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, March 4, 2014

Lady legislators take over House in celebration of Int’l Women’s Month. Gabriela Rep disputes House achievement award to DSWD’s Dinky Soliman. Speaker Belmonte ecstatic over passage of ‘economic cha-cha’ in specifically tailored amendment committee. A political observer’s ‘fearless forecast’ of the why and the how of the cha-cha effort.

Lady legislators of the House of Representatives
  pose to celebrate National and International  Women's Month
The 79 lady members of the House of Representatives, led by the second-term President of the “Lady Legislators,” Pangasinan Rep. Gina de Venecia, took over the chamber in celebration yesterday of International Women’s Month, and the male members gladly indulged them as the women solons delivered privilege speeches on various issues affecting their gender and dear to their hearts.

The lady legislators were dressed in native finery and it was an interesting afternoon, as acting Speaker De Venecia, spouse of former five-term Speaker Jose de Venecia, and those who followed her at the rostrum sought to speed up the endorsement of various bills to their respective committees. The ladies’ guests at the gallery were rather amused at the way the female legislators led by Gina banged the gavel in a determined way, as though to tell their male counterparts that hey, we know what to do with these bills too.


I found it curious that DSWD Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman was cited by the House for her achievements---for which award she was summoned to the dais--- when it is no secret that the performance of her department has been far from satisfactory in various aspects. Note the storm of criticism of the administration in the deplorable handling of the post-Yolanda rehabilitation of the battered Visayas which has provoked the “People Surge” in that region. Then there’s the conditional cash transfer, this year amounting to a whopping P63 billion but COA itself has repeatedly cited that the DSWD, the CCT’s administering agency, has been unable to explain whole segments of the gargantuan dole-out program’s budget over time.

Moreover, these huge amounts spent on dole-outs over the years, which were rapidly increased in President Aquino’s time, were borrowed from multilateral sources with high interest rates, and which Juan de la Cruz will be paying with enormous interests over time.  Yet, despite the increasing CCT, the poverty level in the nation has gone up so that now it hovers at over 20% of the population---“dehumanizing millions,” to quote CBCP President Socrates Villegas.

TV reports cite questionable beneficiaries who exhibit TV sets, two-door refrigerators and other trappings of good living. Indeed, there are many other ways to spend the gargantuan budget of CCT that would bear far more meaningful results.

The award to DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman by the House is unwarranted, and it was left to Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan to say so in her privilege speech right after the award to the DSWD Chief. Ilagan rambled about the under-performance of the administration in the above issues.


After the session I was invited to partake of merienda fare donated by various lady legislators at the lounge. I ran into Speaker Feliciano Belmonte huddled with a group of House members. He was in an expansive mood and it was no wonder: the House committee on constitutional amendments, which was specially created to tackle this issue and is chaired by Davao City Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano, passed yesterday morning by an overwhelming vote of 24-2 with one abstention a joint resolution with the Speaker as the main proponent, that seeks to propose economic amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

With Belmonte pushing it himself, the issue of constitutional amendments got to first base. But would it hit a home run, considering that P-Noy himself continues the ploy of objecting to ‘tinkering’ with basic charter his mother fashioned in her term?  There are two ways to amend the Constitution: call a constitutional convention which means electing delegates from around the country for this specific purpose, such as what happened in the Marcos era, or to convene the House and the Senate into a constituent assembly which could work side by side with their respective legislative agenda.

Many legislators want the second option as they argue that it’s cheaper and more efficient, but as the song goes, charter-change is still a long way from Picadilly.


The next question is, just what will be amended, if at all?  A lot of citizens are worried that many other issues would be touched upon in the deliberations, including abolishing term limits for the legislators and even extending the term of the incumbent President, considering that his party, the LP, appears to have taken a beating on many issues (the poor handling of the recent disasters, high power rates, the blackout in Mindanao, increasing poverty amid jobless growth, continuing corruption, smuggling, etc. etc.).

There is fear among certain sectors that rather than give the next term to the opposition, which could see the prosecution of past officials, including the President, his allies might be encouraged to extend P-Noy’s term or convert the current political set-up into a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system with P-Noy as Prime Minister and a trusted ally succeeding as President.

I queried Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, identified as a political independent but a  staunch advocate of economic charter change, about such fears and he sought to allay them by saying that the resolution on charter change is “very specific”---only economic provisions. But I thought to myself, what would stop rabidly loyal allies of P-Noy to amend that resolution as well?


A friend of mine, a keen observer of the political scene, represents what we can call the “doubting Thomas” sector of the Filipino people in the following thinking, and I quote him:

1.   Belmonte, doubtless because of pressure from Pnoy, is pushing hard for the constitutional amendments.

2.   At present, most of the amendments are on the economic side only, pretending that they will liberalize the economic restrictions against foreign investors to invite more money to push the economy of the Philippines.

3.   But, in reality, we know that it’s all about the 2016 elections.  The Con-Con or Cha-Cha or whatever they will concoct in this 16th Congress is all for having a back-up plan if Mar continues to rank low in GENUINE surveys for presidential polls in 2016.  IN spite of all the shenanigans in the PCOS machines, all the demolition jobs against “Sexy, Pogi and Tanda” and on Binay, as allegedly scheduled starting March 1.

4.   Remember, there’s  rumor that Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes will retire in 2015 or earlier.

5.   The real agenda of Malacanan and, they hope, also Congress, is to change our system into some kind of hodgepodge of a Federalist (to justify the gradual breakaway  of all the Muslims in Mindanao with the Bangsamoro Peace Plan) and a European-type Parliamentary system.

6.   Once our government structure is radically changed through cha-cha, Mar can be the first Prime Minister and P-Noy can continue as some kind of a ceremonial President only.


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