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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, May 24, 2018

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, May 17, 2018

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, May 4, 2018

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speedy and mind-boggling events indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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