Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, February 27, 2015

At its Lipa Assembly last Thursday, Feb. 26, the National Transformation Council (NTC) shifted emphasis and attention from faith and professional leaders to four representatives of humbler sectors; the large crowd listened to their stories about their tough plight. Should NTC come to assume its caretaker role, it would ensure that the marginalized's voice would figure first and foremost in governance, and "great bulk of financial resources would be channeled to improving lower levels of society"---something possible when governance does not involve hard-boiled politicians.


                Leaders from poorer sectors of Philippine society had their own gripping stories to tell.

The assembly held by the National Transformation Council (NTC) yesterday, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Lipa City, Batangas, was different from previous NTC assemblies in the sense that for the first time it was not its citizen-leaders and various faith-leaders affiliated with NTC who delivered the speeches. It was the humbler sectors that usually were not heard in any gathering. The four speakers came from the labor groups, the farmers’ group, the fisher-folk and the urban poor. 

Speaking on the theme "Dukha ang Pakinggan, Sa Pagbabagong Tunay," these sectoral leaders narrated how their constituencies felt neglected by various administrations after being used as "cannon fodder" in various rallies or propaganda campaigns that ushered change of administration. Sadly, once installed in power, past administrations conveniently forgot them. 

The marginalized sectors’ stories brought tears to many in the audience especially since the latter were already primed up by patriotic songs like “Pilipinas kong Mahal” and “Bayan Ko.”  I was among those whose make-up was messed up as I couldn't stop crying (mababaw naman talaga ang luha ko, in the first place). I felt that if the NTC could come into power, it would be the first time in a long while that the poor would really have a meaningful break--- instead of being hidden from papal view or being recipients of the conditional cash transfer that more often than not disappeared into handlers' pockets. 


Yesterday’s Lipa gathering provided thoughtful and provocative insights into what line of governance the NTC proposes if ever---a marked preferential option for the poor that's possible because its leaders are not hard-boiled politicos. Moreover, as Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa who hosted the giant gathering, put it, while 2015 has been declared by Pope Francis as the Universal Church’s “Year of Consecrated Life” for all religious, in view of the Bohol and Cebu killer earthquake of last year and super-typhoon Yolanda, the CBCP---with Pope Francis' approval---decided to make both celebration simultaneous. 

Yesterday the Lipa NTC's manifesto recalled the Pope's declaration in Rome after he arrived from Manila: "The main scope of my visit, and the motive for which I chose to go to the Philippines---this was the main reason---was to be able to express my closeness to our brothers and sisters who suffered the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda. I went to Tacloban, in the region most hit, where I paid homage to the faith and resilience of the local population." Viralled around the world was that unforgettable picture of Pope Francis in his Tacloban see-through raincoat, drenched like everyone else.


The "Year of the Consecrated Life" had to take somewhat of a backseat to the "Year of the Poor" mainly because we have so many poor around.  NTC's raison d'etre echoed the words of Francis: "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center, which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures." 

Toward this end NTC faith leaders---Catholic and Protestant bishops and the Ulamas and Imams---"pray and struggle to bring to our people the possibility of a transformed society and a renewed leadership." To achieve this end, they said, "we have to listen to the poor" for after all, as Archbishop Arguelles put it, Jesus was not born in a palace like Herod's, but in a manger in shepherds' field. 

Or as Davao Archbishop emeritus Fernando Capalla put it yesterday, "This is the challenge to us as God's faithful, particularly at this time of grave trial and testing for our nation. We must let go of our comfort zones, go to the peripheries and find the poor, the powerless, the marginalized, the neglected, the persecuted, the afflicted and the forsaken." 

And what a story the poorer sectors had to tell. 


Timoteo A. Aranjuez has been a labor leader since 1959 and he recalled that while Marcos Labor Secretary Blas Ople sought to give workers a minimum wage, the martial law regime prohibited political demos. With the EDSA Revolution they regained those rights and employers and workers were together. Moreover, under the present Constitution, said Aranjuez, workers are supposed to enjoy security of tenure, living wages and a just share of the fruits of labor. But he asserts what's a well-know labor secret: that workers' security of tenure is jeopardized by some taipans' scheme of five-months work, five months no work (to enjoy continuous work one has to change one's family name, and the aim is obviously so that the employer does not have to get certain work conditions in place); and while workers received wage increase of P10 per day, fares of the MRT were raised two ways, neutralizing this increase. 

Aranjuez asserted that the Department of Labor belongs to the labor sector and the next secretary should come from the labor sector (this was widely applauded). He also noted that while 70-80 percent of the nation's wealth is controlled by only four families, the doctrine of St. Pope John Paul II is that labor is the creator of capital, not the instrument. This thinking, however, is clearly not shared by the capitalist sector.


Milandro Ramos, a Bulakeno who's president of the Association of Fishermen in that part of Luzon, notes that under RA 8550 the 15 km. shoreline became the property of the fisher-folk but this is far from being the case, for despite millions of kms. of shoreline there's no adequate housing for the fishing sector. It's a fact the fisher-folk constitutes one of the poorest sectors in the country. For instance, as Ramos pointed out, whenever there's a warning of a storm coming, "hindi na kami kakain" and their shanties are blown away.  

The representative of the urban settlers, Josefina Acedilla of Samar, is a resident of Taguig and a dynamic and irrepressible personality on stage. She sent the NTC crowd rollicking with laughter at her quips and jokes and at some point her statements reeked of doble entendre and faint sexual overtones that mercifully the religious folks in the assembly didn't seem to catch, or pretended not to. Acedilla confessed that it's the "maralitang taga-lungsod" who are always in the forefront of rallies and demos, but their lives are studded with problems too as life in the big city is tough. 


Life in the rural areas, though, is tougher, as Jerry de la Cerna of Davao Oriental, who represents the farmers' group, attested. A third-generation coconut farmer, Jerry became a priest in 1991 but he left the priesthood in order to pursue his advocacy, which was to stop illegal logging and illegal fishing. He stressed that the Philippines is the "spawning ground of the world," as fish of many many varieties come here to spawn; but because of failure to protect our seas from threats to our rich marine life, our country remains poor. 

On the other hand, Jerry points out that the coco levy imposed on coconut farmers during the martial law days has by now come up to a staggering P83 billion fund; moreover, while the Supreme Court already categorically declared the coco levy fund FOR THE COCONUT FARMERS in 2012, up to now this fund has remained intact and undistributed to them. The coco farmers remain among the poorest Filipinos and the coconut industry is moribund.  


De la Serna asked permission from the NTC-affiliated bishops for permission to go fasting for seven days in Lipa City and seven days in Cebu (he plans to survive only on coconut water and its meat) to beg God's help for the cause of the poor coconut farmers. I am not sure what the reaction of the bishops to his request was, but perhaps he and other affected coco-farmers' associations could ask the help of Senate President Franklin Drilon and former Sen. Edgardo Angara Sr. on how best to get hold of the coco levy funds for the farmers' benefit. 

Drilon and Angara were among the lawyer-partners in the ACCRA Law Office that Angara founded in the Marcos era, who crafted this coco levy fund scheme that the coco farmers considered so oppressive from the start. The least these powerful figures could do is to ensure IN CONSCIENCE that the SC decree is carried out now---to distribute the levy funds to the destitute coco farmers. 


From the above proceedings of the NTC Assembly in Lipa last Feb. 26, it's easily discernible that should the NTC be able to assume a care-taker role, prior to the writing of a new constitution for our country and parliamentary elections, it will be a NEW ERA for the marginalized sectors. 

As the NTC manifesto in Lipa put it: "The NTC will aim to have a new system of government where the lower levels, from the barangay to the municipality/city, province and region will have more power than the centralized, oppressive, power-hungry and greedy central national government presently holding sway throughout the whole archipelago. The great bulk of financial resources should be channeled to improve the lower levels of society. Paramount is the conviction that if the huge amount of taxpayers' money is used not for population control but instead for education/skills training and employment opportunities, the Philippines can prove to the world that population is the greatest asset of any country."

Monday, February 23, 2015

DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima accuses the National Transformation Council of trying to pull a coup d'etat and threatens its leaders with sedition for allegedly instigating a 'military-backed people-power uprising.' But she should realize that after the botched SAF operation, the AFP and PNP are so unhappy over embarrassing finger-pointing in public that they don't need any 'inciting' from civilian sector. Instead of threatening these patriotic NTC faith leaders Leila should listen to their admonitions.

Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao

Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa

The National Transformation Council (NTC) is composed of various leaders of the large nationwide faith community that includes Catholic bishops, Protestant pastors and ministers and Muslim imams and ulamas, as well as various professionals and civic leaders of many different citizens’ associations. It has been holding citizens’ assemblies since Aug. 27, 2014, kicking off in Lipa, Batangas, and hosted by Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, then on in Cebu City, Davao City, Angeles City, Butuan City, General Santos City and the latest again in Cebu City last Feb. 13, 2015 under the auspices of Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. in each assembly the call was sounded for President Aquino to step down and meaningful reforms to be ushered in.

I'm belaboring the point about the various NTC assemblies since Aug. 27 last year, for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is now lambasting the NTC as allegedly “using the people’s grief to pervert a national catharsis," referring to the Mamasapano botched operation that resulted in the very tragic death of 44 SAF troopers, in addition to 18 MILF fighters and some civilians. De Lima now asserts that this “aggrupation of disgruntled GMA allies,”  has "crossed the line” in allegedly inciting the military to join its advocacy, so that she now says that the NTC “may be charged with sedition, rebellion or coup d’etat for instigating a military-backed people-power uprising.”


De Lima---yes, this is the same official who in a recent Senate hearing startled the nation by asserting that the PNP, being a civilian organization, does not have the chain of command that's operative in the military (!)---is once again confused about her dates and legal principles. The NTC began calling for people power way before the national tragedy of Mamasapano happened, and as any two-bit lawyer knows, calling on the people to withdraw support from a most unpopular president cannot be rebellion, but the exercise of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. 

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) led by Dante Jimenez sees this far clearer than the DOJ Secretary, and Jimenez laments that such threat from De Lima "further creates an atmosphere of anger among the people." He said the VACC, though not officially part of the NTC, "will challenge this threat of Malacanang before the Supreme Court."

As to inciting the military sector to rebel against the President, there is no evidence of the NTC doing that---unless of course, we see the military and police as part of the Filipino people, which they are and whom the NTC seeks to address. But listening to the Senate hearing this morning where AFP and PNP officials accuse and counter-accuse each other in the failed SAF operation and rescue, I think the Aquino administration is doing a splendid job of inciting both security forces to agree to a badly needed change of regime---even without help from disgusted private citizens.


Instead of deriding members of the NTC as coup-plotters, the voluble DOJ Secretary should praise them for their patriotism and love of country and listen to their admonition. For many of them have already achieved their mark and no longer need any personal embellishment, but because of love for country and alarm over the continuing destruction of institutions in this Aquino administration that should otherwise be the foundation of solid growth and progress, they continue to conduct forums to enlighten the people.

I’m talking, for instance, of 84-year old Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the retired Archbishop of Cebu, who asked for P-Noy's resignation as early as August 2014. Or take 80-year old Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao, a man of deep learning and erudition who should just be enjoying the fruits of ripe retirement. Yet he chooses to shuttle between Davao and Manila because he cannot just watch the country be destroyed by incompetence and corruption. Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa is no surprise as a firebrand, for he is a true Batangueno, but take Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz of Zamboanga, who received his pallium of authority from the Pope only last September. De la Cruz has never been known to hesitate to speak out on vital issues, especially on Mindanao. 

These and the other archbishops associated with NTC are a true inspiration for its mass followers.


Or take youthful NTC spokespersons Atty./CPA Glenn Chiong of Biliran who has made the cause of clean and honest elections his own lifelong advocacy after having been cheated in the congressional fight in his province, thanks to the damned machine. Or lawyer-minister Greco Belgica who battled the DAP in the Supreme Court; Greco wants to serve in government but would not even dare to run as long as the PCOS machines are operative.

Leila de Lima with her warped legal theories cannot hold a candle to anyone of these outstanding NTC leaders. She makes heroes out of them by accusing them of fomenting a coup d'etat. 


Listening to resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima and relieved PNP-SAF Commander Getulio Napenas trade accusations about over-all responsibility for the botched SAF operation that cost the lives of the 44 Fallen SAF and two dozen MILF combatants and one or two civilians was funny and painful at once. Funny because it was evident that both disgraced PNP leaders were trying to save their own necks by blaming each other; yet painful too because it made our PNP the laughing stock of the world, with the AFP as collateral damage.

Related to this tragic-comedy is that like so many other citizens, I found the idea of all these officers of both PNP and AFP commands TEXTING ONE ANOTHER about crucial developments that affected scores of lives revolting. Over the past month I have encountered fellow citizens who ask, why were all of them just using texts? Didn’t they have two-day radios? Whatever happened to the huge PNP and AFP budget?  Surely these officials know that texts can be delayed for as much as two hours because of some communication fluke. If there were no radios, the officers could have used their cell phones to call for more efficiency---INSTEAD OF TEXTING LIKE GIDDY HOUSEMAIDS. Was it the cost they were mindful of? With billions being spent by this government in fanciful items, what's the costs of cell phone calls in battle, really?).


At the Senate hearing this morning Gen. Alan Purisima asserted point-blank that the commander on the ground was responsible for the botched operation and he referred to Napenas. But queried by Sen. Francis Escudero as to who ordered Napenas to push the Mamasapano operation, he points to Purisima; but the latter, when confronted, denied it outright, saying that he had been suspended by then so how could he make such decisions. Actually his suspension was supposed to have been effected Dec. 4, yet Purisima was firing orders to Napenas up to the day of the operation, including the order to keep DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP OIC Espina out of the loop regarding the SAF operation. 

Moreover, Purisima was seeking rescue for the embattled SAF troopers from his PMA class ‘81 classmate,Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, that very morning, and the latter found out about it only then and there. Time-on-target, it's called. 

Clearly Napenas is the fall-guy, but if Senate President Franklin Drilon would have it, Purisima should get the bigger blame as Napenas was merely obeying Purisima's orders up to Jan. 25. Purisima is Drilon's fall guy, but the ultimate responsibility for Mamasapano lies with P-Noy, as he hatched this operation with a suspended PNP chief and severed the line of communication with PNP OIC Leonardo Espina who could have effectively coordinated the massive operation with the AFP. Every senator knows P-Noy is to blame, but no one's saying it. The other two guys in this tight triumvirate, Purisima and Napenas, wouldn't be able to move one bit if the Commander-in-Chief---or whatever he's called in the PNP hierarchy, according to De Lima---did not authorize them. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Now that both chambers of Congress have shut the door to public hearings on Mamasapano, there’s little chance of truth surfacing with PNP board of inquiry investigating its own people. What truth can Cardinal Tagle and Archbishop Soc expect from that board? Let’s support the National Transformation Council’s appeal for regime and system change.

Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle

CBCP President, Archbishop Soc Villegas

Our nation is in deep crisis, brought to the fore by the lack of credibility and competence of President Noynoy Aquino and his student-council Cabinet in handling the botched SAF operation. Filipinos from all walks of life are voicing out their opinions on the very grave problem of rift and division that the nation faces, and it’s imperative, as Auxiliary Bishop of Manila Broderick Pabillo stated in recent tweets, that we make a firm commitment to save our nation before this crisis deepens even more.

Like the growing number of citizens across the country, I fully support the advocacy of the National Transformation Council (NTC) for regime and system change, based on a platform dominated by moral regeneration. Our times call for  forthrightness and an unequivocal commitment on our part as citizens---we are talking of a country so broken and we are all being called to help rescue it for the future generations. No other way to look at it.


One of the institutions deeply affected is the Church whose ranking officials are divided among those who want P-Noy and his cabal out and replaced with more competent leaders now na, and those who are still willing to give him some quarter to “tell the truth about the Mamasapano operation.” Among those in the latter group is CBCP President Socrates Villegas, known to be close to the Aquino family, who has publicly said that the CBCP would await the result of the investigation by the board of inquiry designated by P-Noy on the SAF operation,  before taking a more concrete position on P-Noy’s leadership.

Because he’s president of CBCP, Villegas is, of course, quite influential over his colleagues.  The problem, however,  is that President Aquino has no history of full and honest disclosures---his four and a half years have been a series of strip-tease type revelations. He has disappeared from public view for many days now, and the only voice one hears from the Palace is that of Communications Chief Sonny Coloma whose credibility is even lower than that of his boss.


Corollary to P-Noy’s disappearance is the House of Representatives’ move,  at Malacanang’s instigation, to stop its probe of the Mamasapano operation and the Senate’s decision to restrict its own investigation to closed-door executive sessions.  It’s obvious that the move of both chambers to limit public involvement in their probes arises from fear that many more sordid aspects of the PNP operation could come to light.  

One of them is the question of just how much was the US involvement in the operation to get those international terrorists. News reports are now surfacing about military-type Caucasians in civvies who were on the ground in Mamasapano and at SAF Chief Getulio Napenas’ command post some kilometers away.  Some analysts say these are mercenaries, while others suspect the CIA hand.


There are also unconfirmed reports that the Kano funded the entire SAF operation. Recall that Napenas was asked this question at the Senate hearing and he said the cost of about  P100 million came from PNP funds, but it seems more credible that the funds came from the Kano. In fact many media people have commented that the big story of Marwan’s capture and the brutal savaging of 44 SAF troopers have been studiously kept out of international media networks like CNN. Was this deliberate  to protect the US role here?

The US angle is intriguing, as it could have a direct link to the reason why P-Noy kept the whole SAF planning and operation secret---involving only his most trusted and loyal buddy, resigned PNP Gen. Alan Purisima, and the latter’s handpicked man to handle the operation, relieved SAF Chief Gen Napenas.  Could the Kano angle be the reason why even acting PNP Chief Leonardo Espina and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas were kept out of the loop, as was the military command---until the whole operation bogged down and needed desperate rescue from the AFP?


At this point we’re conjecturing on a lot of issues surrounding the failed PNP operation, but one thing seems certain: now that the congressional probes are away from the public eye, we may never get to the bottom of the truth. This hitherto undisclosed angle of the US involvement could  be the main reason the two chambers of Congress have shut their doors to public hearings. Now the truth about Mamasapano is at the mercy only of the board of inquiry composed of PNP officials. But citizens have a right to ask: if the police is to investigate its ranks, can we truly expect the truth to come out?  

Members of the House minority have filed a bill seeking the creation of an independent Truth Commission, which has also been the demand of ordinary citizens from Day Two, but  Malacanang has ignored our plea. Now, given the subservient nature of Congress it would take an eternity to even pass that bill creating an independent commission.  

People power seems to be the attractive, non-violent solution to the truth impasse. Let’s support the clamor of the National Transformation Council (NTC) for regime and system change! 


Earlier I cited CBCP President Soc Villegas’ position that the CBCP won’t support any resign-call vs. P-Noy at the moment, as it prefers to await the results of investigation by the PNP board of inquiry. Doubtless due to public pressure, however, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop Soc and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma have now began to press P-Noy more emphatically to disclose the whole truth about the SAF operation---even as they continue to stay aloof from the call of their brother bishops for P-Noy to resign now. 

In the next few days, however, I can see more and more bishops joining the resign-call and that the top Church leadership would be increasingly isolated if it refuses to heed this public call for a Resign-Pinoy. 

Some significant churchmen such as Fr. Eliseo Mercado of Notre Dame University in Cotabato and Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila, have  opted for stronger pressures on the President to tell the truth. Fr. Mercado has been very open about this in social media. In his tweets Bishop Pabillo has reminded military chiefs and government officials that “their loyalty is to the Filipino people and not to the President.” And happily, he even admitted in a recent tweet that “In the situation now, I am open to extra-constitutional change” as he prods his readers, “Are you? We need creative destruction in the country for a better future.”


Sadly, however, because Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop Emeritus of Cebu City, led  six prominent bishops from all over the country for a Resign-P-Noy call last Friday, Feb. 13, at his residence, he is now the subject of intense disinformation. Some quarters are trying to paint this venerable 84-year old Church leader as senile and no longer in command of his faculties---which is farthest from the truth. In fact, looking at him as he read the NTC statement at at last Friday's press conference, I thought he looked so much healthier than last year; doubtless God is giving him the strength to lead the movement for moral transformation of our badly broken nation.

The personal attacks on Vidal only show that his name still carries a loud ring of truth and credibility.


Cardinal Vidal has been with NTC from its inception over three years ago, and significantly he was joined at his birthday in Cebu City last Friday by other multi-faith leaders in calling for P-Noy's resignation. On that occasion five Catholic bishops, namely, Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz, Archbishop Ramon Villena of Bayombong and Bishop Filomeno Bactol of Naval, Biliran were in attendance, while Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos was represented by Fr. Lito Clase. Also attending were Protestant leaders Rev. Arthur Corpuz of the United Church of Manila and Bishop Butch Belgica of the 3000-strong congregation of "Christian Bishops and Ministers of the Philippines. These inter-faith leaders met the media at Vidal’s residence and all the major newspapers in Cebu bannered his leading the Resign-P-Noy advocacy. I was there to witness that historic gathering that took many hours. 

The opening paragraph of Cardinal Vidal’s two-page statement was couched in diplomatic language as befits a Cardinal, but the intent and sentiment is clear: he joined his brother bishops in calling for Aquino to step down. No ifs and buts about it, despite the claim to the contrary of a certain Fr. Jojo Aquino, said to be Vidal's secretary (related to President Aquino?), and the effort of a certain reporter from Rappler to make Vidal appear as wavering in his conviction.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A week from today nation begins commemoration of 29th anniversary of Edsa uprising and stake-out of Cory Aquino in Cebu against the dictatorship. Last Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, Cebu was once again in historic limelight as leaders of various faiths led by Cardinal Vidal asked P-Noy to step down due to gross incompetence, duplicity and dishonesty---a prolonged winter of discontent that climaxed with barbaric slaying of 44 SAF troopers.

Last Friday, Feb.13, 2015, has to be marked as another red-letter day in church history as leaders of various faiths gathered once again  in Cebu City---by now a most historic site in our political life--- led by Cebu’s former Archbishop and former CBCP President Ricardo Cardinal Vidal. Interestingly, but not coincidentally perhaps as the Lord of History weaves various events in our national life, that gathering of multi-faith leaders occurred just a week and a half before the annual commemoration of the fateful anniversary of the EDSA Revolution, which broke out, again in Cebu City, with Cory Aquino as its central character.

It was an interesting incidence indeed,  but by no means a fluke of history, that last Friday, Feb. 13, was just a week and a half before the 29th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA Revolution on Feb. 25.


On Feb. 22, 1986, Cory Aquino brought to Cebu City the boycott movement against cronies of dictator Ferdinand Marcos that she launched days earlier at the Luneta. Later that evening, Cory was advised to seek refuge in the Carmelite Convent in that city. Earlier that afternoon, as fate would have it, Marcos' Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and PNP Commander Fidel Ramos broke away from the dictator and their mutiny, supported by Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, triggered the EDSA Revolution in the next few days that was to result in the installation of a revolutionary government by Cory Aquino.

Last Feb. 13, 2015, Catholic bishops and leaders of other faith communities supporting the National Transformation Council (NTC) gathered in the residence of Cardinal Vidal  in Cebu City to ask Benigno Aquino III---Cory's only son---to step down as president of this country, and the faith leaders stated many reasons for their quit-call on Aquino. This call was not an overnight development, for the harsh winter of Filipino discontent with the second Aquino administration had been brewing over the past four years through various controversies.


These included the manipulations of the PCOS machines by Comelec in the 2010 and 2013 elections, denounced by the most respected names in the local IT world but consistently ignored and belittled; the unconstitutional DAP employed to corrupt legislators on crucial decisions such as the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona and the vote of Congress on the RH Law;  the Napoles scandals involving the PDAF which have been manipulated to screen out allies of the current administration; the paralysis of action to rescue the poor and the homeless in Yolanda-devastated areas; the hopeless Metro Manila traffic and the MRT mess, congestion at the ports, etc. etc.

But the trigger of discontent was the barbaric slaying of 44 troopers of the PNP's elite Special Action Forces by MILF-BIFF forces in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25, which revealed the isolation of the Aquino leadership from the security bureaucracy and the ultimate in incompetence and duplicity. The botched Mamasapano operation also sadly contributed to the degeneration of the PNP and the unhealthy tension between it and the AFP. As the hearings in both chambers of Congress last week revealed, never has the relationship between the two security agencies of government sunk to intolerable levels of recrimination as now.

But this is nothing new, for the destruction of our various revered institutions has been evident in the past nearly five years, and many citizens have watched this development with dismay and helplessness. Now they are thoroughly disillusioned in an administration that once rode on the shining white horse of promise and incorruptibility.

From left to right: Pastor Arthur Corpuz of the United Church of Manila, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya Archbishop Ramon Villena, Cardinal Vidal (seasted), Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla and Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma

Aside from the personalities in photo no. 1, also seen at far right is Bishop Filomeno Bactol  of Naval, Biliran. Not in the photo but present at the gathering was Pastor Butch Belgica of the "Christ Bishops & Ministers of the Philippines" (CBMP), composed of 3000 churches and congregations across the country. Butuan Archbishop Juan de Dios Pueblos was unable to attend the Cebu gathering, but he was represented by Fr. Lito Clase.

Cardinal Vidal reads a part of the liturgy at birthday mass in his honor officiated by Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma 

Last Jan. 25 in Cebu, members and supporters of the National Transformation Council (NTC) among the faith leaders of the country gathered together to express their strong sentiment against the continuance of the administration of President Aquino. Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who had been down with illness two months ago, seemed so miraculously strong last Friday as he celebrated his 84th birthday and read the statement of the NTC seeking Aquino's resignation. In His wisdom God apparently gave the Cebu Patriarch new-found strength to lead this crucial new moral and political battle.

Cardinal Vidal's statement is quoted here in full: 

"The National Transformation Council has strongly articulated that the President should step down. We, bishops of the Catholic and other Christian Churches, have often been asked if there is moral basis to this growing demand. Recent developments have made this call even more urgent and imperative.

"Gaudium et Spes made it emphatically clear that “at all times and in all places, the Church should have the freedom to teach her doctrine and to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard the common good and fundamental rights and freedoms.” The Church and her pastors must never abandon their duty to denounce evil and to guide men, women and children in their active search for the truth and the good. Moral evil must be removed from the political and social system. This task, the Church and the political community cannot just leave in the hands of politicians, no matter how virtuous they might be.

“We cannot be apathetic. In the face of attempts to glorify evil and undermine the life of grace, Pope Francis spoke to us as individuals and as a nation in these words.

“Today, the Philippines, together with many other countries in Asia, face the challenge of building on solid foundations a modern society – a society respectful of authentic human values, protective of our God-given human dignity and rights, and ready to confront new and complex political and ethical questions. As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitments to the common good. In this way, they will preserve the rich human and natural resources with which God has blessed this country. Thus will they be able to marshal the moral resources needed to face the demands of the present, and to pass on to coming generations a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace.”

"The Pope’s words inspire us as we listen to the call of God to “pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it”; (Heb. 2:1), to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16); and to struggle against sin, even to the point of shedding our blood (cf Heb 12:1-4). This is the challenge to answer the call of our Christian faith and life. We must let go of our comfort zones, go to the peripheries and find the poor, the powerless, the marginalized and the neglected.

"We appeal to our fellow bishops and religious leaders of faith-based communities to join us in praying to God for his guidance for the renewal of the nation that is deeply rooted in faith values, love of country and respect for human life and environment."

(Next: brief summations of the remarks of various faith leaders at the Cebu gathering; Not just regime change but systems change necessary).

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Not only was there a botched SAF operation, now there’s also the “Lost Command” as Palace apologists led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima insist that the chain of command principle applies only to AFP but not to civilian PNP. Miriam argues that a similar principle could be incorporated into PNP operation. Confusion about this time-honored concept directly caused SAF tragedy.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, absent for days because of her ailment, was allotted a full hour at this morning’s Senate hearing and one of the most interesting things she said was that she heard of a coup in the making among a group of plotters answering to a name like an alphabet soup and financed by "a very rich man.” So, is there such a coup plot brewing?

It wouldn’t be surprising if there's one or even two or three plots seeking to remove the President and install a new leadership and/or even a new system of government. Buzzwords such as regime change and systems change find their way into many thoughtful columns and forums these days. 

One of the more articulate forums is the National Transformation Council (NTC) headed by prominent leaders of different faiths---Catholic bishops, Protestant pastors, Muslim leaders and the like. The NTC calls for moral transformation as the basis of political action and governance, and this platform is steadily gaining among reform-desperate citizens who lament the moral degeneration and paralyzed governance around us.


For it's plain to see that many citizens are unhappy about the way the country is being run and institutions are being destroyed one by one. In previous months we saw the degeneration of both chambers of Congress as money politics and corruption became more prevalent than ever. There were the attempts by the ruling power to destroy the independence of the judiciary. Today there is the "sisihan" between the PNP and the AFP in full view of the citizenry, something we never witnessed before. One can go on and on with a review of downed institutions. 

Is it any wonder that there would be brewing moves to change not only the regime but the system as well? 


To be honest, this blogger was among those who had hoped that Sen. Miriam would expound more clearly and forcefully at the Senate hearing on the concept of chain of command in the PNP set-up. This is because we the people feel the need to be enlightened on this tenet after hearing PNP officials such as relieved SAF Commander Getulio Napenas and resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima insist that there is no such doctrine in the civilian agency that's the PNP, as it's only operative in the AFP.  It became even more imperative to dissect this assertion after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima gave a similar opinion on this doctrine at the Senate.  

 Unfortunately the feisty Ilongga senadora merely glossed over this concept  (perhaps due to lack of time) even as she mercilessly grilled P-Noy's two allies on who gave the order to execute Oplan Exodus. 


Over her four and a half years as Justice Secretary under Aquino, De Lima on a number of occasions has displayed such a fierce loyalty to him, and her definition of the concept of chain of command seemed to be yet another such example. At last Tuesday's second Senate hearing, she asserted, as quoted in the Daily Tribune of yesterday, Feb. 11, 2015, that inasmuch as the PNP is a civilian agency, there is no chain of command, unlike in the AFP where this is operative and the President is the Commander-in-Chief. 

This has prompted someone in social media to term the Palace set-up the “Lost Command.”

Miriam this morning reminded De Lima that “principles under the AFP structure, such as the chain of command, could be incorporated in the PNP operation,” to which the latter was just plainly happy to agree---relieved, doubtless, that the feisty senadora did not pick a prolonged fight with her on this issue. But this blogger finds this argument of De Lima plainly unjustifiable, and many citizens agree with me on this.

As a citizen reasoned in a text: “Does De Lima really believe that we’re all stupid to believe there’s no chain of command in the PNP because it’s a civilian agency? He argued that even business organizations have a chain of command, as otherwise, what’s the rationale for positions starting with foremen at the bottom, upwards?” One might add that even kindergarten schools have such a hierarchy. The texter concluded that this is a student council government alright. 


Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda expectedly echoes De Lima’s argument, but this is not only plainly stupid but encourages more mayhem and disorganization. What, for instance, is to discourage a company of patrolmen from starting to tote guns and shoot around because the hierarchical structure is unclear?

What's clear is that the tragedy of Mamasapano was the direct offshoot of an ill-defined chain of command in the PNP. The planning of the SAF operation was limited only to three people---the President, the former PNP Chief who was suspended since Dec. 4 and should therefore have been cut off from any involvement, but who continued to live in the White House in Crame and planned the whole operation, and SAF Chief Napenas. 


The game-plan of P-Noy’s strategists is to continue drawing fire to Purisima and Napenas, in order to absolve the President from guilt and blame. But it’s too late to parry the blame. Citizens can plainly see that having kept PNP OIC Leonardo Espina and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas out of the loop, responsibility has shifted entirely to Napenas, Purisima and P-Noy in ascending order. Had the Mamasapano operation been on a normal level devoid of unsound motives it should have involved, as President Ramos has stressed, acting PNP Chief Espina and AFP Chief Gregorio Catapang and their staff in a well-planned operation that should have guaranteed wider success. 

Instead, what came out was a poorly planned three-sheet intel packet which has been a nightmare for our people and the destruction of well-earned reputations and institutions.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Missing Joker Arroyo in today’s Senate committee hearing---he would have pursued commander-in-chief principle to its excruciating end, letting the chips fall where they may. Pinoy’s allies too eager to pin down Napenas as fall guy. Rift between PNP and AFP should be addressed so that enemies of state do not take advantage of it. The MILF has to desire peace with such an ache that it would be the first to sue for it.

Poor relieved PNP SAF Chief Getulio Napenas.  He was not only fired right after the botched Mamasapano operation, but now, clearly Palace and Senate conspirators have made him the fall guy for the President. 

At this morning’s hearing of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Sen. Grace Poe,  Napenas, PMA class ’82, admitted that he was receiving “advice,” not ‘‘orders,’  from suspended (now resigned ) PNP Chief Alan Purisima regarding the SAF operation and that it was a “judgment call” on his part to accept the latter’s series  of “advice.”  Among such “advice” from Purisima was for Napenas not to tell DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, who has direct supervision over the PNP and Napenas’ immediate superior, PNP OIC Leonardo Espina, about the coming operation, and that he’d “take care of (AFP Chief Gregorio) Catapang.”


No one among the senators, however,  questioned Napenas what  he thought of  Purisima’s black-out  order vs. Roxas, Espina and Catapang, which the suspended Chief had skillfully convinced Aquino to agree to. For one thing, it shows how close Purisima and P-Noy are and the former’s convincing power over the latter. But lock-out could also be a matter of professional jealousy on the PNP’s part vis-à-vis the Armed Forces. Recall that the PNP has sunk quite low with the graft and corruption charges against Purisima and various scandals associated with him.  Bagging an international terrorist like Marwan could elevate the PNP’s esteem notches higher.

But why keep out Espina? Was it a matter of personal  and professional jealousy with Purisima?

The senators were too polite about crucial issues that go into the heart of the Mamasapano controversy, and many of them were only too eager to pin down Napenas and his 30 years of service to the PNP, and to  protect Purisima--- because by protecting the latter they protect P-Noy.   I missed Joker Arroyo this morning---had he been around he would have pursued the commander-in-chief and chain of command principles to their fearless and excruciating end (that’s how he maneuvered to put Defense Chief Juan Ponce Enrile to pasture), thus putting P-Noy on the carpet.

The black-out of Catapang and the AFP exacted a heavy toll on the PNP in terms of precious elite troopers’ lives lost, and for years to come the Mamasapano fiasco would haunt it.


Napenas virtually admitted that he acted on his own “within the window of opportunity” open to SAF to operate in Mamasapano from Jan. 23-26 (advising the AFP just on “time-on-target”), and that he seized it. It was evident that he's now accepting his role as fall guy for P-Noy and Purisima, the Palace tandem which gave the go-signal for the botched operation.  

By contrast with Napenas’ meek and submissive behavior, one could sense the seething anger of PNP OIC Leonardo Espina, who was kept out of the loop, over the senseless death of 44 of his men and the “barbaric and brutal” manner they  were  executed in Mamasapano.

The PNP is far from whole and cohesive  as an organization and it will take a long while to heal its wounds of division and fragmentation.  A crucial choice would be whom the President will install as PNP Chief (the straight-talking Espina, who’s not Purisima’s favorite general, is retiring this June).  That new chief had better be a healing leader.


Speaking of healing, the startling disclosure was made by SAF relieved chief Napenas at the Senate today that the reason the AFP, through its Chief Gregorio Catapang, was deliberately kept in the dark presumably by P-Noy and Purisima was because of a distrust of the AFP within the PNP.  In his testimony Napenas went on to note that past efforts to operate in Mamasapano against terrorists had to be aborted because, among other reasons, there appeared to be apparent leaks from within the AFP.  He  noted that there are a number of MILF close to the AFP ranks.

This is a serious charge and it presents a very sad predicament for the two state organizations defending our security against internal and external forces.  The rift could be capitalized upon by enemies of the state.

Sincere efforts to dissect the problem within the two organizations should not be too difficult, as many officers of both are PMA classmates and contemporaries.  


Nowhere in the three-hour Senate hearing did anyone of the senators dare raise the question of whether P-Noy gave the order to the SAF Chief to attack the MILF/BIFF lair to get Marwan. That P-Noy gave that order is a fact that anyone with minimum intelligence would conclude not only from the organizational set-up of the PNP but also from the testimonies---especially since Gen. Napenas already admitted having kept PNP OIC Espina and DILG Secretary Roxas in the dark regarding the Mamasapano operation. 

Poor  Napenas was boxed in indeed, but it was evident that Purisima’s hold over him came from the suspended Chief’s all too obvious closeness to P-Noy. As the fired SAF Chief testified, he and his subordinates were taken by Purisima to several meetings with P-Noy, one of them in the firing range of the Palace grounds last Nov. 30, 2014 and another in Bahay Pangarap, to discuss the coming operation.

For Napenas, an order from Purisima was an order from P-Noy.  No matter the attempt to  obfuscate the issue,  this fact is clear to the Filipino people.


The House of Representatives was correct in shelving deliberations of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) for indefinite (congrats to the chair of the ad hoc committee on the BBL, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez for his political sensitivity).  The way the people feel so outraged and emotional over the tragic death of the 44 SAF ---in fact, a political pundit observed that the Filipino people now are far more outraged over the Fallen 44 than over the slaying of Ninoy Aquino in 1983---there is no way they would agree to passing the BBL now; and politicians can only ignore their sentiment at their peril. 

As it was borne out in today’s Senate hearing, the MILF already knew as early as 7 am. of that fateful  Jan. 25 that they were fighting government forces,  but their forces continued to disregard the ceasefire  supposedly in place and instead kept firing at the SAF troopers. It took seven long hours before they stopped---when by then all the troopers from the blocking force were dead except for one survivor. 

Moreover, the MILF must have known of the whereabouts of terrorist Marwan but they did not cooperate in his capture. Now they promise to hand over Filipino terrorist Usman. That remains to be seen. There’s just too much suspicion between the two forces at the moment and mutual trust has been shattered.

To be fair, if the AFP was not properly informed of the SAF operation in Mamasapano, it’s also easy to assume that there could have been a failure to effectively notify the MILF about the plan to catch Marwan. But still, over those long hours of battle, couldn’t the MILF have harkened to the operative ceasefire?  I must admit, though, that it's truly tough to clear the air and restore trust, for members of the MILF and the BIFF often come from the same clan.

The MILF has to so desire peace with such an ache that it would be the first to sue for it.