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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

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.
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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."

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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."

XXX

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.

XXX

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. 

XXX

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. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

President Duterte has the prayers of entire Filipino people in war vs.drugs, but he has to get to the bottom of the allegation of ex-Police Senior Supt.& PMA class 1989 grad Eduardo Acierto that DavaoeƱos close to the President are involved in drug trade.




Former Police Senior Supt. & PMA class 1989 grad Eduardo Acierto denouncing alleged drug operatives in Davao. 


I laud President Duterte's candor in recently admitting that the drug problem in our country "has worsened." The prayers of all Filipinos should accompany the Chief Executive as he battles this horrible problem that's destroying the lives of many of our people, particularly the youth.

Having said that, I join all citizens who love our country and care for its future, in calling on Mr. Duterte to do far more than he is doing now to combat this menace in our midst. If he puts his whole effort into this fight against drugs---without fear or favor---he would have the support and prayers of all Filipinos, as we all don't want our country to become another Mexico or Colombia.

XXX

Putting his heart and soul into the battle vs. drugs could be something up close and personal for the President. Note for instance, the recent "true confession" of former Police Senior Superintendent Eduardo Acierto, member of PMA Class 1989, as published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last March 26.  Acierto claimed that he went into hiding after he was implicated in the smuggling of P11 billion worth of shabu into the country some two or three months ago---that was exposed by a brave and heroic woman customs official named Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang (whom Cecile Alvarez and I interviewed over our dzRH Sunday program).

The smuggled shabu was stuffed into four magnetic lifters that arrived in the Manila International Container Terminal and was subsequently spirited out to a Cavite warehouse by Chinese-looking persons riding in Mercedes Benzes. The incident was blasted all over media and resulted in the sacking of the MICT manager and his replacement by a new official.

XXX

Now along comes former Police Senior Supt. and PMAyer Eduardo Acierto, who was earlier dismissed from the service allegedly because of his having sold assault rifles to communist rebels. Acierto, speaking to an intimate media group as disclosed by the Inquirer, now claims that his life is in danger after he informed Malacanang that "two Chinese nationals close to President Duterte were involved in the narcotics trade."

 Acierto claimed that the two Chinese nationals whom he identified as Michael Yang, a wealthy businessman based in Davao City, who was reported to act as the President's economic adviser for a time, and a certain Allan Lim, are quite close to the President. Acierto alleged, however, that perhaps Mr. Duterte doesn't know about their illegal activities---such as their supposed involvement in "the operations of clandestine shabu laboratories in Davao and Cagayan de Oro and their connection with alleged Chinese drug lord Johnson Chua."

XXX

The complication lies in that Mr. Duterte, as reported in the Inquirer, in a meeting with members of the PMA Alumni Association Inc.,cleared Michael Yang, stressing that the latter is close to Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua--- so that the envoy even sleeps in Yang's residence whenever he comes to Davao. In fact, noted Mr. Duterte, Michael Yang was a member of the entourage of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when the latter visited Manila last year.

Obviously President Duterte does not believe Acierto's story regarding the alleged involvement of Yang in drugs---even after the ex-police and PMAyer claimed that Yang and Lim allegedly received P50,000 per kilogram each as their share for facilitating the smuggling of P11B worth of shabu into the country.via the MICT.  Acierto also claimed that the "Davao group" has put up a P15-million reward to kill him.

XXX

It's a tight fix for the former PMAyer '89, as apparently the President does not believe his claims either about the alleged involvement of the two Chinese nationals in the MICT shabu smuggling two months ago---nor Acierto's story about the bounty on his head by the "Davao Group."

The Inquirer story whereby Acierto links the "Davao Group" to drug smuggling is staggering---particularly since the Chinese nationals named by Acierto are from Mr. Duterte's backyard and are apparently well-known to him. They also have their links to the Chinese ambassador and officialdom. 

XXX

Mr. Duterte, however, cannot afford to ignore ex-police officer Acierto's allegations as it's something that a man with the latter's background cannot afford to make---unless there is some truth to it. Moreover, the dramatis personae cited are from Mr. Duterte's territory.  

Indeed, as he claims, the drug problem in this country has worsened and his decisive moves to curtail it, perhaps right in his home-ground, are much awaited by an increasingly concerned citizenry---with loads of prayers for him and his efforts. 

Let's pray, too, for the safety and deliverance of former police officer Eduardo Acierto---may his guardian angel watch over him and his family.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Unlike senators who are elected at large & deal more with national issues, House members constantly come to grips w/ constituents' gut issues. This difference is root of impasse between the two chambers over P3.8T budget for 2019, as House insists on "itemized" sums (easier for grant to local constituencies).

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo---at loggerheads over budget items.

The current imbroglio over the 2019 budget amounting to P3.8T illustrates the difficulty of having two chambers of Congress--- how much easier it would be to deal with only one chamber.  Yet, given the current Philippine situation---the unpredictability of the country's leadership and the malleability of a lot of members of Congress---it may also be a blessing in disguise that we have two chambers.

 For if there were only one chamber, there may be no adequate check-and-balance system, specially given the tendency toward strong-man rule of the incumbent tenant of Malacanang. 

That said, having two chambers of Congress oftentimes constitutes a real pain in the neck.

XXX

Take the current over a month-long impasse over the 2019 budget that was separately ratified by the two chambers of Congress last Feb. 8. Transmittal to the President for his signature has been much delayed as a word war has intensified between the Senate and the House over lump-sum appropriations in the budget.

The Senate accuses the House of making "unlawful post-ratification" amendments, including realignment of funding for public works and health centers. In turn, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo questioned the lump-sum appropriations that were retained in the proposed budget---arguing that such sums are "unconstitutional."  She was quoted as stressing: "No lump sum," adding that the House just wants to see the details---that  appropriations be "itemized." 

The Speaker sent San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora to the Senate in an effort to recall the House version of the 2019 budget that had been submitted to the Senate President for signing. Senate Chief Sotto has refused to sign it, also arguing that it contains "unconstitutional" amendments made by the House after the Feb. 8 ratification---which the House flatly denies. .

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya also reminded Rep. Zamora that no congressman had the authority to recall any enrolled bill without the plenary's approval.

XXX

Thus, the Senate has its own version of the budget bill and so does the House, but the two versions have to be reconciled prior to  transmittal to the Chief Executive for signing into law.  Speaker GMA has held on to the House version of the budget bill as she insists that her chamber will continue to advocate that no lump-sum appropriation would be retained in this bill.

This issue---to carry lump sums in the budget bill, as the Senate wants, or to itemize those lump sums, as the House demands---has not been resolved, despite the month-long negotiations between the two chambers of Congress..

What upsets the senators is that as far as they're concerned,  the House bill should already be signed by Speaker GMA after Senate President Sotto already signed it---so that it could already be transmitted to the President for his signature.  Recall that the bureaucracy is now operating under a REENACTED BUDGET---hence the understandable clamor for the new budget's ratification by the two chambers and its signing by the President. 

XXX

Senate President Sotto is miffed as well as puzzled about the House's resistance to lump-sum appropriations in the budget, when according to him, the state of these items should have been raised during the bicameral conference committee hearings. Sotto was quoted as saying that the "central issue" was the "arbitrary decision" of the congressmen to allocate P95.1B in infrastructure funds to select congressional districts.

On the other hand, Speaker GMA is obviously under tremendous pressure at this point to help her House colleagues get hold of funds for their reelection. Because House members are elected by districts, they are truly more susceptible to disposal of funds to the electorate come election time, as their playing field---their respective districts--- is very specific and constricted. Thus, theirs is unlike those of the senators who are elected at large, all over the country.

Thus, in the various districts, funds are badly needed to get the House members reelected---e.g., funds for job-generation, school-houses, road projects, health centers, etc. As Sen. Panfilo Lacson was quoted by the Inquirer, "Blame (the impasse) on the dizzying pork."

XXX

Senate Chief Sotto has stressed over and over that he would sign the budget bill only if it was the original bill ratified last Feb. 9. On the other hand, Speaker GMA warns that no budget bill would be transmitted to the President--- unless the two chambers reach a compromise on the distribution of the funds.

 It's a tough game for the veteran politician that GMA is, indeed. Let's see how President Duterte will solve this problem for his close ally.

Friday, March 15, 2019

In this season of Lent, our thoughts go to the prevalence of drugs, as tightly sealed cocaine packs drift to PH shores, now deemed a transshipment point to perhaps South America. T'is the season for politicos' denial of inclusion in Palace's narco-list. Grizzly murder of 16-year old Lapu-Lapu City lass, sadistic beyond description, can only be traced to drugs.



Tightly-sealed packets of cocaine washed ashore in various parts of Quezon and Camarines Norte. Is PH now a transshipment point of this dangerous drug to South America, as some authorities allege?



When the question was posed by President Duterte a week or so ago as to whether he should reveal the names of various politicians involved in drug trafficking, my instant reaction was, such revelation ought not to be rushed by the Palace for a number of reasons.

For one, I felt that this being the thick of the election season, some names might be included who may be innocent, and once a reputation is besmirched, it is almost impossible to retrieve it. Since we are in the midst of election season, some political enemies might take advantage by making false accusations to down an opponent.

I have also wondered if this list of alleged drug-trafficking politicos recently released has been duly vetted---so that no one was included who is innocent or perhaps just set up by opponents to eliminate him. There are politicians who would do anything just to win.

XXX

Having said this, I'm sure that some names in the list published by Malacanang are openly associated with drugs by the electorate n the regions involved, and it only shows how deep this menace has become in our society. Drugs come in handy in raising enormous funds, as elections are frightfully expensive in this country---primarily because the pols often have to resort to vote-buying to win, and voters especially in the rural areas expect to be courted with funds---perhaps the one and only time they become the object of attention by their politicians. .

Vote-buying has become so pernicious, which is why graft and corruption by many of those in office seeking reelection cannot seem to be eradicated---the pols have to recover their heavy investment after they win. It's a vicious cycle that seems to get nastier and nastier as poverty gnaws deeper and deeper among our people.

XXX

Speaking of vote-buying, I cannot help but recall how, in an earlier era, this was played in a different plane. Not so much buying votes from rank and file citizens as is done nowadays, but the courting of delegates to the political convention which would elect the candidate to represent the party. I had the chance to see this up close in the early '60s, when I was just a couple of years out of the UP---very dreamy-eyed when suddenly thrown amidst hard-nosed politicians.

My Jesuit connections maneuvered to enable me to work for Emmanuel Pelaez who had become  Vice-President to President Diosdado Macapagal. Manny Pelaez aspired to be President as  Macapagal's term was coming to an end. Had Pelaez won it or had Macapagal succeeded in his reelection bid,  the course and destiny of our country might have been entirely different from what it turned out with Ferdinand Marcos---who successfully challenged President Macapagal's reelection bid and later imposed a lengthy dictatorship.

But first Pelaez had to win the nomination of the Nacionalista Party where his rival was no less than the wily Senate President Marcos. It was a battle of titans.

XXX

Each of the two rival camps at the NP convention held in Manila Hotel in 1964 had its own stable of political luminaries and soon enough it became obvious that the Marcos camp was out to buy votes right there. Die-hard supporters of Manny Pelaez, especially from the Sugar Bloc, egged him to come out and match the Marcos funds that began flowing like wine at the convention.

Pelaez's followers were just waiting for his go-signal to tap various fund resources to match those from the Marcos camp, but the Veep refused to play that kind of game. He stood pat on his position--- no buying of delegates' votes as it should be an honorable contest among gentlemen, even if his opponent was no gentleman at all.

To no one's surprise---and the great frustration of the supporters of the highly principled Manny Pelaez---he lost in the NP convention. Indeed, had he won the NP nomination, he was heavily favored to be elected President of the Philippines, as re-electionists, such as Macapagal was, were not as favored in Philippine politics. At any rate, in either scenario, the history of our country doubtless would have been very different from the turn it took after Marcos won the NP nomination and the elections of 1965. The Philippines then was on to the long road to martial law and dictatorship.

XXX

I had occasion to discuss the depths of the drug problem in our country with a knowledgeable person not too long ago, and I raised the query of how come cocaine has been found drifting to our shores in various parts of the archipelago, notably in Quezon and in the Camarines area as well as in northeastern Mindanao. The cocaine floated ashore in tightly sealed containers and while some such packets found their way into  the hands of the police authorities, it could be assumed that there must be other packages that landed in the hands of those who had meant to obtain them in the first place.

I queried a knowledgeable official about these cocaine packs and he opined these these were likely not meant for the Philippine market, as ours seems limited mainly to the less expensive shabu. The cocaine, he opined, was meant for other countries that use this higher-grade drug and PH appears to be used only as a TRANSSHIPMENT POINT. Meaning, that from here it would be transported to another destination, perhaps in Asia or to South America, such as Colombia. Perhaps the traditional routes to that southern continent has become too guarded, hence new routes have to be devised.

XXX

This is totally believable as our shorelines are so porous and it's believed that a lot of corruption still prevails among our law-enforcers--- despite the clean image of PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde--- as well as among local officials.  If shabu is still so handily available despite trumpeted efforts to curtail its entry here and eradicate drug-pushers--- and our shores are now appear to be used for transshipment of cocaine---the future does look frightening indeed for our people, especially for our vulnerable youths.

The very recent grizzly murder of a 16-year old Cebuana lass---that involved a SAVAGERY hitherto unseen in local criminal history--- appears to be the work of a drug-crazed youth. This murder should prove that our society has no option but to tighten up on the war vs. drugs and it needs the cooperation of every concerned citizen. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

Even administration senators have rejected Duterte policy to allow Chinese tourists to stay and work here sans visa/work permits. It's not only unfair to other nationalities, it's outright dangerous to our country, and deprives our own labor force of opportunities for gainful employment.



 Macapagal Boulevard by Manila Bay houses many online gambling, call centers and other businesses operated by Chinese nationals who entered PH as tourists and have stayed without working permits from the BID. Filipino lawmakers are up in arms against this policy of the Duterte administration. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      If you readers have a chance to walk along Macapagal Boulevard near the reclamation areas in Pasay all the way to the Cultural Center, you might think that you are not in PH but somewhere in China---even the restaurants' names are in Chinese.  This is because you will meet scores and scores of Chinese youngsters there and hardly any Filipinos. In this area where the Chinese have conglomerated, they're working in on-line casinos, BPOs such as  call centers and various types of businesses that rake in profits for them.

 So what's wrong with that? A lot. For one thing, many Chinese youths have no working papers here, as they entered the country as tourists and have failed to exit. Apparently the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) has allowed these Chinese tourists to remain beyond their departure date here. Under normal circumstances, they're already illegally staying---and YET THEY WORK IN VARIOUS JOBS THAT SHOULD BE DONE BY FILIPINOS. . 

This situation of foreigners working without necessary immigration papers/work permits won't be knowingly tolerated anywhere in the world. To be sure, many Filipinos have done the same thing in  the US and in Europe, where their relatives could hide their existence for a while. But sooner or later the long arm of the law catches up with them and they are deported---and the relatives who hide them get into hot water too. 

XXX

Taxi drivers I talk to have nothing but tall tales about mushrooming Chinese enclaves in the metropolis. These foreign nationals have snapped up many condominiums, particularly the moderately-priced in Pasig and other environs, as well as in Bonifacio Global City. From various accounts whole villages south of Manila, such as Ayala Alabang now cater mainly to Chinese ex-tourists who don't seem to mind the jacked-up rentals all over the metropolis.  

There is now a huge scarcity of  Filipino drivers as they prefer employment by the Chinese---who reportedly pay drivers as high as P26,000 monthly, as against the P15, 000 to P17,000 paid by Filipino employers. The same is true of Filipino housemaids and secretarial staff---they are paid far more handsomely.

From what appears in the news, the plan is to create enclaves of Chinese businesses all over the country, particularly in the various economic zones.

XXX

When the news broke out about the Chinese "invasion" of the Philippines it was met with alarm in various quarters, particularly since the BID has been very remiss in running after "tourists" without papers and abusing the country's hospitality. What was most interesting, however, was the way President Duterte defended the BID's policy not to raise the hackles of the Chinese. Mr. Duterte was quick to give the impression that he has been aware of this super-lenient policy toward Chinese tourists working here, and that in fact, the BID's leniency has his blessings.

The President's reasoning went something like this: if we throw out the tens of thousands of Chinese working here without  working visas, the Chinese government might retaliate and throw out the 300,000 Filipinos whom he claims have been working in China. In a subsequent disclosure Mr. Duterte upped the number of Pinoys in China to 400,000. Frankly many people question this number---in HongKong there may be as many as 200,000 Filipinos working as domestics there, but in mainland China there are not that many Pinoy workers as its doors have not opened to massive foreign workers' entry. 

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It is hard to imagine that this same President who did not seek to spare the lives of youths said to be indulging in prohibited drugs could become so tolerant of tens of thousands of Chinese "tourists" working here without work permit. One reasonable explanation for Mr. Duterte's turning a blind eye toward this anomalous situation may be the fact that China---with its booming economy---is funding a good number of big-ticket items in the President's "Build, Build, Build" program. Among these huge projects funded by the Chinese goernment are the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge along the Pasig River, worth P4.61B and the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge also along the Pasig, P1.37.B. 

But these are tiny projects compared to some 35 gargantuan ticket items identified and approved in the NEDA Report as of Nov. 30, 2018---12 of which would be covered by Chinese loans and grants. In addition, also in the pipeline are a total of 75 flagship projects of Mr. Duterte's "Build, Build, Build" program that's aimed at ushering what's termed as the "golden age of infrastructure" under his administration which ends in 2022.  

XXX

The biggest China-funded project will be P173.32B Philippine National Railways South Long Haul, which will connect Metro Manila to Bicol via a 639 km. rail project extending to Matnog in Sorsogon, aimed to be finished by 2022. 

There's also the P50.03B Subic-Clark Railway, totaling 71,13 km., including a 64.14 mainline between Clark Freeport Zone and Subic Bay Freeport Zone, as well as a 6.94 km. spur line connecting the mainline to Subic Bay Port New Container Terminal. All to be funded by China. 

Admittedly, there's a lot of projects here to be funded by the Chinese economy--- now the richest in the world, But there's also the nagging worry about how our tiny country and economy, apparently already held in the bag by our super-power neighbor to the north, would be able to exercise its rightful sovereignty---given the way the BID is looking the other way as far as illegal workers are concerned.  Will PH be forever a tiny vassal state of China? Independence begins with the exercise by our country of its right to demand proper documentation of every alien entering this country. To give up on this right is to yield our country---famous for heroes who gave their lives for its sovereign independence---without any legitimate move at all. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Arrogance of Chinese girl who threw taho at MRT police could indicate foreign group's sense of entitlement in our own country. Why the big hoopla over cleaning up Manila Bay when reclamation projects certain to pollute the Bay's waters are already approved, per PRA's testimony in the House? What happens to world's most beautiful sunset when casinos shoot up?


Beautiful Manila Bay with its world-famous sunset is threatened with reclamation projects. 

The Chinese girl's arrogance toward the MRT policeman---splattering taho at him when he forbade her to bring her drink into the train---is merely symptomatic of what's reputed as the Chinese invasion of the country.

I have been riding taxis since I lost my driver and invariably I strike up conversation with the drivers---as they have always had their pulse on what's cooking in town. One cabbie commented that this taho episode is not surprising, as the Chinese girl's compatriots are now all over the metropolis. Perhaps they think they own the Philippines now, he asserted.

In fact, one cabbie pointed out that whole villages  are being built for the Chinese south of the metropolis, and as everyone knows, they have been buying or leasing condominiums all over the Greater Manila area, driving up condo rentals for the locals. 

XXX

In Facebook a woman wrote with ill-disguised irritation that when she brought her child to the emergency room of a downtown hospital, it was crawling with Chinese children and she could hardly be attended to. Others ascribe the current acute shortage of drivers, housemaids and office staff to the hiring of these personnel by Chinese corporations that have set up here. The latter are reported to be paying far higher wages than Filipinos.

It had long been the talk in town, corroborated by the Bureau of Immigration, that Chinese workers have been entering the country in droves, as they are setting up companies in various parts of the archipelago---especially in the industrial zones. The query in many minds: are they all properly documented?

The problem here is that while we welcome foreign investments into our country, under normal circumstances and as demonstrated by other foreign nationals, only the top officials are foreign nationals---the rest of the staff and workers would be Filipinos. This does not seem to be the case with the Chinese, who insist on bringing their own people by the hundreds and thousands. This explains why exclusive enclaves of the Chinese are going up in various parts of our country.

Do our leaders know what's happening, and is this seeming mass Chinese invasion part of a deal of sorts?

XXX

On another front, recall that there was a big hoopla in past weeks about the clean-up of Manila Bay, with lots of young people and various NGOs volunteering in this laudable project. Recall too, that various business establishments said to be polluting the historic bay have been admonished and some, like the Aristocrat Restaurant on Roxas Blvd.,  were even suspended from operating until they fix their environmental compliance. The project to clean up and save the Bay drew so much enthusiasm as most Metro Manilans feel sentimental about Manila Bay and watching its world-famous sunset has been a generational past-time.

But alas, like many things in this country, all the ballyhooed clean-up may come to naught. In a hearing last Tuesday at the House of Representatives, Joseph Literal, Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) assistant general manager for reclamation and regulation, told shocked congressmen that his agency is currently processing applications for 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay that would likely affect some 22,000 hectares of our historic bay! Once approved, the projects would affect about 11% of the bay's 1,994 sq. km. area, doubtless in a manner that could compromise  environmental sanitation!

Other sources actually say that the total reclamation projects in Manila Bay number 43!.

XXX

PRA Assistant GM Literal also stressed that these 22 (or 43?) projects scheduled in the metropolitan area are only part of some 120 reclamation projects in the whole country.  Literal also admitted that of the 22 reclamation projects lodged before his agency, three have already been approved in principle---after the developers were said to have complied with Department of Environment and Natural Resources regulations.

These are the 360-has. Pasay reclamation project, the 140-has. Solar City project, and the Navotas Boulevard Business Park.

XXX

Among the most shocked solons at yesterday's hearing on the Bay's reclamation projects was former Manila Mayor and former Environment Secretary, now Buhay Party-list Rep. Joselito Atienza, who raised possible adverse effects of these projects on the environment. Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao joined Rep. Atienza in grilling the PRA official.

To Atienza's query on the possible ill effects of these reclamation projects on the environment, the PRA official admitted that there will be an effect, but he stressed that  " 'systems' " would be put in place to reduce the environmental impact of the reclamation projects."

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Fuming,  Rep. Atienza shot back: "You are aware that there will be indeed effects on the environment
and yet you will still let these projects proceed---and just try to mitigate these adverse effects?" The former Manila Mayor stressed that "the effects will be catastrophic for all of us," beginning with the rise in sea levels. Atienza decried the "reclamation craze sweeping across the country which the PRA seems to just keep approving and approving without due diligence."

Anak-pawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, on the other hand, stressed that the reclamation of Manila Bay ought to be stopped as "it's threatening the genuine essence of its clean-up, so that it must be opposed."  Indeed.

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As a way to mitigate adverse reactions, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano has stressed that all reclamation projects would be reviewed, but what complicates the matter is that according to recent news reports, the Office of the President has taken DIRECT CONTROL AND SUPERVISION over the PRA and its 43 reclamation projects in Manila Bay. Thus, the DILG appears to have been sidetracked in this issue.

 In fact, the Inquirer carried last Tuesday a news item that one project in the Manila Bay Area  has already been awarded to Dennis Uy, a businessman from Davao with close ties to President Duterte. His project involves 265-hectares of the Bay, called the Pasay Harbor City, estimated to cost some P62 billion.

I'm afraid that the side-tracking of the PRA in this issue would only worsen the environmental state of storied Manila Bay. It also does not encourage a picture of integrity for the Office of the President.

The query that will be left in citizens' minds: who stands to make money on these projects?

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From various write-ups, we are given to understand that multi-function reclamation areas similar to those in cities like Dubai are being considered to be set up in Manila Bay, and presumably these would involve casinos, night-clubs and other high-end entertainment.

All these big-ticket reclamation projects would naturally involve enormous funds, some of which could be generously funneled to cooperative politicos in various areas, especially in this campaign season. But we citizens go back to the question: what is to happen to the historic Manila Bay, which has seen many a battle in our history and which boasts the most beautiful sunset in the world? The island of Corregidor, bathed in the blood of Filipino and American defenders during World War II, is part of the proud history of Manila Bay.

What was the much ballyhooed clean-up of  Manila Bay---designed to benefit families---all about, if in the end it's just going to be polluted by reclamation and establishments that could cater mainly to gambling and other vices to be set up there? Who stands to profit from all these reclamation projects? We're already certain about the losers: it's the Filipino people.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Senator PanfiloLacson morphs from a highly controversial cop in past decades to today's highly effective conscience of Congress especially on embedded porks in the budget. 



That Senator Panfilo Lacson has emerged as effective conscience of the Senate is quite interesting, considering his colorful career as controversial cop in past decades.


Lacson has been scrutinizing, line by line  the proposed P3.9 trillion draft-spending bill f government for 2019, now being finalized by the Senate conference comitttee headed by Sen. Loren Legarda. Because of his studiousness in questioning budget data he considers  "suspicious pork" (officially referred to as "Priority Development Assistance Fund"), Lacson is given by media all the attention he needs nowadays.


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Lacson's assiduousness in tracking down pork insertions has kept his fellow senators not only on their toes, but also quite irritated with him. In fact Senate President Vicente Sotto III threatens to pull out the current budget bill, so that prospects of a "reenacted budget" looms---something undesirable in an election year. Obviously it is oblique criticism of Lacson's incessant sleuthing about the PDAF, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013 but which constantly morphs in different forms in Congress.


Just this morning (Friday, Feb. 01, 2019), the Inquirer bannered Lacson's revelation that each House member will get P100 M, as embedded in the National Expenditure Program prepared by the executive department, to which, Lacson alleged, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo added P60 million more for each of her House colleagues.


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Lacson has been scrutinizing the 2019 budget especially for gargantuan public works projects, which are the traditional milking cows of both houses of Congress.


Lately he has been targeting a favorite source of pork funds over various administrations---the multi-billion funds for dredging and flood control projects. As a pundit remarked, it's easy to finagle funds for these projects as they are literally washed away---no trace whatsoever.


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Recently Lacson trained his guns on unfinished road projects in various areas, notably in Batangas and Bicol. It turned out that many big-ticket highway projects remain unfinished because of one pathetic and lamentable reason: some simple folks who own small land parcels that have been expropriated by DPWH to make way for these grand highways HAVE NOT BEEN PAID FOR THEIR SMALL PARCELS---despite the huge amounts programmed for the "Build, Build Build" road projects of the Duterte administration.


What's even more disturbing is that while construction of many highways remains unfinished because of this expropriation problem, in many cases FUNDS HAVE ALREADY BEEN PAID TO CONTRACTORS, WHO, IN TURN, HAVE ALREADY GIVEN COMMISSIONS TO POLITICIANS IN THOSE TERRITORIES WHERE HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION HAS STALLED.


The Inquirer posed photos recently of a number of cases where highways lead to nowhere---because the contractors failed to pay the humble owners of tiny parcels of the huge land appropriated for the highway!


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 In a recent interview, Sen. Lacson was asked if the senators' "individual amendments," amounting to P23 billion in the 2019 spending bill, could be described as "pork." He was quoted as asserting, "That is a very fair statement. If something was allowed, then there was horse-trading. That's unfortunate in our budgeting process."


Lacson also stressed that such revelations deprive the Senate of any moral ascendancy over the House of Representatives. His statement tallies with House Appropriations chair Rolando Andaya Jr.'s assertion in a recent Inquirer banner story that lump-sum amendments introduced by the Senate exceeded P190 billion, whereas the House proposal involved only P51 billion----A HUGE DISCREPANCY IN PORK BARREL PROJECT PROPOSALS. .


What;s interesting is that Public Works Secretary Mark Villar had admitted that the additional P75 billion in the DPWH budget that Lacson "stumbled upon" was NOT PART OF THE DPWH'S REQUEST. If Villar didn't ask for that additional P75B, who did?  A clear whodunit case!


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Banner stories about Lacson's assertions of heavy pork embedded in the 2019 spending bill constitute only part of the evidence of his amazing transformation from his earlier years---when he was linked to various controversies---to his current role as crusader vs. pork. One such controversy involved his alleged master-minding of the infamous "Kuratong Baleleng" gang, that eventually led to his flight from the country  and his self-exile for 15 months.


 Among the controversies Lacson was linked to as chief of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) was the disappearance of publicist Salvador "Buddy" Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2009. Upon Lacson's return from his self-imposed flight abroad, however, the Court of Appeals in February 2011 withdrew the murder charges against him as filed by Mancao, ruling the latter a non-credible witness.


XXX


Since his election to the Senate in 2001 under the LDP affiliated with President Estrada, Lacson has been exposing the evils of the pork barrel system and calling for its abolition. But pork appears to be too deeply imbedded into the body politic that it would take more than his exposes to surgically excise it.


 Thus, the recent admission of DPWH Secretary Mark Villar that the additional P75 billion in his department's budget this year WAS NOT PART OF THE DPWH'S  REQUEST only accentuates the fact that in this election year, congressional  politicians have to get their generous share of the embedded pork to fund their campaigns. It is a fact, indeed, that local elections involving representatives and local offices oftentimes prove far more expensive than national elections, such as for senator. The fight is far more intensive at the local level---thus, more funds needed.


XXX


Bureaucratic corruption has become so ingrained int our political system,  but it's brought to newer heights during elections, when voters expect to get grease money in exchange for their votes. Selling votes during election time is doubtless the citizens' revenge oftentimes on their politicos' negligence of their welfare.


 Until such time when the broad masses are rescued from grinding poverty and their educational level is raised by dint of duly compensated hard work---as well as when a more compassionate, caring and honest government emerges---many citizens' votes will tragically remain for sale to the highest bidder. The elected officials, with some exceptions, will then seek to recoup their "losses" through corrupt practices such as pushing substandard public works projects with fat kickbacks---and cementing their dynasties with these funds. A vicious cycle indeed.


Let's pray and work for better political times.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Close encounters with Henry Sy, said to be the richest Filipino, in the very early years in his Carriedo shoe store. He was always patient and smiling, no matter how fickle or hard to satisfy, or penny-pinching customers would be.


When my father's business collapsed in the late '50s, my parents had to make the tough decision to keep us 10 children in the schools where we had begun studying during the prosperous years. This involved six boys studying in the Ateneo de Manila, earlier situated in Padre Faura and later transferred to Katipunan in Quezon City,  and three girls in Holy Ghost College under German and American sisters---later renamed the College of the Holy Spirit---on Mendiola St., Manila, sandwiched between Malacanang Palace and San Beda College. The eldest of the brood of ten, our Ate Elvy, was by then studying in UST.

My mother, who was a working student at the old UP in Manila, was determined to keep her entire brood in the schools where we had begun---against the vigorous protestations of my father whose business was in ruins. My mom won, but it meant a lot of belt-tightening for all of us and negotiations galore with school authorities to allow deferred payment of tuition fees.

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For us three Holy Ghost colegialas, it meant walking daily the entire route from Mendiola to Quiapo, where we would take the bus to Quezon City. We had moved to QC from the big ancestral home in Sta. Mesa Blvd., as my parents were forced to sell it, owing to the business collapse.

Walking all the way to Quiapo was fun, though, as there were quite a lot of us students walking together. From time to time we would break up the monotony by sauntering over to Carriedo St. where a tall lanky Chinese entrepreneur perhaps in his late '30s had set up a modest shoe store called "Shoemart."

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This youthful Chinese shoe-store owner/salesman had stacks of shoes in boxes neatly arranged on shelves up to the ceiling of the store and he personally attended to each customer. In those days, he himself would sit on a low wooden stool in front of the customer---helping him or her with several pairs of shoes to try on.

"Ay, medyo tight itong pares na ito," I'd complain, and the store-owner would patiently get up and climb the ladder to get more stocks from the ceiling. He'd bring the new pairs and sit down again on the low stool in front, helping us to try new ones.  Sometimes the shoes would fit, but at times we customers would change our mind about them and walk around again, looking at some other pair.

Henry Sy must have thought at that time that there must be an easier way to make a living.

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This tall, rather slender young Chinese store-owner would always retain the patience of Buddha toward us pesky colegialas. After I left Holy Ghost College and entered the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City,  I continued to visit Shoemart in Quiapo, as Mr. Sy's goods were reasonably priced. I also have good memories of his kindness and courteousness, the semi-serious smile on his face and the broken Filipino he could speak at that time.

Little did I ever imagine that the same over-patient shoe-store proprietor would one day turn out to be the entrepreneur adjudged by Forbes Magazine as the Philippines' richest man for 11 SUCCESSIVE YEARS---with an estimated worth of $9 billion or P1.05 trillion! As the Inquirer pointed out, according to Forbes Magazine, Henry Sy, as the 52nd richest person in the world last year, elbowed out tycoons such as Elon Musk, Rupert Murdoch and George Soros from the magazine listing.

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Little would I have imagined too at that time when we would casually saunter into that little shoe store on Carriedo St. in Quiapo, that it would become the flagship of his vast family conglomerate. That little Shoemart store would morph into the SM Department Store with many dozens of branches sprouting all over the country---a vast pillar of the Philippine economy---with ultimately the SM Megamall and the Mall of Asia dwarfing them all.

Little would I have imagined that from that little Carriedo St. shoe store, the fortunes of this ever-patient shoe-store owner would diversify in about three decades to include vast holdings in retail, banking and property development all across the country and the region, including in Henry Sy's native China. Little did I imagine that that Carriedo shoe store would one day create not only a new verb---"malling"---but also a distinct way of life among us Filipinos, that would help rev up the economy and provide countless job opportunities.

A young  lanky Henry Sy in front of his shoe store on Carriedo St. in Quiapo, Manila. 
Business tycoon Henry Sy in later years


Obviously Henry Sy and his very religious wife Felicidad (who built the beautiful Sto Nino Church in the reclamation area near the Mall of Asia)  brought up their children very well---equipped with the same work ethic that enabled them to take over the empire when retirement became imperative for the patriarch of the dynasty. What's great about this family is the way Henry Sy trained his children to take charge of specific holdings.

Tessie Sy Coson, the eldest of the brood of Henry and Felicidad Sy and one of their two daughters (the other daughter is Elizabeth and there are  four sons, namely Henry Jr., Hans, Herbert and Harley), has headed the Sy business empire for some time now, and she and her siblings have continued the many philanthropic works of their parents. A little episode indicates to me the kind of training she received from her father.

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One evening, Tessie Coson attended the concert of the young Mozarteum-trained Filipino classical violinist Joaquin "Chino" Gutierrez at the Francisco Santiago Concert Hall in the BDO Bldg. that the Sy family owns. Friends of the young violinist had invited her to attend the concert and hear this music sensation,  but half-way through the program, she bade goodbye to me as she had to rush somewhere else.

I accompanied her to the concert hall door and at that point I suddenly remembered  the repeated request of senior theater-goers about the need to put hand-railings for the eight or so steps reaching up to the BDO concert hall, to prevent accidents especially for seniors.

Tessie Coson listened attentively, but more than that, she quickly took out her cellphone from her bag and took photos of the staircase and the walls needing hand-railings. I thought that this lady now heading the family business empire could just have directed a staffer to attend to the concert-goers' request;  but no, she had to produce the evidence herself---doubtless to produce quicker results.

No wonder, I thought to myself, that the family business empire has been so successful---every conceivable detail is covered. My profound sympathies to the Sy family over the demise of their beloved patriarch.

                                                                             

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Beguiling Paris, my favorite European city, going up in smoke over rise in Macron's fuel taxes, affecting especially the retirees. Our legislators should outlaw "unli rice" owing to galloping diabetes especially among lower-income Pinoys.



The once romantic and chic Champs Elysee, with the iconic Arc de Triomphe in the background, has become a battleground between yellow-vested demonstrators and police over the fuel tax issue. 

Paris, unarguably the most beautiful and the most romantic city in all Europe---my favorite for decades---is going up in smoke over an issue that perhaps other peoples would demonstrate against, but not in the same violent and destructive manner as the choleric and highly excitable French would---the rise in fuel taxes that cuts into the income of the already beleaguered middle-class.

Last Christmas Day, my longtime friends based in Paris---lawyer Aquilino "Jun" Opena and his wife Lilia, a retired ranking UNESCO official, whom my family and I would visit from time to time over the decades---called to tell me all about what's happening. Lil and Jun felt quite bad that the yellow-vest protesters ("gilet jaunes" in French) would be invading the historic Avenue des Champs Elysees---the most beautiful area in Paris and its No. 1 tourist attraction for international jet-setters and celebrities.

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The "gilet jaunes" protest movement began last Nov. 17, 2018,  when roadblocks began appearing all across the country, but more concentrated in Paris for maximum effect. It began as a small protest against the new fuel tax imposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, but over the weeks and months it has morphed into a violent anti-government grassroots movement, with many demonstrators from the middle-class stressing how their livelihood has been eaten up by the fuel tax.

Violent clashes with police and vandalism in hitherto quiet and plush neighborhoods turned ugly and international media caught them all---making all lovers of Paris, such as this writer, feel such pain in our hearts. Four people have actually died since the unrest began, even as the resulting violence and vandalism have been widely condemned in France and abroad.

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President Macron had insisted that tax increases are a necessary pain due to the increased cost of fuel---now at $7.06 per gallon. The protests appeared to have swung into full scale after duties were slapped on diesel--- which is widely used by French motorists but now more heavily taxed than any other types of fuel.

As the anti-fuel tax movement grew uglier and spread to nearly the entire country, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe decided to suspend the tax increases for six months. He was quoted in newspapers as grumbling that "anyone would have to be deaf or blind not to hear or see the anger against the government." A direct missile attack on Macron.

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President Macron had won the presidency with an overwhelming mandate for sweeping economic reforms, but his popularity began to fall sharply in recent months amid accusations---and perception--that he is "a president for the rich."

But more than just the backlash against his fuel tax, there's the theory that this much-hated imposition is a necessary obstacle to the French far-right's quest for greater power. French politics are tres complique, with far-right, far-left, center, etc. all clashing. Just how far this grassroots protest movement would end up is hard to foretell.

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As an observer, I note the difference between the tempers of the French and the Filipino. Our middle-class and the lower strata are indeed also painfully caught in the spiraling of prices of just about everything, due to our near-total dependence on imported oil whose price has skyrocketed.  But the Filipino people have remained stoic in suffering the inflation that the rise in fuel costs cause, and we simply tighten already tight belts---unlike the choleric and excitable French who have launched their second revolution last winter and going strong.

It's easy to foretell the fate of the top French officials. No, they are not going to lose their heads in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, like what happened in 1789 with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette there. The youthful Macron, however, is in danger of losing his once ultra-high political standing in the next elections. In fact he's probably finished.

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One time in traffic I happened to be stopped in front of a "Mang Inasal" restaurant and I could see a waiter carrying a big wooden bowl full of rice--- and hopping from table to table, endlessly scooping rice on the plates of diners. It alarmed me to watch this scene, as I had just read how rice is a major factor in the galloping diabetes among Filipinos.

President Duterte has lowered costs of medicines for diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act, R.A. 10963---which is good as it would help especially the lower income groups. But what has to be addressed is the proclamation of Diabetic Center of the Philippines about how diabetes is GALLOPING among Filipinos---doubtless mainly due to excessive consumption of carbohydrates which translates to sugar.

Popular thinking associates diabetes only with excessive sugar intake, but nutritionists link it as much with heavy rice intake among Filipinos---one reason so many PInoys are overweight. According to the Diabetic Center, an estimated 5 million Filipinos are diagnosed with diabetes.

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From the Philippine Statistics Authority come 2016 data that diabetes and hypertensive diseases each accounted for 5-7 % of deaths in the country, or 33,295 and 33,452 cases, respectively. That's a lot of Filipinos dying from diabetes and hypertensive diseases, which should call for more information about food intake that should be lessened.

While the administration has cut cost of diabetes and hypertensive medicines starting this Jan. 1, still, those medicines would entail funds from the people that could otherwise go to other necessities in life---if enough medical information were to be disseminated over mass media about proper diet TO PREVENT DIABETES AND ITS AGGRAVATION.

Few people realize that carbohydrates, such as in rice, convert to sugar which aggravates THE diabetes ailment. The Department of Health should conduct a wider information campaign about this fact, and yes, there should be an accompanying law prohibiting service of UNLI RICE as a sales propaganda.

Yes, stop Mang Inasal's UNLI RICE PROMO---indeed the Pinoy comes out BUSOG, but the diabetes it brings in its path is more VICIOUS than folks think.