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, July 31, 2017

The slaying of the Parojinog family in Osamiz City bares a lot of symptoms of the illnesses of the Philippine body politic. Cancer-stricken Republican Sen. John McCain displays his maverick reputation anew as he shows enviable political independence in raging controversy over "Obamacare."

A dawn raid carried out by police forces on the compound of the ruling Parujinogs in Ozamiz City

Arizona Senator John McCain: political maverick

The slaying of Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, Sr., his wife, son and nine others in a dawn raid yesterday, Sunday in Ozamiz City, and the arrest of the mayor's daughter once again focuses national as well as international attention on the brutal anti-drug war of the President. But the raid of the Parojinog compound as well as the slaying of family members and followers constitute only a tiny corner of the local crime world now being shaken to its roots by our President. 

The Parojinogs of Mindanao are said to be the leader of the notorious Kuratong Baleleng crime syndicate associated with strings of criminal incidents such as bank robberies, kidnappings and a rub-out case versus ranking police officers. 


Sociologists studying this political clan's case would doubtless note a pattern in its rise and fall that's common to a good number of all the dynastic political clans. Statistics show that 74% OF ALL THE SEATS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ARE OCCUPIED BY MEMBERS OF LOCAL DYNASTIES. To be sure, there are dynasties that have had a non-controversial record of service, even if many of their members have had forgettable achievements in terms of bills authored. 

The other side of the coin, however, shows how a good number of these dynastic families in the country have been linked to big-time crimes and associated with great wealth---that can buy almost everybody in a given locality: public and police officials, rival politicians to desist from running, and voters, etc. On top of it all, however, they manage to unfailingly---and repeatedly---get elected to various offices, including as kingpin of the city or province. 

Sociologists would inevitably conclude that the political dynasties display a perceptible pattern in various localities around the country. They are oftentimes warlords who seek political and social acceptance as honorables but who, in reality, retain all the trappings of warlordism in guns, goons and gold, corrupt trade practices such as drug-dealing, as well as corrupting local and perhaps national officials, and God knows what else. 


A thoughtful commentary in the Inquirer today by Hermenegildo C.Cruz, former Philippine ambassador to the UN (1984-1986) very timely asserted that while the war on drugs has thus become an obsession of Mr. Duterte in his "Single Issue Presidency," it has been carried out "to the detriment of the two other wars"---namely, the war on poverty and the war vs. terrorism. Ambassador Cruz argues that to alleviate poverty we need foreign assistance in developing our own resources, but in several instances, he asserts, "We have given up foreign assistance due to concerns expressed by donors over human rights violations in our country." 

As the former envoy suggested, all these criminal happenings in our country as well as the warlordism and political dynasties are very much related to the gripping poverty in our midst, especially in the hinterlands of Mindanao. Or should I say, the gripping poverty is very much due to the warlordism and the political dynasty set-up, as well as the proliferation of drugs (as an escape from poverty for users as well as income for pushers). 


Many Filipinos cotton to corrupt politicians and warlords because of their grinding poverty; with few exceptions, however, the politicians. specially of the warlord variety, want to keep their constituents poor and largely ignorant, so that come election time they can simply buy the poverty-stricken electorate's votes and give out bags of goodies. It's a vicious cycle---with election spending on the up and up each time---and presto! the political clan members get to keep their posts where they can get away with murder---by terrorizing, bribing and whatever else.  

Our political situation is really depressing. How different it is in the more progressive societies where the broad masses are better educated and economically situated---and therefore more independent of their politicians. The solution to less dependence on political warlords is a more-educated and economically-situated electorate. Will that day ever come for this country? 


I have always been interested in the career of Arizona Sen. John McCain for a number of reasons. He comes from a distinguished American military family that produced two four-star admirals in the US Navy: his grandfather and father. Moreover, John McCain was a classmate at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, of my late brother-in-law, Admiral Carlito Y. Cunanan of the Philippine Navy.  McCain was a war hero imprisoned in North Vietnam for over five years, after his fighter bomber plane was shot down over North Vietnam on his 23rd bombing mission, and he almost drowned in the lake where the plane fell. McCain was badly tortured while in prison, and to this day he cannot lift both arms too high as they were broken by constant beating with a rifle during his imprisonment. 

John McCain ran as the Republican candidate for president in 2008 vs. the Democrats' Barack Obama who won and was subsequently reelected in 2012. The 2008 presidential campaign ran on two opposing themes: a vote for a genuine American war hero vs. the first black American to seek the presidency. More than his youthful age and eloquence, it was primarily the black vote that catapulted Obama to the presidency in 2008, and his reelection four years later. .  


After his presidential defeat John McCain continued to perform as senior Republican senator from Arizona and earlier last week, he captured the American---and the world's---imagination in the US Congress' deliberations over President Trump's appeal to repeal the "Affordable Care Act"---more popularly known as "ObamaCare"---that was passed during the second Obama administration. Republicans had dreamed for seven years of dismantling that health program and indeed, with unrelenting push from Trump, it seemed destined for Congress' wastebasket---until Sen. McCain suddenly showed up from the dead, as it were.  

McCain had been diagnosed with cancer in the brain--a recurrence from his earlier bout with it some years back. On the day of voting for Obamacare, however, the maverick Republican senator left his hospital bed and dramatically showed up in the session hall. To the total surprise of his fellow Republicans, he voted an emphatic No to Obamacare's repeal!  His argument was that there is still no proposed measure that can assure a better performance for the American people's health care. 


The entire Senate and the nation were stunned by McCain's move---his Republican colleagues were flabbergasted; what's more, two Republican female senators also turned about and voted no---to the wild applause of the Democrats. Speculation is rife that McCain was just dishing it to Trump for his having assailed the war hero's record in the past and what McCain considered his fellow Republican's disrespect to all American veterans of war.

There could be some truth to this tit-for-tat rumor, and there is no certainty about the future of Obamacare, as the Democrats appear rejuvenated by their unexpected Republican ally. But what it did was to speak volumes about McCain's independence of mind---that for him country comes first before partisan considerations. 

This is something that many Filipino politicians have seldom exhibited. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

President Digong to speak for 2 ½ hours at tightest-security SONA ever, as Palace appropriates 280 tickets (for pala?). SONA to zero in on Marawi recovery and clamor for abrogation of peace talks in the Netherlands owing to renewed hostilities in Negros.

Marawi City, seat of Islam in the Philippines, goes up in smoke.

Peace talks participants in The Netherlands in a jubilant pose

From what I gathered, security for tomorrow’s State of the Nation Address at the Batasan would be the tightest in recent memory—which is expected, given various controversies these days. The buzz too is that invitations to tomorrow’s SONA are as premium as gold (1,800 invites out, delivered by authorized personnel and non-transferable---no changing of seats). Malacanang alone had asked for 280 invites. 

All the guests are asked to be in the Plenary Hall by 3pm. and all entrances to it shall be closed at 3:30 pm. As is customary,  the guests are enjoined to come in Filipiniana attire although, since the President is from Mindanao, spotlight will be on attire from the big island. Ladies of Congress will be mostly in Mindanao-inspired outfits, as they seek to coordinate with the dress design of presidential partner Honeylet AvanceƱa, who is said to come in a Mindanao outfit.  


The crowning bit of it all: President Duterte is expected to speak longer than the usual hour and 15 minutes with applause interruptions in past SONAs. In fact the buzz is that he’ll speak for 2 ½ hours, so diabetic guests are enjoined to bring candies or biscuits to assuage hunger. Last year Mr. Duterte peppered his hour and 20 minutes with homey quips that kept the audience rolling on their side; this time, however, the mood is expected to be pregnant with seriousness as he tackles two main preoccupations of the nation: the IS challenge in Mindanao and the incredibly vast damage and proposed rehabilitation of once-beautiful Marawi City, and the lack of progress in the peace talks in The Netherlands between the government panel  (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). PRRD is expected to denounce renewed hostilities by NPA guerillas in some provincial areas.


What we’ll see tomorrow is a Congress feeling good about itself over the overwhelming triumph of the side advocating EXTENSION of the martial law proclamation in Mindanao until Dec. 31 this year---261 VOTING FOR, VS. 18 AGAINST. My readers will recall how I castigated both chambers of Congress for passing up their OBLIGATION under the Constitution, TO DELIBERATE JOINTLY on and approve OR reject the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao by President Duterte soon after Marawi was invaded by Maute elements.

What the two chambers did at that time was to meet SEPARATELY to discuss the merits of the martial law proclamation  in Marawi---when the Constitution is very clear: both of them are MANDATED TO MEET  JOINTLY to approve or throw out the President's martial law declaration in Mindanao, and the latter couldn't do anything about it if Congress disapproved it. I called Congress’ failure to hold a joint session a DERELICTION OF DUTY by the honorables. 

In last Friday's jam-packed JOINT SESSION of Congress to approve or disapprove the martial law extension by the President, however, the members of both chambers redeemed themselves and their institution. Congress overwhelmingly approved that extension, and listening to the individual solons recite their stand---and from time to time debate the issue among themselves--I felt proud of Congress, something I don’t feel everyday.  


Traditionally, on the eve of the SONA, the Center for People Empowerment in Government (CENPEG), an umbrella group of UP professions from various disciplines, would conduct an assessment of the “State of the Presidency” (S0P) over the past years at a forum in UP Diliman. I have always attended these sessions over the years as I have found them quite stimulating. Last Thursday was CENPEG’S “9TH SOP and predictably the two major topics I mentioned above were taken up. I shall deal with them here first, and in the next few days the rest of the topics taken. 

The reconstruction of Marawi and environs might well be the center of attention of Mr. Duterte’s five years in office from hereon, for as Prof. Julkipli Wadi put it, “Apart from war on drugs, the Marawi crisis is THE SINGLE MOST DEVASTATING CHALLENGE THAT IMPACTED HEAVILY ON THE FIRST YEAR OF THE DUTERTE ADMINISTRATION.” I agree with Prof. Wadi on this point. While the drug war preoccupied the Duterte forces and led to the killings of some 7,000 Filipinos as well as protests here and abroad about human rights violations, the Marawi crisis killed thousands of Filipinos on both sides, combatants and civilians, destroyed the mecca of the Muslim faith here and left so many people homeless and the economy ruined. 


Interestingly, Prof. Wadi opines that the Marawi problem could have been averted had there been “clear and coherent policy and strategy of the AFP in addressing the rise of new Moro radicalism, including the so-called ISI-Maute Group.” He asserts that with the “peace lull” on the Bangsamoro peace process as government became too focused on the war against drugs, the Moro fronts for months remained “in the waiting mode on what the next steps in the peace process (would be)---untapped to serve as government partner in the war vs. terrorism." Thus, Mr. Wadi insists, INTO THIS LULL ENTERTED THE MAUTE GROUP, THE ABU SAYYAF AND THEIR ISI AFFILIATES, TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE "UNCERTAIN SITUATION  IN MINDANAO." 

Prof. Wadi also cites what everybody knows---the failure in AFP intelligence in that conflict area---and he fears that the lack of long-term vision of reform “would politicize even more the bureaucracy in the autonomous region,” even as it could potentially open a void in Moro struggle with more splits to ensue and new radicals fitting in new role.” Wadi asserts that the war in Mindanao will take perhaps another generation to fathom and solve. 


Prof. Bobby M. Tuason, CenPeg Director for Policy Studies, in his paper titled “Prospects and Intricacies of a Peace Agreement in the GPH-NDFP Negotiations,” laments that while the peace talks resumed last year in an upbeat mood---with both sides agreeing to fast-track the process---the talks lost their steam due to several reasons. Among them, he argued, were “military intransigence and President Duterte’s POOR GRASP OF THE PEACE PROCESS, on one hand, and the NPA holding its ground to resist AFP operations on the other.” 

Prof. Tuason traced the quickening pace to sue for peace in the post-Marcos era, starting with Corazon Aquino in 1986, with the NDFP, which represents the CPP and its armed component, the NPA. Binding the negotiations with the government over the past 30 years of protracted peace talks, as hosted by the Netherlands and later Norway, asserts Prof. Tuason, has been the pressure on the Armed Left to capitulate while launching total wars resulting in human rights abuses, and of late, refusing to honor previous agreements.


Prof. Tuason paints the two protagonists:  "On one side was the GPH panel representing the state whose role is to preserve the status quo of the dominant class of oligarchs, an unequal alliance with the US, and a political system legitimized in principle by a constitution which is otherwise mocked by the ruling oligarchs themselves."  

On the other side, he argues, "was a revolutionary organization that envisions, so its program claims, to overhaul the class system, implement a genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization en route to establishing a socialist state." 

Tuason asserts that a window was opened under President Duterte when he appointed a few progressives to the Cabinet and released some key political prisoners temporarily to allow them to participate in the negotiations in Europe. The President's panel also agreed with the NDFP to reaffirm previous agreements on human rights, security and immunity guarantees. But as is now evident, all these have come to naught and in the countryside there are renewed hostilities by the NPAs. Thus, points out Tuason, last May the 5th round of talks in The Netherlands was unilaterally put "on hold" by the GPH panel, with President Duterte's consent.  

(More speakers’ views to follow)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The war vs. drugs---candid snapshot after the recent horrifying San Jose del Monte slayings---so brutal that provincial governor and mayor felt constrained to put up sums to flush out the killers. What can be done with drug addicts within ambit of the law?

One of the more horrifying episodes in recent times in our drug-proliferated country involves the slaying of two women and three children in San Jose del Monte, Novaliches---a crime so dastardly that the governor of Bulacan and the mayor of the town felt constrained to put up reward money that would lead to the arrest of the killers. While the father of the family, a security guard, was away, apparently two drug-crazed men got into their shack in San Jose del Monte and raped the women: first the elder woman, the children's grandmother,  and then her daughter, the mother of the three children. Afterwards all five of them were slain and the killers fled.

After a few days the story emerged: the two assailants were high on drugs and committed the rapes and murders. “It seemed like fun at that time,” was all one assailant could say with a weird smile and glazed eyes. Of course no one in his right or station mind would commit such horrible crimes, but it demonstrates concretely what hideous drugs can do to transform people into beasts. Co-conspirators here are the widespread poverty and the lack of education and opportunities for advancement of the very poor in society. Drugs become an escape mechanism.

It’s also used by those in occupations that tax health but enable the users to stay awake---such as bus-drivers especially for long distances, security guards and apparently, judging from the huge catch in Marawi, rebels fearful of impending death but who have to soldier on.


Soon after reading about that episode, I had a conversation with an established psychologist trained abroad and who has worked abroad in dealing with such societal aberrations. He stressed several things. One is that the drug problem remains so prevalent and widespread in our country despite the Duterte administration's campaign against it, cutting across social strata---it is as bad at the very lowest rung of society, the balut-vendors, street-sweepers, jeepney drivers and security guards--- as it is in the rarefied atmosphere of the exclusive villages in Makati and Pasig. What’s sad about it, this psychologist stressed, is that many prominent parents of such delinquent children are not even aware of their involvement with drugs.

He narrated that in a visit to an affluent home where the father of the family had asked for help for his drug-involved children , he also interviewed the house staff about their wards, and the staff didn’t know if the kids had hidden forbidden stuff anywhere in the house. The psychologist took a look at a mirror on the wall and sure enough there was neatly taped at the back---a small package with whitish stuff, shabu. He stressed that parents have to befriend their children and know where they hang out and with whom, but that he has been to homes where a mixed crowd play mahjong all night in one level of the house, while the kids and friends smoke pot and eventually graduate to sterner stuff later.

This psychologist also noted that with the crackdown on drugs in the market, prices have gone up, and this means that supply is getting more critical as the anti-drug campaign continues. On the other hand, let us hope that the police campaign against drugs---now secretly sold in little sachets that look more like innocent salt or “Magic Sarap”--won’t proliferate.

Get involved with your children’s lives, this psychologist advises, and get to know their friends, where they go and what they like to do. Spending more time with your children has been a time-worn advice to parents since forever, but never has it become more needed and more sensible than in our present day and age.


The psychologist stressed how prevalent the drug menace has become in Philippine society. Recall that tens of kilos of drugs were seized by government soldiers in two successful captures of lairs of the Maute-led rebel group in Marawi recently. What it underlines is that the rebels have access to not only arms but drugs in our very porous Southern backdoor---and it's very likely that the drug trade funds the invasion in the South; thus a double whammy. 

The supply of both contraband goods has to be sealed if we are to lick our drug problem as well as the illegal firearms, or reduce them at least to the minimum. The drugs found in huge quantities in several places in Marawi indicate the ease with which prohibited stuff get to enter the country---the Southern backdoor is only one entry point---and this has to be sealed no matter how tough it is to do so. I had always wondered how come the drug supply in Luzon has seemed inexhaustible---now we have a good idea.

It’s easy enough to see how rebel soldiers have to take the prohibited drugs to overcome fatigue and fears of impending attacks by the Armed Forces, where they could die; thus; it would help tremendously if we could seal the Southern borders----despite the obvious difficulties such work would entail, given wide-open entry to Mindanao via the high seas. 

We citizens also hope that the huge quantities of drugs seized from rebel forces in Marawi would be destroyed totally and not smuggled back into the market.


Secondly, the psychologist emphasized how ill-equipped our country is in combating the drug menace---especially in facilities needed to house and reform the addicts, with staff trained for the urgent but very delicate work badly needed. He narrated how some police officers have admitted candidly to him that while they did try to turn the drug addicts over to the responsible suitable agencies, in some cases the cops seem to have no choice but to shoot them down because they did not know of places equipped enough to handle drug rehabilitation. Wrongly handled, these addicts could only worsen and infect other people with their affliction. 

With the lack of properly trained personnel and rehab centers, thus was born the ugly phenomenon of the EJK denounced all over the world, and giving the Duterte administration an unnecessary black-eye internationally.


The brutal truth is that the drug menace had become so pervasive and prevalent, stresses this psychologist, that society and the law-enforcement agencies were caught totally unprepared to handle this problem of the drug-crazed people. It was ignored by the Noynoy Aquino administration and it took Rodrigo Duterte to dramatize the campaign---unfortunately  in many cases, with EJK.

The psychologist admitted that to in order give the government and society---hand in hand---a fighting chance to win the battle against drugs, it would entail more effort than what is being exerted now. I think of the successful battle being waged by Argentine-born Fr. Luciano Felloni, now a Filipino citizen, of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Caloocan, with the cooperation of the city government. I can think of what the Brazilian sisters are doing to help drug addicts in Masbate in the Azenda di Esperanza---a rehab place without fences where youngsters are being successfully helped on to recovery. 

But those are very few examples. More has to be done to win the ugly war vs. drugs.