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, June 17, 2018

Various sectors, most notably the security sector, express apprehension over certain clauses the MILF is insisting to be included in the BBL that's being hammered out by Congress. Duterte is right: peace negotiations with NDF should be held here and not in The Netherlands

Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan (now retired), welcoming then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo upon her arrival from abroad e years back.

Over the past two Sunday segments of our “Radyo Balintataw” talk-show over dzRH, Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I concentrated on various aspects of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)---the positive and the negative side of it---in an effort to help shed light on this most crucial legislation that’s expected to be passed by Congress in time for President Duterte’s “State of the Nation Address” on July 23.  

Two Sundays ago we had as guest Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, who has spent many decades in Mindanao. Fr. Mercado is  quite optimistic that the passage of the BBL---due for reconciliation in the bicameral conference committee of Congress from July 9-13---would help address some of the historical injustices to the Bangsamoro people, and bring about peace and prosperity to the more impoverished areas of that huge island down south.


Unarguably, the proposed BBL---far from being the panacea for all of Mindanao’s ills---will have to reconcile many features to be raised between the Senate and the House. Earlier tonight over dzRH, we invited former PMA Superintendent and former Southern Command Chief Lt. Gen. Edilberto Adan,  (ret.)---PMA class 1972 and now trustee and co-chair of the committee on national security of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations---to share with the nation the apprehensions of the "security sector," the military and police---over certain moves that the Bangsamoro is pushing in the proposed BBL. 

For instance, Gen. Adan noted that there appears to be an absence of MILF renunciation of its avowed goal of independence and the establishment of an Islamic State. Moreover, he stressed that certain "repetitious" words and phrases such as "asymmetric relationship,"  "aspiration for self-governance" and "right to self-determination" suggest equality of rank between the Philippine government and the Bangsamoro---which cannot be allowed. 

In fact, Sen. Franklin Drilon is reportedly objecting to the "self-determination" clause in the BBL, and he rightly asserted that it could be taken to mean political independence for the dissident group. 


Just as sensitive, the term "normalization" as defined in the BBL's mother document, the "Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro" of October 2014, did not mandate disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Moreover, it would seem that MILF armed groups would continue to co-exist with the AFP in the same 30 year-period prior to the end of the plebiscites on the BBL.  

There's huge worry too that actual decommissioning of MILF and MNLF armed elements would be quite tough. Recall that this issue was among the thorniest during the negotiations in Northern Ireland in the 1990s vis-a-vis the IRA.. 

These are just some of the nitty-gritty that would have to be threshed out in continuing negotiations between government and the Bangsamoro over the next many months. The common goal should be genuine peace and reconciliation in our beloved land, but it would seem from initial salvos that negotiations would be quite rocky. 


I don’t always agree with President Duterte’s views and policies, but in his latest advocacy---to hold the peace talks with the Communist Party in our country instead of in Utrecht, The Netherlands---I completely agree with him.

For years now the government has been conducting peace talks with the communist leaders in Europe, mainly in The Netherlands, which has been a most expensive undertaking for the government. But so far, nothing much has been achieved despite the frightful expenses involved, with support from some European governments. 

Moreover, these communist leaders have lived abroad for so long that they may be quite removed from the current reality back home. How can they speak for the broad masses of Filipinos if they have been merely luxuriating in the European way of life, courtesy of some foreign governments. Recall the term "steak commandos?" 


My classmate at the UP many decades ago, Jose Maria “Joma” Sison as well as a few other NDF elements who were contemporaries of ours have been living in The Netherlands for close to 50 years now. Obviously they are averse to coming home until conditions they seek to promote are imposed. If they are waiting for the country to come under Communist rule, however, I suspect that they would have to wait forever.

Communist insurgency in the Philippines is said to be the longest-running in the world---by now over five decades---and many lives have been lost on both sides.  The price the Filipino people are paying for peace is quite steep, yet it remains extremely doubtful if communism could be imposed here, as Filipinos are naturally averse to its doctrines, which run counter to our deep abiding faith in God.


What should happen is for both sides to focus on real reforms. On the government side, more efforts toward eradicating poverty principally by marshaling precious resources toward that end, instead of their being siphoned off to or squandered by politicos through corruption and flagrant spending.

On the side of the Communists, there is need to show genuine concern for the country and our people. They should recognize that instead of the revolution that they have been dreaming about for 50 years to succeed, what would be more meaningful would be to help eradicate poverty and social injustice. Peace and order is a vital ingredient here. 


The President's  concern for the poor seems genuine enough.  If he could just discard his erratic, ill-thought out and vengeful ways at times, he may be able to lift the country out of poverty and backwardness as he has substantial support across the social classes. 

Education is one sure way of eradicating poverty and the recently passed law allowing FREE EDUCATION AND TRAINING in state colleges and universities---if funded adequately by Congress---should help alleviate the extreme poverty that's luring some of the broad masses to the insurgents. 

Corollarily, there should be less extravagance on the part of government officials and definitely less corruption. 


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

US President Trump---widely viewed as unstable and tantrum-prone—could emerge as winner in the Sentosa high drama with Kim, who also wants to score as a debuting closet statesman. Here at home, Senate and House leaders brace for tug-of-war over BBL which Digong wants as his SONA centerpiece.

The world will be keenly watching for dramatic developments as US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un sit down today, Tuesday, to talk peace and  the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in Sentosa Island---once a British Army artillery mess but now one of Singapore’s most luxurious resorts.

More things set the two leaders apart than bind them: Trump is 72 while Kim is a little less than half his age at 34. For many decades their two countries had been estranged. In 1948, with the aggressive communist thrust into Asia at the close of  World War II, another war erupted in the Korean Peninsula and the US supplied men and materiel to buttress the Free World forces sent there to contain the Communist advance. This included the Philippines.


The Korean War officially ended in July 1953 with the Americans sustaining 36,974 soldiers killed, some 103,284 wounded in action and 7,704 still unaccounted for as of April 2018.  America spent $67 billion in that war, with an armistice resulting in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas---but without a peace treaty ever signed between the protagonists. Thus, technically, the Korean War had never ended.

For decades, North and South Korea remained separate entities with hardly any interaction except for some efforts by religious groups to penetrate the North Korean communist curtain. That country retreated into isolation as leadership passed through three dynastic generations---from patriarch Kim Il Sung to his son Kim Jong-il and now to his grandson, Kim Jong-un. Young Kim drove North Korea to develop its nuclear capabilities at the high cost of draining the economy and impoverishing his country and people.


In recent weeks, however, stunning political developments took place as though prodded by an unseen hand---or probably just man’s natural longing for peace even in the hermit kingdom. Last April 27, South Korean President Moon Jae-un and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to formally end the Korean War---65 years after hostilities actually ceased. Meeting at the DMZ, they embraced like long-lost brothers and enjoyed a sumptuous dinner full of symbolisms. The two leaders pledged to keep talking.

But most significantly, Kim Jong-un pledged to dismantle nuclear weapons that at one time were deemed ready enough to aim at the heartland of America.


Now comes this historic meeting between Donald Trump and young Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Some critics are plainly skeptical about how sincere is Kim’s declared intent to abandoning his nuclear program. They opine that it could be just a ploy to get the US to ease crippling economic sanctions that have wrung the impoverished kingdom dry. The street-smart Trump---a business mogul before turning politician---is seen, however, as first insisting on “verifiable proof” of North Korea’s dismantling of its nuke arsenal, before offering some economic aid.

Still and all, whether Korean watchers are simply na├»ive or hopelessly optimistic, the world is better off with political leaders meeting and drinking to one another’s health in luxurious Sentosa Island, than firing those missiles across the world.

This early, it’s easy to see that President Trump, whom the American people---and the world---largely view as a bit zany and unpredictable, could come out of Sentosa a winner if he and the equally zany Kim end up agreeing on even a little something---like dismantling some of those nuclear toys of Kim. .The 34-year old Korean leader would also definitely gain in stature from looking and acting like a statesman in quest of peace Singapore---instead of what the world remembers: how he executed dozens of his men.  .    


Here at home, political analysts will be watching what happens to the bicameral conference committee that will seek to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) this coming June 9 to 13. Talk is that President Duterte intends to make the BBL the centerpiece of his 3rd State of the Nation Address this July 23 before Congress. In fact, he has certified the BBL bill as urgent and wants it on his desk on July 23 morning for his signature. .

Problem is that House Bill No. 36475 and Senate Bill 1717 contain certain passages that each chamber plans to stand pat on and are therefore considered pretty contentious.


For instance, in the Senate version, the Bangsamoro people shall be considered “citizens of the Republic of the Philippines and their area in Mindanao shall be their “territorial jurisdiction” instead of their “core territory” as some Moro leaders want, and some House leaders are willing to acquiesce to.
On the other hand, the senators appear more concerned that the BBL be more compliant with the 1987 Constitution, so that it could pass muster in the Supreme Court, where it is almost certain to be challenged, according to Sen. Miguel Zubiri, author of the BBL.

The almost inevitable scrutiny by the Supreme Court, however, has worried Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice-chair for political affairs, as he opined that the set-up might not be acceptable to the Bangsamoro people.


Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI, who was among the panelists at the “National Conference on BBL & Federalism”  at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati last week, opines that the chances of the BBL’s passing is greatest under the leadership of President Duterte. This is because Mr. Duterte hails from Mindanao and he has been quite open since the beginning of his administration to amending the Constitution to convert the country to Federalism.  Fr. Mercado asserts that the shift to Federalism and the adoption of the BBL are “the twin pillars of peace.”

And so, just as the whole world will be watching how the Trump-Kim Jong-un summit works out in Singapore, on a smaller scale, but equally impacting on the peace situation especially in the Asean region, the fate of the BBL in the next weeks and months will be assiduously followed.  

Sunday, June 3, 2018

President Duterte’s harsh shaming campaign against alleged “corrupt” officials in his administration would make some nominees understandably hesitant to accept posts, but his quick move to absolve Sol-Gen Calida in the multi-million deals his family security agency bagged from government firms is regarded as double standard.

The Duterte Administration's top lawyer, Solicitor-General Jose Calida

President Duterte has come down hard on a few of his officials whom he had castigated for alleged graft and corruption. Before firing them he shamed them publicly, cursing them. 

I laud the President’s efforts to clean up his administration---no President has tackled this problem as forcibly as he has---but I cannot help but feel very sad for the families of those officials whom he had lambasted with some very harsh cuss words over nationwide television. I imagine that given the terrible shaming of those ousted officials, which their families also suffered, fewer people would want to join Mr. Duterte’s administration. 

A simple letter of removal would do, and if a graft case is warranted with court action, so be it---but not the public shaming,  as  in the first place, it doesn't make our President look good using such vile language. In addition, these officials have families, especially children who may be presumed to be innocent of what their parent is being accused of. 

 Moreover, at times the case against the accused may not even be that solid.


Interestingly, however, the President came down quite soft on Solicitor General Jose Calida, who, it turned out, had not divested of his business interest in the family-owned security company despite his appointment to government office. 

The Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency, Inc. (VISAI) is wholly owned by Sol-Gen Calida and his family and in answer to accusations about its having cornered some P160 million in contracts from various government agencies, its officials have stated that those contracts were won through competitive bidding. In addition, the agency released a statement stressing that the government’s top lawyer had quit his post as president and chair of VISAI a month before the President appointed him Solicitor General. News indicated that Calida's wife and son have taken over the top posts in VISAI. 


That may have been the case. The fact, however, that Mr. Calida has not yet divested of his shares in the family security agency and that it has bagged all those multi-million security contracts from various government offices would doubtless tempt ordinary citizens to conclude that those offices signed up with his family agency because he is the Sol-Gen. 

As Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman pointed out, Calida should have divested himself of his interest in the security agency and not have allowed it to go after government contracts. In other words, it would appear that VISAI managed to get all those government security contracts because the Sol-Gen’s family owns the company. 

In the more advanced and politically developed countries such a set-up would not be possible.


To top it all, soon after news of Calida’s family-owned security agency bagging many government contracts made headlines,  Mr. Duterte immediately defended his top lawyer in media. He was quoted as stressing that he saw no reason to fire Calida as he had no participation in the operation of VISAI, having already “retired” from the company---even if it's a fact that Calida’s wife and children run it. 

What is curious is that there appears to be a double-standard being applied by the President in the case of Sol-Gen Calida’s family security agency, and the case of other administration officials who were fired in so public and vociferous a manner for alleged corruption.  

At the simplest level, it would appear that Mr. Duterte is grateful to Calida for having engineered the ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno when he introduced a new animal in the prosecution of impeachable officials---the quo warranto. 


This new concept facilitated the removal of CJ Sereno by a simple 8-6 vote of the Supreme Court and not through the foreseeable bloody impeachment process which could not promise her certain removal in a Senate trial. Doubtless, in Mr. Duterte’s reckoning, CJ Sereno had to go because she had dared to fight him on several issues.

Interestingly, Sol-Gen Calida, in using the quo warranto to oust Sereno through the vote of her colleagues, had argued that she had no business staying at the High Court’s helm because her vote was void AB INITIO---from the beginning---on several grounds, such as her having failed her psychological test and her faulty SALNs. 

But I've heard lawyers opine that this very same  argument could be thrown against Mr. Calida too---that he had no business ab initio, from the beginning, to be appointed as the government’s top lawyer, as he had failed to completely divest of his business connections in his family's security firm.

A delicate situation indeed. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Berna Puyat did the right thing in cancelling this year's "Miss Universe Pageant" in Manila. Boracay as Paradise Lost. In contrast, tiny Fiji in South Pacific, incredibly conscious about sustainable tourism practices, draws droves of tourists in straight flights from Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Bangkok and many other destinations.

Among the  335 tiny islands of Fiji in the South Pacific. 
Fiji's many islands, its palm-lined beaches, coral reefs and clear lagoons are drawing tourists in straight flights from all over the world.

Newly-appointed Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat did the right thing in cancelling our country’s hosting of this year’s Miss Universe Pageant due to “insufficiency of funds.” 

Berna Puyat, who has been uncovering wanton spending of tax-payers’ funds in various projects and travels of DOT officials, said her department “would just focus on other things.”  Judging from her initial moves in DOT, these “other things” would mean pursuing projects more substantial in nature, even as she curbs the seemingly mindless spending that many government offices are guilty of---as though the peso was being de-monetized.  

It would certainly be most INAUSPICIOUS to host the Miss Universe Pageant in Manila at this time, as TOO MANY SCANDALS HAVE HIT THE DOT IN RECENT MONTHS. If the beauty pageant would just be a cover-up for these scandals, it would be TOO EXPENSIVE A PATCH-UP JOB. What’s needed is to turn around the mind-set of folks in government toward projects that would be less wasteful but more meaningful for us Filipinos.


I’m talking of projects such as Boracay, the once-incredibly beautiful, world-renowned island resort off Aklan, which has landed in TERRIBLE HEADLINES around the world recently. Its once emerald waters have become infested with algae so that no less than President Duterte has termed Boracay a “CESSPOOL." What’s just as appalling is the revelation, in the course of more thorough investigation, that the unfortunate turn of events in this erstwhile-paradise was due primarily to GOVERNMENT NEGLECT AND THE CORRUPTION OF ITS REGULATORY AGENCIES AT THE EXECUTIVE AND LOCAL LEVELS. 

An article titled “Boracay is ‘wild, wild West,‘ ” in the Philippine Daily Inquirer recently revealed that among the establishments and structures inspected, prior to the Duterte administration’s decision to shut down this famed resort island FOR SIX MONTHS, 427 resorts in Boracay were operating with NO business permits, 207 LACKED environmental compliance certificates, 199 had NO building permits, 427 did NOT have fire safety certificates, 412 FAILED to enroll workers in Pagibig, SSS and PhilHealth, while 112 had NO SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANTS.  Indeed it was “wild, wild West” in that once emerald resort!

The cause was obviously Boracay’s grand failure to abide by laws and regulations on the local and national levels, and it’s not hard to imagine that those resorts have taken to CORRUPTING REGULATORY AGENCIES ON A GRAND SCALE.   


The shut-down of Boracay for six months owing to unbridled corruption and neglect was truly depressing for one like myself, who has grown to love this beautiful island resort with my family as well as for seminars and and events there over the years. But what proved more depressing was when I happened to sit beside a delegate from the tiny island of Fiji in Oceania in the South Pacific, during the “GLOBAL LAUNCH OF THE INTERNATIONAL PEACE MOVEMENT, NOT BY FORCE BUT BY ART"---organized by my brilliant radio partner, RM Awardee for Theater Cecile Guidote Alvarez, earlier this week at the Emilio Aguinaldo College in Manila.

This delegate from Fiji, Iliesa Delana, is an athlete and member of the Fiji Parliament, deputy cabinet minister, and the first Fijian athlete to win a gold medal in high jump for Fiji in the Summer Paralympics 2012.  That event was meant to launch inclusivity and creative empowerment through sports as well as awareness of the need to battle climate change.


Fiji is a country in  the South Pacific archipelago measuring up to only 18,274 sq.m. (the US is 538 times bigger than Fiji, while the continent of Australia is 424 times bigger)  and  consisting of more than 300 small islands, only 110 of them inhabitable, not to mention over 500 tiny islets. All of them boast of rugged landscapes, palm-lined beaches and coral reefs, and clear lagoons.

Iliesa Delana recounted that since tourism is Fiji’s No. 1 industry and dollar-earner, every effort is being made by both public and private sectors to preserve its pristine beauty and cleanliness.  But its efforts are paying off, AS TOURISTS ARE FLOCKING TO FIJI IN DROVES. 

As Mr. Delana stressed, Fiji now receives DIRECT FLIGHTS from nearby Australia, and Tokyo, Singapore, Bangkok, Vietnam, Hongkong and other destinations, to its one and only international airport.  How do they preserve their tourist sites from pollution and degradation? Simple, says Delana, ALL RESORTS JUST HAVE TO FOLLOW THE RULES AND REGULATIONS, AS STIFF PENALTIES ARE IMPOSED ON VIOLATORS.


By contrast, the problem in our Philippines really is that corruption appears to have become EMBEDDED IN EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY OF OUR COUNTRY---truly a pity for this nation that prides itself as THE ONLY CHRISTIAN COUNTRY IN ASIA and a sophisticated political entity, the bastion of democracy in Asia. 

Boracay has been our No. 1 tourism destination for decades, and yet wanton and brazen violations of health and tourism issues have gone unchecked virtually in the whole island. But it has  also become evident that many other tourist spots in our country have been violating environmental and tourism rules and regulations as well for years.  Among the violators mentioned are top destinations El Nido in Palawan and Puerto Galera in Mindoro. 

Just the other day, RM Awardee for "environmental activism," Atty. Ramon Oposa decried how Manila Bay, site of the world-famous sunset, has become "a giant toilet bowl that has not been flushed!" Blame is being laid on the squatter colonies that abound around the bay. 


We Filipinos are not known for our persistent upholding of the law and safety regulations---because of corruption, our No. 1 problem. By nature we also tend to be lackadaisical in caring for the environment. We are more famous for flash-in-the-pan reactions---probably because of our Latin roots.

But we cannot always blame our roots for our problems, especially when a tiny spot on earth called FIJI, WITH ITS ENTIRE POPULATION JUST UNDER ONE MILLION PEOPLE,  is drawing full flights each day because of its pristine beauty and clean living waters. There is just too much corruption in our country and people, which our faith and education leaders must help address. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

In waning years of Indonesia’s mass labor deployment to Middle East, President Widodo ordered dormitories set up for Indon domestics there as protective measure. With poverty as root cause of Filipino diaspora, recent law authored by Sen.Loren Legarda, granting free access to SUCs is best antidote to mass deployment in ME and should improve quality of life of Pinoy poor. .

Senator Loren Legarda,  principal author of the law opening up SUCs to provide free education.

Allegations of massive vote-buying in certain areas of the nation hounded the recent barangay and SK elections, but that's not surprising. With poverty across the country in pretty bad state, many of our countrymen are plainly susceptible to politicians who entice them to sell their votes. Figures quoted in media went from P500 to as much as P1,000 per vote. 

Shocking as it was, considering that those were merely local elections,  it’s difficult to moralize on this propensity of fellow Filipinos to sell their votes. With so  many inured in poverty, they couldn’t care less which grease funds come from which politicians. The fact is that with a few hundreds or a thousand pesos they can buy food for their families for a few days.


This is, however, a double-bladed sword. After the politician buys his office, he or she would now be absorbed mainly in recovering political capital---until the next elections when he or she goes into a buying spree again. Ultimately, it’s the people who suffer because their politicians resort to corruption to recover their election capital and nothing much is accomplished for the poor constituents.  With some rare exceptions, many politicos are just interested in entrenching their dynasties and consolidating their wealth, so that they could remain in power for generations by distributing largesse come election time. 

It's a unending cycle in our political system especially in the more remote areas, and nothing much changes from election to election. It 's the politics of entrenched dynasties which merely take turns at seizing power, each with his or her huge retinue of followers who dispense dynastic largesse at the proper time.


It’s very hard to moralize about the poor accepting bribe money for their votes, because they are often so steeped in poverty that they couldn’t care less about the politicians they vote into power.  Little do they realize that their lives are doomed because they elect lousy politicians. in an unending cycle. 

The  poverty of our people especially in the remote fastnesses of the Visayas and Mindanao is also the reason for the huge effort to latch on to jobs abroad, mainly as domestic helpers---but this is another problem that has caused a lot of trouble for the government, as we have seen in recent weeks in Kuwait.  

The shocking episode involving Ofelia Dimafelis, the OFW killed by her employers and stuffed into a freezer in an abandoned apartment for a whole year, has shaken our nation to its roots---followed by stories of abuses of our women by their foreign employers. But it is not only our women who are eager to seek jobs abroad---the menfolk are also lured by the relatively fatter salaries in dollars from abroad. Everywhere one hears of  fellow Pinoys seeking to raise funds among relatives, to fulfill the requisites for work abroad.


Over the decades, overseas employment has jacked up our nation’s economy, but what sociologists call the “social costs” of such mass deployment of Filipinos overseas have also been high.  Back in the ‘90s, I was talking to an official of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Association (OWWA) in Italy and she decried such “expensive” costs of the Pinoy diaspora, in terms of broken marriages among overseas workers who work in separate countries.  

Meanwhile, back in "Pinas sociologists also point to the high rate of teenage pregnancies, drug addiction and school drop-outs among children of OFWs who are left to the care of aging grandparents unable to discipline them.


The mass deployment of Filipinos seeking jobs abroad is as much a result of our graft-ridden politics as it is of the failure of our leaders to rev up the economy---having gotten entirely dependent on overseas deployment.. The great diaspora has held together our country through the decades, but it has been pointed out by economists that whereas Ferdinand Marcos opened the doors to mass deployment overseas---which has grown by leaps and bounds over the decades---Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew wisely modernized his little city-state, enticing corporations of the world to set up offices in Singapore. 

Simultaneous with this was the training of Singaporeans in various skills, to staff the foreign offices set up there. Thus, they needn't have left their city state. 


Once upon a time, Indonesia rivaled the Philippines in deployment of its citizens overseas, including housemaids and yayas.  But over the decades, that country began to take a different turn so that now it has virtually stopped mass deployment abroad. 

Moreover, early on President Widodo devised a way to protect Indonesian women domestics abroad. He ordered the setting up of dormitories in assigned foreign lands, where Indonesian domestics were required by their contracts to retreat to after a full day’s work. No stay-ins with Arab masters, and with regulated hours of work for Indon DHs.

Ultimately, Indonesian women labor overseas began tapering off until today it has virtually stopped.


Our Filipino labor, on the other hand, has continued its deployment overseas so that our country is the only Asian country still in this field. The heaviest concentration has been in Kuwait where out of 270,000 Filipino workers some 90% are women. Since the death of Ophelia Dimafelis and the cloak-and-dagger ”rescue” of our besieged workers in Kuwait, efforts have been made to regulate conditions for the tens of thousands working there. 

A most recent agreement forged between our two governments centered mainly on more regulated hours for our women workers, which we can only hope would be honored more in the observance than in the breach.

I point to this scheme worked out by President Widodo to protect  Indon female domestics, until their deployment began to taper off and eventually stopped completely. On the other hand, inasmuch as our economy still cannot survive without the dollar incomes from our OFWs, our government could perhaps set up similar dormitories for our female domestic workers, so that they could be better protected. 


Training our people in higher education and/or technical kills would be infinitely better than any other scheme, certainly better than just being DH. The problem still is the eradication of poverty or at least, its gradual lessening---and this can only be wrought by education, STILL THE BEST MEANS OF UPLIFTING THE LIVES OF OUR VERY POOR FILIPINOS.  

Toward this end the recent passage of the law making education through state colleges and universities across the nation FREE FOR ALL FILIPINOS---principally authored by Sen. Loren Legarda---is a giant leap forward. Government economists are having a hard time funding this law, but all effort must be made---even if trimming has to be done on other budget items---as education is still the best and most lasting way to emancipate our fellow Filipinos from the clutches of generational poverty.

To be sure, not every one would qualify for higher education. Those who aren't equipped for it should be given adequate skills training so that they could be more productive in life. Or if they are bent on going overseas, with better skills they could command better pay and more respectability--- infinitely better than shipping them to Kuwait as toilet cleaners. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Summit weekend in Panmunjon between North and South Korean leaders: a chef flown in from a Pyongyang resto served famous cold noodle dish, on an oval dining table with legs shaped like two bridges merging. A weekend indeed replete with symbols, typically Asian.

North Korea's Kim Jong-un and South Korea's Moon Jae-in like long-lost brothers.

Early last Saturday morning, a small group gathered at the Tagaytay Highlands cottage of former Speaker Joe de Venecia and wife Gina---that included two writers doing JDV’s biography as five-term Speaker and one-time presidential aspirant, namely, Charlson Ong and Noel Albano, and myself as project manager. We were all mesmerized as we watched the historic---almost unbelievable---summit between former bitter protagonists of the Korean Peninsula---President Moon Jae-in of South Korea (SK) and Kim Jong-un of North Korea (NK)---at the historic village of Panmunjon.

It was in this border village between North and South Korea that the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in July 1953, that gave pause to the Korean War. Thus did this armistice prevent that regional war from blowing up into possibly the Third World War, that could have engulfed the US, Russia and China. The armistice created a 284 km. Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) just south of the 38th Parallel that effectively divided the Korean Peninsula. 


Last Friday, what transpired at the DMZ was perhaps even more significant than the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953.  For from that colorful historic border meeting---so typically Asian in that it was fraught with symbolisms---came forth the pledge of NK that the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be halted. Several days later, news reports said that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi---the highest ranking Chinese official to travel to NK since 2007---met with Kim Jong-un and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho where they “discussed issues, including the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” 

News reports said that “China, NK’s sole diplomatic ally and economic benefactor, has supported a series of UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.” This is incredible news from the Chinese camp indeed, which comes ahead of the scheduled visit in a few weeks to Pyongyang of US President Donald Trump, to confer with Kim Jong-un.

These recent developments in rapid succession would impact tremendously not only on the East Asian region but on the entire world. Recall that there was a time when NK leader Kim Jong-un was even threatening to unleash his missiles on US territory. Now de-nuclearization has become a popular buzz-word even by the Chinese! 

Could it be possible indeed that the whole East Asian region is coming to a new era of peace and prosperity?  Is the reunification of the two Koreas, like those of the two Germanys and the two Vietnams, on the horizon?  Miracles have happened before. 


Our Tagaytay Highlands host Joe de Venecia looked a bit like an expectant father as he watched the leaders of the two Koreas hug in Panmunjon that morning, then hold hands as they crossed over to the blue building for talks. Joe de V.  has been keenly following developments in the Korean Peninsula, noting that CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who has recently assumed the post of US Secretary of State, had quietly met with Kim Jong-Un in Pyongyang earlier---thus signaling the upcoming meeting between Kim and President Trump.

JDV also noted that his friend, Ambassador Chung Eui-yong, who had since retirement become Secretary-General of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) has also become National Security Adviser to the SK President. Chung played a key role in past weeks in pace-setting the talks preliminary to the Summit of the two Korean leaders and soon between the US President and the NK leader. 

Speedy and mind-boggling events indeed.


As an Asian I must confess to be easily won over by symbols and symbolisms. It was so fascinating to watch the high drama unfold in Panmunjon. In the words of former US President Bill Clinton who visited that village during his term, it is "the scariest place on earth” as soldiers from both sides stare each other in the face over a thin imaginary demarcation line. In 1976 NK troops axed to death two American soldiers trimming a nearby tree. In 1984, a student from Moscow fled from NK to the South, triggering a 30-minute gun battle that left four people dead---though the student was unhurt.

Thus, when the world saw Kim Jong-un cross into SK territory---the first NK leader to do so after nearly seven decades---and embrace and walk hand in hand with his SK counterpart, it was just electrifying.

The New York Times story on that epochal meeting, written by Mecan Specia and Tim Wallace, dripped with doting details.  Blue was the color of the day, and aptly so, for it’s the UN official color as well as of the Korean reunification flag.  Even the footbridge that Moon and Kim walked across was painted blue. 

For their formal dinner held in the “Peace House” that technically is in SK’s side, the two leaders sat at a table whose legs were shaped like two bridges merging. As the SK release put it, their design was intended “to help bridge the psychological distance stemming from the physical boundaries marked by the Military Demarcation Line and 65 years of division.”

A chef from a Pyongyang restaurant specializing in a famous cold noodle dish called "maengmyeon" was brought to Panmunjon only for that memorable  summit dinner. 


More details from the New York Times: a painting of Mt. Kumgang in NK decorated the hall, symbolizing cooperation between North and South. A tree-planting ceremony was also scheduled, featuring a pine tree dating to 1953 when the Armistice Treaty was signed, while the soil to be used had a mixture from Mt. Paektu in NK and Mt. Halla in SK.  According to NK lore, the founder of that nation, Kim Il-sung, young Kim’s grandfather, fought the Japanese  in Mt. Paektu, and his son, Kim Jong-il, was born there. On the other hand, Mt. Halla is SK’s tallest peak.

But not everything about the dinner was rosy. According to the Times: a mango mousse, decorated with a map of the Korean Peninsula, irritated Japan because it’s claiming some of the islands on that map.  Japan lodged an official complaint with SK, but that’s very minor compared to the major achievement of that historic event between the two Korean leaders---and especially their declaration of intent to de-nuclearize their peninsula, which, hopefully, China would imitate. 

If NK were to follow through on its word, it will prosper like its neighbor to the south, for the billions and billions devoted to nuclear weapons---as well as foreseeable sizable aid from the US--- could pour into NK, so that it could wipe out the massive poverty of its people, so pitiful compared to the prosperity of SK. 

A united and peaceful Korean Peninsula? The world can dream, can’t it?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Sorry developments in Kuwait: amateurish “rescue” of distressed Pinays by embassy staff and an OWWA that obviously has been remiss in its duties---causing proliferation of undocumented OFWs who are prone to exploitation and abuse by their masters.

President Duterte and the Kuwaiti Ambassador in happier times in Davao City

The ruffled relationship between the Philippines and Kuwait that was aggravated by the murder of Filipino OFW Ofelia Dimafelis---who was stuffed into a freezer by her employer for a whole year---has erupted into a full-blown crisis between the two governments.

Philippine Ambassador Renato Pedro Villa was expelled from Kuwait while Kuwaiti ambassador Musaed Saleh Althwaikh, who was last seen in a hearty handshake with President Duterte in Davao City a few days ago,  was recalled home immediately.  In the diplomatic world, these developments are tres serieuse. 


There are several things to remember about this diplomatic imbroglio. One is that the Filipino staff in the Embassy in Kuwait meant well when they sought to rescue their countrywomen suffering at the hands of their Kuwaiti employers. According to news sources, the embassy officials began enticing suffering OFWs to leave their employers and in a number of cases, the embassy staff actually helped the housemaids escape.

The great escapes were obviously well-intentioned but actually the Filipino diplomats acted in a very amateurish way with their OO7 tactics---when the proper thing to do was to coordinate with the Kuwaiti police about the plight of our women in distress. It was also a failure of Philippine bureaucracy that OWWA was not acting the way it should. Thus, perhaps in frustration and pity for the distressed Pinays, the well-meaning lower-rank Pinoy diplomats were encouraged to act like James Bond to the rescue.


What has worsened the crisis is that secret films about the rescue operations undertaken by embassy staffers begun to surface in social media, riling up and embarrassing the Kuwaiti government. Thus were provoked the harsh measures that led to the expulsion of the Philippine ambassador from Kuwait and the immediate recall of the Kuwaiti ambassador from Manila. 

The Filipino junior diplomats were obviously moved by the sorry plight of their compatriots, but their actions were good only for James Bond  movies, but not for the real world of diplomacy.  The proper thing for our diplomats to have done was to seek official help from their counterpart bureau in Kuwait about the plight of our distressed kababayans. 

The next question, of course, is whether the Kuwaiti foreign ministry would have moved fast enough to rescue those Filipino domestics in distress. Given how valuable our Pinay housemaids are to their employers, that’s really begging the question.


To my mind, the root cause of our problem in that Gulf-state is the fact that that out of some 250,000 Filipino workers there, nearly 11,000 are UNDOCUMENTED. Thus, without the necessary papers, they become most vulnerable to the cruelty of their employers who exploit their illegal status. If they displease their Arab masters they could be turned in and rot in jails there, where conditions are so harsh.

Their families in the Philippines have every right to worry about the fate of these undocumented workers, as it is the latter who have to bear the brunt of what’s termed in sociology as “modern-day slave labor” and the aftermath of their great escape from their masters’ homes.  But the big question is, how did they manage to enter Kuwait without the proper documents? We don’t have to guess too long---it is bureaucratic corruption here as well as in that foreign land that have colluded to allow this lamentable situation to prosper.


The crisis in Kuwait also happens at a most unfortunate time for the Moslem population, for the holy month of Ramadan has commenced.  Moslems are forbidden by their religion to exert physical effort during this season and are mandated to fast. Thus, it is at this time that their Filipino house-helpers are most exploited in terms of physical labor. 

The interesting thing, however, is that their masters who abstain from physical exertions during the day, usually go into a binge of partying and feasting at dusk and often well into the night. Thus, the Filipino maids are rendered virtually exhausted from laboring the whole day and night.

It's a fact that there is a huge cultural divide between the Arab countries and those with Christian orientation, such as ours. A nephew of mine who has done business in Arab countries over decades attests to this cultural divide as among the root causes of the problems between our two peoples. My nephew, in fact, does not recommend sending more OFWs to the Arab countries, and he feels that ignoring this cultural difference would only result in more violence towards our people there. 


Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, in apologizing for the DFA’s botched rescue mission of abused Filipino housemaids, was quoted as saying: “Again we are apologizing for certain incidents that the Kuwaitis view as a violation of their sovereignty, but we have explained to them that these acts, we felt, were necessary for saving and protecting Filipino lives.”

Secretary Cayetano and our policy-makers, however,  have to understand that  abuses toward our housemaids in Kuwait and in other Arab countries will happen again and again because of the vast cultural divide.  Such harrowing tales suffered would perhaps never happen in countries with Christian background, such as in Italy where there is a huge OFW population.


Ultimately, we Filipinos should put our entire minds to so enhance our economic well-being that one day in the future, we don’t have to send our women TO BE THE TOILET CLEANERS AND DOG-WALKERS OF THE WORLD, AND WORSE, TO BE ABUSED IN ARAB COUNTRIES.  Our country is blessed with immense natural resources that are the envy of other countries less endowed,  but there is so much corruption in the government in this Christian nation of ours, as well as so much exploitation of fellow Filipinos and of resources---that the result is poverty widespread and even worsening, as surveys attest. 
Could we dream of the day when we don’t need to send our people abroad to do menial jobs for the world and be abused?  Instead, can they live in their native land in peace and prosperity, respecting the laws of God and of Nature?