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.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Human rights in limelight again. US Supreme Court nixes deportation of Pinoy immigrant accused of burglary, as it asserts that “vague provisions” risk “arbitrary enforcement,” in violation of US Constitution. Pinoy lawyers appeal to UN prosecutor to take notice of Duterte's human rights “violations” vs.judiciary and threat to lawyers' safety. 71-year old Aussie nun, 27 years in PH, ordered investigated and detained by President Duterte for “disorderly conduct” at rights rallies.

Two recent episodes involving Filipino personalities illustrate the critical essence of the law---one demonstrating its majesty, as interpreted by the US Supreme Court, and the other protesting what appears to be the deficiency in reverence by the Duterte administration for the supremacy of the law and the Filipino lawyers' appeal to recognize this truism.

The treatment of the law in these two separate cases presents most interesting human contradictions as well as keenly opposing legal angles.


A Filipino long-timer legal immigrant in the US,  James Garcia Dimaya, was protected by the US Supreme Court from deportation to the Philippines, after he was convicted of two burglaries in California.  The US High Court, through ponente Justice Elena Kagan, had termed Dimaya’s impending deportation after his conviction under the Immigration and Nationality Act as “unconstitutionally vague.” Kagan feared that the ambiguity  of Dimaya’s supposed crime of violence could create confusion in lower courts---and she decided to hold the deportation and four of her colleagues upheld her ponencia.

Thus, rather than give rise to “uncertainty over which crimes may be considered violent, RISKING ARBITRARY ENFORCEMENT IN VIOLATION OF THE US CONSTITUTION" (emphasis this blogger's),  the US lady justice ruled that the Filipino burglar be freed from deportation.  His lawyer, Joshua Rosendranz, ecstatically said that “The (US) Supreme Court delivered a resounding message today. You can’t banish a person from his home and family without clear lines announced up front.”


Interestingly, US President Donald Trump’s “conservative” appointee to the US Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined this 5-4 majority ruling that termed the legal definition of violence too vague.  Trump was reported to be disappointed in this ruling as well as in Gorsuch, as he has been pushing for deportation of what he considers dangerous foreign criminals. 

Obviously, in the US, legal moves are not allowed to be undertaken for as long as there are ambiguities in the laws invoked, as lives of people are involved in such moves.  It was THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW AS AFFECTING ORDINARY CITIZENS, RATHER THAN THE EGO OF A PRESIDENT, that was upheld in this instance.


Across the seas, several Filipino lawyers yesterday filed a motion with the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, to investigate the Duterte administration’s alleged actions that, in the lawyers’ opinion, undermine the judiciary and threaten the lives of legal practitioners. The lawyer-complainants, led by Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ national president Abdiel Dan Fajardo, included former opposition Rep. Neri Colmenares, Ateneo Prof. Tony La Viña,  Arpee Santiago and Ryan Jay Roset. 

Their 16-page report complained that the Duterte administration’s “infringing” on judicial independence “jeopardizes the very essence of democracy in the Philippines.” The complainant-lawyers noted particularly the President's pronouncements relating to the immediate ouster of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and against the legal profession that, the lawyers argued, is only performing its duties under the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Mr. Duterte has publicly goaded the House of Representatives to get on with the impeachment of the CJ so that the Senate trial could commence. The House Committee on Justice voted affirmatively on the impeachment complaint, but the entire House still has to vote on it when session resumes next month. . 


Political pundits like former diplomat Ado Paglinawan assert that while only 90 votes are needed for the House to impeach CJ Sereno, the likelihood is that there would be over 200 votes against her in that chamber---given the PDP-Laban super-majority there. But it is in the Senate where the CJ would face trial that the math becomes more complicated. 

As Paglinawan pointed out in our dzRH public affairs program last Sunday, of the 23 senators, 15 votes are needed to convict Sereno. Ado also acknowledged that impeachment being a political process, at the end of the day factors other than her guilt or innocence would come in---e.g., coercion,  vote-buying and party loyalty would figure in the Senate, as in the trial of the late much-loved and much-lamented Chief Justice Renato Corona. 


If the ouster move vs. Sereno gets only 14 votes, or if only six senators would vote to convict her or this number would absent from the trial, feigning illness, then Sereno walks away a free CJ. 

Doubtless it's the uncertainty of the Senate vote that has prompted those against Sereno in the High Court to push the quo warranto resolution filed by Solicitor-General Jose Calida against her---as a means to invalidate her appointment by former President Aquino. As the name implies, this resolution would allow the 13 other SC justices to vote on Sereno's qualifications from the very start---"ab initio"---thus ignoring the vetting done by the Judicial and Bar Council prior to her appointment. If majority of the SC justices vote against her, then she is ousted. 

This quo warranto vote, however, is held as unconstitutional by some legal luminaries who maintain that the only way to remove a SC justice is through IMPEACHMENT, as the Constitution provides. Fear was also expressed by SC Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa that the quo warranto petition could weaken the SC as it could be used against any justice. EXPECT MORE LEGAL UPROARS IF THE QUO WARRANTO PROSPECTS IN THE SC 


Interestingly, the deportation of Filipino immigrant James Dimaya was aborted by a US Supreme Court justice's argument that this move was vague. Here in PH, however, an incident that staunch advocates of justice protested as an infraction was the President’s recent admission that he had ordered immigration authorities to pick up, investigate and detain Australian nun Patricia Fox for “disorderly conduct.” Mr. Dutertet was publicly quoted as assuming full responsibility for his order.

Sr. Patricia Fox of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, 71, has been in the Philippines for 27 years now and though her visa is valid until Sept. 9, she incurred the ire of Mr. Duterte after she participated in various human rights rallies. He said that the nun exhibited “disorderly conduct” and insulted this country, which he won't tolerate. Sr. Patricia asserted, however, she just joined rallies advocating human rights and protecting the farmers.  

These are familiar refrains from a past regime, but they are focusing WORRIED ATTENTION ON MR. DUTERTE'S BRAND OF JUSTICE.   

Monday, April 9, 2018

Boracay as Paradise Lost---can it ever become Paradise Regained? Challenge for new PNP Chief Albayalde is to rehabilitate the 90% of drug addicts who, as police admitted to Cardinal Tagle, could still be rehabilitated.

Former PNP Chief Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa and new Chief Oscar Albayalde

In the latter half of 2017, then NCR Chief Oscar Albayalde addressed a gathering of foreign diplomats at the Manila Peninsula, to which I was invited by the consul of Estonia, Dr. Juan Peña. At that time the PNP under Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa was under heavy fire for his command's summary executions of drug addicts by the hundreds. The heavy-set “Bato de la Rosa” lived up to his monicker and could have been easy recruit as character actor for the stereotyped executioner in vintage Shakespeare films. 

At that luncheon, PNP NCR Chief Albayalde, looking trim in his blue uniform and sounding more like a lawyer than a fire-breathing police officer---stressed the determination of the police organization to adhere to the law in carrying out its mandate vs. the drug menace. His foreign audience immediately liked his “clean” image and felt relaxed with him. “Okay ‘to,” said Consul Fernando Peña to me.


NCR Chief Albayalde is now in the PNP Chief's saddle and the citizens will keenly follow how he handles the drug problem---pitted against the controversial moves of his predecessor. Agbayalde told media a few days ago that he would cooperate with all investigations into the drug-killings, most notably those conducted by the Commission on Human Rights, as well as the Supreme Court order to the PNP to submit all case files on its Tokhang operations. 

What apparently won the President’s nod for Albayalde was his reputation for  being “strict.”  While NCR Chief he used to personally go around the metropolis nights by himself on a motorcycle and conduct surprise visits to PNP outposts. He would give hell to lawmen he found drinking or gambling at their posts.  Albyalde's nocturnal visits to the NCR police is credited with the drop by nearly 18 percent of the crime rate in the metropolis during his watch. 


What’s interesting now is how he would balance force with reason in handling drug pushers, addicts and errant lawmen. In his Holy Saturday talk at the Tagaytay Highlands that I attended, Luis Cardinal Tagle of Manila stressed that lawmen have admitted to him that of all the drug addicts apprehended so far, only 10% are incorrigible while 90% can be rehabilitated.

In the light of this revelation, it's interesting to see how new PNP Chief Albayalde would handle the 90% who could be returned to society as law-abiding citizens. Would the police force have the patience and the conscience  now to stretch the humane arm of the law toward these 90% strayed souls who can still be saved?

Another question, quite commonsense for new PNP Chief Albayalde from ordinary citizens: can he close the faucet of drugs, so that less Filipino youths would be victimized? Being caught and killed by the lawmen are the small drug couriers and pushers, but the big drug suppliers and smugglers are scot free. The release of two big and notorious drug suppliers recently caused such an uproar and rightly so---especially since the killing of small drug pushers and addicts continues. This lopsided leniency in favor of notorious drug smugglers over small drug users has to be explained to the public.


At our dzRH Sunday program last April 08, Cecile Alvarez and I invited former UP Regent and Dean of Mass Communications Georgina Reyes Encanto, who spoke about how impressed she was during her recent visit to Japan. She praised the way ordinary Japanese carried on their day-to-day living efficiently and with discipline, as well as the order and cleanliness of Tokyo and environs.

Cecile and I also agreed with Georgie Encanto’s observation about how the Japanese care for their environment and surroundings,  and we concluded that such virtues ought to be instilled from the tender years, as is the case with the Japanese .

The once pristine and beautiful Boracay, the once verdant jewel of Philippine tourism

Filipinos' less than admirable attitude toward the environment becomes more acute in view of the destruction of Boracay, the once-verdant crown jewel of our tourism program. No less than President Duterte recently called Boracay "a cesspool”---owing to the faulty sewage from various resorts that has been allowed to flow into the once clean emerald waters of the island, contaminating them. I have returned again and again to Boracay over the years, and I feel quite depressed about its sorry fate today.  

No less than the New York Times also has mourned its degradation. But the sad thing is that it isn’t just Boracay that has gone to seed. Reports from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources indicate that Puerto Galera, El Nido, the Ilocos beaches and other resorts around the country have also violated our environmental laws. 

The DENR and Tourism have apparently been sleeping on their job of making sure these resorts comply to restrictions. President Duterte's order to shut down Boracay for six months pending rehabilitation has resulted in mass lay-offs---a stiff price to pay, but it must be paid.   


Recall too how a huge fire resulting from the careless disposal by some campers of a portable butane stove recently resulted in the destruction of some 5.9 hectares of grassland and various rare species of ferns and bird-life in Mt. Pulag---the third highest mountain in the country, that borders Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya.   Experts assert that it would take many years to rehabilitate that area of Mt. Pulag.

Charges are going to be filed against seven mountaineers under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS), as provided by PD. 705.  Dapat lang. But more than that, our families, the schools and mass media have to engage in values formation, like the Japanese do---advocating that a crime against Mother Nature also should also constitute a crime against Humanity.