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, April 25, 2017

Why was Nov. 24, 2011 SC unanimous decision to redistribute Luisita lands to farmers never implemented---thus encouraging KMP farmers to just take over 500 hectares? Could it be that SC justices and DAR officials became fearful of terrible fate of impeached CJ Renato Corona, after he ignored P-Noy’s request to steer clear of Luisita? ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda finally gets jurisdiction over PRRD, after complaint filed by lawyer Jude Sabio for Matobato.

The late SC Chief Justice Renato C. Corona

Lawlessness has taken over the nearly 6,000 hectare Hacienda Luisita, after some members of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas occupied 500 hectares of its land. Such unlawful occupation of property by KMP members was preceded just two weeks ago by the move of some 5,000 followers of the Kadamay group to simply take over  newly-built housing in Pandi, Bulacan, that was originally intended for soldiers.

President Duterte subsequently allowed the Kadamay folks to just occupy those quarters, but it's easy to see that this does not augur well for the rule of law. If people just arbitrarily take over property, even though its status is disputable, we could actually be encouraging more lawlessness in this country.


To be sure, this predilection of some parties to take the law in their hands may be brought about by their acute need for what they seized---in the case of the Luisita peasants, land, and in the Kadamay take-over, the crying need for shelter by peasant groups. 

But these acts of lawlessness could also have been encouraged by the Duterte administration’s seeming support for moves that disregard the rule of law. For instance, the killings of supposed drug addicts, now said to number over 7,000, are being attributed to the encouragement, albeit tacit, by the Duterte administration of the use of extreme force by police in past months.

This tendency to resort to the use of force by elements private or public is most worrisome, for like the proverbial genie it may be tough to force it back into the bottle. In the last analysis, upholding the rule of law is far better than the slide to lawlessness we have lately seen in various aspects of Philippine life.


In the case of the KMP farmers who took over a portion of Luisita, their action is reprehensible because it's arbitrary, using sheer force. But very much to blame here too was the justice system. The distribution of the controversial hacienda to its peasant farmers was already provided for very clearly in the decisive 14-0 ruling of the Supreme Court to the Department of Agrarian Reform on November 24, 2011---to redistribute some 4,500 hectares of Luisita lands to its more than 6,200 farm workers.  Why was it not carried out to the hilt by DAR?
The answer may lie in subsequent events.


Sometime in late 2012 I hosted a meeting in my home for friends who were working on a specific advocacy. Among those present were former CJ Renato Corona and his wife, Tina Basa Corona. The previous year CJ Corona was impeached and ousted from the SC in the most humiliating manner imaginable, with all the forces of the Aquino administration  brought to bear upon him.

He was convicted for a faulty SALN, when then Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque had written the Senate trial court to inform it that a faulty SALN CAN BE REMEDIED AND IS THEREFORE NOT CRIMINALLY LIABLE. Conviction votes of the majority of senators, however, were also bought at P50 million each---the first and only time the DAP reared its ugly head.   


At that meeting at my residence, it occurred to me to chat briefly with CJ Corona about his ouster and conviction. We sat down in my living room, away from the group meeting in the lanai, and  I asked CJ a pointed question: why were you hounded that way by the Noynoy administration?  He replied without hesitation: Hacienda Luisita.

CJ Corona then proceeded to narrate events surrounding that controversial property.  In the first half of July 2010, just 14 days after President Benigno Aquino III assumed office, he summoned CJ Corona to a private meeting at the residence of one of his sisters. P-Noy then asked him point blank not to touch the Hacienda issue: “Ibalato mo na sa akin ito,” CJ quoted P-Noy as having said, to which he answered, “Mr. President, it is not for me alone to decide that question. We are a collegial body and I have only one vote, like all the other members of the Court.”


True enough, when the SC vote came out on Nov. 24, 2011 on  the fate of Luisita, it was a stunning 14-0 for redistribution of the lands. Even P-Noy's appointee, who eventually assumed the post of Chief Justice, Ma.Lourdes Sereno, voted with the entire court. By mid-January 2012, Corona was impeached by the Aquino-controlled House of Representatives and subjected to the most humiliating trial by the Senate impeachment court in the first half of 2012. 

What Corona went through could be the reason why the SC 14-0 decision to re-distribute the Hacienda lands was never fully implemented by DAR. The SC could have exercised more persuasive powers to push its ruling, but nothing was heard from any of the justices. Then too, officials of DAR must have been equally traumatized by the cruelty of the impeachment process CJ Corona underwent.    

Sadly the six-years under P-Noy might have prompted the KMP peasant farmers to now forcibly take over some 500 hectares of Luisita already owned by RCBC.


A lawyer for Davao Death Squad (DDS) hit man Edgar Matobato, Jude Josue Sabio, has filed a 77-page complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, for alleged crimes against humanity vs. President Duterte and eleven other government officials. Atty. Sabio’s complaint zeroes in on the killings of criminal suspects allegedly undertaken during the incumbency of then Davao Mayor Duterte, as well as the thousands of victims slain in what has come to be termed “extra-judicial killings” in the seven or eight months of President Duterte’s administration.

Sabio went straight to the heart of the matter: “To end this impunity, the ICC is being resorted to as a court of last resort, given the gravity of the current human rights disaster in the Philippines.”  This suit before the ICC may be termed the logical build-up to what has been raging in the world press about the anti-drug war of Mr. Duterte.


Sabio’s criminal suit before the ICC was anchored mainly on the testimony of his client, Edgar Matobato, who had served with Mayor Duterte.  Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella quickly dismissed Sabio’s criminal suit vs. PRRD as meant “to create negative news in the midst of the Philippine ASEAN debut.” Indeed the timing of the criminal suit in the ICC is readily suspect:  two days from now the Philippines, as chair of the 50-year old ASEAN nations’ bloc, will host its 30th Summit of Leaders.

The Palace may dismiss the filing of the criminal suit vs. PRRD as merely intending to embarrass the administration, but there is no question that it would hurt where it’s meant to hurt: in the world community, as negative headlines vs. the Duterte administration have piled up in the world press.

It also matters that the ICC Chief Prosecutor is Fatou Bensouda, who has tried in past months on her own---unsuccessfully---to summon Mr. Duterte to answer some queries on his performance on human rights, now gets jurisdiction over him because of this criminal suit.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Gina de Venecia’s emergency package vs.Phivolcs’ “big one.” Recent Bohol clash shows Abu Sayyaf wandering far from southern base, worrisome for coming ASEAN meet in Panglao. Digong’s plan for a Department for OFWs not only timely but badly needed, due to shattered marriages, rising teen-age pregnancies, drug addiction and school drop-out among families left behind.

Gina de Venecia's emergency kit for the "big one"

Pinoys in Qatar giving President Duterte the fist-bump sign.
Last Saturday evening, our odd group of journalists, businessmen and ex as well as incumbent public servants, who have been friends with Joe and Gina de Venecia even before he ran for president in 1998,  gathered once again in their Tagaytay log cabin for the usual catching up and prognosis for the rest of the year. Gina de Venecia---now retired from politics and just assiduously tiptoing over the shoulder of her youngest child, the bright, new Pangasinan 4th District Rep. Christopher “Toff” de Venecia--- after feeding us with her great cooking, handed each of us a small package which she termed the “emergency kit.”

It contains a strong longish chain which holds a crucifix in one end and a flashlight convertible into a loud whistle at the other. Gina said it’s for the “big one” that Phivolcs talks about, in the light of tremors our country has been having in Batangas, Bohol and Mindanao.  Two years ago the ever-thoughtful Gina also gave out such emergency packages but with smaller flashlight/whistle; now it’s a really bigger whistle---for the big one.


Phivolcs may be worrying a lot of people with its early warning about the “big one” after the series of quakes, but I think it’s just being sensible of this agency.  As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed.

One of the guests at that dinner was new Swedish Ambassador Harald Fries, who happens to be a balikbayan: he was assigned here decades back as a junior diplomat. I queried him on the changes he noticed in the country since he returned, and he immediately commented on how the landscape has changed incredibly, with all the skyscrapers shooting up all over the metropolis.

I had thought about that too in connection with Phivolcs’ warning. Just how many of these skyscrapers would be left standing if... Let’s pray to the Lord for safety and deliverance from harm of our people.


The attempted attack on Inabanga in beautiful Bohol last week by Abu Sayyaf elements is another warning about danger coming closer to home. The common perception is that this barbaric group, which has targeted Canadian and German nationals of late, is Mindanao-born and bred and that therefore it wreaks havoc only in that big island---which is containable. But there they were in one of the most popular tourist resorts in the country. Moreover, the Abu Sayyaf’s links to ISIS is a conclusion not hard to make.  

It’s a tribute to the AFP that they managed to neutralize in a day-long gun-battle the Abu Sayyaf, led by the notorious bandit who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Rami, with expertise in beheadings. But the fact that this deadly group seems to be operating now FARTHER AWAY FROM ITS TRADITIONAL LAIR IN BASILAN AND SULU comes as a rude FURTHER AWAKENING for civil and military authorities. 


I say "further awakening" because the US and Australian embassies in Manila appeared to have better intelligence than our local operatives, as they had warned their nationals to stay away from precisely Bohol and Cebu last week, way before the encounter with the Abu Sayyaf. 

That our intel agencies have to be on their toes cannot be over-emphasized, for the Philippines will host the  50th anniversary of THE 10-member ASEAN bloc here, as it assumes chairmanship this year. The ASEAN senior officials' meeting will be held at the Hennan Resort in Panglao, with some 200 delegates expected to attend. Moreover, Metro Manila will host the 30th ASEAN SUMMIT from April 28-29, with the major event to be held at the PICC in Pasay City, while the 31st ASEAN Summit will be held in Clark in Pampanga from Nov. 10-14 this year. All told, our chairmanship of ASEAN will involve some 131 meetings here in all.

We just have to tackle the security problem as militantly as we could, for as we saw last week, Panglao Island is just 80 miles from Inabanga where the bloody clash with the Abu Sayyaf occurred. As in the matter of earthquakes, on protecting the ASEAN events, forewarned should again be forearmed.  


President Duterte couldn’t have sought a better ally to rant and rail against big business and “oligarchs” who are alleged tax-cheats, than the OFWs in the three countries he visited recently, namely, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. PRRD denounced what he terms the huge tax collectibles that taipan Lucio Tan owes the government, and how the Prieto and Rufino families that own the Inquirer and have sole franchise to Dunkin Donuts have allegedly evaded paying correctly on their business empires (which, in the case of the Prieto/Rufino families includes the crown jewel, the Philippine Daily Inquirer).  

Mr. Duterte reaped tight fist-bump support for these attacks on the “oligarchs” from his OFW audiences in the countries he recently visited, and it is no wonder he did. For perhaps what ran in the minds of the OFWs was, grabe, here we are, sweating in the blistering heat of our host country, enduring loneliness and from time to time getting molested by our employers, while those big-time tax cheats get away back home. 

Such thought may not be all that founded on solid reasoning and evidence, but that’s how they doubtless felt while cheering Mr. Duterte on vs. the oligarchs.  


But more than the battle vs. the oligarchs, worth congratulating Mr. Duterte for is his plan articulated in his Middle East visit, to establish a department exclusively catering to the welfare of our OFWs. This is LONG OVERDUE. If implemented it would show that PRRD truly cares for these small unsung heroes---NOW NUMBERING OVER 10 MILLION PINOYS IN SOME 175 COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD---who have been propping up our economic with their hard-earned dollar-earnings over the past 50 years.

What makes the creation of a department for the OFWs imperative is that the deployment of our OFWs abroad, especially to the ME countries, has taken such a HEAVY TOLL ON OUR WORKERS AND THEIR FAMILIES BACK HOME. Perhaps among the worst ills include the breakdown of many marriages, and the prevalence of teenage pregnancies, drug addiction and school drop-outs among OFW children left to the care of aging grandparents. 


Analysts have often said that President Marcos erred when he allowed the first exodus of Filipinos abroad to work there---in contrast to what Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew did. Lee trained his people in skills and education even as he attracted foreign industries TO THE CITY STATE to utilize this skilled work force. In contrast, Marcos opened work opportunities for our fellow Filipinos ABROAD, in the hope of more employment  there---but he failed to anticipate the ENORMOUSLY HIGH SOCIAL COSTS OF OVERSEAS DEPLOYMENT. 

Let us hope that PRRD's concept of a DEPARTMENT exclusively for OFWs would mitigate somewhat the ill effects of this overseas employment program and the problems it has spawned among OFWs, whose families are invariably left in the care of old grandparents.  There is an acute need for such a department, for the problems besetting our OFWs here and abroad are getting worse and worse.    

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A LENTEN STORY: An Argentine parish priest’s success in his anti-drug program in Caloocan, with help of his “mga banal na tokhang”: A great Good Friday-to-Easter Sunday story

Argentine priest Fr. Luciano Ariel Felloni, parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Caloocan, who has launched, together with two other parishes in the area, a drug rehabilitation program that calls for delisting of addicts' names from the PNP list of addicts so that they could take their rightful place in society.

Perhaps it was the influence on his youthful life as a 17-year old seminary student in philosophy of a certain Fr. Jorge Bergoglio at the Pontifical Catholic University of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina, during the days when Liberation Theology was popular among young seminarians in Latin America. The fact is that Fr. Luciano Ariel Felloni is now deeply embroiled in his parish’s community-based drug rehabilitation program in Camarin, Caloocan City---and counting successes scored with the help of community recruit teams he likes to call the “Banal na Tokhang.”

Fr. Felloni was influenced a lot by his compatriot, who later was to become the much-loved pontiff who institutionalized Mercy as basic church tenet---Pope Francis. Like the Bergoglios the Fellonis were among perhaps tens of thousands of Italian families who sailed aboard steamships in earlier decades, to escape poverty and political turmoil in their native Italy. They chose to settle in Argentina at the tip of the South American continent.

As a 21-year old volunteer to the “missions,” young Luciano arrived in Manila at the time when they were opening up Payatas in Tondo, and he became involved with this dump site for twelve years as parish priest of the Holy Trinity Parish there. 
At some point, since he had to finish his scholastic formation, Felloni enrolled at the Jesuit-run Loyola School of Theology where among his professors was a certain “Fr. Chito”---now Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and said to be a popular candidate to succeed Pope Francis in the dawning of the “Asian Century” in the church.  Felloni quips that should Tagle indeed become pope, then he would have come under the tutelage of no less than TWO POPES!   

Fr. Felloni, now 43 years old, whose good-looks and well-built physique make him look like a football star and who speaks in flawless and perfectly correct Filipino, opines that “liberation theology”---the credo popular among left-leaning clergy in Latin  America  in his formative years---should be “wholistic” and not chopped-up theology.

This may be the reason why he’s now zealously overseeing the community-based drug rehabilitation program that he started last Sept. 1 in his parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Camarin district of Caloocan, which is now shared by two other parishes, namely, San Roque and Our Lady of Lujan.  

Fr. Felloni, who had no dealings whatsoever with drug rehab before, is now neck-deep into it in his community and their efforts have become a model for various parishes around the country, under the guidance and encouragement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

The CBCP has taken a very strong stand against EJKs undertaken by police forces in the first three quarters of President Duterte in office. Felloni has talked to various bishops about his work and some of them are eager to adopt his rehab model as the antithesis of the controversial Oplan Tokhang.

Fr. Felloni sees clearly that misguided youths regard drug addiction as their “pain killer” and they take recourse to it out of frustration with society---the poverty and lack of opportunities for listless youths and their alienation from their family and community. Therefore, in the priest’s mind, to counter this pervasive menace of drugs---to achieve, using the Easter image, “Bagong Buhay”---effort has to involve the whole family as well as the entire community.


The role of the community cannot be overemphasized, he stresses, and in this connection, students of St. Scholastica’s College working for their master’s degree in psychology have drawn up a module for such support system now operative in the Lourdes parish rehab program. How wonderful that our colegialas are now involved with the lives of the less privileged!

One of Fr. Felloni’s findings is that all too often, husband and wife are tragically into drugs together; thus, rehabilitating them entails the provision of some livelihood for them.  Last April 3, the seven-month rehab program of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish “graduated” six ex-addicts from among 30 graduates of the three parishes. Fr. Felloni’s parish started with 20 rehab candidates but some dropped out or slid down to batch 2 whose 15 candidates will also graduate very soon. The third batch will begin rehab this May 1st.

PDEA approved the rehab program which involves WEEKLY DRUG TESTING, and the wanna-be graduate NEEDS TO TEST FREE FROM DRUG USE FOR THREE CONSECUTIVE MONTHS, to be eligible to "graduate," i.e., to be DE-LISTED from the PNP list of addicts. "De-listed" is such a beautiful word, a passport to continued existence in our present-day frightful reality of EJKs. Fr. Felloni admits that a three-months drug-free living is A VERY STIFF REQUIREMENT, and there are “relapses” among his wards; but with the help and encouragement of the community these errant ones just soldier on.  

Psychiatric tests of rehab addicts are undertaken at Medical City and the parish’s DILG partner in Caloocan provides professional support such as in-house psychiatrists and doctors.  As Fr. Felloni explained, the program has five components, namely, the health aspect (feeding, detoxification), the psycho-social involving group sessions e.g. with “Narcotics Anonymous”;  provision and training in livelihood; involvement of the drug addict’s family who are NOT into drugs but whose support is badly needed; and the spiritual component, handled by Fr. Marvin Riquez.

Fr. Felloni is grateful that the bishops of both dioceses involved in the rehab program, Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches and Bishop Ambo David of Caloocan, are very supportive. He also cannot overemphasize the importance of the role of the Caloocan city government under Mayor Oscar Malapitan and the Caloocan Anti-Drug Council (CADAC) under Atty. Sikini Labastillas, as well as the Ateneo’s Center for Families (CEFAM) which is providing volunteers to the campaign. 

Rehab sessions are held daily from morning to afternoon, Monday to Saturday. IT'S A PROGRAM IN A HURRY, for as Fr. Felloni puts it, “The rehab candidates can’t wait BECAUSE THEY COULD GET KILLED OTHERWISE.”

The first 15 rehab graduates took six months to complete the program, and now they are going into the one-year care program where they will concentrate on sustenance vs. relapsing, and on livelihood programs to help them earn a decent living.

Some graduating UST business students have packaged the “Ahon Project” whereby, with their own “ambag-ambag” funds they help former addicts get into the lucrative business of making hand-soap (beautifully packaged with very sexy colors) for high-end powder-rooms as well as dish-washing soaps for kitchens. 

Very soon Fr. Felloni’s drug rehab program will inaugurate a garments factory run by former drug addicts, under a joint venture set up by Metrobank Foundation, a born-again group and the parish. This will be specially helpful for husband-and-wife addicts who badly need a livelihood while undergoing rehab.

What Fr. Felloni’s rehab program is teaching us is that the 7,000 or so EJKs DID NOT HAVE TO BE DONE AWAY WITH LIKE FILTHY DERELICTS OF SOCIETY. Instead, for meaningful rehab to succeed, there has to be a mountain of good intentions, lots of sacrifice for love of country and people, plus the involvement of tremendous human and capital resources heroically marshaled to rehabilitate errant people of God.  

There seems no other way but the wholistic approach to drug rehab. Certainly, the killing of drug addicts won’t work, not to mention that it’s against the commandment of God; it also blackens the image of our Christian country in the eyes of the civilized world and as we have seen, it has unleashed the CULTURE OF VIOLENCE AND IMPUNITY IN PHILIPPINE SOCIETY. As Fr. Luciano Felloni, who’s applying for dual Filipino citizenship, stresses, rehabilitation can be done: the human spirit can triumph over evil, in cooperation with God’s grace. 


Friday, April 7, 2017

If President acts on mere “whiff of corruption” w/o investigating deeper--as what seemed to have happened with fired DILG Secretary Mike Sueno--fewer good people would care to join the administration as they'd value their good name & honor. Scandals in House almost drowned out major breakthrough in Netherlands peace talks: declaration of ceasefire by both sides. AFP, now firmly held by PMA '83, keenly watching developments.

Of statements of President Duterte that bag headlines daily, I DO NOT PARTICULARLY RELISH WHAT HE SAID YESTERDAY: that he'd not hesitate to remove anyone, even his best friend, from office if even just a “whiff of corruption” were to arise about said official. It doesn’t have to be necessarily true, Mr. Duterte even asserted, as even just a whiff of corruption would be enough cause for an official’s removal.

Apparently this was what happened to DILG Secretary Ismael “Mike” Sueno: he was never confronted with the confidential “white paper” supposedly listing his shortcomings. Sueno, in an emotional send-off by his staff yesterday, claimed he was never presented a copy of the October 2016 legal opinion by a DILG undersecretary about the controversial fire-trucks deal with Austria that he had negotiated, which became the basis of his firing owing to “corruption.”

In other words, Sueno appears to have been deprived of due process, which is a cornerstone in a democracy. 


A number of Mr. Duterte’s Mindanao allies such as Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes have expressed sadness over the manner the 72-year old DILG Secretary, a former governor of South Cotabato and very close ally of Mr. Duterte, was dealt with. Daisy Fuentes, whom I have always known to be a straight shooter, asserted that she had always known her province-mate to be a man of integrity.

To be sure, there is a way of handling corruption that would not rankle with the official being fired nor with his supporters. This is so long as the official’s removal is perceived as FAIR AND JUST and supported by thorough investigation. In Sueno’s case it seems Mr. Duterte readily believed the allegations of three undersecretaries who were disgruntled owing to some moves Sueno made in DILG, although the President strongly denied he was “misinformed.” 

If Mr. Duterte is perceived as incapable of being just and fair, and prefers to merely listen to unverified “whiffs of corruption” instead of conducting serious investigation, it’s easy to see that he'd not get the best and brightest in his administration. THIS IS BECAUSE HONEST PEOPLE VALUE THEIR GOOD NAME WHICH, FOLLOWING THE EVALUATION SYSTEM OF MR. DUTERTE, COULD END UP IN TATTERS BECAUSE OF THEIR SUPERIOR'S RASH AND FAULTY JUDGMENT. 


Front-page stories of scandals rocking the House of Representatives about girl friends of erstwhile political allies, and repercussions from their estrangement almost managed to drown out the most significant development so far in the ongoing peace talks---now on its 4th round---between government panel and the leftist bloc in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

This electrifying development is the signing of an agreement between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the PH government panel in that host country that would put in place an interim ceasefire to end the 48-year old insurgency in the Philippines--- the longest running rebellion in the world.


News stories said that the Joint Ceasefire Agreement shall be deemed interim until a more permanent and lasting ceasefire agreement could be reached, in accordance with a “Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces.” Thus, while the more lasting agreement still has to be hammered out, this interim ceasefire agreement should hold. Chief government negotiator Silvestre Bello III and NDFP panel chair Fidel Agcaoili jointly directed their respective ceasefire committees "to meet immediately even in between formal talks, to finalize the guidelines and ground rules” until a “Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces” is arrived at.

Obviously the participants on both sides of the ideological divide felt the heat from various citizens in our country and abroad about the urgent need to strike peace, and they rose to the challenge. This blogger contributed her bit by calling on my old UP classmate, Jose Ma. Sison, and other NDF leaders to come to the bargaining table and vent out their complaints, instead of shooting it out in the battlefields. 

As it turned out, panel chief Jess Dureza called up Mr. Duterte from The Netherlands to report that Joma Sison is not well,  and the President readily offered to provide him with free medical treatment here. Let’s hope Joma Sison takes up this generous offer.


Mr. Duterte set preconditions for this recent 4th round of talks: namely, an end to the rebels’ revolutionary tax collection and to territorial claims, as well as the release of three soldiers and policemen held by the NPAs. The rebel side, on the other hand, clamored, among other things, for the release of all its nearly 400 political prisoners and the just distribution of lands under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

The ceasefire agreement---which the rebel side insists on calling a “truce”---is only the beginning of the real battle across the bargaining table. Here Mr. Duterte would doubtless be caught in a tough balancing act with the military which is watching developments in The Netherlands with eagle eyes.


Right now the AFP is under tight control of PMA Class ’83, dubbed the “super-class” as ALL THE TOP LEADERS OF THE AFP NOW COME FROM IT.  With AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo F. Año at the helm, Class '83 officers in the saddle are: Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, Army commanding general; Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina, Air Force commanding general; Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, Flag Officer of the Navy,  Maj. Gen. Andre Costales, chief of the Marine Corps and Vice Admiral William Melad as Philippine Coast Guard chief. A great number of retired officers of this class, too, have been appointed to various civilian jobs, e.g.,  Maj. Gen. Alexander Balutan (ret.) as PCSO GM.

Mr. Duterte has acknowledged in the past that he’s being watched keenly by the military, and that the alternative to a mishandling of the crisis with the Left might be a coup d’etat---which is easy to pull, given that all the major leadership posts in the AFP are now in the hands of PMA Super-class ’83. Yet it could also be argued that precisely because the President gave this class so much power, it would be unthinkable for them to pull a coup d'etat. Besides, in another year all of them would be retired already.  


As an aside, PMA class '83 is also so closely-knit (and therefore easier to motivate for positive or negative end?). It's the only PMA class that meets EVERY YEAR WITHOUT FAIL, together with their families, at Libingan ng Mga Bayani, to celebrate the anniversary of their graduation from PMA last March 11, 1983. On this occasion they yearly honor all their comrades who have gone ahead to the Great Beyond. I was invited to their anniversary last March 11 and it was truly a most moving experience.

At the Libingan ceremony, departed classmates’ photos were mounted on individual stands, with a lamp beneath each photo and a short recitation of the circumstances of their departure from this life was made. A bell was tolled after each recitation and at the end of the ceremony, TAPS was solemnly played, followed by a volley of fire. Young Filipino classical violinist Chino Gutierrez was invited to play last March 11 and he chose Jules Massenet’s “Meditation” which he followed with the song every Filipino loves, “Bayan Ko.” These hymns, rendered on the violin, enchanced the evocative atmosphere at LNMB.  

In closing, suffice it to say that both sides in the ideological divide are keenly watching the developments in The Netherlands (the 5th round of talks is set for May 22-June 02, 2017). At this moment, let’s just toast the two sides for the progress they have achieved so far in the name of peace. Their moves will be watched with eagle eyes by our citizenry as they tackle one another’s demands. Let us pray that the panelists would all be guided by reason and patriotism, as WE ARE ALL FILIPINOS WHO LOVE OUR COUNTRY AND WANT TO SEE IT MOVE FORWARD AND TAKE ITS RIGHTFUL AND RESPECTED PLACE AMONG THE FAMILY OF NATIONS.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

To understand the leadership imbroglio in the House of Representatives, the best thing to remember is: CHERCHEZ LES FEMMES.

The Pantaleon Alvarezes and the Tonyboy Floirendos in better times
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Two realities depressed me recently.

I was in Buendia waiting for a PNR train to pass, but the train proved to be such a pitiful sight to behold---slow, old, dirty-looking, its green paint so faded. The decrepit train looked utterly incongruous with the gleaming skyscrapers of Makati and ritzy hotels. It chug-chugged and stopped to pick up passengers bound for Laguna and the Bicol region. In their current state PNR trains look more like fit for cattle and pigs. 

Hope springs in me that the PNR management would either consign that train to the graveyard or if there are no replacements as yet (public funds being squandered in Congress and elsewhere) at least the PNR would repaint its trains and always ensure that they be given a good scrubbing every morning before they roll out. With all the manpower available owing to the high level of joblessness in the metropolis, one would think the PNR management could harness a few dozen hands each morning to give its decrepit trains at least a decent scrub. One never sees trains looking so old and dirty in other countries.


But more than a just some decent scrubbing, the best thing is to put those decrepit PNR trains away for good---perhaps in a museum for locomotives dating to the 19th century, or sell them to film companies doing movies on historical periods (I remember a great movie about WWII  starring Alec Guinness, set in then Burma, with such a train carrying POWs). We sorely need efficient trains for the provinces but not in the sorry state of those PNR trains.  When we see all those gleaming super-high speed trains in Japan and China and in Europe, then along comes those decrepit PNR trains, we find ourselves asking, what happened to our country? 

Inquirer columnist Cielito F. Habito recently pointed out that in a visit to Bangkok, he saw the headline story of an English-language newspaper about a large double-track railway system that the Thai government plans to build. Cielito admitted the story saddened him as "it showed how fast the Thais are moving to further upgrade their infrastructure, already far ahead of ours as it is." In PH we still ran pre-WWII decrepit and dirty trains through the 21st century Makati district. How did we arrive at this sorry state?

Speaking of Bangkok I cannot help but reminisce on the excellent trains that capital city has maintained all along. One day while  my husband was Philippine Ambassador to Cambodia in the late ‘90s, he decided to bring our family of three children for a few days’ trip to Vientiane, Laos. In Bangkok we boarded a second-class train with a sleeper coach and around 8 pm. our uniformed attendant began pulling out the sleeper beds and fixing the linens; we all slept comfortably. It was not any of those fancy trains, but it was clean and efficient.  Why can’t we have something like those?


The other sorry state we Filipinos can mourn is the scandal rocking the House of Representatives, involving, as accounts put it, the interference of supposed paramours or mistresses in the affairs of state and even in the legal system. The classic statement of 60-year old Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in defending his having a paramour--“Kayo naman, Dios ko naman, Sino ba’ng walang girlfriend?"--- will be easy to understand with, but hard to forget. It will now rival in notoriety that oft-repeated-callous statement: “What are we in power for?”

Time was when extramarital affairs were whispered about in polite circles of power and tea parties, but never in the open---and certainly never on the front pages of newspapers. From front-page news accounts of the feud between Speaker Alvarez and his fellow Davaoeño and erstwhile bosom-buddy Rep. Antonio Floirendo in mainstream newspapers, these two members of the House are now bitterly locked in a personal and political quarrel that started because of the feud between their respective mistresses.  

Tonyboy Floirendo, son of the late “banana king,” is said to have been the major donor to the campaign of then presidential candidate and fellow Davaoeño Rodrigo Duterte, reportedly to the tune of P75 million. Floirendo is also credited with having helped his fellow Davaoeño,  Bebot Alvarez, bag the speakership.


But all that is over now between the best friends and Alvarez has raised the question of conflict of interest in the business actuations of Tonyboy Floirendo. The latter’s family  business, the huge Tagum Agricultural Development Corp. (TADECO) which has been using vast lands leased from the Davao Penal Colony since 1969, renewed the lease in 2003 when Floirendo was already a congressman. Alvarez has referred the alleged the graft case to the Ombudsman. 

Whispers in the corridors of power, however, attribute the falling out between the erstwhile allies to the conflict involving their women. From Floirendo’s account, he and his common-law-wife Cathy Binag were approached by Alvarez’s estranged wife Emelita and their children, for help with regard to the Speaker’s womanizing.  Binag and Alvarez’s mistress, Jennifer Maliwanang Vicencio, got into an altercation during a Bacolod festival and hostilities erupted. Rumors of a plot to remove the Speaker from his post, linking Floirendo, followed (which he denied) and Alvarez retaliated with the move to investigate TADECO.


The feud between the two mistresses has resulted in the suddenly closure of the office of the Congressional Spouses Foundation, Inc. (CSFI) reportedly on orders of the Speaker’s mistress. Traditionally the CSFI is headed by the Speaker’s wife, but here the girlfriend is shown to be more powerful. I spoke to some wives of House members and they lamented this latest move against the CSFI, for it has been around since the days of Cecile Blanco Mitra, Speaker Ramon Mitra’s wife, and the spouses of succeeding speakers, such as Cynthia Villar and Sonny Belmonte’s daughter Joy have sustained its programs. Among the most notable projects of CFSI is the Lakbay Aral project whereby congressional spouses received stipends for their respective scholars. Another CSFI project is the “Haven for Abused Women” founded by Speaker Joe de Venecia’s wife, former Rep. Gina de Venecia, which thrives till today in Alabang.

Reports say the CSFI’s office was closed down on orders of Speaker Alvarez’s girlfriend, who was quoted as saying that after all, the congressional wives don’t do anything but travel. There’s a bit of politics too, for after Vice President Leni Robredo indicated that she wanted to help the congressional spouses with projects, their office was closed.  


The scandal hitting Alvarez js not expected to peter out soon, for this burly rough top official seems used to playing hardball and he’s close to President Duterte, whose life mirrors the same predicament. Some pundits opine that if such scandal were to hit the US Congress, the official in question would be hard-put to resign. I can believe this, for while some of the American people may appear quite lax about enforcing moral standards in their private lives, public lives are demanded to be paragons of uprightness. Here the name of the game is thickening of one’s hide (kapalmuks).

But women’s groups are speaking out. The militant Gabriela decried Speaker Alvarez’s “reckless generalization” that there would be no lawyer existing if such strident one-woman standards were to be applied.  Other women’s groups decried Alvarez’s flaunting of his extramarital affairs as “something ordinary and acceptable,” as they stress that it “reeks of machismo unbecoming of a public servant, more so with the Speaker of the House."

Shrugging It off as “something ordinary and acceptable” is a lamentable sign of the times we live in.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Suddenly Mr. Duterte abandons impeach-Leni move---the wise general retreats to fight another day? But he’s still stuck on defense of PH claims in West Philippine Sea, where he can’t just 'hyperbole' with a jet-ski and plant the PH flag. As SC senior justice Carpio warns, China’s planting a radar station on Scarborough Shoal which will complete its radar coverage of entire South China Sea.

President Duterte suddenly took the wind out of the impeachment sail aimed directly against Vice President Leni Robredo by his staunch allies in Congress. Mr. Duterte suddenly was quoted today as saying that "Leni was just exercising her freedom of speech" when she criticized in a six-minute video tape submitted to the UN Commission on Narcotics Drugs in Vienna and played last March 16, his anti-illegal drug campaign that has seen more than 7,000 people dead in past months.

With this news that the VP took the anti-drugs and EJK issue to the UN, his leaders were furious.  Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez gathered House leaders to push for her impeachment, while Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III began pressuring the House leadership to send the complaint to his chamber to get the oust-Leni ball rolling.


Why, even the Department of Foreign Affairs had the temerity to lecture the second highest official of the land---never before has this happened---that "there are limits to freedom of expression," and that this right |comes with the responsibility to ensure that facts are verified, and unfounded allegations from questionable sources are avoided."

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo reinforced administration allies as she, complained that Veep Leni’s pronouncements before the UN body “make it hard for us to sell the Philippines as a tourist destination.” Secretary Teo also pleaded with the media, “to please tone down reports on EJKs” even as she stressed during the President’s state visit to Thailand that PH is actually “a safe destination”---EXCEPT THAT JOURNALISTS ARE MAKING IT HARD TO SELL PH BECAUSE OF THEIR FOCUS ON DRUG-RELATED KILLINGS. 


There are several things to point out. One is that jeopardizing the image of the Philippines did not begin with VP Leni, for almost from Day One, President Duterte has displayed the propensity to counter-attack against people who even just gently criticize him---he just cannot brook criticism. Unfortunately, every attack he leveled against foreign leaders would be assiduously reported in foreign media.

 As Inquirer columnist Rina Jimenez-David pointed out the other day, “Who’s the traitor?” Said she: “If speaking out about the country’s problems and failings constitutes ‘treason,’ then the biggest traitor of all is President Duterte himself.” She pointed out that “Many times he has not been afraid to castigate foreign leaders to their face, putting our trade relations with these countries at risk..”


So why did the President retreated from the certainty of impeaching VP Leni Robredo when his House allies have the numbers? It’s good to remember that IMPEACHMENT IS ALL ABOUT NUMBERS. Thus ---though the House is fully controlled by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and he could get the numbers to impeach Leni, just as he got the votes to ram the death penalty through his chamber (217 pro death penalty, 54 against and one abstention in the House)--- IT'S A DIFFERENT BALLGAME ALTOGETHER IN THE 23-MEMBER SENATE. The LPs have a solid 10 votes there, so it's obvious that no matter what math is resorted to, Mr. Duterte would not get the 2/3 required vote (16 votes) in the Senate to oust Leni Robredo as Veep.  

I suspect that Digong’s conciliatory move toward Leni is very much related to the second impeachment complaint being proposed in the House---this time against  himself, led by Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano. I suspect that the President’s most wary of appearing to the world as being impeached---bad for his strongman-image even if that move won’t prosper.  All the turmoil (the impeachment of the two top leaders, albeit by different parties) would also be most hazardous for the country’s image abroad.

So it had to be a QUID PRO QUO: he stops the impeachment of Leni in the House, so that he himself escapes impeachment in the Senate. MR. DUTERTE IS THE WISE GENERAL WHO RETREATS TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY.


When Senior Associate Justice Antonio told President Duterte recently to “defend” Panatag Shoal, no one in his right mind, most especially this learned jurist, would ever think of involving Filipino troops to fight for it. They’d be killed like flies with a fly-swatter on a summer day. Justice Carpio, who has long been looking into and speaking out on the issue of Chinese incursions into PH territory--- and how the Chinese are building various structures on our ocean islands in an effort to make a more realistic nine-dash line for them--- knew of course that defending the Shoal cannot mean doing it with our troops.

The fight has to be carried out ON THE WORLD STAGE. AND IN THE ARENA OF INTERNATIONAL OPINION: PH has to bring this issue to various international forums where its claim has been upheld and seek to get allies to support our stand. Mr. Duterte knows this only too well but perhaps he’s just being stubborn. Neither would it help to hold him to his promise during the presidential campaign: that once-elected he’ll jet-ski to Panatag Shoal and plant the Philippine flag there. 


The jet-ski bit was Duterte hyperbole at its most colorful, but it clicked with the Filipino voters who gave him an unprecedented 16 million votes to capture Malacanang.  But now that he’s President, Mr. Duterte can no longer hyperbole his way to our China problem’s resolution. He has to build up a consensus among Asian claimants to these China Sea waters and get their support for our cause, as it might someday be theirs too.

First, there is the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, where the Philippine claim to the contested islands in what’s called the "West Philippine Sea" was upheld last year. The logic of the UN Arbitral Court decision is simple: The Panatag Shoal is only 124 nautical miles from our nearest shore in Zambales, whereas it's easily over 250 nautical miles from Beijing. Moreover, these seas have been the traditional fishing grounds of our people since the dawn of civilization.

Let’s build a consensus while PH heads ASEAN this year. Various countries in this regional grouping---e.g. Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar--- have claims as well to some of the islets in the vast ocean around us. PH should try to win them over vs. the big neighborhood bully up north. And perhaps there is more sympathy than we think.