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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

There's a close relationship between poverty, the thriving drug trade and political dynasties---only in "da Pilipins." Solutions include a more upright police force and free education in SUCs that would create better-educated citizens who will be politically and economically independent, not easily seduced or mesmerized by politicians.

The de los Santos couple, parents of the murdered Kian, at dinner in Malacanang with the President

President Duterte's bloody war on drugs was convulsed anew by the brutal murder of 17-year old Kian Loyd de los Santos by three policemen in a dark alley near his home in Caloocan. Outrage gripped the nation and once again the Filipino people are united in grief over this senseless killing. Everyone but everyone has his own analysis of the whys and wherefores of the drug war in our midst---that has triggered renewed attention from the world. 

UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial killings Agnes Callamard weighed in, as expected, deploring the brutality of Kian's slaying, to which President Duterte replied in typical fashion with expletives aimed at her.

The drug problem has been with us for a long time and seemingly increasing in severity---but it had to take the murder of a helpless teenager at the hands of three law-enforcers to drive home once and for all  the gravity of this problem.  But there is also the fact that it is interrelated with so many other problems facing the nation. Easily there’s the widespread poverty and the corresponding fleeting escape from reality that drugs offer, particularly to the youth.

To be sure, drugs affect both the rich and the poor, but the drug problem of the rich is hidden behind the high walls of affluent villages where pot sessions take place, whereas the drug victims among the poor are more visible to roaming police and easier to collar---and slay.  This is the answer to the query: why is it that only the poor are caught and punished?

A psychiatrist recently spoke to me about multi-tiered homes of the affluent where in one level are the parents and their guests busy playing poker or mahjong, while in another level are the children and their friends lost in shabu---the stuff carefully hidden from the cleaning maid behind the mirror in the bathroom.

All too often, children of the poor who indulge in drugs come from families where one or both parents work abroad as domestics, construction workers or seamen---in order to earn money to send their children to school and ensure a better future for them. In the process, however, the lonely youngsters more often than not cannot hack it by themselves.

Note that Kian’s mother, Lorenza, had worked in the Middle East as a domestic for three years and hadn’t seen her son until she had to come home when he was killed. Kian's concern that night when the police accosted him was his test in class the next morning, and his ambition, ironically, was to become a policeman. He was an exception because he was not high on drugs, as the tests showed. All  too often, kids of OFW parents  live with grandparents who are too old to supervise their grandchildren’s activities. Thus, the drug problem is often coupled with teenage pregnancies, dropping out of school as well as activities that run afoul of the law.

Poverty is a basic reason for resorting to drugs, as the substance helps abate the sense of drift and hopelessness and the neglect of society. And to indulge in this prohibitive and prohibited substance, young people are often enticed to be drug couriers as well. 

But what about the drug lords?  Their problem is tied up with the politics of the area and the fact that selling one’s vote has become a political way of life in our country. Some politicians turn to the drug trade or allow it in order to accumulate funds they will use to buy votes come election time. In turn, people sell their votes due to the poverty of their station and as a form of revenge on their politicians---for the latter's neglect of their constituents throughout their terms. 

It seems that vote-buying becomes steeper and steeper as elections come.  To buy votes for the elections, politicos used to get funds from the DAP and PDAF of old, but since these lump-sum public funds have been outlawed by the Supreme Court, the politicos have to get them from other sources.

 As we have seen in the case of slain Mayor Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte and the Parojinog dynasty of Ozamiz City in Mindanao, they had to resort to the drug trade to accumulate funds with which to buy votes. Hand-in-hand with this practice is ensuring the perpetuation of the dynasty such as the Parojinogs’---something possible only through massive vote-buying and favors on select followers. 

This is where funds illegally raised from drug trafficking and the dynamics of local politics intersect.

In the recent slaying of Mayor Espinosa and the Parojinogs en masse, a police official named Jovie Espenido figured in both episodes. Now President Duterte has assigned this same police official to Iloilo City where Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog is said to be allegedly involved in drug trafficking---a charge that the mayor and his cousin, Senate Minority (LP) Leader Franklin Drilon, have vigorously denied.  

Where will this all end? Until we can produce a truly educated and economically independent populace, the cycle of boom and bust with regard to drugs and political dynasties won’t end.  It is a truism that a well-educated Filipino would undoubtedly manage to be economically---and politically---independent.

Last Aug. 3, 2017, Congress managed to pass an enlightened legislation, RA 10931, “The Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act,” to take effect in school-year 2018-2019. Under this new law, free tuition and other miscellaneous fees for students are guaranteed for some 112 State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) across the country. The Department of Budget and Management initially estimated that this new law would require P100 billion to put into operation, but skeptics feel that it would be come unsustainable over time.

This bill that guarantees free education in SUCs is our only hope to free many financially challenged among our people from the lack of education, which, in turn, spells fewer meaningful work opportunities. This is the sorry lot of the majority of our people. By contrast, a well-educated and economically independent populace, such as is found in the more developed countries, constitute the bulwark of stability there.  No other way to alleviate the plight of poorer Filipinos except to guarantee them free education in the SUCs.

If there are no sufficient funds to jump-start this new law, by all means, let's slash some of the generous “earnmarks” and “allocations” for members of Congress---euphemisms that used to be called "pork barrel" until the SC abolished it. To operationalize RA 10931 for SY 2018-2019 is a must if this country is to stabilize and progress economically and politically.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Lacson accuses Faeldon as having been “eaten by the system” but is there really a sustained way out of the corruption in Customs? Picture of Cardinal Tagle and a President Duterte listening intently, chin cupped in hand, speaks of the Holy Spirit in action.

President Duterte and Cardinal Tagle meet in the Palace to discuss the need for a summit on the drug problem
Resigned Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon and Senator Panfilo Lacson when they were still talking

The picture is not pretty at all. By some maneuverings within the administration, former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon was forced to submit his resignation two weeks ago amid allegations of corruption in his one year in office. Isidro Lapeña was installed in his place. 

The woes inside the Bureau of Customs, however, are far from over despite the changing of the guard, as allegations and counter-allegations of wrong-doing flew thick and fast between resigned Commissioner Faeldon and the senator who provoked his resignation, Panfilo Lacson.

Lacson had accused Faeldon of receiving a P100 million “pasalubong,” the customary welcoming money when a  new chief comes in, labeling it as part of the “systemic corruption” in the BOC. Faeldon, asserted Lacson, instead of fighting the system, “was eaten up by the system.”


Faeldon, an ex-military man, however, is not one to take Lacson’s attack sitting down. He has accused the senator’s son and namesake, Panfilo Lacson Jr., of smuggling through the BOC billions of pesos worth of imported cement in 67 shipments, that led to huge loss of revenues for government. Faeldon asserted that the younger Lacson’s company, “Bonjourno,"  which he claims has a measly capitalization of P20,000, has been labeled by the Cement Manufacturers of the Philippines as the “alleged top smuggler of cement.”

Actually few would be surprised at the slinging and counter-slinging of mud between the resigned BOC Chief and the Senator who seeks to protect his son from charges of smuggling. Lacson is buoyed by moral support from his colleagues in the Senate, including Senate President Koko Pimentel.

These accusations and counter-accusations between Lacson and Faeldon remain to be investigated, but exactly in what forum hearings on these hot issues could be taken up remains a big question mark. 


What's fact is that the Customs Bureau has always been a hotbed of corruption in every administration. The cleanest administration of the BOC I can remember was that of Wigberto Tañada, but eventually word was out that Bobby had become ineffective---thanks to the mafia inside. 

I have long wondered how to rescue that crucial office from corruption, but every time I discuss it with knowledgeable persons, they would simply roll their eyes heavenward. It’s a given---Customs will always be corrupt. 


Many studies have been made about computerizing Customs transactions and payments in this computer age---so that direct personal dealings where the arreglohan takes place between the bureau's staff and its clients would be minimized. Moreover, there is the daunting fear that computers do leave paper trails---lest those indulging in shenanigans be caught. 

But, you guessed it, computerization has not been effected---as politicians have understandably objected to this arrangement.

 Another resource person I spoke with about the continuing corruption in Customs theorized that the best way is to PRIVATIZE that bureau and let it just pay the proper dues to government. But since that office is such a gold mine for funds for politicos running for office, it is doubtful whether those in power would allow this bureau to slip from their fingers. 

I have also wondered how the more advanced countries deal with their customs office, and I will try to look into this issue.


What do we make of the recent historic meeting between Cardinal Tagle and President Duterte---if not inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The murder of Kian de los Santos at the hands of two policemen--which has become the purgation of the nation---has to bear good fruit so that he did not die in vain. 

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, outgoing President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a very strong condemnation of the heinous murder of the 17-year old boy---as his position called for. The Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan was quoted in media as assailing President Duterte’s “selective brand of justice,” whereby “the official who was able to kill will be honored. The blame is on the dead victim.” The top prelate lamented further that “Corpses cannot explain or defend themselves from the accusations against them.” 


Kian's death roused the nation as few issues in contemporary times have (my FB page suffered an overload of entries, overwhelmingly very angry). The guilty police elements were purged, but the Holy Spirit was not satisfied, it seemed, as He moved to inspire Luis Cardinal Tagle to meet with President Duterte on the recent tragedy. 

Unlike Archbishop Soc who is head of all the Catholic bishops and clergy in the Philippines, Cardinal Tagle is not directly in the church hierarchy, and so he could speak his mind as a private citizen. Besides, he has a perpetual smile that sews up his chinky eyes and he could look very amiable indeed. 

That photo of the Cardinal and Mr. Duterte with the latter's jaw propped in his hands as he listened in rapt attention tells it all.


Church and State chose to meet on this drug/killing issue before it became a truly runaway problem. Cardinal Tagle was smiling and for once President Duterte wasn't snarling. Their thrust is to call a wide conference of the elements involved in this problem and look for earnest solutions; but before solutions could be found, the problem has to be defined in all its angles.

Included here are police abuses, triggered in part by President Duterte's loose bravado in the past, that mistook the culture of impunity for the rule of law. What is being pondered upon between Mr. Duterte and his eminent visitor, according to news, is a multi-sectoral summit on the drug problem, with all the stakeholders to discuss this gargantuan problem and look for solutions.


This is more typically the Pinoy approach to a problem---a meeting of minds and hearts, not the shooting of innocent 17-year olds. We Filipinos talk and gesticulate a lot. Let's all weigh in in this proposed summit on the drug problem---all stakeholders, and even the estambys' representatives ought to be invited. No holds barred, patience and tolerance ought to be the rule. 

Amid the national despair that we have fallen into as a people---owing to the dastardly deaths before Kian, but especially OF Kian---the Holy Spirit guided Cardinal Tagle to call on President Duterte and a new game is on.


Not a game of quota killings, but a way to truly eradicate or at least mitigate the effects of this menace in our midst---through a combination of the police force humbled by its inadequacy to handle human frailty, but willing to reform and learn; a bureaucracy that pledges to shun corruption (this is perhaps the toughest bill to fill); a President who reveals his soft side after all; civil leaders seeking redemption from their guilt over the menace gone berserk, and beating their breasts in a new resolve; parents advised to play their role with renewed sense of responsibility; and schools that have been less than vigilant with their wards, now more enlightened about their mission.

It will be a national mea culpa but with a resolve to rise from the destitution of spirit. Talking it over is the Filipino way of solving problems and now, after the shock of Kian's death has ebbed somewhat, we must resolve that our beloved country won't ever sink into a narco state, and we recognize that that resolve is in our power to fulfill. 

Each and every Filipino has this obligation to himself and his family, to get involved in this issue of winning the battle vs. the pernicious drugs. Invoking God's mercy and grace, let us work to triumph over the perfidy of drugs and corruption May God bless us all..

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Death of 11th-grader Kian de los Santos in Caloocan at the hands of supposed lawmen in civvies causes nationwide outrage and fear that cure is worse than drug malady. Speculation that House "super-majority" abandoned support for left-leaning DSWD Secretary owing to PRRD's disappointment with the Left in Netherlands talks.

Police at crime scene, viewing body of
17-year old Kian Lloyd de los Santos in Caloocan (Manila Standard photo)
Former DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo defending herself before the Commission on Appointments

The ongoing battle of our country against the drug menace goes into a cycle of boom and bust---of paroxysms of anger and then long periods of quiet, as though of surrender to reality. Right now the nation is undergoing extreme paroxysms of anger and outrage over the brutal death of 17-year old Kian Lloyd de los Santos, an 11th grader at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel College in Caloocan City,  last Friday night at the hands of supposed law enforcers. 

The circumstances are truly troubling, for the CCTV cameras in the neighborhood caught the boy as he was being dragged by two men who were not in uniform and then he was shot from behind. The story peddled by the police is that Kian was armed and they were forced to shoot him down. However, as the Inquirer pointed out, the footages showed that the arresting men already had the boy in custody before he was killed. A witness described how Kian was told to run real fast, after which they shot him from the back several times. . 


This most recent segment in the long telenovela of our nation's bloody battle against drugs does not seem credible at all, for the young boy is not an NPA in the hills who would be sporting arms. He has a family. In fact, as the mother, a domestic helper in Saudi who had to rush home upon hearing of her son's ill fate, revealed in tears:  just the night before, Kian had asked her for a bike, which she promised. That doesn't sound like a drug pusher to me. 

Two days ago, the President was quoted in the Manila Times as declaring that the Philippines "has turned into a narco country as policemen in Manila shot dead 25 drug suspects in a series of raids overnight." No one is saying that the rut our country has fallen into as a result of the conspiracy of forces in various administrations is going to be a picnic. But right now many citizens are questioning whether the policy of shooting even just mere suspects involved in drugs---specially young people---WOULD NOT CREATE A CURE WORSE THAN THE MALADY. 


A culture of violence and impunity is enveloping Philippine society, and the sad thing is that in case of an error of the killing machines, life cannot be brought back. WRONG MISTAKE PALA, as the street lingo goes.  I feel especially for the youth being slain, for I sincerely believe in the possibility of REHABILITATION---if only the STATE AND THE COMMUNITY would show the patience and political will---and creative ways of handling rehabilitation. 

AND LASTLY, CITIZENS ARE ASKING: WHY CAN'T THE TRAFFIC IN DRUGS BE STOPPED AT THE SOURCE---FROM ABROAD? The mind-boggling P6.4 billion worth of shabu that passed through Customs from abroad recently was an eye-stopper. Logic dictates that the authorities close the supply faucet before anything else. 


The failure of Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo to get the required minimum 13 affirmative votes in the powerful 24-member Commission on Appointments to secure her post may be attributed to a number of reasons.  From reports reaching this blogger from insiders in the House of Representatives, she failed to accommodate the request of House members for her to set aside contingency funds in the DSWD budget for their home provinces. 

According to reports I gathered, members of the "super-majority" in the House wanted Secretary Taguiwalo to just put aside a certain amount in the DSWD yearly budget for EACH OF THE PROVINCES throughout the country---particularly those prone to disasters---so that in case of emergencies, funds would readily be available to them.


Ex-Secretary Taguiwalo was quoted in media as asserting, however,  that the representatives were simply after pork barrel or restoration of the PDAF that members of Congress lost after the Supreme Court RULED THE PORK BARREL FUND UNLAWFUL AND ILLEGAL THREE YEARS AGO. They just want it back,  it's their sense of entitlement over these funds, rued the ex-DSWD Secretary to media after she was sacked.  Her stance was resented by Congress members who decried Taguiwalo’s "one-track mind" about the funds.

I can understand why Taguiwalo would be suspicious about the congressmen’s wanting their pork outright; for members of the House have gotten used to pork barrel as  political entitlement But with the pork barrel outlawed by the Supreme Court, they have had to seek assurance of funds from the DSWD for "contingencies."  . 


Then there is the issue of Judy Taguiwalo--- a former UP professor from 1992 to 2015 and former faculty regent of the UP Board of Regents for a year---as being leftist, which she does not deny. Her leftist leanings came into play owing to speculation from some leftist House members that President Duterte refused to "sway" his super-majority coalition in the chamber to her side in the CA---because of presidential disgust over the recent bog-down of talks between the government and the Left in The Netherlands. 

In fact, as a senior congressman put it, Mr. Duterte later sort of gave the impression that the congressmen could do what they please with Taguiwalo's fate in the CA, and he wouldn't meddle. . 

The voting in the CA tells it all. If Mr. Duterte wanted to push for the DSWD Secretary, he could have ordered his party, the PDP Laban, WHICH HAS 113 MEMBERS IN THE HOUSE---a clear super-majority---to support Taguiwalo. Consider this huge bloc vs. the NP's 33, the NPC's 29, the LPs' 27, the NUP's 23, Una's 4, Lakas' 3, the LDP's 1 and the Bukidnon Paglaum, 1. Had the President gone full blast for Taguiwalo she doubtless could have squeezed through the CA. 

As it turned out in the final voting on Taguiwalo, of the 13 votes to REJECT her, A FULL 9 VOTES CAME FROM,THE HOUSE AND THE FOUR OTHER VOTES FROM THE SENATE.  Of the 11 votes FOR Taguiwalo, 1 vote came from the leftist Makabayan bloc and the rest from the Senate. But the House vote was enough to oust her.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The current imbroglio between Comelec Chief Andy Bautista and estranged wife Trisha does not follow the traditional pattern, for Andy’s mother-in-law, the glamorous Baby Cruz Vasquez, is his biggest defender. This case is expected to result in an impeachment trial if only to divert public attention away from some of the administration’s deficiencies

The Andres Bautistas and Andy Bau's mom-in-law, the beautous Baby Cruz  Vasquez in happier times

Indeed, nothing like a public tussle between husband and wife to rock the media--- especially if the former is a prominent official and the wife is the aggressive and assertive kind who wants half of the wealth. Last Monday, the Inquirer broke out the story of the on-going dispute between Comelec Chair Andres Bautista and his estranged wife, Patricia Cruz-Bautista, and it has been pecking plate for tri-media---with the audience or the readers following every twist and turn of this melodrama being played out especially on the TV networks.

I feel sad and truly sorry for any marriage break-up, as I subscribe to the belief that a marriage under God is indissoluble except by death. This time I feel sorrier because I know Andy Bautista and his mother-in-law, the ever-glamorous Baby Cruz-Vasquez.  I felt very sad to hear from Andy over TV recently how his sons have stopped going to school because of the shame that front pages of newspapers and prime-time TV of their parents’ very public quarrel have brought them. In any marriage break-up especially of the frightfully acrimonious kind (from Trisha Bautista’s end) the real victims of the word war are the children---more so in this case, as it is so high-profile.  Truly tragic


There are interesting facets to the controversy, such as the query on everyone’s mind after Andy Bautista called for his first press conference  to answer his wife’s allegations about ill-gotten wealth in---of all places---the condo unit of his mother-in-law, Baby Vasquez, and her husband Danny Vasquez.  Both Vasquezes were very visible by his side. The query: bakit kakampi ni Andy Bau (as his friends call him) ang mother-in-law niya, when  by tradition and old wives’ tales, mother-in-law and son or daughter-in-law have little love lost for each other. Here Andy Bau has the full support of his mom-in-law, which doesn’t seem to go by the traditional Pinoy drama script.

In fact, Baby Cruz Vasquez released a statement just now that reads:

“I am greatly saddened by recent events involving my daughter Trisha and her husband Andy. AS a mother, you always wish happiness for your daughter and her family. Sadly, fairy tales sometimes do not always come true.
“It also pains me to see my grandchildren go through this trial that was not of their doing nor their fault.
“I have known Andy for years and I know him to be an honest, upright, God-fearing husband and father. He is a man of unquestioned integrity, the kind of man any mother would entrust her daughter to. THIS IS WHY I CANNOT BELIEVE THE ACCUSATION AGAINST HIM, EVEN IF THEY ARE FROM MY OWN DAUGHTER (emphasis BOC’s).
“I continue to pray for Andy and his family, that they stand fast and find the strength to face this storm. I also pray for my daughter, that she realizes what are truly important in life.”

In turn, Baby, we your friends are praying for strength for you and your family amid this cross that you are carrying.


Judging from public reaction of friends and people I know, the sympathy seems to be tilting toward Andy Bau especially after he appeared on TV a second time with his eyes swollen and he spoke about his sons.  The good feeling toward him comes from the fellow’s easy friendly manners even with media, but I also gather the same sentiment from people who know him well.

For instance, Dr. Jason Roland Valdez, son of SSS Chair Amado Valdez, narrates that when his grandmother died, Andy Bau was the first one to arrive at the funeral parlor---ahead of the Valdezes and even of the corpse in the viewing room---to condole with the bereaved family. J.R. Valdez asserts that he would never forget this episode about their family friend.


Actually the friendship among three former deans of law schools is indicative of Andy Bau’s easy manners and nice-guy image. Andy was dean of the FEU College of Law, while Amado Valdez was dean of the UE College of Law, and Nilo Divina the current dean of the UST College of Law. The three men were once very active in the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS).

This friendship between Bautista and Nilo Divina has come into play in the current controversy, as Trisha Bautista's allegation is that Andy Bau was receiving what amounts to “lagay” for referring PCGG cases to Nilo’s office, and the sums are alleged by Trisha as part of monies stacked up in Bautista’s numerous bank accounts here and abroad---which wealth, as the stories go, she wants to be divided evenly between them.


With the allegations against Andy Bau hurled by Trisha before President Duterte in Malacanang earlier, and later in a press conference that she held, talk of impeachment---the only manner in the Constitution whereby the chair of a constitutional commission such as the Comelec could be removed for cause---has surfaced.  As per the Constitution, the resolution to impeach a public servant comes from the House of Representatives and if the sufficient votes are secured, the case goes to the Senate for open and frequently bloody trial, as in the case of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Because Bautista was an appointee of ex-President Aquino, President 
Duterte’s men in both chambers of Congress may be expected to get into full throttle on the trial. Moreover, as Comelec chair, Bautista doubtless has left one political party or the other aggrieved in the elections.  An impeachment trial  is also a way of diverting attention from the problems bedeviling the administration such as the increasingly sluggish economy, the insurgency war and the bog-down of the peace talks with the Left, the still unresolved trouble in Marawi and environs, and the insufficient budget needs for big-ticket items such as implementing free tuition in State Universities & Colleges, that has recently been passed into law.

Aside from the trials and tribulations of a contemporary marriage in the elite class, what’s happening to Comelec Chair Bautista is enough to frighten any thinking citizen about entering public service.  I join his mom-in-law, Baby Cruz Vasquez, in praying for enlightenment for the estranged couple.