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.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Election violence is directly related to some politicians' willful instinct to prevail at all costs---with massive vote-buying among poor sectors. They recoup "investments" by monkeying with PW funds to ensure dynastic rule. When dynasty is threatened, that's when violence erupts. How to break this evil? Rescue masses from abject poverty by revving up the economy and educate them, so they become independent of pols.

President Duterte flies to Daraga City to condole with the family of slain Rep. Rodel Batocabe

Since the heinous slaying of Bicol Ako party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe by still unidentified assailants, his widow, Gertrudes Duran Batocabe, has won a lot of sympathy and admiration for her courageous and dignified response to this tragedy.

During President Duterte's visit to Daraga City to condole with the congressman's family, Mrs. Batocabe, a member of the prominent Duran family in Bicol, sought justice for her slain husband from the Chief Executive. That the criminals who killed the respected law-maker ought to be caught and punished is the least that the administration could do for his family.

To Mr. Duterte's invitation that she run in her slain husband's place in the May 2019 elections, she replied candidly that right now her focus is "to bury him with dignity and honor, in accordance with how he lived." After this, said the widow, she will seek justice for him---that those responsible be brought to court and punished.


With the slaying of Rep. Batocabe, the threat of political violence across the country rears its ugly head anew as the May 2019 mid-term elections approach. Mr. Duterte contributed P20 million to the financial reward offered by Rep. Batocabe's party-list colleagues to anyone who could provide clear leads to his slaying.

Reward money to identify the killers now stands at P50 million, and perhaps it would bring results, but election violence remains in the political scene every campaign season---unless certain factors are checked and eliminated from our midst.


Political rivalry exists in every setting all over the world, even in the politically and economically advanced countries such as the US, but in less developed political settings such as ours, it's accompanied frequently by violence. The slaying of Rep. Batocabe in so brazen a manner in Daraga, however, speaks of grievously degenerated standards in our very Third World political setting. Facts about his slaying are not all in yet, as PNP investigation is still going on, but it is easy to see that in our milieu many politicians feel they stand to gain so much in office, that they are ready to eliminate rivals by means fair or foul.

While there are few exceptions, it's obvious that political contests in this country have become so expensive for the candidates---this is because it's almost impossible for politicos not to resort to buying votes at exorbitant costs, to win. Citizens, on the other hand, often sell their votes to the highest bidder because many of them have remained very poor, and election time is seen as their opportunity to gain some fast bucks with their votes.

I dare say that with few exceptions, our citizens look at the elections as opportunity to get their revenge on neglectful and abusive politicians---by exacting their pound of flesh through their votes.


Politicians doubtless realize the truism that elections are revenge time for the voters, so the pols have to buy votes---and it could run into hundreds of millions of pesos or even billions in some cases for the politicians, if, for instance. they have to ask a rival to withdraw.  Lots of votes are for sale and voters are not coy about it---in fact they feel a strong sense of entitlement about it. This is their revenge every election time on politicos who have paid only token care for their welfare.

This realization that the electorate would extract its pound of flesh from the politicians has made the latter, with some exceptions, utilize their pork barrel funds---formally termed years back the Countrywide Development Fund and later the notorious Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF)---in all manner of wheeling-dealing with contractors of public works projects or with insidious characters like Janet Napoles, to raise funds to buy votes.

Note Sen. Panfilo Lacson's loud complaint about how House solons are still trying to insert pork items into the 2019 budget despite its passage on second amendment already, when no insertions should anymore be tolerated. That's obviously desperation on the part of those running this May 2019.


Another way to win is to eliminate political rivals, which may have been the case with the late Rep. Batocabe---though this has enraged the Bicolanos so much that it could boomerang on the perpetrators.  His slaying can be explained thus: over the years Filipino voters, by and large, have come to expect grease money during elections---which is why politicians have to be creative in their staying power.

Corruption rears its ugly head in various ways and perhaps those candidates perceived to be uncorrupt, like the slain Bicol party-list solon, have to be yanked out of the race by hook or by crook.

This is also why political dynasties seek to survive: the palm-greasing practices exacted from the pols by the largely impoverished voters continue unabated, so that political power has to be preserved within the family over generations---by hook or by crook---to recover its investment.

To be sure, political dynasties also exist in the more advanced countries. In the US, the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Rockefellers and the Daleys of Chicago, among others, are normally mentioned in dynastic terms, but it is not the same as here. The American public---and the US media---are generally unforgiving of political abuses, and public opinion there is mighty strong, unlike here where it often fails to rightly condemn.


The Center for People Empowerment and Governance (CENPEG), headed by my good friend Prof. Bobby Tuason, estimates that more than 17,000 national and local positions, including all 265 seats in the House of Representatives and half of the the 24 seats in the Senate, are at stake in the May 2019 national and local polls. CENPEG also estimates that there are about 250 political families---at least one in every province---in the entire country, and of the 265 House members, 160 belong to such clans.

CENPEG regards political dynasties as a consequence of our country's colonial days, in which an elite class was nurtured by the Spaniards and later by the Americans. Even after our country gained independence in 1946, the largely feudal system persisted, as landed families sought to protect their interest by occupying public office.

Unfortunately, then as now, their constituents on the ground---unlike those of the more politically developed countries---have remained largely poor and uneducated, thus pretty much at the mercy of the politicians. No way to change our country except through education, which should also rescue the poor from numbing poverty.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

US President Donald Trump appears to be lurching inexorably toward impeachment, as he shunts aside critical security decisions, fires key bureaucrats and provokes high officials to resign. President Duterte should find and arrest asap the murderers of Albay Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe

It would seem from many recent developments that 72-year old Republican US President Donald John Trump---the 45th in US history---is lurching from one crisis to another, and that halfway through his term, he seems to be marching inexorably toward impeachment in the US House of Representatives that's dominated by Democrats.

Now, as to whether he would be convicted by the US Senate, which is still dominated by Republicans, although by a very slim majority only, it remains to be seen. As things are developing, it's entirely possible that a number of Trump's Republican allies could turn around and join the seeming impeachment bandwagon.

Not since the ill-starred presidency of Richard Nixon three decades ago has a US President been impeached.  Crisis after crisis has hit the Trump administration as no other US presidency has been in contemporary times. For one, CNN has been merciless in slamming him.


First there was the sudden decision of Mr. Trump to order the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Syria---against the advice of his military hierarchy. This decision of Trump provoked Defense Secretary James Mattis, said to be highly respected and a "stabilizing influence" within the Trump administration, to resign. Mattis'  exit was deemed by political pundits a major---perhaps even irreparable--blow to the administration.

In weeks prior, President Trump had fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly after they "lost his confidence." But when Defense Chief Mattis handed in his resignation last Thursday, Dec. 20, following his disagreement with the Chief Executive over the latter's decision to pull out US troops from Afghanistan, that shook the establishment to its roots. As a news account termed it, the day "was a landmark day of chaos that appeared to test the resolve of even his senior Republican backers in Washington."


The sudden resignation of the Defense Chief drew negative reactions from various leaders, among them Mr. Trump's close ally and frequent golfing partner, veteran Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Praising the decision of Defense Secretary Mattis to resign, Graham warned that withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan---which had earlier been thumbed down by the military establishment in conferences with the President as "high risk strategy"---could ultimately lead to another attack on America, just like 9/11.

On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement following Mattis' resignation, expressing grave concern about the latter's sharp differences with the President that affect "key aspects of America's global leadership."


Adding to these concerns of major presidential allies of President Trump in Congress are other issues that would produce vast swathes of discontent among the American people themselves. For instance, there's the insistence of Trump to erect a wall along the Mexican border to prevent further illegal migrations of the "Chicanos" to the US. That issue triggered a looming government shutdown due to the disputes over the border wall's huge funding---in turn sending US share prices tumbling over this prospect. I can imagine the vast number of Mexican-Americans hating the idea of this wall and how it would impact the next elections for the Republicans.

Then there's the continuing investigations into allegations of the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia against his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton,as well as congressional probes into his businesses, his family and some of his Cabinet members. The former Secretary of State in the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, who would have made a far better president, won the popular vote but most unfortunately lost the electoral votes to Trump.


From where I stand, it's easy to see that President Trump's major difficulty vis-a-vis his political and administration allies stems mainly from the fact that he has never held an elective office before. Instead he has been phenomenally successful as a real estate developer and businessman on a huge scale (e.g. the Trump Tower and the Grand Hyatt New York Hotel, among others) and as a reality TV personality. Hence, Mr. Trump doesn't know how to handle the bureaucracy or work with subordinates not in his payroll.

As multi-billionaire boss in the private sector, Trump hired and fired at will and to his heart's content, but obviously he couldn't learn fast how to work with co-bureaucrats with long distinguished records in public service, and within a system of governance. But more alarming than anything else, the world balance of power is in the hands of this temperamental character.

Prospects of a Trump impeachment bears watching in coming weeks as the Democrats could eventually gain allies in Congress among disgruntled and/or alarmed Republicans.


This blogger joins the nation in decrying in the strongest terms the dastardly murder of Bicol Ako party-list Representative Rodel Batocabe the other day. The 52-year old party-list congressman was a distinguished graduate of the UP College of Law, along with the likes of former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque. Colleagues from the House that I talked to spoke highly of Rep. Batocabe, and his conscientious dedication to his job and his constituents. "If you meet him in the corridors in the Batasan," says former Deputy Speaker Raul Daza, "It's likely that he's rushing to a committee hearing."

As a three-term party-list representative, Rodel Batocabe was already ineligible for reelection and  reports say he was planning to run for mayor of his native Daraga. In the three-cornered fight for the mayoralty in that city, Rodel was the only true native of Daraga, and his opponents would have been the incumbent LP mayor and the current vice-mayor who's said to be backed up by Rep. Joey Salceda.  Rodel Batocabe, considered a friend to all, was estimated to be the front-runner in the mayoralty race. As such he could have been in the line of fire.

The Duterte administration has to find the killers of Rep. Batocabe, if only out of justice to his constituents and because of their deep affection for him.

US President Donald Trump

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Stunning acquittal of ex-Sen. Bong Revilla---a majority decision of Sandiganbayan's five-member special division, from which the nation may not recover in a long while. As the saying goes, something's rotten and it's not in Denmark.

Former Senator Bong Revilla accepting handshakes from fans after his acquittal by Sandigan Special Division

Last Dec. 7 was a particularly bloody Friday for the Filipino people, as the majority decision  of the special division of the Sandiganbayan condemned PDAF queen Janet Lim Napoles and lawyer Richard Cambe, former Sen. Bong Revilla's staffer, for plunder, with the punishment of reclusion perpetua---virtual imprisonment for life---for having absconded with Revilla's PDAF funds during his incumbency.

Under Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, the two convicted people are "solidarily and jointly liable to return to the National Treasury the amount of P124,500,000.00," but the damning part is that this 5-member special division of the anti-graft court EXONERATED the former senator himself ---Cambe's boss---from the same plunder charge.

Concluded this special Sandiganbayan division in a 186-page decision with a 3-2 vote for Revilla's acquittal:  "For failure of the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that accused Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr., received directly or indirectly the rebates, commission and kickbacks from his PDAF, the court cannot hold him liable for the crime of plunder. Accordingly, he is acquitted."


The special Sandigan division's decision to convict Cambe and Napoles while absolving former Sen. Revilla has rocked the nation in utter disbelief.

If a poll were taken on that very day, it would have clearly shown that no one would ever believe that Revilla's legal staffer Cambe and business-woman Janet Napoles could just siphon off all those many millions in pork barrel funds of Revilla, to form part of the P10 billion pork barrrel scam of Napoles to which various legislators' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) were funneled---without the boss' participation in that scam.

This is because this PDAF scam would readily beg the question about Cambe: WHO HE?  Why would Napoles deal with Cambe when he was just a key staffer in Revilla's office. Could he really have been so free to finagle with that gargatuan PDAF amount of his boss---without Revilla's order?


This case of the Sandiganbayan vs. Revilla is most interesting on a number of counts. One, originally the three members of the graft court's First Division---chaired by Justice Efren de la Cruz with Justices Geraldine Faith Econg and Edgardo Caldona as members---took a vote on the case of the  Cambe/Napoles.  Chair De la Cruz voted to convict Revilla of plunder, whereas Econg and Caldona voted to acquit him even as they also voted to convict Cambe and Napoles of plunder.

The ruling of the Sandiganbayan, however, is that there must be a clear UNANIMOUS decision in a given division, but in the 2 vs. 1 ruling of the First Division on Revilla's conviction, this was absent.  Hence, the division was reconstituted to include two more members recruited from another Sandiganbayan division: namely, Associate Justices Dolores Gomez Estoesta and Georgina Hidalgo.


What was called for in the expanded Special Division of 5 members is a simple majority vote, and in its final 3-2 vote three justices voted to EXONERATE REVILLA BUT  CONVICT his key staffer Cambe and PDAF queen Janet Napoles.  The three justices who exonerated Revilla and doomed Cambe and Napoles were Justices Econg who penned the ponencia, Caldona and Hidalgo. Two other division members voted to convict Revilla---namely, presiding Justice De la Cruz and Justice Estoeste.

This is why former Sen. Bong Revilla is for the moment a free man---ending four years of prison confinement in Camp Crame. I don't see this, though, as a closed case, as the Supreme Court will undoubtedly weigh in on such a grievous matter.


All the members of the new First Division had strong arguments, but by far the strongest belonged to Justice Estoeste (a woman, and women generally and arguably have stronger convictions especially about issues that affect the nation's welfare). Joining Justice de la Cruz in accusing Revilla of the crime, Justice Estoeste stressed, "The avalanche of an acquittal will soon fall, but let it not resound without the few words that hope to pierce then what is about to come."

Continued Estoeste:  "\This consequential ruin runs deep, and may eventually free a man once accused of having conspired in raiding the public treasury of hundreds of millions. His imminent freedom has dismally thrown away all evidence that once forbade of repelling the scathing tale that never before of such magnitude has been told."

There is a feeling among some lawyers and judges that the recantation of the former staffers of Janet Napoles of their testimonies against their former boss, namely Benhur Luy, Marina Sula, Merlina Suñas and Mary Anne Baltazar,  has considerably weakened the case for the prosecution. But to Justice Estoeste, this is not so, for as she put it, "The whistle-blowers' revelation of the PDAF scandal is the Pandora's box that takes it all."


New First Division chair De la Cruz argued that fundamental to a crucial case is that the accused is entitled to an acquittal unless his guilt is shown beyond reasonable doubt. He stressed, however, that indicating proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean such degree of proof as, excluding possibility of error, produces absolute certainty.  What's only required, De la Cruz argued, is moral certainty---or "that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind."

Justice De la Cruz argued that parenthetically, direct evidence is not a condition sine qua non, to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. For in the absence of direct evidence, the prosecution may resort to adducing circumstantial evidence to discharge its burden.


In the case of the alleged absconding by Revilla's lawyer, Richard Cambe, of many millions of  his boss' PDAF---depositing it with Janet Napoles, c/o Benhur Luy, in return for generous interest on Cambe's "deposits"---what should have been fatal to the boss himself is the evidence on hand. These are the countless deposits in large amounts made ALMOST DAILY,  as testified by bank tellers, which obviously came from kickbacks from Janet Napoles, with matching dates to boot.

 As the Sandiganbayan justices query:  how could this have been done by lawyer Cambe with such regularity---without the knowledge and approval of the big boss himself?


Another evidence presented against Revilla, as noted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was the Anti-Money Laundering Council's report starting from April 06, 2006 up to April 28, 2010, showing that members of his family made numerous deposits amounting to P87.63 million within 30 days of dates, as mentioned in Luy's ledgers. The Sandiganbayan special court, however, gave little weight to these pieces of evidence, for according to it, the fact of the deposits coming from Janet Napoles was not clearly established

This is a grand modus operandi that would be hard to match in future years, but the victim here is not just the justice system that was screwed up. IT'S THE FILIPINO PEOPLE.

 Something really stinks and it's not in Denmark.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Senate plans investigation into avalanche of undocumented Chinese workers who enter as “tourists.” Historic EDSA has become a grand canyon of huge unregulated commercial ads. Why, even Camp Aguinaldo’s perimeter fence along EDSA displays glamour ads! As Rappler put it, there's total anarchy in advertising! Contrast Metro Manila with the way Paris has preserved the city center that its artists have enshrined for generations.

Over the past two years I have been hearing from various people about how so many Chinese from the mainland have been renting middle-priced condominiums in various parts of Metro Manila, notably in Pasig and Makati. Like many others I have wondered what these Chinese people are doing here. Are they all tourists? If so, why the sudden surge and long-term lease of condos?

Then it began to be talked about that Chinese nationals are also found in other cities in this country, notably in industrial and investment zones.  


Now we hear from immigration sources that Chinese nationals are coming into the country in the tens of thousands and spreading out into the various eco-zones throughout our archipelago.  Rough estimate of Immigration is that there are at least two million such nationals here. 

Recent news from the Senate disclosed that many Chinese nationals have come in to work in online gambling in various parts of our country---many undocumented and unlicensed.  

Sen. Joel Villanueva, who has taken a strong stand against the illegal entry of Chinese, estimates that there could be some 119,000 such nationals who work in firms run by Pogos (Philippine offshore gaming operators).  It’s also easy to see collusion between unscrupulous immigration personnel and foreign entities.


The wonder of it all is that while Chinese nationals appear to be setting up businesses in the various eco-zones here, they are staffing those businesses with their nationals---instead of just providing for the top level of officialdom and hiring Filipino citizens for the lower echelons---as other foreign investors do. This means depriving jobs for Filipinos in the various eco-zones, as our investment laws clearly provide.

I wrote about this phenomenon months ago and I'm glad that Senators Joel Villanueva and Grace Poe are leading the urgent call for investigation by the proper Senate committee.  This issue was raised during the recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was most successful except for this jarring avalanche of undocumented Chinese nationals here.


This has to be corrected early enough, before more economic opportunities that ought to be reserved for Filipino workers disappear and industries with nefarious consequences, such as on-line gambling among Filipinos, become totally unchecked.   

In a related issue, I subscribe to the OBJECTION of a good number of our countrymen to entrust the setting up and operation of the third Telco system to Chinese entrepreneurs.  It should be plainly obvious to our finance and industry officials that doing so could be a big security problem. To say the least, it would be plainly stupid, given precedents  in the immigration and labor sectors.


Like the millions who traverse EDSA daily, I suffer the horrendous traffic along in this major route, especially as Christmas shopping goes into a frenzy. Each time I am stuck in EDSA I do what millions do: gaze lazily at all the huge commercial advertisements on this major highway---which are getting more monstrous and claustrophobia-inducing by the day.

I admit that those huge ad billboards have a way of reducing the boredom of horrendous traffic, but I’m also just so aghast at the way these have bloomed when nobody seemed to be minding---bigger than life, each trying to outdo the other in monstrosity.  Some nearly cover entire building facades. It’s like the whole metropolis has gone mad and we’re inducing a kind of mass claustrophobia---hemmed in what may be termed the Grand Canyon of Advertisements.  


What got me recently upset, however, was the sight of several commercial billboards perched right inside the front perimeter fence of Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, facing EDSA---advertising BEAUTY PRODUCTS---NOT SOLDIERS’ ACTIVITIES BUT PURELY COMMERCIAL ADS. 

Those billboards on the EDSA side of the military and police camps are the pits and if no one objects, the desecration would continue. I think of all the soldiers who have had to defend Camp Aguinaldo against various coup attempts. At the height of the campaign to recover Marawi, no one thought of putting up billboards extolling our fallen soldier-heroes. Now, with about three billboards advertising beauty products and probably more coming up, there’s no more dignity even along the military perimeter facing EDSA. 


Decades back I was part of a group that tried to fight the creeping monstrosity of ads. Led by professionals such as Teresa V. Daza of outdoor advertising,  our group lobbied with Congress to pass a law allocating the places to display those ads and restrict them to a certain acceptable size and distance---for the sake of common sense. It was admirable that that in those days, the group involved in outdoor advertising was itself lobbying for restrictions in ad size and placements.

But nothing much became of it and in no time gigantic billboards have covered the entire highway and are now invading other parts of Metro Manila. It's very much a part of the lawlessness and lack of discipline that pervades the metropolis and society.


Many countries have working regulations about outdoor advertising. China itself limits outdoor ads to a certain size, so that its highways are pleasant to travel by. One reason why Paris--the City of Light--has remained so beautiful is that its city center has remained intact through the decades and centuries---so that it still looks the same as the city-scapes painted by its famous artists a century ago. For one thing, Paris has no skyscrapers downtown and when the Tour Montparnasse threatened to spoil the view downtown, it raised such a howl that it was forced to be erected in the outskirts.  Now Paris has a lot of skyscrapers but not in the city center which is sacrosanct to the Parisians.


Ours is a society that seems to have no respect for rules and regulations, for sobriety and good sense.  Perhaps it all began with the monstrosity of a skyscraper built in the vicinity of the Rizal Park in the Luneta years back, dwarfing the statue of our national hero.  We registered our vociferous objection and some folks brought the issue to court, but construction still went on. Lamentable.

Nothing much was done about it and in no time huge billboards covered the entire EDSA and is now invading other parts of Metro Manila. It is very much a part of the atmosphere of lawlessness that pervades the metropolis and society.

EDSA has become one grand canyon of advertisements, and this appears to be just the precursor to the invasion of commercialism everywhere. It’s fast becoming a society that has no respect for rules and regulations, for sobriety and good sense. A pity.