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.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This evening’s “Black Friday" rally” in rainy Luneta could be first of such protest rallies by millennials around the country, judging from their militancy. House hearing with Dayan reaps enormous criticisms from tri-media and netizens for concentrating more on salacious details of his love affair with Sen. De Lima, instead of building state case vs. illegal drugs and corruption. The "Lower House" truly lives up to its name.

Ateneo Prof. Tony La Vina and fellow rallyists (photo from Dean Tony La Vina)

A huge streamer at tonight's "Black Friday Rally" at the Luneta (as posted by Dean La Vina)

I failed to join this evening’s “Black Friday" rally” at the Luneta against the burial of the late President Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani because of the rains, but I watched it over TV and it brought back this déjà vu feeling all over again, just as it did when I rushed to the LNMB last Nov. 18 to protest the late dictator’s hush-hush burial. I was quite happy tonight to see all the students rallying and voicing their sentiments vs. the burial, undaunted by rains and though most of them were born a generation apart from the dictator’s rule---today's vaunted millennials. 

One student said in an interview that while it was his parents who had marched a generation ago vs. the Marcos dictatorship, he knew exactly why he was in the streets amidst the rains tonight: to protest the burial of someone who doesn’t deserve a hero’s burial in the national pantheon of heroes.

Listening to this drenched young man justify his presence at tonight’s “Black Friday Rally” gave us, his elders, enormous hope that our country would be in good hands for the future---that the young generation knows its values and convictions and is ready to defend them.


Today's “Black Friday" rally” sprouted in other cities around the archipelago, notably, in Davao City itself, home-ground of President Duterte, as well as in Cebu, Iloilo, Bacolod, Legaspi, Baguio, Tarlac, Dagupan, Zamboanga City and many other places. It would be a big mistake to think that tonight’s protest rally would go pffffttt---on the contrary, I think this is just the beginning of protest rallies around the country---with the youth of today as its core, just like the protesters in the late '70s and '80s.

It is to the credit of the Duterte administration that it directed the police to exercise maximum tolerance and they did---congratulations!  It would be a dreadful mistake, however, to think that this first “Black Friday" rally” will just be ningas cogon.  The way the students came prepared with their props, their mind-set and their umbrellas and raincoats, it promises to be just the beginning.


In the history of every democratic movement all over the world and since the beginning, the student population has comprised a vital and critical component. So was it in the first anti-Marcos movement a generation ago, backed up by left-wing elements, and so will it be in the current protests, likewise backed up by the same elements. From what I know of history, the students would probably stand their ground in protest, and it leads me to wonder what would give.

Will it be the Supreme Court that would come to realize the foolhardiness of its disastrous decision not only to allow the burial of Mr. Marcos in the LNMB, but also to disrespect the 15-day period for its ruling to attain final fruition?   Will it be the Duterte administration which would beat a mea culpa over its supposed innocence of the burial, the excuse being that the President was in Lima, Peru at that time?  Will Mr. Duterte plead for reason and dialogue with the students? Such dialogue I would encourage heartily before the drift widens between him and the millennials. He lost the support of a substantial chunk of the youth and the Left over this issue.


What aggravated the issue of the Marcos burial as far as the Filipino people are concerned was the stealthy manner whereby it was carried out---to use the shop-worn phrase, like a thief in the night. As I argued a blog earlier, had the Supreme Court insisted on the full 15-day period for reconsideration, knowing full well that such motions were forthcoming in the last five days, and had it dribbled the issue until perhaps early next year, it might have been less controversial to sell Marcos at LNMB. 

To be sure, protests would still erupt even if the burial was carried out in full knowledge of the populace, and perhaps some radical students would still have laid their bodies in the streets in protest, but I maintain that such physical outbursts would have been easier to pacify than today's anger.

Tonight's “Black Friday" rally” is a protest against the issue of Marcos’ burial at LNMB and the odious manner whereby it was carried out---with SHOCK AND STEALTH. IT WAS A TOTAL MISREADING OF THE PEOPLE'S SENTIMENT. 


Talking of another issue, ODIOUS is the word to describe the marathon hearing conducted by the House of Representatives the other day on the issue of the alleged involvement of former Justice Secretary and now Senator Leila de Lima in the illegal drug trade, with her former driver and erstwhile lover, Ronnie Dayan, as star witness. Interestingly, another angle on the same drug trade issue was being conducted in the Senate that same afternoon, with Kerwin Espinosa, reputed to be the biggest drug dealer in the Visayas, as star witness, but the Senate hearing didn’t reap the tons of angry criticisms that the House did.

The reason was that the Senate hearing concentrated on the extent of the drug-trafficking itself as a crime, with De Lima’s alleged involvement as drug money recipient as mere factor---whereas the House hearing became absorbed in the lurid details of the relationship between De Lima and Dayan, with the solons concentrating more on the salacious details of their personal life---rather than probe the extent of their criminal involvement, thereby establishing a case for the State.


The House hearing was simply distasteful and malicious, with tri-media as well as social media netizens heaping tons of well-deserved criticisms on the chamber. One netizen noted, “No wonder the House of Representatives is called the ‘Lower House’---it is absolutely degraded.” One critic pointed out that the physical arrangement of the House hearing contributed to encouraging abuse in sexual overtones, in that visitors sat close to the representatives, giving a cozy atmosphere prone to gossipy details---whereas the Senate forum, co-chaired by Senators Dick Gordon and Panfilo Lacson, was arranged and conducted in a more impersonal way. 

Thus, queries to Ronnie Dayan, such as "How did you call each other?" “Did you sleep together in one bed?” and “How intense was your relationship?” Dayan's reply: "Intensity V at first, then later just Intensity 1," which drew naughty reactions from the House. Most of the Honorables should have just gone to a sex video shop to get their high, instead of wasting tax-payers' money in a fraud of a hearing. 

I am not particularly fond of the former Justice Secretary and now Senator, but I felt that the efforts of the “Honorables” to slut-shame her were totally repugnant. As a fellow woman I was terribly offended by the direct assault on her reputation--- whatever is left of it. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Jitters in Congress over Ombudsman’s order to dismiss Sen. Joel Villanueva on PDAF misuse, President’s threat to suspend writ of habeas corpus and possible revamp of Senate leadership over Marcos burial issue. Presidential legal adviser Sal Panelo says martial law by President Digong "unlikely" despite his threat to suspend writ. Peks man ha, Sal?

Senator Joel Villanueva

Everyone in Congress, especially in the Senate, seems jittery and agitated over recent developments affecting not just that institution but national stability. To wit:

There's the recent order of Ombudsman Conchita Morales seeking dismissal from the Senate of Sen. Joel Villanueva, over alleged misuse of his PDAF as well as falsification of public documents in 2008, when he was still a member of the House of Representatives representing the party-list CIBAC. Morales ordered Villanueva to face trial before the graft court, but Rep. Harry Roque has come to the defense of the former TESDA Chief, asserting that only the Senate could discipline its member. Predictably, some senators quickly circled wagons around him, scrutinizing the Ombudsman Act for a provision that would prevent any move against one of their own.

Recall that former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla were imprisoned for the same accusation. But it seems that the Senate would want to truly protect its own this time, and the Ombudsman's letter was quickly consigned to the rules committee chaired by Sen. Tito Sotto, where possibly it could just lie there and die there, as the song goes. Given the widespread misuse of the PDAF and DAP in both chambers of Congress in the P-Noy regime, it's easy to predict that senators would seek to thwart Morales' order.  


Then there is the impending burial of the late President Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, following a most disconcerting 9-5-1decision by the Supreme Court upholding President Duterte's order. There is a sense of urgency about this move, as the Marcos tomb is already constructed though still boarded up all around with green GI sheets in the site reserved for former presidents in the LNMB. Recall that Mr. Duterte's campaign promise to the Marcos family was to give the late martial rule president "proper burial” in the national pantheon of heroes. 

His order, however, has re-opened deep fission over this issue and protests are bound to escalate as burial date nears.  Anti-Marcos solons like Rep. Edcel Lagman, whose brother was a torture victim/desaparecido in the martial law years,  have filed a motion for reconsideration with the SC and it should only be fitting and proper that the administration respect that MR before implementing the SC decision in LNMB. Sen. Risa Hontiveros has campaigned  for a “sense of the Senate” resolution against the burial, but she managed to get only 11 votes so far.

Certain to be caught right in the vise of the Marcos issue is Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, as his father, former Senate President Nene Pimentel, was jailed by FM and became a leading light in the anti-Marcos movement. Koko has openly criticized the LNMB burial but it is easy to see that should Mr. Duterte push this issue to its fruition, Koko, who cannot move from his position vs. FM's burial, could find himself under threat of being unseated.


President Duterte

Then there's jitters over the recent pronouncement of Mr. Duterte that if lawlessness in Mindanao and efforts of drug lords allegedly to fund anti-administration activities are not curtailed, he would suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus as provided in the 1987 Constitution. To be sure, the 1987 Constitution, a.k.a. the "Cory Constitution," reflected the trauma of martial rule and has loaded safeguards vs. abuse of the privilege of the writ;  but everyone in Congress as well as citizens engaged in a Duterte-watch are nervous just the same.

This is because, as Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, one of the leaders of the anti-Marcos movement in the US in the martial law years, recalls,  the proclamation of martial law by Marcos on September 21, 1972 was preceded a few months by suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. The writ enables relatives of an arrested person to ask a court to present him or her bodily before it, to disprove that said person has become a desaparecido.

Will Mr. Duterte indeed suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, and on what grounds? If he would, would he then be on the way to proclaiming martial law as he has threatened in media? On what grounds would such proclamation stand? These are some of the questions on many minds nowadays---especially in both chambers of Congress.


The 1987 Constitution has striven to ensure that enough protection of public welfare is imposed against suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, as provided in Article VII, “The Executive Department.” Thus, Sec. 18 provides that “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it,” the President, as Commander-in-Chief, “may for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the writ or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”

Within 48 hours from such proclamation or suspension of the writ, however, the Constitution requires the President "to submit a report in person or in writing to Congress,” and the latter, by a vote of at least a majority of all its members in regular or special session, “may revoke such proclamation or suspension, and this shall not be set aside by the President.” Moreover, upon initiative of the President, Congress “may extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”

But who may "qualify" for the suspension of the privilege of the writ? The 1987 Constitution defines it: only persons "JURIDICALLY CHARGED FOR REBELLION OR OFFENSES INHERENT IN OR DIRECTLY CONNECTED WITH INVASION."  


Not content with these safeguards, the Constitution framers also insisted that Congress, if not in session, shall within 24 hours of such proclamation or suspension, CONVENE WITHOUT NEED OF A CALL. Moreover, within 20 days Congress can meet in joint session and VOTE WHETHER TO REVOKE OR SUSTAIN the presidential suspension of the writ---in effect, this is Congress' VETO POWER over the President's move, as Rep. Raul Daza stressed to this blogger. Daza also pointed out that THE 1935 CONSTITUTION DID NOT HAVE THIS SIGNIFICANT ROLE ASSIGNED TO CONGRESS BY THE 1987 CONSTITUTION.  

Moreover, under the 1987 Charter, the Supreme Court may review a request filed by any citizen on “the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ or the extension thereof, and (it) must promulgate its decision within 30 days from its filing.” The Charter also declared that "a state of martial law does not suspend the operation of the Constitution" and that during the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus any person arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.


Given all the above protection imposed by the 1987 Constitution, the logical and persistent questions are, are there grounds to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and impose martial law, or do the conditions exist only in the mind of President Duterte and his advisers? Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo opines there are enough grounds to consider the suspension of the writ---given that many thousands of Filipinos are still involved in the drug problem and that “the country’s slow judicial system” is a weak countervailing force in what may be “an eternity” to solve such problems. Panelo, however, was recently quoted by Daily Tribune as asserting that Mr. Duterte was "unlikely to declare martial law." 

Peks man ha, Sal Panelo. 


Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, shoots down the eagerness of Mr. Duterte’s advisers to even hint of suspension of the writ and a hovering martial law declaration. Ping offers the following reasons: l). there has been no lawlessness in Mindanao since the Davao bombings, 2). the PNP claims that index crimes have dropped by more than 40% and 3). so many drug dealers have already surrendered in the administration's unrelenting war vs. illegal drugs.   

Ironically, Ping Lacson, once perceived as the berdugo of the PNP, is evolving now as more of a libertarian than his Senate colleagues. 

Some observers suspect that Mr. Duterte’s resurrection of the twin ghosts---suspension of the writ and proclamation of martial law--- arises from prospects of widespread unrest anticipated in connection with the planned burial of Marcos in LNMB.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

Sen. Dick Gordon has no choice but to open Senate hearing on Albuera Mayor Espinosa's slaying. SC favorable ruling on Marcos burial in Libingan ng Mga Bayani would be incomprehensible to the world. Pro-Duterte business leaders assert that he is "quite smart" and knows exactly what he's doing in playing the China card vs. the US

The late Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, shown with PNP Chief Rolando "Bato" de la Rosa

The Senate committee on justice, chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon, has no choice but to open hearings on the recent slaying of Albuera, Leyte, Mayor Rolando Espinosa by PNP-CIDG operatives, as the public won't be satisfied by anything less than the TRUTH of what really happened. The Espinosa slaying comes in the wake of the still unexplained killing last Friday of Mayor Samsuden of Datu Samdi Ampatuan town in North Cotabato, together with all nine of his men, in a supposed encounter with lawmen. Interestingly, all the casualties were on the side of the Mayor and none from the police side. 

Alas, too many killings and too many questions raised by media are left unanswered. 


One central fact: Mayor Espinosa, accused together with his son Kerwin of involvement in drug-trafficking in Northern Luzon and Regions 7 and 8, was in the custody of the state, and therefore assumed to be in safe hands. But how come a "search warrant" had to be served at 4:10 am. last Saturday? How come this move was not coordinated with the Leyte provincial administrator? How come Espinosa and Raul Yap, his co-accused and who was killed with him, were alleged to be in possession of firearms that they supposedly used to fire on the warrant-serving police, when precisely, in prison they are supposed to have been stripped of these arms?  Again, if Espinosa fired first, how come no one among the police was hurt?

How come the CCTV paraphernalia showing what happened went missing?

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP investigator and Chief, terms the episode outright as EJK, while Sen. Gordon lamented about how "we can encourage suspects to surrender under the law in this situation?" Gordon rightly asserts that the brutal murder of the Mayor "is a slap on the face of the rule of law and it signals a more desperate system---a 'take-no-prisoners-approach.' " 

The common perception is that IT WAS NO LESS THAN A RUB-OUT because Espinosa would have implicated a sizable number of prominent people in the drug trade, include some lawmen.


Last week I published here the “Dear Bel” letter from a European business executive who has chosen to settle in our country in his retirement. His letter politely scored President Duterte for his flip-flop stand on some key issues, such as our long-standing relationship with the US, as well as his resort to scornful language in addressing foreign leaders and institutions critical of him---only for his tirades to be softened up by defending Cabinet members or his pronouncements subtly reversed. 

The expat letter-writer lamented that such tactics do not inspire perceptions of stability for our country and he appealed to the President to be more consultative in his approach especially on sensitive issues.

I promised you readers a contrary view from that of the retired European executive and sure enough I found this last week among business leaders who had traveled with President Duterte to China and Japan, as well as to Asean countries earlier.


As expected, this group of business leaders is quite supportive of Mr. Duterte and in fact those I spoke with opine that his “flip-flopping” stance is deliberate and calculated and that this "smart president" knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants to achieve. They argued that he has succeeded not only in captivating world imagination but also in keeping the US off-balanced as he plays the China card. One business leader related how much of a ROCK-STAR Mr. Duterte has become in the countries he visited---especially in Japan.

Those I spoke to underscored that his popularity among our countrymen cuts across the classes---so that what began as masa support is now found also in the upper reaches of society. 

Frankly I was quite amazed at the level of support he enjoys with the business community, and I found myself cautioning some of them, in fact, about being a little less fanatical and a bit more critical of the President if the need arises to dish out some contrary view to him. That way, I insisted, they would be truly helping him.  


November 1st and 2nd were days of remembering. After visiting my husband’s grave and dropping by that of our family friend, the late Chief Justice Renato Corona, both in Heritage Memorial Park, I crossed over to the other side of Heritage to light a candle at the crypt of my brother, Ed Olivares. On rainy Nov. 2nd  I was at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio to visit the grave sites of my father-in-law and two brothers-in-law. Then I walked up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Libingan, guarded by four soldiers in raincoats, and I read the beautiful words inscribed there: “Here lies a Filipino soldier whose name is known only to God.” 

From there I crossed over to where the remains of three Philippine Presidents, namely, Elpidio Quirino, Carlos P. Garcia and Diosdado Macapagal, lie. I noted a large area next to them, all boarded up in green GI sheets and it turned out to be the proposed burial site of President Ferdinand Marcos. A woman sweeping nearby whispered to me that the grave of the late dictator is already finished.


In a few hours the Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision on the Marcos burial at Libingan---seven petitions seeking to prevent it as opposed to the Marcos family's petition to allow it. The SC decision has been postponed twice already, indicating the gravity of this issue  for the high magistrates; the pros and cons have made their stand clear with rallies in front of the Court for Marcos supporters, and at the Luneta for the oppositors.  I am signatory to one of the petitions against the Marcos burial at Libingan, but right now I wish to recall the excellent arguments of a columnist whose name unfortunately I cannot now remember.

He argued that the 1987 Constitution is a document borne out of the EDSA People Power Revolution and how, therefore, various institutions, led by the SC, have derived their resuscitated existence from that monumental epoch in our history---that one shining moment when our people drove out the dictator and recovered our freedom. How then, wrote this columnist, could the SC allow the burial of the same leader in the nation’s most hallowed ground?  How indeed? 

We would be totally incomprehensible to the world if our High Court were to rule favorably on Mr. Marcos’ burial in the Libingan. 


The law that established the national heroes’ burial site provides that it be “for the inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn.” The antis argue that Mr. Marcos was certainly not worthy of emulation but the pro-Marcos assert that he was president, and therefore he ought to be buried with the other presidents.  

I was thinking about this as I lingered around in that area last Nov. 2nd, and perhaps what could be done---to end this bitter controversy---is to separate the site reserved for soldiers who have fought and died for the nation, from the site marked exclusively for our Presidents and high officials. Libingan ng Mga Bayani separate from the Libingan ng Mga Pangulo at Iba Pang Matataas na Pinuno ng Bansa. That way there'd be no controversy: Mr. Marcos could be in the second burial site (I note that the remains of the late Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo lie  just across from President Macapagal’s).

But I think that if the majority of our people were to be asked about this issue, they'd probably prefer that Marcos be buried---as former President Fidel Ramos' 1993 agreement  with the Marcos family had provided---in Batac, beside his beloved mother and where he is loved by his fellow Ilocanos. Now the Marcoses don't want to honor that agreement.