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, 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 DavaoeƱo 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?