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.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Two views from concerned and sympathetic individuals: one on the expat community's views on the current political “circus” and widening gap between rich and poor in our country; the other on the recently-concluded “Synod of the Bishops on the Family.” Please read these pieces carefully and ponder on their message.

The following consists of very thoughtful observations emailed to me by an expat businessman who has lived and worked for a long while in the Philippines as well as in various other countries in Asia, where he has also traveled extensively.  Since his retirement  from active business  this expat has chosen  to live in the Philippines. I shall not disclose his identity,  but it’s obvious that he cares a lot for the Filipino people and is saddened by recent political developments.  Below are his meaningful comments:  

“ I shall read your polbits on a regular basis as they increase my understanding of Filipino politics. I have been an observer of the chaotic political scene here since 1998 when I began working here and have stayed on in this country since then. The political scene seems at present more disturbing than ever. The election circus has started preparing the program but it remains uncertain who will be incorporated  to perform. Meanwhile the aspiring candidates are promoting their act. 

"How can the public make up its mind under these confusing circumstances. The end result is that the winning candidate may garner only 20-30% of the votes---a minority president.

“Democracy was not intended that way. Charter Change should revise the election process in terms that if there is no candidate who wins an absolute majority of the votes, the two contenders with the most number of votes should run again for a final ballot. This process is already applied in a number of countries (called a run-off election---BOC).

“I have been living in the Philippines now for one and a half decades after having also worked and lived in Thailand and Malaysia and traveling extensively all over Asia. I have wondered why some countries have done better than others and in particular why the Philippines which had a head start after independence was unable to get its act together and has become the laggard in terms of poverty alleviation, employment creation, infrastructure and foreign direct investment (emphasis BOC's).

“I have come to the conclusion that ‘culture matters.’ The culture of impunity, nepotism, patronage and money politics is to blame as it is so deeply imbedded in the ‘Filipino way’ of doing things in business and politics, that it hinders progress in development (emphasis BOC's).  Foreign observers are worried by the rising inequality between the haves and the have-not's in this country and they wonder about the level of ‘tolerance’ of the masses. 

"In a number of instances I have gotten my frustration with the lost opportunities of the Philippines off my chest in private publications.

"My hope is that my view on how western foreigners look at the Philippines would enhance reflection on how cultural aspects of Philippine society prevent this country from really taking off in terms that the economic growth would be shared by the majority of the population and not only for the elite and middle class.

“My observation is that "culture matters"  are trickling down very slowly.  It seems that most members of the academe know what is wrong, but politicians prefer to ignore the "shameful" truth, or only pay lip service to the need for change, which is not in their interest.

“Please continue to write about the flaws in your society, in the hope that it would open the eyes of your readers and pave the way to a more prosperous and just society shared by the elite and the middle-class with the more impoverished sectors.  The Filipino people deserve it.”


Below is a thoughtful and balanced observation submitted by a friend of mine on the recently-concluded “Synod of the Bishops on the Family”  at the Vatican in Rome, presided by Pope Francis:


"The Synod on the Family is a crossroads where some participants who appeared to have manifested a moribund understanding of doctrine took a right turn, while others who displayed a reckless disregard for the unchangeable teachings turned left.  

"Happily, there were those who, transcending the cerebral approaches and the mania for documentation, have moved straight ahead, under the aegis of PRAYERFUL DISCERNMENT.  It is these shepherds who have the tools for applying truths to healing the wounded in the Church, not in a rote manner, but with personal attention, mercy and compassion.

"In their obsession with firmness, those who took the right turn will have difficulty distinguishing between compromise and mercy because they will suspect acts of mercy to be compromisory absolutions.  If they were physicians, they would be the type of physicians who would give up on most injuries as hopeless.

"Those who took the left turn will end up thinking that mercy justifies any absolution.  If they were physicians, they would be the type who would deny serious injuries.

"Those who moved forward will, together with Pope Francis, acknowledge
unchanging doctrine and embark on seeking out the sheep who are walking wounded, understand each one, diagnose them, and formulate appropriate medication---clinical, social, legal, canonical, spiritual remedies -- to bring them to the healthiest possible state. 

"In summary, some have locked themselves within a circus of traditionalISM, a
circular road of status quo; others to liberationISM, a road to perdition. And then there are those who are moving forward with Pope Francis, on the road to
MERCIFUL HEALING, which is essential to the mission of the Church.  This is what the synodal crossroads would look like:

"Needless to say, Pope Francis will be ministering mercifully as well to those who insist on going around in circles and those who think that doctrine is passé.

"After all the hullaballoo, the Synod is not saying anything new as far as basic
pastoring is concerned. Even the resolution to apply "discernment" is an age-old procedure. It will be applying the same Gospel principles in meeting new challenges. While new structures and institutions may be called for, there will be absolutely no need to change the tenets of faith and morals.

"What we can perhaps consider an "improvement" wrought by the Synod is a deeper realization of the Church's FAMILIAL CONSTITUTION:  that it is rooted in a Family, that it is composed of families, and that it is itself a Family---God's Family."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SC TROs Sandiganbayan’s trial of PGMA, doubtless influenced by UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention's opinion which, in this election year, administration can ill afford to ignore. Miriam should divulge medical records if she wants her presidential candidacy taken seriously. Mixing politics (secret straw-voting, pundits’ analyses) and camaraderie at Joe and Gina de Venecia’s gathering.

In a stunning development, the Supreme Court has issued a one-month TRO vs. the Sandiganbayan’s proceeding with the trial of detained former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now unopposed re-electionist representative in her native Pampanga. GMA’s defense in the lone existing case filed against her for alleged plunder in the four-year old PCSO case was doubtless strengthened by the position taken by the UN Technical Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), which ruled that GMA’s continued detention violates international human rights standards.

All of Arroyo’s co-accused in the PCSO case have either been released on bail or acquitted because of weak evidence, but GMA continues to be detained in Veterans Hospital and denied bail. Her lawyers have argued that “Not a single one of the 637 exhibits offered by the prosecution, nor a single testimony of the 21 witnesses of the prosecution was offered…to prove that respondent Arroyo amassed, accumulated or acquired even a single peso of the alleged ill-gotten wealth amounting to P365,997,915.00 or any part of that amount alleged in the Information.”

The UNWGAD resolution, won with the help of international lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, wife of American movie star George Clooney, has encouraged GMA's lawyers to re-file for bail during the pendency of her PCSO case. GMA’s case has won sympathy here and abroad---owing, in large part to the fact that she is the only one of a dozen accused who has remained in detention despite the lack of evidence by the prosecution and her poor health. 

Aside from her spine illness which an operation some years back failed to address, causing persistent pain and necessitating her wearing a neck brace, at this moment she is confined for two days at St. Luke’s Hospital in QC because of increased weakening on her left side, which could arise from heart complications. 


Various commentators have spoken about perceived injustice in her case, but with the UNWGAD’s much-publicized opinion on the violation of international human rights standards in GMA's case, the limelight has focused more sharply now on the continued denial of bail for her, despite the lack of damning evidence. 

The UNWGAD  stated that "Mrs. Arroyo was denied bail on grounds that are not compatible with international law; she did not benefit from the presumption in favor of bail; she was denied bail exclusively on the basis of the alleged strength of evidence against her; measures alternative to pre-trial detention were not considered and there were undue delays in considering her bail position in the proceedings against her as a whole." 


Standard columnist Rita Linda Jimeno recently argued that with the APEC Summit drawing world leaders to the Philippines next month, the Aquino administration risks more severe criticism over its continued refusal to allow the aging and ailing former President to post bail. It would highlight growing perception that this administration is quite vindictive. After 93-year old Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile won bail from the SC on humanitarian ground, all the more that GMA’s case has evoked sympathy.

It's good for the administration to note that in this election year, the Liberal Party could ill-afford to ignore GMA's plea for bail. For instance, in GMA's native Pampanga, the candidate for governor is running unopposed and so is GMA in her district. Those could spell solid votes against the LP.


Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago refuses to bare her medical records despite public request by a woman doctor, on the ground that these records are private to her alone. Many would beg to differ with MDS. She is running for the highest and toughest post in the land, and few issues are more relevant than her health, especially since she has been absent from the Senate for a long time now because she has stage 4 cancer. The chamber as well as the public have been most accommodating to her about her illness, but her run for the presidency makes it imperative that she bare her medical records fully---- instead of merely claiming she’s already well.

If this case were in the US, MDS cannot even get to first base politically following her claim of illness;  in fact, in the US, even the slightest whiff of rumor about a candidate's adverse physical condition would be ground for the subpoena of his or her health records. Until MDS bares her full medical records she'll likely be treated as a joke in the current campaign trail. 

In fact, already there's talk that she is running only to give her supposed VP, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, an added forum for his campaign.


Last Tuesday evening a group of close friends was invited to a catching-up-on-politics dinner at the residence of former Speaker Jose de Venecia and his wife, Pangasinan 4th district Rep. Gina de Venecia who’s running for reelection. These friends have remained close-knit for many years and as has been our custom in past elections or on crucial issues, at Tuesday's gathering we held a straw-vote on preferences for president and vice president. The results showed how diverse our political leanings are and how much we respect one another’s views.  It was enlightening, and fun, fun, fun.

Predictably there were votes for Grace Poe, Mar Roxas and Jojo Binay ---reflecting pretty much the survey results of Standard’s veteran pollster Laylo. There were strong advocates for Mar and Binay, with Grace Poe seemingly held at arms’ length primarily because of the various disqualifications filed against her and what one felt was her “too strong sense of entitlement.“ For VP, there were votes for Bongbong  Marcos that simply discombobulated my brilliant friend Cecile Guidote Alvarez, who argued that her objection is "nothing personal" but simply a rejection of "historical amnesia."  Mar managed to pull up somewhat running-mate Leni Robredo (who was President Noynoy’s singular choice for Mar’s VP) but Greg Honasan hardly squeezed in, voted by a Binay loyalist.

I cast an abstain vote at that gathering---the only one who did---as at the moment I cannot seem to prefer anyone in the horizon. Moreover, I lament that our politics has not matured all these years, in fact it has remained infantile and all too fixated on show-biz glitter. Folks can't seem to separate politics from show-biz, as evidenced by the fact that cinema and TV stars have come out of the woodwork in full force, to run for public office. I'M CONVINCED ABOUT THE URGENT NEED TO SHIFT TO THE PARLIAMENTARY/UNICAMERAL SYSTEM.  


More interesting, however, was that while the guests showed more or less equal preference for Poe, Roxas and Binay, the household staff of JDV who also cast their “votes” in secret showed clear preference for Binay over the other two. The conclusion, as one guest noted, was the evident class divide where Binay was the preference of the lower-income group. He seems to have a virtual lock on about 23-35 percent of the total vote which is  from the masa. 

There was loud cheering inside the De Venecia kitchen when the staff's votes were tallied and announced alongside those of the guests; but Gina de Venecia, who is out and out for Mar-Leni, took all this in stride, in true democratic fashion. It was indication that the year and three months of the much-publicized Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearings on Binay’s alleged corruption had hardly made a dent on the masa vote, which is clearly his.


Speaker JDV then asked all the guests to make their own analysis of how things are now, and among the factors brought up was how the snowballing disqualification (DQ) cases vs. survey front-runner Poe---her being a natural-born Filipino as well as the residency issue---would affect her candidacy adversely. And since the DQ would be battled in the Senate Electoral Tribunal, the Comelec and ultimately in the Supreme Court---and considering the turtle pace with which our court processes take place---it was opined that by the time the SC rules with finality on Poe’s candidacy, sources of funds would have dried up; the common opinion was that few financiers would subsidize a DQ high-risk candidate (I personally think she would be disqualified). 

In addition, it was argued, Poe does not have a political party to back her up and organizing one would take time---thus, no group to tackle such nitty-gritty as who’ll hire jeepneys to take voters to the polls, distribute campaign funds and grease money, police polling precincts, watch the counting, etc., etc.


The interesting issue raised was who between Roxas and Binay would benefit most with the DQ of Poe. It was largely accepted that since Poe is perceived as clean and still uncorrupted, majority of her votes would probably go to Roxas who touts the “daang matuwid”---severely challenged though that slogan is. I opined that Mar would also be greatly helped by the P3.2 trillion 2016 "election budget" (if you believe critics' challenge before the SC that P474 million in lump sums are ensconced in the 2016 budget for the LP campaign). 

Then there's the PCOS machines which, as resigned Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman has noted, a small syndicate within the Comelec would manipulate to cheat for the administration. Few guests that night cared to disagree with the inevitability of PCOS manipulation; it was evident that PCOS credibility was at an all-time low in the De Venecia terrace last Tuesday night. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Nowadays we’re witnessing a hitherto unseen phenomenon in our elections---VP candidates running without presidential candidates, and vice versa. Our multi-party system is chaotic and symptomatic of crisis nation is going through in so many aspects---the breakdown of age-old institutions. Partner-less candidates could be disastrous as there could be further deterioration of party principles and governance--- only more of politics of convenience and turn-coatism.

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. who would have run without a VP

I have been covering the Philippine political scene since September 1983, after the death of Ninoy Aquino, when Eggie Duran-Apostol, who was then publishing an innocuous women’s magazine called “Mr.and Ms.", converted it into a “mosquito” publication that covered the emerging political opposition to Ferdinand Marcos. Three years later Eggie smartly transitioned "Mr. and Ms" into a weekly and then a daily newspaper where I wrote a political column over the next 25 years.

Since "Inquirer" and I parted ways in June 2010,  I have continued writing, up to now, on politics in a blog (polbits.com), but I must confess that never before have I seen such politics as we are now witnessing. Someone termed it “turbulent,” but it’s more like utter chaos, with thinly adhered political concepts such as loyalty to party, platform, blah blah blah completely dissipated, with the circus of the multi-party system.

It’s devastating.


To me the most incredible phenomenon of our current political period presaging the 2016 elections involves candidates running for national office by themselves, sans partners. I’m talking of presidential candidates without their VPs and VP candidates without their presidential partners.

One can liken them to guys going to a local dance in the plaza by themselves, and to borrow local lingo, nangangahoy.  That’s okay in a dance, but in politics this is disastrous, as these solo dancers appear to be without a philosophy to adhere to. Citizens have the right to ask whether ultimately their loyalty would be only to themselves and their financiers. 


This has been due to the multi-party system unleashed in the giddy exuberance of the post-martial law years, when the country recovered from one-man rule. This system caused the blurring of political parties and therefore of political adherence over the years. 

Naturally politicos tend to flock to the administration party because of the goodies being distributed, such as fat lump sums in the 2016 “election budget,” as the opposition has accused the LP of maneuvering in Congress. But it may be just a question of the shoe being in the other foot.


Thus we have Bongbong Marcos, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Antonio Trillanes, all indicating they’re running for VP without presidential candidates (a fourth, Gregorio Honasan, showed up this morning at VP Jejomar Binay’s filing of candidacy after a no-show at his Cebu launch).

LP presidential candidate Mar Roxas almost had to run sans a VP, so that all manner of pressure was said to have been applied on Lennie Robredo to agree to being his VP.  Miriam Defensor Santiago has hinted about wanting to run again, without a VP. Panfilo Lacson also entertained this thought for a while until his sail ran out of wind. 

The declared VP candidate ahead of the pack was Chiz Escudero, but in the strong likelihood of Grace Poe’s disqualification on the natural-born citizenship issue, Chiz would also end up partner-less; would he then pack up his tent, or would he capitalize on the popularity of Grace Poe to continue his solo flight?  

In Makati posters sprang up everywhere about a Duterte-Cayetano team-up, but with Duterte declaring today that he's better cut out for taking care of Davao only, where does that leave the ambitious Cayetano? 


Bongbong Marcos appears to have made a smart decision to concentrate on the VP race. With the Bicol region split up among four declared VP candidates (Escudero, Robredo, Honasan and Trillanes) and Cayetano's wife, Taguig city mayor Lani, a Bicolana, BBM seems to have the edge with the Solid North---not to mention the still-intact Marcos fortune and his popular stand vs. the BBL. With the passing of Sen. Joker Arroyo, BBM is recalled among the three who stood their ground against 20 other senators who convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona with the persuasion power of the DAP.

Thus, the way things now look, it’s entirely possible that any one of presidential candidates Roxas, Binay or Duterte (should he still go ahead as fervent followers hope), could end up with VP Bongbong.  


If some ambitions don’t die along the way, 2016 would be a frightfully expensive exercise, and donors could be fleeced hard and dry. But more than worrying about fleeced donors, what should worry us is the fact that partner-less candidates are also less likely to adhere to some kind of political platform of governance.  The candidate who wins without a partner would have no loyalty to whoever would eventually end up as his tandem, and the nation would be the poorer as a result.

In our past history we saw many political tandems split up eventually, because our politics have always been personality and not issue-oriented. But how much easier splitting up would be if the ruling duo BEGINS AS AN ACCIDENT OF HISTORY---they just got elected separately and therefore would have no loyalty to each other.

What suffers in such cases is the welfare of the people and the nation, as the victory of politically disparate elements only heightens the quarrelsome and disputative nature of Filipinos, and our tendency to trifle with deeper issues.


Recall how Benigno Aquino III had ran with Mar Roxas as his VP in 2010 (after Mar “gave way” to Noynoy after the passing of the latter’s mother roused such sympathy among the people); but along the way, some Aquino relatives and supporters eventually junked Mar and worked for Jejomar Binay to win as VP in the 2010 elections---the so-called “Noy-Bi” tandem. Look what came to pass.   

Our political history is replete with what seems inevitable---the two top officials in discord: Diosdado Macapagal and Emmanuel Pelaez (on the issue of the latter’s “borrowed honor”), Marcos and Fernando Lopez, Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel (whom she fired soon after they were elected, accusing Laurel of espousing a parliamentary system so he could be PM, and ultimately of trying to foment a coup against her).


In the United States, candidates for the two top offices always run as a bloc and are elected as such;  thus you don’t see the destructive in-fighting, as they are constrained to defend their sworn platform. Political parties, moreover, are defined along very set lines, such that the Republicans and the Democrats are distinguished from each other through their platforms. Once in a while one sees a Republican or Democrat jump ship, but that politico's career suffers greatly.

More so are the lines defined in the parliamentary system such as in the UK, where a shadow government exists alongside the ruling government, ready to take over if the latter falls.

Voting the two top leaders by bloc should have been the case in our country as it is more harmonious, more economical as they would campaign as a team and sink or swim together. But unfortunately the framers of our Constitution didn’t see it fit to enshrine this feature.  Hence we see the chaotic scene that we have today, in our deteriorating free-for-all, chaotic multi-party system.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Tribute to a good friend and great Filipino---Joker Arroyo

In the corruption that enveloped the Senate during the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, where the votes of various senators were bought and paid for by taxpayers’ money without their consent, Sen. Joker Arroyo’s defense of the CJ stood out like an isolated beacon of light in the vast darkness. In his 20-miniuter speech he introduced a defense concept of Corona that was new to non-lawyers like myself---the “BILL OF ATTAINDER.” It made sense to us non-lawyers as he explained it, but by then it was too late. Money had gotten to many of the senators who went for the kill.

As Joker Arroyo explained it, a “ ‘bill of attainder’ is a law passed by one (chamber of Congress) and approved by the other, CREATING AN OFFENSE WHERE THERE WAS NONE, INVENTING A CRIME OUT OF ACTIONS, WILLFUL OR NOT, THAT WERE INNOCENT WHEN THEY WERE PERFORMED. It is a legislative act of convicting an accused of acts that were not offenses in the very measure by which he is condemned--- through a vote instead of a trial on the basis of accusations taken as proof.” (emphasis BOC’s).

Arroyo warned that the Senate “could be moving toward a bill of attainder” that would mock the Constitution---making a crime of something that was not such at the time of the supposed offense.


Joker then stressed that “I cannot imagine removing a chief justice on account of a SALN.” The issue then under hot consideration for half a year in the Senate---it couldn’t have been a “debate” as there seemed almost only one side, which was, to condemn Corona for reasons other than his SALN--- was whether the Chief Magistrate paid the correct SALN. It was an issue that would have hounded the senators were they on trial themselves, for as anyone can guess, doubtless none of them paid the correct SALN. In fact, perhaps nobody ever did in this country---until that point when Corona was convicted ostensibly because of improperly-filed SALN.  From then on, officialdom began to fear this heretofore harmless animal.

Ironically, conviction came despite the fact that the official who should have had the last say on the SALN issue, then Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque, had issued a statement that appeared to back up Joker Arroyo’s near-solitary stand (only two other senators, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., voted to acquit Corona).  Duque stated without equivocation THAT A FAULTY SALN COULD BE REMEDIED AND CORRECTED WITHIN A GIVEN PERIOD OF TIME. In other words, Duque argued indirectly---and it took a lot of guts for him to do so, even if he was protected by a seven-year constitutional tenure as CSC Chair---that Corona should not be convicted at all.


But by then Chair Duque’s reminder was ignored, for the minds of most of the senators were already made up the week before; and we daily trial-goers could sense it. As Sen. Jinggoy Estrada later revealed, what sealed conviction of Corona were the many millions of pesos released to the senators through a memorandum of availability by then Appropriations Committee Chair Franklin Drilon, about another new animal--- the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Thus, the velvet crimson robes the senators wore as impeachment judges didn't help many of them act nobly. 

Recently the Supreme Court, acting on the petition of Philconsa, former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, former Sen. Kit Tatad and three Archbishops, ordered DBM Secretary Florencio Abad, said to be the brains behind the DAP, and President Aquino to explain their role in the lump sum appropriations under this new animal. 


Joker Arroyo must have been aware of this recent happy development at the SC before he passed away, and he must have felt vindicated about his stand in that Senate Trial of the Century. In fact, as he condemned in his acquittal speech the “naked power” being used to convict the sitting Chief Justice on a non-existent crime when the so-called offense was committed, Arroyo noted its brazen similarity to 1972.  He warned that “IT IS DANGEROUS NOT TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT WHEN SOON WE SHALL STAND BEFORE THE LORD.” (emphasis BOC’s).

Well, Joker is standing before the Lord now, and interestingly his words uttered in the hallowed halls of the Senate three years ago seem like a grim reminder to present-day politicos who seek to foist brazen acts of legal impunity. Never in the Supreme Court's history have so many acts of the Executive Branch been challenged as now. 


Many pundits and netizens will be commenting about the integrity of this "Lion of the Senate" who snubbed the DAP and PDAF and who earned the title of “Scrooge of the Senate” because he kept his staff, led by his loyal assistant, Delfin Espiritu, to bare-bones---just three people. He was not known to indulge in the extravagance of his colleagues, even in foreign travels and other perks.

I have my own recollections of Joker Arroyo that I want to share with my blog friends. The friendship between Joker and myself and my husband went back a long way, and he was the first to write Col. Cunanan a congratulatory note when the latter earned his first star. But among my memories of Joker one truly stands out. 


The first many months of President Cory’s term were rocked with coup attempts and among the complaints of the coup plotters was that she was surrounded by “communists,” led by Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo. I would chuckle at the criticism, for this Bicolano hacendero who relished only the finest brandies and champagnes (he used to gift my husband a bottle of Dom Perignon every Christmas for years) was the last thing from being a Commie.

But despite my attempts to defend him in military circles, the perception grew louder and louder and helped to rock the Cory administration. Cory was being pressured to let Joker go.


One day I was in the Officers’ Club at Camp Aguinaldo for a function and fell hot in debate about this “Commie” subject with some officers, but I soon realized  the futility of arguing with them. Then and there I called Joker at his office in Malacanang and told him of what transpired. I remember myself telling him, quite tearfully, “Joker, mag-resign ka na para matigil na ang kaguluhan. Do it for country.” 

He listened quietly, but inside he must have balked at my pagka-atrebida, dictating to the “Little President!”  In another two weeks, however, he submitted his irrevocable resignation to President Cory. This is not to say that I was that influential with him in those days, but my nudging might have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back---especially since I was from the establishment.

A few weeks later it was Joker’s birthday and many friends gathered at his Dasmarinas Village home to celebrate. Cory came and it was like nothing had happened. That was Joker---a first-class patriot who deeply loved his country and whose integrity was unquestioned.


Since the Senate impeachment days I rarely ran into Joker anymore, but one day in later June this year my phone rang and that familiar parang kumukulong-mantika voice came on, sounding a little less kumukulo. I was checking my directory and came across your name, he said, and I just wanted to check whether your phone is still the same.  We chatted, made chismis about various people, including the boyfriend of a common friend.  I was happy to hear from him and it was like old times.

Then I told him about the brilliant young Filipino classical violinist Chino Gutierrez, whom I have been helping since way back, and how he needed financial assist badly in his studies in Munich and for concertizing and international competitions. Can you help naman? I asked. Joker probably grumbled inside, pambihira naman itong babaeng ito, I make that one call in a long while and she had to end up soliciting help for someone. But he still came across with a tidy sum for Chino.  That’s Joker Arroyo.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Two articulate young leaders---lawyer Greco Belgica and lawyer-CPA and ex-Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong---hammered on unconstitutional use of estimated P140B in presidential pork and P10B PDAF, as well as discarding by Comelec-Smartmatic of four safety features of PCOS, that undermined credibility and integrity of two past elections. Now that DBM's Abad said no DAP is ever released without P-Noy's ok.,what's Ombudsman to do? Many hundreds from various faiths at historic Kalayaan Hall pledged support for advocacies of Belgica/Chong, moving Arch.Oscar Cruz to tears.



Last Wednesday from 1-4 pm., hundreds of citizens from the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths gathered for a “Political Vigil” called by the advocacy group called "Reform Philippines Coalition" at the historic Kalayaan Hall in Club Filipino in San Juan, Metro Manila. It was marked by stirring and even bombastic speeches, emotional inter-faith prayers and even the shedding of tears by a good number, most notably by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz of Pangasinan. The white-haired archbishop confessed to the crowds that he was already very tempted to give up hope about this country, but after hearing all the demands from the conferees to the powers that be and the pledges for action, “nabuhayan ako ng loob,” Cruz declared, to great cheering.  

The large gathering demanded two things from this administration: "Public Accountability and Transparent and Credible Automated Elections.". As articulated by Greco Belgica, lead protester in the landmark 14-0 Supreme Court decision of 2013 that ruled the PDAF and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Executive as unconstitutional, the coalition demands THE IMMEDIATE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE SC DECISION ON PORK BARREL. Belgica, a lawyer and Christian faith leader, called on the Ombudsman  and the Secretary of Justice to make good their investigation, prosecution and suspension of guilty parties responsible for the misuse and abuse of these pork barrel funds and lump sums. 


Recall that it was Sen. Jinggoy Estrada who, two months after Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted by the Senate after his impeachment by the House of Representatives, made the startling allegation that funds running from P50 million to as much as P100 million were distributed to each of the senators as incentive for their conviction vote of Corona (only three senators did not partake of the bounty---Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Santiago and Panfilo Lacson).

Estrada’s revelation blew the lid off the DAP which was formally offered to the senators in writing by then Appropriations Chair Franklin Drilon immediately after the  Corona trial.


Interestingly, the day after Greco Belgica’s power-point blast against presidential and congressional pork barrel, the Ombudsman came out in various newspapers that DBM Secretary Florencio Abad and his deputy, Undersecretary Mario Relampagos, are undergoing investigation in connection with these twin evils. The Ombudsman asserted that these two budget officials could be held liable for technical malversation, inasmuch as transfer of funds by the Executive was undertaken without congressional approval in the national budget, as demanded by the Constitution. 

It will be recalled that during the SC hearings on Belgica's suit vs. presidential pork, Abad estimated it to be as much as P140B, but the Ombudsman was quoted recently as placing at only around P31.9B the unobligated appropriations without congressional approval from 20l1 to 2012. 

The fund totals may be in question, but this early several things are evident. One is that “investigation” about these lump sum disbursements could just be dribbled in this administration, so that no real action is taken. Secondly, and more important, President Aquino appears to be absolved by the Ombudsman in the investigation and possible prosecution for unlawful transfers of these huge amounts---when it’s logical and obvious that huge lump sums such as the “Malampaya Fund” and the “presidential social fund” are “presidential pork” that Abad and Relampagos COULD NOT HAVE JUGGLED WITHOUT AUTHORITY FROM THE PRESIDENT. 


In fact, the Daily Tribune banner news today quotes Abad as categorically naming the President as the one who ordered him to use those funds in cross-transfer.  It remains to be seen, however, whether the Ombudsman would pursue these unconstitutional fund-transfers more decisively. This issue recalls the “shouting match” that the Times columnist with enviable Palace moles, Kit Tatad, wrote about and hows it was all about the blame game between boss and subordinate. 

True, P-Noy enjoys immunity from suits while he is President, but as legal luminaries point out, he is not immune from investigations. The Ombudsman cannot dodge investigating P-Noy. 

Given his ultimate responsibility for his presidential pork, P-Noy has to make his anointed candidate, Mar Roxas, win at all cost, as the latter is the only one who could go easy on P-Noy's post-presidency lawsuits and protect him from a GMA scenario. Hence P-Noy's order to LP solons to drop their own respective campaigns and concentrate on propelling Roxas’ candidacy to victory. Makes sense. Mar appears to be moving indeed.


Fomer Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, a lawyer-CPA, is another of my youthful heroes, having devoted five years of his life to the cause of clean and honest elections, after himself suffering from electoral cheating through the PCOS machine in 2010.

 Articulate and passionate about his advocacy for clean and honest elections---"no cheating"---Glenn has been tirelessly going around the country at his own expense, awakening a populace largely ignorant of the intricacies of the Comelec-Smartmatic syndicate's shenanigans. Glenn has also confronted dishonest Comelec officials right in the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee in the Senate and stumped them.


At Club Filipino Chong argued by means of audio-visual props for the Comelec to return four safety features of the  PCOS machines, as provided by R.A. 9369, the “Automated Election System Law.” These were “removed outright or effectively diluted” during the past two elections---thus greatly undermining their integrity and credibility.  

These discarded safety features were l). the Source Code Review (SCR) that provides secret instructions for PCOS machines; 2). the ultra-violet detectors that would prevent use of fake ballots; 3). the voter verification receipt that would inform voters whether the machines registered their votes properly or not, and 4). the mandated use of individualized digital signatures that would secure the voting machines from hacking. Glenn Chong masterfully enumerated all the sins of Comelec-Smartmatic. 

Toward the end of the program, this sentiment was echoed by resigned Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman as he attacked in no uncertain terms the “syndicate inside Comelec.”


What is heart-breaking, stressed Glenn Chong, is that despite "clear uncontroverted evidence" of the mysterious digital lines affecting as much as 6.278 million ballots in the 2013 elections, and involving as much as 150.686 million (!) wrongly-counted votes, Comelec still pursued its spending spree involving P12.641 billion of tax-payers' money to invest in more of the same nefarious voting machines for 2016. 

Glenn argued that considering that the same Smartmatic is poised once more to manage the 2016 elections, "We demand the effective restoration of the four main security features of the AES system and full compliance of the automated election system law by the Comelec itself---in order to establish transparency and ensure the credibility of the 2016 elections." 

We citizens cannot remain indifferent to the call of these two vanguards of democracy, Greco Belgica and Glenn Chong, who are risking their lives and fortunes in their tireless advocacies for a better world for Filipinos. As Archbishop Oscar Cruz says, Nabubuhayan tayo ng loob sa pinakikitang katatagan ng mga leaders. We should support their advocacies.