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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

While the nation continues to pray for Mary Jane Veloso's deliverance, it becomes even more imperative to impress OFWs with tragic consequences of breaking laws of host country. And catch evil manipulators who prey on naivete of our compatriots or the grinding poverty they seek to escape from. Nepal of my fonder dreams in total shambles.

Mary Jane Veloso

From all indications, as I write this blog tonight, Filipino citizen Mary Jane Veloso may not be saved from a death sentence. News reports from Indonesia state she's scheduled to die at 6 pm. tomorrow (Tuesday) Manila time, by firing squad, along with nine or ten others of various nationalities---all of them accused of drug trafficking. The plight of the "drug mules" to be executed in Indonesia has captured the attention and imagination of the world, inasmuch as the death penalty that Indonesia still imposes on certain crimes have already been erased from statute books of many nations---including ours.  

Thus, Indon President Joko Widodo found himself at the receiving end of strong pleadings from his counterparts around the world whose nationals await execution. Among them were ex-PM and now Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of Australia, French President Francois Hollande and PH President Benigno Aquino III, who presumably collared his Indon colleague at the Asean Summit in KL about Veloso. From the US, even Manny Pacquiao is pleading for Veloso.

 I'd hazard the guess that had Veloso been alone in this case, it might have been easier for Widodo to apply pressure on the Indon court to give her a reprieve (especially since Widodo was a recent state guest in Manila). But because many other nationalities were also due for the firing squad, commuting the death sentence of just one criminal would be tough to do. 


Interestingly, no less than United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was quoted as urgently pleading with Indon President Widodo to consider a moratorium on capital punishment “with a view toward abolition of such punishment.”

I found UN Chief Ban’s pleading on abolition of capital punishment a positive development, as this dovetails with that of the Catholic Church which had vigorously fought against it for a long time. The Church position is that until a person breathes his or her last, he or she is capable of true contrition, which could save the penitent from eternal damnation. 


At this point the Filipino people are solid in praying for commutation of the execution sentence slapped on this 30-year old single mother of two children who was arrested in 2009 with 2.6 kilos of heroin sewn into the lining of her donated suitcase. Until now, Veloso has insisted that she traveled abroad to seek work as a maid and that she was duped into  accepting the luggage by her Filipino female recruiter. That recruiter disappeared after news of the imposed death sentence on Veloso surfaced and there should be a nationwide manhunt for her. 

This is now the point where the job of our law-enforcers has to start: the sacrifice of her life that Mary Jane Veloso is about to make should not be in vain and the recruiter has to be apprehended at all costs and subject to investigation and trial; if guilty she has to answer for her crime.

A second point is: whether Veloso was telling the truth about not knowing what that valise carried is now moot and academic. What has to be done is to ENSURE that every Filipino who leaves for foreign shores to work ought to understand the CONSEQUENCES of his action---that if he transgresses the laws of the host country he'll pay the high price. Laws of other countries that could possibly affect our OFWs' stay ought to be spelled out to them as well as the severe consequences of transgressions. 


Many countries are quite harsh about drug-trafficking (PH is about the only one lax about this crime). When I was in China in the second semester of 2010 to accompany my husband for treatment in a cancer hospital in Guangzhou, I learned from our Filipina consul there that there were over a hundred of our kababayans locked up in jails in that city alone for one crime---DRUG TRAFFICKING.  Many other Pinoys are locked up in other parts of the world too for the same crime.  

What should be done by the Labor Department and OWWA is to compile the total list of Filipinos in jail around the world and for various crimes and this complete picture ought to be shown to all those applying to work abroad.This ought to scare the daylight out of those who want to connive with drug-dealers. 

The situation is no longer funny. Aside from our national pride that has been dealt a terrible blow in the Veloso case (again!),  our people's lives are being put in danger--- some from sheer naivete and stupidity, but some due to their desire to profit and make money from traffic of drugs. Most of these drug mules are looking for relief from grinding poverty caused, in large part, by the corruption of politicians in our midst. 

But after what happened to Mary Jane Veloso, there ought to be intense drilling by DOLE and OWWA on harsh realities for Pinoys going overseas for employment. 


Early in 2010 my husband and I were privileged to visit Nepal to attend an international parliamentarians’ assembly, on the invitation of former Speaker Jose de Venecia. Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, reminded me a lot of Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, in the earlier days of my husband’s assignment there as the first Philippine ambassador just after the UN-supervised free elections in the mid-90s. Nepalese people were quite friendly and helpful, but the drivers were quite chaotic, driving like insane so that one had to close one’s eyes so as not to suffer a heart attack.

The Nepal we saw was beautiful and of course dominated by Mt. Everest whose peak would play hide and seek with the clouds throughout the year. One early morning, the PH delegation was all strapped in a small plane, waiting to fly over Everest's peak, but no dice---it was zero visibility. Nepal's old towns were beautiful with their Oriental structures fashioned from wood trunks in distinctive architecture. Durbar Square, the heart of Kathmandu, was particularly charming with its unique structures and the myriad shops that gave it the inimitable Oriental bazaar atmosphere. 

One afternoon in the Heritage town of Baktapur south of Katmandu, I sat on a rooftop café and looked out on a narrow winding road going east and upward---it was the road to Tibet, a journey of some days where the atmosphere would get more rarified as one climbed up. I was completely taken by the scenery.


Photo credit from www.india.com. Patan Durbar Square

Today Nepal is in terrible shambles, after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit it the other day, and many of the quaint and ancient wooden buildings are tottering or have been flattened to the ground. Over 3,200 Nepalese have perished and scores injured while many more people are still lying under the rubble. Rescue is delayed by the narrowness of Nepal’s highways and streets. 

Heartbreaking too is that so many tourists ascending Everest in the spring season were swallowed up by deadly avalanches triggered when the mountain began to shake after the quake struck. Some were rescued by international teams but many more will remain probably buried forever in the snows. 


When the great earthquake struck the southern part of China some years back, which also saw tens of thousands of people killed, I read with great interest the explanation of scientists about what triggered that gigantic quake---Their scientific opinion has become reality again.

The scientists opined that the great land mass of India was once actually a huge island separated from mainland Asia. Some 25 million years ago, however, the Indian land mass managed to get connected and became the subcontinent of Asia. The continuing thrust of the tectonic plates beneath the Indian land mass, however, continued upward toward the Asian continent. That’s how scientists explained the recent earthquake in Nepal. The Indian tectonic plates have not stopped moving and scientists estimate that the shaking would take place every 75 years.

This propensity for upward movement beneath the earth in the Asian sub- continent has to be addressed with greater understanding and better technology, e.g., buildings that can withstand certain intensities---even if it means giving up, sadly, heritage for safety. Nepal is a clear case.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Election fever truly upon us as Maliksi takes over PCSO and Customs Commissioner Sevilla resigns owing to “political pressures.” Corrupt practices of departments run by P-Noy allies exposed by COA in the billions of pesos, hitting most impoverished sector---the farm folks. Lagman proposes combination of manual precinct vote and count, but electronic transmission to Comelec HQ using “official laptops.” PCOS costs P16B while proposed laptops would cost only P4B. No expensive (air-conditioned) warehousing of machines needed.

Various citizens across the nation are all talking about recent fast developments which  seem to impact on the coming elections.

Recently a close ally of President Aquino, former Cavite Gov. Ayong Maliksi, was assigned to head the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), which is considered among the agencies most milked during elections. The problem is that Maliksi had been involved in questionable cases in the past in the same agency, so that this prompted a media commentator to opine that appointing him to the PCSO is like turning the blood bank over to Count Dracula.

The reaction of many citizens to Maliksi’s appointment to PCSO was highly unfavorable, and was read as yet another ill-disguised attempt by the Aquino administration to ignore public opinion--- just to enable its candidates to win the coming elections so that they could  protect P-Noy from prosecution in the post-presidency.


Resigned Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla

Now comes the resignation of Cornell and Princeton University-educated Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla, owing to what he termed “political pressures” at this time, just a year away from the elections; this has hogged headlines anew. Sevilla was quoted in the Inquirer as saying that he had sought “to uphold the time-honored principle that public office is a public trust” and that he took those words seriously, promising that “there will be no politics or/and patronage system in the appointments in the Customs bureau.” . Unfortunately, said Sevilla, ahead of the 2016 elections, “Politics is in the atmosphere. I could feel strongly political factors are moving in the background.”

Appointed in Sevilla’s place is Bert Lina who had held the same post in Customs during the Arroyo years, but who was among top officials, termed the “Hyatt 10” and led by then (as now) Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who resigned in the wake of supposed anomalies implicating President Arroyo in the elections of 2004. The Hyatt 10 group sought to force---unsuccessfully--- President Arroyo to resign in mid-2005.


Ironically, Finance Secretary Purisima had fulsome praises for outgoing Customs Chief John Philip Sevilla, who had been his longtime undersecretary in the Finance Department. The Inquirer cited Purisima’s testimony about how Sevilla had helped the bureau’s collection grow by 21 percent in the past four years, vs. only 5 percent in the pre-reform period, and how he made Customs “one of the most radically open, transparent and efficient agencies in government.”

The question that will doubtless come to mind among citizens who read Purisima’s glowing praises for resigned Customs Chief Sevilla is, what happened, then? As street lingo puts it, “Anyare?”  If Sevilla is efficient, honest, “with uncompromising courage and integrity,” why would he be forced to resign? Thus, Sevilla's outcry that there's just "too much politics" in Customs in the coming election months gains credence.

News reports assert that he was imposed the task of raising P3 billion in campaign funds from Customs which proved just too much for this technocrat. 

It also makes it tough for Bert Lina to come in at this time, for aside from the political demands of the election season, there’s the lingering issue hounding him about conflict of interest. Several former and present politicians have questioned whether Lina has truly divested from his transport and brokerage firm, the LGC Logistics. News reports said that current SEC records indicate that he remains LGC’s board chair.


Five years into its presidency and just a year from the elections,  the Aquino administration is being hounded by accusations of illegal and incompetent disbursements of funds in the billions--- by no less than the Commission on Audit. These accusations appear to be well-grounded on facts and the tragedy is that such gargantuan funds have been released without corresponding proper implementation of major projects that ought to impact on one of the most impoverished sectors of our society: the farming communities. No wonder our rural folk remain so poor that they all flock to Manila seeking life-desperate employment. .

According to COA the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), under Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes, has failed to fully implement two major development projects worth PP12.8 billion in several farming communities---despite the release of funds for these programs which included farm-to-market roads and bridges. Some projects have failed to undergo bidding, in violation of government laws, and in many instances were only partially completed. Yet, all funds have been released.


On the other hand, news reports quoted COA as asserting that the Department of Agriculture, headed by Aquino long-time ally and LP partymate Proceso Alcala, squandered more than P14.4 billion in year 2013, in questionable projects implemented despite violations of laws and regulations. If those projects were attempted in 2013, think of how much has been squandered by now---with the elections nearing.

The COA releases of data and documents linking Secretary Alcala, whom P-Noy has been defending all these years, to questionable projects came just a day after the Sandiganbayan convicted Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali, head of the League of Governors and another staunch ally of President Aquino, for up to 10 years in prison owing to graft-ridden projects. Umali is the first League of Governors prexy ever to be convicted.

P-Noy’s stout defenders always like to assert that he is “clean” and “honest,” and in fairness to him, no direct link has been established to involve him. But all these cases of graft and corruption in the billions of public funds involving his closest allies---Alcala, de los Reyes, Umali, etc---show that either P-Noy is incompetent and does not know what is happening around him, or he tolerates all the shenanigans to get his anointed candidates elected. .

By raising funds for the LP war chest, P-Noy could actually be buying insurance for himself against prosecution, owing to many constitutional violations of his administration. But he must also realize that with all the corruption that has gone unabated in his watch being revealed now by a COA that seems to have finally shed its timidity (!), his anointed stands little chance to win---unless of course, they resort to cheating.  


Which brings us directly to this topic and exploration of ways and means to avoid this periodic bane of Philippine elections.  

At a recent TV program hosted by Lynda Jumilla the representative of PPCRV seemed to be defending the Comelec representative, or was simply not tech-savvy. 

Former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman’s proposal---a stand that seems to have been adopted by the entire local IT world---is to have a combination of manual elections and count, but electronic transmission of election results from the precincts. As per the IT people’s proposal, each precinct will be equipped with a big screen where the manual results would be flashed for everyone to see. At the end of the counting,representatives of the various political parties and citizens’ groups---or anyone really----can take photos of the total precinct results.


Gus Lagman proposes that during the counting of votes at the precinct level, an “OFFICIAL LAPTOP COMPUTER” should be designated to simultaneously send each vote to Comelec as it’s counted. Now, PPCRV argued in that same program hosted by Jumilla that this method can be manipulated if the actual vote is not sent through a laptop. This is true, but it can be answered easily by two ways. 

At the end of the counting,  data recorded in the “official Laptop” should be flashed on the screen so that citizens and party reps can check them against their own laptops. These results can then be compared with “Official Laptop” results.

This will make cheating difficult to do, but what’s good is that the system would have all the benefits of electronic counting, but it would be a lot cheaper---Smartmatic’s very flawed system costs P16 billion, whereas Gus Lagman’s proposal costs only P4 billion. Moreover, those government-acquired laptops could be donated to public schools after the elections---no expensive warehousing with air-conditioning, such as the old PCOS machines require, and which the government, not Smartmatic, shoulders. .

Corollary to this proposed system, the citizens’ arm and election watchdog, Namfrel, could be truly activated to devise a parallel system that’s virtually cheating-proof. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Napoles’ reclusion perpetua sentence may be harsh but the law is the law. What about some 200 politicians who profited from siphoning estimated P10-B PDAF to Napoles’ fake NGOs---their crime just as serious, but are they being investigated? PAO Chief Persida Acosta discloses that Iqbal and co-accused in 2003 Davao bombings were cleared, but failure of Aquino negotiators to be candid about this issue, Mamasapano and Iqbal’s nom de guerre sinks gov’t’s credibility. As elections near, BBL passage dimmer.

Janet Lim Napoles, who’ll go down in infamy as the person who lured perhaps as many as 200 members of both chambers of Congress to allegedly channel as much as P10 billion in pork barrel funds to fictitious NGOs, has been committed to 40 years imprisonment, known as reclusion perpetua. She now languishes with about 180 other inmates in the Women’s Correctional in Mandaluyong but not, however, on account of those siphoned funds. Rather it’s on account of having subjected her cousin and junior partner in her PDAF syndicate, Ben-Hur Luy  (who in the end felt entitlement to the same racket and devised his own schemes), to what Luy claims was illegal detention of three months, never mind if his "prison" was Janet's fancy penthouse in the Pacific Plaza Towers in Bonifacio Global City.


Many people, including Star’s columnist Bobbit Avila as well as this blogger, felt the sentence of life imprisonment for Janet was too harsh---especially since Luy's detention was only for three months and he himself was as cunning as Napoles. But lawyer-friends I talked to explained that as per our Revised Penal Code, illegal detention is most serious as it’s tantamount to kidnapping---the curtailment of one’s civil liberties. In fact, the Code’s Art. 267 provides that the penalty is reclusion perpetua to death if the detention lasts for more than five days. Since there is no death penalty in our jurisprudence, the Makati RTC judge had no choice but to impose reclusion perpetua on Napoles (so folks, if you’re thinking of kidnapping the object of your unrequited love, better think twice or three times!). Dura lex, sed lex.

In fact, Makati lawyer Dindo Donato argues that illegal detention might actually be considered more serious than the PDAF billions that Janet is accused of siphoning. But one thing going for her is that her case may still be appealed to the Supreme Court and as lawyers point out, good behavior could mitigate that harsh sentence.


A recent Inquirer editorial notes the lack of outrage or the timid reaction from the public about Napoles. My take is that for one thing, so many other issues have surfaced since Luy hit the headlines with the revelation about l’affaire Janet. But there are those of us who are upset now more because the list of Janet’s “Honorable” accomplices as furnished by COA and the DOJ seems to have been deliberately stopped after the prosecution of the three senators now detained at Camp Crame, who allegedly  siphoned off their PDAF to Napoles’ syndicate from 2007-2009.

It will be recalled that soon after revelation of the three senators’ crimes with their PDAF, DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima and then COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan (now retired) promised to reveal more names from the current administration (close presidential buddies of Napoles from the executive and legislative branches, no less), but nothing of that sort happened.

That promise was conveniently snowed under by many other issues---just one more instance of selective justice under the P-Noy administration.


If you ask me, those Honorables in Congress are far guiltier than Napoles because they already were wallowing in so much public funds as entitlements of their positions, and yet they succumbed to the lure of huge kickbacks from fake NGOs from Napoles and her accomplices.

A number of people in fact suspect that the court put away Napoles for life in order to make sure she doesn’t talk about her friends in high places. That list is long for it’s said to include President Noynoy who personally escorted her to Crame in the middle of the night, and Senate President Franklin Drilon who with his wife ere repeat guests at Janet’s lavish parties at her mother’s mausoleum in Heritage Memorial Park, as attested by photos in the internet.


The disclosure that the Muslim leader who has represented the MILF in these past three years in negotiations with the PH government had operated under the nom de guerre of Mohagher Iqbal may prove to be one of the last nails on the coffin of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that’s due for renewed consideration and voting in Congress in the next few weeks. Advocates of the BBL are making light of this issue of the alias of the MILF’s chief negotiator---what’s in a name, as they put it rhetorically, when anyway, so they argue, the government has always known  his real identity.

But the P-Noy administration must understand that it’s not just the names and aliases but the way this issue has been carried out with characteristic deception and lack of candor---STRIP-TEASE STYLE, I call it---that citizens are outraged about. This style of governance has caused the administration's credibility to plunge to all-time low and now, with elections months away, this reality could imperil years of peace negotiations with the MILF and the BBL that’s supposed to be the formula for lasting peace and stability in Muslim Mindanao.


To top it all, a few days ago the last nail may have been hammered into the BBL: news reports said that Mohagher Iqbal is actually Santucan Abbas, or Lubis Abbas, and that he was implicated, along with about 190 other MILF followers in the bombing of the Davao International Airport in March 2003 that killed dozens of people, and that of the Sasa Wharf there a few weeks after.

Horror of horrors, argue many citizens now  up in arms--- is the guy with whom the PH government negotiated and signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro early in 2014 with a lot of hoopla and panoply at Malacanang Palace, and who is now pressing for passage of the BBL, a notorious terrorist?  

PAO Chief Persida Acosta

While lawyers argue serious liabilities in the law that using a nom de guerre in official treatises entail, I have my own grave reservations about some aspects of the BBL that Congress will resume deliberating very soon. I too protest the lousy handling of issues related to this proposed organic act for Muslim Mindanao, as well as the Mamasapano botched operation and the identity crisis over Iqbal a.k.a.Lubis Abbas---all of which our peace negotiators muddled.  But there’s something that many media people are overlooking, deliberately or not, WHICH MUST BE STATED FOR THE SAKE OF THE TRUTH.

When reports surfaced that Iqbal was among the MILF people involved in the bombings in Davao in 2003 and that they were defended in court by the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), the straight-talking Persida Acosta, I checked details with her. I know PAO Chief Acosta as she and I had worked in defense of ex-PMA Cadet First Class Jeff Aldrin Cudia whom we both considered a victim of injustice and conspiracy inside that elite military educational institution (update on Cudia’s status for another blog).


Persida Acosta explained that she was assigned by then Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong to take up the defense of Iqbal and the others involved in the Davao bombings case (inasmuch as the PAO is tasked with defending all Filipinos, she had also defended some alleged New People’s Army leaders in the past). Acosta confirmed that Iqbal signed his name as Lubis Abbas Mohagher Iqbal in various documents, but she also stressed that he and the other defendants were CLEARED in the Davao bombings and that in fact only two people are still on trial in that case.  

The disclosures by Acosta clearly indicate that the PH negotiating panel headed by Miriam Coronel Ferrer under the supervision of Peace Process Secretary Teresita Deles either chose not to reveal the true identity of Iqbal--- perhaps to keep his having been incriminated in the Davao bombings hush-hush---or they simply failed to do due diligence in their job.

Either way, the administration’s bunglings do not shore up its credibility and the possibility of BBL’s passage before P-Noy’s last SONA at the end of this July appears quite bleak. There’s talk that as usual, money is flowing in the House to ease its passage, but with elections 12 months away, many politicians may be scared to pass that law in the face of public outrage.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Would Mamasapano operation have succeeded if AFP’s elite Scout Rangers had handled it? Koko insists at this late stage that Bangsamoro should be for entire Mindanao region and not only for MILF, while a former congressional leader asserts that PH gov’t should have recruited Indonesia as mediator in BBL/MILF issue, since we’re having conflict with Malaysia on our Sabah claim. CDO Rep. Rufus Rodriguez promises that his ad hoc committee would delete at least eight provisions in the draft BBL while Senate has its own trimming to do. But can we hold the pols to their promise in an election year?

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, head of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL

A former ranking politician known for his savvy views recently opined to a group that he felt Malaysia should not have been the mediator between the Philippine government and the MILF, inasmuch as PH has outstanding issues with that country. One of them is our claim to Sabah which Malaysia has refused to recognize over decades. Moreover, Malaysians have direct business interests in this country. This veteran pol asserted that if there should be a mediator, it should be Indonesia. 

I agree. In fact many Filipinos are suspicious that Malaysia’s full backing for the MILF may stem from its interest in the tremendous wealth potential of Western Mindanao that’s covered by the Bangsamoro---among them oil and natural gas and minerals. 


Nearly three months after the Mamasapano tragedy debate is still going on in some quarters on whether the bloody encounter that resulted in the death of 67 Filipinos, including 44 PNP SAF elite commandos, could have been avoided with better coordination and a more studied approach. There are accusations from the MILF side that the government had failed to give proper notice to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)---as demanded by the peace agreement between government and the MILF signed with tremendous fanfare in Malacanang last year--- about its intention to get international terrorist Marwan. 

The government side failed to notify the CCCH obviously because it didn’t want to telegraph to the MILF its moves re the high-value target who had been staying in MILF-controlled territory for many months already. The triumvirate that carried out the SAF operation, namely, President Aquino, resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima and sacked SAF Chief Getulio Napenas, felt they just couldn’t trust the MILF, and for that matter even the AFP. Purisima only told the Western Mindanao Command of the operation when the 45 SAF troopers, part of a larger force of nearly 400 that invaded Mamasapano, were already mired on the ground and fighting for their lives. Only one of these 45 lived to tell his tale.


I myself had wondered how detection of the invading SAF and the resultant bloody encounter could have been avoided with so large a number of PNP troopers assailing the wee hours of the morning. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one wondering. A report quoted a former AFP Scout Ranger as opining that the job of taking out Marwan should have been given to the Scout Rangers, who would have needed no more than twelve men,  and the chances of their success would have been far bigger than that of the 400 SAF. It would have involved, said the report, lightning insertion and extrication with perhaps one helicopter.

It’s now all in hindsight---Monday morning quarterbacking---but looking back, perhaps the Scout Rangers, who, together with the Special Forces are under the Special Operations Command of the AFP, would have done better, especially if the raid were made earlier than the Muslims’ 2 am. first prayer for the day.


Comparison of the botched Mamasapano operation is being made with the successful attack and slaying of then most wanted  international terrorist Osama Bin Laden, head of Al Qaeda, that was  carried out nearly two years ago in his compound in Abbottabad, northeast of Islamabad, Pakistan by a small group of US Navy Seals  in the dead of night. It was a most daring feat that astounded the world,  but records of that operation showed painstaking full-blown planning and deliberations of the Obama Cabinet and top military commanders for months.

Why President Aquino approved a raid by almost 400 police troopers---45 of them in the inner sanctum of Marwan and the rest on the periphery---no matter how elite they were---defies the imagination. Various media outdid one another in labeling that botched raid as the most amateurish one can imagine. This is not to mention the suspended status of P-Noy’s BFF and chief planner Purisima, the stand-down order that immobilized whatever help the AFP could muster at that late notification, the adherence to secrecy among three people, and the recourse to text-messaging throughout the operation when time was of utmost importance.

It was truly a black eye before the world.


Koko Pimentel was quoted in Standard recently as admonishing the Senate  not to make the BBL look like it’s catering too much to the MILF, and instead to make its provisions “neutral” so that it would make that armed group aware “that the proposed measure is not only for their group but for the entire Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.”  Pimentel’s admonition came after a World Bank report that stated that despite the passage of the BBL, peace and security in Western Mindanao cannot be guaranteed. How I wish Koko’s admonition came earlier when the Palace was still drafting that proposed law and debating it in Congress. At this point it may be a trifle too late to tilt this supposedly organic law to a more sensible and realistic direction--- given the tremendous pressure exerted by Malacanang to pass it. As one columnist put it, P-Noy is “obsessed” to pass it. Throw in the fact, too, that the legislators are approaching elections and may be extra susceptible to bribes this administration is wont to dish out. 


The citizens’ hope may lie in the opinion expressed recently by Cagayan de Oro  Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the House ad hoc committee on the BBL, who was quoted earlier as opining that at least eight provisions of the draft BBL would be deleted owing to their unconstitutional features. Let’s hope that Rep. Rodriguez, who was very thorough in his objection to the RH Bill two years ago, would really not be bamboozled  by the deadline imposed by the Palace: to pass the BBL BEFORE P-Noy's very last SONA  on the last Monday of this July.

For as former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban pointed out in his column recently, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had “unflinchingly” declared unconstitutional not only the underlying “associative” concepts of the MOA-AD” of the Macapagal-Arroyo era, but quite significantly, also 36 of its specific provisions. Panganiban asserts that “shadows of (the MOA-AD) can be gleaned in the BBL.”

On the other hand, he noted that lawyer and now CJ Ma. Lourdes Sereno had participated in the controversy as counsel for Sen. Franklin Drilon, who was an intervenor in the MOA-AD.  Sereno’s 72-page memo detailed “constitutional violations (that) eroded the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines…split its national identity… (and) created a state within a state---a concept alien and antithetical to the one sovereign nation embodied in the Constitution.”


Thus these opinions of the High Magistrates could be dark portents for the BBL.  Over the Holy Week this blogger read (as penance for my sins!) the 99-page “Bangsamoro Basic Law”, which is House Bill No. 4994, sponsored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and 16 other legislators. And right there I noted several features that, I’m sure, would be struck out by the Supreme Court if challenged legally. More about  the tough portions of the BBL next time. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

In House hearing a PNP superintendent questioned an AFP artillery officer on reported “stand-down” order at height of SAF--BIFF/MILF battle, resulting in failed SAF rescue. PNP guy challenged AFP colonel to “man up, Sir, man up.” But if there’s anyone who ought to “man up,” it’s the President and Commander-in-Chief---the only one who could order such “stand down.” P-Noy is also challenged to reveal full US involvement in Marwan plot. Sadly, nation is fed with details strip-tease style, seeking to make idiots of all Filipinos.

PNP Supt John Michael Mangahis and AFP Col. Gener del Rosario at House confrontation

At the recent hearing of the House committee on the Mamasapano tragedy, Col. Gener del Rosario, commander of Philippine Army’s 1st Mechanized Brigade in Maguindanao had a confrontation with two PNP officials involved in that botched encounter, namely, PNP Chief Supt. Noli Talino and Supt. John Michael Mangahis. Col. Del Rosario had said his unit did not respond to the PNP request for artillery support because the PNP officers did not provide clear information on where the beleaguered SAF commandos were pinned down. Del Rosario was quoted in Philippine Star as saying that “They could not provide us with a clear answer” and “they even tried to call someone on their mobile phone.”

PNP's Talino and Mangahis rebutted Del Rosario, saying that they even brought to the AFP unit a map showing locations of two SAF teams that were engaged by MILF fighters and a few huts occupied presumably by civilians. Mangahis even stressed to the Star that even assuming specific spots were not clear, the AFP officer could have verified them with his many informants in that area, “It’s not as if they are new in those areas.:”


Mangahis then said something that stunned the House representatives. Quoting popular military jargon, he told Col. Del Rosario, “Man up, Sir, man up.” Meaning, the AFP colonel should be man enough to admit the truth that the PNP has been driving at, to extricate itself from full blame for the failed SAF operation that cost 67 lives, including its 44 elite commandos.  This is that the military failed to come to the SAF's rescue because of a “stand-down” order to the AFP not to disturb the peace process between the MILF and the government.

This accusation from the PNP that the AFP had preferred to “stand down " rather than extricate the SAF 44 has been bobbing up and down in various hearings in the Senate and the House over the past 2 ½ months since Jan. 25. But this topic has been skillfully evaded by the P-Noy allies who control the House as well as by the military/police resource people, until Supt. Mangahis' "Man up, Sir." 

In fact at last Tuesday's hearing some allies of P-Noy sought to strike this jargon off the record; but the nation had already heard the exchange on TV and radio and read about it in next day’s newspapers.


It’s time indeed that various players man up to the entire truth about Mamasapano’s botched operation, instead of bits and pieces coming out in prolonged hearings that’s sapping the nation’s moral strength and making the populace cynical. BUT MORE THAN ANYONE, IT'S P-NOY WHO HAS TO MAN UP TO WHAT REALLY HAPPENED THAT FATEFUL DAY AND WEEKS PRIOR TO IT. He has tell all that transpired between him and his best friend , resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima whom he put in charge of the SAF operation despite his six-month suspension by the Ombudsman on corruption issues---perhaps in the hope that Purisima could redeem himself. And finally, to complete the ignominious triumvirate,  SAF Chief Getulio Napenas, who was subsequently fired because of the monumental blunder. 

Among these three plotters of that tragi-comedy Napenas is the least guilty but equally stupid. 


P-Noy has spoken before the grieving nation no less than four times since the tragic massacres and the Palace says he does not want to speak any further on it;  instead, he  has pleaded with the Filipino people to understand him and move on. But P-Noy has to first man up as the full story of that most tragic episode in Philippine history is obviously NOT COMPLETE. His revelations have been more like a prolonged strip-tease act and the nation, still grieving, won’t forgive him unless he renders a true and sincere confession. 

Unfortunately, in all their statements P-Noy and his BFF Purisima have freely contradicted themselves and dished out more untruths---thus plunging P-Noy's approval rating to an all-time low of 11%. As Standard's Tony Lopez put it, nearly every other Filipino doesn't want Aquino to remain in office a day longer. 

Best to man up, Mr. President


Members of the Makabayan bloc in the House, who seem to be the only ones with guts these days, have posed, more than two months after the tragedy, “20 Questions” for P-Noy to answer before any reconciliation can be made. These are cogent questions, direct to the point and the heart of the matter.

Among them: If Purisima was just an “expert adviser,” why did P-Noy say he ordered him to coordinate with acting PNP Chief Leonardo Espina and AFP Chief Gregorio Catapang? When he ordered Napenas to report to then suspended Purisima, wasn’t that a violation of the chain of command? What were P-Noy’s orders to Catapang and WesMinCom Chief Rusty Guerrero regarding the peace process with the MILF in implementing the extrication? More specifically, “Did you give any orders to stand down? Did you give orders to Catapang or Pangilinan not to fire artillery in Mamasapano in consideration of the Peace Talks?"

If a survey were to be taken about whether the people believe that the AFP was given the stand-down order to hold its artillery fire, the result would be overwhelming. The nation knows that only one person could have given that order: the President.


Another question even murkier than the peace process is the US involvement in the botched operation. As the House Minority bloc put it in a question to P-Noy: “Why did you allow US intervention---from the planning, funding, training, ISR, and during the operation and the subsequent evacuation? Why did you find it necessary to work with the US but not with DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, PNP OIC Espina or AFP Chief Catapang?”

Interestingly, the issue of US involvement, including reports about a number of Caucasians killed in the Marwan operation and P-Noy monitoring from the US drone base in Zamboanga City, had been skirted in the House. But today the issue of an “entry fee” of P60 million said to have been imposed on the Kano to enter Marwan's area was reported by the Manila Times (a side facet of this reported issue alleges that the Kano had only P50 million with them, hence the eruption of trouble).


There's popular belief that P-Noy sacrificed the SAF 44 to preserve the peace process with the MILF, as embodied in the Bangsamoro Basic Law whose deliberations have been suspended in the House since the Mamasapano tragedy.  P-Noy appears determined to pass the BBL and gave Congress a deadline before his last-ever SONA on the last Monday of this July, amid warnings about "more body bags needed" if the BBL is not passed.

Complicating matters, however, was recent revelation that MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal may be Malaysian and admits to using various noms de guerre or aliases; in fact he admits to not using his real name even in the Philippine passport he carries. On the other hand, Peace Process Secretary Ging Deles has admitted being totally unaware that Iqbal is on an alias (!). The salt on wounds, however, is that he also has the temerity to say that he would reveal his true name once the BBL is passed!  

Given this new layer of deception, the National Peace Council, composed of prominent leaders close to the President whom he appointed to help sell the BBL to the Filipino public fast, would perhaps be better advised to go slow and assess being identified with this bundle of confusion and lies. At the very least, its distinguished members have nothing to gain from it.