Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Emergency powers unnecessary as P-Noy has lots of ways to solve country’s problems---except that he doesn’t seem to have sense of urgency or determination. Could it also be that his allies are merely hoping to prolong his stay to allay threats of prosecution after 2016? Why not let Lacson continue sleuthing for corruption in Visayas rehab effort and let Joey Salceda be real rehab czar?

Predictably allies of President Aquino, led by Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone---who quickly jumped to the LP side and shifted loyalties to candidate Noynoy when his rating zoomed ahead in 2010---are again seeking to entice P-Noy to avail of emergency powers in order to combat two major problems. These are, in their estimation, the increasing power rates that threaten to severely knock out the pockets of the people, and the seemingly unsolvable traffic gridlock in the metropolis.

Emergency powers, to my mind, could be invoked under precise terms in the case of a President who is hands on, and who knows how to wield effective governance. Early in his term President Ramos was given such powers to deal with the power crisis he inherited from President Cory, and he used them to deal with independent power producers effectively. 

But emergency powers could be mighty dangerous if entrusted to a Chief Executive who has demonstrated failure time and again to grasp the nuances of effective governance. In the hands of President Aquino, it’s entirely conceivable that these emergency powers could be manipulated by unscrupulous officials who surround him and whose primary interest seems to be to perpetuate the hold of their party on the government beyond P-Noy’s term. 


Speaking of surviving beyond one's term, there’s another angle worth looking at. Recall that mention of emergency powers was raised by critics of President Aquino’s administration, as cited in this blog earlier, who are spooked by reports of a Palace plan to extend P-Noy’s term beyond the constitutional six years---in order to fix up all possible loopholes to prevent his being hailed to court in much the same way that P-Noy did to former President Macapagal Arroyo.

Reports indicate that some Palace officials are so convinced that their fair-haired boy would end up in jail after his term is over---on such issues as the unconstitutional use of executive savings or bribing members of Congress to convict a sitting Chief Justice. Hence the reported plan to extend P-Noy’s term until every safety detail is taken care of, or to ensure victory of a trusted ally who would not betray him.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is correct: the mere mention of emergency powers for P-Noy sends paroxysm of anxiety into right-thinking folks.


Actually, when one thinks hard about emergency powers, there is really no need to resort to them. For instance, the EPIRA Law which is being blamed by some quarters for the current power crisis could really be repealed or amended by Congress as it’s controlled by P-Noy; the problem is that he doesn’t even give this remedy serious thought.

One would think that he’d at least summon the Legislative-Executive Advisory Council (Ledac) to address deficiencies of the EPIRA Law, but he hasn’t convened that council in two years. So what seriousness are we talking about?

On the other hand, the traffic gridlock in the metropolis could be remedied by decisive moves such as cracking down on colorum buses and putting more teeth into and appointing good executives in transportation regulatory agencies---but this isn’t being done.


This brings us to the related issue of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the savings in the executive branch that DBM Secretary Butch Abad and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and former Sen.Panfilo Lacson admitted were used to convict CJ Renato Corona. The DAP is part of what's, popularly known as the "presidential pork" that also includes the P900 million Malampaya Fund, and all told this is estimated in the neighborhood of P1.3 trillion, or over half of the 2014 national budget. 

After the Supreme Court outlawed the PDAF of legislators two months ago, the nation has keenly speculated on how the SC would rule on the DAP. Many legal luminaries have opined that it’s unconstitutional inasmuch as transfer of executive savings to the legislative is illegal; moreover, influencing impeachment votes is outright immoral. 

Oral arguments on DAP have been set by the SC for Jan. 28. So what’s the fearless forecast?

Inside sources report that the way things stand, it appears to be a super-tight 7-7 vote; but what’s interesting is that reports allege that Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno has been campaigning personally among members of the court for a pro-DAP vote, whereas her chief adversary, Senior Magistrate Antonio Carpio, is stoutly against it.

It’s not surprising that P-Noy would use every persuasive means to keep his DAP, for otherwise pffft goes his clout among the solons.


President Aquino went to great lengths at the traditional vin d’honneur last week to thank the international community, through the ambassadors present, for the outpouring of sympathy and support for the reconstruction of battered Visayas.  But the best way to demonstrate the gratitude of this administration---and the Filipino people---to the international community would be to set the rehab efforts aright.

Gratitude should begin by exercising full transparency and scrupulous honesty over use of the funds donated from abroad, estimated to amount by now to about $300 million, for projects and programs that would serve the battered region well---sans corruption and inefficiency. This is a tall order, however, for it’s a fact that huge amounts of funds in and out of government would always attract the most voracious of plunderers.


Already we see this in the controversy over bunkhouses that were constructed as temporary shelters for displayed families in the Visayas. These structures ran into a hale-storm of their own when renowned urban planner and architect FelinoPalafox criticized the ones already built as substandard, unfit for human habitation and violating privacy. Government’s counter-argument is that these bunkhouses are meant only to be temporary, so that never mind if family members are packed like sardines in each 8 sq.m.unit. At least it’s better than living in tents in bad weather, snorted the DSWD.

The problem is that nobody knows for sure, given the way government works and with 2016 around the corner, just how “temporary” is temporary. Moreover, the Filipino people know that plenty of money was contributed for the area’s rehab, so why do those bunkhouses look shabby and cheap?


Allegations of corruption among some politicians said to be in cahoots with some contractors have begun to surface---as surely as bees would cotton to honey. Rehab Czar Panfilo Lacson has ordered investigation by the NBI of the alleged collusion, but the problem is that this situation is certain to slow down the rehab efforts.

As Facebook habitué Lorenzo Ed Valenciano put it with ill-disguised impatience: “How much longer is the investigation (by Czar Lacson) going to last? It’s about two weeks now since he made such announcement. Are we in for an investigation that will take months or years before the culprits are brought in? Just how much investigation is needed here…it is not a Senate probe we’re talking about.”

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, cited by PAPI for first organized relief team in Tacloban
This is part of the problem many of us feared when ex-Sen. Lacson was appointed Rehab Czar. With all the corruption big or petty that would engulf millions upon millions of rehab funds, it’s conceivable that Lacson would be tempted to think he were still police chief---when the people are looking for someone to fix things pronto for survivors in the Visayas.

Contrast the way Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, whose disaster team was the first organized relief effort to reach Tacloban after Yolanda, worked in its terrible aftermath. For his team’s efforts to come posthaste to the devastated epicenter's rescue, Salceda was recognized for exemplary leadership by the Publishers Association of the Philippines, Inc. (PAPI).

Maybe Lacson could keep the reconstruction efforts in the Visayas in check through his continuing investigations into expected corruption cases there, while Joey Salceda could turn over the reins of Albay to his vice-governor momentarily and assume the post of Visayas Rehab Czar. 

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  1. v ery good suggestion. Make Gov. Joel Salceda of Bicols Visayas Czar for rehab.

  2. You're right, Mandy, there's a bit of irony there---Joey Salceda is Bicolano but I'm recommending him for Visayas Rehab Czar. But let's get the best and most capable. Joey, whom PGMA had regarded as "so brilliant," has a long track record of dealing with pre- and post-disasters. He would be great as rehab czar also because he has no presidential ambition, unlike Lacson who would always seek to be in the news. And nowadays corruption always bags the headlines.