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

Monday, December 21, 2015

Hearty congrats to our own Pia Wurtzbach for bagging Miss Universe title and for her advocacy to raise awareness vs HIV scourge. Pia’s victory seems very Filipino in plot and style, full of last-minute suspense and confusion, as emcee Steve Harvey gets all mixed up re top winners. But at least he owns up to his mistake quickly---unlike Smartmatic, now engaged in source-code review that our IT experts denounce as ‘grand thievery.’ Read about racket in foreign duty-free airports that makes NAIA's “laglag bala” seem like child’s play---frightful and chilling.

Amid the feeling of desperation of the populace over recent political developments, devastating typhoons, traffic, the airport scams, etc., a most welcome and much-needed glimmer of cheer appears in the horizon---just in time for a merry Christmas celebration.

Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, daughter of a Filipina mother and a German father (she was born in Stuttgart in western Germany and is also a former movie actress who answered to the name of Pia Romero), bags the Miss Universe title in the recent pageant in Las Vegas---42 years after Margie Moran won it. But to make Pia’s victory more exciting---very Filipino in plot and style, in fact, full of last-minute mix-up, suspense and confusion---pageant emcee Steve Harvey of "Family Feud" fame, erroneously announced that Miss Colombia, the first runner-up, had won the title (which would have made Colombia the consecutive two-year winner). Within minutes, however, Harvey realized his mistake and called out an astounded Pia Wurtzbach---a stunning standout in an electric blue gown by Albert Andrada---as the real winner.

The cameras fully capture the swirling emotions of the cast involved, most especially our Miss Philippines who at first didn’t quite know how to handle the erstwhile winner from Latin America who had to be uncrowned right there. As Harvey acknowledged his embarrassing mistake and apologized profusely, real winner Pia went up to the runner-up to perhaps console her, but the latter turned away, perhaps too emotionally distraught (can anyone blame her?). The cavernous hall, full of flag-waving Pinoys, burst into thunderous applause for Pia.  


Those who know Pia Wurtzbach stress that her key advocacy is to promote HIV awareness, which is wonderful, for statistics bear out that this world-wide scourge is now prevalent even in our own country. Also, it’s good to know that Pia’s beauty is all hers---a genuine gift of Mother Nature. As someone who knows her says, she has done nothing by way of a repair job, though she had to lose some 25 lbs. for the competition.

This Filipino-German beauty indeed represents the best of our multi-racial strains over the centuries that have made the Filipina by now legendary for her beauty.  At Last Vegas today Pia added terrific grace, poise and composure to the battery of winning Filipina attributes---despite the hostilities she experienced from sympathizers of the dethroned Colombian girl. Pia looked every inch a queen as she never lost her dignity. 


As I listened to the news and thrilled to the rectification by the harassed emcee of his mistake, the thought suddenly came to my mind: at least Harvey made a manful, honest confession of it. I couldn’t help but think of Smartmatic, the provider of election machines for our past two elections and already contracted for  the 2016 elections, and how it has failed to rectify the grave injustice to the Filipino people of stealing their votes---or at the very least, refusing to acknowledge its grievous sin of failing to give us clean, honest and credible elections.

At this point, the Filipino IT practitioners are again unanimous in denouncing the on-going review of the source code for those machines, as required by RA 9369, the Automated Election System (AES) Law. Our  IT experts have devoted enormous time, resources and energy to detailing the hideous aspects of the AES and the company repeatedly contracted to provide the machines for it. Smartmatic, however, has been so influential with the powers that be that the IT experts’ opinions---as well as efforts of former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong who, after being cheated in the elections of 2010 in his province, has made it his life advocacy to document and spread the gospel of cheating through the Smartmatic machines---have fallen on deaf ears all this time. 


Here’s just a sample of the opinion shared by our IT experts, from Professor Toti Casino of Asia-Pacific College: “The on-going source code review is some kind of evidence being concocted by the Commission (on Elections) to be used for their claim of being compliant with the law, though it’s hardly attended by any more notable and qualified reviewers EXCEPT AMATEURS WHO HAVE NO EXPERIENCE IN NATIONWIDE-SCALE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE AES. Even Smartmatic with its discovered failures in 2010 and 2013 tries to make it look as seamless as an ATM installed nationwide; but it’s rather A GRAND SCHEME OF THIEVERY in the AES. Justifying the fraud-ridden 2016 PCOS-AES elections as truthful would depend on who can put up the ante among these operators” (emphasis BOC’s). 

Mabuti pa talaga si Steve Harvey, unaamin sa pagkakamali niya.  Ang Smartmatic, kahit kalian hindi aamin, sa tulong ng sindikato sa loob ng Comelec.


If we Filipinos have been riled up over the “Laglag Bala” scams in our country’s premier international airport, it seems that hindi tayo nag-iisa. A newspaper in India reported about another scam that appears to be plaguing the international airport in Bangkok which could be even worse than our native-spawned scam that has made NAIA notorious around the world.  This story was also reported by the BBC.

The report said that an Indian national was detained in the Thai capital for stealing a box of cigarettes in a duty-free shop in Bangkok International Airport. He had paid for chocolates and a carton of cigarettes, but it seems that the cashier put an additional packet of cigarettes extra into his bag and he thought it was free. The passenger was  arrested for shop-lifting and report alleged that Thai police had asked for 30,000 baht for his release.

The report also alleged that the Indian national spent two nights in jail and paid 500 baht for an air-conditioned cell, 200-300 baht for each visitor and 11,000 baht for his final release.  The report alleged that the police shared the money in front of the victim. Moreover, he was charged in court and fined 2,000 baht by the magistrate, handcuffed and escorted to his plane.  But what made it even more terrible was that his passport was stamped "Thief".

His relatives requested help from the Indian Embassy and were told that it's helpless, as many Asians are victimized similarly daily and letters and phone-calls to Thai authorities are ignored.

The report alleged that the passenger shared a cell with a Singaporean the first night who paid 60,000 baht for his release. The second night it was a Malaysian national who paid 70,000 baht.


The media advisory stressed that the episode had happened not in a shanty shop in downtown Bangkok but in a duty free shop at the Bangkok Int'l Airport and there were corroborating testimonies from various victims.  But apparently the scam is not limited to that airport, as someone else went through the same ordeal in Dubai. A Duty Free attendant  put a bottle of cologne in his shopping bag (he did not even see it happen) and he was arrested for stealing,  before he even picked up his luggage.

The report said this passenger sat at the airport jail the whole day---NO FOOD, NO WATER for one day and only after he paid a fine (bribe?) of US$500, all  he had in his pocket at the time, was he let go.

The report emphasized that all of these episodes appear pre-planned--- some duty free employees intentionally put extra items to victimize  passengers---and they know whom to target.  The advice is: ALWAYS GET A RECEIPT FOR ANY FREE GIFT THAT THE DUTY FREE SHOP GIVES. One should also be WATCHFUL WHEN YOU ARE BEING BILLED AND ITEMS PACKED IN INTERNATIONAL AIR PORTS (DUTY FREE SHOPS).

My own comment: a dilemma like the above that seems to be happening in various airports could really be scary for any traveler, especially if he or she is down to his last few bucks while in some transit airport, and the scammers won’t take anything but cash, so that a credit card would be useless.  Of course, there's the ATM, but not all passengers have that access.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Commission on Human Rights finally summons guts to dig into Digong Duterte’s claim of vigilante justice for his 1,700 victims---after prodding by Amnesty International. His appeal to various social classes stems from people’s disgust with near-paralysis of P-Noy administration, but Duterte has his own merits. Properly motivated as DILG Secretary, he could reform PNP vs. drug lords and criminal syndicates, but he also needs a strong president to handle him. Can President Binay handle DILG Sec Duterte?

Finally the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has decided to investigate Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s braggadocio about his having caused the summary execution of some 1,700 people over the years since the late 1990s. But the question is, why did the CHR need the go-signal of the Palace before it moves, when it is conceived AND ESTABLISHED by the 1987 Constitution to be “AN INDEPENDENT OFFICE” vested with enormous powers and its own budget to be “automatically and regularly released.” All these attributes were meant to guarantee the CHR’s independence, regardless of which administration is in power.

The CHR, headed by former human rights advocate Chito Gascon, has been quite timid in President Aquino's administration, so that Amnesty International even beat it to the draw. A few days back AMI expressed shock and concern over revelations of Mayor Duterte about his “vigilante justice” toward 1,700 victims.


It’s a sad day indeed when the more intelligent among the electorate---not the CHR---have to prod Mayor Duterte to reveal the list of names of his claimed 1,700 summary executions victims---when existing law-enforcement agencies and courts should have taken the lead to subject him to proper investigation, as he is running for the highest office in the land. Such is what a government of laws ought to do.

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, Dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law and Manila Standard Today columnist, articulates the sensible citizenry’s fears about Duterte spot on recentl:y: “It scares me to death that a candidate for the Chief Executive of the land, prime executor of the laws, can, without compunction, admit to having extra-legally 'executed' persons. Even if this should be an empty boast, it speaks ill of his regard for the law that he should even boast of it, or at least admit it openly, without any contrition or regret.” (emphasis BOC’s)


In recent days political pundits around the world must be having a field day analyzing the current slew of candidates for president of the Philippines--- most especially the colorful mayor of Davao with his singular claim to fame about the 1,700 summary executions. These pundits must be wondering whatever happened to the democracy that the Americans sought to inculcate in these fair isles.

Indeed, the question can be rightly asked in foreign shores: how have the Filipinos come to this sorry state in their politics?  I’ve heard it said by foreign observers that the candidate vying for the Republican nomination as US president, Donald Trump, is saying a lot of crazy things, but our Rodrigo Duterte seems bent on outdoing Trump.

Foreign pundits, however, must realize that such claim to fame hurts us Pinoys more than they know.


Duterte drips with show-biz bravado as he plays up having two wives and numerous girl-friends, as he kisses protesting girls in public, shocks  Amnesty International and now prods the CHR to move in on his claim of 1,700 people as victims of "vigilante justice” by the notorious “Davao Death Squad.” Duterte also shocked the Church by first insulting the Pope and then advocating the return of the death penalty which the Church has opposed worldwide.

Various people seem to succumb to the mystique of the flamboyant Davao toughie, but I believe that he’s just a flash in the pan; that ultimately, as his show-biz aura wears off and the investigations of the CHR get underway, sobriety would prevail over most of his fans and they’ll think twice about supporting him.

Duterte is currently thriving on his Wild Wild West image of riding into the sunset with guns blazing, and it’s easy to see how this image would appeal to the broad masses who are suckers for show-biz personalities---AND DESPERATE FOR CHANGE FROM THE CURRENT REGIME THAT SUFFERS FROM LACKADAISICAL PERFORMANCE, ESPECIALLY VS. CRIMINALITY AND LAWLESSNESS.  


Duterte’s attraction for the citizenry---his tough, kamay na bakal approach to criminality and lawlessness---becomes understandable when juxtaposed against the namby-pamby manner of the Aquino administration in dealing with the problems of the nation.  Nothing is more glaring than the inability of this administration to deal with the “Laglag bala” scourge in the premier airport--- how it took three months to finish the investigation and it still managed to arrive at the wrong conclusion: no syndicate involved.  

The current popularity of Duterte also has very much to do with the lack-luster image of administration/ LP candidate Mar Roxas, whose Wharton technocrat background and elite upbringing make him appear quite removed from and bland to the broad masses. Moreover, because he is the administration candidate, Roxas bears the onus of defending its numerous failings under the “Daang Matuwid.” 


Knowledgeable observers fear that a Duterte presidency could lead this country to greater perdition for a number of reasons---aside from his propensity to take the law into his own hands and be judge and executioner at the same time. Without detracting from the obvious need to move the wheels of justice faster, the President of this country that’s bitterly divided into opposing classes and politics needs to listen to the voice of his people from various walks of life.

Given Duterte’s king-size ego and sobrang bilib sa sarili, however, would he lend a good listening ear to the nation’s problems? Would he consider differing opinions from his hand-picked Cabinet or will his officials all be terrorized into silence?


Listening to the people, beginning with those who work closely with him, is a vital aspect of being President. Benigno Aquino III didn’t have much of this gift and thus he isolated himself from the masses---out of sync. Would Duterte make a listening President, given his enormous ego and boastful nature?  In the rarified atmosphere of the presidency such an ego would have to be fed tremendously.

Various pundits, in fact, have raised the possibility that President Duterte would be another dictator, like the one who imposed this lamented blight on the country in 1971.  Doubtless the military is watching Duterte’s pronouncements.


I am not for Duterte, but I submit that he is not entirely bereft of merit. In fact he ought to be very much a part of the government that would take over from Benigno Aquino III, after the one-year observance of political reclusion. Duterte would make a good DILG Secretary who could revamp and reform the police organization, and sow fear of the Lord into corrupt policemen who are in cahoots with drug lords and crime syndicates. 

Reform the police and you reform society and rid it of the unsavory elements. To achieve these reforms, however, Duterte would first need to reform his mental framework and operate 100% within the justice system---to prod the courts, which have their own scalawags, to grind faster and render impartial justice to every man. 

Above all, he would need a strong President to handle him. For instance, can a President Binay or a President Roxas handle him?


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Senate President Franklin Drilon is right: the Comelec en banc and the SC should rule on the disqualification of Grace Poe NOW, BEFORE THE BALLOTS ARE PRINTED, and not after the elections, as former Comelec Chief Sixto Brillantes, who lawyered for FPJ, is asserting. Brillantes’ thesis is a formula for a revolution. The SC should forego X’mas vacation to resolve this issue NOW.

Traffic in Metro Manila has become so hideous that it has affected many events. The Ateneo University homecoming in Quezon City last Dec. 5 was far short of successful---as many alumni were too frightened by the monstrous road snarls to even try to attend. A couple celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversary in a five-star Makati hotel that night ended up with many tables empty---which they had paid for in advance.

Traffic at this time of the year will always be bad, but it could be ameliorated with determined effort and intelligent planning;  there seems to be little of this or none at all. For instance, while on Ayala Avenue en route to SM Mall recently, I saw only one uniformed guy attending to the traffic, while his colleague was leaning on a lamppost, busy on his cellphone all the time.

Rushing to Sta. Isabel College for a concert two nights ago (organized by excellent baritone Joseleo Logdat, which turned out quite good), I took Pasong Tamo Ext. toward Bautista St. in Makati and worked my way up towards Manila, but all the streets were choked. One or two uniformed guys tried to remedy the situation but didn’t have the know-how; perhaps they were janitors shifted to the streets at night.

Whatever happened to the much-ballyhooed Highway Patrol Group (HPG) launched two months ago to relieve traffic?   It is all very Filipino style: ningas-cogon, bahala na kayo.  We all knew it would be super-bad at Christmas time, and the authorities should have prepared, but they did not.


Last Thursday, a group of us that included former Speaker Jose de Venecia, had coffee at the Manila  Polo Club in Makati City, after the analytical talk by former UE Law Dean Amado Valdez before the Rotary Club of Manila (RCM) on  the disqualification cases vs. Sen. Grace Poe.  A group of waiters  milled around and lawyer Sal Panelo, who’s campaigning hard for Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, asked them who they were for and they quickly replied, “Duterte po. “  Panelo grinned hugely.

Civic leader Minerva Tanseco then quickly pointed out to the waiters  that Dr. Elenita Binay, wife of Vice President Jejomar Binay, was also there last week and they were all for Binay. Big laugh all around, including among the waiters themselves. O sino sa inyo ang para ki Grace Poe, a guest shot at them and this time they became shy about shifting allegiances.


That episode illustrates one thing: the working folks appear to have marked their choice from three presidential candidates who in their perception represent their interest: Duterte, Binay and Grace Poe. Nowhere among the working class does LP candidate Mar Roxas, scion of prominent families, seem to figure---he is just too remote for them at this point. This is indeed the age of the “common man,” even though there's the disturbing query whether the common man may be “too common.”

Political philosopher Joseph Wood Krutch famously wrote on this issue in the economic sense: " 'Scorn not the common man,' says the age of abundance. 'He may have no soul; his personality may be exactly the same as his neighbor's; and he may not produce anything worth having. But thank God, he consumes.' " We can change the term “economic” to 'political' and that seems to apply to the lot our working class folks  are in today.


For too long the ‘common man’ has been taken for granted in Philippine politics. There was Ramon Magsaysay, “The Guy,”  who was hugely popular with the masses, but death snuffed him all too soon; then came Joseph Estrada who cultivated the appearance and manner of the man of the masses,  but he turned out to be super-elitist in tastes and was booted out of office.

Now the 'common man' is back with a vengeance to claim his place in the nation’s life and politics. Duterte’s strength is being analyzed to death---how this guy with the craggy face speaks the masa's lingo with his unabashed profanity, his swagger about having taken the lives of a number of people---the PH version of the Wild Wild West character--his ready predilection for womanizing and other habits that working folks only know too well.


On the other hand, Grace Poe is anchoring her campaign on the perception of her wide-eyed purity and demureness, as well as her claim to “continue” her father’s legacy, even if, as columnist Amando Doronila put it, FPJ’s legacy was indelibly marked on the celluloid screen, so that Grace should be in the realm of films.

In the case of VP Jejomar Binay, he has long held a lock on the working class, especially the OFWs whose cause he has defended abroad over the years. Moreover, Binay looks like a certified proletariat himself---dark of skin but even darker now as he campaigns relentlessly in family wakes and all over the country. Accusations of corruption against him by the Senate Blue Ribbon for nearly a year and a half  appear to have impacted little on the masa. 


At the RCM meeting  former law dean Amado Valdez argued succinctly that Grace Poe’s disqualification cases rest securely on the fact that while she became a US citizen in 2001, but sought to reacquire Filipino citizenship in 2006 (evidently in anticipation of running for high office after her adoptive father FPJ made a strong showing in the 2004 presidential elections vs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), she still managed to use her US passport five times--- until 2010 when she accepted the MTRCB Chief job. 

Dean Valdez also pointed out that RA 9225, the Citzenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of Aug. 29, 2003, does not restore one’s natural-born status but only enables a former Filipino citizen who had earlier opted to be naturalized in a foreign country, to reacquire his Filipino citizenship. In fact, noted Valdez, during congressional discussions on this law, lawmakers were silent on the natural-born issue which continues to hound Poe today.  


But what rightfully disturbs many folks as well was what former Comelec Chief Sixto Brillantes was quoted by a major daily as asserting---that neither the Comelec en banc nor the Supreme Court is qualified to determine whether Grace Poe may or may not run in the 2016 elections. Brillantes asserts that “The sole judge of the qualifications of a President is the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET)” and he cites the case of a former presidential candidate named Vitaliano Acosta, who was considered a nuisance candidate, but whose name appeared on the ballots nonetheless; after the elections Acosta’s name was simply withdrawn and his votes were not counted.

Brillantes is quoted as saying that since the Comelec en banc and the SC have no authority to strike out Poe’s name now, before the elections, her name should just be allowed to be printed on the ballots being prepared this month; anyhow, he reasons, Poe's votes could  be stricken out should she be disqualified later on.

Brillantes' opinion is startling especially since he had until recently headed the Comelec whose three-member second division, in the incumbency of his successor Andres Bautista, had already recently disqualified Poe on this very issue of her lack of the required 10-year residency for presidential candidates.  Moreover, Brillantes must doubtless be aware that the High Court has the last say on issues within the ambit of the Constitution.


Brillantes’ opinion on this issue runs smack against that of Comelec Chair Andres Bautista.  Queried on this issue, RCM speaker Amado Valdez said diplomatically that that was not what Brillantes had said in previous occasions. At that forum I ventured  that I had  heard Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez opine that Grace Poe’s name would still be included in the ballot, but that votes for her could be disqualified AFTER THE ELECTIONS, should the DQ issue prosper against her later.

Disqualifying Poe after the elections, however, would be a most dangerous thing to do, as she is not a Vitaliano Acosta whose case was just waste-basketed. Poe happens to be the leading presidential candidate and should she win and be disqualified later on the issues of natural-born citizenship and lack of residency, it could trigger A REVOLUTION. 


There’s speculation that Brillantes is twisting the Constitution on Poe’s behalf because he once was the lawyer of FPJ. He’s pretty irresponsible, if you ask me. In fact I agree with Senate President Franklin Drilon that Poe’s eligibility should be resolved NOW by the Comelec en banc; moreover, assuming it's appealed to the Supreme Court, the latter should rule on it FAST and NOW, before ballots are printed and elections are held. So much instability could ensue if the decision is postponed for after the elections. 

In fact Drilon is correct in asserting that the SC should conduct a special session for this issue all through the Christmas holidays. 


SC spokesperson Theodore Te was quoted by Daily Tribune as saying, however,  that the SC won’t be holding any special session inasmuch as there is no “extraordinary issue” and no “emergency or urgent petitions filed during its recess.”  Gentlemen of the High Court, resolving Grace Poe’s qualifications or lack of them for 2016 is A MOST EXTRAORDINARY ISSUE OF AN EMERGENCY NATURE---as it could foment a revolution if she were to be disqualified after being fortunate to win the presidency.

SC Justices, your honors, you have to act now---in fairness to Sen. Poe and the Filipino electorate.