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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Grinch that’s stealing our Christmas: the Aquino regime’s Dengvaxia. A truly sad story about how politics corrupts even the most sensitive of issues: the people’s health. Amendments should be made to insulate crucial health regulatory agencies truly independent of the DOH, so that similar nightmare won’t visit us again

Photo from Philippine Daily Inquirer showing former Health Secretary Janette Garin administering Dengvaxia vaccine shot on a school girl.

Christmas is the most beautiful season of the year and its observance in the Philippines is acknowledged the longest in the world. But political developments recently exposed by ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings tend to steal Christmas from the hearts of many Filipinos who are depressed about those hearings.   

The Grinch that’s stealing our Christmas refers to the ramifications of the scandalous P3.5 billion that the past Aquino administration paid to a major world pharmaceutical companies, the Sanofi Pasteur---for the purchase of the Dengvaxia vaccine against the dengue mosquito that’s endemic to our country.


The Dengvacia vaccine is endangering the lives of tens of thousands of Filipino schoolchildren who have been inoculated with it. Of the 731,000 schoolchildren vaccinated, at last count nearly a thousand young students fell sick over five months after receiving the first of three doses. 30 of these cases were considered serious enough for hospitalization, and at least four deaths have already been recorded.

But just as serious, the Dengvaxia deal has also made us the laughing stock of the international pharmaceutical world, as we try to collect P3.5 billion in tax-payers’ money from Sanofi Pasteur---a lawsuit that we know would take an awful lot of money to win in an international court.  We also  know very well that international sympathy will not be with us on this case.

Why? Because we entered into the contract with Sanofi in a rush, without the due diligence needed to study such a delicate health issue, and obviously with another aim in mind---the political angle.  The almost inevitable conclusion is that the Liberal Party, then in power, was rushing to raise kickback funds to help finance its campaign for the May 2016 elections.


The entire science community in this country, except those affiliated with the Department of Health, is appalled at the lack of due diligence,  the rush to contract with the vaccine maker and the subversion of procedures defined by law. The worried Filipino public, in trying to fully understanding what happened in this monumental fiasco, is likely to suspect--- as do a good number of senators in the Senate Blue Ribbon committee--- that efforts were directed toward raising funds for the national elections of  May 2016.

Dr. Anthony Dans of the National Academy of Science and Technology, recently testifying before the Blue Ribbon Committee, made a very good suggestion that goes straight into the heart of the problem of the Dengvaxia anomaly.  Dr. Dans was quoted in the Inquirer as suggesting the enactment of “legislation that would set how ‘science should be assessed’ and ‘deal with the separation (of the) people assessing science and (the) people rendering policy.”


In other words, Dr. Dans was saying that the decision-makers in the DOH---those who decide to buy the vaccine--- should respect the scientists who are trained for many years and often in renowned institutions abroad, to assess its safeness and efficacy. These are, mainly, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which was created from the former Bureau of Food & Drugs in 2008, and the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF) which decides the scientific basis for procurement of drug products, under Administrative Order No. 8 issued in 2006.

What happened in the case of Dengvaxia and Sanofi, Dr. Dans told the committee, “was BAD SCIENCE” (underscoring mine)---the policy makers overruled the scientists.  Dans cited as “victims” of this “bad science” the WHO, the DOH, the physicians who ended up prescribing the medicines and the patients on the receiving end. 


The chronology of events as compiled by CNN Philippines encourages the conclusion of wrong use of power by the Health Department headed by Secretary Janette Garin and inevitable collusion among certain agencies of DOH---the corrupt for the fund of it and the uncorrupt because they were overruled and scared for their tenure.

In November 2014  President Aquino met with the Sanofi Senior VP in the Asia Region, Jean Luc Lowinski, at the Philippine Embassy in Beijing. In June 2015 Secretary Garin negotiates with Sanofi to reduce the cost of the vaccine.  In October 2015, Sanofi applies at the DOH for inclusion of its vaccine in the Philippine National Formulary. So far so good.

By December 1, 2015, in the sidelines of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, Aquino and Garin met Sanofi officials in the French capital where they were treated royally.  Nine days later  Garin submits a proposal to the Budget Dept. to buy three million doses of Dengvaxia, and gives it marketing approval in our country 12 days later.

This made PH the first to license its use for the prevention of dengue in Asia.


The succeeding events came with rapidity and show where the corruption possibly came in. The FDA approves the drug for preventing diseases caused by all four dengue types, and on Dec. 28, 2015, the DOH-Family Health office submits a request to Garin to exempt Dengvaxia from being included in the Philippine National Formulary, which, in turn, exempted it from review by the Formulary Executive Council (FEC), THE HIGHEST OFFICE THAT DETERMINES WHICH DRUGS GO INTO THE NATIONAL LIST OF ALLOWED DRUGS IN PH.

A day later, the Budget Dept. issues a P3.5 billion Special Allotment Release Order (the controversial SARO of old again rears its ugly head here) to Garin’s office for the vaccines. The Philippine Children’s Medical Center makes a P3-billion purchase order for the vaccines WITHOUT  FEC APPROVAL. Garin  issues a Certificate of Exemption for the vaccines to be pilot-tested in NCR, Region III and IV-A with a big hoopla.


The rain on Garin's coming-out party came in March 2016 when WHO released a paper asserting that Dengvaxia “may be ineffective or may even increase that risk in those who are seronegative at the time of first vaccination.” WHO called for more studies, but Garin already issued a P3 billion disbursement voucher to PCMC to fund the purchase from Zuellig Pharma, its distributor. The vaccines were paid for by the government.
The government kicked off its immunization program in three doses, one every six months. But the WHO released another paper stressing that Dengvaxi “may act as a silent natural infection that primes seronegative vaccines to experience a secondary-like infection upon their first exposure to dengue virus.” 


As CNN pointed out, WHO stressed that the vaccine “may be ineffective or may theoretically even increase future risk of hospitalization or severe dengue illness in those who are seronegative at the time of the first vaccination, regardless of age.” Another warning from the Imperial College of London's study which asserted that Dengvaxia could lead to an increase in number of cases of the disease, if not implemented correctly.

The Singapore Health Sciences Authority also piped in with “postulated risk” of the Sanofi vaccine. Factors were now conspiring to stop Dengvaxia in its tracks.


That month new Health Secretary Paulynn Ubial of the Duterte administration suspended the school-based immunization program and both chambers of the new Congress conducted their own probe of the anomalous transaction. Secretary Francisco Duque, who took over from Ubial, sustained the suspension,

The hearings on Dengvaxia will continue. Former President Aquino, in answer to summons, testified that no one advised him against procuring Dengvaxia (in other words, walang alam). A P3.5 billion outlay for imported vaccine and he is unaware of it? Secretary Duque pinned the blame entirely on his predecessor, Janette Garin.

I totally agree with Sen. J. V. Ejercito: those responsible for the bloody mess should be charged asap---with P-Noy and Garin possibly with technical malversation. The Grinches.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Duterte at Kapampangan Festival---refraining from cursing, he won audience’s hearts for his deep concern for young Filipino lives being savaged by drugs. Manotoc-Manglapus wedding overshadowed by the prominent grandfathers/political protagonists--Marcos & Manglapus

President Duterte in "Kapampangan Festival" with Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Paoay newly-weds Mike Manotoc and the former Carina Manglapus, with baby Mia
Two lolos, erstwhile political rivals, dominate the wedding of their grandchildren 52 years later.
\The late Sen. Raul Manglapus, Ferdinand Marcos' rival in 1965 presidential elections; now their grandchildren are married. 

Former President and now Pampanga 2nd district Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo invited me to the “Kapampangan Festival” held yesterday, Dec. 07, at the Clark ASEAN Convention Center in Pampanga, for a fabulous culinary experience as only the Kapampangans can render. In celebration of the Foundation Day of Pampanga, chefs and restaurateurs from the CULINARYA PAMPANGA got together to prove to the visitors from various places that Pampanga is indeed the CULINARY CAPITAL OF THE PHILIPPINES. 

Yesterday's banquet of the best dishes of Pampanga was a total experience, complete with Pampango music rendered by a chorale group in beautiful native outfits and an exhibit of ethnic tapestries made from recycled materials.  
But the piece de resistance was President Rodrigo Duterte who came at 6pm. when he was scheduled to arrive at 3pm. Despite his tardiness several hundred Pampango natives and out-of-towners waited---to see and hear him in person, and they were not disappointed. That included this writer who, I must confess, has not been a Duterte believer.


The President was not his usual fire-breathing, cursing self;  instead, he spoke, it seems, straight from the heart, at times tearful and emotional---{“hindi naman ako talagang palamura.”)  I listened intently to his every word and in fact, after his speech my dzRH radio partner, Cecile Alvarez, and I sought to break through the PSG cordon on the stage, and we got through to him after jostling through the thick crowd of fans.

I told Mr. Duterte that I have not been a believer of his, but that “tonight, you spoke from the heart and it hit me right here,” I said, pointing to my own.  He looked pleased, probably chancing upon  my critical writings from time to time, and he took my hand for a mano-po.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been Mr. Duterte’s No. 1 patron and whom he addresses as “my boss,” was visibly elated over the success of his appearance at Clark ASEAN.


Discarding his prepared speech, Mr. Duterte extemporized in reasonably good English with a thick Visayan accent, about how “my people” ---soldiers and police--- are being ambushed at the rate of six to eight a day.  Getting emotional, he stressed that “I will hound (the enemies of state)---they can do their worst, threatening me;”  then he added, “I hold it as an article of faith that if there is no law and order in the countryside there can be no real peace.”

Before leaving that topic, he called on his former professor, NDF leader Jose Ma. Sison: “Why don’t you come home, para kayong mga señorito dyan (in the Netherlands).” He also stressed that he will stick “to my promise---no corruption---you better believe it, to my dying day.”


But Mr. Duterte reserved his utmost passion for his fixation: fighting the drug problem. He pledged to finish his war against drugs, stressing that he doesn’t give a damn “kung magka lache-leche ang bayan,” but he will clear the country of drugs. He avowed that “You (the drug lords) are reducing a number of my countrymen to the slavery of drugs,” stressing that he has already lost some 244 policemen in the drug fight that has “contaminated” 42% of our barangays. Then his stunning revelation:  9,000 police are also said to be involved in drugs.

As a parting shot, Mr. Duterte solemnly intoned to the crowd---so hushed that one could hear a pin drop—that he will fight this problem with all he has got.  Afterwards the audience rose to its feet to applaud him. It is obvious that he is so serious about this problem that he won’t budge an inch in this fight. 

It’s also obvious that had he not begun to tackle this menace by the horns, we would already be a narco-state by now. Like him or not, we ought to all be with him in this particular battle.


The wedding a few weeks back of Michael Ferdinand Manotoc and Carina Amelia Manglapus in a plush ceremony in Paoay, Ilocos Norte---grandchildren of two former political protagonists---was billed as a remake of the story of two feuding political families of Verona in Shakespeare’s immortal story of “Romeo and Juliet,” which saw the Capulet and the Montague families torn apart by feuds of generations.  But unlike the tragic tale in Verona where the lovers end up in the other life, the Paoay story has a happy ending.  

Michael Ferdinand Manotoc, the second of three sons of Irene Marcos Manotoc and husband Tommy, married Carina Amelia Manglapus, daughter of Francis and Lynn Manglapus, at the Spanish baroque church of San Agustin in Paoay. The couple has a beautiful 1 ½ year old daughter, Mia. 


There are many interesting facts about the union of Michael and Carina Amelia, whose acquaintance began some years back at a party given by Gina and Gabby Lopez of ABS-CBN. For one, the wedded couple are second cousins, their beauteous grandmothers---Carmen La”O Manotoc and Pacita La’O Manglapus, now both deceased---were sisters.

But the stranger part of the union of the two clans was how the respective pater familias---both long gone---still managed to overshadowed the recent grand wedding in Paoay.  I refer to the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, Mike Manotoc’s grandfather, and the late Senator Raul Sevilla Manglapus, Carina’s grandfather, who were contemporaries---and famous political adversaries. Marcos turned 100 this year while Manglapus’ 100th is next year.


Young as I was when these two politicians were at the apex of their careers, I I remember joining many thousands of other young people to attend the rally in Plaza Miranda of Senator Raul Manglapus, then running in the three-cornered presidential race that included re-electionist President Diosdado Macapagal and then Senate President Marcos. Marcos gained notoriety in his UP  days for being accused of murder of a political adversary,  as well as fame for topping the bar.

On the other hand, Manglapus was known as the champion collegiate orator at the Ateneo where he graduated summa cum laude. Marcos was a war hero, but  most of his medals were alleged to have been spurious, as researched by the late Rep. Boni Gillego;  whereas Manglapus was awarded one medal but it was real.


From the start of their political careers,  Marcos was the practical politician, seemingly willing to do anything (guns goons and gold) to gain power, while  Manglapus was a principled politician, a dreamer who advocated democratic reforms and often ended up losing. Marcos topped the 1959 senatorial elections, while Manglapus topped the 1961 senatorial elections.

Marcos believed in an authoritarian form of government for development whereas Manglapus believed in a decentralized democratic government. Marcos was accused of having amassed an incredible fortune while in power while Manglapus lost most of his wealth in politics, particularly during his years in exile in the US with his family.  

Imee Marcos Manotoc was quoted as saying that the Paoay wedding could presage the “unification of the two clans,” and indeed, the wedding party did look like fun, with Raul Manglapus' son, Francis, bussing the late dictator's wife, Imelda, after the ceremony. On the other hand, Bongbong Marcos was caught by the cameras shedding tears of joy at the union. 

But I have my doubts about Imee's "unification" prophesy, for the historical differences have run too deep in both clans.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ultimately, CJ Sereno's impeachment will rise or fall on these crucial questions: did her actions constitute "HIGH CRIMES" and "Culpable Violation of the Constitution?" Does the "alphabet soup" of RCAO a.k.a. JDO and Sereno's taking business-class trips abroad constitute impeachable offenses?

Dean Ma. Soledad Derequito Mawis of Lyceum College of Law and President of the Philippine Association of Law Schools
Figures of the hour: House justice committee chair Reynaldo Umali & Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno

House veterans suspect that the impeachment case vs. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno would be put to a vote before the Christmas recess and trial will commence in the Senate in January. .As it approaches, tension in the House has begun to rise to boiling point.  

At the recent hearing of the Committee on Justice on CJ's  impeachment case, Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, after much behind-the-scenes negotiations, was allowed to sit in the hearing, but not to interpellate the witnesses or participate actively. The grizzled legislator and legal luminary later complained in a statement to the media:   

“ After denying the Chief Justice’s right to have her counsel cross-examine the complainant (lawyer Larry Gadon) and his witnesses, and further barring representatives who are non-members of the committee from participating in its deliberations---which is contrary to established parliamentary practice---the Chair and Super-majority members are now actively monopolizing the proceedings in the so-called “impeachment committee.' ”


Rep. Lagman further stressed that the role of the House Committee on Justice is “to weigh the evidence, NOT TO GATHER EVIDENCE to plug the gaping loopholes in the Gadon impeachment complaint against (CJ) Sereno.” (emphasis mine). He noted further that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has tasked the justice committee to “continue gathering evidence because the Chief Justice refuses to resign.”

Lagman found this practice highly questionable, for as he pointed out, "the committee’s duty is to determine probable cause principally based on the complaint and evidence adduced by Gadon---and not to build up the case for Gadon."  Lagman reminded his colleagues that  “THE COMMITTEE MUST ACT AS AN IMPARTIAL INVESTIGATOR, NOT AS AN INTREPID SLEUTH” (emphasis this blogger’s). ’

Thus, continued Lagman, "while Gadon is grinning at the sidelines, the committee members are the ones requesting for the appearance of invited witnesses to whom they instantly direct questions, instead of allowing Gadon to first initiate direct examination.” As Lagman pointed out, the accuser sits contentedly in the sidelines as the members of Congress dig up evidence for him. In other words, sinusuerte si Larry Gadon. 


This tendency of the justice committee to seek evidences to support the impeachment case brought by private lawyer Gadon against CJ Sereno is only one of the many peculiarities of this sensational case now pending in the House. 

Recall that the impeachment case brought against Chief Justice Corona by the House justice committee six years back  NEVER HAD A HEARING; instead, it was voted upon right away by the House membership and went straight to the Senate for trial.  The singular argument against CJ Corona, which was totally unfounded, was a defective SALN.

But as then Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque had stressed to the Senate impeachment court, a defective SALN cannot be the basis for impeachment as this could be rectified. But as we know now, the CSC Chair’s admonition went unheeded as DAP funds went into operation to buy impeachment votes against CJ Corona.


Unlike the Corona case, the case against CJ Sereno is undergoing hearings on accusations against her, but effort seems to be more concerned about substantiating the very thin accusations that complainant Gadon raised before the justice committee. As Rep. Lagman noted, that committee seems engaged "in filling the blanks for the complainant."

To shed further light on the Sereno impeachment case now being deliberated in the House justice committee, my radio partner Cecile Alvarez and I invited to our Sunday, 6 pm. DZRH radio program, “Radyo Balintataw,” Atty. Ma. Soledad Dereguito Mawis, UP College of Law, class '88 and now Dean of the Lyceum University College of Law and current president of the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), which is composed of some 120 member schools all over the country.


We questioned Dean Sol Mawis what to her appears as the basis for the impeachment of the Chief Justice that the House justice committee has been plotting. The lady dean noted, for instance,  the obvious dissension within the Sereno Supreme Court---beginning with Associate Justice Teresita de Castro’s testimony on alleged decisions of the CJ to depart from the consensus of the court on certain issues. 

For instance, Dean Mawis pointed out that the court had earlier passed a resolution creating the Regional Court Administrator's Office (RCAO).  The intention was to decentralize court administration functions over judges, with  RCAO  supposed to be based in Cebu for Region 7's easier administration. 

What happened was that CJ Sereno created instead a new office called the Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO), with essentially the same function---virtually the same dog but with a different collar. It didn't sit well with her colleagues and Sereno has since rescinded that plan and the court reverted to RCAO. 

This particular controversy within the High Court, which I call the "alphabet soup issue," only shows the deep divisions and rifts within the court. But I wonder if this issue constitutes a "high crime" as envisioned by the Constitution framers. 


Pursuing this issue, we questioned Dean Mawis for the basis of the contemplated impeachment of CJ Sereno. She cited, among other things as stated in the Constitution, high crimes committed and culpable violation of the Constitution. Then she went into specifics, such as the accusation by Gadon et al. that Sereno would take business class with her staff whenever she would travel abroad. 

Dean Mawis pointed out that the charge against Sereno on this issue probably stems from an earlier ruling by President Duterte that all government officials and employees from hereon are to ride economy class on trips abroad. Mawis stressed, however, that this order comes from the Executive branch, but since  under the Constitution the three branches of government are co-equal, therefore Mr. Duterte's order cannot apply to the judicial branch. Frankly, I myself don't mind seeing my country's Chief Justice ride business-class as a recognition of her high stature, especially since virtually all the legislators take business-class abroad. . 

Ultimately, the issue of impeachment has to answer the questions: Do the CJ's actions involve High Crimes and has there been Culpable Violations of the Constitution? I don't think so and neither does Atty. Sol Mawis.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Challenge to Harry Roque: how to convince his boss to process thoughts and ideas first before articulating them in public. On CJ Sereno's impending impeachment in House, it's utterly reprehensible to deprive her of right to counsel---her inalienable right as Filipino under the Constitution

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in consultation with President Duterte 
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ma. Lourdes Sereno

Last Friday evening, Nov. 24, my longtime friend, business journalist Tony Lopez, founder of BizNews Asia, celebrated the 16th anniversary of his unsurpassed magazine as well as his 69th birthday at the EDSA Shangri-la Plaza Garden Ballroom. It drew many business and industry moguls, among them Ramon Ang of the flagship San Miguel Corporation, Tessie Sy-Coson of the SM/BDO empire, Helen Yuchengco-Dee of the RCBC Group and many others. Also attending the very successful event were a number of Cabinet members, among them controversial new presidential spokesman Harry Roque and Budget Secretary Ben Diokno.


Harry Roque was tapped to hand out the award trophies to the businessmen being honored, and he obliged folks’ requests for photos. I found Roque, a former human rights lawyer and UP law professor---quite affable despite his initial threat to throw hollow blocks at his boss’ critics and his seeming propensity to draw flak for his various moves.  While we were posing for photos, I managed to advise this controversial official to persuade his boss to subject his thoughts to some badly–needed processing first, before opening his mouth.

If Mr. Duterte's statements could thus be moderated, Roque’s difficulty would be considerably reduced, as it's the President's propensity to shoot off before processing his thoughts and pronouncements that invariably gets him into trouble---and his spokesperson in a furious bind. Unfortunately, judging from Harry Roque’s non-verbal comment on my observation (he just rolled his eyes upward), it seems impossible to even try to straight-jacket the President on his pronouncements.  

The problem with poorly processed presidential utterances is that foreign business prospects could be dampened, as the political picture here projects an unstable climate, to begin with. Mr. Duterte often does verbal political somersaulting---saying something outlandish and then reversing himself and with furious damage control afterwards.  Such impression of political instability is very harmful for business. 


Take the case of the situation in the metropolis and several recent developments. The MRT situation remains a mess, with a whole phalanx of officials from the Aquino administration charged by the Ombudsman for what seems clearly an anomalous situation there. As Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza put it in our recent dzRH  “Radyo Balintataw,” it’s wrong trains for the existing tracks, or wrong tracks for the new trains. He follows this with a query: “Could you imagine a father buying a toy train for his son without even testing if the tracks fit?

That’s what happened to the MRT trains, except that that deal cost many billions now wasted. Meanwhile, these trains daily service around half a million people in Metro Manila who suffer daily Calvary because of periodic breakdowns. Passengers walking on the tracks to get back to the street is a frequent but pathetic sight. Once a compartment even disengaged and a female passenger even lost her arm.  So dangerous have those trains become.  

Their poor condition has become the butt of jokes---the Filipino way of coping indeed. At BizNews Asia’s Anniversary, guests at our table compared notes on how long it took them to EDSA Plaza. On my way there I saw incredibly long queues for trains at the Shaw Blvd. MRT station crossing. It is hard to see the silver lining here, as shutting down the MRT for repairs, as is being proposed, could bring even more monstrous problems. 


In the House of Representatives, the impeachment move against Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno appears to gain enough momentum. Should SC Associate Justice Teresita de Castro and reportedly also Justice Francis Jardaleza appear before the House to testify on the complaint against the CJ, this could clinch the move to impeach her. The trial in the Senate, however, would result in a big telenovela that would grip the nation anew and divide the people.  

There has been a move brewing for some time now to also impeach Ombudsman Conchita Morales, although this does not seem to gain as much support as the move vs. CJ Sereno. Some House members, however, are AGAINST impeaching the two women, and among them is Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza. He maintains that the emotional costs to the nation of impeaching such high officials would be so great that it could be a “pyrrhic victory for either side.” No winners.  I agree.


CJ Lourdes Sereno is being accused of a number of impeachable offenses, which would be left to the impeachment  court---the Senate---to determine, should the House impeach move prevail. In this connection, court insiders note that there seems to be a big difference between the attitude of Supreme Court officers and personnel toward the late CJ Renato Corona, who was impeached and convicted in 2011, and toward CJ Sereno now. 

They point out that in the process of obtaining records and documents pertaining to supposed charges against the high magistrate on the carpet, it was far more difficult to obtain such records in the case of Corona, than it is now in the case of CJ Sereno.


This would seem to point out that the late CJ Corona was more popular with court personnel than the current chief. Be that as it may, I personally find it condemnable that CJ Sereno is being deprived by the House leadership of her constitutional right to counsel, in the prospect of an impeachment. 

The Constitution guarantees the right of every Filipino to counsel, and Lourdes Sereno should be no exception. With Justices de Castro and Jardeleza being bruited about as possibly appearing in the House to testify against Sereno, it would obviously be outright demeaning to the Chief Justice's office for her to directly cross-examine either or both of her colleagues on their testimonies against her, as her accusers are demanding.

LIke every Filipino, CJ Sereno should be given her constitutional right to be represented by counsel. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Photos of "Haggle" at ASEAN@50 both amusing and ominous. EJK issue avoided by all the conferees, except that "crush ng bayan," Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, who was as brave as he's handsome. Digong was for the most part statesmanlike, except for verbal jab at Obama, his murder-at-age 16 spin and now his tirade vs.Trudeau.

US President Donald Trump at first couldn't handle the famous "Haggle", as he tried to grab the hand of Vietnamese Prime Nguyen Xuan Phuc, thus leaving President Duterte's hang hanging in the air. 

Finally, voila, Donald Trump caught the hang of it, grabs President Digong's right hand, to the great amusement of the Vietnamese PM at his right. It was apparently too complicated a maneuver for the US' Big Guy.

The 50th Anniversary of ASEAN, with President Duterte hosting this mega-milestone back to back with the 31st ASEAN Summit of Leaders that he chaired, is now history. Regional and world leaders who attended these twin events have all flown home with their happy memories of camaraderie and banquets, dazzling shows put up by our host people and conferences among political and business leaders, tea among the state leaders' spouses, etc.  

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and among the most amusing shots of ASEAN@50 was that of US President Trump trying to master the complications of the "Haggle."  First he grabbed the left hand of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc with both his hands, looking awfully confused---thereby leaving the right hand of Mr. Duterte hanging in the air. That was a fantastic shot of Trump in confusion, and to my mind, highly symbolic of the disconnect between the two presidents---despite media hyping about how famously they got along. 


But after the conferees get home and report to their constituents, what's there to remember? What are the summit issues that left strong impressions on the leaders and their aides?  What do the Filipino people remember of those historic back-to-back events, aside from the dazzling entertainment program for state dignitaries at the SMX they saw on TV?  No school the whole week, restricted ASEAN lanes and "locked-down" areas. Would that the metropolis would be that orderly forever!  

The most significant development within the back-to-back events is the way certain issues that have tremendous bearing on the life of nations and peoples have been skirted around---the biggest of them all the state of human rights in ASEAN. 


Before President Trump left for Asia, Republican Rep.Randy Hultgren of Illinois and Democrat Rep. James McGovern of Massachussetts wrote him to stress the need to take up the human rights issue with President Duterte. In addition, various rights groups,

Canadian PM invades a Jollibee outlet in Tondo to grab a hamburger, and is instantly rewarded by this photo op

Justin Trudeau takes a selfie with the Jollibee folks at lunch, showing that he really was the "Crush ng Bayan"

most notably Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, exerted pressure for concrete results. As he put it, "...surely someone from among the 20 world leaders at these summits can confront President (Rodrigo) Duterte about his horrific and unprecedented 'drug war killings." 

Because of the hyping, all eyes seemed focused on the one-on-one session between Messrs. Trump and Duterte, but unfortunately nothing like that was taken up between them.  Mr. Duterte relished with media the one sentence from the US President that to his mind referred to the rights issue in a rather oblique but approving manner. He quoted Trump's reported verdict:  "You are doing well." 


Mr. Duterte appears not to have elicited more specifics beyond this one-liner,  but this should not surprise anyone---for the US President is facing his own enormous problems back home and has even less moral authority to lecture to Mr. Duterte. Recall that very senior officials of the US intelligence agencies had testified before the US Congress and in media about the supposed manipulative role of Russia in the November 2016 US elections---which allegedly ensured the victory of Trump over Hillary Clinton. 

In addition, the less than a year old Trump administration has seen eleven very senior officials either fired or resigned--- including his chief strategist and communications director. Moreover, as Manila Times columnist Marlen Ronquillo pointed out in his "Sunday Stories," Mr. Trump's approval rating has plunged to an all-time low in the US of only 37%; in fact, only 40% of US voters say they will vote for him in a reelection. 

Deprived thus of any moral authority, the US President couldn't very well lecture Mr. Duterte on human rights or anything else. 


The other pressing issue expected to be raised at the ASEAN Summit is the crisis in Myanmar involving the minority Rohingya Muslims---more than 600,000 of whom have been reportedly forced to flee from Buddhist Myanmar to Bangladesh. The Rohingya crisis, dubbed Myanmar's "ethnic cleansing," where army elements are reported to have brutally cracked down and slain thousands, has been labelled by Human Rights Watch as "among the worst human rights catastrophes in Asia in years and demands concerted global action." 

Reports of brutal slayings of this tribal group by Myanmar's military have resulted in international pressure on the country's leader and foreign minister, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Au San Suu Kyi (she with the perpetual flower in her hair). The Rohingya crisis has threatened her rule, not to mention her celebrated peace prize.

All that seems possible at the moment from ASEAN, however, is a pledge from Suu Kyi's fellow leaders that they would prod the Myanmar military to help this ethnic group find its rightful place in the sun---a response that sounds so weak, and typically Asian.  


To the credit of Mr. Duterte, he behaved quite statesmanlike at the Summit and coped well with all the rigorous demands on his office and person by such this  huge PR milestone event---except in one or two occasions which, unfortunately, went viral. One was when he started pouncing on the absent Barack Obama for calling down Mr. Duterte's checkered record on human rights. The Philippine leader certainly dished it back to Obama, never mind if he is already ancien regime. 

The other instance was when Mr. Duterte admitted before foreign media that he had already killed someone by the time he was 16 years old---stabbing his protagonist to death. That remark was truly a sorry one which merely reinforced perceived notions about our leader.  


If there was a vote for "Crush ng Bayan" Canada's youthful, handsome and absolutely charming PM Justin Trudeau would win hands down. Son of the former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau, he has a big constituency of Filipino immigrants in Canada.  This fact is important to note, as young Trudeau acted so much like he was campaigning in his backyard---pumping hands, kissing and holding up babies; then feeling suddenly hungry, he drops in at the first Jollibee he comes across. 

That sudden visit by the Canadian PM caused pandemonium among the resto staff and they all came out for a selfie with rock-star politico from across the seas. But being handsome and personable aren't Justin Trudeau's only attributes: of all the leaders who gathered in Manila for ASEAN@50 and the 31st ASEAN Summit, Trudeau was the only foreign leader who had the nerve and the verve to directly address Mr. Duterte on the EJK killings by the PNP. 

In return, the youthful Canadian PM reaped a mouthful of verbal attacks from Mr. Duterte at the close of the Summit. He told media that Trudeau's raising the human rights issue with him was "a personal and official insult" to him, stressing, as the Manila Standard reported, that he would only answer to a Filipino and not "any bullshit foreigner." 

From across the seas came Trudeau's posit: 

"As I mentioned to President Duterte, we are concerned with human rights, with the extrajudicial killings, and we impressed upon him the need for respect for the rule of law and as always, we offered Canada's support and help as a friend---to help move forward on what is the real challenge. This is the way we engage with the world. This is the way we always will."


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The “Field Marshal” of the ASEAN@50 celebration is a seasoned diplomat, but an even more seasoned events organizer and military-trained strategist---Ambassador Marciano “Jun” Paynor of PMA Class '71. Since the time of FVR he has walked Philippine presidents through their state visits abroad.

Ambassador Marciano "Jun" Paynor

In two or three days’ time will begin the “lock down” of areas of  the metropolis where 21 heads of state from three continents will converge for the 31st ASEAN SUMMIT in Manila---that also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the birth of the regional grouping in our part of the world.  

At 50 ASEAN is middle-aged and has all the agony and the ecstasy of glorious mid-life.  On hand to prevent this mid-life stage of the regional bloc from becoming a MIDLIFE CRISIS are the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police which will doubtless enforce the tightest security ever in the history of this country.

Consider, for instance, that Manila Bay would be a “No sail zone” and that the expressways will enforce a truck ban as all the foreign dignitaries will be flying in through Clark Airport. Consider too, that a lock-down of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex would mean that personnel of all the establishments within it would also be locked in from Nov. 12-15.  For instance, personnel of station dzRH in the Manila Broadcasting Company beside the CCP will be sequestered in the building for three days---sleeping in portable bunk beds with food already brought inside. 

This blogger joins the entire Filipino people in wishing the ASEAN Summit in Manila huge success, and let us all pray that everything would work out smooth as silk and that all the leaders from all over the world would be safe here.


Fifty years ago Asian unity was just an ambitious glimmer in the eyes of five Asian foreign ministers with remarkable foresight and determination.  These were Narciso Ramos of the Philippines, Adam Malik of Indonesia, Thanat Khoman of Thailand, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia and S. Rajaratnam of Singapore. On Aug. 9, 1967, the Asean Declaration was signed in Bangkok by the heads of state of those five countries .

Today ASEAN has become a formidable regional bloc of ten countries that includes Brunei, former war-torn Cambodia and Vietnam, and Myanmar and Laos---with a combined population exceeding 650 million. ASEAN has turned out to be a real economic and political powerhouse regional bloc,  with a combined gross domestic product in 2015 of $2.5 trillion---making it the sixth largest economy in the world and the third largest in Asia. By now, 2017, that growth doubtless has leaped even more.  


Indication of its economic significance as a region is the fact that eleven leaders from East and South Asia (China, Japan and South Korea, as well as India), Europe (Russia) and North America (the US' Donald Trump and Canada's PM Justin Trudeau) are attending as dialogue partners. The Summit will also see world leaders Donald Tusk, President of the European Council and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrez in attendance. .

Regional blocs demonstrate the old adage about strength in unity. In another part of the world, the EU bloc is demonstrating its strength in the current imbroglio between the monarchic faction in Spain and the separatist bloc in Cataluña in the northern part of that country. What appears to have thwarted the separatists’ move---at least for the moment---is the fact that the biggest nations in the EU---France, Italy and Germany, threw their collective support for Spain and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, not with the rebel leader Carlos Puigdemont who has since sought refuge in Belgium. 

The major EU members threw their support for Spain's monarchic government after the disastrous exit of Britain (Brexit) a year ago. A new region-wide Catalan referendum toward the end of this month could be the make or break for the region. 


In the ASEAN@50 Summit, confronting the ten members and their dialogue partners is the erraticism of young North Korean Premier Kim-Jong-Un who likes to tell the world that his itchy fingers are on his nuclear bombs that can obliterate New York City. Then there is the continuing dispute between China and ASEAN countries, led by the Philippines, about their claims to the vast seas all around us, which China calls the South China Sea, but which we insist on calling the West Philippine Sea. 

Then there are the pesky human rights issues bedeviling so many ASEAN countries, including our own, that are related to the drug problem in the region, as well as the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar that refuses to get off Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's back. . 


The host to this gigantic undertaking of ASEAN@50 is President Duterte, but behind the success of its mid-century celebration is its field marshal, no other than Ambassador Marciano “Jun” Paynor, who is calling the shots behind the scenes. Even generals and admirals as well as politicians and diplomats defer to Jun Paynor's judgment in handling the top events for the country in the next week.

Last August 2016, newly installed President Duterte appointed  Jun Paynor ambassador to the US, where he had served as Consul-General in San Francisco a few years back. But Paynor’s assumption of the ambassadorship to Washington had to be put on hold because of the ASEAN Summit---which is President Digong’s debut in international politics.  And with reason:  Paynor has been walking Philippine Presidents through their various state visits abroad since Fidel Ramos’ time, and through the presidencies of  Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III and now Rodrigo Duterte. IN 2015, he was head organizer of the APEC event in Manila.


The Baguio-born mild-mannered military officer-turned-diplomat was a member of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1971, and for a while he was managing director of external and government relations for Ayala Corporation.  From the private sector he catapulted to the diplomatic world and became ambassador to Israel and Cyprus, with his wife Teresita and their three daughters joining him. 

It was in Jerusalem during Holy Year 2000 where he saw me and my husband off at the airport as our pilgrim group was leaving for Rome to continue our pilgrimage. I entrusted my two teenage sons to his care, as they awaited their separate flight to Rome. As we were leaving Israel that time the political situation was deteriorating with the “Intifada,” but Ambassador Paynor was  securely in charge of the Filipino community.

In this most significant event for the Philippines of ASEAN 50 we pray that everything would go well and it truly helps that someone various presidents have trusted is on top of the preparations: Marciano Paynor, Jr.---ambassador par excellence. God bless you, Jun Paynor, and God bless our country and nation.