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, September 23, 2015

Citizen-petitioner Rizalito Yap David, instead of being vilified for challenging Grace Poe on citizenship issue, should be commended for seeking to uphold law and Constitution. This is something P-Noy wasn’t doing when he batted to submit this burning issue directly the people in 2016---vox populi---instead of to courts. But while lawyers cross swords, there are those of us who’d argue: what qualifications does Poe have, aside from being FPJ’s daughter?

The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET)---composed of three justices of the Supreme Court, namely, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who chairs the SET, and Justices Arturo Brion and Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, and six senators, namely, Tito Sotto, Bam Aquino, Cynthia Villar, Loren Legarda, Nancy Binay and Pia Cayetano---is handling very hot stuff--- the issue of the citizenship of Senator and presidential candidate Grace Poe, and her eligibility or lack of it for the 2016 elections. 

Lawyers of Poe, led by Alexander Poblador, are tangling with Manuelito Luna,  lawyer of former senatorial candidate Rizalito Yap David, citizen-petitioner seeking the disqualification of Grace Poe.  Justice Carpio, has asked both counsels to submit their memoranda by the second week of October, just before the Oct. 16 deadline for the filing of candidacies for the 2016 elections; but this case is expected to drag on even beyond said deadline.

Thus, it’s conceivable that presidential candidate Grace Poe could be disqualified sometime in November, if not by SET then by the Supreme Court, to which this decision would predictably be elevated by constitutionalists and political foes.   


The issue of Poe’s eligibility as a foundling to run for President is quite complex. For tangled herein are not only legal and constitutional issues based on provisions of the 1935 and 1987 Constitutions, but also the vast political ramifications of a Poe candidacy---the victory of what purports at the moment to be "opposition," or in case of her disqualification, the continuance of LP domination into the next administration.

This is because Poe cuts through the presidential candidacies of both LP’s Mar Roxas and UNA’s Jejomar Binay. With her “clean” well-scrubbed image she could drastically slice the chances of Roxas as the heir of “Tuwid na Daan.”  As the daughter of FPJ---and her “martyr” status now that she’s being raked over the coals on the citizenship issue--- Grace commands tremendous masa appeal, sympathy votes. This is evident in the recent SWS survey that she topped with a razor -thin margin. Thus she could eat into the 30 % masa vote claimed by Binay as ineluctably his. 


The issue of Poe's citizenship is key battleground in the 2016 elections, and this is why anyone who questions this issue is cut down.  Note how issue-challenger Lito David is now being made to bear the burden of producing proof that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino citizen, instead of the other way around. Given the circumstances of her birth as well as inaccuracies she made, innocently or deliberately, in her Senate candidacy and Immigration records, I agree with David:  THIS ISSUE HAS TO BE RAISED AND ANSWER SOUGHT.   

Justice Carpio aired similar thinking on it, opining that unless she produces proof otherwise, Grace Poe is not a natural-born but a naturalized citizen;  as such she’s not eligible to run for the presidency as stipulated in Sec.5, Art. 4 of the 1935 Constitution, which was left untouched in the 1987 Constitution. Carpio was criticized in some quarters for premature disclosure of opinion as SET chair (and doubtless this is justified), but inevitably his supposed link to Mar Roxas’ lawyer, Avelino Cruz, in “The Firm” is raked up too, even though at least on paper he severed ties when he was appointed to the High Court early in the Arroyo administration. 

A senator allied with the P-Noy administration has called for Carpio's inhibition from SET deliberations and voting on Poe. It’s not being mentioned in media, however, that Justices Brion and De castro also opined similarly on this issue, but this may be because they have no ties with “The Firm.” Therefore, not politically interesting.


Grace Poe has sought a DNA test, results in two weeks, obviously in the hope that one or other of her biological parents or siblings would surface as being Filipinos, thus quieting all debate on this issue (a foundling, to be considered natural-born, must have at least one parent born here). On the other hand, lawyers of both sides of her eligibility issue would tangle more assiduously in the SET and predictably in the Supreme Court.

President Aquino has also weighed in by opining that Poe’s citizenship issue be left to the people to decide in the coming elections---vox populi. This stand, however, is quite strange for him to take, for as the President he should be the first one to bat for following the Constitution to the letter and upholding the majesty of the law. 

As a result, P-Noy’s stand about vox populi and his kid-glove handling of Poe, as compared to his full-fist slamming of Binay, raises speculation in some quarters that P-Noy may be sensing an inevitable Poe victory and wants to ride on it, in the hope that he gets better political treatment in his retirement.   

This may be no idle speculation, for recall that Grace Poe, as chair of the Senate committee on peace and order and dangerous drugs that held many hearings on Mamasapano, ultimately softened her earlier tough stand to pin responsibility for the bloodbath on P-Noy.  Then too, a week and a half ago, she promised not to take issue with this administration at all during the campaign. What kind of 'opposition' is this? 


I’ll let lawyers Alex Poblador and Manuelito Luna joust healthily on the citizenship issue of foundling Grace Poe; instead, I’d emphasize a far bigger issue that will have such a staggering bearing on our country:  her lack of competence to lead the country presently mired in so many gargantuan problems. There’s no doubt that Poe's running on the steam of her popular idol father FPJ’s memory, and well could she ride into victory in May 2016.  But the nagging question is: what qualifications does she have to show aside from being her father’s daughter?  Being president is no joke especially in the aftermath of the Aquino administration.

Poe's stint at executive governance was only a year at MTRCB, and in the Senate she had only two rather uneventful years,  except when she chaired the committee that investigated the SAF tragedy, which thrust her into the limelight. Former Sen. Nene Pimentel, in today’s Daily Tribune, was quoted as opining that the platform revealed by Poe at her UP launch the other week sounded “like a ‘thesis’ paper” and that her speech then was similar to an academic exercise that lacks “political weight.”


Star columnist Boo Chanco has expressed worry about something else. In a FaceBook post Boo opined that Poe’s running-mate, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, has failed to display a deep grasp of the country’s  many serious problems and that  he’s no better than a “charlatan” (probably because the Bicolano solon speaks with the rapidity of a canon).

Such studied opinion from a veteran journalist is worrisome indeed, for it’s well known in the Senate that Grace Poe leans so much on her buddy Chiz, who was her father’s campaign manager in his 2004 presidential run. In fact, some Senate insiders assert that there’s nothing that she would agree to issuing, even just a press release, without first asking, “Nakita na ba ito ni Chiz?”  

Thus, it’s not remote that in the first few years of a Grace Poe presidency, while she’s learning the ropes it would be Escudero who would be de facto president.

It’s high time that Escudero’s record be scrutinized, alongside that of Grace. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reopening Mamasapano issue won’t amount to much, except to allow politicians to grandstand on eve of 2016---to the neglect of more pressing issues, e.g., threat of new cheating by PCOS machines, daily woes of Metro Manila commuters with horrendous traffic, floodings, bad transport system, etc. The whole truth about Mamasapano won’t emerge until there's regime/system change. But never mind, SAF heroes will forever be enshrined in hearts of Filipinos.


Two recent episodes are bound to have a direct bearing on the current situation in Muslim Mindanao, as well as on attempts over the months and even years to ensure lasting peace and order in the big island. 

One is the startling disclosure by President Aquino, in a recent forum with Inquirer multi-media staff about an emerging “alternative truth” or an “alternative version of events” surrounding the slaying of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan”---and that “new leads” are being pursued about the Mamasapano tragedy.

The other episode involves the publication in various dailies last Monday, Sept. 14, of the equally startling "Manifesto of Retired Officers" on "Security, Justice and Peace in Mindanao for All!," signed by four former AFP Chiefs of Staff, one former Philippine Navy Flag Officer, and various chiefs of organizations and associations within the AFP and allied groups. All the signatories are of star rank, powerful and influential in their own time, but who, as retirees, still carry enormous weight among junior officers. 

A total of 31 retired AFP officers with general rank signed this manifesto, that attacks the Framework Agreement on the |Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) forged by the Executive Department with the MILF two years ago. The 31 retirees manifested their opposition to the passage of the BBL "in its original form," as they fear it will promote dismemberment of the Republic.


I cannot recall an issue that drew out such a large number of retired officers of general rank. This is unprecedented, and P-Noy was said to be very upset at their manifesto. Quite understandable.

What's interesting about these two episodes is that they are frightfully related to each other---a cause-and-effect relationship, instead of being just a mirror of each other. Because of new controversy regarding the bloodbath in Mamasapano and the generals' stiff objection to the BBL in its original form, there's an even chance that bill won't pass in this administration. Which is well and good. 

Let's take these two developments one by one:


Regarding this "alternative truth," not surprisingly, the President did not disclose details about it, and in fact even Palace Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. has nothing to say about his boss' sudden disclosure, except “the need to get to the truth of the matter.” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, normally very loquacious, quickly said that no details could be offered on the President’s assertion “as it's a sensitive matter” still being investigated.

The problem is that the Mamasapano episode, one of the goriest in our history, is still raw in the hearts and minds of our people, especially among the loved ones of the Fallen ’44. In addition to the 44 SAF who lost their lives, 5 other SAF were wounded with varying severity, and 15 others survived unscathed in that grim episode.

P-Noy’s disclosure (was it unpremeditated or deliberate?) about the “alternative truth” does not assuage the still raw feelings of the slain PNP commandoes’ loved ones---far from it. In fact, in this day and age when huge problems seem to overwhelm the nation, such seemingly idle utterance from the highest official does not help at all. 

More so the re-opening of the issue in Congress, as some politicos are now pressing for. The fact is that there's no guarantee that the "real truth" would surface beyond what appears to be an attempt at REVISIONISM by the administration.


For lack of details about this “alternative truth,”  media are now speculating that P-Noy was referring to a new theory that Marwan was not killed by SAF commandoes last Jan. 25, but by his own aides who had turned traitor (for the  money of it?).  MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, doubtless out of huge PIQUE with this administration for its continued failure to get Congress to pass the BBL, quickly took up this line---that it was not the SAF but Marwan’s aides who undertook the execution, and evidence was the way he was hit in the head and chest, i.e., while lying down, instead of in combat with the attackers. 

It’s the “only truth,” Iqbal asserts imperiously. 

This theory is, of course, not far-fetched, as money could easily have been motivation for treachery (the US bounty of P5 million?), but this is not substantiated. What Iqbal’s claim succeeds in doing, however, as Sen. Ralph Recto asserts, is to lessen the import of the SAF 44’s sacrifice of their lives.

As Recto put it, “The people may not be forgiving of those who vilify the valor of those who gave up their lives for the country. THEY WERE NOT GIVEN POSTHUMOUS HONOR, AND NOW THEY ARE BEING MADE TO SUFFER POSTHUMOUS INSULT." (emphasis BOC's). 


The PNP’s board of inquiry, headed at the time of the tragedy by PNP Director Benjamin Magalong, didn't let Mohagher Iqbal’s assertion pass unchallenged. He quickly reiterated his board’s official stand: it was the SAF commandoes who killed Marwan and it has all the evidence to support this claim., unlike the MILF. In stressing that the claim that Marwan was slain by his own aides "is an insult to the Fallen SAF 44 who sacrificed so much,” Director Magalong  is actually dousing cold water on his Commander-in-Chief’s “alternative truth.” 

The “alternative truth” plot has since thickened with the revelation in the Sept. 10, 2015 issue of the Los Angeles Times which asserted that contrary to Aquino’s claim that the Mamasapano operation was a success and a purely Filipino operation, it was actually "a failure" and was heavily participated in by American forces. David Maxwell, a retired US Army colonel said to have commanded the US special operations force in the Philippines in 2006 and 2007, was quoted by LA Times as claiming that in fact US covert forces had been training the SAF commandos to target Marwan in “Operation Exodus.”


The Daily Tribune here, quoting LA Times, said that on the day of the SAF assault on Marwan in Mamasapano last Jan. 25, “some five or six US counter-terrorism advisers assisted from a police command post nearby, tracking the assault team in live video from a US surveillance aircraft circling overhead.” The LA Times report also cited that after the 14-hour battle, a Black Hawk chopper flown by “Pentagon contractors” landed and US medics helped treat the wounded and collect the dead. 

American commandoes were later treated at a Cotabato hospital, and there’s a report going around that some of them had actually perished in Mamasapano. Today the Inquirer carried a blurred photo allegedly taken by the MILF of an Caucasian supposedly with the attacking SAF and lying dead.

Actually we journalists had heard about American involvement in that episode from friends with connections to the US; but interestingly no such detail  appeared in any PNP report or was it raised in the hearings in Congress.


The float by no less than the President of the “alternative truth” naturally kicked off reactions all around. Sen. Recto asserts that if the claim by the MILF and Iqbal about Marwan being slain by his own people and not by the SAF is unsupported by facts, then this claim is “slanderous.” 

Sen. Tito Sotto is batting for reopening this issue in the Senate, while Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the committee on public order and dangerous drugs that conducted the hearings on Mamasapano earlier, was quoted as being open to it. Naturally, as this would give Poe the exposure she needs for her higher political ambition.  


P-Noy’s recent disclosure of this revisionist "alternative theory" has raised speculation that it was done to tease the public mind away from the terrible woes of daily living in Metro Manila and on the national level. 

On the other hand, was the revisionism merely P-Noy’s strategy to prepare for his exit from office on June 30, 2016---when he has to account for his devastating mistake in assigning responsibility for Mamasapano to his close buddy, then suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima?  Because of his controversial status then, Purisima deliberately failed to coordinate with the Army units on the ground---until all hell was already breaking loose!


The clamor of politicians, especially those who'll be running in 2016, to reopen Mamasapano is understandable, but the question is, would it do us any good as a people and a nation?  I submit that many fellow citizens would join me in refusing to support a reopening for a number of reasons.

One is the threat of grandstanding among re-electionist members of Congress. Two, there's no assurance that we'd really get to the bottom of THE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH from the LP-controlled Congress, e.g., about the President’s direct orders, US involvement, etc?  Recall how the senators and representatives tiptoed around the issue of foreign involvement---no one was brave enough to raise it---while the US Embassy was in constant denial about it. 

Even now, there are reports about a gag order on PNP personnel on Mamasapano, causing demoralization in the ranks.


Three, reopening this emotional issue would side-step so many other issues far more urgent and important, e.g, the worsening poverty, the choked Metro Manila traffic situation that causes some P2.4 billion in losses daily, the PCOS cheating machines for 2016, global warming and the typhoons, etc.

There has been no closure on the Mamasapano issue because the entire truth has not been allowed to surface---and it will not, UNTIL A CHANGE OF REGIME AND SYSTEM TAKES PLACE. Already there's an increasingly loud call for a CARETAKER GOVERNMENT to take over from the paralyzed regime. 

Meanwhile, the memory of the gallant SAF troopers will forever be enshrined in the hearts of the Filipino people---how they were led to their death by the incompetence and duplicity of a tiny band of conspirators.

(Next: the impact of retired AFP officers’ recent manifesto vs. BBL)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Monstrous traffic jams in Metro Manila can be relieved by un-bribable, no-nonsense PNP-HPG enforcing common-sense traffic regulations, e.g., giving true meaning to yellow traffic light. Japan’s practice of no-vehicle purchase/registration unless buyer has parking space is worth emulating. FVR cites LEDAC as effective consultation tool in his presidency, coaxing Congress to pass 221 laws, signed at rate of one every 21 days. But this calls for Chief Executive at ease with other branches of government, not hostile nor given to bribery.

Former President Fidel V. Ramos at Philconsa monthly fellowship, with
board president Martin Romualdez., director Nelia T. Gonzalez and this journalist.

The traffic impasse in Metro Manila has reached such hideous proportions that the Aquino government can only ignore its alleviation at a risk to the Liberal Party's survival in 2016---especially since the series of APEC meetings are to commence in a few months. The traffic in Metro Manila will be an election issue as it directly affects the daily welfare of the commuting public---DOTC Secretary Abaya's claim to the contrary.  Moreover, the traffic has gravely affected the economy and productivity of the metropolis, an estimated P2.4 billion loss daily, which could be even bigger in the worst week day, Friday. 

Not surprisingly, a recent world survey placed Metro Manila as the 5th worst city with regard to traffic---so much for an international tourism come-on.

What COULD BE an enlightened move is the recent decision of the administration to remove the supervision of EDSA from the MMDA and entrust  it to the PNP’s Highway Patrol Group (PNP-HPG).  The idea, as explained by the designated PNP-HPG Director, Chief Supt. Arnold Gunnacao,  is to identify six “chokepoints” on EDSA that would showcase “instilling discipline on motorists.”  It remains to be seen if the PNP-HPG would truly be effective.

Part of Chief Supt. Gunnacao’s admonition to motorists is to refrain from bribing  his men, as the bribers  would be apprehended.  But obviously   this admonition would be taken to heart only if the HPG officers prove to be truly incorruptible. It is no secret that some MMDA traffic officers have developed over the years such camaraderie with bus and jeepney operators through the influencing magic of kotong.  Otherwise, how else to explain all the illegal parking in the metropolis? 


Any campaign to ease traffic would depend greatly on the will to enforce regulations.  One morning recently. as I was rushing to turn left from EDSA into Santolan next to Camp Crame, our long column of left-turning cars got stuck. Why? Because buses on EDSA heading toward Makati blocked the Santolan intersection even when it was already yellow light, and they couldn't care less about the other side. In more developed countries such as Australia and the US, that intersection space is painted brightly, so that if a vehicle is caught there by the yellow light it is apprehended and fined heavily. We ought to enforce that yellow light here. 

Moreover, there's a practice in Japan that makes sense: DON'T ALLOW PEOPLE TO BUY  AND REGISTER A VEHICLE UNLESS THEY HAVE PARKING SPACE FOR IT.  

Despite being one of the world’s leading car manufacturers, the Japanese are the first to prevent clogging of their streets, so that traffic even in downtown Tokyo is relatively much lighter. How do they do this? There is a stiff regulation that one cannot buy and register a car even if he could afford it, unless he has papers to show he has a PARKING SPACE for it in his domicile or place of work. Thus, in Tokyo where space is truly truly tight, city government allows the RENTAL of select space in sidewalks, but it's expensive---and therefore prohibitive for most Japanese. 

A friend of mine in Mainz, Germany, was buying another car. Grilled intensely by a city official when he signified intention to register it, ("WHATEVER FOR' this second car?), the poor guy withdrew his purchase. 


Here in the Philippines the moneyed could buy as many cars as they want because there is no such space regulation whatsoever and they park anywhere they please even overnight.

 Of course, the counter-argument against imposition of paid parking space is that the local car sales industry would suffer if such regulation were to be imposed. This industry is currently in a boom, at 20% increase in car sales every year. But some degree of regulation is now demanded, as vehicles are often wantonly parked along major streets, further constricting traffic. This is true  especially in shopping malls such as the UP Town Center in Katipunan, Q.C., where traffic from Ateneo and Miriam in rush hours add to the parking nightmare.  EDSA near the Guadalupe Market narrows to a one-lane affair, as marrket-goers park anywhere they please. And so on...


At his appearance last month before the Philippine Constitutional Association (Philconsa), former President Fidel Ramos, wearing a black Fallen SAF T-shirt and his favorite veteran’s be-medalled beret, held a rambling Q/A, which proved far more interesting than his speech. Some highlights:

  •     A law that’s not acceptable to all the components would not guarantee lasting peace.   He was obviously thinking of the BBL now hanging fire in Congress.
  •     PH’s ranking in the UN in terms of human development: Out of 195 member      countries, PH ranks No. 117, along with nations like Fiji and Samoa.
  •    Charter Change has become so necessary to install parliamentary system because the present presidential system has become quite inefficient for our needs. Among others, FVR  cited climate change, pandemic diseases, Ebola and AIDs are the threats to mankind’s survival. Parliamentary system is simply better for adaptation to change.
  • The provision against Presidents appointing relatives up to the fourth degree of consanguinity should be extended also to other executive officials vis-à-vis their own relatives.
  •  The ‘Daang Matuwid’ should be ‘Tamang Daan.’


Dwelling on the ill-fated Mamasapano Operation, in response to queries from the audience, FVR emphasized that since it was supposed to be part of the peace process, there should have been proper coordination, teamwork and bonding among those involved in that operation. He stressed the need for full utilization of the intelligence network and consultation, including the kagawads, the peace and order council chaired by the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, with the Secretary of Defense as Vice-chair. 

FVR then raised a favorite theme:  the full utilization of the Legislative-Executive Development and Advisory Council (LEDAC) during his term in Malacanang. FVR pointed out that during the 9th and 10th Congress, no less than 221 laws of a “structural nature” were passed because the LEDAC was actively working. In fact, he stressed that HE WAS SIGNING A LAW EVERY 21 DAYS. .

FVR’s lengthy emphasis on LEDAC was an indirect way of hitting at President Aquino who has rarely convened that inter-agency since he came to Malacanang.  P-Noy has isolated the presidency from proper inter-action with critical agencies of government, which, in turn, is understandable given  his very limited experience as a legislator.

The former President  also deplored that with all the abundance of natural wealth in the country it is  “a crime” that our young children should be selling sampaguitas in the streets when they should be in school.  He cited the need  to industrialize our various agencies and create jobs here, calling for a bigger role for the private sector in moving the country.


The prolonged Q/A and hearty responses from his audience showed how much they missed FVR. Behind the success of his administration was the combination of a wide experience in civil and military governance, plus a distinguished military career where civilian supremacy was carefully imbued beginning from his West Point days.  In the race for the presidency  these days, beginning from the election of Benigno S. Aquino 3rd in 2010 due to the huge outpouring of sympathy for his mother’s passing, this invaluable experience in governance has been missing and it extends to most of the candidates for the 2016 electoral race.       
What the country needs in the coming elections, more than anything, is a candidate who can jump-start the severely stagnated and deteriorated public services that the broad masses of our people have had to endure in the current administration.  Suffer the people, indeed.