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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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"Lipa Declaration" by National Transformation Council's multi-faith adherents calls on "compatriots" to effect moral transformation and systems change; urges military to "extend its protective shield" to NTC's goals and activities. Lipa Archbishop Arguelles tells P-Noy: Tama na, Tabi ka na.




The launch of the National Transition Council was a day replete with miracles.
First the miracle of the weather---not a drop of rain after days of blinding downpours. The sun shone brightly, as though Heaven were smiling and imparting its blessings on the multi-faith gathering in Lipa City, Batangas, last Wednesday, August 27, that was united in prayer for the deliverance of their beloved Philippines from the clutches of a corrupt political system.

Billed as the “Pangmalawakang Pagpulong para sa Pagbabago” (National Assembly for Transformation) the Lipa gathering brought hundreds of people from all over the country and from all walks of life and professions, as well as various faiths (Catholics, Protestants, Muslims) and political persuasions (among them Tanggulang Demokrasya, Kapatiran Party, Philippine Democratic Party, Movement Against Dynasties, the Royal Family of the Sultanate of Sulu, and elements of the MILF and MNLF) to Lipa. 

The Lipa event, led by about a dozen eminent religious personalities such as Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of Davao Fernando Capalla and Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga City, as well as pastors of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and of the Muslim faith, sought to“reaffirm our deeply-held convictions and beliefs about the common good and our highest national interests in the face of the most pressing challenges of our time" and the destruction of many democratic institutions.

Another miracle was that 28 years after Edsa 1, our "second" national anthem, “Bayan Ko,” still managed to bring tears to many eyes and choke many a throat at that Lipa gathering. Fervent patriotism was alive and flaming that morning.

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After the speeches from eminent personalities, which defined the country's problems from historical perspectives to the present, came the signing of the Lipa Declaration: “An Urgent Call for National Transformation.” Jumping out of the pages of the four-page Declaration were critical passages: “A crisis of unprecedented proportions has befallen our nation. The life of the nation is in grave peril from the very political forces that are primarily ordained to protect, promote and advance its well-being, but which are aggressively undermining its moral, religious, social, cultural, constitutional and legal foundations." 

The Declaration went on: “Unbridled and unpunished corruption and widespread misuse of political and economic power in all layers of society have not only destroyed our common conception of right and wring, good and bad, just and unjust, legal and illegal, but also put our people, especially the poor, at the mercy of those who have the power to dictate the course and conduct of our development for their own selfish ends..." 

Toward the end the Declaration advocated refraining from holding any "farcical"  elections, just like the 2010 and 2013 elections which were marred by widespread PCOS-generated electoral fraud that ushered in national and local officials (beginning with P-Noy) with dubious and tainted victories---until a "fraud-free electoral system" can be installed. It also advocated systems change in the vacated national leadership.   

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The Assembly invited “all our compatriots everywhere to reaffirm with us the same conviction and beliefs.” Among those compatriots were those from various Muslim tribes of Mindanao who traveled by land and sea to reach Manila and Batangas, and they were housed---this one's for Ripley’s---by the Capuchin Fathers in Manila. It was ecumenism at its shining best.

Not very subtly articulated was the call of the NTC upon the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in its role as the constitutional “Protector of the people and the State,” to extend “its protective shield to the (NTC), and not to allow itself to be used in any manner to undermine the Council’s purely transitional and non-partisan role, nor to allow any armed group to sow violence, disorder or discord into its peaceful ranks.”
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The speakers were: “former Sen. Francisco Tatad, on the “National Situationer and the NTC;” Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, on the “Role of the Church in the Transformational Efforts---EDSA 1; Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, on the “Role of the Church in the Transformation Efforts---EDSA 2 and Hyatt 10; Rev. Pastor Arthur Corpuz , on the Protestant Movement in the Transformational Efforts; Dr. Kamil M. Unda, on the Role of the Muslim Community on National Transformation; Fr. Romeo J. Intengan, S.J., on the “Moral Foundation of National Transformation,” former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, on the “Mockery of the Electoral Process, and Archbishop of Lipa Ramon Arguelles, on “Regime Change and Revolution Now.”

Archbishop Arguelles, who hosted the Lipa Assembly, noted that the Church in the Philippines has always displayed a militant streak, as evidenced by the three priest-martyrs, Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, and more recently in the bitter fight against the RH Law. The prelate exhorted the Assembly to struggle against apathy and indifference toward the rotten political system. Not allowing the audience to forget that Batangas was among the eight original provinces that fought against Spanish colonial rule, Arguelles called on President Aquino, "Tama Na. Tabi Ka Na," to loud applause from the  fervent crowd. 


The Lipa Declaration of 2014 sponsored by the NTC had for its precursor the "Declaration of April 2012" forged in Talisay, Cebu.
  
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Toward the end of his impromptu speech Lipa Archbishop Arguelles indulged in some startling reminisces in his unique Batangueno way: 

“Noong EDSA, kami ay magkakasama doon sa malapit sa Crame. Pagkatapos ay pinatakbo kami sa may Libis sapagkat lumipat yung mga sundalo doon. Noong bumalik kami kasama yung ilang pari, na-meet kaming ibang kulay, mga matipunong mga lalaki, sumisigaw. Sila pala'y galing kay Cardinal Sin, at hiningi ang blessing niya ng mga iyon para lusubin ang Malacanang. Sabi ni Cardinal Sin: ‘Huwag kayong pumunta doon. Doon na lang kayo pumunta sa EDSA at magdasal, kasama ng mga kapatid ninyong Kristiyano.’ Nasalubong naming ang mga matipunong mga lalaki na sinigawan kami: 'Padre. Kayo'y mga Katoliko, kami'y mga Muslim, nguni't magkakapatid tayo.' I never forgot that. Noon ay magkakapatid tayo because we were working together for a brighter future. Akala natin, we want na ang ating pagsasama-sama will really bring a change.

“I never forgot the message from that encounter, lalo na'ng ako'y na-assign sa abroad. Nag-meeting yung mga representatives ng newly liberated nations in 1992, before I became a bishop (in 1994). Nilapitan ako by March, nilipat naman ako by July sa ibang assignment. May meeting sa Paris ng representatives of newly liberated nations: those from Eastern Europe in 1993 (nahulog ang Berlin Wall 1989) and Africa, South America as well as Asia---around 30 people. Since I could not go there, pinapunta ko ang isang German sister na kaibigan ko, na nandoon din sa EDSA in 1986, kasama niya ang mga sisters na Filipina, kasa-kasama namin doon yung kapit-bisig.

"Matapos nang bumalik ako sa Rome – unang nakita ko yung German sister, umiiyak. She said: 'Alam mo, Father, after I talked about EDSA, lapitan sa akin yung mga representatives of the newly liberated nations. Ang wika nila, please tell the Filipino people we were watching them even when it was difficult to do so. We admire them because of their courage, because they were for change and they did not hate anyone. They just wanted true peace and assure a better future. We follow them even if imperfectly.'

"Sabi (ng mga representatives of the newly liberated nations), imperfect sila, first because they don't know how to pray and also, sabi nila, they didn't know whom to pray to.  Kaya doon sa Tiananmen, in-adore nila yung Goddess of Freedom. Naging failure ito dahil hindi naman tunay na god yun. Ang sabi nila: “Please tell the Filipino people, we are still looking at them. We want to learn how to make real freedom work for the good of all."

The Lipa Archbishop then explained why he used this opportunity to narrate that story from the German sister: "Appeal yan ng representatives of newly liberated nations. Tinitignan pa rin tayo. Gusto tayong gayahin pa rin. And I think we are called to that purpose by the help of God. Tayo ay counter-cultured doon sa culture ng mundo ngayon. Ang kailangan ay ang culture natin ngayon of solidarity---of faith in God and trust in one another. One of unity sacrifice. Kaya tayo narito, it’s God who brought us together. And one of determined action towards change for the better. The time is now. Mahal ba natin ang Diyos? Mahal baga natin ang ating kapwa tao? Pati yung hindi mga Pilipinong naghihintay sa ating magandang halimbawa. Mahal ba natin ang ating bayan? Kung totoo yan ay magsitayo tayo, ang I will ask you to sing Bayan Ko.”


XXX

So the world is still looking to us for an shining example in our resolution of our current sordid political plight. This space does not allow at the moment the publication of the gist of the other speakers' speeches, but I promise to  feature them in next blog. From Lipa, historic gatherings are scheduled to be held in other cities, e.g., Cebu, Davao, Zamboanga, Butuan, etc. Onward march!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Many citizens and groups move toward securing their national destiny and breaking the cycle of political corruption and patronage. Signing of People’s Initiative vs. pork at Cebu’s Plaza Independencia. Historic convening of Panawagan sa Malalimang Pagbabago at Lipa City on Aug. 27, followed by solemn signing of “Lipa Declaration on National Transformation.”



Our country is in a state of flux and citizens all across our archipelago are moving---it’s very obvious---toward righting the wrongs wrought by bad politics over decades. They are organizing, feverishly organizing activities that they feel would set this hapless nation aright. They want to rescue our country and people from the fatal drift toward a failed state, arrest the widespread corruption and reverse that terrible feeling of hopelessness over our sordid self-centered politics.

They want to restore faith and belief in our severely damaged institutions and ensure a brighter future, prosperity and well-being for their children than the present dim political horizon outlines.  In short, very large groups of our people today want to take their national destiny into their hands---and not leave it to the politicians who care little or nothing for them. They want to break the cycle of political patronage and corruption that has resulted in the perennial question: Who is to lead our people out of the barren desert of arid politics, into the promised land of bountiful opportunities, peace and prosperity. How best to serve our people’s interests?

Sadly for those who would choose to remain unconcerned and uncaring about the plight of this nation, or continue cottoning to the corrupt politicos, they would be left to the harsh verdict of history.  Maiiwanan sila.

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Everything that’s happening these days has been simply incredulous---it reminds me of the three fabled years before the fall of Marcos and pre-EDSA 1--- and it’s not even possible to include all the citizens’ movements in this space. What’s important is to one day tie all these historic peoples’ efforts together into a cohesive whole, for God and country.

Consider, for instance, how President Aquino has suffered a free-fall in trust and acceptance rating in just a year.  From 66% in June 2013 he now commands only 29% as of June 2014---a 37 percentage points drop in just a year! As P-Noy and greedy political allies continue their bully tactics over the Supreme Court, an institution that, while not devoid of its faults, is regarded as the last bastion of the Rule of Law, their perch becomes more perilous.  

As more anomalies about scandalous spending of public funds are being raked up by citizen groups, and as more efforts are being made by P-Noy’s allies to trivialize serious issues such as lifting of term limits, redefining “savings,” No-El, etc. P-Noy’s ratings and those of traditional institutions will continue, like Humpty Dumpty, in their great fall. 

By contrast, great masses of the citizens are moving to be a counter-point to the traditional politicians and their wiles, led by inter-faith leaders and NGOs.

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Consider these movements in the next few days, starting today.  As reported in Manila Standard, in Cebu the Church-backed People’s Congress approved  the final draft of a People’s Initiative that will undertake a nationwide drive to collect six million signatures with a very definite aim. This is to stop President Aquino from REDEFINING “savings,” as his lapdogs in Congress want to do in order to ensure that the ruling LP would have its “election budget” for 2016. Hand in hand, the Initiative seeks to strip P-Noy of his discretionary powers over all lump-sum funds, including the exclusive presidential pork, termed the "Special Purpose Fund" amounting to over P350 billion and the Malampaya Fund of P130 billion.

The Cebu initiative is such a crucial move, as it could shatter the major source of corruption by the Palace of allied politicians, and stop the mindless monkeying with people’s money that should go into critical basic services.

The signing of the People’s initiative is scheduled today at Plaza Independencia in Cebu, led by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, with the President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Atty. Vicente Joyas keynoting the Congress. The 50,000-strong IBP under Joyas has taken a laudably firm stand vs. DAP, which could strengthen the resolve of the Supreme Court to stand firm on its unconstitutionality decision on DAP--- despite the motion for reconsideration filed by the Palace and its unprecedented harassment of the Court.  Another group that has now found its rightful voice is Philconsa, under its president, Rep. Martin Romualdez.

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Tomorrow, Monday, August 25, various citizens’ groups will converge on the Luneta for the anniversary of the Million People’s March, in protest of Congress’ efforts to resuscitate PDAF and DAP in other outrageous forms ---and to stem the administration’s attacks on the SC’s independence. Various civic organizations will be joining this big rally and among them will be government employees and those of the SC and lower courts, who have been quite open in their protests against sallies vs. the court’s independence.  

As Ferdinand R. Gaite, national president of the “Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE),” put it, “As what many Filipinos are seeing again and again, our political system is shot to hell due to political patronage; whoever is in power uses the people’s (not government’s) money to gratify preferred allies and constituents, or even themselves. Never mind the genuinely poor more deserving of such favor…”

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What’s beautiful is that innumerable citizens are organizing parallel efforts. Two weeks ago the group led by Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa launched “BayanKo” to crowd-source the new Constitution and make the people’s voices heard and prevail, not just those of selfish politicos. A week later another group called “Sagot Ko Bayan” gathered nearly 500 professionals at the same Club Filipino hall---with the aim of tracking down use of public funds freely squandered by national and local politicians and breaking the back of endemic corruption.

"Sagot Ko Bayan" aims to organize chapters down to the local level, “to spot corrupt practices and potential sources of thievery in all levels of the bureaucracy.” Sagot Ko aims to subject to a fine-toothed comb government procurements by the bids and awards committees (BAC)  of all government corporations, bureaus, branches as well as LGUs---and spot and denounce padded estimates, rigged biddings, ghost deliveries, substandard products and other anomalies.

A most noble idea, let’s hope "Sagot Ko Bayan" won’t be ningas cogon too.

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On Wednesday, Aug. 27, leaders of various faith communities will be joined by numerous professionals, NGOs and other sectors from around the country, in what's called the “Panawagan sa Malalimang Pagbabago” (Assembly for Systems Change Toward National Transformation). It will be held at Lipa City’s St. Francis de Sales Minor Seminary from 9 am. to 4 pm.  From the Catholic community bishops and archbishops from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will be attending.

Photo of Archbishop Ramon Arguelles (courtesy of archlipa.org)

Hosted by Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, the national, ecumenical, interfaith assembly will seek to re-establish the moral foundations of a truly viable republic, which has been eroded so much over the decades. Speakers will include Ricardo Cardinal Vidal of Cebu City, “Role of the Church in Transformation Efforts”---Edsa I; Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, “Role of the Church in Transformation Efforts---Edsa II/Hyatt 10;  Rev. Arthur S. Corpuz of United Church of Manila, “Protestant Movement in Transformation Efforts;” an Ulama minister on “Role of the Muslims in National Transformation;”  “Fr. Romeo J. Intengan, S.J., on “The Moral Foundation of National Transformation,” and Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles on “Regime Change and Revolution Now.” 

Former Sen. Kit Tatad will give a national situationer, while CPA/Lawyer and former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong will speak on the “Mockery of the Electoral (PCOS) System.”

The discourses will climax with the solemn signing of the “Lipa Declaration on National Transformation” by the delegates. This will be a most historic occasion.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

President Aquino in a bind over Palparan: to keep him in Bulacan jail would anger the military, but to turn him over to military or PNP custody would outrage leftist elements. Young officers said to be upset with Defense Chief Gazmin's rather insensitve remarks about former fugitive. Jardeleza appointment to SC perceived as rebuke of Sereno for 13-0 anti-DAP vote. COA Chief's recent revelations on DAP abuse stems from disappointment over failed SC seat?



Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin

Former Senator Joker Arroyo is right when he opined in a recent interview that President Aquino is in a bind, as he has antagonized both the Left and the military in his recent statements following the arrest of retired Army Major General Jovito Palparan by NBI operatives. Palparan now languishes in the Bulacan Provincial Jail, but significant segments of the military want him in military custody or the PNP Crame jail where they feel he'd be far safer. 

The problem is that if P-Noy and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin agree to transfer the controversial officer, leftist elements would surely protest to high heavens his "special treatment” inasmuch as he had become a civilian two years back. But if something happens to Palparan while in that Bulacan jail---and this fear is shared by many elements, including his present custodians---there’s no telling what could happen, given the thick rumblings of discontent from military ranks over what they consider the unjust treatment being accorded a colleague who was just doing his duty as a soldier. 

It’s a tough balancing act and a highly sensitive issue for the Palace indeed.

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The dilemma began with Secretary Gazmin’s impolitic statement upon the wanted officer’s arrest, which sounded like a boast. Gazmin was quoted as saying:  "Matagal ko nang gustong ipaaresto si Palparan at iregalo sa Pangulo, para naman mapangiti siya." This sounds like an insensitive thing to say, indication that the DND Chief is far removed in feelings and understanding from the military hierarchy he commands. 

Contrast his statement with that of AFP Chief Catapang who knows how to calibrate the feelings of his officers. Contrast, too, the treatment of the former fugitive with that of former Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who didn't seem to be really wanted for a long while. 

P-Noy followed his Defense Chief's statement by saying that now that the fugitive has been arrested, things could get back to normal in the military.

Palparan has long been roasting in the media, with highly-charged invectives against him, much of which he doubtless deserves for the crimes attributed to him. But this should not have made P-Noy and his Defense Chief less sensitive to the feelings of the AFP about Palparan's capture and imprisonment---more temperate language could have been employed if they know their beans.

What they could have said was that while Palparan has long been wanted for a series of crimes, like every citizen of this country he's entitled to fair and speedy trial UNDER THE LAW. Period. Leave the invectives to the media and the trial to the courts.  

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I spoke to some active and retired AFP officers about Palparan’s arrest and imprisonment and they told me how texts have been burning among the officer and enlisted personnel about this. They said the military---especially junior officers---are angry about the way he is being treated, and that he's entitled to presumption of innocence until proved guilty. The papers correctly put the dilemma: is Gen. Palparan hero or heel?

There's a more crucial point: an active officer told me that to the rank and file military Palparan was just doing his duty in fighting rebel forces, and that as a result of the recent foul treatment of him, junior officers would now hesitate to fight the insurgents---as they fear they'd also end up with cases.  


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There's still a graver issue that the Aquino administration has to worry about. The arrest of Palpaparan comes at a time when P-Noy's acceptance and trust ratings are at their lowest in his four years. There are many serious problems besetting his administration, most scandalous of all the DAP issue that has been a source of vast corruption, while the Legislature under his control is now highly discredited. 

The military corps is doubtless aware of these developments, and the administration ought to take care that all measures to ensure Gen. Palparan’s safety under custody be taken. For if something should happen to him there’s no telling how events would shape.   

                                                        XXX

New Associate Justice Francis H. Jardeleza 

The recent appointment of former Solicitor-General Francis H. Jardeleza to the Supreme Court as its 15th justice was also fraught with conflict.  Recall that his name was struck out of the final list of nominees submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) to the President some months back. News reports said JBC's chair, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, ordered deletion of his name owing allegedly to some problems of "integrity" affecting him.

That integrity issue is thought of as the Sol-Gen's decision, to quote Daily Tribune, "to unilaterally withdraw the Philippines' claim to the largest island in the Spratleys, in a pleading submitted to the UN arbitration body hearing that territorial dispute (with China)."  Jardeleza's move was perceived as an apparent bid to appease the Chinese government, but as an insider argued, it obviously was done with P-Noy's go-signal. 

To watchers of the Sereno-Jardeleza conflict, the bigger issue was that the Sol-Gen was deprived of the opportunity to defend himself against what looked like an arbitrary move by CJ Sereno in the JBC. He brought his case ironically enough to the SC and to President Aquino, who ordered that his name be put on the JBC list.

Some commentators noted that the tiff between Sereno and Jardeleza dates back to when they, both outstanding UP College of Law graduates (class '84 and '74, respectively), were faculty members of the premium law school.

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Given this conflict background, it was rather surprising to many Court watchers that P-Noy appointed Jardeleza to the SC. But part of the surprise was due to the popular notion that COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan was more favored for the SC. In fact reports say she already did her round of farewells in COA, but it was not meant to be.

Some commentators surmise that the appointment of Sereno's nemesis to the High Court was the President's way of retaliating against her for her failure to successfully push the constitutionality of DAP that P-Noy needs so badly to realize his party's 2016 election agenda. The 13-0 vote was particularly bitter for him, but the High Court could not do otherwise, as public opinion was near-solid vs. DAP. Now the House is giving CJ Sereno hell for this failure via close scrutiny of the Judicial Development Fund and demand for disclosure of the justices' SALNs.


But there are also surmises that Pulido Tan is now revealing many hitherto hidden facts of DAP, because of her bitter failure to get the coveted SC seat. One such revelation from COA is that P239 million of DAP allegedly went into the feeding program of the foundation where Viel Aquino-Dee sits in the board (the Palace quickly cleared her on this issue). Another recent allegation of COA is that the Cayetanos of Taguig, staunch allies of P-Noy, had squandered so much DAP funds in aid of their campaign;  in fact plunder charges were filed against them. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

LP strategists trying to calm political waters violently roiled by sudden opening of P-Noy on Cha-cha and term extension. Political Cha-cha alive and kicking, despite Abigail’s denial and Speaker Belmonte’s assurance that House would only amend economic provisions. But should Cha-cha happen, Transitory provision should prohibit P-Noy from running. Battle royale between Gina Reyes and Lord Allan Velasco on eve of HRET meet.


Is “Political Cha-cha” truly dead in the House, as an unnamed House leader recently asserted and featured as the banner of Philippine Star today? The fact, however, that this leader asserting it wants to remain unnamed is indication enough that “political Cha-cha” is far from dead---he or she is wary of displeasing the President who has become “amenable” to term extension and the LP hierarchy strategizing for him. 

Yes, despite Malacanang spokesperson Abigail Valte’s denial in a rather dead-pan manner, that her boss would seek a second term (tough job, huh, Abigail, my sympathies), it looks like the LP strategists and Palace officials are simply trying to calm political waters across the nation violently roiled by the sudden opening by P-Noy on Charter change and term extension.   

They can assert to high heavens that political Cha-cha is dead in the House, but the fact remains that it’s alive and kicking.

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Speaker Sonny Belmonte and his allies seek to assure the nation that amendments they want to push would be confined only to some economic provisions and that others won’t be touched---No to “political Cha-cha” daw. The House Chief argues that economic provisions should be a bit more liberal toward foreign investments, and on this score there's basis enough.

But the way many House members are thinking and acting right now, e.g., demonizing the Supreme Court in retaliation for its ruling on PDAF and sections of DAP as unconstitutional,  and with the Palace’s weak denial of P-Noy’s earlier TV statement, it’s obvious that Belmonte and Co. cannot hold down inclusion of such controversial provisions as lifting of term limits for the President and Congress---once the Cha-cha train starts to roll.  They'd be up against thugs allied with the administration in that same chamber. 

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Once in Congress most solons get to love power and all the trappings that go with it so much, that they'd want nothing better than to be able to run sans the three-term limit they’re strapped to now. As for P-Noy, more than seeking to ensure that his “reform” programs would continue, as his media allies argue, he needs assurance that he won’t go to jail for constitutional violations---or as the Inquirer editorial put it, with his "worst lame-duck fears come to life." In plain language, political survival.   

No, citizens who do not want P-Noy to have a second term and who want to retain the term limit for solons (two terms for senators and three for House members) will just have to derail the Congressional Charter-change train predicted to be pulling out of the station by middle of next year.

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This does not mean I'm closed to Charter amendments---far from it. But I would  not want those sitting in office to decide constitutional amendments, as this crucial exercise would be self-serving for them and would dilute the high moral caliber of such effort.

In 1997, when followers and admirers of President Ramos were campaigning for a shift to parliamentary with FVR to serve as first Prime Minister, I was approached by a dear friend, the late Rome-based Filipino sculptor/painter Tomas Concepcion whom FVR appointed as sectoral representative for Overseas Filipinos (and later decorated by President Arroyo with the Presidential Merit Medal in Rome for his artistic skills). Tom asked if I could support extending FVR's term either as President or as PM. I said that while I admire and respect FVR highly and feel he was quite effective especially in tackling the energy problem inherited from Cory Aquino and handling the MNLF problem, I cannot buy extension of term of any incumbent or automatically installing him as PM.  

Many citizens, including Cory Aquino who “anointed” FVR, felt that way too . Cory argued to him that "no one is indispensable" and draft-FVR fizzled out. Pity she's no longer around to drum the same thing into her son's head.

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I feel the same way today. I feel that we ought to write soon a new Constitution (the very idea enshrined in BayanKo) to enable us to shift to the much-delayed parliamentary/unicameral system. A critical provision, however, should be to bar the incumbent President from participating in the new parliamentary elections, and this prohibiting clause should be categorically stated in the Transitory Provisions, while explicit term limits for MPs and an unambiguously-defined Anti-Dynasty provision should be stated in the main body.

We should have fresh elections for parliamentary districts and the PM elected by the newly-elected MPs.  The latter half of this year and 2015 could be devoted to a nation-wide information campaign on rewriting the Constitution and the  crucial shift in form of government---to be undertaken by the various faiths (this is where the multi-faith National Transition Council would come in), NGOs, professional organizations led by the 50,000-strong IBP, academe, business sector, artists, etc. 

A plebiscite on the Charter could be held on the 29th anniversary of the 1987 Constitution in February 2016 and first parliamentary elections in May that year.   

It would be ideal if P-Noy could be persuaded to campaign for this new Constitution and parliamentary elections in 2016 and then retire as ex-President, with this basic law as his lasting legacy.  It would also be ideal if the members of Congress could put patriotism and love of country first over ambition and self-aggrandizement, and encourage the writing of this new charter and elections with fixed term limits. 

Such occasion would be a rebirth for the nation. We can dream, can't we?

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Marinduque Rep. Gina Ongsiako Reyes

The battle royale in the House between incumbent Marinduque Rep. Gina Ongsiako Reyes and defeated rival Lord Allan Velasco is far from over and complicating ramifications involve the Supreme Court where Velasco’s father, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, is a member as well as the chair of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

To refresh you readers’ memory, the provincial board of canvassers of Marinduque proclaimed Reyes as rightful winner in 2013, after which she was proclaimed in a mass-swearing in by no less than the President at Malacanang and by Speaker Belmonte at the opening of Congress in July 2013. Since then she has sat as member of the House.

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The first complication came when Comelec began questioning her assumption into office, based on the claim on an anonymous blogger in the Internet that Reyes allegedly is not a Filipino citizen and in fact uses an American passport. On this flimsy basis Comelec is belatedly annulling Reyes' proclamation and declaring Velasco winner; the SC is said to uphold this decision. 

Reyes has fought this issue of her alleged US citizenship and interestingly, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes himself filed a dissenting opinion stating that evidence on hand vs. Reyes (from the unnamed blogger) is mere hearsay.  Interestingly too, the dissenting opinion of an SC justice very clearly stated that the Court and Comelec should not rely on a blog to judge whether a person is Filipino or not.

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In answer to this issue, the Reyes camp asserts that Sec. 17, Art. VI, the “Legislative Department,” of the Constitution provides that all questions pertaining to the election of House members fall under the jurisdiction of the HRET. This constitutional principle has been upheld in the past year, enabling Reyes to stay in office.

Recently, however, in anticipation of convening HRET for the second regular session of the 16th Congress on Aug. 28, the “draft decision” allegedly prepared by a prominent SC justice-member of the HRET is being circulated among its members (a copy was sent to Reyes by a concerned House member). The Reyes camp alleges that this “draft decision” aims to convince Comelec and the SC to belatedly disqualify her in favor of Justice Velasco's son and to allegedly "precondition and influence the disposition by the other (HRET) members of (this) case."

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Reyes is appealing to HRET members to stand by their conviction stated in their earlier ruling upholding her election, and reject the move to install her rival. She also pleads with Speaker Belmonte to protect the dignity of the entire House by granting her a fair hearing where first-hand evidence can be considered before reaching a decision---instead of the only evidence  offered by an internet blog whose author has not been revealed, much less surface. 

Reyes rightly asks, “Is there really such a person at all?" Her camp asserts that neither the Comelec nor SC knows for sure, and yet, there seems to be a concerted effort to ease her out through this “draft decision” on the eve of HRET’s convening. 

"This uncharacteristic haste in deciding a case that would benefit the son of a colleague in the HRET is clearly wrong and most improper, protests Reyes, who warns that such act would set a very destructive precedent that can only weaken HRET for eternity."

Indeed, is there a Phantom, not of the Opera but of the House?



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Moment of decision for advocates of Charter Change: continue to push it or postpone now that P-Noy has opened up on intent to stay longer in power. His recent TV pronouncement clearly shows he wants to ensure that his successor would buy him freedom from accountability to the people---safe from a jail term.




When I  wrote here two months ago that the House of Representatives is all geared up to undertake Charter Change to prolong the stay of President Aquino in power, few of my readers were inclined to believe it as it sounded like a wild story. My inside sources had warned that amending the Charter would be a fait accompli by next year, but it seemed unlikely at that time, since the President had been resisting “tinkering” with his mother’s Charter all along; only Speaker Sonny Belmonte and a small group were  pushing cha-cha to amend some economic provisions.  

But the other night P-Noy in no uncertain terms asserted in an interview with Channel 5’s legal analyst Mel Sta. Maria that he’s now open to amending the Constitution and staying longer in power if his “bosses” want him to. With that pronouncement, expect the administration cha-cha train to steam out of the station PRONTO---unless we the people and patriotic, right-thinking legislators (meron pa bang right-thinking reps, aside from the tiny minority in the House?) derail it.

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There’s a convergence of reasons for P-Noy’s change of heart. One is that since DBM Secretary Florencio Abad made it clear in the media two months ago that the President gave the go-signal for each and everyone of those DAP releases, he has become fearful of going to jail, along with Abad, for constitutional violations of DAP. 

Hence P-Noy's refuge now is to be able to lift the term-limit provision in the Constitution, so that he gets to stay longer, while ensuring that his LP anointed gains power after him to protect him. While VP Jejomar Binay, the acknowledged front-runner in the 2016 elections, has had close ties with the Aquinos since EDSA days, P-Noy cannot really predict what the Opposition would do to him once out of office.

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Then too, when the Supreme Court knocked down PDAF and parts of DAP as unconstitutional, P-Noy lost the sources of his bribery to gain support of members of Congress---or at least the SC has made it much tougher now for him to make use of PDAF and DAP clones. Thus the SC has now become his favorite punching bag---his bĂȘte noire---and he found ostensible reason for charter change: to clip the SC’s vast powers that, he claims, are being used excessively vs. the Executive and threatening its “reforms.”

What's sad is that the President has little qualms about destroying institutions just to carry out his personal agenda or protect his flank.


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 Advocates of Charter Change have grown by leaps and bounds as realization sank over decades that the presidential system cannot sustain the country to progress. They now feel that a shift to a parliamentary/unicameral system, instead of the cumbersome and ultra-expensive presidential/bicameral system, and amending certain economic provisions, have become imperative. 

But now, with P-Noy’s allies controlling Congress and displaying feudal obeisance to his whims and fancies, valid goals of Charter Change might be obscured, at least for the moment, by the President’s desire to prolong his term to escape accountability to the people.

In view of these realities, we advocates of Charter Change have to assess our moves and bring our case directly to the sovereign people, from whom all power is supposed to emanate. Perhaps the means provided by the Constitution for People's Initiative, where 12 percent of total registered votes, at least three percent of them in every legislative district, could effect amendment of the Charter more reliably than the tuta Congress sitting as constituent assembly.

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From indications, P-Noy takes setbacks very seriously. Soon after he assumed office in July 2010, the story's told that he invited to the Palace CJ Renato Corona, whom he has a great distaste for as a “midnight appointee” of his equally distasteful predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to coax him to resign. Corona refused, arguing that to do so would make him look guilty of a violation. 

After that flat No! from Corona, executive and legislative cohorts of P-Noy carried out the grand plan to subject him to the most dreadful shaming of a public official ever through the impeachment process. The dislike for Corona was aggravated by the SC unanimous ruling under his watch to distribute lands of Hacienda Luisita to its farmer-tenants, and its majority decision to award these lands at 1989 prices instead of at current prices.

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Today the country is witnessing a second round of harassment of the SC, which could be rightly read as a constitutional crisis in progress---pitting Executive and Legislative vs. the Court. The SC, ironically headed by P-Noy's appointee, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, is being harassed by the same gang in the House and Senate that engineered Corona’s impeachment and conviction.

Aside from forcing CJ Sereno to show up in the House committee on justice hearing, headed by the fiercely obeisant Rep. Niel Tupas---which fortunately she has the guts to ignore---the SC’s budget, whose release is automatically guaranteed by the Constitution to assure its independence, has been progressively reduced even as legislators’ funds continue to flow generously.  

In the proposed 2015 National Budget the SC’s budget of P19 .3 billion registers only a 5% increase and yet Tupas and Co. are tearing their hair over it,  as well as over SC’s Judicial Development Fund. And to top it all, there’s the threat of impeachment hanging over the SC justices that, after what Corona underwent, has traumatized them.

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For P-Noy to marshal continued support of Congress he has to rely mainly on the strategy that has served him well over the past four years: to indulge the pork-hungry lawmakers even after the SC had struck out their major sources of funds.  Recall that in the battle over the RH bill pending in Congress for over 13 years, P-Noy used pork barrel funds without qualms. As ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio asserted then, P-Noy allegedly gave P250 million to each House member supporting that bill, and his accusation was never denied. Cabinet members also staked out at the House lounge to pressure representatives to vote yes to the RH bill. 

In P-Noy's new battle against the SC---and to ensure that his support in Congress is not eroded---his House allies are making sure that lump sum allocations are embedded in the proposed National Budget for 2015, disguised as a new definition of “savings." According to authoritative sources, the P20.7 billion PDAF budget (or P70 million per House member) that was outlawed by the SC last year has actually been retained in the 2015 budget of six executive agencies---with access guaranteed to each solon. 

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Thus, EACH representative is authorized the following allocations: P23 million for bridges and roads courtesy of DPWH; P14 million for scholarship grants by CHED; P14 million for dole-outs under DSWD, P10 million for medical aid through DOH; P3.5 million for training projects under TESDA and P3.5 million for livelihood projects through DOLE. 

Add these items up and it’s nearly P70 million per representative. Yes, PDAF is alive and well. 

The health and education items were said to be peddled by Health Undersecretary Janet Garin and CHED Chair Patricia Licuanan (et tu, Tati Licuanan?) to House members as still their very own PDAF, during a secret closed-door meeting in the House a few days ago. Interestingly, it was the same ACT Rep. Antonio Tinio who exposed this new bribe attempt through video.

All of these mysterious goings-on in the House are what you may call, to borrow the title of a popular short story in the '60s, "Other Voices, Other Rooms."


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ellen Tordesillas' story about Hyatt 10 forcing P-Noy to retain Abad draws terse denial from Ging Deles, but public doubtless believes story, as Hyatt 10 has track record of asking Presidents to resign. Move viewed as blackmail of P-Noy as his survey ratings plunge to lowest. Assertion and denial of presidential term extension and VP Binay's anointment as LP candidate for 2016 push arguments for National Transformation Council, as Chit Pedrosa asserts.



Hyatt 10 officials in a photo from Rigoberto Tiglao's Manila Times column


A few days ago, longtime Malaya columnist and Vera Files writer Ellen Tordesillas wrote that the political group referred to since 2005 as the “Hyatt 10” had pressured President Aquino to retain DBM Secretary Florencio Abad. This meant that they asked P-Noy to ignore the wish of his sisters to let Abad go in view of the enormous controversy he has kicked up over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP)---especially following the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision last July 1 to declare parts of it unconstitutional.  

Ellen wrote that Aquino sisters Ballsy Cruz, Pinky Abellada and Kris Aquino saw their brother Noy (a fourth sister, Viel Dy, did not come along) about dismissing Abad as the only way to save their brother's presidency. Ellen wrote that he “appeared convinced by his sisters.” I might add that soon after, news was rife that Abad was on his way out---and this was interpreted by analysts as a move this time to draw intense public outrage over DAP away from President Noynoy himself; in fact, to save him. Letting Abad go would have been a popular move.

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But then came the Hyatt 10 counter-attack. Ellen wrote that four of them, namely DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Peace Process Adviser Ging Deles and Commission on Oversees Filipinos Secretary Mely Nicolas, trooped to the Palace to talk P-Noy out of his sisters’ idea of junking their colleague Butch Abad. Not only that, Ellen claimed that the Hyatt 10, in fact, THREATENED TO RESIGN EN MASSE if P-Noy let Abad go. 

It was nothing short of a blackmail of P-Noy but it worked. Soon news reports said the President informed his officials at the Cabinet meeting that he had turned down Abad's “non-irrevocable” offer to resign. Most prominent among those applauding were the Hyatt 10 officials, but VP Binay did not clap. 

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What was interestingly was that it took a number of days before anyone from Hyatt 10 responded to media’s many queries about Ellen's story. It came in the form of a terse text message received by RG Cruz of Abs-CBN from Secretary Ging Deles which said: I firmly deny that there was such an effort by Hyatt 10.”

Deles' denial sounded quite lame, especially when considered that Ellen is a veteran journalist with an enviable track record of ferreting out inside info about various personalities, and has high credibility. Her column on Hyatt 10’s pressure on P-Noy gained traction right away among readers and the story went around.  Reaction in various quarters, including those anti-P-Noy, was almost uniform:  the presumptuousness and ill-concealed arrogance and self-righteousness of this group.

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Actually, even before Deles' denial, I had no doubt that the story was true---for pressuring Presidents to resign seems to be fast becoming a habit with this group which one analyst termed as “just a lobby group for their selfish interest.”

Recall that in on the morning of 8 July, 2005 ten Cabinet officials of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo held a press conference at the Hyatt Hotel to ask her to resign (hence the monicker),  following controversy over her having called a Comelec official to allegedly cheat for her (GMA's version: simply to ensure that her one million lead over FPJ was protected amid talk of cheating attempts by her opponent's people). 

But just a week earlier these very same Cabinet officials were the ones who had coaxed GMA to make her now-famous "confession" and "I'm sorry" spiel,  against the advice of prominent House solons such as Camarines Sur's Luis Villafuerte and other Cabinet members. After GMA's "confession," the Hyatt 10 people went through the motions of gathering at the Palace and serenading her with that now infamous song, “So long as we’re together,” arms and hands linked together---ONLY TO QUIT ON HER LATER. 

Purisima and Abad even secretly flew to Hongkong to persuade then Vice President Noli de Castro to resign with them, but Noli refused.

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Recall, too, that the Hyatt 10’s resign call on GMA was carefully planned to dovetail with the move of former President Cory Aquino to suddenly appear in  Malacanang Palace in the evening of July 7, in the company of, among others, then Bishops Socrates Villegas of Balanga and Luis Antonio Tagle of Imus, to demand her resignation. 

GMA, “tough as nails,” as Manila Times writer Yen Makabenta described her recently in his own recollection, listened quietly, said a firm No to their demand, and then calmly ushered her callers to the door. The next day, Friday, July 8, Cory Aquino, accompanied by Mila Drilon, motored to Assumption Convent, just as she had done the day before, hoping to be able to broadcast from that school (her and GMA’s alma mater) her demand on GMA to resign. An ABS-CBN OB van had waited for two days outside the school to telecast Cory's historic broadcast, but in both instances the Assumption sisters turned down her request and she was forced to retreat to Cojuangco Bldg. to make that broadcast.

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What followed in the next five or six hours was a fantastic rally for GMA that probably would be difficult to replicate in any clime. At the behest of then Speaker Joe de Venecia, an overwhelming number of House legislators trooped to Malacanang in the early afternoon of that day to pledge their support for the embattled President. Later GMA and former President Fidel Ramos (who was tracked down by phone by De Venecia at the Alabang golf course), rode together in the presidential limo to Sulo Hotel in Quezon City where another rambunctious legislative show of force occurred.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, also rallying to GMA, wondered aloud who those resigning Cabinet members were, as he noted that many of them were unknown and “insignificant.” Are they cooks in the Palace, or the washing lady perhaps? JPE queried with mock disdain.

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By contrast, the Hyatt 10 circa August 2014 found a President particularly vulnerable and bereft of the political poise and iron will displayed by his predecessor, with endless issues bedeviling his administration. Surveys saw P-Noy’s rating plunging to all-time low after the SC ruling vs. DAP, the scandals the DAP list revealed; and the intransigence of his House allies against that SC ruling reflecting on P-Noy.  As problem after problem in his administration erupted, the Hyatt 10 realized how weakened their President has become. They went for the jugular---forcing him to back off from firing Abad as his sisters wanted him to do.  

One reason for Hyatt 10's members' fierce instinct to SURVIVE TOGETHER is doubtless their fear that one or two or three of them could go to jail after P-Noy's term. 

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With the Hyatt 10 blackmail confusion seems to have reigned among the Cabinet and advisers. One item floated an extension of P-Noy’s term, with no less than DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, P-Noy's presumed anointed,  even endorsing it. The SC, however, quickly shot it down as unconstitutional---unless, of course, the Charter is amended. Rah-rah boys in the House chorused approval of cha-cha, even as they sought to assure a distressed public it won't include the lifting of term limits. But of course, tell that to the Marines! 

The float of P-Noy's term extension fails to cope with the reality that he has become quite unpopular even with the masa, due to the rise of prices of basic commodities, the wanton pampering of legislators and select LGUs with DAP, the insensitive attempt by the House to fashion a “DAP clone’ and its head-on clash with the SC. 

Just before the SONA, the President asked for people’s support by wearing yellow ribbons. But the story is told that in one Cabinet meeting he asked what reaction there was to his request and he was told bluntly that there was none---no one wore yellow or those ribbons, except DAP congressmen. The story goes that infuriated with this info, he then said he would resign. The frantic Cabinet moved to placate him. 

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Soon came the new float that the LP was not averse to recruiting Vice President Binay from the opposition and drafting him as LP standard-bearer for 2016. Curiously enough, this float found support from one politico who should have been offended, Secretary Mar Roxas, who was quick to say he wouldn't mind running as Binay's VP. Just as suddenly the Aquino sisters chorused that they don't have anything against Binay’s running as P-Noy’s handpicked, for after all, the VP's ties with their family go a long way. 

It's evident that for the Aquinos, recruiting the VP and campaigning to make him win would be buying insurance against a GMA scenario for P-Noy. The Veep himself affirmed this float and asserted that indeed, “nothing is impossible in politics.” 

The Opposition, of course, is discombobulated by this recent development, as Binay has been their man and they're confident that he's the candidate to beat. Mayor Erap Estrada wants to have a heart-to-heart talk with his erstwhile UNA candidate soonest. 


Given all this confusion and the grotesque turn of events, the National Transformation Council being floated by civic-minded citizens for a morality-based governance, as Star's Chit Pedrosa advocates in her column, does seem like an idea whose time has come.