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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, November 30, 2014

Would Pope Francis get real feel of Yolanda’s devastation without getting into Tacloban itself? The Palace, displaying such cavalier treatment of people’s money, asks for P23 billion in supplemental budget after P2.6 trillion national budget for 2015. Let’s press for opening the hearing on that issue to the public. Truly a sad day when DBM Secretary can only think of resorting to something unconstitutional---the DAP--- in moving economy forward.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno
Budget Sec. Florencio Abad

Pope Francis is scheduled to plane into Tacloban’s Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport this Jan. 16,  where he will officiate at Holy Mass in Latin, with mass songs mostly in Waray by a composite choir from various dioceses. From the airport he’ll be whisked off to the Palo Archdiocese where he’s scheduled to lunch with Palo Archbishop John Du and a few dozen poor families from Tacloban hard-hit by the super-typhoon. The Pope will then bless the new Pope Francis Center for the Poor also in Palo Archdiocese.

The fact that he'll go straight from Tacloban Airport to Palo and stay in Palo during his six or seven hour visit has made many people, including this blogger, wonder if Francis would get a chance to see the real situation in Yolanda’s Ground Zero, and the innumerable people still homeless and awaiting more decisive rehabilitation assistance from government more than a year after the super-typhoon struck.

Actually friends from Tacloban assure me that indeed Pope Francis will already get to see the huge damage to lives and property once he gets on the national highway to Palo from the airport---even if Palo Mayor Remedios Petilla should move many homeless away from there by January. I realize that the Pope won’t get into the interiors of Tacloban City anymore---but knowing his maverick reputation he might just do that.  I sure hope so.

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Star columnist Babe Romualdez, whose family hails from Tacloban (and who sounds more and more anti-P-Noy as weeks go by), cited today in his column IBON Foundation data that there are still 1.3 million homeless people in devastated Visayas who have sought shelter in evacuation centers, tents, bunkhouses and other makeshift dwellings. Romualdez also cited the testimony of an undersecretary of Rehab Czar Panfilo Lacson who admitted that it will take all of three years before the government can deliver the 14,000 plus houses needed in Tacloban City alone.

If you add the one year gone by after Yolanda to the three years before government can deliver those 14,000 plus houses for Tacloban, this means all of four years before the housing problem for that city's typhoon victims can be settled. The rehab work in devastated Visayas is just TOO SNAIL-PACED even for us comfortable here in Luzon and we can imagine how terrible the Visayans must feel. But what is even more disturbing is that the P-Noy government cannot give a reasonable accounting of just where all the relief funds---local and international---went. Babe Romualdez cites staunch administration ally Sen. Francis Escudero as asserting that he does not see the P173 billion allocated for Visayas relief for 2013 and 2014.

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Solons in Congress, ordinary citizens as well as local and foreign donors, it seems, are appalled at whatever happened to those funds allocated in the national budget for those two years. Where did they go? Where did all those billions in foreign aid and relief go?  Malacanang could only shrug its shoulders in seeming detachment and incompetent confusion. But what makes it worse is that it now has the temerity to submit and ask for, in addition to the P2.606 trillion National Budget for 2015, A SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET of P23 billion.

Supplemental means dagdag, pahabol, and yet, much of this P23 billion dagdag budget supposedly covers Eastern Visayas rehabilitation.  Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza put it correctly when he insists that the Executive Branch should first show Congress what happened to the Visayas rehab funds for the past years, before they could begin to talk of a supplemental budget.

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What’s more insulting, however, is that this supplemental budget is being demanded by the administration now, WITHOUT SPECIFIC DETAILS on where the P23 billion would go---THOSE PESKY (TO MALACANANG) details to follow na lang daw.

Prior to this demand, too, the legislators had re-defined the meaning of “savings” to be contrary to the spirit and dictate of the Supreme Court, with the Senate version worse than that of the House. In the Senate version the Executive could gather “savings” from any office at any time of the year, even during the start. Under this principle, what’s to stop the Executive from declaring an office to be under-performing or even not to staff it, in order to get its budget as “savings?”

Such cavalier treatment of the people’s money by Congress no end! Masyadong tuta na ang Senado.

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The House passed the P2.6 trillion national budget with near-unanimity, except for some 18 opposition representatives who fought valiantly against it. In the Senate only 13 showed up on voting day and they passed it unanimously. By next week the bicameral conference committee will thresh out differences between the two chambers’ versions. Given the near-complete subservience of Congress to Malacanang, however, the budget is expected to simply breeze through in time for the Christmas break. 

The P2.6 trillion budget for 2015 has justifiably earned the soubriquet of an "election budget,” as it shamelessly packed huge amounts into two or three departments that would be mobilized toward vote-getting at the grassroots. For instance, as Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago pointed out, why should the DILG under Secretary Mar Roxas be laden with P1.6 billion for a “patubig” project and huge funds for housing that should rightly fall under the National Housing Authority?  Also heavily to be endowed are the DSWD, whose conditional cash transfer, amounting to P64 billion this year, has done little to alleviate the condition of the poorest of the poor, and the DOH, which is why Janette Garin has to be installed at its helm.

The idea obviously is for the LP to solidify its hold on the elections of 2016 and to ensure victory of P-Noy’s hand-picked candidate at all cost. As various political pundits have noted, P-Noy cannot afford to lose those elections as the alternative for him could be a GMA scenario---imprisonment after his term.

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Now some left-wing representatives are insisting that the hearing on the P23B supplemental budget in the House next week be opened to the public. This is an excellent idea, but can we hope that our legislators would be patriotic and not swayed by grease money?  Fat chance.  But we should all still insist on a public hearing so we can inject some fear of God in our legislators’ hearts.

But probably the most insulting of many insults was the complaint of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad that due to the ruling last July 1 by the Supreme Court that declared parts of DAP unconstitutional, the Executive Branch was forced to cut down on spending---so that the Philippine economy contracted in the third quarter to 5.3 percent compared to 6.4 percent in the previous quarter, its weakest quarter since 2011. Abad said the SC ruling produced a “chilling effect” on government spending, which promptly drew a retort from SC Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. Slamming Abad for his finger-pointing (a sickness he obviously contracted from his boss), Sereno said that his opinion was just a “theory that remains as such---a theory.”

Rev. Ramon  B. Villena, Bishop of  Bayombong 

The High Court found an ally in Bayombong Bishop Ramon Villena who, in a recent scathing pastoral letter, scored the P-Noy government for priding itself as overcoming the corruption of the past, but which in reality has allowed pork barrel to balloon “to proportions heretofore unseen.” Villena scored Malacanang for continuing to defend it despite the SC ruling against PDAF and portions of DAP.  More and more bishops are finding the courage now to speak their sentiments. 

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It’s a silly blame-game played by Abad, for everyone knows P819 million of the multi-billion DAP, which the Palace bills as “spending stimuli” went primarily to bribing senators to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona (reports said P100 million each was given to then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, then Finance Committee Chair Franklin Drilon and Sen. Francis Escudero of Ways and Means, and the rest had slightly smaller amounts; House members who voted to impeach Corona were reputed to have bagged P15 million each).

It’s doubtless safe to conclude that the DAP STIMULATED MAINLY THE SENATORS' POCKETS AND LIFESTYLE, and that those huge sums were never invested in any worthwhile venture that would stimulate the economy.

It’s truly a sad day for this country when our Budget Secretary can only think of something unconstitutional such as the DAP to stimulate our economy.

  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Unrelieved congestion at Port of Manila (82,000 containers) shoots up prices of commodities as X'mas approaches. 200-year old Pedrosa mansion in Palo and 50 other old houses ordered bulldozed for "street widening"---little regard for Heritage.





I heard a TV personality last night airing complaints of Filipinos abroad, as to why their relatives in Manila have not yet received their balikbayan goodies they had sent early enough. A columnist in a Manila paper queried why, despite the prices of imported oil going down, the price of foodstuffs hasn’t come down. The answer to both these queries is simple: the congestion at the Port of Manila where all these shipped goods are forwarded, has not been alleviated. 

In my blog early last month, I wrote of the paralysis in the Port of Manila that's affecting the entire economy. The problem is that this has not been relieved but in fact it even worsened and magnified the urgency of a solution, as the Christmas Season is upon us.

There are presently some 82,000 containers (!) and no one seems to have a solution to getting these containers moving, other than President Aquino begging's for patience, patience, as his people try to seek solutions that haven’t come, But it’s four weeks to Christmas Day, when most of the goods in those container vans have to be under Christmas trees in homes or in windows of department stores. But they’re not. So prices of goods available will shoot up.

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Some days ago, I saw an urgent suggestion in the newspaper from the private sector asking Malacanang to appoint a PIER CZAR to handle the frightening congestion, but Palace reaction was to simply turn it down. It's just like the traffic in Metro Manila about which everyone complains, but  no explanation is being given on what's being done to alleviate congestion---both at the pier and on Metro Manila’s streets.

In what’s supposed to be a season of grace and cheer, tempers are rising and the businessmen are pretty turned off by loss of their markets and the increased costs of unwanted, and oftentimes unpredicted storage. Unfortunately, more attention even at this point is being made to politics---destroying the administration’s perceived enemies or trying to beef up support for whoever would be the LPs' candidate---when there are more immediate problems such as the congestion at the Port of Manila and the horrendous traffic.

Mr. Aquino should know that soon he’ll begin to look like Mr. Scrooge, the spoiler of Christmas.

XXX



A few days ago, lawyer Ramon Acebedo Pedrosa, who had served for a long time as president of the Alay sa Kawal Foundation that yours truly had founded in 1986, to help widows and orphans of ordinary soldiers killed in action, called Star columnist Domini Torrevillas and myself to a meeting titled HELP! Within ten minutes of explanation by Ramon and his lawyer, retired Judge Marino Buban of Palo, Leyte, where the Pedrosas hail from, I realized why they claim that they have "a problem worse than Yolanda.'

The Pedrosas, which count a number of prominent citizens---aside from lawyer Ramon Pedrosa, there's banker Carlos Pedrosa; the deceased Ambassador Alberto Pedrosa, former husband of Star columnist Carmen Navarro Pedrosa; Msgr. Augusto Pedrosa of the Manila Archdiocese, and civic leaders Josefina P. Manahan and Lita P. Hidalgo---are all descended from Luisa Acebedo and Don Pio Pedrosa, who had made a name as a prominent Cabinet member in several administrations. 

Palo in Leyte figures prominently in the next two months as plans call for Pope Francis to plane into Tacloban Airport where he'll say mass right at the tarmac; from there he’ll be driven right away to the Archdiocese of Palo a few kms.away to meet with Yolanda-stricken families of Tacloban over lunch in the residence of Palo Archbishop John Du. Unfortunately there seems no plan to let the Pope see the famous tent cities of the homeless in Tacloban. 

Given this background, the plight of Palo becomes even more urgent: in fact it has given birth to the "Save Palo Movement.”

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The Pedrosa ancestral house in Palo, Leyte before and after typhoon Yolanda

To put the plight of Palo in a nutshell:

There are about 300 old houses in the town center of Palo, along San Salvador St. and Don Pio Pedrosa Avenue, with some of them right in front of the Cathedral of Palo and the Archbishop’s residence. The oldest there is the 200-year old house that had belonged to the family of Luisa Noble Acebedo, who had married Pio Pedrosa.  Over past decades, as the large Pedrosa brood moved to Manila, the ground floor of the Pedrosa home was converted into a public library, paying no rent to the family.

The Pedrosa mansion played a distinct role in Palo’s history, for at one time or another it had played the role of municipio, jail, post office and municipal school. During the Revolution against Spain the mansion had served as headquarters of the Katipunan in Leyte. Upon landing at Red Beach, Palo, in October 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, former President Sergio Osmena, his aide-de-camp Gen. Carlos P. Romulo and the liberating forces stayed in the Pedrosa mansion. For decades afterwards, the house has served as public library of Palo, free of charge.

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The Pedrosa ancestral home before and after Yolanda


Then misfortune upon misfortune fell on the old homes: over a year ago Yolanda destroyed most of the prominent ones in that town center; the Pedrosa mansion, which boasted of typical Spanish architecture of 200 ago, was reduced to a mere shell (the old Palo Cathedral across was unroofed).. That’s how strong Yolanda was, but now, as the homeowners regard it, the "aftermath" could be far more damaging.  

Over the past years several notices from the DPWH have already been received by the owners of those iconic houses. The latest order came last month, which obviously sought to capitalize on the severity of the typhoon's damage---ordering them to demolish whatever was left by Yolanda in order to give way to "street-widening" that will ease up traffic congestion in that major thoroughfare.

If the homeowners refuse to cooperate, said the DPWH memos, it would bulldoze those houses and charge them for the labor and materials used, and make them answerable for their "obstinacy." The tenor of the orders seems worse than a throwback to the Marcos era. The homeowners lament that instead of helping them rebuild their homes, government chooses to make their lives more miserable by throwing them out into the streets. 

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The Pedrosa ancestral house in Palo, Leyte in happier times


The Pedrosas have the support of fellow home-owners in Palo and they are determined to fight the demolition and street-widening. What makes the case interesting is that there are already two by-pass roads, one in the East and another in the West, with complete funds available, and in fact one bypass road is already finished. The concerned homeowners stress that with these bypasses there would be no need for the street widening as congestion would ease up in the town center; it would also decrease pressure on the old Bernard Bridge between Palo and Leyte, which is already showing "over-use fatigue." 

What amazes the homeowners is that despite the definite ease-up of traffic with the completion of these road bypasses, the DPWH still insists on the widening of San Salvador St., which means demolishing all those old homes, including the iconic Pedrosa mansion. This lead family in the crusade has written Dr. Maris Diokno of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines for help and she has communicated to DPWH her desire for a conference, reminding it of RA 1066, on the preservation of heritage structures. 

The Pedrosas, backed up by 583 petitioners, have also written to Leyte officials including former Gov. and now Mayor of Palo Matin Petilla and, more importantly, to President Aquino---but to date no response has been received from anyone of them.

So what gives? For the fund of it? 

XXX

My quarrel with custodians of our heritage is that they always come in too late---take a look at the protests over the DMCI building behind Rizal Monument, now that it's almost finished. I also recall the destruction of the magnificent bahay na bato of the Yaptinchays in Binan, Laguna, which was the setting of the beautiful movie based on Nick Joaquin’s play, "Portrait of the Artist as Filipino," starring two great actresses, Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana and Naty Crame Rogers, as the spinster sisters guarding their home. I was able to visit that Binan mansion some time after I saw both movie and play by Nick Joaquin and how I admired it---so huge that it covered a whole block. I never saw anything like it in all the country. 

But unfortunately the next thing I knew, it was demolished and gave way to a shopping complex . Perhaps the heirs didn't think it much fun to be hearing someone dragging a heavy ball with chains in the middle of the night (as stories abounded about the mansion), but a government agency tasked to preserve such historic places could have taken over. 

It is truly mournful that we Filipinos have so little sense of history. Manila used to be a charming city with such lovely landmarks, but they are all going or gone. Let’s help in the crusade to preserve the old houses of Palo, Leyte. Please write letters to Sec. Singson, Commissioner Diokno, even P-Noy.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

First it was Lipa, then Cebu City and on to Butuan City as National Transformation Council marches on, amid growing discontent and frustration with current governance. Former DND Secretary Norberto Gonzales decries problems borne by corrupted budget, e.g, a million cases clogging courts due to lack of lawyers. Three young NTC stars, models for Filipino youth: Greco Belgica who won the case vs. DAP in SC; former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong who continues battling PCOS-machined elections, and religious leader/professor Christian Seneres, who advocates “judicial coup d’etat.”



The jampacked Butuan Assembly



First it was Lipa City last Aug. 27, hosted by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles. Then it was Cebu City last Oct. 1, hosted by Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, and then last November 11 it was Butuan City in the Caraga region, hosted by Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos, with Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, Archbishop of Zamboanga Romulo de la Cruz and other prelates and diocesan priests, Protestant Pastor Art Corpuz and imams from Mindanao joining some 2,000 citizens from all over the region.

From here on several assemblies are scheduled in Central and Southern Luzon, as well as in Davao City and a big one in Metro Manila and Northern Luzon, etc.

XXX

It’s not your typical hakot political rally where people are paid P300 per head, now here, gone in two hours---but the National Transformation Council (NTC) live and in action. NTC's assemblies draw big highly emotionally-charged crowds from various faith communities---led by archbishops and bishops, Protestant pastors and imams and ulamas from the Muslim sector, who lay down the spiritual and moral foundation for political action---as well as leaders and professionals of civil society who protest the Aquino administration’s incompetence and corruption. 

In the first three assemblies, a historic “Declaration” has been issued each time and signed by attendees, calling for President Aquino and his cohorts to step down in favor of other leaders who can do the job of governing far more competently and honestly. These twin issues of corruption and incompetence raised in each assembly are particularized to explore problems and solutions in the host region---the better to connect with the locals.

XXX

The NTC assemblies, reminiscent of past protest movements in Philippine history, are being stirred with INCREASING EMOTION in various places around the country. They add to the urgency of CHANGE in the current political landscape, where various national and local politicians are mired in charges and counter-charges of corruption---polluting the political atmosphere everywhere. The eagerness of ordinary citizens to attend these assemblies signals that people are truly seeking reform, not just of the corrupt and ineffective system and the bundle of politicos leading the nation, but also of the HEART AND MORAL FIBER of the nation.

Our people obviously are sick and ashamed of the political depravity which has become synonymous with our native land, and many have found in the NTC challenge the seeds of hope for a more MORAL and prosperous future that Filipinos failed to get under their political leaders---but which they more than fully deserve as a nation of HOLINESS AND HEROISM (to borrow a phrase from the National Prayer for the Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis).

In Butuan, a young tribal girl with a magnificent voice sang the EDSA Revolution’s anthem, “Bayan Ko,” provoking clenched fists once again and tears in many eyes. In Cebu City this blogger sat next to a woman leader from Mindanao who couldn’t stop crying throughout the NTC assembly led by Cardinal Vidal---she evidently felt a deep love for country, but also the pain of despondence and hopelessness over our lurid politics.

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In its editorial last Nov. 14, the Daily Tribune noted that in the Lipa Declaration, “the issues raised were corruption and Noynoy’s defiance of the Supreme Court in its ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as being unconstitutional.” In the Cebu Declaration, P-Noy was “again asked to relinquish the presidency as he was accused of selective justice in the pork barrel controversy, the failure to stem the rising extremism in the troubled parts of Mindanao, the lingering corrupt system of government and the use of a fraud-tainted automated election system.”

In Butuan City last Tuesday where 2,000 prayerful civic leaders from Caraga filled up the Big Daddy’s Hotel and Convention Center, the Butuan Declaration zeroed in on government negligence and incompetence in the wake of Yolanda’s first anniversary this month, the 7.2 magnitude earthquake of Oct. 15, 2013, that had destroyed centuries-old churches, public buildings and homes in Cebu and Bohol, and the killer floods that struck Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley last Dec. 4, 2012.

Butuan called for the NTC “to speed up its efforts to compel President Aquino to relinquish his position, so that the earnest work of national transformation could begin.” More than ever, said its Declaration, “we believe that peace and good governance in the country must begin in Mindanao” and I might add, that this is the land of promise envisioned many decades ago by the best-loved President of all, Ramon Magsaysay.

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The Butuan Declaration also joined the suffering people of Eastern Visayas and the Calamianes in demanding “a full and accurate accounting of the money and other forms of assistance which the Aquino government has received from foreign governments, multilateral institutions and other donors, and how, where and when they were used for the benefit of the victims.”

It also expressed grave concern over the “cavalier way” this administration has treated the “Mindanao problem” and the fact that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law now pending in Congress is not the fruit of honest and sincere consultations with our Muslim Brothers and their Christian friends and neighbors.” Butuan demanded a “creative approach to the Bangsamoro problem.”

The Butuan crowd also demanded a “solemn commitment from the Aquino regime…to put an end to monopolist activities which are trying to seize control of power distribution in Mindanao and beyond, through the use of political influence, intimidation and force”---as the NTC cast its lot with the millions of member-consumers of “AUTHENTIC ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES all over the country whose rights of ownership by virtue of their capital contribution are being ignored and violated by government officials…” 

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One of the leaders of NTC from its inception, former National Security Adviser and later Defense Secretary Norberto B. Gonzales of the Arroyo administration, took the floor in Butuan for the first time in an NTC Assembly. He hurled the challenge to the Filipino people to launch a PEACEFUL REVOLUTION, NOT A VIOLENT ONE,” to enable the nation to break the chains of poverty and helplessness that has gripped it over many decades.

Gonzales stressed that “we cannot anymore remain poor”---citing the pitiful need for classrooms at every school opening, and the million cases clogging our courts, depriving justice to the common man, because there are not enough lawyers hired to serve in the judiciary. All these crying needs are with us even as “trillions are needed in the budget, the more to make available to corruption and robbery,” Gonzales said, adding that a REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT is needed as the present system cannot contain all the problems of the country and, in fact, only serves as a “system of circumvention.”

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NTC's youthful superstars Christian Seneres, Greco Belgica and Glenn Chong

In Butuan the three young stars of NTC were also present---who are models of idealism, service to God and country for our young people. These are Dr. Greco Belgica, who filed and won the first case against DAP in the Supreme Court; Atty. and former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, who was cheated in the 2013 congressional elections and who has since dedicated himself to exposing the evils of the PCOS-machined elections; he has also joined other civic leaders in opposing in the SC the intended purchase of 42,000 PCOS units by Comelec for 2016 at the cost of P16.4 billion. There's also religious leader and professor Christian Seneres, who advocates a “judicial coup d’etat by the SC”, just like what happened in Egypt where the Court dissolved the lower chamber of parliament.” Seneres argues that our High Court can do this by ruling vs. the 2013 senatorial winners who were proclaimed by Comelec with indecent  haste even before significant results of the PCOS elections were in. 

Among the gems of thought left by the Butuan NTC Assembly to the attendees was this passage from St. Augustine during the 5th century of the Common Era: “Without Justice what would the great empires be but teeming broods of robbers.” How very true. Let’s do away with this teeming brood in our midst.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

By bypassing Tacloban and instead heading for Guiuan, P-Noy abdicated the Yolanda 1st anniversary stage to Marcos/Romualdez clan, but he discombobulates local folks by disclosing plan to transfer its airport to Palo, just 10 minutes from downtown Tacloban. Transfer may be a concession to the loyal political dynasty ruling Leyte, but it’s an insane and costly proposition. Nonong Cruz rumored to replace Brillantes at Comelec.










Taclobanons have every right to feel aggrieved that President Aquino skipped a visit to their devastated city---the Ground Zero of Yolanda---and decided instead to visit Guiuan in Eastern Samar on the first anniversary of the super-typhoon’s devastation yesterday. Obviously P-Noy wanted to avoid a clash with the “People Surge” coalition in Tacloban, who were preparing a hot and noisy protest reception for him owing to government’s very timid and late response to the survival crisis in that part of the country. Obviously he also wanted to avoid sharing the stage with the Marcos/Romualdez families.

But courage is the hallmark of true leadership and how many leaders around the world have walked through history braving confrontations like what the Taclobanons had planned. That’s what P-Noy is leader for---in good times with photo-ops cavorting with world leaders, as well as in tough times when he should confront anger and seething discontent, as well as political angst.

P-Noy, however, backed off from the showdown and this tago-nang-tago impression of the top leader will not be easy to live down.

By leaving a vacuum P-Noy allowed the Marcoses and Romualdezes to usurp the stage and commiserate with the Taclobanons by themselves, with Imelda shedding familiar tears. This could reinforce Bongbong's phalanx, or should he decide not to run in 2016, it could throw him ineluctably into VP Binay's camp under the time-worn dictum, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

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As though to rub salt on wounds of Taclobanons, P-Noy also announced his plan, supposedly on the advice of JICA, to close down the airport in Tacloban City and transfer it to historic Palo, the landing site of General MacArthur in October 1944---but also just 10 minutes from downtown Tacloban. The argument allegedly is that Palo would not be vulnerable to storm surges and tsunamis. Taclobanons shoot this down, however, as plain rubbish, for much of Palo was also destroyed by Yolanda. In fact its cathedral was rendered roofless and among the prominent ancestral houses there, that of the Pedrosas was totally destroyed.

The question on everybody’s mind is, so why move the airport at such costly expense (P12 billion) to a  nearby location, if not to further alienate the Romualdezes---because P-Noy is an Aquino and they are Romualdez? This move is being interpreted as a further concession to the Loreto-Petilla dynasty which counts with the Mayor of Palo, Remedios Loreto Petilla, mother of Energy Secretary Jericho “Icot” Petilla and Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Domenico Petilla. 

But this doesn’t change the fact that the proposed move of the airport to Palo just 10 minutes away is downright insane and unsound. In the first place, he cannot finish it in his remaining one and a half years. 

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Brothers Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Rep. Martin Romualdez are protesting P-Noy’s plan to transfer the airport, named after their forebear, the late former Speaker Daniel Z. Romualdez, and they insist that the P12 billion could be better utilized to help rebuild the lives of Yolanda survivors. The Romualdezes point out that Tacloban Airport was already operational 24 hours after the storm struck; in fact foreign assistance was coursed through it in the days after.

In view of P-Noy's disclosure, repair and rehab work on Tacloban's runway was suspended and travel to and from the capital will still be via Cebu. Because only light planes are allowed in that airport, the delay is already costing millions and millions in lost income to PAL and other airlines.

Another question: what happens to the Pope’s visit two months from now? there’s suspicion that one reason for wanting to close down the Tacloban airport may be that the administration actually does not want to encourage the Pope and foreign media to come to Tacloban (go to Guiuan instead?), so they don’t get to see the true state of rehabilitation there---the snail-pace of work and about a thousand families still living in tents. That’s not a remote possibility.

Speaking of Guiuan at the southern tip of Samar, the airport there where P-Noy landed yesterday is truly splendid and all-weather, including for super-typhoons. It was built by the Americans and as a young reporter for the Catholic newspaper then, the Sentinel, I had a chance to fly in and out from there. Taclobanons now argue that while their airport was shut down for commercial traffic after the storm, goods and people could also have been flown to Guiuan and then trucked across the San Juanico Bridge,  to helicopters on rescue missions to isolated towns. Apparently the dazed Cabinet members of P-Noy never thought of this contingency.

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The quarrel over the airport highlights the perpetually percolating politics in Leyte. If you readers recall, last Thursday I wrote about speculation that one reason Health Secretary Enrique Ona was asked to go on leave was the desire of the ruling LP to put in place true-blue allies in vital social services such as DOH and DSWD---in preparation for cementing their continuing hold on Malacanang in 2016. This could certainly be true in the case of acting Health Secretary Janet Loreto Garin, who boasts of a “double-connection” to perhaps the most prominent dynastic clan in the Visayas, the Petilla-Loretos of Leyte--- even though Garin herself served as three-term representative from Iloilo.

Here’s why she’d would be a valuable political asset to the LPs in 2016:  Garin’s mother is a Petilla from Leyte, sister of former longtime Leyte Gov. Leopoldo Petilla, who in turn is the father of Energy Secretary Jericho “Icot” Petilla and current Governor Leopoldo Domenico Petilla. On the other hand, Janet’s father is a Loreto, brother of former Leyte Governor and now mayor of Palo Remedios Loreto Petilla, mother of Secretary Icot and Gov. Domenico Petilla. Another Loreto sister of Janet’s father is  former Leyte Rep. and now controversial mayor of Baybay City, Leyte’s second largest city, Carmen Loreto Cari, who until now has a running electoral battle with candidate Malot Galenzoga-Baligod.

If you were P-Noy, you’d really court this dynasty’s loyalty by transferring the airport to Palo, away from the Romualdezes.

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Still on the political front: Comelec Chief Sixto Brillantes will retire this coming February and speculation has been that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima would succeed him. But recently another name is being bruited about which would make sense, as replacing the irreplaceable, fiercely loyal De Lima at DOJ would be truly tough for P-Noy. 

The latest name to emerge for the poll body’s chair is former GMA Defense Secretary and lawyer Avelino “Nonong” Cruz, who’s with the former Carpio Villaraza Cruz law office (partner Antonio Carpio was appointed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the SC where he is now the most senior Associate Justice). A Nonong Cruz appointment would be highly significant as he’s closely identified with LP presumptive presidential candidate Mar Roxas for 2016.

As an aside, this reinforces anew the Sigma Rho fraternity which counts with Carpio and Cruz.

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Recall that Cruz was chief lawyer of Roxas in his protest case against proclaimed winner Jejomar Binay in the 2010 vice-presidential race. In ensuing months, in the fierce rivalry for influence over P-Noy between the “Balay” and “Samar” factions (that persists to this day), Cruz is prominent in the Balay faction identified with Mar. Thus his appointment would doubtless be read as P-Noy’s earnestness to ensure the victory of Mar vs. presumed opposition candidate Binay.

The appointment of a new Comelec Chief is anticipated with bated breath by all politicos, especially because the two previous elections have demonstrated how crucial that office’s role is in this supreme political exercise---particularly vis-à-vis the controversy surrounding the much-derided PCOS machines, of which 42,000 units have been authorized by Brillantes for bidding before he bows out.  


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Was Secretary Ona let go because Usec Janet Garin, former staunch RH advocate in the House, would be more determined to push the RH Law into full implementation? 2015 Budget passed by House vote of 172 vs. 18, without a single cut and with "re-defination" of "savings, plus three-volumes "Errata" as high as several rulers. INC makes its feelings known to solons: leave Judiciary budget alone.



Secretary (on leave)  Enrique T. Ona of DOH    


Many speculations are swirling about the President’s move to make Health Secretary Enrique “Ike” Ona go “on leave” from his post and appoint Undersecretary Janet Garin as “acting Secretary.” These stories get “curiouser” by the day.

One story quoted Usec Garin and DOH sources as saying that Ona went on leave as he suffers from complications of an allergy to hair dye, while another report quoted P-Noy as saying he asked Ona to go on a month-long leave to enable him to explain the vaccination issue, and that his return to DOH’s helm would be dependent "on what his report would contain." The undisguised implication is that there’s some anomaly about the vaccines. 

But if that's the case, other secretaries and heads of offices in this administration ought to have gone on leave much earlier as they have been in the thick of corruption issues, e.g., DBM Secretary Butch Abad, Agriculture Secretary Prospero Alcala, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, PNP Chief Alan Purisima, etc. 

That vaccination report does not wash, for to this day not one of the Aquino officials has resigned.

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Another story says that P-Noy was irked that Ona kept pestering him to increase by P500 million the budget of the Tropical Medicine Research Center---a last minute budget entry meant to tackle head-on the Ebola threat. But this doesn’t wash either, for the 3 huge volumes of “Errata” on the 2015 General Appropriations Bill, submitted by the DBM to the House of Representatives the very day of  its voting on this bill, contained so many pahabol from various agencies of government---and yet DBM included them all. 

If this report is true that Ona wanted a pahabol for the research center, it’s perfectly understandable as the dreaded Ebola only burst upon the world in the past two months. Why should P-Noy get peeved when he should be thankful that his top health official is being militant about the possible pandemic. 

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Speculation is hardening that Secretary Ona won’t be returning to DOH and Garin will take over; House insiders noted that she already did act like the boss during hearings on the DOH budget.  So what’s the real story behind Ona’s replacement by Garin?

The political angle is being raised by political pundits. Prior to her appointment to DOH, Garin was a three-term representative of Iloilo, and closely related to the powerful Petilla clan of Leyte that includes Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla. Hence, pundits are now tying her post as eventual DOH Secretary to the coming elections, where the DOH with its direct access to the grassroots and its P102.178 billion budget, could play a critical role in the 2016 elections that P-Noy and the Liberal Party want so badly to win, if he and top allies are to escape possible prosecution for violations in DAP.   

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There’s another angle, though, that pundits have failed to explore. Garin was, next to former Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the most assiduous and passionate supporter of the RH bill pending in Congress over the years. Both chambers voted overwhelmingly for the bill in December 2012, even though the subsequent SC ruling on the RH law displayed aspects that both anti and pro-RH claim as partial victory for them. 

But now, it’s possible that the Obama administration, certain UN agencies and giant foreign pharmaceutical companies are now applying tremendous pressure on the P-Noy administration---which went all out for the RH bill to the point of Cabinet members camping out in the House lounge during votings---to implement what has been ruled by SC as implementable. Thus, it’s quite possible that while Secretary Ona religiously attended the SC hearings on the RH bill, he might not have been as fanatical as Usec Garin in supporting its full implementation. Many view Ona as a professional, not a P-Noy ideologue.

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Now, when one considers that Director-General Kenneth Hartigan-Go of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the office that will directly scrutinize the contraceptives that will flood the market, has quietly resigned effective Oct. 1, then the rise of Usec Garin to the DOH’s helm becomes no idle speculation. 

Moreover, it’s significant that the FDA has asked in recent weeks some 10 pharmaceutical companies to submit for re-evaluation some 50 brands of contraceptives they manufacture---in accordance with the spirit of the SC’s ruling, doubtless to protect women consumers. The speculation as to why Dr. Hartigan-Go, who is a highly-respected professional, resigned thickens. Did he anticipate tough problems ahead with the implementation of the RH law?

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The General Appropriations Bill of 2015, amounting to P2.606 trilion, was overwhelmingly approved by the House a few days ago with just 18 out of the 290 members opposing it---seven from the “Makabayan Bloc” of left-wing militants that included Carlos Isagani Zarate and Senior Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares, Jonathan de la Cruz of Abakada party-list, Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and Rep. Joselito Atienza of Buhay, and nine district representatives, among them Toby Tiangco of Navotas, Lino Cayetano of Taguig and Jose Tejada of North Cotabato. The tiny minority put up a heroic fight vs. the 2015 Budget but to no avail. 

The 272 other House members caved in and passed it WITHOUT A SINGLE CUT. Moreover, the extra three huge volumes of the 2015 Budget, titled “Errata,” from DBM---the first such monstrosity from any administration ever---was delivered to the House the same day as the voting, thus the representatives passed them without even taking a look at the "Errata."

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The P2.606 trillion 2015 Budget is already on second reading in the Senate and predictably both versions would be reconciled in a jiffy, so that P-Noy should have it in his pocket by the time Congress goes into Christmas break on Dec. 15. Passage of this budget by both chambers indicates a couple of things: Aquino’s near-total control of Congress and the solons’ fear of being isolated from manna from heaven in an election year.

Many other things are upsetting about it, such as that it contains “presidential pork” in the form of a lump-sum appropriation that former National Treasurer Leonor Briones estimates could come up to possibly half of the P2.606T budget. Unprogrammed fund for the President alone comes up to P477 billion, which means he could spend it any which way he chooses---unlike programmed and line-item ones which have to go where they are appropriated, or one could get into trouble with COA.  Lump-sum appropriations are a resurrection of the DAP that was struck down by the SC.  

Another objectionable fact was the redefinition by admin-controlled solons of “savings” in the executive branch, which could come from “unobligated” or “unfilled” positions or from projects that have been dropped, and all of which could be collected AS EARLY AS EVERY QUARTER---in direct defiance of the SC’s position in its July 1, 2014 ruling on DAP, that savings may be collected at year-end only.  Recall that one controversial move of the administration was the early impounding of “savings” worth P10 billion, that should have gone into P10,000 incentive bonuses for each of the over 70,000 public school teachers across the country.

The 2015 budget deserves the opprobrium of being an “election budget.”

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One item, though, that remained virtually untouched in the 2015 budget was the funding for the judiciary, the third branch of government. During the deliberations on the judiciary’s budget, the SC was represented by Justices Bienvenido Reyes (who was the second appointee of P-Noy in the High Court) and Diosdado Peralta, and the Deputy Court Administrator. Among the solons who shepherded the judiciary’s budget were neophyte Terry Ridon and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

But what truly helped protect that fund was the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) which sent an unequivocal message to leave that budget, especially the Judicial Development Fund (JDF) that goes into manpower development down the line in the judiciary, ALONE. Among the INC people who maintained a high profile in those hearings was colorful lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, unmistakable with his INC pin. 

The JDF, created by the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980 and reinforced by the Judiciary Act, was the object of power-lusting by some solons, encouraged by ill-disguised threats by President Aquino (who was quoted as saying that he only wants to stay in power longer in order to clip the SC’s powers), but the INC made its stand known. The locally elected representatives let that budget be.



Sunday, November 2, 2014

A look at possible candidates in a presidential election that may not even happen---Binay, Roxas, Poe, Duterte, Defensor Santiago and Marcos. Johnny Flavier on the poverty of his youth: once his mother treated him to birthday candle-blowing where he prayed to God, "Next year, please put a cake under my candle."



Sen. Grace Poe

A growing number of citizens are so disenchanted with our dirty and corrupt politics and are fervently working for systems-change and rewriting a new constitution for this hapless land---instead of business-as-usual politics in 2016. But the lure of the political guessing game remains so strong that I beg to be allowed to indulge in this game once more. 

The disturbing SWS survey of last Sept. 26-29 disclosed that the number of hungry Filipino families had surged to 4.8 million---about 1.2 million more than the previous quarter in all areas of the country except in Mindanao---and that 22 percent of those polled said they experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months, raising by 5.7 percentage points that of last June, 2013. 

It was a disclosure that spoiled many a breakfast that morning, but Sen. Grace Poe’s immediate challenge for a “re-engineering” of government’s approach to combat the increasing menace of poverty in our midst touched many exposed nerves. One indication was that the Palace immediately said that it was willing to work with the lady senator on this problem. The think-tank in Malacanang obviously wants to capitalize on Poe’s popularity in trying to jack up President Aquino’s vastly diminished worth.

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Sen. Grace Poe is one of two names I keep hearing these days in social and political circles, amid the growing desperate search for a successor to---or replacement for---P-Noy, who has now finally realized that his attempt to bag a second term or extend his one term is truly hopeless. Grace Poe, I admit, is looking more and more attractive to some political observers, who seem pleasantly surprised that in addition to her famous family name, she has a sensible head on her shoulders, as exhibited in Senate hearings.

At a recent family gathering I heard usually level-headed siblings argue for Grace with, "E, sino pa? Wala nang iba." I consider it a sign of the barrenness of the political desert. But Poe is not the only one in people's minds. The other day I walked over to the newsstand in our main street and the guy manning it asked me how I would feel about Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as president.


Davao City Mayor  Rodrigo Duterte
Sen. Miriam Defensor- Santiago

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Poe and Duterte---these are two increasingly popular names, as disenchantment with the incompetence of the P-Noy administration has truly impacted the populace.  Throw in also Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago---MDS to her adoring fans---as well as Sen. Bongbong Marcos who seems to have a well-organized rah-rah team in social media, and of course, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, the presumptive candidate of P-Noy. Let’s take these five political figures, but first let's talk about the current object of hate of  Senators Antonio Trillanes and Alan Peter Cayetano (who hope to win pogi points with the "inquisitions" they have been conducting in the Senate, without regard for public disgust with their bullying manner)---Vice President Jejomar Binay.

VP Jejomar Binay

VP Binay’s political armor has been so tarnished by all the scandals hitting him, and perhaps more to come, that increasingly he is being written off as “political dead meat” by political pundits. They used to say that Binay’s strength lies with the masa, but with TV permeating the remotest slum areas now, all the televised hearings on the Binay family's alleged "scandals" appear to be hitting hard. Some folks I've talked to also point out that the youth vote comprises some 35% of total vote, and that many of youth voters have been affected bad by these allegations vs. Binay. 

It’s still a year and a half from elections---if they materialize at all, a big Iffy---and with a few tricks up his sleeve, this scarred veteran of hardball politics would be tough to write off as dead, though few would probably bet on it at this time. 

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As a new face in politics Grace Poe might have learned from the sad experience of her elders in the Senate, so that she'd be scrupulous to a T. Many wonder, though, if she could have been bribed in the many milliions like some of her current colleagues, were she around in 2012 for the Corona impeachment trial. Poe is a refreshing face with her smart business-like clothes, and she comes to sessions prepared with sensible questions and wisely does not attempt to tackle subject matter that would reveal her being a novato. 

But a novato she is and I'd be quite disturbed to see her maneuvered into Malacanang so fast, as that highest office needs seasoning with the political seasons, as some distinguished politicos of yester-years did exhibit. To those pushing Poe for the presidency in 2016, my retort is that she should be allowed first to mature and acquire much-needed political wisdom, courage and real grace under pressure (we've seen P-Noy unravel in this area). We don’t know where she stands on many issues and how she would handle tough decisions---and I mean really tough ones, not just the hearings in the Senate where one often follows a script.

I would concede, though, if there really would be a stampede for her, perhaps in a year she could be material for VP.

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As for Mayor Duterte, those entertaining thoughts about him leading the nation are obviously so despairing of the current lot of disgraceful nincompoops or furiously corrupt, that they’d take someone who liked to brag that he’d hang syndicate agents from the bridge in Davao City. I told the fellow manning our neighborhood newsstand that I’d be fearful of Duterte as President, as he’d probably shoot people without even giving them a hearing of some kind. 

The Davaoenos seem to have no problem subscribing to Duterte's Billy the Kid brand of leadership perennially, but it would be scary to test it on a nationwide scale. But I admit that the number of this kind of folks around the country is growing--- thanks to the terrible peace and order problem we have.  

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Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, on the other hand, is truly brilliant in some aspects and haven't I seen enough of this over the years, e.g., how she pulverized a prosecution lawyer in the Corona trial out of his wits. When she first hit the limelight decades ago as the swashbuckling Immigration Commissioner in the Cory regime, Philippine society was mesmerized like insane, but I admit that I was not one of them. Over the years I've seen the MDS brilliance pour out like lava from a deadly volcano---but I'm also wary of that uncontrollable temper if housed in Malacanang.

If they say in unverified stories that PGMA used to throw the cell-phone or a hamburger sandwich at a subordinate in a fit of irateness, I'd tremble to think of what President MDS would throw. Some equally frightened folks feel she'd have us in a war with Malaysia soon enough.

In fact when I heard the news that she was nominated to the International Criminal Court in Den Hague, I found myself commiserating with her would-have-been colleagues, most of them aging and eminent retired justices in their own countries. I'd want to keep MDS for a new round of an impeachment trial in the Senate---or a new parliament---for can you conceive another such trial without MDS? It would be like New Year's Eve without the fireworks. 

As for Sen. Bongbong Marcos for President, all I want to say is, maawa naman tayo sa Pilipinas. We've already been hopelessly vilified as a corrupt nation, let's not become the laughing stock of the world by bringing back a Marcos to Malacanang.

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And last, but not least, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, the presumptive candidate of P-Noy. A graduate of Wharton School in Philadelphia who built the foundations of the IT industry here, Mar comes from a distinguished lineage---his grandfather, President Manuel Roxas, was the first President in an independent Philippines while his father, Sen. Gerry Roxas, was touted as presidential timber and probably would have held that position and done well, had he not died of cancer early. 

The Araneta-Roxas family has enormous wealth that could well finance, without any outside help, a presidential campaign---but the problem is the image of Mar Roxas himself in a calling that demands enormous funds but also relishes the poor-boy story (that makes Binay connect with the masa still). Mar's image-makers seek to make him look masa---e.g., Mr. Palengke (when naughty folks say iyon pala, he OWNS THE PALENGKE), carrying a sack of onions or rice or sweeping the street, but it comes across as trying too hard. 

In another setting he would shine as a technocrat, which he is, and make good politically; but in this country the make-up image just doesn't connect because it's not credible.  

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Plaudits are so well-deserved of the late Sen. Johnny Flavier who remained so indifferent to and unashamed of the poverty he grew up in and triumphed over, and that he was never lured into corruption like many in the Senate. My favorite story about him is found in a little book titled "Coincidence or Miracle?" a compilation of "inspiring stories" by Flor Gozon Tarriela and Butch Jimenez. When Johnny died a few days ago, I looked for the copy of that little book which he had sent me on May 19, 2002, where he pointed out in the dedication that "My miracle is on pages 118-121." 

Those pages dealt with his life-story as a boy born to a destitute couple in the slums of Tondo, in a brood of six. His father was a poorly paid factory mechanic who eventually lost his job, putting his family on the verge of starvation, while his mother wrapped bath soap and earned a centavo for every few hundred pieces. It was such a struggle sending all six children to public schools; later, incredibly, Johnny managed to finish medical school by means of his mother's peddling of second-hand clothes on installment.  

One anecdote in those pages that I cannot forget, as I heard him relate it also orally, dealt with the little party his mother would always give him and his siblings on their birthdays. Once she gave little Johnny a party with pancit bihon, ginatan and a birthday candle which she made him blow in front of relatives and friends. Asked by his mother to make a wish before blowing the candle, he fervently prayed, "God, thank you for this party. But God, next year please put a cake under this candle."