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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.

Monday, February 17, 2020

At our Radyo Balintataw weekly Sunday evening program, we tackled with CDO Rep. Rufus Rodriguez two crucial issues pending in Congress: the Visiting Forces Agreement that was unilaterally discarded by the President, and the fate of giant TV-radio network ABS-CBN




At the recent "Radyo Balintataw" program over nationwide dzRH, which Cecile Alvarez and I co-host every Sunday, 6-7pm., we invited 4th term representative of Cagayan de Oro Rufus Rodriguez as our guest. Rep. Rodriguez chairs the Constitutional Committee in the House and is also vice-chair of the House Committee on Justice, as well as a law professor in the San Sebastian College of Law.

Cecile and I focused on the two burning issues of the day: the recent, unilateral abrogation by President Duterte of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the franchise of media giant ABS-CBN, whose fate is now pending in the House of Representatives committee on franchises.

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At the moment there are only 180 days left in the House session,  to reconsider the status of the VFA between the US and the Philippines. This has prompted moves in both chambers of Congress to challenge the VFA issue---which goes to the very heart of the long-standing US-Philippine relations---before the Supreme Court, which has constitutional authority to review our treaties with foreign countries.

The move to raise the VFA issue to the SC has predictably drawn support from both chambers of Congress. Leading the move in the  Senate to raise this burning issue to the SC is Sen. Panfilo Lacson. In the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel  has filed a resolution urging the DFA not to abrogate our standing treaty with the US.

Not lost on political observers is the fact that this issue of the sudden proposed VFA abrogation came about in a moment of strong presidential pique. The President was enraged by the refusal of the US to renew the visa of his close friend and ally, Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa, on the grounds of the latter's less than desirable record on human rights.  Mr. Duterte may be credited for being a most loyal friend, but he certainly is acting less presidential than he should on this issue.

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On the other hand, as Rep. Rufus Rodriguez explained during our dzRH program last Sunday, the matter of franchises, which directly affects the fate of media giant ABS-CBN, is exclusive to the House of Representatives.

At the moment, as Rep. Rufus pointed out, there are already 13 members of the House who are for extending ABS-CBN's franchise and this number is expected to swell---a clear indication of the power and force of the media giant, among other considerations.

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Rufus Rodriguez stressed the particular interest of the Filipino people in these two burning issues of the day---the move of President Duterte to unilaterally terminate the VFA  and to close down media giant ABS-CBN.  The people's reaction to these two issues can be measured in the recent SWS survey.

As Rodriguez noted, according to the SWS survey, a whopping 93% of the Filipino people want to recover Mischief Reef, while a full 87% feel that the Philippines should assert its victory on this issue. This issue was embodied in the favorable ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino a few years back---which recognized  and continues to uphold our country's rightful position vs. China's claim to these islands in the West Philippine Sea.

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This large percentage of the Filipino people backing up our victory in the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, in turn, Rodriguez stressed, shows the large percentage of Filipinos' trust in America (78%), vs. 12% who are distrustful.

To the great frustration of many of our people, however, this sentiment appears to be ignored by the Duterte administration, in its pivot to our big aggressive neighbor to the North.  The administration's current closeness to China is being viewed as Mr. Duterte's protest over the US' refusal to renew the visa of his closest ally, Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa.

Recall that this US refusal on Sen. De la Rosa's visa renewal comes on the heels of allegation that the latter was a notorious human rights violator during his days as PNP Chief---when he launched a brutal crusade vs. alleged drug dealers, most of them minors.

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Rep. Rufus Rodriguez pointed out that the issue of the franchise renewal of the giant network ABS-CBN, lies within the domain of Congress and not of the Supreme Court,  but that a hearing has yet to be scheduled by the Committee on Legislative Franchise, which is headed by Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez. Rodriguez noted that the giant network has 11,000 employees and that its franchise expires by March 30 next year. 

This reality, Rodriguez said,  has prompted him to ask Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to start hearings on the ABS-CBN issue, perhaps in concurrence with the counterpart Senate committee headed by Sen. Grace Poe.

Very much involved in the Administration's battle against the giant network, the country's No. 1 radio-TV network,  is the constitutional provision on freedom of expression and of the press.  As Rep. Rufus Rodriguez pointed out, tremendous uncertainties spawned by a non-renewal of its franchise to operate would be very bad for the country in the eyes of the world. Moreover, Rufus stressed that the BIR has certified that the giant network has paid all its taxes.

So, what gives, other than immense presidential pique at this giant network?

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