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, August 6, 2019

With current controversy kicked up by Dengvaxia vaccine in this rainy season, it would be best if Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto conduct a hearing on this most crucial health issue. Just how safe is Dengvaxia vaccine? Let's have that public hearing---NOW NA---to settle this issue once and for all.

Chief of the Public Attorney's Office, Persida Rueda Acosta, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque
With the current controversy kicked up by the Dengvaxia vaccine even as the rainy season’s full fury is already upon us,  it would be best if Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto conduct a hearing on this most crucial health issue. Just how safe is this vaccine? Let’s have that public hearing----NOW NA---to settle this issue of the safety of the vaccine once and for all.

My radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I had a predictably fiery session last Sunday night in our regular nationwide dzRH program, “Radyo Balintataw,” with the Chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), lawyer Persida Rueda Acosta, over the issue of the safe or unsafe use of the vaccine manufactured by Sanofi, the “Dengvaxia Vacine.

Recall that employment of this vaccine was discontinued during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III as a good number of children injected with it either fell ill or even perished. Now Dengvaxia is making headlines again as it’s being recommended for use by some quarters, even as some others are questioning its return with vehemence.


In our interview of PAO Chief Acosta last Sunday, she vigorously  objected to its use for the Filipino public, citing some episodes that she deemed as having already jeopardized lives. From the looks of it, however, the controversy refuses to peter out and will drag on, until a more authoritative and definitive source could stamp approval or outright disapproval of this controversial vaccine.

 PAO Chief Acosta argued that in its current way of being administered to an ailing public, the vaccine is liable to cause more harm, especially if used on patients who have never had dengue before---like a regular vaccine would operate.  Acosta opined that “lalong lalala ang sakit pag zero negative ang patiente for dengue.” Morover, she cited an 11-page report from the vaccine’s manufacturer, Sanofi, showing some cases’ increase in severity, as well as a conflict of interest situation in that the current Health Secretary, Dr. Francisco Duque, had served as consultant to former Health Secretary Garin from May 2015 to June 2016.


During our interview over nationwide DZRH, I showed the PAO Chief two successive headlines of the Inquirer last week, citing that as dengue cases rise, the Palace is “open to Dengvaxia use.” The headline the day after cited “Docs, Scientists Urge Lifting of Dengvaxia Ban.”  Atty. Acosta admitted that the medical world is currently divided over its use, with the document allegedly certifying its use by the World Health Organization never having been presented to the public.

“Where is that paper certifying the WHO approval,?” The feisty PAO Chief asked.  She also cited an 11-page report by the vaccine manufacturer, Sanofi,  that declared four dengue cases that have increased in severity.

On the other hand, Atty., Acosta claimed that her office had autopsied some 143 cases of deaths from dengue after use of the vaccine. She also pointed out that there are 34 civil cases as well as 44 criminal cases against former Health Chief and now Rep. Janet Garin.  The PAO Chief also stressed that just as there are those who support use of Dengvaxia in the current epidemic involving dengue, there are just as many medics who are against the vaccine and experts who have issued position papers vs. Dengvaxia.


Recall that there was indeed a lot of controversy swirling around the use of this vaccine imported from the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi during the administration of former President Noynoy Aquino---forcing his administration to withhold use of the vaccine. Apparently, until now  the local medical profession still appears to be divided over this issue.

Thus, it would be a good  move on the part of the Duterte administration to seek the World Health Organization’s recommendations before deciding on whether or not to use the Dengvaxia vaccine anew in its campaign to curb the dengue upsurge especially in this rainy season.


Just as the Health sector is divided over the Dengvaxia issue, apparently the politicians are just as divided over it.  While fomer Health Secretary Janet Garin is already a member of the House of Representatives, having won in the recent elections in Iloilo, and may be expected to push for the Dengvaccia vaccine's use, senators like Richard Gordon and Vicente Sotto are said to be against bringing it back to public use. 

I submit that the best way to settle this issue---and ease up the extreme anxiety that parents across the nation are suffering  owing to the  reported dengue epidemic brewing---is to hold a congressional hearing on this very vital issue.

Senators Dick Gordon and Tito Sotto should bring it upon themselves to conduct an extensive hearing on the suitability of the Dengvaxia vaccine for cure of dengue---calling on authorities on both sides, as it involves the lives of perhaps thousands of Filipinos. The earlier the better and no holds barred.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Mayweather tipped off Pacquiao to punch Thurman in body, enabling him to win handily. But far from being just helpful, Mayweather obviously aspires for another bout with Pacquiao, who now commands bigger bucks. But there's also clamor for Manny to retire now---as a champ and as age creeps on him. Confusion over China's status in WPS caused by PH regional accents--is China in "possession" or "position?" Confusion could bring us to unwanted war.

In a recent FB post I opined that our champ Manny Pacquiao ought to retire already while he's on top of the world, inasmuch as  continued fights endanger him as age catches up. Nothing would be more heartbreaking for Manny's adoring compatriots than his fall from his pedestal. This stance that I raised in FB got so many favorable reactions---all expressing the same feeling for our champ: hang up your gloves while you're ahead. .

But what's this story about US champ Floyd Mayweather watching the Pacquiao fight vs. Keith Thurman, and how he passed on a  suggestion to our champ in the midst of that fight. Mayweather's message: hit Thurman in the body---which Manny did, sending his foe reeling to the floor. 

The question among Manny's fans: why did Mayweather offer him that unsolicited advice to hit Thurman in the body? The answer: to disable Thurman, so that thereafter, Mayweather gets to fight our Pinoy champ. Mayweather defeated Manny a few years ago, but  perhaps because Manny is now in tip-top shape, Mayweather feels that if  he could defeat the Pinoy champ NOW,  his own stock would rise further. More mega-bucks. 

Fighting our champ and possibly defeating him is a master strategy for Mayweather---but Filipino fans would not relish this as they know Manny is getting older and such fight would only endanger his legend. Better to retire undefeated than to crumble to the floor as an over-aged boxer who didn't know that his time was up. Manny Pacquiao shouldn't fall for wily Mayweather's trickery. He should retire while he's ahead, and the fact that many Facebook fans share this feeling is a good weather-vane of public opinion.


President Duterte tackled a lot of nitty-gritty in his Fourth SONA last Monday in what he termed "the period of consequence" of what should have been done but was not.  His nearly two-hours speech---delivered quite late as he was almost two hours delayed in arriving by chopper at the Batasan grounds---sounded more like a rambling fireside chat rather than the grand State of the Nation Address of the Chief Executive. But after three SONAs, we have gotten used to presidential eccentricities, his thick diction and mumble, and folksy jokes which his Batasan audience lapped up.

On the West Philippine Sea issue, the President was quite candid in admitting that he preferred to negotiate the problems we have with China diplomatically, as he did not want to make "more widows and orphans of our soldiers' families." "We have to temper (this issue) with reality," he was quoted as saying, insisting, however, that "national honor and integrity will be recognized."


Interestingly, the President does not seem eager to expound on this issue at the moment, as he probably realizes that there seems no clear solution at the moment;  hence, he'd rather leave the verbal tussles over the WPS to Justice Antonio Carpio, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in one corner, vs. his spokesperson and legal adviser, Salvador Panelo (who came in an embroidered jacket that he told this admiring writer was "from Paris") and his loyal political allies.

To show how muddled the China issue could get, I had a big laugh to myself when the day after the SONA, administration officials were debating about the Philippine "position" on China while some members of Congress actually were denouncing that big bully country's "possession" of parts of the West Philippine Sea.  Uttered by various speakers with heavy, mainly Visayan, ethnicity, these two vital words in the national debate on China---"position" vs. "possession"---for a moment looked like dreary potentials for war.

Baka makipag-barilan tayo sa Tsina dahil sa ethnic mispronunciations:  China's "possession" of the WPS, when actually what is meant is its "position" on the conflicted waters?

(Next: the bishops' uproar over proposed revival of the death penalty,  Duterte's mulling of a proposed "Overseas Filipinos Commission" and his laying the burden of un-bundling traffic on the mayors, atbp.)

Saturday, July 6, 2019

As Inquirer headlined recently, foreign vessels have been poaching in our rich waters for marine resources, leaving our marginalized fishermen to fish in nearby shores. Over the years, vital AFP resources have been marshaled to combat communist insurgency and rebellion in the South. Result: a Philippine Coast Guard frightfully ill-equipped to handle piracy in PH waters.

One month after the "allision" between the Filipino fishing boat and the Chinese trawler in the West Philippine Sea, controversies continue to hound both sides. In fact the central issue---the right or the absence of it of the Chinese trawler to fish in PH's 370-km EEZ---continues to be debated. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. raised the issue in the United Nations in New York City, but as the Chinese side put it, the allision happened as the Filipino fishing boat had no lights while parked in the sea.

Of course the fact of the Chinese boat fishing in PH waters was our  supervening argument, but this fact of the PH boat without lights puts us on the defensive and considerably weakens our claim for damages. This is a small detail but it should be a great lesson for Filipino fishing crew---you need perimeter lights around our boats if another collision is to be avoided at sea. 

The Philippine Coast Guard should be alert in enforcing proper safeguards on PH vessels such as ensuring their being well-lighted. The fact, however, is that many of our fishing boats come from marginalized regions in PH and are operating under-budget---so that perhaps perimeter lights would be the least of most Filipino  fishermen's concerns. But it has now become an absolute must.


Still and all,  the central issue that continues to jar Filipino sensibilities---six weeks after the allision---is that the Chinese crew of the colliding trawler quickly abandoned the scene of the crime, and did not bother to help save the 22 Filipinos thrown in the sea.  The Chinese crew's excuse was that they were afraid of being mauled---given that, according to their spokesperson in that colliding boat, there were around five other Filipino boats in the vicinity of the allision. 

The implication is that because there were other Filipino boats in the area, the Chinese crew was afraid to come to the rescue of the imperilled Pinoys. This palusot cannot be credible, for if there were a good number of Filipino boats in the area, then there would have been no need to make a distress signal to a passing Vietnamese vessel. It was the Vietnamese boat that rescued our fisher folk, who struggled to survive for nearly four hours in the water. Thank God no one perished.


But a bigger reality has surfaced, as bannered by the Inquirer yesterday, Friday, July 5, 2019. This is the fact that as PDI put it , "thousands of foreign fishing vessels encroach on Philippine waters and their activities, if left unchecked, could result in a devastating depletion of the country's marine resources." PDI published seismic maps in the West Philippine Sea over a three-year period in the Recto Bank in the Kalayaan Group and the Panatag Shoal, that showed whole areas shaded in red, indicating innumerable foreign vessels in the WPS.  

According to the PDI account, since April 2012, an average of 11, 261 foreign vessels have been invading those waters rich in marine resources and high-value fish in the WPS. The legitimate fear here is that if this continues unchecked, the Philippines stands to suffer from depletion of high-value marine resources and Filipino fishing communities would be deprived of meaningful livelihood. 


I think that we all have exhausted this allision tragedy in our EEZ to the hilt and the thing is to learn some truly expensive lessons from it. Our fishing boats must be well equipped--- and lighted well enough, so as to avoid collision at sea, which could be most hazardous to the Pinoy crew.

Politically the sea accident has exhausted the adverse consequences to the Duterte administration. To many Filipinos, it was irritating to see  President Duterte sounding quite subservient to the Chinese powers. This perception actually commenced when he began allowing tens of thousands of undocumented Chinese to enter the country and compete with Filipino labor. In many people's perception, this seeming deference of Mr. Duterte to the Chinese---Premier Xi Jing Ping is his very good friend---has lost him quite a lot of political mileage, as far as his countrymen are concerned.


Our country faces a terrible problem in our West Philippine Sea due to the seemingly unimpeded and limitless access of foreign vessels in our part of the world.  This was highlighted with the allision that happened last month when the Chinese trawler smashed into the smaller fishing boat operated by Filipinos in Recto Bank, and then scooted away without coming to the rescue of the Filipinos scattered in the sea. 

But as things turn out now, that allision accident was just the smaller problem. The bigger headache is how to enforce our sovereignty in our waters, to prevent the Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese vessels from poaching in our waters and thereby seriously depleting our marine resources. 

The foreign encroachments of superior vessels of our wealthier neighbors have gravely affected the livelihood of our own fishermen, who cannot afford to go into deeper areas because of the lack of sophistication of their boats. In turn, this has serious impacted on the welfare of their fishing communities and ultimately on the country that's highly dependent on marine resources. 


The biggest problem at the moment, however, is the fact that through the years, the Philippine Coast Guard---a vital enforcement organ of the Philippine Navy---which has the duty of protecting our seas from foreign encroachment, is the least developed of our various armed services. 

Over the many decades that our armed forces have been battling local insurgency as well as the secessionist movement in the South, it's the Philippine Army that has cornered the biggest chunk of  resource allocations. As a result of this, of the three major services, the Philippine Navy became the least endowed, despite the fact that we are an island nation.

 Now we see how this reality has crippled the Coast Guard that should have the sophisticated boats to drive away encroaching foreign fishing vessels---but which it doesn't have. 


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

UST fratman Atio Castillo's senseless death finally gets some degree of justice from the court. Had the Chinese fishing boat helped rescue the Filipino fishermen whose stationary boat it had rammed, Phil-Chinese relations wouldn't have sunk this low.

When I first met the parents of UST fratman Horacio "Atio" Castillo III at the penthouse dinner given by art patronness Lyn Ilusorio some months back,  the pain in the eyes of Atio's mother was so palpable that I lost my taste for eating much. I just wanted to hold her hand or something. 

Two years ago, Carminia "Minnie" Castillo got a call from someone that her 22-year old son, who was undergoing a law fraternity's  initiation rites that day, had died at the Chinese General Hospital in Manila from a massive heart attack---induced by severe beating of his body with a paddle.  


To help cheer up Minnie, a few months later I invited her and her  husband, Horacio Castillo Jr., to the concert of young classical violin virtuoso Joaquin "Chino" Gutierrez at the BDO Concert Hall in Makati.  They came and loved Chino's playing, but again I saw the pain in Minnie's eyes and her wan smile. Her husband appeared more stoic but doubtless was grieving as much. 

Today, perhaps Minnie feels a bit lighter in her heart as a member of the UST frat was sentenced by Judge Carolina Esguerra of the Manila Metropolitan Court from two to four years in prison for obstruction of justice, in misleading police investigation of the September 2017 fatal hazing of Atio Castillo.  The trial is not yet over, and I imagine that more suspects would fall into the clutches of the law. 


I recall a similar episode that rocked the UP just before I entered it decades ago, with fiery Irish Jesuit Fr. John P. Delaney leading the fight against fraternity violence in the campus. A scion of the well-known Albert family had died from hazing and there was so much uproar that it finally reached Congress, which decided to outlaw hazing by passing R.A. No. 8049, the Anti-Hazing Law. Under this law, hazing is a non-bailable offense with a penalty of reclusion perpetua.  
But though it was already illegal, reports buzzed around various campuses about fraternity violence still lurking in dark corners of the country.  At one point, the Philippine Military Academy was also rocked by hazing.  
Recall that the US had been rocked by its own share of campus brutality in decades past. 
Brutal initiation is obviously anchored on the belief that violence makes men out of boys, but I do not subscribe to that stupidity.  What brutal hazings succeed in doing is to transmogrify young men--- who are normally good and upright, but frequently under the influence of liquor and a twisted concept of manhood---into unrecognizable animals.   
I can understand the sense of belonging that fraternities and sororities  want to inculcate in their members;  but to dehumanize their neophytes and reduce them to brutes cannot be acceptable in, ironically enough, institutions of higher learning where men are taught nobler values in life. 
What Atio Castillo's death has taught us is that initiation rites should never brutalize frat candidates---they can be made to look silly, such as run around campus in their underware or deliver insane song-and dance acts in Plaza Miranda.  The sillier the better--- but NEVER  brutality, as this destroys body and spirit and turns young men into soulless animals.  
When I recently read Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles term what happened in Recto Bank between a Chinese vessel and Filipino fishing boat "Gem-Vir 1" as an "allision" and not a "collision," I immediately ran to the "New Oxford Dictionary of English" that the late Sen. Blas Ople had gifted me one Christmas many years ago. I looked for that word and there was none. A helpful Facebook friend pointed out that the term "allision" is rather new and Merriam Webster defines it as a clash between a moving object and a stationary one. 
What took place in Philippine waters was indeed an "allision:" the Pinoy boat was STATIONARY while fishing, when the Chinese boat collided with it. President Duterte tried to make light of this calamity by referring to it as "a small maritime incident" even if the "allision" happened in Recto Bank, which is within our 300-km. exclusive economic zone (EEZ). 
Indeed such incidents do happen on the high seas from time to time, but several things have to be pointed out in this particular episode, aside from the stationary status of the PH vessel. One is that it was fishing in PH waters clearly demarcated by the UN Arbitral Court in Geneva in July 2016. It was the Chinese vessel what was poaching in PH waters.
Second, and this is the graver sin of the Chinese vessel: granting that the ramming of the PH fishing boat was an accident---the Chinese vessel shouldn't have done a hit-and-run act.  Instead, it should have helped  rescue the Filipino fishing crew who were thrown into the waters by the crash impact. Accounts say the Pinoys were left in the water for three, some say even five hours. Thank God that a Vietnamese vessel rescued them, so that no one perished.
President Duterte tried to make light of the episode and even hinted to Navy officers during a conference to simply regard it as a "small maritime incident." This is truly the tragedy about our island nation that's surrounded by water: it has a very lightweight Navy, thus provoking such reaction from Mr. Duterte.
What most Filipinos doubtless expected from the President was to pick up the phone and complain to his Chinese counterpart---who has become his good friend---about how Filipino fishermen were abandoned in the high seas after the "allision"--- and how they would have perished, had not a Vietnamese trawler responded to the SOS.  Mr. Duterte, usually very vocal about his sentiments, failed to inform his counterpart about the feelings of his people. 
Interestingly, the captain of the wrecked fishing boat, Junard Insigne, doubtless felt what many in our nation,  led by Vice President Leni Robredo, felt---that Filipino lives were nearly jeopardized right in their own fishing waters. According to the news, Insigne gave no indication that he'd honor the President's invitation for a chat in the Palace. The skipper should be given time to recover from the horrors his men suffered. 
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Monday, June 10, 2019

I'm not for capital punishment, but I'm willing to make exception for crooks who absconded PhilHealth funds worth a whopping P154B for bogus dialysis patients, some even already dead! Dynasties continue to bastardize party-list system.

President Duterte was quoted in the Inquirer as ready to order the NBI to arrest the "idiot" who schemed about allocating PhilHealth funds for ghost dialysis patients. The President was quoted as wanting to throw the guy into the Pasig River---though he ultimately relented by asserting that the criminal would be rescued from drowning.

If you ask me, throwing the guy into the Pasig would be too kind a punishment. 


 I have always taken a stand against death penalty in the belief that human life is sacred and that only our Maker has the right to take it away. Reading about the hideous schemes uncovered by the Inquirer, however---the absconding of PhilHealth funds worth a staggering P154B intended for dialysis patients---I feel that perhaps the only way to scare criminals who deprive poor Filipinos of this very vital health service is to revive the death penalty. 

The question that hurts so much at this point is, Why have our people gone so corrupt? 

With corruption seemingly so inured in the Filipino way of life, perhaps only the death penalty would scare some citizens who have grown so brazen as to pass off patients long dead as continuing to receive dialysis. It's most likely that crooks in both hospital and PhilHealth have long been conniving to steal the funds intended for this procedure for the needy.  


Dialysis is a means to alleviate malfunctioning of the urinary bladder, and it often hits poorer folk who have an overdose of bagoong and other salty stuff, as well as poor quality hard drinks. But the problem with dialysis is that it's a most expensive medical procedure to cleanse the body's wastes arising from organ malfunctioning.

PhilHealth enables those in the lower-income bracket to utilize this life-saving procedure by footing the bill;  but sadly, a staggering P154B was lost from the PhilHealth funds for bogus dialyses of bogus patients---a good number of them even already dead. 


Obviously for this kind of racket to prosper in staggering proportions of P154B, there has to be wide and longtime collusion between staff of PhilHealth and personnel of participating clinics and hospitals. The crime has left a paper trail, but what is most unbelievable is how far it has gone and how bold and fearless of the law the corrupt bureaucrats have become!  

Mr. Duterte, who fashions himself as an anti-corrupt President, has to crack the whip as it not only involves staggering amounts of squandered government funds, it also victimizes especially the neediest citizens who need dialysis the most---and who presumably are dearest to the President's heart.  

Yes, I realize that it's unpopular to invoke capital punishment which has already been outlawed in our country. But it seems to be needed in this case, if only to sow fear among very corrupt bureaucrats.


A week after the elections, my radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I invited to our "Radyo Balintataw" weekly Sunday program over nationwide dzRH Prof. Bobby Tuason, who heads the political science department of UP Manila and is the Executive Director of the Center for People Governance (CENPEG). We asked Prof. Tuason to give us an idea of how the party-list system fared in the recent elections.

True to our fear, he showed us that political dynasties continue to  maintain a tight grip on the party-list system, just as much as on the regular constituency.  Thus, in effect, this dynastic grip noted in various parts of the country bastardizes the innovation supposed to have been provided by R.A. 7941, "The Party List Law." The laudable rationale behind this law is to give proper representation to "Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and under-represented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined constituencies." 


The aim of the Party List Law as envisioned by our Constitution drafters was noble and democratic, but the result of the recent elections shows that we have a long way to go, to truly democratize Philippine society. Herewith are the overall records to prove it, as furnished by Prof. Bobby Tuason, director of the CENTER FOR PEOPLE EMPOWERMENT AND GOVERNANCE (CenPeg):


* Sixteen out of the 24 members of the Senate belong to political dynasties, which means 67% of the Senate members.

* 9 out of the 12 newly-elected senators are members of political dynasties, which means 75% of the newly-elected senators are dynastic in origin. 

* 7 out of 12  "continuing senators" (whose term will end on June 30, 2022) are members of political dynasties. This means that 58% of these "continuing" senators are members of political dynasties.


* At least 149 out of the 304 new House members come from political dynasties---that's at least 49% of the House.  

* On district representation, at least 129 representatives out of 243 new district representation are members of political dynasties---that represents 53% of the new district representatives.

* On party-list representation, at least 20 party-list nominees who will become new members of the House of  Representatives come from political dynasties. 

* They  represent at least 33% of the 61 party-list seats which will be held by nominees who are members of  political dynasties.

* At least 34 out of those 61 Party-list seats were allocated to party-list groups linked to political dynasties.

Many thanks for these data, Prof. Bobby Tuason and the CenPeg secretariat.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Why oh why, with all the preparations, did Comelec come up with so many defective VCMs that heightened suspicions of hocus-picos on poll outcome? Recruit a Comelec head with impeccable integrity and professional IT experts to help him. Too many boo-boos in recent exercise---a shame. .

Why oh why did we have so many malfunctioning vote-counting machines (VCMs) in the recent elections when the Comelec had more than sufficient time to put them in order since the 2016 presidential elections?  This was the question on many citizens' minds as election day stretched out last Monday, May 13, and the ugly reality of malfunctioning VCMs came to fore once again across the country.

There were easily 400-600 malfunctioning VCMs that had to be replaced around 2 pm. of election day, and although Comelec officials were quick to assure that it has 10,000 VCMs ready as replacement (!), the question on many minds was:  why couldn't we have had those machines that were working RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING? Why use the ones they were unsure of?

Malfunctioning machines is so THIRD WORLD. WRONG. FIFTH WORLD PA NGA! And it encourages cheating and accusations all over the place.


Among those who encountered defective VCMs were the camps of former VP Jojo and Nancy Binay,  Grace Poe and Pasig mayoralty candidate and ultimate winner Vico Sotto. It took five hours before the aberration could be fixed in Sotto's case, as at least 35 VCMs were not working in Pasig.  Faulty machines were also recorded in Datu Sinsuat in Maguindanao, the Central School in Jolo, Balabag in Kidapawan City and certain precincts in Marawi City. Many other glitches probably went unreported.

This prompted ACT Teacher party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio to opine that automation's benefit is quick and transparent counting of votes, but "It's beginning to feel like a throwback to the pre-automation era." What a shame before the world!


The chaos created by malfunctioning machines all across the archipelago invited even minds not normally malicious to suspect and fear that monkey-business was being promoted by Comelec officials. This, in turn, could lead to the avalanche of protest votes which could clog up the work of the poll body---so that it becomes entirely possible that grease money could be coughed up by candidates who wanted their complaints settled fast. 

More than anything, however, it destroys the faith of our people in our elections.

One Comelec official had the temerity to state that technical glitches were just among the many headaches that sprung up during election day. But why? Wasn't there enough time to prepare for the 2019 mid-term elections? Such glitches created the most destructive atmosphere for the recent elections as it prayed on the suspicions of many candidates---and their supporters---that cheating was going to be routine again in these elections. May 13 proceeded under a most unhealthy atmosphere.


I submit that the administration should endeavor FROM HEREON to put the management of the Comelec in the hands of technical people who fully understand how to run this most important public office in such a way as to eliminate---to the best of their abilities---the technical glitches that spring up every election. Let's look for bureaucrats who will not regard these SYSTEMIC ABERRATIONS always  as an act of God. 

With all due respect, God doesn't favor frauds and stupidities. In the first place, such argument is blasphemous,  for as the story of the Creation tells us, God looked at His work and liked what He saw. He certainly wouldn't like to be blamed for malfunctioning VCMs, which is the realm of stupid and inefficient, perhaps even evil-plotting men.


One problem with Comelec is that  since time immemorial it has been run either by ex-politicians or ex-jurists, under whom the technical guys work. Politicians such as Ben Abalos and Sheriff Abas have headed Comelec and jurists such as Hilario Davide, Jr., Bernardo Park, Harriet Demetriou, Alfredo Benipayo and Jose Melo were among its top executives.

I submit that we should take the Comelec away from the clutches of ex-politicians and ex-jurists and entrust the poll body---a most critical instrument, PERHAPS THE MOST CRITICAL, in a democracy--- first and foremost, to technical professionals with a reputation for integrity, so as to cure it of its periodic ailments come election time. Recruiting professionals would not only free the poll body from suspicions of partisanship, it would also professionalize the tough job of managing the elections.


What the administration and the Comelec leadership seem to want the electorate to accept is the reality that our elections will always have such glitches and we just have to learn to live with them. This is a very Third World attitude which is shameful. In addition, it is most unhealthy, as those glitches give rise to election disputes arising from suspicions of cheating, which often ends up with violence.

Such machine aberrations condition the Filipino people to accept elections as always dirty and malfunctioning, and this attitude---accepting the incompetence and the corruption---is most unhealthy for our people, who should be exposed to excellence in every endeavor.  This is also grave injustice to our heroes, such as Jose Rizal who died so that we may all see the dawn.

Let's have free, clean and glitches-free elections we can be proud of to the world.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Political pundits are tripping all over, trying to analyze the mystique of Rodrigo Duterte that impacted the recent elections. Here's one more try.

Folks have been trying to analyze where the tremendous appeal of President Duterte is coming from. I submit that it's coming from various directions---like a blitzkrieg.

There is his folksiness combined with a penchant for bawdiness. For the first time in years we don't have a president who looks elitist. Mr. Duterte's craggy features tell of grassroots origin, a face that millions of rural Filipinos could identify with, and he speaks with a heavy Visayan accent, like typical rural folk.


Contrast this, for instance, with one-time presidential candidate Joe de Venecia in the late 80's, who always spoke in English and above the heads of the masses. JDV would have been great as a super-diplomat to the UN or to the world banking community, but not to lead the rural Filipinos who comprise perhaps 70% of our country's population.

This is why JDV failed rather miserably in his presidential bid three presidential campaigns ago against Joseph Estrada---even though JDV would have made a brilliant president who could have put us on the world map in no time.


By contrast, all JDV's opponent then, Joseph Estrada, had to do on stage was to grunt and groan, but he ran away with the elections.

Erap was awfully folksy and a hit in the rural areas, but he didn't have the brains of another folksy character named Rodrigo Duterte, which is why his administration didn't succeed much. In no time he was booted out by the second People Power and in the elections just concluded, the Estrada clan was virtually wiped out in several places.


Other past candidates for the presidency had their own mystique worth weighing. For instance, there was Gilbert Teodoro who ran two presidential campaigns ago.

Tall, good-looking and scion of wealthy clans (the Cojuangcos on his mother's side and the Teodoros on his dad's side), a Harvard-trained bar-topnotcher lawyer, Gibo Teodoro fascinated the educated class (I campaigned very hard for him).

Gibo failed to make a dent, however, on the lower-income groups who comprise the vast majority of our electorate---because he looked too sleek and classy. Instead they voted overwhelmingly for his third-degree cousin, Noynoy Aquino, who looked every bit folksy and son of two political icons.


Gibo was masyadong malinis, flying his own plane and with a beautiful model-like wife to boot. His campaign strategy for the presidency featured himself as a 747 pilot at the helm of Team Philippines---but a 747 was something 95% of the Filipinos have never ridden in.

By contrast, Noynoy Aquino, who won that same election, looked folksy, even though he was an hacendero and probably wealthier than cousin Gilbert Teodoro. Moreover, folks could identify with Noynoy, especially since his parents, Ninoy and Cory Aquino, were considered hero and heroine.


Following the same line, Mr. Duterte not only looks very masa, he does sound like one with his thick Visayan accent. Couple this with his penchant for bawdy jokes and you've got an unbeatable tantalizer from the stage, for the Filipino audience---the masa out there who comprise 78% of the electorate.
Digong's bawdy jokes were a big hit in the recent campaign. Recall his line while on a campaign stage in Bohol, about his wanting to pull the panty garters of a good-looking lady mayor who chose to dress in a miniskirt on stage---so that she couldn't run away from him, smitten as he was with her beauty. How the townfolk lapped it all up!


Foreseeable in the near-future is the readiness of Sara Duterte and her true believers, for her to succeed to her father's post. She is absolutely fascinating, with her steely looks and manners that remind one instantly of her Germanic roots on the side of her mother, Elizabeth Zimmerman.

Where Mr. Duterte is folksy and spontaneous with his remarks and mannerisms, Inday Sara comes across as quite cold and calculating, with a highly intelligent mind and good organizational ability. Truly, she will be a force to reckon with in the near future.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sonny Alvarez withdraws from congressional race in Isabela's 4th district as he did not want to be party to vote merchandising. A loss for PH of our foremost advocate against climate change.


Former Senator Heherson Alvarez is being interviewed outside the provincial capitol in Santiago City after his withdrawal from the congressional race in Isabela

I spent a few days in Santiago City, capital of Isabela province in Northern Luzon, where I was eager to watch the elections there and render support to my longtime friend, former Senator and Cabinet member in several administrations, Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez---the husband of my radio partner, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Theater Cecile Guidote Alvarez.

Cecile had invited me to watch the debate that was arranged by the local Comelec office in Santiago City among the major contenders in the 4th congressional district, namely, Sonny Alvarez, former Rep. Gorgiddi Aggabao and a young  Ateneo Law graduate named Sheena Tan, who was supported by the Chinese business community there.

The idea was for me to follow the on-going election campaign among the three candidates until May 11, when I was to return to Manila in order to cast my own vote last Monday in Taguig City What I stumbled upon in Santiago City was a political melee of vote-buying and unprincipled competition, instead of what should have been a legitimate political joust among worthy opponents.


The symptoms of political disaster were all there in that event. The local Comelec had scheduled earlier a debate among the three contenders for the lone congressional seat of Isabela’s fourth district, which was mainly Santiago City, on topics of immense interest to its citizens. This included protection of the environment, political dynasty and a host of other subjects which should have been lively and open to all the citizens in public or over TV/radio.

 What happened, however, was that it was only Sonny Alvarez who showed up by his lonesome---his two other rivals for the congressional seat had their own individual reasons for not showing up. Students from the various schools attended upon invitation of the Comelec officials, to watch the debate---the first time ever in Santiago City---but they were plainly disappointed as Tan and Aggabao chose to stay away---either because they were scared to face Alvarez or they thought it was a waste of time since they had perhaps other methods of winning that didn’t drain them of intellectual energy.


The Comelec organizers were plainly disappointed at the no-show of contenders Tan and Aggabao, but their staying away was not surprising. The fact is that Sonny Alvarez has a solid reputation for being a fiery debater, beginning with his days as a student leader in  UP and later in the halls of Congress. 

In subsequent years, when he and Cecile and their children went on self-imposed exile to the US from the Marcos regime, Alvarez had his hands full working for the restoration of democracy in the Philippines. Together with Raul Manglapus, Boni Gillego and other Filipino democratic leaders in the US, Alvarez brought the argument for support of the restoration of democratic rule in the Philippines during the martial law years to leaders of the US Congress, notably Richard Lugar, Ted Kennedy and others. The US congressional leaders were to play a key role in succeeding historic events in the Philippines. 

Obviously his rivals for the congressional post in Isabela were aware of Alvares's debating prowess and wisely stayed away from the great debate---to the vast disappointment of the Isabelinos.


But his rivals had their own plan: to curry political favor with the Isabelinos by buying their votes.  This realization that his opponents had planned to reduce the coming elections to a big "kalakaran" prompted Alvarez to denounce it publicly, and then he went straight to the local Comelec to withdraw from the political race that he felt would be a sham. 

 Last May 11, two days before the elections, Alvarez came out publicly to announce his withdrawal from the congressional race. He said that participation in the elections  had been reduced to meaningless merchandising between his two rival contenders that involved cash that run to several thousands for each voter, as well as gasoline funds. He would have no part in it.


To begin with, Alvarez didn’t have the kind of funds that his political opponents had mustered;  moreover, it was against his principle to indulge in voter-buying, like a cheap politician.  In his withdrawal statement he termed the massive vote-buying a political cancer that would kill the spirit of the Isabelinos, in pretty much the way drugs would kill the physical body. Alvarez stressed that he would have no part in the merchandising of votes.  

26-year old Sheena Tan, heavily supported by the Chinese community in Isabela, won over Georgiddi Aggabao by some 1,500 votes. The merchandising of the people’s votes constitutes a sad episode in the political history of Isabela’s 4th District. 


I felt a personal loss in this fight of Sonny Alvarez, for aside from being a longtime friend, he could be the point man in the House of Representatives to forge a legislation package to battle the increasingly ferocious onslaught of climate change. 

This battle has to be fought first and foremost in the halls of Congress and I went on the air in Isabela to campaign for him---pleading to the Isabelinos to marshal their native son for one more term in Congress, so he could lead our country's battle vs. climate change, as he has studied this phenomenon more than any other political leader. 

But alas, money politics dominated the local political arena, and  the sad thing is that Isabela is not an isolated case. What do we do about this ferocious monster rearing its ugly head periodically in our political landscape?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The huge crowd at recent CNN Philippines debates could not hide its resentment toward Chinese intrusions and show of force---and the feeling that Duterte administration is selling PH to China. The President should mollify this widespread fear and resentment with concrete steps.

A rally in Batangas follows the appearance of a Chinese dredging ship.

In the CNN-sponsored debates held at the cavernous UST Quadricentennial Hall last week, one thing that became quite obvious to many people there was the increasingly strong anti-Chinese sentiment among our people. I noted this in the way the vast audience would applaud loudly as some candidates would express strong feelings against recent developments between our two peoples. In fact, the candidates who got the rowdiest cheers were those who articulated nationalistic sentiments vs. the Chinese.

This is lamentable, as our two peoples have been dealing with each other over many centuries and have mutually benefited from the relationship, e.g., trade in goods and services, people-to-people exchange, inter-marriages among our two peoples, etc.


In fact, many Filipinos, including some of the most prominent business families here, have descended from Chinese ancestors and while the local Chinese have generally been affluent, due to hard work and ingenuity, they have also integrated well into our national life.

Among the prominent Chinese-descended political clans are the OsmeƱas and the Gatchalians. In the business community, there are the Sys (reported to be the richest clan in the country), Ramon Ang, John Gokongwei, Lucio Tan, Lucio Co, etc. Nobody has ever doubted that these taipans have their hearts anchored to this country and its future and welfare.


But recent developments seem to begin to bear out the alienation of many Pinoys from dealings with the Chinese in recent months, and President Duterte would be well-advised to take note of this development seriously. In reference to the President's pivot to China in the past two years, there's a prevailing sense that this is being overdone, to the point of compromising even national welfare and security.  Some even deplore that he is selling out our country to the Chinese. 

It might have begun with Mr. Duterte's decision to ignore the hard-fought victory of the Philippines in the International Arbitration Court in The Hague in July 2016, which declared the West Philippine Sea our unquestionable domain. Because this decision was ignored by this administration, the harassing of Filipino fishermen in those waters by Chinese elements became bolder, so that Chinese ships would menacingly surround our small fishermen.


Then came what seems to Filipinos the massive "invasion" of our country by Chinese nationals who enter as tourists. Because of the laxity of our immigration officials, they end up working here without working permits and visas---thus depriving the more than 5 million jobless or under-employed Filipinos of work opportunities.

It doesn't help assuage this concern when President Xi Jinping told President Duterte in their recent "Belt and Road Initiative" meeting in China that Filipino labor would be allowed in the construction of railways around China. But the question that immediately comes to many minds: what would be the counter-cost to us? 

Assuming that a few hundred Filipinos do get to work in China indeed, thus opening up another OFW program which is, by itself, already producing such terrible side-effects on families, as studies have proven. In return, however, it's totally foreseeable that thousands upon thousands of Chinese could come to this country to put up businesses, mainly on-line gambling which is not good for our people. 


With the current overstaying Chinese nationals in Metro Manila, most notably in on-line gambling, the proliferation of drugs appears to have been accelerated. The raid two months ago of a house rented by Chinese nationals in a very high-end subdivision that yielded an enormous quantity of drugs, appears to epitomize this problem.

A recent photo showing restaurants sporting only Chinese characters in Boracay may be more than symbolic. All along Macapagal Avenue in Pasay City, Chinese enterprises have sprung up, including a ot of on-line gambling, while any taxi-driver will tell you how a number of residential subdivisions in Metro Manila have now become virtually exclusive to Chinese residents.


To the huge audience at the UST debates sponsored by CNN Philippines, mostly students as well as the TV audience across the nation, it would seem that the antagonism toward the Chinese would be more of fear of all sorts. 

Fear that Chinese nationals are taking jobs away from the 2/2 million unemployed Filipinos and around 5 million under-employed is quite valid. So is the fear that drugs have a very direct connection with the avalanche of Chinese.


There is also a lot of valid fears about the way the President seems to be contracting enormous loans from the very willing Chinese leaders to fund his "Build, build, build" mega-projects. Should something happen to Mr. Duterte, God forbid, his successor would be so saddled with tremendous loans our country may not be able to pay back. 

In his recent visit to Manila, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad warned us to be wary of such loans, while the fate of small nations in Africa that have suffered from over-dependence on Chinese loans is well-known.  


Thus, there is worry that patrimonial assets, such as an oil-rich island in Mindanao, could be seized as pay-back for our mega-loans from China, should we default.  Fear and outrage caused by the recent carting away of our giant clam species from their protected sanctuary is valid. 

Then there was the brazen attempt to dredge  the Verde Strait between Batangas and Mindoro, also a sanctuary of aquatic life, of its sand and ship it to Hongkong, to create a 4th airport runway.  That move so angered the townspeople of Loboc in Batangas that the dredging ship was forced to sail away empty-handed. 

All these developments are too recent to forget. No wonder that the resentment toward China of the boisterous student crowd at the CNN-sponsored debates at UST was so palpable. Let's pray that the President re-thinks the China connection very well before he makes firm commitments that could bring unfortunate results. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

President Duterte defends family's wealth as acquired prior to his presidency and therefore "not public funds." Problem is that he didn't disclose it in his SALN as law demands. He should heed advice of someone who's been in that predicament and paid dearly for her mistake---ousted CJ Sereno. She advises him to heed PCIJ's queries on wealth, lest he suffers same fate.

President Duterte was reported to be very upset over the recent report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) about the alleged great wealth of his family---said to stem from a reportedly unregistered law firm of his family and other undisclosed business interests. The PCIJ report was cited by the Inquirer to have delved on "significant increases in the income of the President and his children, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio and former Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte while they were in office."
The PCIJ report cited statements of assets, liabilities and net work (SALNs) of the President, Sara and Paolo, that appear to buttress the fact that the Dutertes have a law firm that's not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. According to PDI, the law firm put up by Sara and her husband in 2008 even opened an office in Mandaue City last Feb. 13, and its clients included cigarette maker Mighty Corp, Panay Electric Co and those that deal with the Bureau of Customs.
The PCIJ report cited Mr. Duterte as a partner at a certain law firm, but it said that he did not declare his interest in the firm in his SALN.  As quoted by PDI,  the President stressed that "the law firm was a necessary option for their family" and that "other people had no business poking into their affairs, as long as it did not involve public funds."  Mr. Duterte was quoted as asserting that "Whatever his family earns outside of politics is nobody's business."

Accusing PCIJ of being a "paid hack used by his enemies to smear his family's name and reputation,"  he insisted that "Our law firms and what happened to our business partnership, it's not your ...business. It's my worry, for as long as it's not the people's money."


It's easy to see that this latest revelation about the Duterte family would put the President right smack in the center of controversy once again, as the law is very specific about candidates offering themselves for public posts. The law covering SALN  requires candidates to divulge all their assets and liabilities past and present---where their wealth came from.  In this case, according to the PDI report, "The series delved on the significant increases in the incomes of the President and his children," while they were in their respective elective offices in Davao.

Inquirer traced the President's net worth from his office as former mayor at P9.69 M in 2007, to P28.54 M in 2017. Likewise, according to Inquirer, Sara Duterte's net worth jumped 51.8% ---from P7.25M in 2007 to P44.83 M, while that of Paolo Duterte jumped 233 percent, from P8.34M to P27.74M. The newspaper also cited the presidential family's "interests and engagements in at least 23 corporate entities but did not consistently declare them in their SALNs."


Moreover, even if the President stresses that he has distanced himself from law practice and the family firm that's run by his children and in-laws, still there could be the lingering public suspicion that clients of the law firm could be receiving special treatment and accommodation. This could be presumed from the fair assumption that the law firm run by Mr. Duterte's children and in-law (Sara's husband, lawyer Maneses Carpio, could do a lot for their clients during his administration.

There's tremendous potential for violation of the law in this kind of set-up, which is doubtless why the law on divestment and declaration of one's SALN by a public official is very specific.  Thus,  Mr. Duterte's argument that his family earnings from this law office are "outside of politics" will have to be justified to the SEC, the BIR and other supervisory government agencies, to hold water---but perhaps some folks would be quite skeptical about such declaration.


One former official who, I imagine, could not prevent herself from weighing on this issue of the presidential family's wealth and their non-declaration of certain business activities in their SALN was one who suffered tremendously---precisely because of her alleged  failure to incorporate certain relatively minor details in her SALN when she was still a UP professor. 

Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who was ousted from office as Chief Magistrate over questions about the inaccuracy of her SALN, asserted in an interview by Inquirer that Mr. Duterte and his family ought to respond to the queries raised about their wealth by the recent PCIJ report. 


Said Sereno, as quoted in the Inquirer yesterday, April  09, 2019:  the President could not invoke the argument that "it's nobody's business," further asserting that it is clear that the people need an explanation.  (President Duterte) is not being accused (of any crime or violation) as of now." She was further quoted as saying, "I believe that we (government officials) should display a simple lifestyle. If an official is suspiciously wealthy, there should be an explanation. And the explanation should be made public."  

The PCIJ staff claim that efforts to communicate with the Duterte family on this subject were not responded to. Perhaps the presidential family ought to listen to---more than anybody else---former CJ Sereno, as she ran into a worst luck because of a single omission in her SALN.  She failed to declare her fees as UP professor, prior to her appointment to the High Court, arguing during her impeachment trial later that her efforts to recover those records yielded nothing from the UP.  

In the scheme of things, the omission in |Sereno's SALN---her professor's fees from the UP---is  peanuts compared to the earnings of the Dutertes. But because of her defective SALN she went down in the SC's history as the second CJ to be ousted (the first was CJ Renato Corona, but the issue against him was more of a political nature than Sereno's). Full disclosure of SALN details sounds like pretty sensible advice from the ex-CJ to the presidential family.