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.

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

A delicate situation indeed.