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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Many citizens ecstatic when Comelec threatened to return to manual count after SC TRO-ed Brillantes' midnight deal with Smartmatic for P268-M refurbishment of 82,000 old PCOS machines. But jubilation short-lived as Comelec recently "virtually awarded" P2.5-B contract to lease 23,000 new "optical mark reader" (OMR) machines, to augment PCOS units. This reinforces popular belief that P-Noy and LP gang are determined to corner 2016 elections to avoid a PGMA scenario for them. Fight vs. Comelec continues.








While the country has been embroiled in the Mamasapano tragedy and President Aquino has gone on his third still-nebulous speech on what truly happened last Jan. 25, civic-spirited citizens led by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the umbrella group of Filipino IT experts, AES-Watch, went to the Supreme Court to stop the P268 million negotiated “midnight contract” awarded by retiring Comelec Chair Sixto Brilliantes to Smartmatic for diagnostics, refurbishment and repair of 82,000 PCOS machines used in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

The SC responded with a TRO on the Smartmatic contract and this was met with a lot of jubilation by citizens.  

The SC's TRO, however, could mean that it would take months before the refurbishment case can be settled. By way of pressuring the SC magistrates to act fast and favorable to Smartmatic, Comelec has threatened to go back to manual elections in 2016---otherwise...

XXX

Actually, for millions of citizens who know of the shenanigans that marred the two past PCOS-conducted elections, the Comelec's threat to go manual merely strengthens the disqualification case recently filed by various citizens’ groups before the SC, against all those elected under the PCOS-manipulated elections where all safeguards were discarded---beginning with Benigno Aquino III, the entire Congress and all local officials. The citizens' contention is that these "PCOS-elected officials" have been fraudulently elected.

Thus, the Comelec threat to discard the PCOS and go manual in 2016 is not really a bad idea. In fact, it's HEAVEN-SENT. 

XXX

IT IS HEAVEN-SENT, FOR AS OUR MOST PROMINENT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY EXPERTS ASSERT, DUE TO THE WIDE USE OF CELL PHONES, IPHONES AND FAX MACHINES ALL OVER THE COUNTRY--- EVEN IN MOST RURAL AREAS----WE CAN HAVE AN EXCELLENT COMBINATION OF MANUAL ELECTIONS AND COUNT AT PRECINCT LEVELS AND ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION OF ELECTION RESULTS TO THE COMELEC (THE LATTER IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF RA 9369, THE AES LAW).  

THE NET RESULT WILL BE FAST TABULATION AND TRANSMISSION OF ELECTION RESULTS---WITH MINIMAL CHANCES FOR CHEATING.

XXX

WHY MINIMAL?  THE VOTING AND COUNTING IN THE PRECINCTS WILL BE DONE MANUALLY AND TABULATED  RIGHT AFTER THE CLOSE OF VOTING HOURS, IN THE PRESENCE OF THE VOTERS AND VARIOUS POLITICAL PARTY REPRESENTATIVES. THE FINAL TABULATION SHEETS WILL BE SIGNED BY COMELEC AND PARTY REPRESENTATIVES. ALL THESE SHOULD BE FINISHED WITHIN THREE OR FOUR HOURS.

THE POLITICAL PARTY REPS WILL THEN PHOTOGRAPH THE SIGNED TABULATION SHEETS, USING THEIR IPHONES, AND IMMEDIATELY RELAY THESE TO THEIR RESPECTIVE POLITICAL PARTIES.  COMELEC OFFICIALS WILL ALSO TAKE THE SAME PHOTOS  AND RELAY  THEM BY IPHONE TO COMELEC OFFICES.

THUS, THE POLITICAL PARTIES  AND THE COMELEC WILL HAVE THE SAME  SIGNED TABULATION SHEETS---DERIVED FROM THEIR OWN TALLIES BY PRECINCTS, TOWNS, PROVINCES AND NATIONAL.  


THUS THERE WOULD BE LITTLE ROOM FOR CHEATING AS COMPLETE RESULTS SHOULD BE KNOWN AND PUBLISHED WITHIN TWO TO THREE DAYS FROM CLOSE  OF VOTING IN THE PRECINCTS. 

WHAT'S GOOD IS THAT IT WOULD TAKE EXACTLY THE  SAME AMOUNT OF TIME TO DO IT MANUALLY AND IF COMELEC’S PCOS WERE USED. AND AT MINIMAL COST!  ABOVE ALL, TRANSPARENT. 

XXX

Many citizens began jumping  with jubilation at this sudden “threat” of Comelec to  go manual in 2016. But alas, it was a short-lived victory.  

For instead of returning the PCOS machines to their bodegas and sealing them because our 2016 elections---if it pulls through at all---would go manual as Comelec had threatened, the latest development is that the poll body has actually given the go-signal to acquire 23,000 precinct-based "optical mark reader" (OMR) units to augment the 82,000 PCOS that needs refurbishment! 

It should be noted that OMR and PCOS machines are both paper ballot-reading machines.

XXX

As the Manila Times editorial yesterday pointed out, Comelec “virtually awarded” to the joint venture of Smartmatic-TIM the P2.503-billion contract to lease to the poll body 23,000 units of precinct-based optical mark reader (OMR)---to augment its 82,000 units of PCOS machines of Smartmatic that were "illegally" used in the 2010 and 2013 elections. 

Said the Times: “We and other Filipinos concerned about the absence of transparency in the precinct-level electoral process because of the illegal use of the PCOS machines, thought that the Comelec Bidding and Awards Committee (BAC) decision to disqualify the Venezuelan company was the beginning of the total termination of Smartmatic’s role in our elections. We were wrong.”

This is because the Comelec Commissioners in a most recent en banc decision granted Smartmatic’s protest against its disqualification by Comelec’s very own BAC.

XXX

The Times noted that "Thus, in accordance with this en banc decision the Commission declared that the financial proposal submitted by the Smartmatic JV [joint venture] during the second stage of the competitive bidding for the lease of election management system and precinct-based optical reader optical scan system of the joint venture of Smartmatic-Tim Corporation, total Informational Management Corporation,. Smartmatic International Holding B.V., and Jaritech International Corporation is COMPLETE AND RESPONSIVE.' "

"Smartmatic, being the lowest calculated bidder, will undergo a post-qualification evaluation. The Venezuelan company will surely pass this evaluation and then be formally awarded the contract."

XXX

Citizens can only read this recent Smartmatic victory from the Comelec BAC to mean that its automated election system (AES) using PCOS machines---that made a mess of the 2010 and 2013 election---will once again reign over the next elections. This means that good and honest individuals who want to run for political office out of love of country and service to the people would again be discouraged from participating in what they see as tainted elections.

That system violates the transparency requirement of the law governing automated elections, RA 9369, whose title is “An act authorizing the Commission on Elections to use an automated election system …to encourage transparency, credibility …” This law also states that “the use of an automated election system … will ensure … that the process shall be transparent and credible …”. Sadly, the system set up by Smartmatic does the opposite. 

XXX

The Times editorial explains how the hocus-pocus happens: "The Smartmatic AES using the PCOS machines does all the reading of the ballots and the counting of results in the belly of the machines. The voters and the nation just have to believe that no error or cyber-tampering was done. The machine then spits out the vote count in the precinct and transmits it to the consolidation and canvassing centers."

Under the old manual system before 2010, explains the Times, "...the Board of Election Inspectors in each precinct reads each ballot and had the count tallied on a blackboard or whiteboard. The count and the process were seen by watchers from the rival political parties, the authorized election watchdog organizations and the press.

"One could then prove fraud was committed when the numbers sent to the canvassing centers were not the same as the precinct’s publicly witnessed counting and total results."

XXX

Subsequent problems arose from the PCOS machines, such as the appearance of lines in the electronic image of ballots, so that these were read and interpreted in ways that changed the election count. So many protests vs.these line images were lodged by candidates all over the country, to no avail AND THEY CAUSED SO MUCH POLITICAL INSTABILITY. 

These transparency problems as well as instances of failure by machines to transmit results have moved many political groups, supported by various professional groups, to push for abandonment of the Smartmatic PCOS machines. They cite many countries that have discarded automated elections and returned to manual---among them Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Australia and others–-about 18 countries out of the 30 that once tried out the AES system but subsequently returned to manual vote and count. 

Japan and the United Kingdom, on the other hand, have stuck to manual vote and count in precincts---because they give premium to total transparency.

XXX

The Times editorial pointed out other salient points: "Our laws say the accuracy of automated system used must be at least 99.995 percent. Smartmatic with the PCOS never met this legal requirement in in any of its tests and mock elections.

"There are safeguards in the process that Comelec and Smartmatic dismantled. The “source code” used by the machine’s software system by law should be reviewed by political parties and authorized IT expert groups." (This was never followed).

"Precinct election results should be signed and verified to be correct by the teachers making up the (Board of Election Inspectors). The results transmitted from precincts and precinct clusters had no digital signatures or any kind of affidavit of verification by the teachers. How could they when they don’t even know how the machine is counting the votes and adding them up?"

XXX

Sadly, however, despite all these and other unnamed defects the Comelec seems determined to use the PCOS machines again in the coming elections, if these materialize at all---and there's justified suspicion that the ruling LP just won't give up cornering election results---to save President Aquino and other ranking officials from jail.  

We have to continue fighting use of those wicked PCOS machines. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Indication that President Aquino is now very much a lame-duck President is rise of various political scenarios for 2016. The manifesto endorsing former Senator and PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson’s political alliance with Sen. Grace Poe to achieve, among others, “transformation,” could have arisen from recollection of the Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew’s “political authoritarianism.” But such endorsement would also bring into sharp scrutiny Lacson’s checkered past.




One can tell that President Noynoy Aquino is already a lameduck president by the number of candidates being thrown into the political ring, almost 14 months prior to the elections of 2016 and seven months prior to the filing of candidacies at the end of this October.  And indeed, with the nation at a virtual standstill, nothing seems to percolate other than the political scene as various election scenarios are being conjured. It's also indication of the general feeling of hopelessness about the country, as a result of the ineffectual leadership of P-Noy as the months and years lengthened, which seemed interminable.

A week or so ago, up popped the Drilon scenario: that the beleaguered Vice President Jejomar Binay would be ordered arrested by the Ombudsman on multiple corruption charges, so that he would be tucked away politically. This scenario could rake up political turmoil as the perception in some quarters is that Binay is being relentlessly persecuted (the AMLC investigations into his foreign wealth is being fought fiercely by his lawyers) because he leads the presidential race, despite all the mud being thrown at him.

XXX

But assuming that the Omudsman’s action in haling Binay to court does succeed, this scenario also includes talk about Noynoy being persuaded to step down, in which case Senate President Franklin Drilon, who is constitutionally third in line of succession to the presidency, would assume the highest office. Once ensconced there, so goes this scenario, Drilon would then appoint Speaker Feliciano Belmonte as vice-president with the consent of Congress; and so the LP stranglehold on power would be completed for another six years perhaps.

Such scenario could sent paroxysms of anxiety to citizens not enamored of the five-year leadership by the LP. Moreover, Senate President Drilon has his own can of worms, particularly the controversial coconut levy issue of which he was among those who conceptualized it for the Marcos regime, together with former Sen. Edgardo Angara and the late Sen. Raul Roco in the ACCRA Law Office in the Marcos era.  

Today the coco levy issue is still being bitterly fought over between the impoverished coconut planters and the government which has custody over the P72 billion fund once extracted from the coconut farmers in that era.   

XXX

That's one scenario. Two days ago, I heard on radio the interview of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte by ABS-CN’s Ted Failon, where he was querying the mayor on talks about his gunning for the presidency in 2016. Duterte’s name has been bandied about among the more favored “candidates” for national office, and in fact he’s being paired off with Sen. Grace Poe, but in that program he said he was not interested, and would be happy to stay as Davao mayor. Duterte draws fanatic support from those who want a strongman president, but he also sows fear in the hearts of civil rights people who fear a lynching leader.

On the other hand, Sen. Poe herself is being repeatedly mentioned for either of the two top positions and at first it seemed like a hele-hele for the lady solon, but recent political chismis is that she does appear receptive to it now, and that in fact, financial backers are surfacing. Poe’s standing appears to have been firmed up better after the prolonged Senate hearings which she was generally thought to have handled pretty well despite her neophyte status.

XXX

But to my mind, the most serious endorsement of a presidential team surfaced yesterday, not co-incidentally perhaps, two days after the passing of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, its Prime Minister for 31 years and father of the current PM. A whole-page “manifesto” appeared in two leading dailies, calling for “democratic discernment, vigilance and transformation,” and signed by a group of officers of the old PC-INP, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The signatories, who include retired star-rank officers as well as the current head of the Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO), Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan (AFP, ret.) cited certain events, occurences and  issues which “caused much grief, outrage and anxiety to our nation,” which necessitate the search for “imperatives, qualities and requirements of national leadership with critical discernment.”

XXX

The retired PNP and AFP officers cited the most urgent problems of our country, such as the recent Mamasapano massacre, the super-typhoon Yolanda that presages chronic occurrence of increasingly destructive natural calamities and disasters; the PDAF and DAP scams that indicate “unbridled dishonesty, greed and corruption in government," the Metro Manila traffic and port congestion and the “miserable state of the MRT and NAIA” that dramatize, to their mind, “sheer bureaucratic callousness, arrogance and ineptitude.”

The conditions cited above by the retired officers of the armed services are an indictment of the Aquino administration as they clamor on behalf of our people for “a national leadership that is competent and incorruptible and does not adhere to traditional politics.”  

I venture the observation that these retired officers have grown tired of the ineptitude of the P-Noy administration especially after the SAF commandos' tragic encounter with BFF and MILF elements in Mamasapano, and the way the P-Noy government has been confronting very serious problems of national life by dishing out blame instead of facing up to them. I think what especially affected the two armed services, the PNP and the AFP, is that the political leadership is making them quarrel with each other, instead of focusing on how to defeat traditional enemies.

XXX

Nowhere was the President’s propensity to make the AFP and the PNP quarrel more evident than in the Mamasapano massacre,  whertr the military obviously resented the inclination of PNP officers Gen. Alan Purisima and Getulio Napenas to cast blame during the public hearings on the AFP commanders in Mindanao for their alleged failure to come to the rescue of the pinned-down SAF commandoes; the AFP officers hae stoutly maintained that this tragedy resulted from the lack of coordination by the PNP project handlers.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, became a collateral damage of the SAF carnage when his promotion was frozen by the Commission on Appointments because he failed to answer some nagging doubts about the Jan. 25 tragedy.

XXX

But what is most interesting about the PNP and AFP retirees’ joint statement of yesterday is its endorsement of former Senator and PNP chief Panfilo Lacson and Sen. Grace Poe to the highest offices of the land, after considering the “above premises.” The retirees urged Lacson and Poe “to forge a political alliance and run in tandem for higher office in 2016” and they assured these politicians of their support “not only in the elections but in the political transformation of our Government and Society.”

I mentioned above the sudden appearance of the endorsement manifesto for Lacson and Poe that seemed timed with the passing of Singapore’s former strongman, Lee Kuan Yew. As I said, it's obvious that the manifesto signatories are apparently tired of the lackadaisical and wimpy style of governance of President Aquino and they advocate a more forceful and determined leadership not akin perhaps to the "political totalitarianism” practiced by LKY especially in the first 20 years of his 31 years of stronghold of the island republic’s existence. 

Lacson is particularly endorsed for his “strong-willed, disciplined and decisive service reputation” while Poe is praised for her “untarnished and compassionate brand of leadership.”

XXX

It will be recalled that former Sen. Lacson was appointed by P-Noy the Rehab Czar to handle the super-job of getting the Yolanda-stricken provinces of the Visayas back on their feet. After taking almost a year to draw up the massive blue-print for recovery, however, Lacson resigned, apparently fed up by the lack of support from P-Noy and the holding back of public and donated funds. Since then he has been quite critical not only of the turtle-pace of the Yolanda rehab, but also of the highly questionable interpretation by P-Noy’s allies, especially Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, of the doctrine of command responsibility and the chain of command. Lacson outright disputed and mocked De Lima’s placing P-Noy outside the PNP chain of command.

But it must also be stressed here that the record of former Sen. Lacson on the question of moral leadership has been far from spotless. Recall how Rosebud had associated him allegedly with drug-trafficking and other questionable activities in the PNP, even testifying in the Senate on these allegations. In later years Lacson went into hiding for over a year from the long arm of the court, to evade arrest. 

XXX

In this connection, the retired PNP and AFP officers’ endorsement of Lacson as a means for society’s “transformation” would certainly be put under heavy scrutiny should he run for higher office.  

An FB reader posted a quote from the late much-revered US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt which said, "The Presidency is not merely an administrative office.That's the least of it. It's more than an engineering job, efficient of inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.

Very apt rule to measure candidates for higher office, not just Lacson.



Sunday, March 22, 2015

Euphoria over 'independent' judgment of BOI and Senate reports turns to confusion over “passive voice” of conclusion that encourages flexibility of interpretation, vs.“active voice” that would directly pinpoint P-Noy. But there's one unarguable fact: P-Noy recruited suspended Purisima who couldn't coordinate with AFP. Recalling how, in a delicate rescue operation in Basilan 12 years ago on kidnapped US bible translator, VP Erap earned pogi points for yielding to military professionals, instead of playing politician-general, like P-Noy in Mamasapano.




The nation was euphoric over the seemingly independent judgment exercised by the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) and the Senate Committee headed by Sen. Grace Poe, both of which stressed that the chain of command had been violated. For once all the major media chorused the same headline of how the chain of command was broken! But perhaps, as lawyer Jose Oliveros noted in an opinion in the Manila Standard Today last March 20,  there was a world of difference in the use of the passive voice (“ that the chain of command was violated”), rather than the active voice: that the President had broken the chain of command.

In the passive voice, as Oliveros points out, the emphasis was on the chain of command, whereas in the active voice the onus would be on the President as the main actor who violated the chain of command.   

XXX

As it turned out, use of the passive voice proved ominous as it gave room to FLEXIBILITY and DOUBLE-TALK. Both Poe and PNP CIDG Chief Benjamin Magalong who headed the BOI stressed subsequently that while the chain of command was indeed broken, the President could not be faulted because he is OUTSIDE the chain of command, which only begins with the Chief PNP down.  Poe mused on this idea in a TV interview, asserting that her report could change if the President has “new revelations” about the failed SAF operation;  whereas Magalong worked along this line after answering the summons of P-Noy to Malacanang last Tuesday.  

Magalong said after that meeting with P-Noy, as quoted by MST of March 20, that “Aquino did not violate the chain of command but merely bypassed it by giving direct orders to former SAF director Getulio Napenas hours before Oplan Exodus came into motion.” He further stressed that “President Aquino did not violate the chain of command as he is not covered by it,” but that nonetheless, “ ‘findings’ of the report that the chain of command has been violated remain.”

XXX

This turnabout, which both officials denied as such, saddened legions of Filipinos who thought that for once, there were two people who stood their ground against the immense power-play of the Palace.

To digress, it was brazen defiance of, at the very least, good sense and simple propriety by the President to openly summon Magalong after the BOI report came out with conclusions that “hurt” him.  The Palace says that what reaped P-Noy’s ire was that he never got to air his side on the operation, as DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, to whom the BOI had relayed its request to query P-Noy, forgot in the hustle and bustle of the day’s job to deliver that message to his boss. 

This BOI report was the hot topic for many days and Roxas would forget to deliver the request to the lead in the dramatis personae! Ginawa na namang sangkalan at tanga si Mar.  But why does Mar tolerate all this?

XXX

Rejoicing over the straightforwardness of the two reports turned to confusion as the concept of the President outside the PNP chain of command became too twisted to comprehend. Both Poe and Magalong were echoing Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who even called former President Ramos “a confused man” for asserting that the chain of command is alive and kicking in the PNP. FVR at a press con reminded De Lima of EO 226 that he issued in February 1995 that sought to institutionalize the doctrine of “Command Responsibility” in all government offices, particularly at all levels of command of the PNP and other law-enforcement agencies.” EO 226 has not been erased from statute books.

XXX

Lawyer Jose Oliveros, whom I quoted above, reminds De Lima that on at least two occasions, Aquino had referred to himself as the “Commander-in-Chief of the PNP”:  the 2013 graduation rites of the Philippine National Police Academy on March 22, 2013, and just last Feb. 6, 2015, in his address to the nation following the SAF Mamasapano massacre, when he asserted that “As  President and Commander-in-Chief I am fully responsible for any result, any triumph, any suffering and any tragedy that may result from our desire for lasting peace and security.”

Actually P-Noy does not seem to have difficulty accepting his role as PNP Commander-in-Chief, it’s the fawning DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima who,  in her eagerness to save her boss from liabilities in his post-term, now resorts to convoluted arguments that are destroying time-honored principles on which this nation has lived and thrived.

Lawyer Oliveros hit the nail on the head when he reminded De Lima that as Justice Secretary she is the legal counsel of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, not the legal counsel of President Benigno Aquino. 

XXX

Ultimately, the debate over whether P-Noy is in or out of the chain of command  becomes secondary, for it still does not erase one central fact that was the ROOT CAUSE of the tragic failure of the SAF operation that claimed the lives of 66 Filipinos. This is that P-Noy authorized former PNP Chief Alan Purisima to plan and execute it, when he should have been in the dog-house serving six-months suspension by the Ombudsman beginning Dec. 4, 2014 for graft and corruption.  Just why P-Noy involved only Purisima and Napenas, bypassing PNP OIC Leonardo Espina, remains a big mystery up to now, but ironically, it’s now Purisima whom Leila is going to investigate for “usurpation of jurisdiction.”  

But at least Grace Poe recognized the malady of authorizing a suspended official to carry out a mission. Said she after her Senate report came out: “If you are a suspended PNP Chief, you cannot let your people know that you are actually engaged in the situation. So here are lots of things that you can leave out. You can’t really be focused on what you’re supposed to do. And that’s why the tragedy happened, he was in Nueva Ecija texting (while the SAF operation was on-going).”

XXX

The tragedy of Mamasapano also boils down to the folly of politicians who want to play general--- when such a delicate and complex operation should be left to the professionals once the decision button is pushed for Go.  

FVR soon after the SAF tragedy asserted that instead of the text-game that went on between three people only, P-Noy should have called a full-blown command  conference of the PNP and AFP top commands, to tackle the decision to get Marwan. 

And in a personal way I can appreciate the merits of Ramos' assertion. Allow me to go into some reminiscing.

XXX

In the third quarter of 1993 American bible translator Charles Walton was kidnapped in Basilan by what was believed to be Abu Sayyaf elements, and it was a big international issue. My husband was then commander of all Mindanao (at that time Southern Command was one central command, unlike now that it’s divided into Eastern and Western Command);  he was tasked by President Ramos to carry out the rescue mission that was undertaken by the AFP in coordination with the PNP and select civilian elements in Mindanao.


At the end of October Vice President Joseph Estrada descended on Zamboanga City where SouthCom was based, a big media retinue in tow, and in his capacity as Anti-Crime Czar he wanted to be in the thick of things. In fact he wanted to go to Basilan asap. My husband politely refused to allow him to go there, as it could jeopardize very delicate operations. Cunanan told him that if he wanted a briefing, he could give him one every hour, if necessary, but Basilan was off-limits at the moment.

XXX

To Erap’s credit he was obedient and he stayed at  Zamboanga’s plush Orchid Garden Hotel, nightly holding court with media over his favorite Blue Label Scotch  (flown from Manila with him), joined in from time to time by SouthCom officials.

Then one day everything was ready. By mid-morning of Nov. 14, the VP, DILG Secretary Raffy Alunan, Gen. Cunanan and other high officials got into a small plane that Erap was using, while media, (including this blogger, then a columnist of Inquirer) and lower-ranking officials loaded into a propeller Army plane. Before take-off, a young fellow in civvies came up our plane to tell me that the Veep wanted me to ride in his plane, but I chose to stay with media colleagues. This messenger was the future Sen. Panfilo Lacson, then aide of Estrada.

XXX

In the thick forest fastness of Basilan, the VIP party from Zamboanga occupied a clearing with a sort of picnic hut where we sat all day, awaiting Walton. Things at that point were very iffy and tension ran high as sunlight began to ebb---how often the twilight proves inhospitable to such undertakings.  Erap’s group tried small talk. I came to know later that my husband had assigned security to handle the VIPs in case trouble erupted. His youthful aide-de-camp, a PMA graduate, was tasked to push me into a ditch just in case…I had no idea how he took care of Erap and Alunan.

Then, as dark was beginning to envelop us, there was a faint shuffle in the forest and out came a frightfully emaciated Walton, surrounded by swarthy men with kerchiefs tied around their heads and long guns. Erap and Alunan stood up to receive him and we were then quickly hustled out and brought to the 4th Marine Brigade in Basilan, to spend the night there. I took as a cue the importance of Walton’s rescue in the number of Caucasians at the dinner table, whom Erap regaled, his eyes twinkling naughtily,  with, among other things, how powerful the turtle eggs on the table were as aphrodisiac.

Prior to getting to the camp, the party stopped downtown and Walton called up Philadelphia and he was just smothered with sobs as he spoke with his wife across the world.  Gen. Cunanan then called up President FVR to report mission accomplished. The next day we were aboard a military plane to Manila, where Estrada presented Walton to FVR in Malacanang.  By leaving things to the professionals Erap earned his pogi points in media---landing on the front pages as he emerged from the Basilan fastness. And Walton was safe.

Monday, March 16, 2015

DOJ Chief Leila de Lima and Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda carry out spirited defense of President Aquino, arguing that PNP thrives on principle of Chief Executive and not Commander-in-Chief, as it’s a civilian organization, thus exempting P-Noy from its “internal processes.” But FVR’s EO 226 and PNP's highly stratified set-up clearly show that chain of command principle is institutionalized there. P-Noy’s apologists clearly only seek to absolve him from blame on SAF tragedy.


Former President Fidel V. Ramos


Justice Secretary Leila de Lima began her spirited defense of President Aquino’s role in the disastrous Mamasapano SAF operation even during the Senate committee hearings, when she shocked the nation by asserting that the President is not the Commander-in-Chief of the PNP inasmuch as this principle does not apply to this security institution that's civilian in character, unlike in the AFP where it’s clearly operative. De Lima insisted even then that the President is the Chief Executive of the PNP and that he did not violate the chain of command as this does not apply there. De Lima, however, stopped short of exonerating him at that time, inasmuch as the result of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) investigation was still being awaited then. 

In the light of the BOI’s 130-page report released last week, however, that directly blamed the disastrous SAF operation on "the breakdown of the chain of command" in the PNP---meaning, that the buck stops with the President as its head---De Lima heightened her defense of P-Noy. Said she: P-Noy cannot be blamed for Mamasapano---it’s Purisima and sacked SAF Chief Getulio Napenas who disregarded his orders to coordinate with the AFP.  

XXX

In the effort to absolve the President of command responsibility, De Lima chorused with Malacanang spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. The Philippine Star story of March 15 quoted Lacierda as stressing anew that P-Noy did not violate the chain of command of the PNP in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus as “the police force is a civilian organization” and this principle does no apply in the PNP. Moreover, said Lacierda, P-Noy “exercises full and absolute control and supervision over every police official.”

 This explanation, startling as it was, was meant to assert, as Lacierda said, that inasmuch as the PNP is a civilian institution that replaced the Philippine Constabulary Integrated National Police (PC-INP), the President serves no longer as Commander-in-Chief but as “Chief Executive,” just like the head of any other civilian office in government. Thus, said Lacierda, in this position, the President “cannot be subordinated to an internal process within the PNP, and that he "exercises full and absolute control and supervision over every police official." 

De Lima, stressing this point further, insists that the BOI report was on a “wrong premise” on the President’s role, and therefore, “it can only arrive at a wrong conclusion:” i.e., that P-Noy is subject to the chain of command principle that operates in the AFP, which he is not, as this principle does not apply to the PNP.
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The implication of this “Chief Executive only” principle for the PNP and not the “commander in chief” principle of the AFP is that in assigning suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima and SAF Chief Getulio Napenas to handle the critical Mamasapano mission,  P-Noy cannot be faulted for picking those two officials to carry it out, and limiting knowledge of the operation only to them. The implication is that he trusted only these two officials and not the others, including acting PNP Chief Leonardo Espina and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, and that he cannot be faulted for this exclusive trust.

The other implication Palace apologists want to render is that if the two officials botched the job, it's they alone to blame and, as De Lima has already been making overtures about, they ought to be punished---not the Chief Executive.

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The problem is that somewhere along the way, after the botched operation that butchered 44 SAF commandos and criticisms began to rain on him, P-Noy complained that he had ordered Napenas to “coordinate” with Roxas and Espina as well as on the military, but that the SAF Chief failed to do so. But in one of the Senate hearings, Gen. Napenas disclosed that after their last meeting with P-Noy where they went through details of the project, Purisima returned to P-Noy to confer again,  and when he came out instructions were different: Napenas was to keep the operation secret from Secretary Roxas and PNP OIC Espina, while Purisima himself was to handle AFP Chief Gregorio Catapang at a later time.

As it turned out, Napenas and Purisima were to beg for rescue from the military AFTER the operation had already began to fail and the SAF boys were in big trouble---coordination was “time-on-target” and not before, because obviously, P-Noy did not want to inform anyone else outside of his two trusted officials.

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The validity or lack of it of the “Chief Executive” principle can be argued exhaustively, but it’s a fact that the chain of command principle---and therefore its corollary principle, the Commander-in-Chief concept, are very much alive in the PNP which is highly stratified, like the AFP, and the battle for promotions is very much a reality.  In fact, on February 17, 1995, then President Ramos felt it his duty to issue Executive Order 226, which is titled “The Institution of Doctrine of “Command Responsibility” in all government offices, particularly at all levels of command in the PNP and other law enforcement agencies.”  

One of EO 226's key provisions made it imperative that the doctrine of “command responsibility” against erring government personnel be institutionalized, and strictly applied in all government offices and at all levels of command in the PNP and other law-enforcement agencies.”

I’m trying to ascertain if this EO has been abolished by anyone of the subsequent Presidents, but it clearly shows that the principles that P-Noy now seeks to discard are very much in the life and function of the PNP.

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What weighs heavily in this botched SAF venture is the fact that Aquino appointed his long-time buddy Alan Purisima to handle the critical project to bag international terrorist Marwan, when the former PNP Chief is under a six-month suspension on various graft issues, that began on Dec. 4, a month and three weeks before the botched operation. P-Noy’s move countermands the order from the Ombudsman and usurps her jurisdiction, and there could be prosecution once he gets out of office.

This point of assigning the suspended PNP Chief to carry out the critical SAF operation is very central, for this blogger had earlier raised the speculation that the reason Purisima was given this crucial task was to enable him to stage a return to the PNP’s helm after he was disgraced by a train of scandals. In view of later developments this is not idle speculation.

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Sadly, however, the appointment of an official under suspension resulted in the tragic death of 44 of the elite police forces as well as over 20 others in the MILF/ BIFF camp---FILIPINOS ALL. In fact I submit that this questionable tasking of the suspended Gen. Purisima had a direct bearing on the death of all these Filipinos on both sides of the ideological fence, for the simple reason that he deliberately failed to coordinate with the AFP on the SAF operation . Why? Because he was probably wary of how his peers in the AFP, including PMA classmates now in major commands, would regard his moves---given his controversial and much-publicized suspension by the Ombudsman. 

Nag-alangan siya, as we’d put it in Tagalog---a very costly hesitation.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

By “explaining” his side in Mamasapano tragedy before evangelicals, President Aquino obviously wanted to pre-empt PNP BOI report and possibly water down blame on him. With Church leaders divided over P-Noy’s role in botched SAF operation, Cardinal Tagle and Archbishop Villegas choose to be lenient, unlike when they accompanied Cory to Palace to ask GMA to resign in wake of furor over “Garci tape.”




The plan was obvious. President Aquino gathered leaders of various evangelical faith, led by Bro. Eddie Villanueva, on the Palace lawn yesterday afternoon and sought to cushion the impact of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) report on the Mamasapano disaster and P-Noy’s real role in it. The BOI report has been awaited since days ago but its disclosure has been postponed three times now for various reasons---ostensibly the printing of the report was not yet finished, no sufficient amount of paper, etc. etc.

Obviously the Palace had hoped to steal the thunder from that report by enabling the President to ramble on before the assembled faith leaders and media that sacked PNP-SAF Chief Getulio Napenas had botched the Jan. 25 operation because he failed to follow P-Noy’s order to coordinate with the military.  P-Noy said Napenas “fooled me” and that it was “painful,”  but he did not assign blame whatsoever on his bosom friend and former bodyguard, suspended Gen. Alan Purisima---unlike in weeks earlier at the height of the crisis, when he implicated Purisima as well.

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After yesterday's assertion by P-Noy that Napenas is to blame, what conclusion can the much-awaited BOI report now make? Can it still say that P-Noy is to blame or even just share the blame? Can it now blame him for appointing suspended PNP Chief Purisima as chief implementor and strategist of the Mamasapano operation? Impossible.  PNP CIDG Chief Benjamin Magalong is truly in a bind and re-writing some portions of his report  may be in order.

Sadly, P-Noy is making a mockery of the investigation process, for in the first place he shouldn’t have thrown it to the PNP whose officials had botched the Mamasapano operation. There should have been, as citizens have rightfully clamored from the start, an INDEPENDENT TRUTH COMMISSION instead of this joke of an investigation of its own officials---which isn’t funny at all.


Indication that the BOI cannot be relied on for credibility is the fact that both the President, who’s the Commander-in-Chief of the PNP, and Purisima refused to testify before it, and neither did AFP Chief Gregorio Catapang show up (he just sent an affidavit).  But had the independent Truth Commission been created by an act of Congress, as some minority lawmakers sought to do, and vested with enough power, P-Noy and other ranking officials could not have afforded to ignore its summons.

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Last Sunday, widows and families of the Fallen 44 joined PNP troopers and personnel in marching  along EDSA from Camp Crame to emphasize that they are not after money but Truth and Justice for their slain kin. The public outrage over the SAF tragedy and the growing perception of a systematic cover-up of the truth about it has affected the widows quite badly.

Ranking PNP officials were quoted as trying to discourage troopers from joining their fallen comrades’ families in that protest march, while civil authorities in Quezon City were reported to have withdrawn  the permit to rally---clear signs of intimidation and pressure.  But the marchers  continued even if their ranks had somewhat shrunk, and they joined a mass in Claret School in Quezon City.

Fr. Robert Reyes, the “running priest” who‘s now a Franciscan, concelebrated the mass with a Claretian priest and was inspired to hurl a challenge from last Sunday’s gospel---where Jesus Christ got so angry at the way God’s temple was being desecrated by merchants and vendors that he overturned their tables and drove them out. Fr. Robert at first queried the marchers, “Are you angry about all that’s happening in our country?” in allusion to Christ’s righteous anger. Few answered him at first and he repeated it, “Are you angry?” This drew a thunderous cry.  

And to hearten the widows’ feelings, PNP personnel from all over the country, including from Bohol, Iloilo, Davao and other places, marched in protest in their localities, simultaneous with the widows and families in QC.  This is indication that anger over Mamasapano that ended in the tragic death of 44 SAF elite troopers and the cover-up by the administration is still simmering. Will it come to a boil?

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Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle was interviewed by an ABS-CBN correspondent in London where he was a seminar speaker. He was asked to comment on those personalities calling on President Aquino to resign, and their proposal to put up an administrative council in case of a vacancy in the country’s top post.

Tagle was quoted as saying, “Who are these people asking the President to resign? Do they have any credibility at all?” And labeling them as “panggulo,” he asserted that it would be better to allow P-Noy to just finish his term and wait for the coming elections, as after all, said Tagle, he won’t run for reelection anyway; the people can just wait for a new leadership.

The problem is that as we saw in the last two elections, it’s the PCOS machines that determine the outcome of the elections, and not the free choice of the people. Bro. Eddie Villanueva, who led yesterday’s evangelical gathering at the Palace lawn, knows this fact only too well, as he was cheated in the 2013 elections in Nueva Ecija.

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Cardinal Tagle may have been thinking of the advisory council that leftist elements had proposed to put up in readiness, as former party-list Rep. Teddy Casino had asserted, in the event the P-Noy government falls. But on the other hand, Tagle may have been thinking of the National Transformation Council (NTC) as it has been more prominent in the news lately.

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles
Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla
NTC’s members count with some prominent bishops and archbishops from around the country, led by Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Davao Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla and Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz. The NTC has proposed since August of 2014 a “transition council” to hold the reins of government in the exit of the Aquino administration---preliminary to holding a constitutional convention to write a new constitution in favor of a parliamentary/unicameral system. In the Cebu NTC gathering last month Bayombong Bishop Ramon Villena and Biliran Bishop Filomeno Bactol showed up as well, while Butuan Bishop Juan Pueblo de Dios sent a representative, in addition to leaders from the Protestant and Muslim faiths and citizen-leaders. 

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At worst Cardinal Tagle’s remarks show the deep political schism within the Church hierarchy. On the one hand, there are those prelates perceived as having been close to the Aquino family, such as Tagle and Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas who heads the CBCP. These two ranking prelates have expressed preference to just await the PNP’s BOI findings on Mamasapano, rather than pin blame on P-Noy outright and demand that he step down, as other bishops have done. 

In this first group is Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma who didn’t join his brother bishops’ call for P-Noy’s resignation in that city, but instead he called on the latter to explain the SAF tragedy. In the light of the obvious cover-up of P-Noy’s actual role in the tragedy, this position suffers.

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Those who are now openly critical of P-Noy include, aside from NTC-active bishops, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Caloocan Bishop Emeritus Deogracias Yniguez and super-critical Archbishop Emeritus Oscar V. Cruz of Dagupan. The Mamasapano tragedy and the resulting cover-up of the truth have increased the ranks of anti-P-Noy bishops, and it's not remote that Tagle and Villegas would be increasingly isolated from their brethren.

It’s timely here to recall that Tagle and Villegas had accompanied the late former President Cory Aquino in 2008 to Malacanang to demand that President Gloria Arroyo step down over her alleged improper behavior in calling up former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to protect her lead. By contrast, these two eminent Churchmen appear to be quite lenient in treating the various problems---all very serious---that have afflicted the second Aquino administration.

Some observers opine that his accommodating stand toward P-Noy could be due to the profound influence famed Jesuit theologian Catalino Arevalo,  the late Cory Aquino’s personal confessor, has had on the Jesuit-trained Manila Archbishop.


In view, however, of the obvious cover-up in the SAF tragedy---and the inutility of the BOI report--- where do these two ranking prelates stand now?