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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, 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. 

XXX

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.