penal Code on direct bribery, indirect bribery and corruption of public officials.” This point will be debated by lawyers on both sides of the fence, and how citizens wish more of them would weigh in on this issue, for the enlightenment of the public. What about the IBP, the Philconsa, the PBA?

For instance, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago asserts that the President did not violate anything in meeting with Sen. Revilla at the height of the Corona trial, but she tried to make amends with this unenlightening remark by saying that P-Noy opens himself to impeachment with what took place.

The President, on the other hand, grabbed the bull by the horns when he said that he’s ready for impeachment; in fact he challenged those lusting after that process for him to file it. One can see where his braggadocio is coming from---he controls both chambers of Congress. But it should still be challenging to anyone in the opposition or among the more gutsy leftist groups to file an impeachment complaint in the House---even if it won’t prosper. If that happens, at least for the record, there would be those brave enough to foist a trial balloon.




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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sandiganbayan’s resolution of GMA’s twin petitions for bail will be keenly watched, as citizens of various political persuasions weigh in for the ex-president on humanitarian/Christian considerations---invoking the “mitigating and extenuating circumstances” of her life-threatening illness and advance age.



Former President Macapagal-Arroyo soon after her spine surgery in 2011


The Sandiganbayan is expected to resolve within the next weeks what may be termed a motion for reconsideration of former President Macapagal Arroyo’s petition for bail, based on her lawyers’ contention of the lack of evidence in the PCSO case against her, as well as her supplemental petition based on humanitarian ground---that she is very seriously ill and her poor medical condition justifies bail.

I wholeheartedly support especially this latter petition and so do many citizens of various political persuasions as well as those who are thoroughly apolitical. A lot of support from a humanitarian---and Christian--- consideration for a bail for her also comes from the religious sector.

XXX

The former President was detained on Dec. 9, 2011 at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, after three major cervical spine surgeries at St. Luke’s Medical Center which did not improve her condition. Discharged in July 2012, she was readmitted to VMMC in October 2012 and has been in continuous detention there since then.

Many citizens, including some of her most vociferous critics during her nine-year administration and politicians of various political parties and persuasions, have been adding their voices to GMA’s petitions for bail. Their more compelling argument is the serious deterioration of her physical health, as evidenced by her emaciated looks and severe loss of weight, aggravated by advancing age. In April this year GMA will be 67 years.

In many societies, especially in Christian settings such as our country claims to be in, these twin factors would merit serious positive consideration and concern. I hope more Christian leaders would add their voices to those who have already spoken on her behalf, such as retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Brother Eddie Villanueva of Jesus is Lord Movement.

Hopefully the assembly of bishops nationwide in the CBCP, which meets in plenary this week, would plead for her bail too. It will be recalled that some of them were quite active in obtaining full pardon from GMA for a convicted former President Estrada in 2004, on less compelling humanitarian ground.

XXX

Among those who weighed in recently on her behalf was no less than a spine surgeon in VMMC’s Department of Orthopedics, Dr. Antonio B. Sison, MD., and one has to admire him for his forthrightness and courage in so doing.  He spelled out in a Nov. 14, 2013 medical certificate his diagnosis of GMA’s present condition:  “Cervical Spondylotic Radiculopathy, Degenerative Lumbar Spine Disease and Post Cervical Spine Decompression with Instrumentation.” He asserted that a repeat MRI study showed a “multi-level lumbar spine stenosis with nerve root compression while a bone densitometry test showed evidence of osteoporosis.” 

Dr. Sison argued that these findings “correlate with her symptoms of continued cervical and lumbar pain with further deterioration of her poor physical health.” But more importantly, the spine surgeon stressed that “these irreversible and progressive developments may cause serious impairment of her health and danger to her life, unless attended to promptly.”

XXX

The medical viewpoint ordinary citizens can sympathize with in former President Arroyo’s case, and the humanitarian argument is being invoked for the grant of her petition for bail by the Sandiganbayan, so that she could seek the necessary relief for her condition.  I wish to stress that I am one of those who fully support her plea for bail on purely humanitarian and Christian grounds---she is very ill and advancing in age.

XXX

That having been said, however, I also fully realize that justice must be rendered to the country and the Filipino people, which means hearing out her corruption case in the proper court.

This is, of course, the bone of contention between her defense lawyers and the prosecution: whether the only case pending against her (three other cases in  past months have been dismissed for lack of evidence)---plunder in the PCSO case, a non-bailable crime---holds ground.  This argument rightly has to be fought over in court and GMA deserves a speedy trial as every Filipino does.

Her lawyers have been pressing for the trial to commence but there appears to be some foot-dragging in the court---in contrast to the whirlwind two hours with which she was hied to the Pasay RTC on the charge of electoral sabotage three years ago.

In the meantime that trial is being held, GMA deserves bail on humanitarian ground of her serious illness which could be life-threatening and her need for expert medical attention.

XXX

GMA’s lawyers, who cite that her three co-respondents in the PCSO case have already been granted bail, argue that there is no legal basis for charging the former president for this supposed crime as her “participation” was limited only to approving the confidential intelligence funds of the PCSO as required of her office under LOI No. 1282---indicated by her marginal “OK” notation on the request document. Her lawyers assert that she was not involved in subsequent actions taken by the PCSO board and management to confirm and release those funds.

Interestingly, the Ombudsman’s office had admitted that Arroyo’s act of approval was “not irregular per se” and that any evidence of “conspiracy” in this case was not direct, but only “implicit.”

Interestingly, too, in at least two or three earlier rulings it will be noted that investigators at the Ombudsman’s Office found probable cause to charge GMA at most only with graft and technical malversation, NOT plunder. But it will also be recalled that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, whose appointment President Aquino personally announced at his first SONA in 2010, overruled her investigators and upgraded the charges to non-bailable plunder, as splashed in media on Aug. 1, 2012.

GMA’s lawyers note that the only prosecution witness presented in that PCSO case, then newly-appointed director Aleta Tolentino, on cross-examination of evidence of Arroyo’s guilt apart from the marginal “OK,” was forced to admit that “That is all we have, Sir.”

XXX

It also adds up to look at the pattern of the split vote in the Sandiganbayan on GMA’s earlier petition for bail. Three justices, namely Rafael Lagos, an Aquino appointee; Elfren de la Cruz, reputed to be a contender at that time for presiding justice, and Amparo Cabotaje Tang, the most junior of the justices, who eventually got to be appointed by President Noynoy as presiding justice, voted against a GMA bail, vs. two who voted affirmative. Presiding Justice Cabotaje-Tang’s appointment kicked up quite a controversy in the court system.

It should also be recalled that while GMA was speedily hied to court in 2011 for the charge of electoral sabotage, which is also non-bailable, she was eventually granted bail on that score. But her lawyers allege that so insistent was the Ombudsman on keeping GMA behind bars that she was charged with plunder in the PCSO case even before the preliminary investigation was completed.

XXX

Lawyers on both sides of the PCSO case will expectedly battle on legal merits, and well they should; to many concerned citizens, however,what matters most in our Christian setting and humane delivery of justice is not only the “degree of participation” of the accused in a given accusation, but also the “mitigating and extenuating circumstances” in the imposition of a punishment such as denial of bail.

Outraged citizens argue that there could be no more extenuating circumstance than GMA’s serious medical condition which, as Dr. Antonio Sison stressed in his medical certificate, “may cause serious impairment to her health and danger to her life, unless attended to promptly.”

Sadly, however, instead of responding to her medical plight and alleviating it---as Sen. Miriam Santiago queried, what possible political harm could this 80 lbs. woman still do at this stage to the current administration?---it has cracked the whip even harder on the ailing ex-President. The administration has restricted her visitation rights, reduced her sunning hours much-needed for bone recovery and even barred her from attending daily mass at the hospital chapel. 

GMA’s situation is such that all decent people should speak out for her and let the world know what’s happening to her---on behalf of all that’s decent, humane and Christian in our society.




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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Generous tributes to Cardinal-elect Orlando Quevedo from various corners. Former Jesuit Provincial Romeo Intengan on Quevedo: "an excellent, well -rounded intellectual, but with a 'practical' formation"





Pope Francis
The recent appointment of Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI,  by Pope Francis as the first Cardinal from Mindanao has met with tremendous jubilation because he is a much-respected leader of the Church. Born in Laoag, Ilocos Norte and for a while was assigned to the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia in Vigan, the appointment of Quevedo, who spent most of his working life serving in Mindanao, as its first Red-Hat Church official, is phenomenal by itself.

As one Church observer put it, the big island still seething with dissidence and frequented by typhoons and other calamities is “not traditionally considered among the “cardinalatial sees” such as Manila and Cebu have been. And yet there Quevedo of Cotabato is at the senior age of 74, becoming its first Cardinal ever.

XXX

I consider this reality as the Vatican’s recognition, under the year-old papacy of the revolutionary Francis, of the importance and significance in the life of the Church of “non-traditional” areas characterized by continuing poverty and backwardness. That the Vatican has finally recognized Mindanao as a region of enormous potential even for the growth of the Faith, affirms its  “new normal” bias for non-traditional hunting grounds in Asia, Latin America (where the Pope himself comes from) as well as in the dark continent of Africa---or what the Pope terms "the periphery of the Roman Catholic Church at the expense of the center.”   


Of the 19 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis two are from Asia (aside from Quevedo, the Archbishop of Seoul, South Korea), three from Latin America (namely, Nicaragua, Chile and Argentina) as well as small countries like quake-stricken Haiti in the Caribbean and the former French colony of Burkina Faso in the more destitute part of Africa.

Quevedo, as writer Thomas C. Fox stated in the “NCR Today” last Jan. 12, had played a major role as Secretary-General until 2011 of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), where his influence was felt “in developing volumes of Asian pastoral statements in recent decades.” Fox notes that the new Cardinal-elect is “widely respected among his Asian peers” and an indication of that vast esteem was that in 1994 he was elected with the highest vote to membership in the General Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

XXX
 
Cardinal-elect  Orlando Quevedo, OMI
Writer Fox attaches great significance to the role of Quevedo in the FABC as well as the birth of that organization itself which symbolizes the emergence and connection of Asia to the Holy See. This started from the pastoral visit to our part of the world by Pope Paul VI in November 1970, which saw Asian bishops converging in Manila. Out of that conference emerged the idea, wrote Fox, of forming a pan-Asia episcopal conference which later became the FABC.

On the home-front, the nomination of Archbishop Quevedo to represent the big island of Mindanao in the Holy See comes at a time when the Aquino government has signed a peace agreement with the MILF for the creation of the “Bangsamoro nation.” The success of this government initiative is still very much up in the air, but those who know Quevedo know the kind of role he has played---and will continue to play--- in the relations between the Christian and Muslim faiths.

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Former Jesuit Provincial Romeo J. Intengan played up the formation of Archbishop Quevedo as a major factor for what was “long over-due”---his appointment to the Red Hat from Mindanao.  

Consider this most glowing tribute to Quevedo that this blogger has received via text from Fr. Intengan, who opined: “To begin with, the Archbishop is an affable, personable man and leader, an excellent and well-rounded intellectual but with a ‘practical’ formation---as formator, pastor, manager, missionary, theologian and writer.” Intengan stressed that the new Cardinal-elect is ”a man of keen and clear intellect, a good analyzer and synthesizer of ideas, balanced judgment and careful yet resolute execution---as parish priest, seminary formator, Prelate-Bishop  of Kidapawan, Archbishop of Nueva Segovia and ultimately as Archbishop of Cotabato” prior to this new honor bestowed him by Pope Francis.   

The former Jesuit provincial found Quevedo “effective as CBCP President, and that several times he was its delegate to and held important office or function in the FABC as well as the Synod of Bishops of the universal Church, where he often drafted and edited their final statements.”

Intengan opines that the Cotabato Archbishop is “an excellent choice as the first Cardinal from Mindanao, “for having grown up in the Cotabato area he understands and is deeply empathetic with the history, aspirations, grievances and problems of Philippine Muslims, particularly the Maguindanao and Iranun.” Intengan  asserts that Quevedo  is “an eminent practitioner of interfaith dialogue and cooperation---he being a co-founder of the Bishop-Ulama Conference (with the late Lanao del Sur Gov. Mahid Mutilan).”

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A military chaplain assigned to head the Army Chaplaincy’s Plans and Programs, Fr. Steve Penetrante, saw another side to Archbishop Quevedo: his facilitating developmental projects in the region, notably in the huge Rio Grande in the Cotabato area where persistent floodings have marred progress. Fr. Penetrante stressed that the credibility of the Church in the person of the Archbishop was lent to these developmental projects.

The chaplain also paid tribute to the deep involvement of the Cardinal-elect in fostering an ecumenical faith community in the region which has been most beneficial to the military sector.

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This blogger doesn’t really know Archbishop Quevedo beyond hellos, but I have good recollections of him. I remember well his eloquence in that pastoral letter the CBCP issued last year which he was said to have penned---where the Philippine bishops, feeling quite beleaguered by many burning issues of the day, plaintively sought Christ--just like the Apostles adrift in the Sea of Galilee---whom they feared seemed to be asleep on the stern of the boat as the sea became wild and frightful.

When the Pajero issue hit the front pages over two years ago, as raised by PCSO as a way to embarrass the CBCP and the Arroyo administration, it climaxed in a jam-packed Senate hearing where leading lights of the Church, led by Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, attended in a show of unity. Archbishop Quevedo delivered the bishops’ statement of protest against what they considered the unjust and unfair accusation that those were luxury vehicles they had received. Quevedo was forthright and strong and impacted credibility.

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Those supposed Pajeros were parked that morning in front of the Senate and media saw for themselves their state---nothing fancy about them.  In fact, I had a chance to interview the bishops’ drivers and they spoke about how the vehicles were devoted mainly for rugged use in mountains and fording streams in hinterland provinces and often by the communities served (I saw personally that some vehicles didn’t even have rear seats; the drivers said this was because they were used for loading the sick to hospitals and even packing families for funerals).

From the Senate the mostly battered vehicles were then taken and parked by PCSO people in the PICC vicinity behind the Cultural Center of the Philippines. But not long after a strong typhoon hit Manila and damaged the walls of the Bay, including those of Sofitel. The PCSO-reclaimed vehicles were also damaged beyond repair and to hide its embarrassment from media PCSO towed these to its compound in San Marcelino, Manila where today they rot in the sun.




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