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, December 21, 2014

Hard not to feel angry that APEC has to help solve terrible year-long congestion at Port of Manila, and tasking De Lima to clean up Bilibid mess which she is to blame for under command responsibility. Am off to Bethlehem for once-in-a-lifetime experience at Christ’s birthplace and to attend int'l music festival at Manger Square. Don’t miss remake of “Exodus, Gods and Kings” at Metro Manila theaters. UK actor Christian Bale as Moses displays such sensitive acting.

UK actor Christian Bale,
 former child star and Exodus' Moses

I know it’s Christmas and folks hope to have a lot of goodwill and yuletide cheer after a series of harrowing months for us Filipinos, but as I was putting this blog together I caught a Philippine Star item that said that the APEC will tackle the hideous congestion at our ports, especially the Port of Manila, where some 82,000 containers have at one time piled up sky-high, un-moving. This problem has festered for months and months and many media people have written about it and the dampening effect on the economy---what with Filipinos abroad complaining about their balikbayan boxes that have not reached families here for the Christmas season, etc. Why does it have to take APEC to solve that problem for this government?

On the other hand, headlines said that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was tasked by President Aquino to clean up the National Bilibid Penitentiary of all the shenanigans of high-rolling convicts there. I’m sure many folks reading the papers today are wishing it weren’t Christmas, so they could scream at this idea of putting De Lima to that overhaul and clean-up job there, when she is the very cause of the DILEMMA in the NBP which is directly under her jurisdiction? The negligence and incompetence is just appalling and De Lima should be fired together with Bureau of Corrections Chief Franklin Bucayu.

Trust these two sensational stories to constitute a black-eyes again for the Philippines in the international world.


Anyway, back to Christmas and to set the right tone, despite all the incompetence and corruption of government and the country's miseries as a result, let’s borrow some assuring passages from beloved Pope Francis, who, in his general audience at this time last year in Rome, asked the faithful to reflect on “The Birth of Jesus, the feast of trust and hope which overcomes uncertainty and pessimism.” The Pope stressed that “the reason for our hope is this: God is with us and God still trusts us! He comes to abide with mankind, he chose Earth as his dwelling place---to remain with people and to be found where man passes his days in joy or in sorrow.”

Thus, as a result of Christ's birth and becoming like one of us, says Pope Francis, “earth is no longer only ‘a vale of tears;’  rather, it is the place where God himself HAS PITCHED HIS TENT, it is the meeting place of God with man, of God’s solidarity with men” (emphasis BOC's).

One of my favorite poets, St. John Paul II (yes, he was a poet since his student days as well as an artist, actor/ dramatist and author/composer before he even joined the priesthood) put the same sentiment differently. Then Krakow Bishop Karol Wojtyla, touring the Holy Land for ten days in December 1963, and walking all over the land rendered holy by Jesus as He moved, talked and ate with people from all over that place, was moved tremendously---and the future pope/saint expressed his emotions in poetry. Savor these beautiful lines from JPII: “You seek out people everywhere/But to seek everywhere/You had to stop in some place./This one is chosen by You.”


By the grace of God I’ll be off to Bethlehem at the start of what I aim to be an immersion in the Holy Land---Nazareth, Jerusalem, Jericho, Emmaeus, the Jordan, etc.---places where our Lord lived, preached his gospel, labored among the people and worked his miracles, and finally where he died on the Cross for the redemption of mankind. I visited the Holy Land in Holy Year 2000 with my family and I wanted to return one more time---perhaps with a deeper appreciation for the places Jesus had lived in and practised his ministry. I feel a lot different now from what I was in 2000, but life is always like that--- one does change in and re-visiting a place would not be the same. I look forward to a new experience in this most unique part of the world that, as St. JPII. said, “is chosen by You.”


I’ll take you all, my dear friends, with me through the postings I’ll be doing in FB, if you’ll follow me. I’ll be spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and apart from being able to worship at the very place where He was born over 2,000 years ago, it will be the experience of a lifetime for me. I’ll be there at the invitation of my friend and travel packager par excellence Arlina Onglao, whose pilgrimage tour we joined in year 2000, to catch even just a part the three-day international music festival that takes place right in Manger Square every year at this time. Afterwards I'll join her on her “Journey of Faith” tour through the rest of the Holy Land.

It will be quite cold at Manger Square, but this will be equalized by the fervor and faith of the folks from all over the world who’ll fill up the vast plaza fronting the Church of the Nativity. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for this writer.


As a way to prepare myself for this trip to the Holy Land, I made it a point to catch the film “Exodus (Gods and Kings”) that’s showing in many theaters in Metro Manila. It is a marvelous remake of the “Ten Commandments” of Charlton Heston and is just so excellent that I felt quite bad and sad that there were few movie-goers in the theater I went to. I'd like to encourage you all to watch this film, which is about the liberation of the children of Israel from bondage of slavery of 400 years in Egypt, and how, by dint of God's Salvation plan for his people, He preserved Moses, son of a Hebrew family, and prepared him for his role as the leader who led them out of bondage. 

As Exodus is a remake of Ten Commandments, the new film makers took some effort to change some aspects. For example, unlike Charlton Heston booming by the Red Sea which begins to churn up into mountain walls of water, the crossing of the Red Sea in the new "Exodus" is low-key and less dramatic: its waters just ebb away to let the Israelites pass, but then in the distance a gigantic tornado-type column of water twists and then, after the Chosen People had passed through, the column unleashes itself on the Egyptian army. All the Egyptians are killed, except for King Rameses who survives all by his lonesome (can you believe this?). 

Moses in this remake is not the towering booming leader that Heston portrayed him to be, but a humble guy, portrayed by English actor Christian Bale, who appears often unsure of what the Lord is leading him to at every turn---which makes this new Moses so human.

You folks really have to see this film for the splendor of the sets amid Egyptian pharaonic splendor and Cecile de Mille type cast of thousands. Then there’s the stark beauty of the mountains where Moses (portrayed with enormous sensitivity by Bale, a former child-star) keeps his periodic rendezvous with God, who’s portrayed as a little boy who looks like our Santo Nino here.

Do not miss the new Exodus and revel at the mélange of 21st century cinematic technique, timeless story of faith, trials, heroism, love and the whole gamut of human emotions.  At Bonifacio Global, Exodus will show until Dec. 24, if I’m not mistaken.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Former FEU and Adamson U law dean Antonio Abad argues for compassion and justice for GMA through Christmas furlough. If PCSO charge is conspiracy, act of one should be act of all---but bail for all her other co-accused leaves out GMA. Still unconvicted, GMA's lot contrasts with those convicted high-rollers in "Bilibid Hilton." Remembering KC de Venecia on 10th anniversary of her passing Dec. 16. Time healing wounds, KC tragedy bears solid fruit.

Photo last year showing detained former President Macapagal Arroyo on her way to a hospital check-up.
 Photo credit from gmanetwork.com

Former law dean of Far Eastern University and Adamson University Antonio Abad, speaking at a news forum, has appealed to the Sandiganbayan to show more compassion for former President Macapagal Arroyo, by allowing her a Christmas furlough in the spirit of the season and because of her very poor state of health. The former President underwent a mammogram recently in a Makati hospital on advice of her doctor, who feels she could be prone to breast cancer as it was the cause of death of her mother. Dean Abad argued that not only is it a season of grace and compassion, it’s also a fact that all of GMA’s co- accused in the alleged PCSO corruption case WERE ALL GRANTED BAIL, EXCEPT HER.

Abad argued that the alleged charge of conspiracy in the PCSO case makes the act of one the act of all. Thus, he said, if her co-accused have been allowed bail a year ago, there's no reason to deny her this;  yet it has been denied despite the various vicissitudes of her life, including the death of her infant grandson two months ago.

I  agree with Dean Abad that GMA’s continued detention is not only thoroughly unchristian and inhuman, it also violates the basic tenets of charity and justice---especially since she has not been convicted of any crime.


Now, contrast the way Gloria is being treated with the way the high-rolling criminals convicted with finality in the “Bilibid Hilton” have been allowed to enjoy life in their own luxury cells, complete with sophisticated orchestral and music-recording studios, awash with millions of pesos and dollars, high-powered weapons and their own lucrative drug trade. Bureau of Corrections Chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu, who assumed his post last March, has denied any knowledge of what has been a poorly-kept secret in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP); but worse, he admits that he lacks the security forces necessary to impose strict discipline there.

This revelation is yet another indication of the sheer incompetence of this administration, as well as the terrible manner whereby public funds have been allocated---there's not enough budget for hiring additional guards at the maximum security NBP, but there's so many billions for unappropriated lump sums in the national budget to allocate for ensuring the election of administration allies in the 2016 elections.


Bucor Chief Bucayu should be fired, along with his immediate superior, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, on whose shoulder blame for this whole mess at the state penitentiary should fall. De Lima is in charge of the NBI but obviously its planned raid was tipped to the high-roller convicts. The problem is that De Lima all these years has been a most willing tool of her boss President Aquino, primarily to ensure that his close allies escape inclusion in the Napoles list and Benhur Luy files and that the opposition gets it in the neck. 

Because of all the politicking at DOJ, she has neglected other agencies under her jurisdiction. It is impossible to believe that the NBI and the DOJ were not in the know about the Bilibid Hilton.  De Lima and Bucayu should be fired.


President Aquino was quoted as being saddened over the revelation and discovery of the scandalous goings-on at the maximum security NBP. But as a Facebook reader stressed, more than saddened, P-NOY SHOULD BE SUPER-ALARMED at the way the drug trade has become so pervasive across the country. Reports indicate that a change of guards is being effected in the various penitentiaries across the country, and this is good as it’s obvious that the tentacles of the drug trade have spread. Replacing guards could help---perhaps.

But it’s not just the prisons that have been invaded. There are reports of drugs rampantly peddled in schools, and parents especially of teenage children ought to be on guard about what their children get into. But unfortunately many young people are in the care of grandparents as their parents are working abroad, and the kids are indulged with money and minimum care---a lethal combination.

The drug situation is worrisome and citizens have every reason to be  alarmed that this beloved country of ours has all the makings of a failed state and much like another Mexico and Colombia in terms of the drug business.


Rep. Gina de Venecia and her deceased daughter KB, whose 10th death anniversary was remembered last Dec. 16.
Photo credit from PHILSTAR.COM

Ten years ago, in the early morning of Dec. 16, the first day of the Christmas Season, I was roused from bed by a phone call from a friend who informed me shockingly that the Dasmarinas Village residence of then Speaker and Mrs. Jose de Venecia had been gutted by fire which killed their 16-year old daughter, KC. We pieced together stories later about how Christmas trimmings caused the fire, and how Speaker JDV and then Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay tried to get into the second floor of the house, to reach the young girl who had wrapped herself in wet bed-sheets and hid in the bathroom. But the raging fires didn't permit them to get through. 

It was a tragedy of unspeakable proportions that drew sympathies from around the nation and the world for the De Venecias.

Last Tuesday, the family held a commemorative mass at the Santuario de San Antonio crypt and JDV recalled how he and Gina had hated Christmas for some years because of the terrible tragedy---preferring to stay away for some time each Christmas time. Their son Christopher "Toff" de Venecia, a promising stage director and an excellent writer, wrote super-lovingly of his sister. 


Retired political warrior JDV, now a major player in international party politics, admitted however, that as the adage goes, time heals wounds. But more than healing, he recounted how the tragedy over KC bore much fruit over time. The family invested some funds in the PGH's center for burns patients and has helped various fire department units acquire better suits for the heroic fire-fighters. 

But above all, Gina de Venecia, then as wife of the five-time Speaker, succeeded in putting up a foundation called "Inang na Ulila sa Anak" (or INA for short) that draws on psychologists and psychiatrists to help counsel mothers who suffered the similar tragedy of losing children. With the help of the Speaker she was able to put up a building in a compound of the DSWD across from the Batasan Complex, which serves as INA's Center. INA's circle of healing and healed moms has grown over the years and in the aftermath of Yolanda, many of them immersed themselves in counselling work in Tacloban City. 

From where she is, young KC must be smiling over the healing that her parents and others in similar straits have experienced that has enriched the lives of so many people. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Loleng Panlilio’s living room morphs into a “music hall’ for artists with rehab of her 116-year old Steinway Grand Piano. 17-year old Jeline Oliva, now training with Gilopez and Corazon Kabayao, amazes Loleng’s guests with her skill not only in violin but also in piano, playing tough pieces from memory despite four years of not having played on it. She’s preparing for live audition in Mannes in New York, with hope of bagging a scholarship--- another very gifted young Pinoy artist in great need of public and private support.

Loleng Arguelles, wearing a Valera gown, at her graduation recital at UST in 1946, accompanied by the 60-member PC Band.

Loleng Arguelles-Panlilio with 17-year old violinist/pianist, Jeline Oliva

T'is the Season of Grace and though it’s tough to feel good about many things e.g., the horrible traffic and the endless machinations of conscience-less  politicians---we look for ways to enjoy the blessings that come from the Lord and  thank Him for them.  As it’s only eleven days to Christmas, let’s set aside hard-hitting political fare and talk about things that lift up the spirit and lighten the heart.

For one, the annual Christmas Concert at the Manila Pen has become a beautiful tradition to look forward to. Last night's concert held under the splendid Malayan sunburst of National Artist Napoleon Abueva  was one of the best, with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of maestro Ruggero Barbieri and a whole slew of singers led by sopranos Camille Lopez Molina (looking every inch like a “Wagnerian mother”) and the slender Ena Maria Aldecoa, the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the UST Singers providing music to cheer up the spirit. Popular pop singer Lani Misalucha was billed as guest soloist, but at the last minute she fell ill and songstress Kuh Ledesma gamely filled in, showing that Kuh is still very much in shape.  But lo and behold, Misalucha shows up in the end, so it was a double treat for the delighted audience.   

And nothing to clinch the mood for the badly-wanting-to-feel Christmas crowd can beat George Frederic Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus in the second part of his immortal oratorio “Messiah.” Here the PPO blared trumpets and timpani, the oboes and bassoons, as the two choral groups boomed with “And He shall reign for ever and ever…King of Kings…Lord of Lords, for ever and ever, Hallelujah."  The audience rose to its feet---a tradition said to have started back in the mid-1800s, when King George II was so moved by this Chorus in its London debut that he rose to his feet and remained standing until its end.


The second part of this feel-good blog is about how a Steinway grand piano has recast a living room into what I call the “Music Hall” that has helped various artists.  Back in 1946, Dolores “Loleng” Arguelles,  an Associate in Arts  major in piano who trained under Prof. Lolita Erras, made her recital  at UST, as her St. Scholastica's College was in shambles like many other schools. As it was right after the war, a piano had to be trucked from Brixton Hill, which was then the Forbes Park of Manila, to UST and back to Brixton Hill. There was no decent piano available anywhere else. 

It was a full grand Steinway piano owned by Loleng’s elder half-sister, Pacita Arguelles LaO, the mother of lovely four girls who would eventually be married to four famous men: Nena Manotoc, Pacing Manglapus, Techie Velasquez and Chita Lopez. That piano is presently with Tommy Manotoc, former husband of Imee Marcos.

Even right after the war, recitals, as they are also now, were big events and for her recital Loleng Arguelles wore a white gown with emerald stones by designer Ramon Valera, dean of designers then. Elegance was fitting and proper, for accompanying her was the 60-member Philippine Constabulary Band under the baton of the famous Capt. Antonino  Buenaventura, while her accompanying voice recitalist was Moitoni Equarras.


Loleng Arguelles didn’t make a career of piano, and instead settled down to married life with a landed Pampangueno architect named Pablo Dayrit Panlilio and raised three girls and two boys.  But there’s the  story of another Steinway Grand which, as far as Loleng can remember, was acquired by her father,  Architect  Tomas Arguelles, way  before she was born;  a manufacturing date inside the piano reveals that it’s 116 years old. The piano sat in Loleng’s living room for years in a rather sorry state, until some months ago when  professional restorer Rey Lim brought the Steinway back to life.

Th repair of that second Steinway Grand was providential. One rainy evening at the end of last September, young classical violinist Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez and his distinguished accompanying pianist, Corazon Pineda Kabayao, needed to practice the night before Chino’s concert at Ayala Museum, but the grand piano that was being transported from across the city to the Museum got stuck in terrible traffic along EDSA in the heavy rain.  Only one thought entered our minds: could they rehearse with Loleng Panlilio’s newly repaired Steinway Grand?  

The lady of the house, now 94 years old but still every inch glamorous, spry and alert and oh so impeccably groomed, readily agreed and Chino and Corazon carried rehearsal late into the night. Everyone felt relieved. Loleng quietly sat across them, following every note.


That was the start of the new lease on life of the 116-year old Steinway, and the conversion of Loleng Panlilio’s living room into what I nicknamed the “Music Hall.” Chino and Corazon recorded some numbers and soon the Kabayao Family Quintet, led by virtuoso Gilopez Kabayao, his pianist wife Corazon and their three violinist children (Sicilienne, Farida and Gilberto) rehearsed for their celebrated CCP Little Theater concert last Sept. 28. Singers of the Philippine Opera Company, led by its indefatigable doyenne, soprano Karla Gutierrez, later staged a mini-concert with Hiroshima-trained baritone Joseleo Logdat, Karla’s lovely “Opera Belles,” a couple of budding tenors and a nervous but very gifted 13-year old singer named Rein Pineda. Included in POC's stable is Loleng's own soprano granddaughter, lovely 17-year old Gabri Dolor Panlilio.

Last month  Loleng Panlilio invited UST-trained magna cum laude pianist Corazon Kabayao to play some of her favorite piano pieces---predictably all by Chopin. namely, Etude in A Flat Major, Op. 25, Prelude in D Minor and the First Movement of the Sonata in B Flat Minor, Op. 35.  Loleng invited some friends and relatives to listen in and we enjoyed it immensely. Gilopez was just the dutiful husband recording history with his ubiquitous camera.


That same night the Kabayaos brought in tow one of Gilopez’s newest violin students, 17-year old Jeline Oliva who was once a NAMCYA winner but who hardly had any really formal training in both violin and piano. According to her mother, Judith Llorin Oliva, Jeline, who still wears braces on her teeth, is a very dedicated musician and gave most of her time to her violin practice since she started late in this instrument (which she does not own personally). She chose violin over piano and that night at the Panlilio "Music Hall" Jeline played the Concerto in G Minor for violin, Op. 26 by Max Bruch and Caprice No. 15 in E Minor by Paganini.

But while we were all making chika-chika, someone brought up the fact that Jeline can also play the piano well, even though she has no piano at home and hadn’t played on one for about four years. After initial shyness and a lot of coaxing, Jeline played the Third Movement of Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, Revolutionary Etude by Chopin, and Un Suspiro by Liszt---all from memory and with a sure touch that impressed music and art critic Baby Orosa. 


We were, of course, all quite amazed. Mom Judith, a part-time elementary music teacher/tutor who resigned from a full-time job to help her daughter’s budding career, thinks she can make it in both violin and piano if she were to be trained by dedicated and caring teachers, as she now has in GiLopez and Corazon Kabayao.  Jeline applied last year at Mannes School  of Music in New York City despite  discouragement from her previous colleagues in music, and she qualified for video audition in December 2013 and then for live audition  in March this year. Two weeks later she was  given admission to Mannes---but without the scholarship she badly needs; she has not given up hope on it.    

Jeline's coming under the Kabayaos’ tutelage was something she and her mother had always wanted, especially after her piano teacher told Judith that she found the then 6-year old a very fast learner who could play advance music pieces. Judith confessed that she did not take  the opinion of her daughter’s teacher seriously--- until she brought her young daughter to St. Scholastica’s College music department, where the very first to hear Jeline were Gilopez and Corazon Kabayao. They wanted Jeline to be with them but at that time she was one  of the finalists of “Pilipinas Got Talent” of ABS-CBN and St. Scholastica’s music directress,  Sr. Placid, did not allow her to leave as she was then under the scholarship of PREDIS for pre-college. 

Sr. Placid assigned the young girl instead to two music faculty members: Gina Medina Perez in violin and Prof. Mauricia Borromeo in piano, who encouraged Jeline’s mother to make her join competitions at once. 


Jeline submitted her application for a  Bachelor’s Degree in Music to Colburn School of Music, Los Angeles' most prestigious music school, and Mannes in NYC, with the help of the Kabayaos---and hopes to get the critical scholarship. She has had intensive training under GiLopez Kabayao for two months, and her rapid improvement shows in her playing four virtuosic pieces for video audition. Judith Oliva acknowledges the huge help of the Kabayaos who are now preparing Jeline for another live audition in Mannes this coming February, ---that hopefully would come with the prized scholarship. 

As Judith put it, “Napakalaking tulong ang training under the Kabayaos. They are one of a kind. I truly salute them po at nagpapasalamat ako nang sobra.”

Cheers to those dedicated “Music Missionaries,” Gilopez and Corazon Kabayao, and much luck to Jeline Oliva as she tries out in the big league. She will need a lot of help in this endeavor, and I hope you my blog friends would come to her assistance.   This is also where some kind of subsidy from the State for very gifted young Filipino artists would go a long way---if only the people in government would realize this.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

FB reader says, in response to National Transformation Council’s challenge for P-Noy to resign, why not just wait---it’s only 18 months to go. Reasons why it has to be, as Archbishop Arguelles argues, NOW NA. Reminiscing about my days as aspiring writer and Frankie and Tessie Jose’s kindness in accommodating my visits to their home to make incessant phone calls in the late '60s.

National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose receives upgrade of his rank in French L'Ordre des Artes et Lettres Award from French Ambassador Gilles Garachon on Jose' s 90th birthday
(Photo credit from Philstar.com) 

A reader reacted to various posts in FB about the successful assembly of the National Transformation Council in Davao City last Dec. 5 that called on the resignation of President Aquino on account of his administration’s corruption and incompetence---and mobilization of citizens around the country to convert into reality the NTC's vision of a more God-filled, humane and caring, and competent administration.  While discontent over the Aquino administration has grown, however, there is also this reaction such as the reader's above: why not wait 18 months more, malapit na, pagkatapos pwede nang palitan.

The problem with this “wait na lang” reasoning is that the way this administration is going, it would not countenance losing the elections, as it’s already a matter of survival from impending prosecution and possible jail for P-Noy and his DBM Secretary once he leaves office. P-Noy has to ensure by means fair or foul that his completely trusted handpicked candidate wins, and all signs point to that end goal. As Bacolod civic leader Lyn Gamboa points out in a recent post, it would be the same cabal voted into office again.

Hence, as Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles puts it, “Now na.”


To summarize briefly, P-Noy is in total control of a most pliant Congress and casting aside all pretenses of fiscal restraint, the P22 billion supplemental budget for 2014 was passed by the House; and while there is some whimper from the Senate, it looks like a moro-moro only. 

On the other hand, Speaker Sonny Belmonte was reportedly upset that DBM Secretary Florencio Abad quickly sought an addition of P6 billion to this already monstrous supplemental budget , after learning that National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon had testified to the existence of some P38 billion in the Treasury coffers. But let’s see in the next few days if the Speaker would stand his ground and not indulge Abad---haven’t we seen that  scenario before?

In the next 1 ½ years left of this administration, gargantuan amounts of public funds would be needed, hidden in all manner of  LUMP-SUM BUDGETING such as the “Grassroots Participatory Budgeting” for LGUs, to ensure that the country would be flooded with funds for the coming elections. Remember that as lawyer-crusader Greco Belgica, whose anti-pork petition before the Supreme Court was upheld, the pork barrel in the 2013 national budget was P1.1 trillion and P1.2 trillion in the 2014 budget. In the 2015 budget, it will be a far bigger pork lump-sum as it will be "AN ELECTION BUDGET." 

Thus, expect all the pork lump-sums to be thrown in, plus the cranking of the well-oiled LP propaganda machinery, the Senate puppets who would destroy any and all challengers to the LP, and of course, those indispensable PCOS cheating machines.


Note that now even Comelec’s lawyers are against negotiated bidding with Smartmatic for the purchase of additional PCOS machines and refurbishing of those still usable, as the lawyers stressed the need for more transparency in the poll body’s dealings. 

Interestingly, IT experts have slammed Smartmatic for threatening a lawsuit if the Comelec would refurbish those machines with rival technology. As lead IT expert Hermenigildo Estrella snorted, didn’t Comelec pay P1.8 billion to BUY those machines and everything that goes with those for the 2013 elections?  It was a sale, not a lease. But Sixto Brillantes, retiring this February (and reported to be replaced by Jonathan Tenefrancia of the law office of Avelino Cruz, who had handled the protest of Mar Roxas vs. Binay in 2010) seems bent on nailing down the contract bid for Smartmatic as his final contribution to the total demise of credible elections in 2016.

True democracy does not stand a chance with the P-Noy administration in 2016, because he has to be insulated from possible prosecution and a GMA scenario. If one keeps this reality in mind, then it makes sense, as the NTC stresses, that P-Noy be asked now na, and let more competent and honest leaders take over to save this country we all love.


Last Wednesday, Dec. 3, the 90th birthday celebration of National Artist for Literature Francisco Sionil Jose, was rain-swept but still a glittering gathering of the cultural who's who of the country and it couldn’t have been in a more auspicious place than in the main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Except for Sen. Loren Legarda, who was the only active politician, and former President Fidel Ramos, Frankie’s fellow Pangasinense, it was just friends and associates of the National Artist, whose family, led by his devoted wife, the former Tessie Jovellanos, and several of his seven children who made it to Manila, helped meet the guests. It was a fun night, and a reunion of artists of all sorts as well as those from the intellectual community who hadn’t seen one another in a while, and whom perhaps only Frankie could draw together.  

National Artist Ben Cabrera enjoyed taking photos of the Joses for posterity, and French Ambassador Gilles Garachon upgraded Frankie's earlier ranking in the prestigious French L'Ordre des Artes et Lettres award from "chevalier" (knight) to "officier” (officer). Singer Celeste Legaspi-Gallardo, daughter of National Artist Cesar Legaspi, now sporting a becoming short blonde hairdo, was still suffering from jet lag and forgot the opening lines of “Gaano Kita Kamahal” by National Artists Ernani Cuenco and Levi Celerio, but gamely carried on to much applause. At one point I enjoyed the sight of three nonagenarians sitting together: Frankie Sionil Jose, Inquirer Founder Eggie Apostol who turned 94 last September, and irrepressible Larry Henares who turned 90 last May.  

Writer Gilda Cordero Fernando, who terms herself a contemporary of Frankie, silver-haired and draped with a silvery shawl, held court in one area, still looking great. I enjoyed chats with power couple Satur Ocampo, looking statesmanlike in his grey barong, and Carolina “Bobi” Malay, who has allowed her hair to now grow all silver, reminding me so much of her lovely mother Paula Carolina, Nelson Navarro and Sara Soliven de Guzman of Star.  I was particularly happy to see once again Pepe and Coring Abueva and Michael and Lourdes Mastura.


I have my own fond recollections of Frankie and Tessie Jose. Back in the second half of the 60s I was a young bride whom my West Point-educated husband brought to live in a small unfinished house owned by his elder brother in GSIS Village, which was next door to middle-class Project 8 subdivision.  At that time the house we moved into had no light and water, and it was obviously only love sustaining us (my mother was aghast at first that this young second lieutenant had the temerity to propose marriage with his P180 a month salary, whereas upon marriage I had to quit my job at Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation where I was special projects officer earning about a thousand pesos a month!). Eventually the basic comforts of civilization crept into our little home and I raised the first of several babies there.

As an aspiring writer then, I wrote regularly for Eggie Apostol’s “Woman and the Home” magazine in Manila Chronicle, and I’d research in the UP Library or do interviews---pregnant and all, clinging to buses or jeepneys to get back to GSIS Village. I was also selling life insurance to my UP co-graduates for extra and easy money.

If our love-nest had no light and water in those early months, having a telephone was as remote as the moon. For this absolute necessity of contacting the editor and insurance prospects, I’d go to the home of Frankie and Tessie Jose in next-door Project 8 and make calls there. Their phone was in the book-lined library and I’d see Frankie working quietly; they were very nice and hospitable to my sudden appearances in their home for incessant phone calls in those years, until we moved to another part of Quezon City.  


Over the years I would also frequent the Joses’ pioneering bookstore, Solidaridad (now celebrating its 50th year), on Padre Faura St. in Manila, which, in my formal working days, had been my haunt.  Prior to my marriage, I had worked as assistant to the Regent of the Ateneo College of Law, the famous Fr. Pacifico A. Ortiz, S.J., who made history as President Quezon’s personal chaplain in the war years (escaping from Corregidor with the Quezons and General MacArthur to Mindanao and Australia and later on to New York City where MLQ was confined for his tuberculosis).  Fr. Ortiz had been our chaplain at the UPSCA in UP and he and Humanities Professor Josefina D. Constantino (later to become Sr. Teresa of the Gilmore Carmelites) were to have a profound influence in my life.

It was in Fr. Ortiz’ office where I met and would become close to some of the great politicians of the next two decades, among them Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez, Sen. Raul Manglapus and Sen. Manny Manahan, as well as labor leader Jeremias Montemayor, who was then Ateneo Law Dean. 

Recollecting about the hospitable Frankie Sionil Jose made me also realize how much I miss the Padre Faura of old, in a city that has grown so tragically inhospitable to historic landmarks. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Davao Declaration of the NTC Assembly last Dec. 5 called for resignation of President Aquino and his Cabinet for failure to competently handle the gargantuan problems of nation---which are really a string of leadership crises P-Noy has created. With Ruby presaging natural calamities to hit us with more intensity and frequency owing to global warming, Davao NTC argues that all the more there's need for leaders with more competence, honesty and integrity. Davao has a history of revolutionary tendencies.

Backdrop of the National Transformation Council Assembly in Davao City

Citizens lining up to sign the Davao Declaration

The National Transition Council convened once again in Davao City last Friday, Dec. 5. It was preceded by the very first NTC Assembly in Lipa City last Sept. 30, followed by Cebu City last Oct. 1, Butuan City last Nov. 11 and Angeles City last Dec. 2. In all these assemblies participants were quite fired up over the crying need to institute “regime and systems change” as well as badly-needed reforms to uphold the moral and political order and the Constitution. The rallying cry in these five NTC assemblies: it’s time for the President to resign over the corruption and incompetence of his administration in various fields of endeavor, and let more competent and honest leaders take over the reins of government.

With typhoon Ruby, said to be equivalent to the strength of typhoon Pablo and following super-typhoon Yolanda of 13 months ago, it’s clear that natural calamities will be upon us in increasing frequency and strength, owing to global warming. All the more we have to pay a premium for competence and honest and judicious employment especially of public funds---something the Aquino administration given to corrupting legislators and Cabinet officials cannot claim. 

As the nation's crisis deepens, all the more there's need for more competent and moral leaders to take over.  


The Davao NTC Assembly listed grave shortcomings of this administration, such as “the President’s continued stranglehold upon Congress in violation of the separation of powers and the doctrine of checks and balances among three co-equal branches of government.” It deplored the Aquino administration's virtual control of the conduct of elections, thwarting the sovereign will of the people in many many instances in the last two national elections, and Comelec's indifference to fraud complaints by IT experts. 

Davao NTC also zeroed in on the railroading of the “P2.6 trillion budget which resurrects all the lump sum discretionary appropriations which the Supreme Court had unanimously declared unconstitutional when it voided the pork barrel system in August last year and the DAP last July 2014." The NTC also deplored on-going  attempts by this administration to grab more pork barrel in the form of the P22 billion supplemental budget currently being rammed through Congress for 2014. The P22 billion in large part will supposedly be allotted to the Yolanda crisis, on top of so many billions already allocated for that particular crisis in a rush supplemental budget for 2013 and in the 2014 budget. 

There's also the failure of the Aquino administration to address “the nationwide transportation, energy and electric power crisis.”





In view of the reality of a multitude of problems of varying enormity, the Davao Assembly solemnly declared that “We must now transform our vision... of a well-run, peaceful, God-loving and prosperous democratic nation” into reality “at the earliest possible time” through such “lawful action” as is necessary and desirable" The end goal: “to transform the moral, political and constitutional order of the nation.” 


In the memorable words of Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles in that first assembly: "Now na, now na."


The Davao Declaration, signed by many thousands, becomes more significant in the light of typhoon Ruby which would demand much more concerted and competent effort of government to rehabilitate huge swathes of devastated populations and areas. This is quite apart from the failure of the Aquino government to address problems spawned by Yolanda over a year ago which have been left to fester, as recent photos of Ruby’s damage on the makeshift shanties of Yolanda-era have shown.

In the wake of problem upon problem wrought by past and recent devastations in the Visayas---let alone the coming power shortages all over the country, the increase in corruption and criminality owing partly to the demoralization of the PNP, and the economic downturn resulting in more loss of jobs---it’s easy to deduce that this administration would clearly become even less and less competent to handle all these gargantuan problems.

This is the message of the NTC Assembly in various places in the archipelago which cannot be taken lightly, as it's being pondered by many of our people, whether in groups or in the quiet of small conversations and solo pondering.


Davao has always been a favorite breeding place of revolutionaries of various kinds.

It will be recalled that opposition leaders Cory Aquino and various members of the Batasang Pambansa were gathered in a sudden caucus in Cebu City during the night of the breakaway and mutiny of Defense Chief Juan Ponce Enrile and AFP Vice Chief Fidel Ramos on Jan. 22, 1986, in the dying days of the regime of President Marcos.

As the Cebu group assessed the results of that dramatic breakaway of the anti-Marcos military group, Assemblyman Ramon Mitra proposed what seemed startling to many then: to establish a revolutionary government in Davao while the military faction was locked in a stand-off with the Marcos forces in Manila. 


I recall how forceful Mitra’s argument was and how well-received and seriously pondered it was especially by Davaoenos such as Lito Lorenzana and Chito Ayala, and Mindanaoans like Homobono Adaza and Nene Pimentel. Had the EDSA Revolution not broken out later that night of Jan. 22, 1986, after Cardinal Sin summoned people to surround Camp Aquino, something like Davao could have materialized in the next few days.   

Over the decades since then Davao has been in the eye of various political activities that include Muslim separatists and left-wing groups. The colorful Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s higher but still secret personal ambition is always gist for media speculation, and among spinning rumors is that former President Fidel Ramos, his former National Security Adviser Joe Almonte and former Chief Justice Reynato Puno have been quietly meeting with Duterte. 

And so the world turns, and the nation awaits deliverance from incompetence and corruption.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan should uphold the constitutionally guaranteed independence of her office and not allow herself to be used as tool by the administration. What’s the true state of Malampaya Fund now? How much is left? A pity that SC allowed Smartmatic, with its checkered record, to participate in Comelec bidding. Returning it to tally our future elections insults our people and renders us all as fools. Why do we allow this?

COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan

It’s truly tragic that constitutional bodies, guaranteed by the Constitution independence in the form of fixed tenure in office and salaries, are allowing themselves to be manipulated and used by the powers that be. The recent testimony of COA Chair Grace Pulido Tan before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the Malampaya Fund shows where her loyalty lies---not to the nation and the people, but to the President who appointed her, which is truly sad.  This servile attitude has long been true of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, but never mind her as she serves at the pleasure of the appointing power;  but Pulido Tan is shielded by the Constitution and should display fierce independence, but does not.   

Pulido Tan was  a protégé of Arroyo/Aquino Finance Chief Cesar Purisima. As Finance Undersecretary in the GMA administration, she resigned with her boss Purisima and the Hyatt 10 in July 2007 in a futile effort to bring  down Arroyo government. At the Senate hearing a few days ago, she opened up on the P900 million Malampaya Fund said to have been siphoned off during the Arroyo Administration to NGOs of Janet Napoles;  she admitted finishing investigations into the Department of Agrarian Reform under former Secretary Nasser Pangandaman but has little else on other departments also alleged to have been involved in scams in the previous administration. 


But more alarming, Pulido Tan has nothing on years 2010 to 2014 of the Aquino administration. In an unguarded moment perhaps, months ago she admitted that her petitions to Secretary Abad for data on DAP were simply being ignored. But it's a quandary she brought on herself, for Palace officials know that she's not ready to exercise true independence, even though her office maintains some 72 resident auditors in major government offices.

At this point what’s becoming horribly evident is that no one really knows how much of the P170 billion Malampaya Fund remains in Bangko Sentral vaults. Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, a former UP student regent before he ran for the House, estimates the Fund to be in the vicinity of at least P38 billion, and labels it "P-Noy's pork." The problem is, what's the truth about this fund? 

If you recall, a few months back the admission by Finance Chief Purisima and DBM Secretary Florencio Abad that nothing was left of the Fund was bannered by a major daily. Star columnist Ernie Maceda’s suggestion is sensible and logical: summon the National Treasurer to testify before the Senate under oath on the true state of the Malampaya Fund.


I can understand why Sen. Nancy Binay lost her cool when Pulido Tan refused to furnish more information on the Malampaya scams, stressing that all COA had at the moment were “red flag” investigations, i.e., mere signals that things have gone wrong but nothing yet definitive. Nancy snapped back that the COA Chief seemed to have no compunction divulging preliminary findings on the Makati City Hall corruption, as brought out in the Blue Ribbon committee; but now she’s invoking another standard in clamming up on administration scams in Malampaya, obviously to protect P-Noy's allies. 

Pulido Tan’s testimony is reminiscent of that of Justice Secretary de Lima who stopped at nailing down the three opposition senators last year for pork barrel scams in years 2007-2009, but until now nothing has come out of De Lima's promise to reveal investigations into administration allied-senators and Aquino officials. 

At the recent anti-corruption ceremony in Malacanang, President Aquino, doubtless feeling the public heat over his selective justice that had pinned down Vice President Jojo Binay in the same Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, promised to come up with names of other officials involved in anomalies, regardless of party affiliations---but we can’t hold our breath on this one, given the selective track record of his anti-corruption team.

The Palace’s selective justice to protect its allies is fast losing points for P-Noy and even though people do not condone allegations of corruption of the Binay dynasty, the administration's inquisitorial attitude is gaining sympathy for the VP.


A group of IT experts, led by Automated Election System Watch (AESWatch) and the Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections (C3Coalition) under IT practitioner Hermenigildo Estrella, has filed a case before the Supreme Court to stop Comelec from directly awarding contracts to Smartmatic. One of the petitioners is lawyer and former Assemblyman Homobono Adaza, who has asked the SC to stop participation of Smartmatic in the bidding of some 23,000 new PCOS machines until all issues involving this monster machine have been resolved. Unfortunately the SC has allowed the bidding for the two billion peso contract to go on, and deferred ruling on Adaza’s specific plea, on the argument of first seeking answers from Comelec/Smartmatic on this suit.   

But it’s easy to conclude that the real reason is that the Court will go on a holiday break from Dec. 15 to Jan. 9 next year, to resume session next Jan. 13---no more time this year to deliberate on the Adaza petititon. But the SC must realize that this is a matter of extreme urgency as obviously the fate of the presidential elections in 2016 is at stake.


In addition, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes bows out of office this February and it’s obvious that he wants to keep Smartmatic in the loop at all cost. Interestingly, there is now in fact objection FROM WITHIN Comelec itself to a negotiated bid between the poll body and Smartmatic. It's Comelec lawyers themselves who are demanding that there be open and competitive bidding among several providers---not just a negotiated "midnight deal" Smartmatic. We citizens ought to support this demand.  Next, we should ask Brillantes: what's the hurry? Why not let your successor (will it be former Defense Chief Avelino "Nonong" Cruz?) handle this bidding? 

To various citizens’ groups such as the National Transformation Council, which have been fighting for systems change and meaningful reforms the seeming collusion between Comelec and Smartmatic for the coming elections is yet another argument on the urgent need to shift to a better system of government and true reforms.  


Returning the Smartmatic’s PCOS machines to undertake the 2016 election exercises will already be an insult to the Filipino people, for that machine provider has piled up a number of sins. As the half-page ad last Tuesday in several papers stressed, Smartmatic has misrepresented itself as the manufacturers of the machines when in reality it is really only the middle-man/re-seller of machines manufactured by a China-based firm; then too, the software it has peddled turned out to be the property of Dominion Voting Systems which has a running lawsuit vs. Smartmatic in a Delaware court (but here the better question is, why did Comelec allow itself to be duped in two elections?).

Moreover, simple logic states that our country shouldn’t pay P336 million for services already indicated in the warranty. Right now, of P16.4 billion allocated by Comelec for preparations for the 2016 elections, a part is supposed to go into buying 40,000 new PCOS units to replace worn-out ones, while the rest of this fund will go to to “refurbishing” some 40,000 other machines deemed still usable.

The problem is that no one knows for sure just how many of those 40,000 machines "still usable” are really still good. NO MEANINGFUL INVENTORY has been done by Comelec of its machines stock, for as insiders assert, there are still many machines used in 2013 around the country THAT REMAIN UNACCOUNTED FOR (perhaps local warlords AIM TO USE THEM AGAIN in 2016?).


But the biggest problem is the avalanche of defects and errors exhibited by those PCOS machines in the past two elections---so that recruiting them for future elections would already be cruel political self-flagellation. As former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, who has presented before the Joint Committee on Oversight in Congress the best-documented cases of PCOS cheating, as well as the theft of  votes of Bro. Eddie Villanueva in Nueva Ecija show, the many unresolved issues against Smartmatic include disabling of digital signatures of machines and Comelec personnel which has made cheating open season; the disappearance of machine receipts confirming one’s votes;  digital lines and smudges in ballots, questionable vote tallies,  etc.  

But as far as IT experts are concerned, Smartmatic’s biggest sin was not to present the source code as required by the AES Law (again, bakit pumayag ang Comelec?).

Australia is only the latest in the increasingly long line of countries rejecting automated elections because of their unreliability. Our IT experts are advocating a combination of manual vote and count at precinct level, where the various political parties can monitor results that cannot be monkeyed around with at the national level, and automated transmission. I wholeheartedly support this combination, and citizens' groups have to lobby with Congress to amend the AES Law of 2009 that dictated full automation. Should this be rejected by Comelec and Congress, I suspect that there are enough citizens' groups so sore with all the cheating and machinations in the two past elections that they just wouldn't take these any longer.