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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.

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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.


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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!

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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.




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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.