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

Friday, June 19, 2015

Blame game over Torre de Manila a preview of bitter mayoral fight in Manila. Instead of coming down hard on BBL opponents P-Noy should teach Iqbal et al a basic lesson in Politics 101---that Congress is not an adjunct of Malacanang. But given massive bribery in past in passing controversial bills and convicting a sitting CJ, Iqbal et al might find that hard to believe.

Members of the Philippine Constitution Association (from left) former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, Bishop Romulo dela Cruz, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, former senator Francisco Tatad, Archbishop Fernando Capalla and retired justice Manuel Lazaro show their copies of the petition they filed with the Supreme Court. PHOTO BY MELYN ACOSTA and manilatimes.net

It is a sad commentary on the state of the nation that as we commemorate the 154th birth anniversary of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and predecessor Alfredo Lim are embroiled in a blame-game in media over whose fault it is that the 46-storey Torre de Manila has become the hideous backdrop to Dr. Rizal’s revered monument at the Luneta. Elections are just around the corner and this about-to-be-finished Luneta monstrosity promises to be the burning issue between the two bitter rivals in their return bout in 2016.  

The Rizal Park is hallowed ground as it was where our National Hero was shot in the back, and turning around, he looked heavenward as he closed his eyes in death, offering his life for his country and people. It is here where his mortal remains are buried, so that top government officials yearly go through the motions of flag-raising and state visitors offer wreaths to his memory.  It is within stone’s throw of the Rizal shrine that our presidents take their oath of office and three  popes have gathered unprecedented crowds of the faithful.

Yet today, this horrible skyscraper completely dwarfs Rizal’s monument, debasing the entire surroundings. Some folks in social media tried to make us Filipinos feel a little good by lighting up the building in patriotic red, white and blue, but this only leaves a worse taste in the mouth.


Actually, both Mayors Lim and Estrada are guilty---the first executive for having allowed the building to be constructed, defying regulations, while the second was too busy probably fighting for political survival of his family that he overlooked its rise completely (how this is possible considering that he passes it daily in getting to City Hall is beyond imagination). Perhaps if both mayors were more patriotic they ought to declare a mea culpa publicly at Bagumbayan (I didn’t say they ought to  be shot there)--- along with officials of the National Historical Commission and others involved in preserving culture and patrimony who were all derelict in failing to stop this monstrosity strongly enough. 

At the first indication of a construction, these officials should have already raised the red flag and brought the builder to court, but like the proverbial monkey they saw no evil.  

Could anyone imagine anything like this happening at the Washington Mall or in the environs of the Hotel des Invalides in Paris where foreign dignitaries are met by uniformed escorts on stately white horses?

Only in da Pilipins. Masakit, Kuya Eddie.


On the decommissioning of 145 MILF combatants and 75 assorted firearms, including a couple of “crew-served” heavy weapons, there is tremendous disappointment that after the huge build-up of the event at Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao several days ago, attended by no less than President Aquino, not even 1 percent of the 12,000 to 15,000 supposed combatants surrendered (as per the math of Chiz Escudero), while the number of firearms surrendered cannot even figure as a blip because no one really has any idea how huge is the MILF arsenal. But be that as it may---as chief negotiator Miriam Coronel put it, it’s a start, the first step in an arduous journey toward peace in the Muslim region.

The Filipino people long for peace in that part of our country, but what rankles sensible folks is the way MILF counterpart negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has threatened that if the BBL fails to pass in Congress, there would be no more decommissioning of arms and men. This rankles because Mr. Iqbal, or as Fr. Rannie Aquino put it, “whatever his name is,” has the temerity to talk big and demand terms even as he comes to the bargaining table NEARLY EMPTY-HANDED.


P-Noy’s reaction, however, is even more upsetting. He lambasts the critics over the delay in the passage of the BBL and the Palace boys throw ill-disguised overtures about a re-organization in the Senate that’s viewed as the obstructionist chamber, in contrast to the super-pliant House. The target of reorganization is obviously Sen. Bongbong Marcos, chair of local governments, who has single-handedly opposed the Palace draft BBL and insists on his own version that he’ll present after the SONA.  Marcos is unfazed by the threat as he knows that as much as 2/3 of the nation perhaps are against the BBL in its present form, and he asserts that there would be “chaos” in a Senate musical chairs. Senate President Franklin Drilon could also be endangered species or collateral damage.  


Instead of threatening oppositionists to the BBL about reaping historical blame for renewed fighting in Mindanao---thereby reinforcing the Murad/Iqbal group’s craving for power over a generous swath of the big island--- Aquino should convince the Muslim faction that even as he’s sympathetic to their aspirations, they ought to understand how a presidential/ republican democracy works. In fact P-Noy should teach them the basics of Political Science 101---that Congress is a separate and independent body, not Malacanang’s adjunct;  and while political maneuvering and lobbying is legit, the actions of Congress ought to be respected.

But the problem may be that because of all the bribery P-Noy has resorted to in seeking to pass controversial bills and in the impeachment of a sitting Chief Justice, it may not be that easy now to make the MILF believe that he does not really own Congress. 

Earlier I wrote that of the 24 bishops of Mindanao, as many as 19 are against the BBL in its present form and of the five for it, two bishops are said to have their own reservations about certain aspects. The fissures may have widen, for informed sources said that while Orlando Cardinal Quevedo supports the BBL, nearly all his priests in Cotabato are against it.

This morning, Friday, June 19, a group composed of Archbishop Emeritus of Davao Fernando Capalla, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles and Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo de la Cruz, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez in his capacity as president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), former Sen. Francisco Tatad and former and National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzalez filed a petition before the Supreme Court--- seeking to nullify the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which is the basic document from which the BBL is sourced, on the ground of CAB’s constitutional infirmities. 

Respondents in their petition are former GRP chief negotiator and now SC Justice Marvic Leonen, Leonen's successor negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and a “self-styled entity represented by Mohagher Iqbal, using alias name.”


The preamble of the Philconsa petition seeks recourse in the majesty of the law as embodied in the Constitution. Read and be ennobled:

“The Court once warned--- ‘Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, or worse, its disregard of the charter of its own existence.’ (Mappv.Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 1961).

“No matter how noble and worthy of admiration the purpose of an act, but if the means to be employed in accomplishing it is simply irreconcilable with constitutional parameters, then it cannot still be allowed. The Constitution cannot just turn a blind eye and simply let it pass…

“The Constitution must ever remain supreme. All must bow to the mandate of this law. Expediency must not be allowed to sap its strength nor greed for power debase its rectitude.”  (Biraogo vs. The Philippine Truth Commission of 2010 (Dec. 7, 2010).

Let's harken to this reminder. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Unlike parachute journalists and analysts, bishops of Mindanao have put in many decades of service there, and it’s significant that of its 24 bishops 19 are against BBL in its present form, and only five are for it. Of these five bishops, however, two have reservations about certain aspects. Congrats to Sen. Bongbong Marcos for doing what the House failed to do---to give lengthy voice to various parties in Mindanao, such as governors of affected and nearby provinces, indigenous peoples, etc.

Archbishop Emeritus of Davao Fernando Capalla

With the Bangsamoro Basic Law in limbo after the House of Representatives decided, due to perceived lack of adequate support, to postpone voting on this controversial bill for August or even October, we Filipinos now have more time to deliberate on the  issues that many of us  feel passionate about.  That the people are bitterly divided over the BBL is a given, but that more are against it---as it now stands-- is conceded by the administration.   

Thank God that solons in the House received enough enlightenment to desist from forcing a vote. Bigger thanks, however,  to the Senate committee chaired by Sen. Bongbong Marcos for ventilating various issues hounding this controversial draft law---by inviting all those whose views the nation should have heard from the very beginning, e.g., governors of the provinces composing the proposed Bangsamoro as well those in the periphery, and various indigenous peoples. This was not done by the House which sought to railroad the BBL before President Aquino’s SONA, but luckily the Senate committee stood pat.


A recent news item bannered that admirals and generals are opposed to the BBL and very likely there are those. But equally interesting is the fact that the religious sector, led by the Catholic Bishops, appears to be overwhelmingly divided between the small but influential group  that’s pro-BBL, led by Cardinals Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila and Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato and Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, vs. the bigger group against the BBL in its present form, that includes Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, Archbishop Emeritus of Davao Fernando Capalla and many other bishops especially in Mindanao.

In fact, of the 24 bishops of Mindanao, I gather that 19 of them are AGAINST the BBL, while only five are FOR it;  of the five, two are even said to entertain reservations about some aspects of it. Prominent among the Mindanao bishops against the BBL in its present form, aside from  Archbishop  Emeritus Fernando Capalla, are  Archbishop of Zamboanga Romulo dela Cruz, who was once Bishop Prelate of Isabela de Basilan, Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, Cotabato, and Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan. Also against the BBL in its present form are a number of prominent religious there, such as Fr. Eliseo Mercado OMI, of Cotabato’s Notre Dame University.

What is significant  is that the bishops and other religious of Mindanao know of the situation in their areas, so that when they object to certain aspects of the BBL it should carry a lot of weight. The bishops are not parachute journalists or analysts--- many of them have had their ears on the ground in this huge island for many decades and they know what’s good for their people.

For instance, 80-year old Archbishop Emeritus Capalla, who spent 40 years in Mindanao as bishop, was a co-founder of the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) that successfully carried on dialogues for peaceful co-existence among the various faiths in the big island over some years. Was Capalla and his group ever asked to testify on the BBL?


A regular correspondent of this blogger did just that. He recently sent some questions on the BBL to Archbishop Emeritus Capalla, both in his capacity as co-founder of the BUC and a leading member of the National Transformation Council that proposes the radical transformation of  the nation’s values, regime change and ultimately system change. These are his questions to Capalla: 

l). Are the MILF and other militant Moro groups still listening to the BUC and if not, why not? 

2). Does the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) 
still take the BUC seriously, and if not, why not?  

3). What would be the best course of action the BUC can do at the moment?


This is the reply of Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla to these questions:

“First of all, let me point out that together with Archbishops Ramon Arguelles and Romulo de la Cruz, Bishops Villena and Pueblos, other members of the National Transformation Council and the Philconsa, we are petitioning the Supreme Court to declare the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the “mother document” of the BBL, unconstitutional. If this is done, it would render the BBL useless. This is the official stand of the NTC. Of course, we know the powers of this de facto president who has ignored the rule of law several times. 

“Out of respect for our two cardinals, many bishops who are against the BBL do not speak out in public. Now to your questions:

“The MILF used to listen to the BUC before, especially since they had to get BUC’s help for the resumption of peace talks with the government under President GMA. When the MOA-AD was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, they asked the BUC for a meeting to explain their stand. But when they got the support of BS Aquino & Co., they stopped communications with BUC anymore.

“Just before they continued peace negotiations with the present government in 2010, BUC gave them the result of the region-wide consultation on the peace talks carried out professionally by Catholic, Muslim and Protestant universities in Mindanao under BUC supervision which contains a road map for peace. No word from them about this till now. We don't know why. We have unverified suspicions. 

“OPAPP under Ms. Deles has totally ignored BUC since 2010. The main reason apparently is that she and her boss President Aquino  identify BUC with the  GMA administration. There are other serious reasons which must remain unsaid.

“In our BUC assembly in December 2013 and  in 2014 we discussed the Moro problem and its related issues. It was then that I began to notice the emerging division among the Ulama and the seemingly diminishing interest among Catholic and Protestant bishops. So in answer to your third question, BUC cannot make a plan on the best course of action under the present situation. In the meantime I decided not to call a meeting of the board or the assembly, as only a splinter group of the Ulama League would attend. The Catholics and Protestant members would also be just a handful. Thus the assembly would not constitute a quorum.

“To me my personal course of action is to work with NTC for peaceful regime change first, then system change later. I have a feeling as a result of some info from the grassroots that with or without BBL, trouble cannot be avoided. Yes, it cannot except through this change of government in the soonest way possible. And rumors of a possible Islamic enclave in the proposed sub-state, in preparation for a caliphate run by ISIS terrorists, are extremely troubling and worse.

“We hope and pray that NTC plans, which will be known in full in due time, would  generate popular support. Among others, it includes reinventing the BUC as a deterrent to the success of a caliphate.

“My 40 years as bishop in Mindanao---17 of which were spent in Iligan City, Marawi City, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur and the rest in Davao City, rubbing elbows with Indigenous Peoples, Muslims and Christians of diverse religious traditions---have made me realize that the so called historical injustice done to Lumads and Muslims cannot be resolved by giving them a sub-state or a federated region which is a political solution. From the perspective of faith, Jews, Christians and Muslims, are children of Abraham; thus, THE REAL SOLUTION TO THE MORO PROBLEM, BEYOND POLITICS, IS A BASIC ABRAHAMIC COMMUNITY WHERE JEWS, CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS LIVE TOGETHER IN PEACE, understood as Shalom (Hebrew). From Shalom is derived Salam (arabic for peace) and from which is derived Islam, the religion of peace. ‘For Christians Christ is our Shalom/Peace( Eph. 2:14).’

“Some of our BUC members believe this is possible. In fact several Muslim and Protestant couples, Catholic bishops, priests and women religious have volunteered to be part of the experimental community. Since Lumads believe in the integrity of creation (which is the real meaning of ‘shalom’), they can be part of the community. We were looking for a lot in Samal Island for this project when the present regime came into being. 

“Part of my personal self-assumed task is to convince NTC members, especially the religious sector (Christians and Muslims), of the need for prayer and self-sacrifice. As has been said over and over again, NATIONAL TRANSFORMATION NEEDS TRANSFORMED CHANGE-AGENTS. For, nothing and no one, to use an acceptable interfaith language, matures to perfection without pain or something similar to pain.

“Feel free to share this email with anyone. Please say One Hail Mary for me.”

Thursday, June 4, 2015

More than her mysterious parentage or if she has minimum constitutional requirement of ten years residency in PH, I’m apprehensive about Grace Poe's lack of governing experience. How much time would President Poe need to firmly grasp the handle of governance, given gargantuan problems and damaged institutions she’d inherit from P-Noy? Or would she rely on Chiz Escudero in first three or four years? But aren’t we putting the cart before the horse, given all talk about economic cha-cha in House that could open floodgates to political amendments and a No-El scenario? Can we rely on congressmen’s pledge on economic cha-cha only? Would anyone bet on this?

Sen. Grace Poe

VP Jejomar Binay

A major TV network played up very lengthily last night the issue being raised against Sen. Grace Poe by the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) on  whether, assuming she runs for and is elected President in 2016,  she would have fulfilled the constitutional requirement of having been “a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.” UNA Acting President Toby Tiangco maintains that by 2016 Poe, going by her earlier certificate of candidacy for the Senate, would have lived here for only 9 years and six months---short of the ten-year requirement.

The major network dug for about an hour into the hitherto mysterious and unknown circumstances of the lady senator’s birth, parentage and rearing, and this prime-time could already be read as the launch of Grace Poe’s candidacy---evoking tremendous sympathy for her as a child of unknown parentage.  It will be an irresistible political Cinderella story for the masa and in this regard she’d probably give VP Jejomar Binay, the declared UNA presidential candidate, a run for his AMLC-induced frozen assets. 


Over the months, with treatment such as what that network gave her, it’s easy to see that Poe will gain strength with the voters---the most recent Laylo survey shows her just a few points shy of UNA declared candidate VP Jejomar Binay. It’s also easy to see that while she now avers that if she is to run she’d prefer to do so as an independent, with her mentor Sen. Chiz Escudero as her running mate, it’s also easy to foretell a pragmatic solution for the election-obsessed LP. Should presumptive LP presidential candidate Mar Roxas not pull up in surveys, the LP would readily come begging Poe to run under its banner with Mar Roxas as VP and Escudero promised the Senate Presidency.

All these scenarios are part of the dizzying political race that has already begun. But to me, the issue against Poe is not so much her faulty math---her failing to calculate just how many years she already spent here since she returned from US sojourn and education. In this regard, it's understandable that UNA would capitalize on what may be an uncalculated and even innocent mistake, in view of Poe’s presentation of herself as the complete antithesis of the LP's portrayal of VP Binay as the epitome of corruption. 


To my mind, the bigger issue about Grace Poe is the fact she has so little experience in public service---only two years as head of MTRCB and two years as a junior senator who became prominent only when she chaired the committee that ventilated the Mamasapano issue (and even then, she has failed to submit the final report on those prolonged hearings, prompting critics to opine that she was protecting President Aquino and his cohorts in botched SAF operation.

I firmly agree with the assertion of former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno in a recent Daily Tribune column that “the incoming President has to hit the ground running” given all the gargantuan problems and damaged institutions that P-Noy will leave as his legacy. The question is, how much learning time would a President Poe need to firmly grasp the handle of governance? Or would she rely in the first three or four years, pretty much as she has done in the past two years, on her mentor and friend, Chiz Escudero. As a pundit quipped, we might as well elect Chiz president, maganda pa ang First Lady. 


But wait, aren’t we putting the cart before the horse? Will there be elections in 2016 as the Palace has recently been reassuring when talk about a No-El began to circulate? Talk of No-EL was fueled lately by recent moves in the House to jumpstart “Resolution of Both Houses” (RBH1) that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte had filed in July 2013. RBH 1 calls for Congress to amend certain “economic provisions” in order to supposedly enervate the economic situation of the country by opening up to foreign investments certain areas of the economy.

Suspicious minds like Chiz Escudero and Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon are quizzy about the timing of the “economic provisions.” Why now, when the Palace is exerting tremendous pressure on Congress to pass the BBL? Or is there a connection? Recall that Sen. Miriam Santiago’s committee has ruled that there are unconstitutional provisions in the draft BBL which would need revision if the BBL, even if passed by Congress, won’t be struck down by the Supreme Court. Most solons in both chambers agree with legal experts that there’s need to amend some provisions. In fact, some experts are struck that the drafters of the BBL have overlooked these infirmities.


Unless of course, the BBL is merely the excuse for revision of the Constitution by the members of Congress sitting as a constituent assembly, or for Congress to pass piecemeal legislation that achieves the same thing. All that is needed for the 290-member House to pass an amendment via legislation is the vote three fourths of its members, after which it's then passed on to the Senate.

Now, where does the talk about No-El come in? If the Palace really wants to extend the term of P-Noy and Congress by three more years (e.g., to repair all the wrinkles in his administration so that he does not get incarcerated like his predecessor) all it needs is to get 217 votes in the House and a corresponding equivalent vote in the Senate. 


Rep. Ridon, a former UP Board of Regents member representing the students, suspects as much, when he was quoted in Tribune as opining last Monday that “the renewed Cha-cha push may be fueled by Aquino’s desire to escape rosecution after his term ends. Recall that at one point in the recent past, P-Noy played coy to the idea of a term extension, adding that he'd very much like to continue his "tuwid na daan" reforms. 

Of course the administration and Congress would really be risking a revolution, as the Filipino people probably won’t take that brazen attempt sitting down. But then again, haven’t the people become quite apathetic? Recall the lack of collective action after the fierce collective anger over Mamasapano. 

What about the members of Congress? Would they take this sitting down too? Given the way the President has had his way with the House and, with a little more noise, in the Senate in various issues pundits thought were impossible to pass, can we doubt their acquiescence? What member of Congress would refuse a term extension where he does not have to fork out huge amounts to win (and where he or she would instead be the beneficiary of a windfall)?  

What we need in Congress are genuine patriots.