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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.

Friday, September 5, 2014

As the Senate indulges in prolonged political muck-raking ahead of 2016, pre-empting the Ombudsman’s role, inter-faith leaders of National Transformation Council call for restoration of our badly-damaged political institutions. Cardinal Vidal reminisces about interventionist roles he played in recent history--- thereby emphasizing, as Thomas Paine put it, that “It is the duty of the Patriot to protect his country from its government.”



What has been happening to Congress encapsulizes the saddening socio-political morass denounced by inter-faith leaders and those from various walks of life, who gathered last Aug. 27 in Lipa City, Batangas, to sign the “Lipa Declaration.”

Over 400 leaders signed (continuing on-line) this history-making document---calling upon the “National Transformation Council” to, among other things, assume the “urgent and necessary task of restoring our damaged political institutions to their original status and form, before we begin to consider electing a new government under normal political conditions.”

How severely damaged our political institutions have become---and how imperative and urgent their restoration!

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Over the past weeks, the Senate--- once the repository of lofty and eloquent speech and even loftier thoughts, so that college students from Ateneo, UP and other schools would flock to its galleries to listen to formidable debates among political giants---has degenerated into an undisguised  political tool for muck-raking, with no pretenses to anything else.  

For instance, the Senate has been holding hearings on allegations of big-time corruption in Makati City since the time of then Mayor, now Vice President, Jejomar Binay, and Sen. Antonio Trillanes has brought in various witnesses to testify and build up this issue against VP Binay and his successor-son, Mayor JunJun Binay.  It’s obvious that Trillanes is motivated by his desire to bag at the very least the vice-presidency in 2016 and destroy the opposition led by the Binays.

The day of reckoning for this Makati dynasty has arrived, especially since the Veep is widely acknowledged as the most likely winner in 2016---if an election would be held then, which at this moment looks iffy. But the fact that investigation into the long reign of the Binays in Makati is being held right in the halls of the Senate by staunch allies of President Aquino, with full blessing of Senate President Franklin Drilon who chairs the LP, smacks of the unbridled politicking that has been destroying the image of this once-venerable institution.

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Former Sen. Joker Arroyo

Former Sen. Joker Arroyo, who has been away from the Senate for just over a year, has decried the trial by publicity being conducted by his former colleagues in the Blue Ribbon Committee, which has been criticized as the Yellow Ribbon Committee. Arroyo lamented that “After viewing the spectacle of a nationally televised hearing, (the people) are left hanging and unedified because in the end, the Committee does not prepare a Committee Report.” Without this Committee report, rightly says Arroyo, “what will the Ombudsman---or DOJ act on or base its investigation?”

Arroyo likened this failure to “a judge who hears a case but does not render a written decision.” Why no such decision? Let this blogger answer his query: it’s because the senators realize that the hearings were conducted faultily, but that never mind, the end has been achieved: to harass the witnesses.

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A Sandiganbayan associate justice warned recently about “(fixing)  COA or else we cannot lick corruption in a hundred years.” That is true---corruption has become a way of life for us Filipinos and COA has to do its duty without fear or favor, impartial to the end if it is to make a difference. But the proper venue for airing charges and investigating political figures is not the Senate---especially in a politically charged climate already too preoccupied with 2016. The LP-led Senate has too many things it ought to concentrate on, rather than investigate and politically slay rivals for power.

The right institution to conduct investigation of the Binays and  other public figures suspected of corruption---be they allies of the President or in the Opposition--- is the Office of the Ombudsman, but it seems that its moves cannot match the TV  heat and the headlines generated by a Senate hearing.

Politics and politicking hang over this nation like a gigantic stink and it’s depressing. But what's even more depressing is that our politicians have become so callous and arrogant that they don’t seem to care any longer for their reputation or that they’re destroying their once-venerable institution. Remember how Drilon lawyered for the prosecution in the Corona trial and for Abad in the hearing on DAP.

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Ricardo Cardinal Vidal

The venerable Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, former CBCP President and former Primate of Cebu and now one of the key leaders of the National Transition Council, may be already stooped by age, but his memory of recent contemporary events has not dimmed. At Lipa City Cardinal Vidal, as though to justify the intervention that various faith leaders are doing in our current unedifying politics, recalled that as CBCP President and chair of the first assembly in January 1986--- just before the snap elections---he led the Church hierarchy in reporting on the massive cheating during the snap elections of the following month. The bishops’ pastoral letter  denouncing the massive fraud was a watershed in the string of incredible events in 1986.

Vidal recalled in Lipa that theologians in early 1986 had insisted on the call for change of government and how it was the moral obligation of the clergy to lead the people. Vidal recalled that Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, did just that: he rallied people to EDSA (I might add that in fact Sin woke up by phone the Carmelite sisters at New Manila and ordered them to go down in prayer ON THEIR KNEES that evening and to remain kneeling until he ordered them to stand up). The rest is history.

Interestingly, history is repeating itself. The bishops at Lipa, joined by their Protestant brother-ministers and Ulamas from Mindanao have asked Filipino “patriots” to defend their country and their beloved institutions now being destroyed systematically by the inept and corrupt Aquino administration.

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Cardinal Vidal recalled two other “intervention roles” he had to play. President Cory asked him to talk to Gen. Jose Comendador who was sympathetic to the rebel forces fighting her government in 1989.  Vidal recalled that the general looked sick when he asked him to surrender. Comendador wanted to do this atop Mactan Bridge in Cebu, to which Vidal retorted, “Napaka-artistahin mo naman.” Finally the rebel general surrendered without the prelate around.

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The other interventionist role Vidal played was when a special plane from Cebu flew him to Manila to petition then President Joseph Estrada to stop his plan to call for snap elections.  Erap couldn’t make up his mind about the request by then, so Vidal took leave to fly back to Cebu as it was the Feast of the Sto. Nino which he was leading. But right after the celebrations the Cardinal flew back to Manila and continued the dialogue with Erap. In a while the historic utterances were publicly broadcast to the nation: “To avoid bloodshed, for the sake of the Filipino people, I leave Malacanang.”

The rest is again history: President Macapagal Arroyo was sworn into office in January 2001 by then Chief Justice Hilario Davide. Not too long afterwards the trial of Estrada before the Sandiganbayan began on charges of corruption and soon he was convicted and charged with house arrest in his mountain estate in Tanay.  The day after, a number of high-level politicians allied with GMA campaigned her to pardon of Erap.

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What do these interventionist roles played by amiable Cardinal Vidal indicate for our current times and multi-faith leaders?  It is best summed up in the memorable and timely words of English 18th century political writer Thomas Paine: “It is the duty of the Patriot to protect his country from its government.”      (Write-up on “Lipa Declaration” to be continued)

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