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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 


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