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.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hallelujah, less fireworks on New Year’s Eve, but CBCP Prexy and Lingayen/Dagupan Archbishop Soc Villegas calls for stiffer fight vs. death penalty to be rammed thru in House. Recalling my Japanese balae’s traditional New Year’s Day lunch, with all the goodies she brought from Kobe, and how Senate President Jovy Salonga called to say he would have joined us---as the lunch composition sounded interesting and fun---had he been invited! I wish I did invite him.

My Japanese balae, Keiko Miki of Kobe, Japan

May I wish all of my blog readers a Happy New Year and the choicest blessings from the Lord in 2017.  May He smile on our country, keep it safe from disasters, man-made or natural, this new year. 

We mourn the horrible shooting on New Year’s Day in a swanky nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey, by a lone gunman dressed as Santa Claus, who killed 39 revelers and injured many others. Here in our country, there have been several violent episodes lately too that killed a number of people such as in Hilongos, Leyte and in Midsayap, North Cotabato. 

In this new year let’s pray that killings of all sorts---EJK or not---would not occur. Let’s pray, too, that we draw away from the culture of death and violence, as symbolized by the pending bill on the revival of the death penalty in the House of Representatives, authored by Deputy Speaker Fredesnil Castro, that allies of the President intend to ram through by the middle of this month. 

May true peace and love reign in our hearts and may we also find meaningful solutions to the grinding poverty that afflicts a great number of our people.


Speaking of poverty, some friends high in government narrate that when President Duterte visited Singapore last year as part of his swing around ASEAN, he wept when he saw the glittering progress of that city state---in stark contrast to our grimy metropolis. That visit to Singapore, aides noted, only highlighted for the President dthe poverty that afflicts a great segment of our countrymen in the countryside, but most especially in the cities where they pour in from the rural areas in the hope of lifting themselves up from their abject situation. 

CBCP President and Archbishop of Lingaven/Dagupan Socrates B. Villegas

Very much related to the poverty of our cities and towns is the prevailing criminality which the President's allies now propose to tackle by reviving the death penalty. But as CBCP President and Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Socrates Villegas who leads the campaign against death penalty, argues, such move would only afflict the poor as they suffer from the imperfections of our criminal justice, most notably its corruption. He cites, for instance, how only rich offenders can afford good lawyers and thus escape punishment, whereas many of the poor end up rotting in jail even for petty crimes. I’d also like to stress that to begin with, the poor are truly the victims of society’s injustice rather than its abusers, as they suffer from woeful lack of opportunities for adequate education and skills training.  

In this connection, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was quoted warning the Catholic Church against interfering in the passage of the death penalty bill “lest its proponents leave and look for another religious group.”  Alvarez stressed that the Church should respect the separation of Church and State as provided in the Constitution, but he should also realize that the death penalty is first and foremost a matter of morals and very much within the purview of the Catholic Church and other religions.

Besides, 126 countries around the world have abandoned death penalty as a deterrent to crime, while in the US, many states have also given it up even as that country as a matter of official policy still employs this punishment. 


Driving from Makati to my brother-in-law’s house in QC last New Year’s Eve for our clan reunion was a breeze---slight rain but no traffic. What’s even greater was that the showers helped Mr. Duterte’s campaign vs. the big deadly fireworks, so that by just past midnight things had quieted a lot and the atmosphere remained relatively clear---unlike in past years when thick dirty smoke would envelop the metropolis for at least two hours past midnight, forcing drivers to put on headlights.  

Thus, the drizzle and Mr. Duterte’s campaign helped the metropolis get away from what former senator and Climate Change Commissioner Heherson Alvarez called the “fireworks mentality,” resulting in our kinder treatment of the environment.  There were also far less episodes of patients with near-severed fingers.  


In this connection I was thinking of what my Paris-based friends, Aquilino “Jun” and Lilia Opeña, had told me over a skype call: how the Paris city government sought to combat the terrible pollution in the City of Light during the Christmas season by discouraging use of individual cars and vehicles. The alternative offered:  making public transportation, such as its fantastic subway system and buses free of charge and operating till the wee hours of the morning.  We cannot do that sort of thing here, however, as public transport is woefully inadequate.  If car owners stop bringing their cars, chances are, they’d be stranded or have to walk for kilometers on end.

Driving through deserted EDSA after midnight of Dec. 31 also made me realize how many provincial bus terminals line that major metropolitan thoroughfare on both sides---more now than in earlier years. I counted easily over a dozen of them! This has added to the horrible traffic on EDSA as those big buses maneuver in and out of the terminals and people flock to them.  Sometime in his first six months President Duterte had said he’ll move those bus terminals away from EDSA.  Let’s hold him to his word.


Each country and people has its own way of celebrating milestones like Christmas and New Year. There’s one New Year’s Day lunch that I remember quite vividly from many years back.

 My Japanese balae from Kobe, Keiko Miki (her son Keiichi is married to my daughter Christine) and her husband, Osamu (he’s now departed), had spent the Christmas season here and Keiko prepared a traditional New Year’s lunch for my husband and me and our children in their condo unit.

Dressed in a kimono, Keiko whipped together the lunch as we watched it blow by blow: the traditional ozoni soup (which was not miso-based as is popular in western Japan, but clear soup handed down by Keiko’s mother from Nigata in the eastern part), mocha (sticky rice cake), fish paste, dark beans called mame, veggies such as seaweeds and some egg-roe and of course, some Kobe beef which we washed down with sake (rice wine). What was great was that Keiko brought ALL THE STUFF FOR THAT NEW YEAR LUNCH  FROM  KOBE, and I learned that each item stands for something, like a good wish. 


I learned that it’s traditional for the Japanese housewife to put food in a basket for the next three days (in bento boxes, called osechi) so that she doesn’t have to do a lot of cooking---a kind of recess for her---except that Keiko logged them all from Kobe to Manila.

I described the entire New Year traditional lunch prepared by Keiko Miki painstakingly in my column in the Inquirer next day and later that evening, a call came from Senate President Jovito Salonga. “Bel, I enjoyed VICARIOUSLY the Japanese lunch you had described,” he said in his sing-song voice, “but had you invited me to join you, I would have come as it seemed such fun waiting for each turn of the traditional meal ceremony.”  

I wish I had invited him. 

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