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, February 28, 2017

Saturday’s mass rallies kept some folks away from violinist Chino Gutierrez's soireé in Intramuros. Reminiscing on our interminable rallies up and down Ayala Ave. 31 years ago, how many hordes had we inconvenienced? Since 1986 our revolution has been devouring its children. When will our political boom-and-bust cycle end?.

Classical violinist Joaquin "Chino" Gutierrez and piano accompanist Mary Anne Espina at Bayleaf soireé
Massive pro-Duterte rally at the Luneta Feb. 25 evening

Smaller rally commemorating the EDSA People Power on Feb. 25

The Inquirer headlined last Sunday a “Nation Divided” as it showed two rallies simultaneously held in the capital. One was the commemoration at the EDSA Shrine of the “People Power Revolution” of 31 years ago that brought down dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the other a gigantic rally at the Luneta, Pro-Duterte and an impressive counter to the EDSA rally.

Three decades later the nation is still debating in various forums the relevance of the EDSA Revolution and there’s palpable effort to rewrite history---historical revisionism---and to burnish the tarnished image of the dictator and his heir. To the simple folk, however, last Saturday's mass rallies were daunting and trying, as they coped with the monstrous traffic and the inconvenience the rallies brought---reminiscent of all the mass movements of 31 years ago.


A good number of people were at that very moment on their way to attend the soireé of Spanish romantic-era music and kundimans, tendered at the Bayleaf, a beautiful boutique hotel in the heart of Intramuros, by Europe-trained young classical violinist Joaquin “Chino” Gutierrez and his piano accompanist,  Mary Anne Espina. Some, however, worried about the massive pro-Duterte build-up at the Luneta, were daunted and decided to stay away.   

I left early for Chino's soireé, passing through Buendia Avenue where plenty of folks were marching in groups toward Roxas Boulevard en route to the Luneta, so I decided to turn into Taft Avenue which proved relatively free and easy. I guided friends coming from Ayala Avenue to take Taft and they made it to the soireé, but former SBMA Chair Felicito “Tong” Payumo and wife Daisy waded right into Luneta and got stuck there, and all Tong could do was text me about their sad fate. They missed an enchanting evening indeed.


With news about folks stranded by the massive rallies as they sought to go about their lives, my thoughts raced back to our own gigantic anti-Marcos movements of 31 years ago. We tirelessly marched up and down Ayala Avenue every Friday afternoon, amid all the confetti shredded from innumerable yellow pages of phone books raining down from the buildings there---in our herculean attempt to bring down the dictator. 

Fast forward, I realize now how the yellow crowd then must have inconvenienced in such a hideous way so many people and establishments. 

Now the shoe is in the other foot.


In my Facebook post last Feb. 25,  I recounted how, as the saying goes, REVOLUTIONS DEVOUR THEIR CHILDREN. A thoughtful reader posited in reaction that in fact, our case mirrors that of many other earlier revolutions, notably the French, Russian and Chinese uprisings.   

My write-up about revolutions devouring their children was my reaction to FB readers who had asserted that the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima is KARMA indeed, after her persecution of President GMA and CJ Renato Corona. Looking at the broader picture as we celebrate our EDSA Revolution, I maintain that it's not just karma, but yet another case of our continuing revolution devouring its children---a revolution cycle---from various angles of the political spectrum. 

The question is, WHEN WILL THE CYCLE END? When will our country settle down and discard this karmic BOOM-AND BUST-CYCLE?


Consider: The EDSA Revolution devoured Ferdinand Marcos, but its lead perpetrator, former Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, was in turn devoured as senator, ending in prison until he was released for humanitarian reasons. In a way EDSA Heroine Cory Aquino was devoured too, because she lost a lot of her following with the gross mistakes of her son, President Benigno Aquino III. 

Then the Revolution devoured Joseph "Erap" Estrada over the "second envelop" drama after three years in Malacanang, and Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ascended to power and stayed for nine years. But soon after finishing her second term PGMA, was arrested by the vengeful regime of President Noynoy Aquino and detained under hospital arrest for the next five years--- though at mid-year of 2016 she was eventually acquitted of the charges against her and is now resurrected as Deputy Speaker of the House.

PGMA's Chief Justice, Renato Corona, was devoured too, succumbing to the vengeance of Noynoy Aquino on the Hacienda Luisita issue, with Leila de Lima as his hatchet woman. Now De Lima is herself devoured and there's speculation about Noynoy Aquino reaping the same fate for his illegal use of DAP to bribe the senators during the trial of CJ Corona, and P-Noy's culpability in the Mamasapano tragedy.


Will the Revolution ultimately devour President Rodrigo Duterte, as wild talk abound on a "destabilization plot" against him? Or will the political boom-and-bust cycle end here and now---and we enter into a glorious age of peace and stability which we so long for our children and children's children---and which we pray for ardently to the Lord of History?
Indeed we long for peaceful transitions to power, where past officials gracefully yield to their successors sans the lust for vengeance in their heart and WHERE THE RULE OF LAW PREVAILS ABOVE ALL---giving us citizens an enviable pride in our country and our leaders that some other peoples have in theirs (exempting what majority of the Americans feel right now toward their new president). Where leaders are moral and God-fearing and the bureaucracy is by and large incorruptible, except for outstanding scalawags who get their just desserts.  

The state of our democracy at present leaves so much to be desired---with many of our institutions weak and grovelling, and many of us Filipinos still so immature and naive as well as so poor as to become easy prey for demagogues and scheming politicians. We who have had the benefit of better education and political formation have a lot to play in shaping our hapless nation.
When oh when, pray tell, will we see the dawn of greatness of our beautiful country? Like Mark Anthony at the bier of Caesar, let us weep until we find the answers and our beloved Philippines rises gloriously from the ashes of ruins.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

That Joma Sison is urging Duterte to revive peace talks indicates that he & comrades must be feeling old, tired & anachronistic----good prospect for peace. Book of Genesis tells how God was pleased with His creations, but not for long, as man was not always good custodian---a timely reminder in our search for ways to use our incredible mineral wealth the way we ought to: equitably and with justice for all.



A pundit recently noted that even revolutionaries grow old. I'd add that perhaps they also feel anachronistic, that revolution has passed them by. 

This predicament seems to be true of my humanities classmate at UP Diliman in the early ‘60s, Jose Maria Sison, our longtime revolutionary on self-exile for decades now in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the roosting place for a number of Pinoy leftist leaders. Joma and his campus sweetheart then, Juliet de Lima, and I were classmates in various humanities subjects, along with many other colorful campus figures such as Lino Brocka, Behn Cervantes and Ishmael Bernal, who were to carve their names in drama and film, as well as Carolina Malay (who eventually became Mrs.Satur Ocampo) in journalism.

Our generation of UP students came under the tutelage of some of the greatest names in Philippine Literature---among them Francisco Arcellana and NVM Gonzalez,  dramatist Wilfredo Ma.Guerrero  and Josefina “JD” Constantino (who was better known as a fervent essayist and became an institution in the English Department, along with another legendary lady professor, Ching Dadufalza).  It was a fabulous generation at the UP then---both of professors and students. 


Joma Sison joined the English Department of the UP for a while after graduation, but he subsequently founded the Communist Party of the Philipines and eventually feeling the heat here, he soon left with Julie de Lima in the late ‘60s for the more hospitable shores of Utrecht; they have stayed there ever since, except for rare visits to Manila. Thus, when I read in PDI last Feb. 11 that Joma is advocating the resumption of the stalled (abrogated?) peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front, of which he was the chief political consultant, I concluded that---like all his contemporaries--- he must be feeling the merciless onslaught of age. He probably now longs for some peace and quiet and normalcy in life. 

Moreover, the lure of communism or even just socialism has passed, as some of the most rabid countries that had gone Communist in previous eras, such as Vietnam, and socialist countries in Europe, rival the most capitalistic of neighbors today.  Joma and company must feel kinda anachronistic where they are, in very prosperous Netherlands. 

It’s truly time to come home, Joma, before all your hair is gone, as otherwise we your classmates won’t recognize you anymore.


Sen. Loren Legarda also added her voice to the growing plea to President Duterte to resume the peace talks between the two panels, and the clamor is getting louder for good reason:  fellow Filipinos ought to stop killing one another and concentrate instead on building this nation of over a  hundred million into a just, equitable and humane society.

I throw my voice, too, to the growing clamor among fellow Filipinos to continue talks between the government and the Left. Let’s talk and wrangle with one another over terms of agreement, BUT LET'S ALSO STILL THE GUNS OF WAR that are slaying both AFP militia and leftist cadres in the remote areas--- the cream of our manhood on both sides---even as we sue for peace. Our folk in the rural areas should be serenading the ladies (nearly all Pinoys are good singers), dancing in the plaza and making love--not war.


Perhaps I have more right than many other people to advocate peace in our country for I have seen the sorrow and the suffering that war brings. In 1986, soon after Cory Aquino became President, my husband, then a brigade commander with rank of colonel and assigned in Cagayan, figured in an encounter with the NPAs just outside Tuguegarao. He survived the two-hour gun-battle, though badly wounded all over, but his deputy commander, Lt. Col. Alberto Sudiacal, perished with one gunshot wound in the forehead, leaving a wife and four young orphaned children.

A good number of soldiers were also slain in that encounter, and this was what prompted me later to found the “Alay sa Kawal Foundation” that until now comes to the aid of widows of slain AFP enlisted personnel.  Weeks after the ambush I ran into then NDF Chief Horacio “Boy” Morales and he apologized about the encounter that nearly snuffed my husband’s life. He looked like he really meant it.

What’s good is that the Duterte administration is open to resuming the peace talks with the Left, imposing a few conditions to make it happen. We have one of the longest-running revolutions in the world. It's time we stop killing fellow Filipinos and instead channel the many billions of pesos that go into armaments of war to the welfare of our people---a thriving economy, decent hospitals and quality schools.


The readings of last week’s series of daily mass in Catholic churches were all filled with stories from the Book of Genesis, regarding the fascinating epic of the creation of man and the universe.  The word “Genesis” was taken from the Latin Vulgate which St. Jerome---the only saint whose remains are buried next to the Sacred Spot where Christ is believed to have been born in Bethlehem--- translated from the original Greek. In the Book of Genesis God surveyed all the works in His Creation and was pleased.  He then placed man (personified by Adam) as the regent, the custodian of all His creations, so that he and his descendants---who would be as numerous as the stars and the sands of the shores--- were to partake of the bounty of creation.

As time went on, so goes the Book, God became very displeased with the way his stewards handled their responsibility toward nature, and He decided to destroy His creation. He ordered a holy man named Noah to build a super-ark where he was to place samples of all the animals in it, and then God sent the great floods that destroyed every living thing except those in Noah’s Ark. Afterwards, however, God promised never again to destroy the world in that manner, and he created the rainbow as symbol of that celestial vow. The descendants of Noah multiplied and took reign of all creation.


The Book of Genesis is good to recollect on, as our country is at a most significant crossroads on how to handle the incredible minerals that lie in the belly of our archipelago. After all the shouting, the question of what to do with this incredible mineral wealth boils down to this:  How do we make them work for the benefit of all Filipinos and not just for the rich and mighty, and the opportunistic?

Perhaps at the dawn of creation, the Lord had placed all these minerals beneath our earth to handle and enjoy, for as Star columnist Satur Ocampo noted, Philippine mineral wealth is estimated at US$840 billion (P41.9 trillion). Mining authorities stress that PH contains the third highest deposits of gold, fourth highest in copper, fifth in nickel and sixth in chromite. In fact, said Satur, of PH's 30-million hectare total land area, about nine million hectares have high mineral potentials.


That we have been blessed with so much mineral deposits is incontrovertible.  I recall some years back Cecile Alvarez and I interviewed Dr. Carlos “Caloy”  Arcilla, who obtained his doctorate degree in geology from the University of Chicago and taught there for about 10 years, and now heads the UP Institute of Geology. Dr. Arcilla was nearly tearful as he described to us the mineral wealth found in Surigao, how gold, silver and copper are layered generously there one on top of the other.

The question is, if we're so rich in mineral deposits, how come so many parts of our country remain so poor and undeveloped? How did other countries transition from poor to First World through the mining of their minerals?  

(to be continued)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Amnesty International (AI) is perceived by military/police as historically biased against them, but few would deny that AI’s report on “Oplan Tokhang” abuses has severely damaged PH---as 'Tokhang' is portrayed not as CRUSADE VS. DRUGS BUT TRANSACTIONAL, for the FUND of it. With Digong lifting ceasefire with Left, AFP can't share burden of anti-narcotics campaign with PNP. No scalawags please.

The campaign against illegal drugs that should be confined to 'Katok Pakiusap'  (Tagalog translation for Cebuano term 'Toktok hangyo' )  but which isn't followed by anti-drug units, as Amnesty International asserts in a searing report-indictment of President Duterte's war against illegal drugs. 

If you talk to military and police people, they’re liable to tell you that Amnesty International (AI)---the London-based human rights group that came out with a searing indictment of President Duterte’s seven-month war against illegal drugs---has had a long history of being anti-Philippine military/police--in other words, more left-leaning. 

Such assertion may be true, and yet it cannot be denied that a lot of its claims about abuses in the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotics campaign are very believable.  No incident has opened this realization more forcefully in recent memory than the brutal kidnap-for-ransom/murder of Korean executive Jee Ick Joo, where his widow paid P5million and still he was murdered inside the PNP camp itself---not far from PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa’s HQ and official residence.


The term “tokhang” came from the Cebuano term “toktok hangyo” which means knocking first before entering. Taking off from this monicker, the PNP drive against illegal drugs was supposed to be preceded by prior intelligence and verification of those involved, and subject to the police’s positive finding, arrest would be made.  In other words, surveillance before arrest.

“Oplan Toktok Hangyo,” however, ultimately was short-cut to “Oplan Tokhang” and that’s when the problem began. Its implementation soon became much-abused, with allegations of victims’ families, mainly from the ranks of the poor, that despite their coming across with funds, albeit far less than those demanded by PNP operatives, their kin were still summarily killed.


A retired military intelligence officer I know recently told me that the killings may have been abetted by the usual competition for results among operational units, with the usual “kanchawan” among them and the race to score the most hits. As this retired military opined, "nandiyan na ang binubugbog ni boss ang mga tauhan niya na magpakita ng gilas."

Thus, by the time AI’s report was published in the world press about alleged summary executions in PH that are being rewarded by the police organization--- allegedly P5,000 per drug user and P10,000 per drug pusher slain--- the bloody campaign had already claimed more than 7,100 victims. The AI report terms it PH’s “informal economy of death.”

The AI report may have damaged the Philippines’ reputation in this regard, perhaps irreparably, in the eyes of the world, so that the Duterte administration is now in consternation as to how to handle its fall-out, abate the killings that have escalated and solve the drug problem.


To be sure, President Duterte meant well in waging his brutal war against drugs, especially because the unlamented Noynoy Aquino administration had not done anything to curb its rise.  And as Mr. Duterte likes to boast, and rightfully, had he not arrived and tackled the bull by the horns, this country would have become a narco-state.

The problem, however, is that once funding of the campaign against drugs became synonymous in terms of body count---so that the profit angle seems to have blinded the eyes of some people in the police force---the payola appears to have become the prime motivation for their actions---instead of the common good and protecting the populace. INSTEAD OF A CRUSADE VS. THE EVIL OF DRUGS, AI PORTRAYS THE PNP DRIVE AS MAINLY TRANSACTIONAL---ADDICTS' BODIES FOR THE FUND OF IT. 

AI’s accusation that the PNP has used MONEY to motivate its people to kill those involved in drugs gained credence from testimonies of relatives of those slain.   


Now the anti-illegal drugs campaign has spun out of control, wracked by controversies among various sectors in the country and blistering criticism from foreign shores. What’s good, however, is that at least the Duterte administration has taken cognizance of the criticisms (having read the AI report in advance), and last week---even before the AI report came out publicly--- IT HAD  OFFICIALLY HALTED ALL ANTI-DRUG OPERATIONS, PENDING THE WEEDING OUT OF SCALAWAGS IN THE PNP'S RANKS. Recognizing that the PNP as an organization “is rotten to the core” Mr. Duterte wants to institute reforms.

His move is commendable, for even prior to the AI report hit our shores, the President apparently came to realize that if his anti-drug campaign is to become CREDIBLE, it has to be carried out by personnel who are credible and known for their integrity---not KFR mercenaries and criminal elements.  PROBLEM IS, HOW MANY SUCH PNP PERSONNEL ARE THERE? 


Two recent moves of Mr. Duterte, however, may not be the solution to the drug problem; on the contrary, these moves would expand and complicate it. He wants to call in the Armed Forces to arrest erring policemen, but this could only result in clashes between the two vital organizations. Besides, the AFP is already burdened with its peace-keeping role in the South. Moreover, THE PRESIDENT LIFTED TONIGHT THE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT WITH THE LEFT---after a series of attacks by the NPA in the countryside.

As Mr. Duterte noted on TV, the breakdown of the peace talks between the government and the Left arose from the demand of the Left for the release of over 400 political prisoners---which he termed "UNACCEPTABLE.“ Obviously this development would call for more vigilance from the AFP, and thus it could not be actively involved in the anti-narcotics campaign.


Mr. Duterte’s other idea for handling the drug problem is to call the old Philippine Constabulary to be the lead agency of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). But the PC has been defunct for some time now, replaced by the PNP. Thus, as one columnist pointed out, there could be constitutional infirmities, because recalling the old PC to active duty would result in virtually two police forces.  Besides, even the old PC did not have such a great reputation---no anti-crime organization ever has, as this task constantly opens it to bribery.

The PDEA is the right agency to tackle the anti-illegal drug campaign, but it should be given enough personnel deputized from the PNP and properly screened, as well as a suitable budget to handle the campaign. Combating illegal drugs, however, cannot be the problem of the PDEA alone; rather, civic organizations, the churches, schools and other institutions have to be involved, especially in the rehabilitation of drug-addicts, if only to show the criminally-inclined elements that indeed, WE BELIEVE THAT THERE IS LIFE AFTER DRUG INVOLVEMENT, THAT THESE ADDICTS SHOULD NOT BE KILLED BUT REHABILITATED.  

Civic organizations can help put up and support drug rehab centers as well as livelihood training for those being weaned away from this disastrous preoccupation, while the various churches have to go into renewed spiritual formation of its followers and help put up rehab centers too, as some parishes have begun doing.  LGUs  have to go as well into alternative activities for today's listless, directionless youths---sports, cultural endeavors, informal schooling and skills training, etc.---to prevent idle minds from being the workshops of drug syndicates.

Combating illegal drugs is truly the fight of all Filipinos.