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.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A great plus for President Digong if he appoints Glenn Chong to the Comelec top post, as this would restore confidence in the poll body. The urban warfare that our marines---trained in jungle warfare---fought in Marawi exacted a high toll in their ranks---36 dead and 353 wounded. But the Marines delivered.

Scene of utter destruction in Marawi City, with the famous minaret in the background (photo by David Santos, CNN Phil.)

The post of Comelec Chair became vacant with the resignation of Chairman Andres Bautista, which was virtually forced on him as the only option---so that he does not face a bruising trial in the Senate and certain conviction, after being impeached by the House of Representatives. The question now is: who will assume the top Comelec post?  While a few names are being tossed around, one seems to be dominant, invoking confidence from various sectors: lawyer and former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong.

Former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, whom IT experts are endorsing for Comelec Chair

It is highly significant that among those endorsing Glenn Chong are leading members of the Philippine IT profession and various associations connected with it. Among his most vocal endorsers are outstanding IT professionals such as Nelson Celis, Edmundo CasiƱo, past president of the Philippine Computer Society, Ernesto del Rosario, Leo Querubin and their respective IT groups. Another hearty endorser of Glenn Chong is the active citizens' group Tanggulang Demokrasya, led by civic leader Evelyn Kilayko and lawyer Dindo Donato as its general counsel.

Citizens from various walks of life who have heard the presentations of Glenn Chong have been impressed with his deep knowledge of the workings of our electoral system as well as the frauds that have infected it over time. I find the endorsement of leading IT practitioners most significant, however, since they know that Glenn Chong knows the business of elections like the back of his hand and cannot be fooled by professional cheaters inside the Comelec.


As for the reservation of Manila Times columnist Bobi Tiglao that he is a Liberal Party man, that does not hold water at all. While Glenn ran under the LP in 2007, he bolted it after the near-assassination of his father which was ascribed to LP elements. In 2010 he ran for reelection in his native Biliran under Lakas-NUCD, supporting presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro, but Glenn was cheated out of victory.  His defeat due to cheating, however, proved to be a blessing for the country, for since then Glenn has singularly campaigned for clean and honest elections, and has studied all the intricacies of electronic voting and counting, so that he could outwit the deeply embedded cheaters in the Comelec.

If President Duterte needs a vote of confidence in his administration, the best way is to recruit a young, idealistic and cheating-savvy guy like Glenn Chong to the Comelec where he could be expected to slay all the dragons there. Mr. Duterte, Glenn Chong is the best we have to clean out the Comelec. He will be a big plus to your administration. 


Earlier today my radio partner, Magsaysay Awardee for Theater Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I featured brave Marines in our weekly “Radyo Balintataw” over dzRH---to hear about their brave battles against ISIS terrorists who laid siege to the country’s Islamic City of Marawi.

In the retaking of Marawi, elements from the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines have been  involved---the Army, the PNP Special Action Forces, Marines from the Navy as well as the Air Force support system that has undertaken delivery of badly needed logistics and supplies and transporting the wounded to various military hospitals such as Camp Evangelista in Cagayan de Oro and in  Zamboanga as well as to V. Luna Hospital.   


The grand design of terrorist leaders Isnilon Hapilon, head of the Abu Sayyaf,  and the brothers Maute---to establish a Caliphate in Mindanao from where radical Islam could spread through Southeast Asia---had to be thwarted by the AFP with the ready support of the Filipino people. The bloody recapture effort of nearly five months---that had involved thousands of men and women of the AFP---meant logistics running to many billions of pesos that could have been put to more profitable ways for the Filipino people---such as battling the more persistent war against poverty.

 But the urgency of the moment was there, and Team AFP did not shirk from its bounden duty, even at the cost of hundreds of lives lost or wounded. The battle for Marawi, which began on May 23, took our fighting troops almost five months to finish, but it also exacted a heavy toll from them:  a total of 165 soldiers perished in the nearly five months of battle and scores wounded. Of this total death toll, 36 were from the three Marine battalions which also saw 353 of its soldiers wounded in action.  


In our dzRH interview, most interesting was the viewpoint offered by Marine 1st Lt. Cris Jay Billano, a graduate of the Naval Officer Candidate School of the Philippine Navy, in that the reconquest of Marawi proved quite tough as it involved URBAN WARFARE---something the Marine batallions were unaccustomed to, as they are trained primarily in JUNGLE WARFARE. The Marine Command had been involved in urban warfare only  once before---in the battle to defend Zamboanga City from some 200 MNLF warriors in 2013. 

Cecile Alvarez and I brought before the nation over dzRH fascinating stories of urban warfare from the Marines---this time not like in the movies but in actual battles where people lived or died. The battle for Marawi meant retaking house after house, building after building, shrine after shrine---and by the end of nearly five months of battle, the once beautiful idyllic city by Lake Lanao was utterly destroyed.

People in the construction and design business, led by world-renowned architect and urban planner Felino Palafox, estimate that it would cost no less than P50 billion to reconstruct Marawi. In fact the floating of a Marshall Plan type of bonds is being talked about to fund this most daunting, urgent job. 


Marine Sgt. Nestor Pulga narrated that in the nearly five-month battle,  at times  only a wall divided the warring troops, and the terrorists would bore holes into the walls just big enough to insert the nose of their rifles. At times the dividing line would be only some sack cloth or drapery and sorry na lang for the protagonist on the other side.

Sgt. Pulga narrated how in one building, the terrorists had dug into the basement, so that the marines climbed up to the second floor and tried to work their way down.  The enemy, however, started a fire to burn the upper floors, prompting the marines to jump out the windows, resulting in some broken bones.  

Marine Sgt. Richard Anding of the 10th Company Special Operation Platoon narrated how his group of 23 troopers went over the Mapanji Bridge, the first bridge over the Agus River in Marawi, by following on foot an advancing tank that was firing across at enemy positions. But being on the bridge also exposed the marines on both sides of the enemy lines.

The untold hardships and sacrifice of lives and limbs of Team AFP reaped enormous support from a grateful nation. As Marine Capt. Maria Rowena Dalmacio pointed out in our radio program, the troopers sounded an appeal for socks and blankets and citizens flooded the camps with these items. Mabuhay ang Team AFP!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Renowned architect Felino Palafox proposes to keep Marawi---now a huge heap of rubble after five months of ferocious fighting---as WAR MEMORIAL and construct a new city elsewhere. But restoring Marawi to pre-jihadist glory would not only be a triumph of technological skills but also a symbol of Filipino indomitable spirit. Alay sa Kawal Foundation faces huge financial strain from Marawi fighting

World-renowned Architect and Urban Planner Felino "Jun" Palafox
Faced with the daunting task of rebuilding once-beautiful and idyllic Marawi City which nestles by scenic Lake Lanao, President Duterte recently brought world-renowned Filipino architect-urban planner Felino “Jun” Palafox there---even as the smoke of battle still rises from the vast heap of destruction in the bloody urban warfare the city has undergone.  

Already, at this point, talk is bruited about massive reconstruction and restoration effort for Marawi City that’s akin to the gigantic Marshall Plan to rebuild the destroyed cities and economies of Western Europe in the aftermath of  World War II.

Architect Jun Palafox has offered to undertake Marawi's reconstruction and no one is better qualified for this daunting task than he, as he has gained vast international reputation as a hot-shot architect and urban planner.  But just as important, Jun Palafox has the heart and patriotism to restore this city to what was once the country’s Islamic citadel by the shores of Lake Lanao.


That said, I also read that Architect Palafox is toying with the idea of recommending preservation of  Marawi city in its current state of total ruin--- and instead build an entirely new city further up the shores of Lake Lanao. From what I gather, Jun Palafox’s idea is to make the heart of the city---now in total ruins---into a WAR MEMORIAL  and just create a new Marawi elsewhere. 

I can understand where Jun is coming from:  as a memorial to man’s folly, downtown Marawi, where fiercest fighting had taken place for five months, would have few equals in the world in its ruinous state. But a memorial is just that: a memorial.  I personally would prefer to see that our most famous Islamic city rise again from the ashes of war---and through the collective effort of all who had loved and rhapsodized her in past eras, recapture her beauty.

Restoring Marawi to her glorious past would not only be a show-piece of architectural and urban skills, but more importantly, A TRIUMPH OF THE FILIPINO’S INDOMITABLE SPIRIT.

Alay sa Kawal Foundation officials, led by its Chair, former VP Jejomar Binay, meeting last Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, with widows and parents of AFP enlisted personnel killed in action in various encounters with dissidents.

Yesterday morning, Oct. 19,  the Alay sa Kawal (ASK) Foundation, which I founded 30 years ago after my husband was badly wounded in an encounter with the NPAs in Cagayan Valley, awarded cash assistance to 30 spouses or parents of AFP enlisted personnel killed in various encounters with enemies of the state around the country.

I was inspired to found ASK in 1987, after I realized from the example of soldiers who had perished or were badly wounded in that encounter with my husband,  how much their widows  needed financial assistance to raise very young children orphaned by their soldier-fathers.  

Since then the Foundation, led for some years now by our chair, former Vice President Jejomar Binay, has continued with its checks to the widows or parents of soldiers who have perished all over the country.  In the scheme of things, the checks ASK gives out are small (P30,000 per family) and to date ASK has helped  some 5,500 soldiers’ families already.

The donations, small as they are, however, must be viewed as a token of civilian concern for our men in uniform---the ordinary soldiers---raised from the civilian sector to help alleviate in a small way the plight of their widows and orphans.


At yesterday’s ASK donation awards, I realized how pitifully young are most of the wives who were left behind by their soldier-husbands, and how the burden of rearing children orphaned by fathers would be such a burden to these young mothers.  I also realized that with the war in Marawi against jihadist elements over the past five months, the list of our soldier-beneficiaries will be increasing.

At latest count some 162 soldiers of the state have lost their lives in fighting hundreds of jihadists who had invaded and sought to conquer Marawi for ISIS.


This means more efforts on the part of the Alay sa Kawal Foundation to raise funds for these new families recently orphaned.  It should be pointed out, however, that never before have the Filipino people regarded their soldiers with so much affection and respect as in the battle for the re-conquest of Marawi from jihadist terrorists.  

That saga has brought about untold heroisms, but alas, it has also brought so much suffering among families that have been orphaned of fathers, brothers and sons. How these families are now deprived of love and care because of the senseless war among fellow Filipinos, instigated by a few jihadist foreigners.


Our cash donations for widows of ordinary Filipino soldiers killed in action have continued since 1987, as fund-raising has been conducted through the years  by a board of professionals. Aside from former VP Binay,  they include lawyer Ramon Pedrosa, former Postmaster General Cesar Sarino, businessman Hermie Esguerra, Alfonso “Boy” Reyno of the Manila Jockey Club and others---who are  dedicated to honoring our heroes who have fought against jihadists and leftist elements.  We hope that the Alay sa Kawal Foundation would continue to be supported in its fund-raising by our fellow Filipino citizens.

But more than cash donations, we hope and pray for peace to descend on our beloved country, so that Filipinos need not kill fellow Filipinos. Instead, we pray that we could all unite to make our country ever more progressive---assuring each and every Filipino of a just and peaceful existence, where families can rear and educate their children for a bright future.

Friday, October 6, 2017

In his address before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Davao Chapter, President Duterte was caustic and angry one moment, and philosophical and musing the next. He invited Morales and Sereno to resign with him, next moment he stressed that it will have to be the army/PNP to cause him to resign or stay.

President Duterte applauding a number at the IBP Davao Chapter oath-taking last Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017

I stayed up late a few nights ago listening to a re-broadcast of President Duterte in a long rambling speech at the Davao SMX Convention Center, during the oath-taking of new members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Davao Chapter.  He ranted and raved in a monologue for what seemed like two hours, during which the lawyers about to take their oath were largely stony silent---not knowing how to react perhaps to some of the things he was saying.  Just stony silence, punctuated once in a rare while by some applause.

To be sure, Mr. Duterte had eloquent passages, such as when he quoted the saying, “I only pass through this world but once, so all the good I can do, let me do it now.” Also, the oft-quote from Ecclesiastes about a time to live and a time to die. At some point he mused that “If God is perfect, why is there so much imperfection.” And how “life is so incongruous by itself...but that it depends on you”  and “A thousand lies run everyday acquires the semblance of truth.”


But most of the time, the President was caustic and angry about how two or three policemen are being killed every day in the drug war, and how “people take so lightly the addiction that has now run into four million people involved.”  He said he would not take the drug war sitting down---“if you indulge in it, it will bring out the worst in me” and “I can match your insanity also.”

Mr. Duterte peppered his ramblings with the usual curses, which the broadcasters sought to soften by papering it over with some visual effects or  rendering some utterances garbled;  hence that night the studio technicians were the busiest folks in Davao City. 


What seemed to irritate the President most---quite understandably---was an earlier suggestion from Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and upheld  by IBP National President Abdiel den Elijah Fajardo, that Mr. Duterte should not be “onion-skinned.” It's interesting to note that the Ombudsman is the sister of Mr. Duterte’s "balae" (the father-in-law of Davao Mayor Sara Duterte). 

Thus, Morales' admonition to the President not to be "onion-skinned" must be  particularly irritating, considering that they are really just one family. Mr. Duterte vehemently objected to the allegations raised by Morales about possible bank accounts here and abroad owned by the Duterte family.


But Mr. Duterte’s arch-critic, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, had hurled the challenge to the Ombudsman to scrutinize those supposed accounts, and under the rules of her office, she was duty-bound to look into these allegations of hidden wealth. But the President stressed that he will not submit to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.

Mr. Duterte has admitted that he probably stored up some P40 million maximum in banks---“lifetime savings”---and he exhorts Land Bank in the process to come up with the right figures about his salaries over many years of public service, beginning with his 22 years as mayor of Davao.  He has accused the Ombudsman of fabricating evidence “illegally obtained,” in order to make it appear that he has hundreds of millions in banks. The accusations, said, he, “are pulling down and eroding his leadership,” “an attack on my honor,” adding that “What happened to (the late Chief Justice Renato) Corona is happening to me.”

The President stressed that all that’s being raised about hundreds of millions of pesos allegedly in his bank accounts are pure lies.


It was at this point that the President raised the proposition that the three of them RESIGN together, simultaneously---he, the Ombudsman and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.  He challenged the two highest women officials to go to Congress---“the three of us---and let us sign letters of resignation." Mr. Duterte stressed that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has denied releasing any documents about his funds; hence, he said, the figures being bandied around by Morales and her staff were pure fabrication.

Here Mr. Duterte seems to reserve his biggest ire for Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang, who, he asserted, has given the Filipino public the impression that the AMLC had shared pertinent documents about his alleged bank accounts, when, in fact, thundered Mr. Duterte, Carandang, under tremendous duress, later admitted that he got the figures only from media.


A while longer into the presidential monologue in the Davao SMX Convention, he retracted his earlier offer to the two most powerful women he was at odds with, to resign with him. “I will not resign,” he said categorically. But who will decide on the issue of the leadership of the country? Duterte said without hesitation: it will have to be the Police and the Armed Forces.

And to Deputy Ombudsman Carandang he had a parting shot: "Pag nagka-leche leche ang Pilipinas, uunahin kita (If something happens to the Philippines, I will make sure I’ll get you first).”  And as though for emphasis, Mr. Duterte said: Ilang pulis dito ang binimbang ko, ang ilan ay sinampal ko.

He did not spare the family that had owned the Inquirer for some 25 years.  Said the President: Any amount collected from government property should be surrendered to the government. "Kayo pala ang magnanakaw, i-surender na ninyo ang property na yan at gagawaan ko ng bahay iyon para sa mga mahihirap."

His parting shot to the Inquirer owners: You who have enjoyed the fat of the land, time to go.