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, September 25, 2016

President Duterte's plea for six-months' extension of war vs. illegal drugs and his pledge to award P200,000 to each law-enforcer who gains recognition for successful campaign could spawn more slayings and rights violations. 18 UN investigators originally scheduled to look into rights issue here Sept. 28-29, but reports now say they'll all meet in Geneva instead---even as Mr. Duterte had already scheduled state visit to Vietnam same time. What's going on?

                                 A shabu factory recently discovered in Arayat, Pampanga

Early in her presidency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was invited to address the conference of the Organization of American States in Mexico City and my husband and I joined the group of Speaker Jose de Venecia to attend it. The drug situation in Mexico had by then worsened, so much so that the hotel we were staying in did not allow us foreigners to ride just any taxi within the city environs---it had to be vehicles either owned by the hotel or whose company it had links with. 

In our desire to see some famous towns not too far from Mexico City, however, we defied this informal arrangement with the hotel and joined public tours to Puebla de los Angeles and other towns. We were, in effect, gambling with our lives then.

President Duterte’s major contribution to the country at this moment has been to make us all aware of just how huge the drug problem has become. Experts in the anti-illegal drug campaign estimate that virtually 90 percent of our barangays have been infiltrated by illegal drugs. The basis of his strength as a leader, with his acceptance rating said to be at 91%, stems from his tough campaign against illegal drugs and the realization that if nothing is done about this problem, we could end up like Mexico in those years or Colombia.


The campaign against illegal drugs, however, has spawned its own problems, principally some violation of human rights in the eagerness to put an end to the terrible situation the nation is in. Rights advocates have raised the alarm bells about extra judicial killings (which have become notorious with its acronym---EJK) and the possibility that police forces have been too quick to eliminate perceived drug addicts and pushers, to make their job easier. It is a tough balancing act indeed for the law-enforcement agencies.

Yesterday's news, however, that President Duterte will give a financial reward of P200,000 for each law enforcer who has received an award or recognition for a successful anti-crime operation (read: anti-illegal drug campaign) will only complicate the problem of human rights. This is because this move of Mr. Duterte, even if it may be well-intentioned, could spur lawmen to even be quicker to eliminate perceived drug agents or ushers---just to qualify for that rich monetary reward. Ang laking pera!


Moreover, I don’t see why the President would seek an extension of another six months to carry out his campaign promise to eliminate the drug problem within the first six months of his incumbency, as otherwise he would resign from office.  Why doesn’t he just carry on the campaign without having to set deadlines. It’s obvious that this problem cannot be solved by deadlines. In fact, it could even aggravate the killings that already the world and various international institutions are protesting, as the lawmen would be under tremendous pressure to move against the drug world through fair and foul means WITHIN THE GIVEN DEADLINE. 

Setting deadlines could only aggravate the problem, just as the financial reward system would. Please just continue to work on this most serious problem, Mr. President, and update the Filipino people periodically of its progress, and yes, please curb the abuses of the law-enforcers.


The drug problem seems to have engulfed us as a nation, both literally and figuratively. At the hearings in the House of Representatives over the past few days, the effect on us viewers was most surreal---it was like watching a modern-day version of the old Al Capone movies, when power and political influence reigned and sought to defeat the federal government’s campaign vs. drugs and other high crimes. 

Doubtless many citizens had mixed feelings about seeing the biggest drug lords in our country swear (!) to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about former Justice Secretary and now Sen. Leila de Lima---how she once lorded it over them and was on the receiving end of many millions of pesos in payola, in return for indulging their unbelievably luxurious lifestyles inside the New Bilibid Prison. 

This is not to say that the allegations raised by the convicted drug lords were not credible. The struggle for supremacy in the drug trafficking inside the NBP and how the then Justice Secretary wielded the power to decide which drug lord the fates would smile upon---simply by moving the less favored to the NBI stockade and leaving the NBP kingdom to the most favored one, Jaybee Sebastian---is entirely believable.

In return, she was accused of having received staggering amounts of money that  supposedly went to fund her senatorial campaign.


Inasmuch as the Liberal Party needed to secure the victory of its candidates in the May 2016 elections so that it would be protected from future prosecution, it's entirely possible, too, that much of the drug-sourced funds from the NBP drug lords also rained down on other LP candidates. The inevitable queries: Just how much of those drug funds was former President Noynoy Aquino aware of? Did he know of the dalliance between his Justice Secretary and the prominent convicts? There's said to be a photo showing Jaybee Sebastian and then President Pinoy together. Just how much funds went into LP campaign coffers remains to be seen. 

What is clear is that some politicians were blinded by ambition and self-preservation, so that there was little qualms about dirtying their hands with drug money. It is truly a sad commentary about our nation and the question in the minds of many citizens is, how did we get into this terrible state of affairs?


Take the recent photo of a spanking-shiny "factory" in Arayat, Pampanga that appeared in several newspapers. It was confirmed to be a shabu factory that services the needs of Central Luzon. Reports say there's an even bigger such laboratory in Angeles City.  

The question is, weren't the officials of both localities fully aware of the activities of these huge shabu labs?  Who were in cahoots with them? These officials have to be investigated by the proper authorities as they could just have been turning a blind eye to what was going on in their areas. Then too, how many more shabu factories are there around the country?

Then the related question: what happens to all the illegal drugs that land in the law-enforcers’ hands? Are they disposed of properly, to ensure that these would no longer be a menace to society, or do they just change hands and end up peddled among users once again?


Mr. Duterte has encouraged UN agencies that have been attacking his all-out war on illegal drugs to come and investigate on their own perceived abuses in human rights here. As a result, eighteen investigators from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Right have been scheduled to arrive this Wednesday. The President's invite was doubtless welcomed around the world and it projects a good image for our country and leader---if he could hold his sharp tongue and let them be.

But wait a minute: fresh news release by the UN Human Rights (UNHR) indicates that the UN reviewers won't come here after all. Instead they'll gather in Geneva, even as Mr. Duterte has already made plans for a state visit to Vietnam on those days---obviously so that he needn't meet them here.  

The conflicting reports on the UN staff's visit is awfully confusing even to the administration, and speculations naturally are flying thick. Could it be that UN Chief Ban-Ki-Moon has deemed it useless to send them here, and that they could dig up something more meaningful in Geneva? Let's wait for more developments. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Shameless politicking in the Senate even as world economy faces possible banking crisis with China’s external debt of US$28 trillion. Recent peace talks in Oslo were so friendly---truly Pinoy-style---that third-party facilitator asked, “Are you really at war with one another?” Even the Norwegian Foreign Minister ate with his hands boodle-fight style. Can we seniors engage Mr. Duterte in much-needed dialogue?

A writer once said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Indeed these are the times that try our souls as a people, as we witness naked and ill-disguised political battles in the once esteemed Senate of the Philippines---and little care for the gargantuan problems of the country.

Can their Excellencies, whose salaries are paid by us tax-payers, concentrate, for example, on how China’s huge financial crisis---its outstanding external debt of US$28 TRILLION is as much as the commercial banking system of the US and Japan combined--could impact on the world economy, and more specifically, on the small and fragile Philippine economy? Recall that adage: "When China sneezes, PH catches pneumonia." 

Is anybody minding the store?


The other day Senate justice and human rights committee chair Leila de Lima hurled all the dirt she could muster against President Duterte by presenting witness Edgar Matobato, who sought to link him allegedly with the infamous Davao Death Squad that was said to have eliminated about 1,000 people on orders of the then Davao Mayor.  

The past days witnessed the heated uncivil exchanges between two senators who were, ironically enough, united before the November elections in a year of undisguised political persecution of then VP Jojo Binay: Antonio Trillanes and Alan Peter Cayetano (then Senator, now that chamber's president, Aquilino Pimentel III, completed the anti-Binay triumvirate then).

This time Trillanes backed up De Lima’s star witness vs. Duterte, while Cayetano stoutly defended the President. Senate President Pimentel, another staunch Duterte ally, refused to give protective custody to Matobato, which runs smack against the chamber's practice, forcing Trillanes to take charge of that problem.  

This afternoon the Senate majority retaliated against De Lima, with Sen. Manny Pacquiao---who should have stayed in the boxing ring instead of straying into the Senate circus ring---moving to declare her committee post vacant. Fifteen other senators backed up his motion and installed Sen. Richard Gordon in De Lima's place.


There’s just too much politicking---each side eager to protect the dirt accumulated in its yard, in a manner befitting thugs and hoodlums. How times have changed, as once-revered institutions have deteriorated.

I recall how my elder brothers would narrate to me how they and their classmates would travel all the way from the Ateneo de Manila in Loyola Heights to the Senate, then located along Taft Avenue, just to sit in the galleries for hours on end and listen to the great debates among senators. Names like Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tanada,  Arturo Tolentino, Emmanuel Pelaez, Jovito Salonga, Lorenzo Sumulong and the Laurels and their ilk used to liven up the Senate plenary hall with their vigorous verbal jousts---carried with such lofty tone, elegant language and solid substance befitting worthy parliamentarians.

In the course of research on topics such as the Sabah issue, I also had to go through Senate records and I noted the debates between Senators Sumulong and Salonga, and how celestial their language was. Today a total lack of civility prevails among the senators as the order of the day is crude, undisguised politicking.

It’s a sign of the times indeed, what essayist Joseph Wood Crutch termed the “Age of the Common Man”---except that the latter has become ALL TOO COMMON in our Senate and we Filipinos are the poorer for it. 


If I may borrow again, this time the late great Martin Luther’s phrase, “I HAVE A DREAM.”

I dream that one day soon, President Rodrigo Duterte would allow a group of us senior citizens to meet with him at the Bahay Pangarap and dialogue with him on the state of our country and the way he is responding to our problems on the national and international stage. It would be great for Mr. Duterte  to listen, not to the fawning sycophants who need jobs or projects from him and therefore are singing hosannas to him all day long, but to us seniors whose only concern is the country we have served for decades---and how our President’s sizzling pronouncements are being quoted and interpreted in various major news outlets around the world---mostly plastering a black eye on his administration. 


I get a lot of the world’s headlines daily and right now Mr. Duterte is the undisputed enfant terrible of the planet. It’s good for his ego to be incessantly talked about by the leading presses of the world, but I lament that so much of his political capital and good will abroad is being needlessly dissipated in what seems the lack of cautious study of his pronouncements and close coordination with his advisers---some of whom may be too afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

What’s good about us seniors is that we don’t need jobs or favors from Mr. Duterte; we are only interested in helping him win the war against illegal drugs, criminality and terrorist groups, etc., while respecting human rights in the process.  His success in solving these huge problems will impact on the future of our grandchildren, about whom we care so much.

How about it, Mr. Duterte?  We’ll share with you our wit as well as our hard-earned wisdom of the ages, while you explain your side on the burning issues of the day over tea and Davao delicacies. We’ll both talk and listen---fun and work.


The image of the Duterte administration is one of disarray and his Cabinet members are having a tough time straightening out distortions on his pronouncements. 

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, for instance, did a yeoman’s job at the recent ASEAN Summit in Laos, as he sought to do damage control after Mr. Duterte bandied around photos at the formal dinner, which showed mass slaying of the Moro people by colonizing American forces at the turn of the century (Yasay later had to fly to the US to tackle the State Department). Mr. Duterte sought to use those photos to counter US criticism of the extra-judicial killings in the current anti-illegal drugs war, but it’s easy to see that standards of morality have changed since the colonial period and what passed muster in one era cannot apply to the current, hopefully more enlightened time.  

Unfortunately, the disarray in the administration hurts economic prospects and dissipates respect for our leader abroad.


Speaking  of fun and work, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Theater Cecile Alvarez and I had both fun and work at our “Radyo Balintataw” over dzRH last Sunday, with a phone patch with Labor Secretary Silvestre “Bebot” Bello from out of town. He  was one of several Cabinet members led by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jess Dureza, who journeyed to Oslo, Norway last month for history-making five days of peace talks with the Left, led by Luis Jalandoni and Jose Maria Sison.  Tackling the Oslo peace talks was appropriate for our dzRH show as this Wednesday, Sept. 21, is the UN-declared “International Day of Peace.”

As we now know, an “indefinite, unilateral ceasefire” on the side of the Left resulted in a joint declaration of ceasefire with government---the first time in 12 years this was achieved. Failure to declare it earlier is said to have stemmed from fear of some leftist elements that "ceasefire" would be read as “capitulation.” The second round of the Oslo talks resumes Oct. 6-10.


But more than the ceasefire declaration that was adequately carried in news outlets, we asked Bebot Bello to “make kwento” behind-the-scenes stories in that Oslo gathering.  He recalled that the sessions would open with prayers (did the Communists join in prayer? Fantastic if yes). He also admitted that at times a walk-out seemed imminent but it never materialized, drowned out by the friendly camaraderie and what looked like so much fun among the conferees---so much so that third-party facilitator Elizabeth Stratum asked at one point, “Are you people really at war?”

In fact, at the conferees’ last night in Oslo, there was even a boodle fight (in military parlance, this is a feast in camps spread out over banana leaves, where everyone eats standing and with his hands).  Bello recalled that even the Norwegian Foreign Minister took to eating with his hands. If nothing else, His Excellency would remember that effort forever.  

The success of the Oslo talks---let’s pray for Round Two---would impact greatly on the economy as for instance, revolutionary tax imposed by the Communist Left in the countryside should disappear in a permanent and lasting ceasefire. I asked Secretary Bello to convey my best wishes to my UP classmates, Joma Sison and his wife, the former Julie de Lima, and urge them to return to the homeland and work with all of us at nation-building, before Joma loses his hair altogether.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

US President Obama assures continuing close US-PH relations even as US State Dept. cancels his meeting with Duterte. Our President is most sought-after leader in ASEAN summit, but this is largely owing to notoriety in his speech which has tremendous repercussions on world stage. Citizens' query: is "lawless violence" proclamation "creeping martial law?"

Listening to last night’s evening news, I felt uncomfortable about the way US President Barack Obama was assuring world and ASEAN leaders assembled in Laos how his country would guarantee free and untramelled passage through the China Sea, in accordance with international law, especially after the recent arbitral committee decision in The Hague upheld the Philippines’ claim against China in the West Philippine Sea.  

Obama also stressed to the world how strong US and PH alliance remains, even as there was Russian President Vladimir Putin defending China’s claim to the same sea waters---clearly remaining the staunchest ally of China. 


And yet the US President’s unequivocal defense of its traditional ally took place even as the US State Department cancelled a scheduled meeting between him and President Rodrigo Duterte on account of the latter’s curse-remark. Mr. Duterte's ire was provoked by the State Department's pointed reminders to him in recent weeks about the need to uphold human rights  and prevent what it considered the mounting extra-judicial killings in his campaign against illegal drugs. 

It was embarrassing for a Filipino like me to listen to Obama's forever-friends reassurance, inasmuch as days before, Mr. Duterte had lambasted him in his typical colorful invectives reserved for perceived adversaries---which by now the world has grown accustomed to. 

Finally the axe fell. Mr. Obama sounded quite hurt in his press conference following Mr. Duterte's threat to shame and confront him at the ASEAN summit and the one-on-one between the two supposedly staunch allies was cancelled. Yet there was the outgoing US President still proclaiming to the world the continuing strength of the two countries' historic alliance and that aid in various forms would continue. Surreal indeed. 


Mr. Duterte sounded sorry the next day for the mess he had created in the ASEAN meet and his Cabinet officials are now tripping all over to do damage control. Labor Secretary Bebot Bello made light of the meeting's cancellation by saying that after all, Mr. Obama is already a “lame duck President.” Really now, Bebot Bello---defense ba yan! 

On the other hand, some of those who had strongly supported Mr. Duterte’s uncompromising stand on many issues now feel obliged to remind him that his utterances on the global stage carry enormous repercussions and that he should be more studious about them. One of them is Fr. Rannie Aquino who now invokes that the President take the statesmanlike approach. I hope he listens to Fr. Rannie, although those who know him well doubt whether he would change tactics. After all, they argue, he won 16 million votes precisely because of his colorful language.

I can imagine how tough it must be for Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., who has to deal with his counterparts from around the world about all the PR fiasco of his boss. But thank God that Jun Yasay is a veteran lawyer who had maintained a successful practice in the US in the martial law years. On the other hand, the colorful Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo can keep the ship of state afloat with his typical bluster. 


At the interview weeks back that Cecile Alvarez and I conducted with Secretary Jun Yasay over our regular Sunday 6pm. dzRH program, he defended the Duterte administration from the accusation by his predecessor, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, and former Ambassador to Washington Joey Cuisia, that this administration took such a limp stand over our claim to the West Philippine Sea during the Asean gathering in Kunming, China.

Secretary Yasay admitted that the initial order of President Duterte after PH's victory in The Hague was "to go easy and not to rub it in” to the defeated Chinese. But he also stressed that in a subsequent gathering of nations in Laos, the Philippines took a hard-line position toward our claim and that the US and Japan joined other Asian nations in recognizing that UNCLOS-supported Hague decision. Hence, argued Yasay, the earlier tactic of going easy with our Hague victory won friends, thus proving superior.  

Yasay lamented that his critics "were not there and they did not know the dynamics among the participants." I can see his point. There are always several sides in an issue. Besides, it was rather poor taste for Del Rosario and Cuisia to air criticisms of their foreign service colleague in public---at a time when developments called for unity among Filipinos.


The recent decision of President Duterte to place the entire country under a proclamation of "an existing state of lawless violence” may have reasons the public may not fully comprehend, but it has placed our people in a new spate of nervous tension while hogging headlines anew in international media. Fear is being expressed in various quarters as to whether this proclamation (now just newly named Proclamation No. 55)---coming after the terrible blast in Davao City, heartland of the President, just days earlier that left 15 people dead and 70 wounded---is “CREEPING MARTIAL LAW.”

Many Filipinos who recall the Marcos martial law years doubtless remain allergic to the idea of a new imposition and they acted quick and strong toward the "lawless violence" proclamation. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines stressed that in the light of this proclamation, the President's power under Art. VII, Sec. 18 of the Constitution limits his act “to summoning the armed forces” under his constitutionally established “calling out power.” 

This is the power to call on the AFP to “prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion,” but that in so doing, civil rights and liberties have to be respected. The same Art. VII, Sec. 18 in fact, sought to protect these civil liberties in such invasion or rebellion, by requiring the President to report in person or in writing to Congress within 48 hours on the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus;  a revocation of such proclamation or suspension by Congress may not be set aside by the President. 

The IBP reminded him that any act beyond this “calling out power” to the AFP  and its concomitant consequences “shall be considered illegal or ultra vires.”


But do such conditions of lawless violence, invasion or rebellion exist on a nationwide basis to warrant calling out the AFP? This remains the question on many minds.

Once again---nothing new in the very young Duterte administration---there is the familiar tough balancing act demanded of the Chief Executive, as various citizens rap him for over-acting and exaggerating the bombing crisis in Davao. Part of the tension, however, came from the Malacanang Press Office, for at first it stressed that the proclamation of “lawless violence” would be limited only to the Davao area; but just hours later, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said it would cover the entire nation. 

But in what was clearly an after-thought---rather than attach fresh importance to the bandit Abu Sayaf that acknowledged the bombing as its handiwork---the Palace later stressed that the root of this “lawless violence” proclamation may be found in the war against illegal drugs and the fact that extra-judicial killings have been resorted to by enemies of state.


What's causing a lot of anxiety among various leaders obviously was the fact that the basis for such proclamation was not adequately explained. Mr. Duterte stressed that it was not “martial law” but that “I’m inviting now the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the military and the police to run the country in accordance with my specifications.” But just what are those specs were not readily laid out.  Would the call-out to the AFP result in abuses?

From my talk with various citizens, I believe the President has the support of majority of Filipinos in his campaign vs. illegal drugs, but his proclamation of lawless violence rakes up a lot of nervous tension about the past. The experience of citizens in the earlier martial rule of President Marcos beginning in 1972 showed that there were numerous violations against human rights then--- so much so that they now invoke those same violations in protesting Mr. Duterte's intention to bury Mr. Marcos in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.


Mr. Duterte must be well aware of the citizens' grave distaste for abuses in the Marcos martial law era; thus It's reassuring to hear him stress that there will be no suspension of the writ of habeas corpus or warrantless arrests or even curfews during the period of the state of lawless violence. But as Sen. Ralph Recto insists, the Chief Executive still has to issue a written order that “will prescribe the specifics and limits of (his) proclamation placing the whole country under a state of lawlessness,” so that in turn, citizens would know just what activities would be permitted or prohibited, if any,  during this period."  

I cannot agree more. There is something about martial law that sends chills up and down citizens’ spine. This may sound odd for an ex-military wife to say, but I remember vividly how it was in 1972, when Mr. Marcos imposed martial law. My husband, then on leave from the Defense Department, was on schooling in UP; thus, when martial law was declared I had to be the one to hear it over radio and tell him that morning. I remember how I felt like a thousand thunderclaps hit me, but my husband took it calmly though I’m sure he felt most anxious too.