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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, 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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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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.  

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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. 

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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.    

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