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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Can the senators be trusted to be truly independent, unlike House members who are easily propositioned, considering that a good number of them were involved in PDAF and DAP scams, and De Lima now threatens to file suit against them? P-Noy has never explained why he’s rushing the BBL to be passed by Congress. The time to explain the why of this critical bill to the Filipino people is now, when votes to pass or reject the BBL are still pending in both chambers of Congress, not at the SONA.

Sen. Bongbong Marcos, chair of the Senate Committee on Local Governments 

A friend of mine recently lined up one late afternoon to go to confession at the St. Peter’s Church very near the House of Representatives along Commonwealth Avenue. After waiting quite a while as the queue was long, however, she saw the priest leave to go inside the rectory. Upset, my friend asked a staffer of the Church why the priest left, and injecting a little humor, she asked him, “Papano ngayon, e kung pumunta kami sa impierno dahil hindi kami naka-kumpisal?” Her neighbor in the confessional line overheard her and said, “Hindi ho, doon ho ang impierno,” pointing to the Batasan. “Nandoon po ang mga demonyo.”

My friend was shocked at this remark, for she has followed the controversy surrounding the ad hoc House committee decision to railroad the BBL last week.  “Ang tindi talaga ang init ng tao sa BBL,” she concluded. The heat is also generated by practically all the columnists in mainstream media.


What has incensed people with the House ad hoc committee handling of the draft BBL was that it just threw out the draft it had prepared AFTER 45 COMMITTEE HEARINGS, only to adopt the Palace draft given to committee chair Rufus Rodriguez after President Aquino summoned the members to two meetings in Malacanang the other weekend. That motion only lent credence to the talk that each committee member voting affirmative would get P50 million in projects and P1 million in cash. Transactional politics at its worst.

In fact, House insiders note that there’s already a bee-line to the House Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Davao Rep. Isidro Ungab with assistance of rabid Aquino loyalist and ways and means committee chair Miro Quimbo of Marikina. Sources surmise that the Appropriations Committee is expected to release the first tranche of funds for the solons’ projects in the first quarter of 2016---just in time for the May elections. Talk is that on June 10, the eve of closing of session, the pabaon of P1 million per representative who voted yes to BBL would be expected to be doled out.


With the House ad hoc committee caving in so easily and the on-going plenary vote in the 290-member House failing to raise expectations of a good anti-BBL defense, all eyes are now focused on the Senate. Would the Senate be more independent?

Sen. Bongbong Marcos, who chairs the Senate’s local government committee, opined that the senators may not be able to meet the deadline sought by Malacanang to pass the BBL---June 11, the last session day. Marcos has said that he wants to call to hearings various sectors that claim to have been left out in the Peace Panel’s exclusive negotiations with the MILF, such as the MNLF, the Lumads and various royal houses, including the Sultanate of Sulu.    

The Sultanate fears that with tremendous pressure from Malaysia to seal the BBL pact with the MILF, the government may have agreed to either drop its claim to Sabah (which Malaysia has resisted since then Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez presented our claim in the London talks on Borneo in 1962), or at least go slow on our claim until it’s perhaps forgotten for good.


Sen. Bongbong Marcos initially made the right moves regarding the BBL--- doubtless aware that the nation’s eyes would be on him. Two days ago he was vocal about not caring to meet with President Aquino, who has signified his desire to meet the senators following reports of a possible impasse over the BBL. But tonight Bongbong was reported to have said that he could meet with P-Noy provided there’s no pressure or money politics at play. 

Bongbong, however, should be aware that, as Sen. Serge Osmena, who was campaign manager of P-Noy in 2010, fears, any such meeting with P-Noy at this time could be misinterpreted by the people---that the senators could be perceived as once again opening themselves to bribery, as in the impeachment trial of CJ Renato Corona.

Opposition senators Nancy Binay and JV Ejercito likewise have taken this stand and it’s being prudent---especially in the wake of the terrible backlash the House ad hoc committee suffered after the 50 pro vs. 17 anti-vote on the Palace-drafted BBL, following two weekend meetings with P-Noy.  

Bongbong should be wary about a meeting with P-Noy especially since the Ilocano senator is rumored to be contemplating running for vice-president as an independent in 2016. Instead he ought to prepare well for the bicameral conference committee following the Senate voting on the BBL. Traditionally it's the Senate report that’s usually followed in the bicam committee. 


But can the senators be trusted to be truly “independent” of Malacanang? Sen. Osmena insists that the senators are not like the House members, but the essence of their independence will be tested in the coming days. For one thing, there are recent precedents when fat bribes worked their mass magic. 

Moreover, note that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who is herself aspiring to join the Senate in 2016 (and who's now at odds with presidential prospect and Davao mayor Rudy Duterte on the "death squad" issue), is now dangling the possibility of filing cases against more senators involved in PDAF and DAP scams and who are in the so-called “Napolist.”

Interestingly, De Lima’s threat vs. more PDAF/DAP senators comes more than three years after she single-mindedly put three opposition senators behind bars. After the senators have seen what happened to their three colleagues, which of theose involved in these scams would have the courage to go against the BBL?  Magaling talaga ang timing ni Dilemma. 


Another possible delay, however, could stem from the conclusion of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s committee on constitutional amendments, which reported a number of constitutionally-infirm provisions in the draft BBL concerning sovereignty, autonomy and territorial integrity.

The most serious constitutional challenge raised by the Santiago report, to which nine other senators have already affixed their signatures, lies in the fact that the 1987 Constitution in Article X, Sec. 15-21, titled “Autonomous Regions,” had already created an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, so that creating a new one as advocated by the BBL could be entirely questionable.


Prominent lawyers of the IBP and Philconsa as well as former UP Law Dean Merlin Magallona have raised objections about constitutional infirmities of the BBL and in fact a number of them would doubtless run to the SC to stop its implementation, were it to pass the bicameral conference committee and even before the plebiscite mandated to be held in the areas covered by the BBL. In that case, current efforts to pass BBL in Congress could be such a waste of time.

The question is, why is P-Noy rushing the BBL’s passage? He has never explained why, but he would do so in his final SONA on July 27. I submit, however, that the time for him to explain the BBL issue in all its nuances to the Filipino people is NOW NA, when plenary votes of both chambers are pending, not at that SONA.

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