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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.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In those four glorious days at Edsa 28 years ago, many Filipinos were ready to die for their country and freedom. What happened afterwards was a question the world asked and continues to ask. Amid popular grievances about a weak state---some have even consigned PH as a failed state----the inevitable query: will 'Camelot' happen again, or is it 'The Impossible Dream?'


Cory take her oath at Club Filipino

(Continued from Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014)

Arriving from Cebu that Sunday evening, Feb. 23, 1986, I went straight to EDSA and disappeared into the millions there. It was a spontaneous and incredible assembly of people from all walks of life, and it was obvious that the possibility of danger hadn’t sunk into them.

EDSA looked like a gigantic family outing with many folks in three generations present;  there was a lot of bonhomie and festive air, with people picnicking on portable chairs. Friends recognized one another and exchanged gossip and pleasantries, or made instant friends. Someone even recruited all the hobbits from Mabini and as they paraded and danced they were loudly cheered.

At some point very late that Sunday evening General Ramos left the Crame gate to briefly mix with the crowds at Edsa---perhaps presaging his political run six years later.

Festive atmosphere at EDSA

My Cebu-generated tensions quickly dissipated in the festive atmosphere, as I learned later that my children were also out there, one with the Ateneo students camped out at the far end of Santolan and another in the mainstream in EDSA; my youngest, not even 13 years old, stayed at home.

In those days cell phones were non-existent and my kids and their journalist-mom could only reach one another through relatives we ran into. I had no communication with my husband at all, except on Day One when he managed to tell me in Cebu he was with the mutiny group in Aguinaldo. 

Food was delivered to the mutineers in Crame over the bakod by so many groups, that it was a wonder they did not perish from flatulence.

Mercifully few of the folks at EDSA were aware of all the tension inside that camp as Defense Minister Enrile and acting AFP Chief of Staff Ramos desperately reached out via the military communication system to various commanders in the field. One by one they were able to persuade some to rally to democracy’s side, or at least stay neutral and not move. But there were still those forces that doggedly remained loyal to Marcos and rumors swirled about an impending attack on Crame by the Marines.

On the other hand, communications flew fast and thick between US and Philippine officials about where the “revolution” was headed. And as the hours ticked away and the real sentiment of the Filipino people---not just at EDSA but all over the country and the world---became very discernible, slowly the grip of the Reagan administration on the Marcos regime loosened and it seemed ready to dump its longtime ally.

Crisis-filled Day 3

Feb. 24, Day 3 was the most crisis-filled. Early that morning, one or two huge tanks began to roll up from Santolan toward EDSA, and later still another big one or two from the direction of Makati. Human barricades, led by fearless nuns and seminarians (I also saw Butz Aquino in that crowd), met them with plastic bags of pan de sal, rosaries and flowers in hand, tearfully pleading with the soldiers not to proceed to Crame. The soldiers aboard looked awfully perplexed and the tanks stopped.

Later that morning Enrile and Ramos left Crame under heavy security and showed up at EDSA, doubtless to lock in the people’s loyalty. With their troops carrying the statue of Our Lady of Fatima the two leaders mounted an improvised truck as platform. JPE’s soldiers were eager to test the waters, for suddenly, instead of the usual cries of Cory! Cory! Cory, we heard “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!  from some uniformed men at the base.

I was then with Assemblyman Alberto Romulo of QC, my brother Ed Olivares (the late husband of the indomitable NinezCacho-Olivares) and a few other friends, and instantly we realized what was happening. The officers and soldiers of JPE were obviously of the mind that he should grab the leadership, since, after all, the rebellion started with his camp. But the people were clearly for Cory and began to chant back, “Cory! Cory! Cory!” and soon the “Johnny” chanting petered out.

Through the day Ramos called on more people power to surround Crame.  On the other hand, Cory, upon arrival from Cebu, went straight to the Wack-Wack home of her sister Josephine Reyes and around 4 pm. of Day 3, she showed up at the corner of EDSA and Ortigas Ave., near the POEA.  I hd gotten wind of her plan and saw her there.

Turning point in those 4 fateful February days

On the morning of Day 3 came what I consider the turning point of those four days in February 1986. A fleet of seven Sikorsky fighter helicopters were heard whirring in the sky. I was inside Crame at that time with dozens of local and foreign journalists and one could cut the tension with a knife. I was already rehearsing in my mind where I’d hide in case the choppers attacked, when lo and behold, they landed in the open field in Crame. Led by Col. Antonio Sotelo, the men from the Air Force 15th Strike Wing waved to the crowds. Hysterical cheers shot up from us all.

A few years ago, in preparation for the EDSA Anniversary, Cecile Alvarez and I interviewed the by then retired Gen. Sotelo in his Paranaque home and he recalled how tightly kept that daring defection operation had to be---with him and his cohorts playing dodging games with comrades they were unsure of. Parang natutunugan kami,Sotelo recalled, and at some point he couldn’t go on, choked with emotion.

Palpable aura of desperation in Crame

But despite the Sotelo Wing’s defection, there was a palpable aura of desperation inside Crame---doubtless from the realization that Marcos still had superior forces and could pulverize the camp any time.  I finally saw my husband and his deputy at the DND unit, Col. Alberto Sudiacal, and my neighbor in Camp Aguinaldo, West Pointer Col. Louie San Andres. 

My husband ordered me to get out of the camp fast as there were reports that the loyalists would strike Crame that afternoon. Men were scurrying about with records to burn, while in another place I could see weapons being readied. I got the feeling that everyone inside was prepared to die.

Again, my journalistic instincts getting the better of me, I chose to defy my husband and I remained inside Crame but far from where he could see me.

The afternoon stretched and no attacks came. It was only very much later that the mutineers learned of loyalists defecting or refusing to move against Crame. 

Still later, amid all the flurry there were reports that Enrile asked to see an emissary from Cory’s camp. Tito Guingona (later to be appointed Cory’s COA Chair) arrived and because he had been my friend from way back (we worked vs. the Bataan nuclear plant together during my Mr. and Ms. days) I was able to tag along with him to where Enrile held court.

JPE: Cory should take oath now

I was within earshot when Enrile told Guingona that Cory should take her oath as President as soon as possible---like tomorrow morning, he said. But there was a historic wrinkle: JPE, doubtless under advisement from his young officers in the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), wanted Cory’s oath-taking to be held in Crame under the military’s patronizing eyes, but her camp rightly insisted on a civilian venue.  Power should flow entirely from the civilian government.

Cory won that point and at mid-morning of the fourth day, Feb. 25, in the crowded main hall of Club Filipino, she took her oath before Senior SC Justice Claudio Teehankee (in the same hour she appointed him Chief Justice) with her family around her. I was there to witness that historic event and I thought my heart would burst with joy.

An hour or so later, across the metropolis, Marcos took his oath as “reelected President” before Chief Justice Ramon Aquino at the balcony of Malacanang Palace, but the heavy hand of history came crashing on him. Under US pressure he was exiled within hours, not to Paoay as he tried to bargain with the new administration, but to Hawaii via Clark aboard a US plane.

Today, 28 years after the EDSA Revolution, the Philippines is once more caught in the grip of uncertainty, as many institutions have been destroyed over the various administrations. Evidences of a weak state are all around under the administration of Cory’s son---some have even consigned it to the dustbin of history as a failed state.

The nagging question at this point is, as economist Joe Romero put it, Will Camelot ever happen again?  Sadly, to many people this seems to be more like the impossible dream.


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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Those four longest days into night, Feb. 22-25, 1986




These four days beginning yesterday, Feb. 22, up to Tuesday, Feb. 25, the media will again be full of recollections and reminiscences of the series of events that we Filipinos, as well as the whole world, had celebrated in those epochal days in 1986 as the “Edsa Revolution.” For journalists the Edsa Revolution was a gold mine of historical memories and for me, even if I live to be as old as Methuselah, there would never be anything remotely like that phase of our history.

The memory of those four days in Edsa burns in my mind as vividly today as it did 28 years ago and it was truly a privilege to have been in the thick of it as a journalist.


If we go back to the Edsa Revolution time and again, it’s not just for self-gratification---as we seek to recharge our moral batteries as a nation and pat ourselves on the back about how we became a model to the world on peaceful, non-violent revolution.



More importantly it’s to discern vital lessons learned and those which we until now have not learned---and the hope that the generation after us would have the wisdom to push where we have failed.

As wise pundits have pointed out, ours is an unfinished revolution especially with regard to regulating the still-prevailing oligarchic power against the crying need to emancipate our people from the clutches of oppressive poverty of centuries. There's also the evil of the continuing dominance of political dynasties across the land, as well as the thwarting of our freedom of expression, as enshrined in our Bill of Rights, by the Cybercrime Prevention Law, RA 10175, whose constitutionality was just upheld by the Supreme Court with token objections. 

The current developments in Venezuela, so reminiscent of our People Power, couldn’t be timelier: how ignoring the sentiments of the broad masses could be hazardous and costly to the political ruling class’ health.


Innocuous Mr. and Ms. Magazine morphs into vanguard of ‘mosquito press.’
  
Since the assasination of Ninoy Aquino in August of 1983, I had been a political reporter for the black-and-white Mr. & Ms. Magazine that intrepid publisher and editor-in-chief Eugenia Duran Apostol, who later rightly won the Magsaysay Award for courageous journalism, began publishing right under the nose of the dictatorship. 

When Ninoy was shot Eggie quickly converted this rather innocuous women’s magazine that was hitherto filled with advice on parenting, human sexuality and successful marriage, and kitchen recipes and decor, into what was to become, together with Joe Burgos’ “Malaya,” the Philippines’ “mosquito press.” 

Only one Marcos-controlled newspaper was operating late into the martial law years, and it wouldn’t publish photos of the mammoth funeral of Ninoy that drew five million people into the streets of Metro Manila. Egggie Apostol shrewdly began filling up her innocuous magazine with those photos­­­--- knowing full well, as the adage goes, that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Thus was born the political Mr. and Ms. Magazine. I was recruited by legendary writer Gilda Cordero Fernando to its stable of reporters, to focus on the emergence of the hitherto non-existent opposition.


In December 1985, however, when Ferdinand Marcos, under tremendous pressure from the Reagan administration, suddenly announced snap elections, Eggie decisively spun off the magazine into a newspaper, first a weekly, then a daily ---the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Thus I became a political reporter for the Inquirer, covering the opposition when the Edsa  Revolution began to unfold on Feb. 22, 1986. 
                                             
Events-choked February 1986
    
On Feb. 11, 1986, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes,  dynamic Western Visayas opposition leader and former Antique Governor Evelio Javier, a dear friend of mine, was brutally murdered in the plaza of San Jose, Antique, by henchmen of his political opponent allied with Marcos, while Evelio guarded the ballots of Corazon Aquino in the snap elections held the week earlier. Clasped in Evelio’s hand was a blood-soaked rosary.

Evelio’s remains were flown to Manila and met by huge throngs, and at his brief wake at the Baclaran Church, so many ambassadors from European nations showed up, in defiance of Marcos.  On the way to the Ateneo University in Quezon City where his remains would lie in state for two days, crowds stood weeping in the streets---a mini-reprise of Ninoy’s funeral 2 ½ years earlier.

Prior to Evelio’s murder the canvassing of snap-election votes at the Batasan Pambansa was predictably skewered by Marcos leaders. All these successive events  provoked  opposition candidate Cory Aquino to launch mass actions, beginning with a series of boycott rallies against products of Marcos cronies .

The first rally at the Luneta drew nearly two million people, which remains unmatched in crowd attendance until now. So tight was it that if one were summoned to a call of nature it was just not possible to leave. I had fears of stampede which mercifully didn’t happen.

       
In succeeding days rumors swept the city of the impending arrest of opposition political leaders, media, militant church and business leaders and the Left. The term “Oplan Mad Dog” was whispered about, suspected to be launched by Marcos’ Chief of Staff, General Fabian Ver---where arrested personalities would all be dumped in Carballo Island off Corregidor.  
                                            
                                 
Cory asked Eggie to send me to Cebu to cover boycott rally

My particular narrative about Edsa 1 properly begins on the evening of Feb. 17, 1986 at the Loyola House of Studies chapel at the Ateneo University campus in QC. It was the last day of Evelio’ s wake and his remains were to be flown for burial in his beloved Antique next morning.

That evening Cory came to the wake. Finding Eggie Apostol and myself there, she told Eggie that she should send me to Cebu City on Saturday, Feb. 22 to cover the boycott rally vs. the Marcos cronies that she would lead there. Eggie quickly agreed.

 At dawn the next day my husband drove me to the domestic airport and at 5 am. I was aboard a single-engine plane bound for Antique for Evelio’s funeral, piloted by the late famed Irish-American  Humanities professor Fr. James Donelan, S.J., with Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., later to be the Ateneo University President, beside him;  I sat behind them. Our plane flew low, hugging the coastline of islands along the way.  I was dreadfully afraid inside the plane, but my fear was subsumed totally to my desire to bid farewell to my friend Evelio.
     
Fr. Donelan, bless his Irish humor, sensed my great anxiety and he joked that should the plane go down, either he or Fr. Nebres should be able to give me a quick absolution.  It was small comfort on the return to Manila that afternoon, as the dark was fast creeping at the horizon’s edge.

Besides, what was initially just a nagging fear of tiny planes became a neurosis, after then opposition leader John Osmena, taxiing after us into the dirt-patch passing off as a  runway in San Jose’s little airport clearing, said I had to be crazy to ride Fr. Donelan's “little tutubi.”    (Osmena brought a twin-engine plane from Cebu).  
             
AP's Mike Suarez breaks news of mutiny in Aguinaldo
    
Forward to Cebu City’s boycott rally on Feb. 22, it seemed like another typical opposition day I would cover for Mr.  & Ms. Arriving early that afternoon I checked into Magellan Hotel near Fuente Osmena in downtown Cebu, the rally site. Then the phone rang and Mike Suarez of Associated Press, whom I had ran into at the lobby, said, “Bel, have you heard? (Defense Secretary Juan Ponce) Enrile and (acting AFP chief of Staff Fidel) Ramos just broke away from Marcos and are holed up at Camp Aguinaldo.” Mike said they decided to break away after some attempt by Gen. Ver’s soldiers to arrest some close Enrile people earlier that day.

My heart pounded as I wondered where my husband, who was serving at the Defense Department in those years, was. I tried to reach him by phone at his camp Aguinaldo office, but couldn’t get through.

Soon enough I crossed over to Fuente Osmena, pondering how I could divulge  this very sensitive information with Cory and the other opposition leaders.  A huge crowd had already blocked the streets all around and the stage filled up fast. Cory and her running mate, former Sen. Doy Laurel, arrived with the local big guns and took their seats at the foot of the stage.

When the rally began, I realized from the boycott speeches that no one still had any idea of what was going on in Manila. I agonized about how best to approach Cory amid the rally.  
                                               
Operation Mad Dog
    
I caught a glimpse of John Osmena in the back of the stage and informed him about the news from Manila. Quick-witted as ever, he promptly tied it to the rumors of arrests and Carballo Island. “Eton na ang ‘Operation Mad Dog,’ eto na” he kept saying, adding, “Sabihin mo na ki Cory.”  But before I could do so, the rally ended and she was quickly hustled off the stage.
         
I verified that Cory would be staying at the residence of Norberto Quisumbing of Norkis, and after the rally I grabbed a cab and headed there.  I found her in the living room all by herself, looking relaxed and she smiled at me.

But before I could report on the Manila happening, she queried me about how the wedding reception for Judy Roxas’ daughter, Ria, held a few days earlier at the gardens of Bahay na Puti in Cubao, had gone. Cory was ninang at the wedding, but chose not to go to the reception.  I stayed on there.
      
I recounted how Ms. Gretchen Oppen Cojuangco, wife of Eduardo Cojuangco, had asked for a Coke at the reception, but since the Roxas household was on a boycott of Marcos cronies’ products, in support of Cory’s crusade, there was no Coke in the Roxas household. Ms. Cojuangco asked an aide to buy a big bottle from the corner store and put it on top of the table.



Cory more fascinated about Coke story
     
Cory got quite engrossed with that Coke story and I forgot all about the Enrile-Ramos break-away Manila happening---until Assemblyman Ramon Mitra walked in. I rushed to him and related what was happening in Manila and his first query was, did you tell Cory. I said, not yet, and he barked, “Ano pa ang hinihintay mo.”

I told her about the breakaway in Manila, and she listened, saying, “A ganoon.” But the full import of that chilling event apparently did not sink into her right away, as she asked me to return to the Coke episode and Gretchen. To her it was far more fascinating than “Mad Dog.”
     
Soon the other opposition leaders arrived at the Quisumbing residence and went into a caucus with Cory in the terrace. They included Cebu Assemblymen Antonio Cuenco and Raul del Mar, Cagayan de Oro Assemblyman Homobono Adaza, who had earlier fought the stormy canvassing of votes at the Batasan, Cory’s brother Peping Cojuangco, Cagayan de Oro Assemblyman Aquilino Pimentel and John Osmena.   

At about 6 pm. Cory called up Defense Minister Enrile and assured him and his rebel group of her prayers and support.



Opposition’s assessment tentative that right
    
If the import of the news from Manila, as I tried to narrate to Cory earlier, didn’t sink into her mind right away, the other opposition leaders were equally tentative in their assessment at that stage. Nobody could tell how the Enrile-Ramos mutiny would play out.  Besides, most of them probably had zero trust in the enforcers of martial law.

Cory’s Ninoy had been incarcerated by the military for over seven years, while Mitra, Pimentel, Adaza and others had their own bouts in prison along with Chino Roces and various other opposition leaders.

On the other hand, at that time opposition leaders in Davao like Chito Ayala and Lito Lorenzana were seriously mulling the idea of setting up a revolutionary government in that city, and that night in Cebu Monching Mitra forcefully raised the possibility of the opposition’s staking it out with the Davaoenos.  Patiwakal si Monching.  

Sitting with the big guns of the opposition at that historic Cebu gathering,   my pulse quickened like crazy. I must confess that as a journalist with just over 2 ½ years of covering the opposition’s formation, I was intrigued---and frightened--- by the prospect of a revolutionary government. It sounded romantic, but it could also spell war and violence. I was also wife and mother of young kids and I thought of my family in Manila.
                                                    
Just like Sound of Music

As the night wore on there was need for more news about developments in Manila. I volunteered to go with Cebu educator Manny Go and Bono Adaza to the former’s residence, so we could link up with Aguinaldo. In those years cell phones were still non-existent and connecting could be tortuous.

Manny drove, and the trip meant crossing the city’s main military camp, Camp Lapu-Lapu---a prospect which got Adaza quite apprehensive about our not making it back to the Quisumbing house. By that time, however, I had very little sense of danger---my journalist’s instincts had taken the better of me.
  
Connecting to the Inquirer newsroom, I picked up news about tens of thousands of people massing in Edsa, but Camp Aquinaldo was not accessible---or, I thought, it was too busy seeking to defend itself.  
      
The immediate concern of the opposition leaders in Cebu that night was to secure Cory from Gen. Fabian Ver’s soldiers, in the certainty that they’d come for her. It was whispered around that a US warship had anchored in the bay, ready to spirit her out if trouble came. But ultimately It was decided that the safest place to hide her was the high-walled Carmelite Convent in downtown Cebu.  

I was excited: it was just like in "Sound of Music" when Capt. Von Trapp hid his family in the convent’s cemetery while the nuns dealt with the Gestapo.
                                
Cory leaves for convent under cover of darkness
      
Under cover of darkness at about ten o’clock, Cory rode out in a car with daughter Ballsy, her brother Peping, and Assemblyman Cuenco and his wife Nancy, to a warm welcome from the Carmelites.

Unknown to the Cebu nuns, Cardinal Sin had ordered their Manila sisters in the Gilmore monastery to pray before the exposed Blessed Sacrament all night that night ON THEIR KNEES, WITH THEIR ARMS OUTSTRETCHED, for the Enrile-Ramos people holed up by then still in Camp Aguinaldo. “Don’t get up until I tell you,” Sin barked on the phone to Mother Superior in Gilmore. To this day the aging nuns remember that episode vividly.
      
To throw off any possibility of Ver’s soldiers trailing Cory’s group, the mestizo Miguel Perez Rubio (whom some journalists mistook for an American CIA agent), educator Manny Go and others, including myself, sat around the terrace taking in wine and peanuts as though we were in a jam session and not in the midst of a swirling revolution!  I enjoyed that part---playing decoy while getting tipsy with all the wine.

It was also decided that the major opposition leaders should be secured, so that if Ver’s soldiers came hunting, they wouldn’t all be caught  together. It fell on John Osmena as he’s  local (and later Cory's OIC appointee as Cebu City Mayor), to hide them one by one in different private homes, while we media trooped back to Magellan Hotel, where we gathered in the lobby to await developments. The sense of history hung pungently in the air.



Foreign Media complain about no story
       
After some time, however, the horde of foreign media that trailed Cory’s boycott launch began to complain that they had no stories and no leaders to talk to.  You have to realize it’s morning where we come from, they argued irritably.

Thus, in the middle of the night I called up John Osmena and suggested that he fetch Mitra and Pimentel from wherever he had hidden them, so they could brief the media in Magellan Hotel. But perhaps the two latter leaders were already too tired or scared of giving Cory's whereabouts away, for when they got to the hotel lobby they could only muster one lousy paragraph that said nothing much. Monching and Nene were not at their journalistic best that sleepless night.
         
For the media in Magellan it was a long night of vigil, full of tension and anxiety, but also a lot of humor and camaraderie. All of us were fully aware that history was unfolding and it was a great time to be eyewitnesses to it.



Cory flies back to Manila amid great tension

The next morning, Sunday, Feb. 23, Cory, surrounded by opposition leaders, held a brief press conference at Magellan, reiterating her support for the embattled group of Enrile and Ramos in Camp Crame and urging the people to protect them and pray for them.  
       
Then Cory boarded a small Ayala two-engine plane for Manila and as it disappeared into the clouds, there was a flurry of anxious questions on everyone’s mind and unspoken prayers in hearts. Would her tiny plane be shot down in the skies by Marcos’ planes? Would Cory be able to land at the airport? Would she be arrested upon arrival?
       
Good luck to Cory and all of us as well as those in Crame (that included my husband, who had joined the military dissidents the afternoon of Feb. 22) was the prayer in my heart.  I boarded a PAL plane later that day, together with Tony Cuenco, Bono Adaza and other opposition leaders---and went straight to Edsa to join the tens of thousands holding vigil in front of Crame.  

(To be continued).



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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Senate legal luminaries who voted to pass Cybercrime Prevention Law must share blame for criminalizing on-line libel, instead of folks targeting only Sen. Sotto as scapegoat. SC does tough balancing act by “partially granting relief” to netizens in striking out DOJ’s authority to shut down websites and pull out suspect computer data---as solons had provided in the law. Three months and half after Yolanda, no clear rehab blueprint amid queries on where huge foreign donations went.


Yolanda victims and survivors in
 "People Surge" movement demand action  from the President. 
Netizens are up in arms over the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of RA 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act. They are now bashing Sen. Tito Sotto for his insertion of the provision penalizing on-line libel.

Indeed Sen. Sotto was not thinking right about this insertion, but then expectations on the density of his grey matter have never been high, given his background. To me the bigger blame ought to be cast on his colleagues, especially the abogados de campanilla in the Senate, led by former Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, RA 10175’s principal author and once president of the UP and the IBP, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate President Franklin Drilon.  

The other lawyers in the Senate include Cayetano siblings Alan Peter and Pia, and Chiz Escudero, and they should have known the implications of this law---most especially the chilling effect it would have on freedom of expression as enshrined in our Bill of Rights. 

A full debate had raged on the cybercrime bill for many months and yet in September 2012 they passed it--- including the on-line libel provision and the shocking authority given to the DOJ to snatch from the Internet any material considered offensive by the government. 

As this time of writing, the SC decision has triggered over 100,000 internet protesters---so that now mukhang naghuhugas-kamay na sa Senado and it looks like the entire blame for this draconian law is being manipulated to rain on Sotto and his on-line libel insertion.

XXX

The staunch opposition to RA 10175 will file a motion for reconsideration on the SC’s decision to uphold what’s now being termed the e-Martial Law. But given the way voting reportedly went virtually unanimous in the High Court---this is one of the few times the Court didn’t publicly divulge how it actually voted (natatakot din kaya ang mga magistrates on reprisal from scores of angry netizens?)---chances would be nil on reversal.

What I found particularly distressing was Sec. 19 in this law that authorizes the DOJ to restrict or block access to suspected computer data. In other words, it could just snatch a particular issue and obliterate it from cyber-space.

The SC obviously had to do a tough balancing act to please both advocates and opposition to the Cybercrime Law. For instance, the SC ruling seeks to pin down the “original author” in the cyber-libel provision but it lets off the hook those repeating or passing off this "offensive" opinion (this is a rather crazy ruling, for as a write-up rolls over and over in the Internet, often without acknowledging sources, the original author disappears. This is what happened in many instances of unintended plagiarism).

But what really was surprising---and painful to freedom-lovers---was how Congress, particularly the Senate, could have allowed Sec. 19 to pass.

Apparently light dawned on the justices to “partially grant the relief” sought by netizens when it struck down this provision together with three controversial ones. 

XXX

President Aquino failed to meet with the leaders of the “People Surge” movement of Yolanda victims and survivors in Tacloban, led by the outspoken and articulate Sr. Edita Eslopor last Monday; instead a minor Palace functionary received their manifesto of protest over the lack of coherent action in their area, over 100 days after the devastating typhoon.  

This was preceded by a lying-in at the Palace gates by activists from this group.

What added to the demonstrators' angst is that P-Noy was quoted today as saying that instead of spending their funds on transportation here to bring their message, they should have just spent these on their sustenance back in Tacloban. The presidential irk was quickly echoed by DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman. 

P-Noy's and Dinky's reaction made them look quite insensitive as they failed to realize that the big fear of affected folks in the Visayas is that media appear to be losing interest in their plight; hence their effort to dramatize that fear before the Palace.   

XXX

The people of Tacloban and other areas decry what they consider the neglect by the administration of their welfare and needs, and that their hunger, homelessness and lack of meaningful employment have remained unresolved. Various foreign agencies as well as local and foreign media have also pointed out the problems of over a million folks dislocated and surviving until now in tents in Eastern Visayas.

To be fair, the problems left by Yolanda are unprecedented and it’s easy to see that the administration has been overwhelmed by them---so that nearly 3 ½ months since the typhoon struck, no comprehensive plan has been drawn up for relief and rehabilitation. No clear blueprint of action.

Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao recently noted remarks made by Rehab Czar Panfilo Lacson at the recent PMA graduation rites in Baguio, where he complained about the trickling in of funds and how planning seems to still be at the coordination stage. In fact  BobiTiglao surmises that Lacson won’t last three months in his job due to frustration. He also cited the on-the-spot reporting of ABS-CBN broadcaster Ted Failon, who’s a native Leyteno, about the lack of progress in his city during a recent visit.

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The problem is that people won’t take kindly to inaction in the Visayas rehab, for everyone knows that so much in foreign funds has poured in---the popular frustration is that it’s not being spent for reasons known only to the administration. As I stated earlier, it seems that P-Noy’s government appears to be truly overwhelmed by the mind-boggling enormity of rehabilitating the Visayas. But something has to be done as the frustration is mounting.

I wrote in this space, three weeks after Yolanda struck, the opinion of industrialist Ramon S. Ang, President of PAL and San Miguel Corporation, in response to my query about the need to appoint a “Reconstruction Czar” for devastated Visayas (in fact I had ‘nominated’ the dynamic RSA for that post). Ramon Ang opined that instead of appointing one super-Czar, the rehab task should be divided into probably three regions---each with its own Czar who would then compete with one another for success.

I also advocated involving proven private sector managers in this gigantic task, and in fact I opined even before former Sen. Panfilo Lacson was appointed, that it would be better to recruit from the private sector rather than a politician---for obvious reasons. I’m being proven right.

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The super-human task of rehabilitating the Visayas has to be addressed even phase by phase; and just as important, the public has to be informed and up-dated on programs and progress, as otherwise it would lose faith in the government even more---as what’s happening now.

Folks in the midst of the disaster are clamoring for outright dole-out assistance of P40, 000 per family (aware that there’s lots of donated funds held by government). I’m not in favor of this dole-out as it could be spent on TV sets, refrigerators, fiestas galore and other tempting options. What the folks there need right now---especially with the total destruction of their major livelihood, the coconut industry--- is a CASH-FOR-WORK program.

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For instance, many people still live in tents and want to rehabilitate their homes. Why not make them undertake this job themselves for which they will be paid, with government providing the construction materials they need.  This is far better than the dole-out to the poor---the conditional cash transfer (CCT), amounting to a whopping P63 billion this year--- that has become mired in corruption at the grassroots, as various TV programs have asserted.

Some private groups such as that of my brother, Danny Olivares, raised funds and delivered finished wooden bancas to remote seaside areas of Capiz for start-up livelihood; but since the donation has raised fear of destruction of more forests to make into boats, the donors are exploring fiber-glass boats.

What this administration needs, that the private sector has been displaying far better, is a little imagination and plenty of resolve.



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Saturday, February 15, 2014

17 year old Michael Martinez’s incredible feat was honed in Manila malls. He, young classical violinist Chino Gutierrez and other exceptional Pinoy talents ought to be supported by the State and “Forbes tycoons,” the way South Korea’s government and chaebols lionize their own. Lack of support becomes particularly disgusting in light of murderous squander of PDAF and DAP in fake NGOs. SC Justice Art Brion corners DBM’s Abad into admitting that budget circular was not drafted by neophytes.


Michael Christian Martinez
The triumph of 17-year old Michael Christian Martinez in the men’s figure-skating category Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia---where he was able to make it to the tough finals and bag 19th place out of 30 finalist-participants, with a total of 184.25 points for the two-day competition---is cause for great rejoicing among us Pinoys for a number of reasons.

One is that Michael is not only the first Filipino, but also the first Southeast Asian ever to battle in this frightfully tough competition involving a decidedly non-tropical sport deep inside Russia.

Second, this once asthmatic young man was able to hone his sport to perfection mainly in the ice-skating rinks of Manila’s malls---so much so that an African poet and Guggenheim fellow named Kwame Dawes was so moved by Michael’s artistry, grace and skill that he create a poem exclusively for him (“such painful, painful beauty”) that brought out, among other facts, that there’s more to malling in Manila than mindless consumer spending or noynoying.

Wrote Dawes in part:  “Here in these humid islands, the mall owner is kind to build a rink, but he thinks the ice is smooth as glass, slick even. He would not know…” Dawes is awed by this feat as he’s from Ghana---an equally hot and humid country.

How we Pinoys need this shot in the arm nowadays when media are full of scams and scandals!

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That Japan’s contestant bagged the gold medal with a score of 280.09 is not surprising, for the Japanese demonstrate their passion for thoroughness in everything they do---in direct contrast to how we Pinoys ordinarily do things. We should learn from them. I recall how I was in Tokyo some years back when the Olympic games were being held in Greece and there was a story about how the Japanese team prepared---one is almost tempted to say ‘ruthlessly’---for the 400 m. marathon event which their female star athlete won.

Aside from thoroughness, Japan, like other major economies, planks down a lot of funds on its exceptional talents, be they athletes or artists. Not too long ago I attended a concert at CCP’s Little Theater sponsored by the Japanese Embassy and staged by visiting Japanese ethnic musicians who played with an incredible array of interesting native instruments. What struck me was how their ethnic music from various regions is so alive and thriving over centuries and obviously so well supported.

 I thought of poor Joey Ayala’s band struggling to recover the music of our colorful past and ethnic roots, sans consistent state support. We can also ask indefatigable soprano Karla Gutierrez, whose Philippine Opera Company has been tirelessly promoting Philippine music through the years---completely without state support.

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Media report about how Michael’s mother, Ma. Teresa Martinez, had to resort to mortgaging their house just to fund his training. Government and sports organization detractors are trying to minimize this story, but it’s obvious that the boy persisted despite very little funds over months and years perhaps. 

While reading about Michael I kept thinking of another Filipino youth, 23-year old classical Filipino violinist Chino Gutierrez who was forced to drop out of training in Munich, Germany, twice---once in 2006 and again in 2012, despite the fact that his renowned professor had sized him years back up as a “major talent of the violin”--- because his family couldn’t afford the expensive education and training that will ultimately benefit the country. 

If Chino and Michael were in Japan or South Korea (the new mecca for the arts) their government and private corporations would be tripping all over to take care of their training needs---they just have to continue being brilliant. Luckily, common to these two talented young guys is their never-say-die spirit and persistence in serving their craft despite setbacks.   

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We’ve only seen the beginning for Michael in Olympic figure-skating---the boy will be back and win it. As for Chino, he’s determined to return to Munich next month so that he can finish two more years of bachelor of music studies at the prestigious but tough Munich State Academy  for Music and Theater---and one day take a crack at the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium music competitions, considered the Nobel Prize for music, which no Filipino has won so far. As Star art critic Rosalinda Orosa wrote after virtuoso Gilopez Kabayao detailed all the bare-bones needs of Chino in Munich, “calling on our ‘Forbes List tycoons.’ ”  

I shall be writing a series on the problems of exceptional but needy artists for the Manila Times soon, as I promised publisher Dante Ang.  

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The financial predicament of these youthful but incredible Filipino talents becomes almost comical when one considers how much public funds are being squandered by our politicians. As commentator and media forum host Melo Acuna wrote in FB when Michael’s money problems surfaced prior to his departure for Russia, “his mother should have written Napoles and Tuason.”

Indeed, after the fake NGO scams hit the headlines, Napoles could have underwritten both Chino and Michael from just one big bag of moolah, as Ruby Tuazon was describing in the recent Senate hearing how many millions a big bag would contain.

But now, after the issue of senators’ and representatives’ PDAFs that were siphoned off to Janet Napoles NGOs and 74 other “non-JLN” NGOs, comes yesterday’s report by GMA-7 Network about how senators voting in the Corona impeachment trial in May 2012 were able to channel many millions of pesos from what’s euphemistically termed by DBM Secretary Butch Abad the “Disbursement Acceleration Program” (DAP) into fake NGOs of Napoles.  This means double-double violations. 

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The list obtained by GMA-7 used senators’ “aliases, “e.g., Pogi with P150 million in DAP, Sexy Protempt P150 million, Tanda P100 million, Bigote P55 million, Bongets P100 million, Dahon P50 million and AAK (P12 million). This list is incomplete, as it will be recalled that months ago around 20 senators received DAP funds over and above their PDAF; what’s new is that in the above list of aliases, the senators were still able to siphon off their DAP to Napoles’ fake NGOs. Indeed, bad habits die hard.

To think that Solicitor-General Arthur Jardeleza and DBM Secretary Abad were quick to argue before the SC two weeks ago that the DAP for the senators, authorized by the President himself, has already been written off---kaput---hence no more liability by the Executive.

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Justice Arturo Brion, one of the brighter lights in the SC (top-notcher of his 1974 batch of bar examinees), asked Secretary Abad during the DAP hearing two weeks whether his department used terms such as savings, unobligated allotments  and ‘augment’ within their technical meaning, as stated in the DBM’s National Budget Circular (NBC). Abad affirmed it.

Hence, concluded Brion, that document was “not drafted by neophytes and you also have at the back of your mind all the constitutional and statutory limitations in budgeting.  So every word, every phrase in the NBC was intended for what it wanted to convey or achieve. And what you wanted was expedited spending.”

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At this direct interrogation Abad didn’t have a chance to deny anything. As FB habituĂ© Marissa Mahinay put it, the DBM’s move was “premeditated, knowing, willful.” The Executive Branch obviously thought it could get away with this unconstitutional gimmick to bribe the senators to convict CJ Renato Corona.

Another hearing is scheduled next week and voting is reported to be tight---what with CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno said to be personally campaigning among her colleagues to rule DAP constitutional. Tempers are flaring. 

Let’s pray that majority of the justices would find the courage to strike down DAP.




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