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, September 21, 2014

Classical pianist Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz jabs at conscience-less politicians amid troubling images of Filipinos surviving Friday's great floods. Rep. Toby Tiangco,demanding full disclosure of DAP from Abad, went to answer Nature's call and came back to budget session quickly suspended. Next time, he thundered into House records, "If I take a leak on the floor, you can't castigate me for disorderly conduct."

Classical Filipino pianist Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz, the Manhattan School of Music-trained founder of the Orchestra for the Filipino Youth (OFY) and memorable to scores of fans for his incomparable renditions of Chopin, had a mouthful to say about the great deluge that sank Metro Manila last Friday. Jovianney’s statement echoes the sentiment of all Filipinos:

“It's perplexing to realize that no administration has solved the flooding issue in the Philippines. Aren't the current images of Filipinos going through floods enough to wake up anyone's conscience or do we need another Typhoon Yolanda? 

"Maybe if the top 100 politicians with the highest statements of assets and liabilities took 10% of their pork barrels or better yet, their salaries and placed them in a 'flood solution pot', there could be less Filipinos suffering. Only then could they call themselves nationalistic because nationalism partially means sacrificing yourself for the nation, Referring especially to those who have much to let go: "Whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." 

"But then again, I'm just a musician. What do i know?”

My reply to Jo-Em Cruz: plenty, for as an artist with highly sensitized feelings you see and feel the misery of our people. It’s also interesting that reaction to all the misery around us in this hapless country is coming from all quarters---be it a multi-award-winning classical pianist, the tricycle driver braving the floods to make a living, the mother providing safe-hand to her beleaguered family, a soldier heroically trying to save others with just a rope over treacherous waters, or a teacher continuing classes with half-submerged students. 

Sadly it is catastrophes such as last Friday’s that are the regular binders of the nation and our people, when we could use more communal blessings instead.


Thus, the protest demonstration by UP students against Budget Secretary  Florencio Abad outside the UP School of Economics last Wednesday evening, Sept. 17, can be considered one such binder in our national misery.  After the student-organized forum where this most controversial Cabinet official spoke, the protest deteriorated into violence as he was leaving the premises---with some blocking his way and shouting invectives and slogans, and some pelting him with coins and paper balls, and one or two of them even grabbing Abad by the collar. 

23 members of the UP Economics faculty deplored in “the strongest terms” the “hooliganism” of the protesters and called on University authorities to impose corresponding punishments on the demonstrators. One wonders, however, why the UP Eco faculty did not join the demonstrators nor other protest gatherings, nor even issue statements denouncing the abuse of public funds by this administration. 

More than anyone of the disciplines, it's the economists who ought to understand the hooliganism that Palace manipulators of public funds did. 


This is the kind of instance when each Filipino is asked to make a stand, and indeed, in the social media there’s an avalanche of comments, mostly  hailing the action of the angry UP students. 

I must emphasize that I never encourage violence in expressing feelings or reactions; over decades of participating in historic events I have always espoused peaceful demonstrations and dialogue as the rationale approach is more effective. Re the UP confrontation the students had every right to vent their anger and protests---through placards and slogans--- over the notorious dissipation of public funds by Secretary Abad and his and his boss' destruction of state institutions through bribery and corruption. But I lament  the manhandling he underwent from one or two students who obviously lost control of their senses. 


Unfortunately, it's also clear, as history has shown us, that mass actions indeed deteriorate into violent reactions. In fact Abad should thank his lucky stars he wasn't dumped into a trash bin like that unfortunate Ukraine parliamentarian. 

For the fact is that out there is a whole lot of people angry and upset with this administration, but the latter obviously remains oblivious to the prevailing sentiments---preferring until now to believe the lullaby-inducing data of survey groups with inter-locking directorates, or political sycophants out for more pork barrel. 

But it’s obvious that demonstrations with varying intensity will be part and parcel of our times, and in fact even as Abad was hounded by the UP students, the President he serves has also been on the receiving end of demos in various parts of our country, as well as in Europe on his state visits, and expectedly in New York and Washington D.C


I’ve always admired Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, he of the smart, well-tailored suits and salt-and-pepper hair and preppy, au courant hairstyle. Chatting with him on the phone, Toby told me with a laugh that he already gave up that hairstyle and is sporting a more  conventional look, to distinguish him from the preppies.  But never mind, I sense that this young (he’s turning 47 this November) two-term representative, who’s the Sec-Gen and articulate spokesperson of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), will be the same principled guy whose career I’ve followed for a while now.

Toby  first impressed me  during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona over two years ago, when he offered to be witness against the railroading of the majority vote vs. the Chief Magistrate---by certifying that he refused to sign the impeachment complaint because he was not given time to read it. That took courage, given the vengeance of the administration against CJ Corona, but Toby was again on the losing side during the RH bill debates and voting.

In a chamber where support for an issue often depends on the size of the bribe envelop, it does help that Toby comes from a wealthy family whose fortunes were built on the fishing industry in Navotas---thus he could be truly independent of the dictates of the powers that be. But I suspect that swimming against the tide comes naturally to this young legislator regardless of outcome. 


Over the weeks of deliberations on the 2015 budget Toby has been pressing to get full accounting from DBM Secretary Abad on his "diabolic" invention (as Times columnist Bobi Tiglao terms it)--- the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Toby's math is simple: if some P10 billion was set aside from the P144 billion DAP (or roughly 7% of DAP) for the Corona impeachment for both chambers in mid-2012, and if P1.88 billion was spent for the impeachment vote of 188 representatives and some P2 billion for 20 senators' conviction vote, what happened to the P7 billion unaccounted for in Abad's list? Toby suspects it went to the Palace duo's contingency fund. 

Tiangco pressed Abad for the list of solons and how their DAP was spent, and after weeks of being badgered, Abad finally gave him a supposed 139-page photocopy of what was submitted to the House leadership. Well and good---except that there were less pages and a lot more blanks in the names of solons in his copy. There were also generic headings for where solons' funds went--- ranging from the prosaic: "Various infrastructure and local projects (VILP)" to the more enigmatic and sentimental: "Protective services for individuals and families in especially difficult circumstances."  Nakakaiyak, di ba?


House leaders handling the budget proceedings would get quite upset at queries on specifics, but Tiangco found a way to force the issue: by questioning quorum at each hearing (majority of Aquino's allies did not care to attend anymore, as they knew it was already a fait accompli), and splitting hairs between "suspension of hearing" and "adjournment." Suspension of hearing means that even if the event was ended it could resume next day even without a quorum as it was only a continuation; whereas adjournment means another struggle for the House leaders vs. absenteeism. 

But after some time it was all-out brazenness: Toby just went to answer the call of Nature and immediately hearing was suspended. Next time, he thundered into the record, "If I take a leak on the floor, you cannot blame me for disorderly conduct." 

The budget with all those mysterious and unexplained lump sums will be passed by the steamroller House next week, but voters will remember how Toby Tiangco put up a good fight. Already in the internet, citizens are saying they want him in the Senate but he just wants to finish his third and last term. Citizens will remember him. 

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