Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Scanning face of PH poverty at our dzRH program, Fr. Nebres S.J. cited studies opining that English-speaking upper-crust Pinoys can relate more to CNN stories about US hurricanes than to Ompong's fury. A palpable disconnect among our people.

Mother-child health in ARMM
Poverty Alleviation Program

Yesterday, Sunday, Oct. 14, RM Awardee for Theater Cecile Guidote Alvarez and I interviewed Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., a Ph.D in Mathematics from Stanford University, former Jesuit Superior in the Philippines (1983-1989) and President of the Ateneo de Manila University (1993-2011), on the deepening poverty in our country.

Initial discussion of this topic came a week earlier, during the observance of the first death anniversary of  former Jesuit Superior Romeo J. Intengan at the Jesuits' Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches. Over lunch, Fr. Nebres observed that poverty is most prevalent in class D with its whopping 60% of Filipinos and class E at 30% , whereas wealthier classes A, B and C constitute only 10%.

News headlines back up these statistics, with Inquirer asserting that "Majority of Pinoys say they are poor."  PDI columnist Mahar Mangahas also cited that the SWS survey showed that from a low 42 % declared poor in March 2018, the percentage of Self-Rated Poverty rose in the third quarter 2018 to 52%, or 12.2 MILLION FAMILIES FEELING POOR (emphasis BOC's)."  As Mahar points out,  that's 12.2 million families feeling poor out of a projected base of 23.3 million families in the Philippines---a heck of a lot of poor families.

On the other hand, the impact of inflation, aggravated by the sharp rise in fuel costs, is now affecting even middle-class Filipinos, forcing government to recently suspend the excise tax on fuel.


I invited Fr. Nebres to continue our discussion on poverty in yesterday's episode of our weekly Sunday 6 pm. "Radyo Balintataw" program over nationwide dzRH---in order to help raise our people's consciousness about it. At the Jesuit Residence in the Ateneo  Fr. Nebres showed  us a short video film by Kara David about the family of a fisherman in Mercedes, a poor fishing town in Camarines Norte.  It showed a mother feeding her three children with bits of fish and shellfish distributed over three meals per day, as they awaited the father who had gone fishing for a few days. He had left his wife 40 pesos for the family's subsistence over the next days.

It was a heart-wrenching film showing children crying for more food amid the helplessness of the mother. As Fr. Nebres pointed out, that's a typical situation in that small fishing village, as poverty is most severe among fishing communities throughout our archipelago. Climate change as well as the destruction of coral reefs have severely affected fish catch, forcing fishermen to venture  farther and farther from the shores---and leaving their families in near-starvation. .

I shall show this particular film in my FB page after I share our interview with Fr. Nebres. Prepare to be perturbed.


As Fr. Nebres explained, from 1995 to 2015 poverty was very much the center-point of the Millenium Development Goals, aiming to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in 1995 to only 26% by 2016. Data comparing us with our neighbors in SEA, however, show PH clearly lagging behind. Indonesia's poverty level is now below 10%,  Once war-torn Vietnam's level used to be at 50% in 1995; now it's below 15%, while Laos is on track, according to the UN.

Here at home Eastern Visayas is among the poorest, and while the whole Mindanao has lagged behind, it's the ARMM that's worst hit, undoubtedly also owing to the political instability in past years.


Zeroing in on the school population across the country, Fr. Nebres cited the verdict of teachers all over---many children are going hungry, some worse than others. In nearby Parañaque, students said they take turns eating in their families; in Valenzuela, Bulacan, there are students who felt satiated ("nabusog") for the first time in their lives when the feeding program began there.

After Yolanda struck Eastern Visayas, Gawad Kalinga's Tony Meloto wanted to put up housing units there, but folks argued that by the time those units are finished, "baka patay na kami." It's the hunger stalking innumerable places in the country that appears to be the primary problem---not just malnutrition but hunger itself.

Gawad Kalinga  (GK) responded with what it has, in the Yolanda-stricken areas as well as in Mindanao, such as Basilan and Tawi-Tawi where some 5,000 schoolchildren are fed everyday---just part of the  estimated 100,000 being fed by GK all over the country daily. Some tycoons are helping to address the severe malnutrition. Other countries have also come in to help GK: in Bgy. Holy Spirit in Metro Manila, a group from the United Kingdom is helping out.


The Ateneo set up its Center for Education and Development which delves not only in brain development but also in problems of hunger, health and extreme poverty, such as in Payatas.

 Fr. Nebres spoke about the importance of nutrition getting to the impoverished mothers during the FIRST 1000 DAYS OF PREGNANCY onward to about 2 years of the child---so as to prevent growth-stunting and brain damage. To him, the problem is multi-faceted and the components cannot be separated: malnutrition arising from poverty that affects the child in its first 1000 days will haunt it all through its life. WHO statistics bear out the stunted growth of Filipino children.


What heartens Nebres nowadays is the growing involvement of local and provincial officials with these very real problems of their constituents from the poorest sectors. He cites Valenzuela in Bulacan under Rex Gatchalian which is feeding 16,000-18,000 poor children, constituting 13-15% of the population.

There's Compostela Valley in Mindanao under Gov. Tyrone Uy, where feeding kitchens have been set up. In the ARMM area there's Gov. Mujahiv Hataman while in Nueva Ecija, Dep-Ed officials are in the forefront of combating hunger and malnutrition.

There's also the "Pagkaing Pinoy Para sa Pinoy," a program filed by Sen. Bam Aquino and supported by fellow senators Grace Poe, Gatchalian and Chiz Escudero, that has allotted P3B in funds for day-care centers. In the House, Rep. Raul del Mar of Cebu supports the counterpart program.


Appeals are being made to the private sector to join the campaign to eradicate hunger and malnutrition especially in poorer Pinoy children's first 1000 days of existence, as this has a direct bearing on their brain function and stunted growth. There is, however, some indifference among the private sector---social classes ABC--- toward recognizing and acting on this problem.

Fr. Nebres cites an interesting theory about this disconnect of the upper classes with the problems of the broad masses. As an educator from the UK pointed out, it may be because the Filipino upper classes, especially the younger generations, speak in English and not in the national language, Pilipino, and the local dialects.

In contrast, he notes that in Indonesia there is only one language, Bahasa, the medium of instruction as well as the language of various tools of communication and culture such as newspapers, TV and radio.


Thus, as a result of this linguistic disconnect, many upper-class Filipinos tune in more often to CNN than to local stations---so that they are more familiar with the terrible effects of the hurricanes in the US rather than the typhoons in Eastern Visayas and Northern Luzon.

There is indeed real basis to be troubled by this reality-disconnect, and I for one plead guilty. I raised my children in English as I thought this would facilitate their entry into the world of education, business and commerce,  and now they, in turn, raise their offsprings also in English. Thus is the great divide among our people.

Enormous food for thought.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Read what cab drivers (and doubtless the common tao) are telling President Duterte about his fight-to-the-finish with Sen Trillanes and how proposed cut in SUCs budget would affect the future of their children. The discontent shows: Duterte's DISAPPROVAL rating shot up from 22% to 51% in recent Pulse Asia survey.

I have been riding taxis left and right ever since my driver got sick. It is tough to depend on public transport for at times a Grab is totally unavailable, and one can wait interminably at the street corner for an empty cab. But nonetheless, these days it's so profitable for a journalist to ride cabs as the exchange with their drivers is always full of insights for me.   

The battle that raged between President Duterte and Sen. Antonio Trillanes has been very much in the minds of taxi drivers and a number of them are open about their disapproval of the President's moves vs. Trillanes. It's not so much that they feel for the rebel-turned-politician now battling the commander-in-chief, as Trillanes doesn't really look lovable. Besides, cabbies hardly understand what double jeopardy is all about.

 As the saying goes, it's the economy, stupid!  


Invariably cabbies talk about hard economic times and the terrible damage wrought by Ompong in the north, plus the landslides that buried their town mates in the south, and other problems. But inevitably their concern reverts to something that hits them directly in the stomach---the RISING PRICE OF IMPORTED FUEL (crude oil prices might break the $80-per-barrel threshold in coming months) that shrinks their profit despite BACK-BREAKING TWELVE HOURS CONTINUOUS DRIVING DAILY. Throw in the solution-defying traffic in Metro Manila that affects especially Grab taxies---whose meter rates are previously relayed to the passenger, only to see their profit shrink more and more. 

Throw in also the increasingly runaway INFLATION that drives prices of even the very basic commodities to shoot up---and many cabbies confess to feeling the crunch as never before. 


This is where their feeling for Mr. Duterte comes in. Given all the problems facing the country, cabbies want him TO CONCENTRATE ON CURBING THE RUNAWAY INFLATION AND COROLLARY RISE IN PRICES OF PRIME COMMODITIES so vital to the poorer sectors. They want him to help the regions whacked by natural calamities in succession---instead of pursuing his arch-enemy, Sen. Trillanes, out of revenge for his allegations regarding the President's family.. 

The results of a recent Pulse Asia survey conducted earlier this month show that because of the Duterte administration's failure to handle the soaring costs of basic goods and services, his DISAPPROVAL rating has shot up from 22% to 51%! 


Cab drivers nowadays are more informed that ever before, because their cabs are normally equipped with a radio-TV that enables them to tune in to latest happenings. Those I've talked to view the Duterte-Trillanes fight as a personal battle between the two protagonists---the bold senator's "revelations" about the alleged wealth of the Duterte family and the alleged involvement of the presidential son with a big-time smuggling group. Nothing much has come out of Trillanes' "revelations," but the seeming battle to the death between them  is very much in the mind of cab drivers. 

Trillanes has appealed to the Supreme Court to declare President Duterte's recent Proclamation No. 572--- which seeks to revive the mutiny charges against him in rebellions staged in 2006 and 2007, that were already pardoned by President Noynoy Aquino---as unconstitutional. But the High Court deferred rulings on Trillanes' petition, choosing instead to throw the determination of facts to the same Makati RTC that, ironically, had squashed that very case against Trillanes eight years ago. 

With the SC's inaction against Trillanes, the Duterte administration's case against him is in suspended animation.  THIS COULD BE THE OPPORTUNE TIME FOR MR. DUTERTE TO CONCENTRATE ON TACKLING INFLATION AND ITS TERRIBLE REPERCUSSIONS ON PRIME COMMODITIES FOR THE LOWER-INCOME GROUPS. CABBIES ARE PLEADING. Mr. Duterte  to listen to the people's clamor---and just leave Trillanes' fate to the courts! . 


Riding taxis has been educational for me in another problem that preoccupies the working sector. This is the crying need to educate their children so that they could have a future more hopeful than their parents ever had. Every time I ride in taxicabs, I make it a point to stress to the cabbies THE VALUE OF YOUNG PEOPLE AVAILING OF HIGHER EDUCATION OR AT LEAST OF GOOD SKILLS TRAINING, AS THE SURE WAY OUT OF POVERTY.  I advise the cabbies to keep track of what their children do and i reinforce the importance of education as a means to a better life.  

It's elating that many cabbies readily realize this truism---and put so much hope in education  as their children's only hope to a brighter life and future.  


I readily point out to them a recent major achievement of Congress that should benefit their children---the passage of the law authorizing free education in state colleges and universities (SUCs) and Tesda-run vocational schools. .Formally called the RA 10931---"Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act," it was principally authored by Senators Bam Aquino and Loren Legarda.  . 

Whenever I explain this new law to cab drivers, they feel so elated as they have long realized that  EDUCATION AND TRAINING  ARE THE ONLY SURE WAY TO ESCAPE POVERTY.  In fact, frequently the cabbies' eyes moisten up as they stress that they'd motivate their children to make it in the entrance exams to SUCs. 


Sadly, however, recently I read about the move in the House of Representatives to cut the budget of the SUCs drastically, in view of certain financial constraints---in fact news is that AT LEAST 1/3 OF THE 2019 BUDGET FOR SUCs WOULD BE SCRAPPED, AND COROLLARILY, GOVERNMENT AID TO COLLEGE STUDENTS WOULD BE CUT BY P3.2 BILLION..

The senators vow to oppose the budget cuts on education in the House. Perhaps all our elected officials in both houses of Congress could show initial goodwill by opting to sacrifice A BIT OF THEIR PORK BARREL, so that the SUCs' budget and government aid to poorer college students won't be so drastically cut---that it would kill the dream in the moist eyes of the cabbies of this country.

Paging Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

With the NAIA accident as urgent game changer, PH has to get out of its lackadaisical and archaic mode and construct new, modern airports outside Manila, utilizing technology already time-tested by our Asian neighbors and BOLD FINANCING. A matter of urgency and political will for PH---NOW NA

Taipans Wilson Tieng and Henry Sy offer to operationalize Sangley Airport within one year

Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation proposes new airport in Bulakan, Bulacan

It had to take the skidding of a Xiamen Airlines on the one and only international runway at NAIA to shake up the whole nation last Aug. 16, as 200 flights had to be diverted to Clark and Cebu Airports as well as to Hongkong, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok---disrupting over 500,000 domestic and overseas passengers (NAIA receives some 66% of PH's annual tourist arrivals of 6.5 million). An estimated P5 billion worth of damage to our economy and  shattered Filipino pride shook up the nation as nothing in recent decades. 

It was the GAME CHANGER---so that now the proposals of two giant business conglomerates to set up airports in two different areas of Luzon are finally being discussed with seriousness and urgency.

What's good is that the two conglomerates proposing these two new airports---the rebuilding of the Sangley Airport in Cavite by the All-Asia Resources and  Reclamation Corporation of the Henry Sy/Wilson Tieng group, and the Bulakan, Bulacan Airport proposed by San Miguel Holdings Corporation of Ramon Ang--- feel they can CO-EXIST WELL as both giant companies are absolutely necessary for the country and could be quite profitable as well.


For years now, we have been complaining about our shameful airport facilities and dream about how to achieve world-class gateways to international tourism, which promises to draw 100 million here every year if the factors---principally air carriers in capable airports---meet international standards.

Reaction from government regulatory departments had been terribly slow over the years---vexing impatient the two giant groups seriously contemplating new airports. It was as if we were not in an emergency mode, whereas all our neighbors in the Asian region have been into reclaiming from the sea to accommodate more runways and ever-expanding airport terminals.

The NAIA accident had to happen perhaps so that government regulatory offices would now realize that we are in a super-emergency mode. We need to build new airports away from Manila---NOW NA.


Cecile Alvarez and I first interviewed Edmundo T. Lim, vice-chair of the All Asia Resources and Reclamation Corporation that's composed of Henry Sy's SM empire and the Wilson Tieng Group of Solar Entertainment. This consortium proposes to convert the old Danilo Atienza Airport at the former US naval base at Sangley Point in Cavite into a modern gateway to Manila, right next to the Cavite Economic Zone and Southern Luzon.

Edmundo Lim pointed out that it's imperative to operationalize Sangley as an expanded airport inasmuch as Clark Airport in its current condition is limited to handling only 4 million passengers a year---whereas NAIA last year handled some 42 million passengers. The total number coming to PH is expected to leap-frog over the next few years.


Lim pointed out that as early as 2013 their conglomerate was already proposing to work on Sangley airport but sadly, up to now no action has been done on it by government agencies. He stressed that the Sy/Tieng group is ready to expand the Danilo Atienza's existing US-made runway and put up another 2.4 km. long. runway that can handle both the Airbus 300 series as well as the Boeing 737s.

Lim stressed that Sangley's existing runway COULD BE OPERATIONAL WITHIN ONE YEAR,  and another runway could be constructed---all at a cost of P800 billion and fully operational in a minimum of five years---to handle 120 million passengers.  Part of this proposed runway would sit on 2,500 hectares to be reclaimed from the sea---a technology that airports in all our neighboring countries, especially HK and Singapore, have resorted to for decades.


Interestingly, long before the Xiamen accident happened at NAIA, a consortium of seven tycoons sought to rehabilitate that old airport at a cost of P102M to P350M over five years---to increase passenger capacity from 42 million people to 47 million by 2020 and 65 million by 2022. The Xiamen accident changed all that. In fact, if tycoon Ramon Ang could have his way, he wants to sell the 650 hectares of the NAIA Airport and convert it into a business district, much like Makati Center.

As BizNews Asia editor-in-chief/publisher Tony Lopez points out, there is a precedent to RSA's idea: until 1948, the Manila airport was in Makati, in what used to be called the Nielsen Airport---now within the sprawling business hub of Makati. The only thing left in that area is the old tower, now converted into a fashionable restaurant across the Manila Peninsula. RSA is quoted as noting that selling NAIA would generate P2 trillion. 


Cecile Alvarez and I invited Raoul Eduardo C. Romulo, grandson of the quintessential diplomat Carlos P. Romulo, to talk about RSA's plan: a new international airport in Bulakan, Bulacan, to be called the New Manila International Airport (NMIA),  with initially two runways already functioning to service 100 million passengers---expandable to a total of six runways. Like Sangley, the proposed airport in Bulakan town would also capitalize on reclaiming additional land from Manila Bay and Parañaque.

Bulakenos I have talked to are worried about possible further floodings of their town during the rainy season as well as spillage from the Ipo and Angat Dams---especially with the proposed airport construction in the area. In answer, RSA's team proposes to build spillways in the area, through which water would drain into Manila Bay.

Ramon Ang proposes to built this new modern airport at the cost of P736B.


To my mind, the strength of RSA's NMIA project in Bulakan town lies in its connectivity to and from various points in the huge metropolis---primarily through SKYWAYS that are already being built by the SMC Infrastructure in various parts of Southern Luzon. 

For instance, Raoul Romulo points out that taking the skyway from Alabang to the Bulakan Airport WILL ONLY TAKE 30-36 MINUTES;  from Novaliches to the NMIA only 25 minutes while San Jose del Monte will also be accessible to the new airport via MRT-7, also an SMC Infrastructure project.


In fact, as Romulo explained, Skyway 1 will connect Sucat to Alabang; Skyway 2 from Paranaque to Buendia, and Skyway 3 from Buendia to the Northern Luzon Expressway, passing through Quirino and Plaza Dilao. There's also the Southern Tagalog Arterial Route (STAR). This October will start the construction of the route from Batangas to Quezon, and Stage 2, from FTI to Batasan, Antipolo, etc. 

Vision is what lightens the heart of us Filipinos who have had to cope with the nightmare of decrepit airports and hideous traffic just to get in and out of these airports. Hope is that we are finally seeing the urgent modernization of these infrastructure necessities in our lives. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

President Duterte wants to withdraw PH from Rome Statute that created the Int'l Criminal Court---sans approval of the Senate as required by the Constitution. Without Senate action, however, as Justice Carpio stresses, Duterte's move would be invalid. But what's Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo saying that PH has, in fact, already withdrawn from the ICC? The Senate should summon Panelo to explain.


A new conflict is brewing which promises to pit President Duterte and his legal team headed by  Secretary Sal Panelo, and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea in one corner, vs. Vice President Leni Robredo, senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and the opposition bloc in the Senate, led by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.  

 Except for the stand of Associate Justice Carpio who is perceived to be quite independent-minded, the verbal tussle over the Philippines' membership in the International Criminal Court---between the President and his legal team vs. Vice President Leni Robredo and the Senate opposition on the other hand---will be perceived wrongly as political. 

The present controversy should be apolitical, however,  as it is rooted in the Constitution. Proof is that this issue is pending in the Supreme Court where oral arguments on the validity or non-validity of PH's intention to withdraw from the ICC was heard last Tuesday.


Remember Fatou Bensouda, the feisty Gambian special prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) who came here last Feb. 08, 2018  purportedly to start preliminary investigation on alleged human rights violations in this country, in connection with the Duterte's administration's intensified war on drugs? 

Bensouda's visit and utterances caught world attention,  provoking angry threats from President Duterte---that led to his announcement last March 17, 2018 of our country's purported withdrawal of support for the Rome Statute that created the ICC. 

But that controversy simmered down after select voices made Mr. Duterte realize that backing out of the Rome Statute would give the country a worse black eye in the international community---perhaps even affirming all the more his  brutal war vs. drugs here, that he doesn't want it investigated.  Hence, nothing further erupted in the word war between the President and Bensouda.


That truce was apparently temporary,  for Mr. Duterte was quoted in Philippine Star recently as reviving his intention to withdraw the country from commitment to the ICC.  Such withdrawal, however,  is not that simple. 

The Philippines  was signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, which came into full force on July 1, 2017 in Rome, with 123 states as party to the Statute, including the  Philippines.   But just as there is a way for this country to enter into a treaty,  as expressed in the Philippine Constitution, there is  also a prescribed way to withdraw our commitment.  

Sec. 21 of Article VII on the "Executive Department" in the Constitution states that "No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate."


After last Tuesday's hearing of the SC on President Duterte's intention to withdraw  Philippine commitment to the ICC, Senior SC Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was quoted in Philippine Star as asserting, "The President's duty is to faithfully execute the law. You said that a treaty has the status of a law.  So the President has to faithfully execute a treaty, correct?"

Carpio stressed that inasmuch as commitment to the ICC is THE RESULT OF A TREATY,  to repeal it, Congress must also first pass a new law for such purpose. Or to put it another way,  the senior magistrate asserted to Malacanang: "YOU CANNOT OBVIOUSLY REPEAL THE TREATY YOURSELF, CORRECT?  YOU CANNOT ABROGATE IT, CORRECT? (emphasis BOC's). 

Or to still put it differently, the SC senior magistrate stressed: "If IT IS NOT THE SOLE DISCRETION OF THE PRESIDENT TO BE PART OF (A TREATY) IT'S ALSO NOT HIS SOLE DISCRETION TO WITHDRAW FROM IT." (emphasis BOC's).  

But Carpio also reminded the senators and Mr. Duterte that to repeal a treaty, "you don't need 2/3 or a majority of the members of the Senate, but only a majority of the quorum of the members." 


Vice President Leni Robredo, on the other hand, reminded Mr. Duterte that "our membership in the ICC was not a sole discretion of the President---membership was the decision of an entire body." 

VP Robredo was being pragmatic, though, as she stressed that Philippine membership in the ICC "also assures (various) peoples' protection from human rights violations in their countries, so that when the time comes that we can no longer defend ourselves (from human rights abuses) there will be other countries who share our beliefs, to protect us." 

 A group called the "Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court," led by the former Chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Loretta Ann Rosales, is seeking to invalidate the country's withdrawal from the ICC.

Six senators from the Opposition, led by Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, also weighed in on the controversy, stressing the role of the Senate in enforcing a treaty---or abrogating it.


Predictably, the President's men rallied to his defense. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdia stressed that "Any time Mr. Duterte, as Chief Architect of Philippine policy, could withdraw from the ICC without consulting the Senate."

 Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, on the other hand, made a more interesting---and thereby pertinent---assertion. He was quoted as saying that "Duterte cannot be put under the jurisdiction of the ICC for allegedly extra-judicial killings related to the administration's drug war, AS THE PHILIPPINES ALREADY WITHDREW FROM THE ROME STATUTE." 

Moreover,  Panel asserted that since the Rome Statute "did not ripen into a law because it was not published in the Official Gazette or a newspaper of general publication, thus it never had the effect of a measure."


Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo's startling assertion that the Philippines already withdrew from the Rome Statute ought to be examined, IF THERE ARE SENATORS WIDE AWAKE AT THIS MOMENT.   At the very least they should summon the debonair Panelo about this declaration---which, if true, debases the CONSTITUTIONAL PREROGATIVE of the Senate to approve or withdraw support for the Rome Statute, or for any international treaty, for that matter. 

Clearly foreseeable, however,  is that Mr. Duterte's reputation abroad as one who resorts to summary justice would widen even more. Let's hope and pray that he does not act from pure whim, but as a statesman worthy of international respect. 

Monday, August 20, 2018


Pandemonium at NAIA 2 after Xiamen Jet accident
Young ladies whiling away time at NAIA 2 Terminal while awaiting flight resumptions.

Last Friday’s accident at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA)---ironically just five days ahead of the 35th commemoration of Ninoy Aquino’s heroism and martyrdom at the NAIA premises Aug. 21---was WAITING TO HAPPEN.  Most everyone whose plane has ever taken off or arrived at NAIA has been keenly aware of how precarious the situation of our  premier airport is, especially for the big birds.

Last Friday the inevitable happened: a Xiamen Air Jet skidded off on NAIA’s one and only international runway due to heavy rains, and got stuck in the mud. The resultant chaos in international flights to and from Manila we continue to feel till now.  To cope with the closure of that solitary NAIA runway, 70 international flights also had to be cancelled to prevent massive pile-up at NAIA while dozens upon dozens of international flights had to be diverted to Mactan in Cebu and to Clark Airport in Central Luzon, as well as to Hongkong, Ho Chi Minh, KL and Bangkok.   


The impact in economic losses for both international airlines as well as the PH economy would be felt for weeks to come--- but most important of all, we Pinoys have come to realize with finality how vulnerable NAIA truly is.

 The bad thing is that the whole world now knows our weakness. Sadly, however, the only positive musing we could muster was how lucky it was that it was a smaller plane like Xiamen Air that slid off the runway, as it could be lifted by two cranes the day after the accident.  What if it were one of those really big long birds!

For decades various administrations have planned the modernization of NAIA  and an absolute imperative was to construct another runway for those gigantic planes, but this  never came about.  NAIA has only one runway for international flights and a shorter one for domestic flights. It  has been outmoded for a long while, and Metro Manila---a teeming jungle of humanity---has had only one airport---the one honoring Ninoy Aquino (what a disservice to him!).

Contrast Manila's predicament with Tokyo, which has three airports: the Haneda Airport which is much like NAIA in proximity---25 km. from city center. Then there is Yokota, 40 km. from city center, used by the US Air Force, but which could be an emergency airport for the civilian population. Then there's Narita, the most used, 70 km. away.  


The thing to do now is to come to a forthright decision about NAIA. Today’s Inquirer editorial asserts that it’s "Time to retire NAIA.” As stressed, the airport that was meant to serve at most 31 million passengers a year is now strained to service 42 million passengers---and projected to rise to 47 million by 2020.

 My suggestion---and I’m sure officials of the Duterte administration have thought about this---is to convert NAIA to a COMPLETELY DOMESTIC AIRPORT handling increasing local flights as various resorts in the country take off with our tourism program. Corollary to this, CONCENTRATE ON TURNING CLARK INTO THE PRINCIPAL INTERNATIONAL GATEWAY OF AND TO THE PHILIPPINES.


I have flown out of Clark a number of times for Europe and I notice that it still has remained like a poor cousin to NAIA, with limited flights to and from PH as well as limited facilities for passengers. Now that the disaster waiting to happen in NAIA has happened, I’d suggest that Clark be converted fast into the country’s premier international airport, and equipped with all the comforts and facilities as such.

Clark’s advantages are several: principally, it has an excellent runway built by the Americans and great for the big birds. If another runway is necessary, land is available all around---unlike in NAIA in Paranaque where land is so tight, or if available, only at astronomical prices as the authorities would have to purchase subdivisions completely populated, if a second international runway were to be built.


For us Filipinos, many of whom exhibit an insular mentality so that additional travel time to Clark is anathema, make the travel to this former US base easy and comfortable. If need be, let's construct a separate highway to address traffic to and from Clark to Metro Manila, as such highway would be far cheaper as it would only involve mainly rice lands. And ultimately, construct a railway to and from Clark to Manila for passengers and goods---far cheaper than expropriating plush subdivisions around NAIA in Parañaque for a second international runway.

On the other hand, Cebu International Airport also has to be refurbished and upgraded to fully function as an international gateway---to absorb ALL  the traffic to and from the progressive island provinces in the Visayas.  End goal is to divert air traffic from Manila. 


In terms of population and potential for growth, PH cannot be considered small or even medium-size. Let us think big, but let's also put solid planning into our dreams and ambitions. I have traveled quite a bit in my professional work and I have been to some of the best airports in the world. Among the latest is the Malpensa Airport outside Milan in Italy, which took my breath away with its size, efficiency and amenities---so impressive.

We can’t afford to stand still, as our neighboring countries are modernizing their airports. In Hongkong, reclamation is going on  for a THIRD RUNWAY, with two terminals to be built. Kuala Lumpur’s airport is reachable in an hour by car, or ½ hour by high-speed train to city center. Singapore’s Changi Airport is developing A THIRD RUNWAY, along with Terminal 5.


NAIA’S disaster waiting to happen indeed happened last Friday, but let’s already stop wringing our hands and tossing blame around---instead, let’s buckle down to work. The San Miguel Conglomerate, the largest in the country and led by dynamic visionary tycoon Ramon Ang, is said to be mulling a $15-billion international "aerotropolis" in Bulacan, Bulacan, with  FOUR RUNWAYS and a proposed spillway into Manila of floodings in the area. 

On the other hand, a group led by the Henry Sy/Wilson Tieng consortium, in partnership with the Cavite local government, is said to be considering expanding the Danilo Atienza Air Base of the Philippine Air Force in Sangley Point, with some reclamation, at a cost of P763B. There's also the P350-B plan of the Ayala/Aboitiz and leading taipans to build a second NAIA runway and expand and link the three airport terminals.

These plans are great and now is the time to DREAM BIG AND EXECUTE THOSE PLANS  during the administration of President Duterte who likes to project himself as a dynamic leader. He’s still equipped with plenty of political capital---this is the time to show it off with sound decisions that will benefit the entire country. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

President Duterte graces PDP-Laban celebration where Nene Pimentel serenades him with popular postwar ditty, "You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine." Bigger focus, however, on Sara's "Hugpong ng Pagbabago" especially given Duterte's recent revelation about his desire to "step down" and Star's banner today about his intention to join Sara's HNP. Query: is HNP preparing Sara for "succession to the throne?"

Photos taken during launch of Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) last week (photos by Ian Cruz from Tweeter)

Last Wednesday evening,  Aug15, PDP-Laban, the party founded by former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Sr and son, former Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, held a reunion at the GSIS compound next to the Senate, to launch its "PDP-Care" program for typhoon victims. Gracing the occasion was no less than President Rodrigo Duterte who ran and won under its banner in 2016.

It seemed like a convivial gathering of political forces,  so that 85-year old Nene Pimentel---all white hair now and voice raspier than  ever---even took to singing the American ditty popularized during early post-war years,  “You Are My Sunshine, My only Sunshine,” and dedicated it to Mr. Duterte, "who has always been my sunshine.” The President, staying late into the evening, graciously acknowledged Nene's tribute. 


Behind the festive atmosphere of the PDP-Laban celebration,  however, loomed  the shadow of the new “regional party” announced days ago  by presidential daughter and Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, the “Hugpong ng Pagbabago” (HNP), in a launch in Paranaque City..  Like an ultra-powerful magnet, the HNP instantly attracted various political groupings---though most of them were hardly the “regional” type. 

To be sure, there was initially a sprinkling of regional politicians from Mindanao and the Visayas at Sara’s launch---a total of 11 governors. More  significant, however, were those from the national political parties who flocked to the HNP launch, flaunting the Duterte signature fist-bump. 

Adding to the political excitement over this new "regional" party is the fact that today, Friday, Aug. 17, the Philippine Star headlined that Duterte will join Sara's HNP. This news headline should not be treated with incredulity, however, as blood is thicker than water, most especially in politics.   


Boosting the HNP were national figures like Sen. Cynthia Villar and Rep. Pia Cayetano of the Nationalista Party, whose son and sibling, respectively, are key members of the President’s Cabinet---namely Secretary Mark Villar of Public Works and Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano of Foreign Affairs. 

Also very prominent at the HNP launch were Gov. Imee Marcos of the “Ilocano Timpuyong” NP Ilocos chapter; Rep. Fredesnil Castro of the National Unity Party; Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte of Serbisyo ng Bayan Party; former Batangas Rep. Mark Leandro Mendoza, secretary-general of the Nationalist People’s Coalition; and Gov. Lilia Pineda of the Kambilan Pampanga, who's very close to Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  Another recruit was Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. 


Statistics-wise, attendance at Sara Duterte’s HNP launch may still be too insignificant to be touted as a “regional party:” 2 out of 23 senators; 1 House member out of 292 members; 11 of 81 governors.  But noteworthy was Sara's release of  HNP's initial list of senatorial candidates to back up for the 2019 mid-term elections:  former PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa, presidential aide Bong Go (despite his frequent denials, he went around distributing relief goods during the storm) and Sen. J.V. Ejercito.  Certain to also be included is Harry Roque.

Sara was quoted saying that the HNP supports the ruling PDP-Laban and has no wish to take away its members. As she put it, “We do not meddle with the factional problem of the PDP-Laban.”


With the entry into the national political ring of the new “regional” party from the South, however, all eyes would be on the fate of  PDP-Laban, the party under which Mayor Rodrigo Duterte ran for the presidency in 2016 and won.  PDP-Laban leaders have admitted that some of their politicos are flocking to HNP, and this has led to “confusion” among party leaders as PDP struggles for unity and survival ahead of the 2019 mid-term elections.

At the outset, Mr. Duterte was quoted saying he has nothing to do with the HNP of his daughter, but he is also set to grace the  swearing-in and oath-taking of its political leaders.  As if to make amends, however, he also attended the anniversary celebration of PDP-Laban last Wednesday. 

Then came the expected, delivered by the Philippine Star headline today: Duterte is joining HNP.  The question now is, what happens to PDP-Laban with its "super-majority," if Duterte himself is abandoning the party he won under? 


The situation is becoming tough for PDP-Laban. Senator Koko Pimentel, a stout ally of the President, was yanked out of the presidency of the Senate and the party's majority leader, Sen. Tito Sotto. was installed in that post.  Koko admitted in media that “the possibility of HNP endorsing national candidates could be an issue to the ruling party.” Clearly an understatement.

Governor Anthony del Rosario of Davao del Norte,  one of the HNP stalwarts, admitted that his group did not anticipate “the level of interest that other political parties had with (Sara Duterte) Carpio’s party.”  Del Rosario also stressed anew that the HNP supports President Duterte’s political agenda and will endorse 8 senators all supportive of him. 

Sara Duterte, however, does not seem confused and in fact was candidly quoted in media as saying, “I am confused with (the PDP-Laban’s) confusion.” HNP,  she insisted, “is not a national political party. Perhaps the right way to put HNP in perspective is that it's a 'regional party' with super-strong 'national links.' ”


One grizzled LP stalwart who has seen administrations come and go over decades, noted to this blogger the super-strength demonstrated by Sara Zimmerman Duterte-Carpio, e.g., the unceremonious ouster of the object of her reported ire---Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who was replaced by Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This  pundit also noted  the easy removal of staunch presidential ally Koko Pimentel from the Senate Presidency and his replacement by Majority Leader Tito Sotto, also of PDP-Laban. In both cases, noted this pundit, "both party leaders were ousted without Malacanang throwing its vaunted “life savers.’ ”

If this analyst is to be believed, we are witnessing in the HNP today preparations for "succession to the throne.”  This theory becomes especially fascinating in the light of yesterday's Inquirer banner:  “DU30: I’m thinking of stepping down.” 

Sara Duterte as defender of the political fate of her father, especially if it should worsen, or as eventual successor to the throne through an electoral coup in 2022?  Any which way, Duterte's popular daughter is---as the French would say---"tres formidable." 

Monday, August 6, 2018

In aftermath of firing of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang, new Ombudsman Martires will be measured by same yardstick of arrogant independence that Conchita Morales displayed. Titimbangin si Martires nguni't kulang kaya?

In happier times, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Deputy Melchor Arthur Carandang

Newly appointed Ombudsman Samuel Martires takes his oath of office before Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio
Aug. 06, 2018

The sacking of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang by President Duterte, as conveyed in a 10-page decision by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea last July 30 will be watched for weeks, months and even years to come---for a good number of reasons. The Palace had objected to the disclosure by Carandang of bank records of the Duterte family, which it felt Senator Antonio Trillanes could use to accuse the President of plunder. Carandang had claimed that the figures were obtained from the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Actually, sympathizers of the President are predictably rallying to his defense inasmuch as the release of the figures would be regarded as questionable from their perspective. As Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo put it, "What is patently illegal is that Carandang created a prejudiced environment against a person he is investigating".There is some truth to this, no doubt.


For the moment, however, the legality or non-legality of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang's disclosure of the supposed wealth of the presidential family becomes less interesting---compared to the way he was dealt with by the Administration and implications for the Office of the Ombudsman in the long run.

 A major point at issue here is the harshness of the manner whereby Carandang was fired. According to Secretary Medialdea the dismissal order spells "accessory penalties" of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, being barred from taking civil service examinations and perpetual disqualification from holding public office."  For a civil servant with lifelong service to the government, the forfeiture of retirement benefits is doubtless the harshest, as it deprives him of the nest egg he hopes to enjoy in the twilight of his life.


What's interesting was that the Palace clearly waited until Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was safely retired two weeks ago, before firing Carandang. Actually ex-Ombudsman Morales already clashed with the Palace over her Deputy's dismissal by the Palace as early as last Feb. 1, but the fiercely independent and seemingly arrogant Morales simply refused to carry it out.

Morales argued with her signature arched-eyebrows that the President had no business firing Carandang, inasmuch as the Supreme Court had ruled as early as Jan. 28, 2014 that the provision of the "Ombudsman Act" of 1989 that gives the Office of the President disciplining powers over the government's watchdog deputies is UNCONSTITUTIONAL. As per that Act, only the Ombudsman can discipline his or her deputy, and she probably would have done so, except that the Palace couldn't wait for her retirement to cool off a bit in axing Deputy Carandang. .

As Morales insisted to media, "The Ombudsman will not allow herself to betray her sworn duty to uphold the Constitution by recognizing what is patently unconstitutional, as ordained by the Supreme Court." There were initial threats about impeaching Morales on this issue, but this was abandoned inasmuch as the feisty lady graft-buster remained popular and admired for her guts vis-a-vis Duterte.  While Morales was in the saddle, the Duterte administration kept its distance.


The Palace appointed 69-year old former Supreme Court Justice Samuel Martires last Monday as Morales' successor and all eyes are now on the poor man, who will be measured by standards set by the feisty lady. Would Martires enforce the President's order to kick out Carandang or would he have the guts to follow his gutsy predecessor on her avowal of independence for the office?

Recall that the Palace had already clashed with Ombudsman Morales when it ordered the 90-day suspension of her Deputy Ombudsman---on the issue of his supposedly irregular release of bank records of the Duterte family, allegedly in the billions, to the President's arch-critic,  Sen.Antonio Trillanes. The Palace feared that the information supposedly from AMLC would be used by Trillanes to charge Mr. Duterte with plunder.

Solicitor-General Jose Calida of quo warranto fame defended the validity of Carandang's dismissal resulting from this issue---arguing that the Constitution does not bar the President from disciplining a
deputy official. The Administration's rationale seemed to be that the authority TO HIRE also implies the  authority TO FIRE, but this is not upheld by recent decisions of the Supreme Court.

Some observers rue, however, that SC decisions are not cast in stone, and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has already predicted confidently this reversal by the SC.. New Ombudsman Martires, however, seems to take the safe way out when he stressed that the sacking of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang "is a matter left to the courts to decide." .


President Duterte will retire on June 30, 2022, and until then, it is easy to predict that many legal skirmishes will still be fought by his officials in his name. With the retirement of the feisty Conchita Carpio Morales, aunt of the President's son-in-law, lawyer Maneses Carpio, last July 26, the ball is now in the court of new Ombudsman Martires whose association with Mr. Duterte appears to have come a long way.

Some observers don't give Mr. Martires the same allowance for impartiality that Carpio Morales displayed. For one,  Martires, a fraternity brod of President Duterte, who took his oath as Associate Justice on March 8, 2017---who also happened to be Mr. Duterte's very first appointee to the SC.  Justice Martires had previously occupied the post of Sandiganbayan for 10 years, starting in 2005, leaving a trail of controversial decisions.

 In 2012, he rendered the verdict clearing Marcos and Bobby Ongpin in the alleged Binondo Central Bank scam. News accounts also said that in April 2013,  Martires penned the Sandiganbayan resolution upholding the plea bargaining agreement struck between military comptroller Carlos Garcia and the Ombudsman.

The Filipino people are in for interesting times.