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, 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. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Digong's third SONA delivered at the 17th Congress would best be remembered for coup vs. Speaker Alvarez that installed GMA in his place. A pity that the coup buried some meaningful pronouncements by Duterte in a SONA sans expletives and verbal sling-shots at other leaders, such as toward VP Robredo last year.

Former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo plays out a new and more challenging role as the First Female Speaker of the House of Representatives. 

The 17th Congress of the Philippines will be remembered not for the surprisingly brief State of the Nation Address of President Duterte---but for the coup against Speaker Alvarez that took place over many hours at the Batasan last Monday. In a series of lightning moves by 184 members of the House of Representatives (out of a total membership of 234), who chose to install as their new leader former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, co-province-mate and co-PDP-Laban party-mate of President Duterte and his longtime ally, garnered only 48 votes while  12 representatives abstained. 

The Batasan audience sensed something big was going on when the appearance of the President in the cavernous session hall was delayed for over an hour---even though the giant screen inside the hall showed that he had already arrived. The audience realized something was afoot when a huge group of representatives milled around near the stage, discussing something still unclear to the vast SONA crowd at that time. Many in the audience, including the diplomats, grew more and more restless as still no SONA. I whiled away the time by chatting with a US Embassy political officer and a UNDP official.


Soon enough, I sensed that a coup vs. Speaker Alvarez was in progress and the buzz went around quickly that GMA was going to replace him. Still more waiting amid the raucous of voices and then GMA, who came in a an orange business suit and not in a Filipiniana outfit like most of us, obviously because she didn't have enough time to change outfits, went up the dais to sit at the Speaker's place---all by herself. By then great confusion reigned in the session hall. GMA tried the microphone, but no sound came out. The Alvarez camp had shut it out. 

Finally GMA decided to leave the dais and take her seat among her colleagues on the floor. More groups in a buzz, and after a long while a page came in and set up the Mace---the symbol of the House. 


President Duterte began the shortest speech among his three SONAs so far---which was cut short probably because he had already known what was happening in the House---which was the bigger story. Then Senate President Tito Sotto and by then still-Speaker Alvarez adjourned the session on behalf of their respective chambers. The buzz in the hall was that an arrangement was fashioned between the two protagonists for the Speakership that Alvarez would still get to preside over the House for the SONA---ONE LAST HURRAH FOR HIM.  

Soon after the reception for the guests, the President left by chopper back to the Palace. Then followed the climax of the day journeying quickly into late night---the viva voce voting for Speaker in the session hall, which was being very seriously taken. At that late hour, there was a quorum, which was in itself AN INCREDIBLE FACT IN A CHAMBER NOTORIOUS FOR ABSENCES. 


A big snag: the Alvarez camp, aside from turning off the power on the stage earlier, also did a good job of hiding the Mace---the symbol of House authority---so that it couldn't be produced for last Monday night's over-extended session and voting. Someone questioned whether voting without the Mace would be legal, but this argument was shot down by Camarines Sur's Rolando Andaya who likened the Mace to the policeman's chapa---even without it the policeman remains an officer of the law.  His explanation quieted the objectors and voting began fast and almost automatic---no complex explanations, just voting one by one, overwhelmingly for GMA. 

Buhay Rep. Joselito Atienza termed it "spontaneous combustion," though later reports said the plot was hatched earlier in Bonifacio Global City by a group led by Andaya. 


Lots of theories arose in the search for a rationale for Alvarez's ouster. Some pointed to his vigorous espousal of a "No-El" (no election) scenario---recently headlined by newspapers---which was said to have drawn flak toward the President inasmuch as Alvarez is considered one of his closest political allies and the latter would not do anything without Mr. Duterte's blessing. Perhaps it was there, but the whispered animosity of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte toward Alvarez---which was widely known in Davao---gathered more credence and showed the power of this young politician. Significantly, other politicians from Davao, such as Rep. Karlo Nograles and TonyBoy Floirendo were allied with Sara vs. Alvarez.

I spoke to Rep. Floirendo whose Tagum banana plantation became the object of Alvarez's ire after their two ladies quarreled over who gets to sit at which place of honor at the Bacolod Masskara Festival two years back. Floirendo, known to have been a major donor to Duterte's campaign, had few words of endearment for his fellow Davaoeño Alvarez. 

Another solon felt that Alvarez's espousal of same-sex marriage and divorce drew the ire of the Church.

Indeed, many possible reasons for Alvarez's unceremonious eviction. Everyone concedes, though, that the shake-up wouldn't have been possible without at least the tacit approval of Mr. Duterte.  At the session hall  after the voting, I managed to query new speaker GMA, looking quite tired, whether the coup vs. Alvarez had the approval of the President and she replied tartly and almost inaudibly, "Does it have to have his approval?"


Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was elected Speaker of the House tonight---a new phase in her long and distinguished political career. Former Senator and DENR Secretary Sonny Alvarez noted that In becoming Speaker after her nine year-presidency, GMA took the same path as John Quincy Adams in US history. After Adams finished his term as President of the US, he became a member of the US Congress---but as ordinary legislator and not as Speaker. Interesting new world for GMA. Great expectations from her colleagues. Congratulations, Mme. Speaker---the first Filipino woman to achieve this distinction in a predominantly man's world.

If the shift to federalism, as President Duterte is now campaigning furiously for, takes place, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could conceivably become the first Prime Minister and the first Filipino woman to achieve this goal. Some commentators note that with Duterte shooting his mouth off frequently without thinking, GMA would be the perfect foil, as she is known as a meticulous plodder especially in the realm of economics and foreign investments. 

 At the moment the idea of GMA's return to the top is reaping a lot of favorable remarks, but her political enemies are also quite active in shooting it down. This petite woman, however, has fought many political battles over the decades and she appears to be in this new game to stay. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Pacquiao made Pinoys forget even for a brief moment the galloping inflation, high prices and Duterte's rant vs.God as we celebrated his stunning victory vs.Argentine champ Matthysee. OPAPP's Dureza quotes "moral hazard" (coined by World Bank) of giving livelihood to warriors abandoning arms but seemingly neglecting those who live peaceful but economically challenged lives.

Manny Pacquiao waits in corner for his opponent to rise, which he never did.

Indeed the Filipino people were united for perhaps one and a half hours last Sunday noon, as our champ Manny Pacquiao challenged Argentine champ Lucas Matthysee for the WBA Welterweight World Title in the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia---with no less than President Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad watching from the galllery. 

Frankly, I was quite nervous as Pacquiao at 39 is four years older as well as three centimeters shorter in height than his opponent---in a sport where age and arm’s reach could spell disaster on the short end. But Manny stuck to the legend he has created, with 20 more wins than the Argentinian, even though our hometown boy had 7 losses vs. Matthysee’s four.


As the boxing fight raged, I was speeding to Wack Wack Subdivision in Greenhills to attend the 87thbirthday celebration of my longtime friend Teresa V. Daza, and I knew that my driver, Rod, was watching the fight from the car TV even as we drove.  That he could bump someone else’s vehicle and we’d get into a fight worried me, but I couldn’t find the heart to stop him from watching intermittently, as I knew how much Pinoys had yearned for such a match---after the long disappearance of our champ from the ring.

After the luncheon for Tessie Daza I visited my ailing brother Danny Olivares in Marikina and this time I got to watch the replay---how Pacquiao’s lightning jab finally sent Matthysee half-kneeling on the floor----the third in the 7th round, though not quite a knock out. That punch by Pacquiao, though, was enough to TKO the Argentinian.


I have never been a boxing fan as I find this sport too brutal for my sensibilities, but I can understand why the Inquirer would banner that “Pacquiao victory unites nation anew.” Superficially, I agree. For one bright shining moment, in practically every home across the archipelago, Filipinos forgot their own wrestling with galloping inflation, high prices, maddening traffic in the metropolis, brutal killings of priests and drug addicts and many more, as they waited with bated breath for that one right-left punch that would cut short the Argentinian’s reign as welterweight king.


Just as interesting as the boxing fight between Pacquiao and Matthysee, though,  was President Duterte’s advice to Manny Pacquiao after that splendid victory. Along with Manny’s friends, the presidential wish is that the champ would retire to enjoy life and “rest on his laurels,” adding that he has already so much money, no problem.”  Manny retiring?  That looks like one for the books for one who has managed to win unprecedentedly in no less than eight different weight divisions. At age 39---he'll be 40 in December--- he's raring to take on anyone in the boxing world. 

But I agree with Mr. Duterte: Manny should quit while he's ahead and enjoy life: have fun with his family, smell the flowers and look at the blue sky more often.  After all, he is already one of the greatest boxers of all time---a legend unto himself with his 39 KOs in his 23-year boxing career. With his earnings from his spectacular boxing career that have run into billions of pesos, Manny could also make history by putting up a foundation that addresses the primary needs of his countrymen, e.g., providing education to the poorest of the poor, so that these citizens could be more productive and reduce the appalling poverty and unemployment levels. 

But no, he's quoted tonight as wanting to take on Floyd Mayweather once again!   His body may be that of a nearly 40-year old guy, but the spirit is that of a boxing ingenue who seem never to have tasted defeat..                 

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jess Dureza
My radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I had a most productive interview with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Chief Jesus “Jess” Dureza, aired last Sunday at 6pm. on "Radyo Balintataw" over nationwide dzRH.  Jess Dureza is a friend from way back and I hold that he is ideal to head OPAPP as he is naturally simpatico and approachable---not the abrasive and antagonistic type of public official. 

We all long for peace in our country, so that precious resources currently devoted to killing fellow Filipinos could instead lift them up from the poverty of centuries. The NPAs thrive on existing poverty and hopelessness to spread their gospel of violence, but as Secretary Dureza pointed out in our program, the dissidents "should help us win goodwill for them---because to integrate them into society would need a law to be passed." 


Stressing the importance of continuing cultural discussion and mediation, Peace Adviser Dureza noted that there are leftists who started as ideologues but who are now happily desirous of peaceful integration into society. He stressed, however,  that even if a ceasefire could be maintained on the collection of revolutionary tax, there are still those who would resort to this method, such as the 'violent extremists' "out of step with those desirous of peace."  

"The work for Peace is the work of a lifetime, and should be undertaken by all Filipinos who love their country," the OPAPP Chief stressed, adding that "you cannot have peace if you don't have it in your heart." In this I agree. Dureza also admitted that society really has to address anger and the angst in the hearts of some Filipinos. 

For instance, he recalled that his grandfather was beheaded by the Japanese and it took him a while to appease his anger over this horrible incident in his own heart.  My radio partner, RM Awardee for Theater Cecile Alvarez, also recalled that her own grandfather suffered the same fate, but that she lost her anger over the tragic episode once she started getting to know the Japanese students studying drama in the famed La Mama Theater in the US, where she enrolled in the Alvarezes' exile years in the US. 


At our dzRH program, Secretary Dureza spoke about the twin paradigm of Peace and Development, and prevailing complaints about lack of livelihood in certain areas, such as Sulu. He admitted that while giving livelihood to former dissident warriors could upset those who have remained peaceful, this is what the World Bank had coined as the "moral hazard." He also referred to the "peace lens" that's community-based and inclusive. 

Dureza stressed that President Duterte is committed to bringing about peace in the country. He also cited how the Chief Executive would often talk with some jest about how his mother Soledad, a known disciplinarian, would make her young son Rodrigo face the wall as punishment when he was naughty. That early, the President would tell his officials, "I was already united to Jesus." 

Did Secretary Dureza narrate this episode in Duterte's early years by way of negating the effect of the latter's controversial pronouncement about God being "stupid" some weeks back? 

Monday, July 9, 2018

In a country where poverty and limited education exist, involvement of some politicos in drug trade is foregone conclusion. Bong Go's beautiful wreath lined up with those of prominent politicos in De Venecia sister's wake and his huge billboards along the highways going north are sure signs that he'll run for the Senate in 2019.

Friends and followers of slain Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan, Batangas, give him a hero's burial (photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Five local officials have already been killed in a most violent way---shot in cold blood mostly by riders in tandem---and the prevailing suspicion is that they were eliminated because of their involvement in the drug trade. Their families have staunchly denied the accusation; nevertheless, there are certain realities that must be looked into in these unfortunate incidents.

One is that mid-term elections are coming up next year and it's possible that these local politicians were eliminated by their opponents. That a number of local officials become victims of brutality prior to or during elections is a fact of life in the Philippines, as politics is extremely local and so much is at stake for each political family. Since time immemorial politics here has involved dynasties and the tendency is to consolidate forces to preserve dynastic rule in various areas for generations.


In recent weeks, however, a new phenomenon has surfaced which was just being whispered about in past elections, but which has now been elevated to a major factor, with the coming mid-term elections---mainly because President Duterte recently raised this specter. This is the possibility that politicos who were eliminated were linked to the drug trade. There is a supposed list held by the Palace of local officials involved in drug trafficking, and the popular belief is that those officials killed in recent weeks were among them---victims of the administration’s brutal campaign against drugs.

In fact, following the high-profile killings of Mayor Ferdinand Bote of Cabanatuan and Mayor Antonio Halili in Tanauan City, members of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) are now pressing for a dialogue with President Duterte, in an effort to understand what's going on in the so-called campaign against "narco-politicians" and the seeming culture of impunity and violence. 


The administration’s campaign against drugs is not bad per se---as it is obvious that this societal menace has proliferated in our nation especially with the inaction of the previous regime. It has seriously affected the peace and order situation in many parts of our country. At this point, however, despite the administration's efforts to eliminate it,  it seems impossible altogether for a number of reasons---the most significant of which is that it appears to be funding the election campaign of a good number of politicians. 

It's a chicken-and-egg situation. To win in this country, even in the littlest barangay, in many places politicians have to buy votes---in fact, in the latest barangay elections, many pols spent disproportionately huge funds to win. But the terrible fact seems to be that much of these funds may be coming from the drug trade flourishing in various municipalities across the country. 


In turn, the propensity of Filipino voters to sell their votes stems from the pervading poverty and poor political education of our people at the grassroots.  Extracting funds in return for their votes is the poor's revenge on their politicos who have been negligent over the years. In fact, politicians seek to raise funds to finance expensive election campaigns even at the barangay level. Because of these realities, a good number of politicians have turned to illegal ways of amassing campaign funds, and apparently, judging from Mr. Duterte's pronouncements, the most lucrative is the drug trade. 

Mr. Duterte is said to have a list of the politicos involved in this nefarious trade and the five killings in recent days are being regarded in some quarters as proof that his men are behind the slayings. This is why local politicians now clamor to dialog with the President---to clear themselves of involvement in the drug trade or have their names stricken off the presidential list of narco-politicians---lest they too fall victim to slayings. . 


The trouble, however, is that elimination via the anti-drug campaign could also be a way for some candidates to get rid of political rivals. It is indeed a worrisome thing any way one looks at it. We Filipinos can only long for and pray for the factors that will establish a strong and vibrant state we can truly be proud of---clean politics that greatly reduces poverty and raises the educational level of our people. 

Sadly, what we have at present is a lot of unmitigated poverty, a large mass of uneducated and poorly employed people totally dependent on unscrupulous politicians, whose only aim seems to be to get to power by hook or by crook and stay on top ad infinitum.  More by crook obviously, the way the drug war is flourishing. 

Presidential Assistant Bong Go (from ABS-CBN Photo)

Presidential confidential assistant Bong Go is rumored to be eyeing a Senate seat in the coming mid-term elections. At first it was impossible to think of such ambition from this super-loyal but very low-key aide of President Duterte---who has been with him for many years and is perhaps the closest to him. 

I've seen and observed politics in this country for many decades now. Years before Eggie Apostol, Letty Magsanoc and I set up the Philippine Daily Inquirer, I was recruited by the great Eggie A. to be a political writer for the black-and-white Mr/Ms. Magazine that she converted from an innocuous women's magazine full of recipes, baby care and advice to the love-lorn, into a political weapon against Ferdinand Marcos. It was the epitome of the powerful mosquito bite that grew epidemic. Since then I have known how to watch out for political signals. 


Three days ago, at the wake at Heritage Memorial Park for Ms. Aurora de Venecia San Jose, elder sister of former Speaker Jose de Venecia, lo and behold, Bong Go's beautiful flower bouquet was neatly displayed alongside the wreaths of the most prominent officials of the land. Moreover, from Pampanga all the way to the Ilocos billboards bearing Bong Go's huge photo may be seen.  

All these signs I take to mean that for sure it's a Go for Bong Go for senator in the mid-term elections of 2019. Whether he will win is another question, as recent surveys show him in the near bottom rung. Will President Duterte's campaign for him shoo him in?  

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

President Duterte is entitled to his opinion about God, but considering that he's Head of State of a deeply religious people, he would be well-advised to keep his rants to himself. Senate Minority Leader Drilon and former National Security Adviser/ex-DND Chief Norberto Gonzalez bat for closer scrutiny of Phil-Chinese relations in view of troubling realities.

President Duterte in an expansive mood---too expansive this time vs. God.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon complains about far lesser FDIs from China, compared to Vietnam's gain.

Former Defense Chief & National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez wants closer scrutiny of enormously increasing Chinese presence in PH

The Philippines’ relationship with China continues to be on the front burner these days. Notably, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and former National Security Adviser and former Defense Secretary Norberto B. Gonzalez have noted the lopsidedness of relations between our two countries and call for rectification measures.

For instance, Sen. Drilon pointed out that Vietnam and Malaysia have enjoyed far more benefits from China than the infinitely more accommodating PH. He stressed that Vietnam has been far more aggressive than we have been in dealing with China in the South China Sea issue, and yet Vietnam has secured foreign direct investments (FDIs) from China of US$2.1 billion, whereas PH only got a measly US$31 million. On the other hand, bilateral trade between China and PH resulted only in US$21.94B, whereas trade between Vietnam and China yielded US$71.85B.

In view of these lopsided realities, Drilon has called for a review of our diplomatic and trade relations with China, and rightly so. It seems that when one is too obliging, one is taken for granted---so true in the China Sea issue. 


Former National Security Adviser and former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzalez also raised the alarm about China’s motives toward PH in a well-written paper circulated in social media, titled “The Nation Needs a Contingency Plan. A Chinese Invasion?”  Gonzalez echoes what the late Rep. Roilo Golez had been advocating up to his last day on earth. While being interviewed at ANC on this subject, Roy tragically collapsed---a great loss to our country! 

Like Golez, Gonzalez maintains that parts of PH territory in the China Sea “have been occupied, fortified and covered with facilities that are plainly military installations.” With these, he stressed, “China has erected forward operating bases in our territory which definitely pose a serious threat to our national security.”

These are valid claims, but what’s equally interesting is Gonzalez’s reading of President Duterte's public assertion that China’s President Xi Jinping would not allow him to be ousted from power.  Gonzalez cited the opinion of  some international security analysts who tied the President's statement to what appears to be China’s plan for "major intervention" in PH.


Norberto Gonzalez’s reference to major Chinese intervention has, in turn, given rise to his observation, shared by many in various parts of  this country--- that the Chinese have been leasing properties here to develop into economic zones, among others,  in Cagayan, Bataan and Palawan.

The interesting thing, however, is that while foreign developers of eco-zones normally bring only their technical people and hire locals as rank and file employees, the Chinese are different.  Observers have noticed that in various localities, Chinese lessors are bringing able-bodied people by the hundreds, instead of tapping the abundant domestic labor force, as other nationalities are doing. It has also been noticed that some condominiums in Metro Manila, especially in the less pricey areas, teem with Chinese tenants. 

Former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, in his paper, has advocated that Congress rush legislating a National ID system and its proper implementation.  This seems a wise imperative for Congress---asap please.


Predictably, many citizens are very upset over recent pronouncements by President Duterte attacking not only the Catholic Church and its bishops and priests, but also God Himself, calling Him “an idiot” and “stupid.” His latest attack appears to have been triggered by protests from the CBCP hierarchy over the unexplained murders of three priests in various localities.  Protests by Church hierarchy over these violent episodes may be justified,  as until now there is no clue to the dastardly slayings.

From excerpts published by the Inquirer, the President has been on attack mode against God and the Church over some time in various places, including in South Korea, before the Filipino community during his recent state visit.  His attacks were also aired in his native Davao City, in Sta Rosa, Laguna, in Cavite, Cebu, among other places.  

No other President has done this sort of thing before.  Mr. Duterte’s  angst, as he admitted openly, is said to have stemmed from his teen years, when he was allegedly fondled by a foreign priest in Davao City. That was a regrettable episode indeed, and there was a time when similar episodes surfaced to capture the citizens' attention---including psychologists and theologians.


Thus the episode involving what Duterte calls his “rapist” apparently is still very much part of his angst and it has now extended toward God whom he termed "an idiot." Sadly, his attacks are most divisive and unbecoming of a head of State. A former Philippine ambassador to a European country recently observed to me that not even Hitler brought his attacks against the Church to such level. 

The Church as an institution is not perfect---what human endeavor is?---but to attack it in the virulent manner that Mr. Duterte employed is absolutely no gain for him as well as for our country, as it brings the level of discourse to a new low. There is such a thing as good manners and right conduct for ordinary mortals but most especially for the Head of State. Mr. Duterte's rants could be the offshoot of the medicines he is taking and perhaps this should also be addressed.


Palace apologists insist that Duterte was just exercising freedom of speech when he cursed God---a laugh of a defense as there are limits to any freedom. He could rant and rave in private about his religious beliefs but as head of state, attacking in public the God of the people he serves and who elected him by an unprecedented margin is an absolutely no-no.

Centuries of involvement with the Church and Faith have made Filipinos a deeply religious people.  Their faith and love for God and Church is so rooted in their hearts and psyche, and while outward devotion to the Church may have waned somewhat in the younger generation as a result of modernism and foreign influences, still, it cannot be denied that the vast majority of Filipinos still revere God and the Church that represents Him on this earth.

Attacking them in such a virulent manner is a no-win situation for Mr. Duterte, and Palace apologists terming his tirade “freedom of speech” are desperately plumbing the depths of reason.  

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Various groups, most notably the security sector, express apprehension over certain clauses the MILF insists on being 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 naïive 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.