Thursday, May 28, 2009

Quotes of the day

Prospero Nograles, on the eve of the merger of Lakas (Teddy Boy Locsin’s favourite “party of thieves”) and Kampi (Gloria and Mike Arroyo’s favourite party of what else?) was “ecstatic” over the conjugal union of the two. As of this writing, the mega-event is supposed to be ongoing.

Said Nograles: “For now, winning the elections in 2010 is not our main goal. Changing the character of our politics is”.

Oh my God! After almost nine years of Gloria’s hegemony, during which Nograles has seen himself catapulted to the speakership of the lower House (low, lower, lowest) this guy talks of “changing the character of our politics”. To more of the same. Six more years of Gloria, and Mike, and Mikey, and Dato, and Iggy, and Marilou (not to forget her), and of course, more “nogralese” from the gentleman from lower Davao, perhaps as the next executive secretary, or the next secretary of injustice.

Another “nogralese”: “The new party will articulate, as its mother parties did, a bold program of action based on ideology --- because only by offering this program can we build institutional dialogue … (more useless gibberish) … lead our people in breaking the status quo … (even more inane gibberish)…”

Ideology? Institutional dialogue? “Breaking the status quo?”

Oh my Nograles! He of course will be (unless the thieves find a last minute replacement) president of this new “mega” party (until June 30, 2010, if there’s May 10, 2010). The new, improved, re-energized, re-incarnated “party of thieves”, which can now be called Nakaw, as in --- Nagkakaisang Kawatan.

* * *

But there’s another quote of the day, from Jose de Venecia, progenitor of the win-win solution, the rainbow coalition, and all other forms of political transaction, until his son Joey the better, denounced what his conscience could not accept, the NBN-ZTE mega-deal, thus causing JDV’s fall from grace, but sadly, not “into the arms of the people”.

JDV warns the new party’s only potentially winnable 2010 champion (that’s what the current surveys claim), Noli de Castro, “to think twice about being GMA’s anointed”, as “her unpopularity could rub on De Castro and ruin his chances for the highest position in the land”. JDV also warned De Castro against “entering into a deal with Mrs. Arroyo”.

But JDV is not telling the people everything. Such as that his personal choice for president in 2010 has already given assurances to Dona Gloria, through a crony businessman that there will be no prosecution after June 30, 2010, if he wins, with her “quiet” support. The businessman had arranged for a Mediterranean tete a tete between the tall Villar and his not-so-short Cynthia and the not-too-tall Dona so that the transaction could be quietly sealed outside the prying eyes of media and the public. But Senadora Jamby blew the whistle, so the deal was made instead, mais non tete a tete, but through “brokers”.

Was JDV kept in the dark about this? Or is he simply happy that his better-half Gina will be in the senatorial ticket of this “presidentiality”, instead of his son Joey? And now he is working on Noli to once more be vice-president?

* * *

Not yet married, but here comes a threat from the wife of another “presidentiality”. Rep. Nikki Prieto Teodoro, warned that “very powerful people” are prepared to back up her husband, SND Gilbert, or Gibo as he prefers to be called, “if the administration coalition does not declare him its standard-bearer for the 2010 presidential election”. According to the Tarlac congresswoman, “certain members of the soon-to-be-merged Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats and the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), civil society and big business have informed her and her husband of their readiness to support his independent run for the presidency if and when… and they said that if it’s not him, they will bolt their own party.”

That’s a mouthful, indeed. Hindi pa kinakasal ang mga kawatan, maghihiwalay na?

It must be Gibo, or nothing, indeed. And Gibo, for his part seems mightily pleased that he, Dona Gloria’s military supervisor, will likely team up with Ronnie Puno, the dona’s police supervisor. Ronnie the Tree for vice-president, yehey!

“He is a good interior secretary and we both have an understanding of security matters. So I am hopeful that he can do a lot being the vice president,” Gibo said. Piloto ang presidente; pulis kotong ang bise, wow! And I can conjure a perfect police state, with the Dona as Queen Regent. Long live the Queen. Or is it “God Save the Queen”, sang by, you guessed it, Manny Pacquiao on inaugural day.

But La Senora Nikki must have the last word, for she adds, “this country needs change right away. If he (Gibo) runs for the Senate or for VP, what will happen to our country?” “Are we willing to sacrifice the future of this country?”

“Change right away” – ah, so des ka ? But I thought Gibo supports everything the Dona has been doing? Why change right away? Akala ko ba ang galing-galing ni Donya, as per your husband Gibo? Akala ko ba your galing-galing Dona has assured our future?

* * *

As for Ronnie Puno, the man who would be vice-president, he has already bought a Learjet to transport himself and possibly his presidential running-mate, to anywhere in the country’s benighted islands. He is better prepared than even Joker’s “presidentiality”. Like Jojo Binay the perennial Boy Scout, Ronnie is “laging handa”.

Ronnie will compete with (so far), Kiko Pangilinan, who will run in the party of Megastar, and Jojo Binay, who will be Erap’s VP to be or not to be.

* * *

Not to be outdone in our quotes of the day is Manny Villar, who sashayed into a newspaper office and declared that “whether I will be judged guilty or not guilty, it will depend on numbers, not on evidence”.

That’s exactly what he did to President Erap in November of 2000. Sans due process, sans committee proceedings, sans committee report, he immediately dispatched the signed “numbers only” impeachment complaint for trial by the Senate. Now he cries foul that his peers want to hear his side of the ethics complaint against him.

But of course, before the newspaper’s editorial board. Villar drew a map of his tale of two roads, using chopsticks, spoons and forks, to explain that there was no diversion of one road project to another location that would traverse his lands.

If we are to believe Villar, there will be one toll road from SLEX to Coastal, and another free-passage road from SLEX to Coastal, one and the other less than a kilometre apart. He, he, he. So who will pay tolls for use of the “other” road, the “other C-5” on which government had already sunk 1.8 billion pesos in road right-of-way payments, most of it to Brother Mike of El Shaddai? The DPWH has a lot of explaining to do, assuming what Villar says is true.

As the Marines would likely say to moneyed Villar --- “Tell that to the Senate”.

What a country!

Another boat sank off the waters of Batangas, and twelve people are reported to have died. Another 42 have survived. On the basis of the arithmetic, Marina officials say the boat was overloaded, because it had registered capacity for only 42 passengers. Soon, when the victims shall have been buried, the issue of maritime safety will be forgotten. Months ago, another boat capsized off the waters of Calayan Island off Sta. Ana in Cagayan. I don’t even remember how many perished. The same reason was given by our maritime “safety” officials --- overloading plus big waves.

Each time a boat, a ferry, a ship capsizes, the Coast Guard and the Marina belatedly discover that these vessels were overloaded when they left their last port of call. It happens all the time, and we forget all the time. Worse, neither the executive nor the legislature seem to care, after the tears of surviving families have dried.

And we are all of 7107 islands, a piece of geography that all know. What a country!

* * *
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) has asked the DND to look into reports that New York Times and International Herald Tribune correspondent Carlos Conde, who once headed the National Union of Journalists of the Philipines, is listed in a 2007 “order of battle” by the intelligence unit of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division in Southern Mindanao.

Journalists normally shrug off these lists, and in the time of Ferdinand Marcos, it was even a distinction of sorts if you were, kuno, listed in the OB. But with the spate of unresolved murders and killings of suspected activists and journalists in this country, FOCAP, and for that matter, the entire journalistic community, has reason to express fear and apprehension. Fact is, a Davao City peasant, Cesar Pojas was also on the same list, and he was shot dead in May last year.
Conde had bared last week that he found his name listed with more than 100 members of left-leaning groups in a document titled “JCICC ‘AGILA’ 3rd QTR 2007 OB VALIDATION RESULT,” said to be an intelligence paper from the Southern Mindanao Army division. FOCAP says there had been previous instances when members of the press were “unjustly associated with alleged enemies of the state while reporting on developing events in the country.”

What has happened to the “missing” Jonas Burgos, abducted by suspected military operatives more than two years ago? Only his mother Editha and our fellow opinion writer Ambassador Rey Arcilla keeps counting the days when Jonas unexpectedly disappeared, a case yet unexplained by police officers to this day. Whatever have happened to Sherlyn Cadapan and Rey Empeno? Only their parents seem to care, their tears never having dried up.

How many else are listed, perhaps “targeted”, in the order of battle? And whose order of battle? The Army? The ISAFP? The commander-in-chief’s? What a country.

* * *
People no longer care. They no longer get shocked by corruption most gross. They no longer feel rage at officials who wantonly do as they please, unmindful that they betray the public trust. All that matters is power and more money for the greedy, and all that matters for the rest of benighted humanity is survival. What a country, indeed!

* * *

Happiness is buying a lotto ticket, in the vain hope that one might hit the jackpot. Happiness is watching Wowowee, better to participate in contests that tend to humiliate one’s personal dignity, hoping to win a few thousands, or more. Happiness is getting a copy of the latest sex video of perverts like Hayden Kho and his bevy of bed partners.

Remember when some poll sometime listed Filipinos as among the “happiest people on earth”? In the lingua franca, we deride people whose pursuits constitute “mababaw ang kaligayahan”. But in a larger sense, because we cannot see beyond the tips of our noses, because we cannot appreciate the issues that affect our lives, our well-being and our future, we are all “mababaw ang kaligayahan”. The happiness index is so shallow. Never mind the quality of life, for as long as there is a Willie Revillame to regale us, and a cup of instant noodles to pass off the hunger pangs.

What a country!

* * *

Yet many still look at the elections of 2010 as “solution” to the kind of life we suffer in these benighted parts. We are enthused by 30-second television commercials, labeled “info-mercials”, as if we are informed by the inanity of slogans created by some advertising genius trying to conjure images of “matulungin”, “mabait”, “maawain”, and “madaling lapitan”, all those stupid benchmarks of leadership found by pollsters to be “desirable traits” to the Filipino voter.

Even former President Joseph Estrada, who won overwhelmingly in 1998 but was ousted by a coup in 2001 by his own chief of staff, now offers himself as that “solution”. He wants to run for president once more, despite the Constitutional edict against “any re-election”.

But, some of the same lawyers who advised him against allowing the “second envelope” to be opened at a critical juncture of the impeachment trial, thus breaking the floodgates for early political denouement, are now telling him that he is qualified to run despite what many in their profession consider an “open and shut” interpretation of the fundamental law. “Any re-election” means any, not an immediately succeeding re-election, and Fr. Joaquin Bernas dug up the records of the arguments of the constitutional commissioners to show the very clear intent of the framers.

UNO spokesman Adel Tamano, president of the Pamantasan ng Maynila and a lawyer himself, defends Erap against those who claim that the latter is no longer eligible to run once more. “Personally, I would much prefer a president who wins the support of the Filipino people despite what some claim as prohibitions to his candidacy than to have a president who is not prohibited from running but will cheat her way to the presidency,” Tamano said.

Come again, Adel? That is good rhetorical flourish, and I agree with you that our common bĂȘte noire cheated her way to the presidency, but isn’t that statement a non sequitur? Sure I would take Erap anytime against Gloria, but, does he qualify to be a candidate for another election? And pray tell, who will interpret the Constitution? The Supreme Court, by which time 13 of 15 justices shall be decidedly pro-Gloria, and the remaining two, who are clearly independent, are not likely to bend the law to favour Erap either. Unless, as I once wrote in this column (The Hamlet Act, Malaya, Jan. 8, 2009), a deal, a transaction, is unseemly brokered between the oh so forgiving Erap and the oh so fearful Gloria.

“The real issue that we Filipinos should be discussing about is not who is prohibited from running but rather what type of president do we need in 2010", the UNO spokesman declared.
Pray tell, Atty. Adel, in your heart of hearts, and against everyone else, do you really believe the former president is “the type … we need in 2010”? Yet, if the people of these benighted parts want to elect Erap once more after losing it and blowing his chance at greatness, what can we do, except to say, what a country!

* * *

Still, our common friend, former Senate President and former Ambassador to Washington D.C., columnist Ernesto Maceda reports: “Lawyer Adel Tamano has joined the camp of Sen. Manny Villar to the disappointment of Sen. Chiz Escudero who thought Adel was firmly for him.”

Sino ba talaga, Adel? Chiz, Erap, or Mr. Itik? Well, the “itik” lays golden eggs, perhaps. And loves to say, “who has the gold --- rules”.

Talaga nga naman. What a country!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A question of trust

You realize that things are all awry and priorities all wrong among us with the inordinate attention showered upon a video showing two adults in private sex. Last week, the sleazy episode found its way into the Senate floor, and more than half of the entire evening news was devoted to various angles of the same story.

News about the first recorded victim of the “swine” flu in the country is eclipsed by Hayden and Katrina, who has every right to get mad because clearly she was “swined”, as the text joke goes. But hey, the AH1N1 virus could affect us all, and presents grave mortal danger, but what the heck --- voyeurism is more important for the people of the benighted land. Over the weekend, another person was confirmed to have been afflicted with the virus, but the narcissistic Hayden and his various sexploits still hogged the news.

A naval junior officer wants to speak up against alleged corruption in the disposition of Balikatan funds, but the general she first complained about beat her to the draw, and as usual, whistleblower finds herself the accused. The amount may be picayune, 2,500 pesos for hotel bills, as against millions the officers messed up with, but such are the privileges of the military hierarchy. Suffer the common soldiers and the petty officers, but not, never, those who wear stars upon their shoulders. The chain of command, it seems is shibboleth for a practice as feudal as our “democratic” polity. Navy lieutenant Gadian is “wanted” and given 48 hours to surrender. Her sister approaches my friend Harry Roque and his Center Law group, who immediately petition the Supreme Court for a writ of amparo. Both Gadian and Roque, as well as his associate, Atty. Rommel Bagares who used to be with this paper, still recall the sad plight of navy ensign Philip Pestano, whose apparent murder by his superiors we wrote about last March 6, 2009 in this space.

Harry’s prayer for a writ of amparo was granted, in a minute resolution at the instance of the Chief Justice! This ought to be earth-shaking, a beachhead in the constant struggle against corruption and high-handedness, and for the individual rights of every citizen, no matter how lowly. But heck, the networks and radio preferred the various positional angles of the perversion of Hayden Kho and his string of inamoratas.

Getting into the act, DOJ’s Raul Gonzalez got the NBI to get to the bottom of the bedroom case, and instructs the immigration bureau to issue a hold departure order against Hayden Kho. Wow! If only our department of justice acted as fast before allowing Joc-joc to escape from answering to his “bolantic” thievery before the Senate and the Ombudsman, he would not have had time to rehearse over and over again in a Wisconsin jail, the pack of lies he declared before the Senate Blue Ribbon of the present Congress. Or if the same DOJ had acted as swiftly, and prevented Virgilio Garcillano from leaving the country in the wake of the explosive Hello Garci. And what about Lintang Bedol, where the hell is he? Or is he in hell already, silenced by those who want him to be silent forever? But heck, this pervert Hayden Kho, a physician at that, is Public Enemy Numero Uno, and must be dealt with as such, or so the DOJ and most of media hold. As Anthony Taberna, interviewing the sister of the departed NBI deputy director Samuel Ong (the man who exposed the mother of all tapes in the Garci-Glori scandal) editorialized, “if only the justice system truly works in this country…the boss woman, along with Garci, would be in jail…for there is no scandal, not even a string of sex scandals, that shocks or stinks more than Hello Garci” (translated from Anthony’s Tagalog).

In the benighted country where most are blinded, chismis is king. There is no time to bother about affairs of the state; there is every minute to bother about the liaisons dangereuse of celebrities.

Still and all, I agree with the Philippine Medical Association, which will soon investigate Doctor Kho, motu propio, because “it is necessary so that we may uphold the integrity of the medical profession”.

“He will be given due process. If the video tapes were done with the mutual consent of the man and the women involved, that is a private matter between consenting adults, and therefore none of our business. However, if the videos were done without the consent of the women, then this is deception, and we condemn this. As to the distribution of the videos --- if Dr. Kho distributed the videos, this is in itself condemnable, regardless of whether or not these were taken with the consent of the women,” the PMA said, speaking through the chairperson of its Opinion Board, my good friend Dr. Minguita Padilla, who further elucidates that at the core of the salacious episode is “breach of trust”.

“The medical profession is built on trust. Patients go to doctors because implicit in the code they swore to is that they are trustworthy healers of bodies. Trust is at the core of medical practice, which is public service, no different from what public servants are supposed to do”, ophthalmologist Padilla adds.

* * *

Which brings me back to the bigger picture. Isn’t there similarity between the more salacious details of Hayden Kho’s lack of ethics and the drama in the Senate over Senator Manuel Villar’s lack of ethics in the use of power and influence for material advancement? It is an even bigger abuse of public trust, because the monies involved belong to the entire nation, not just to the private honor and personal dignity of the Katrina’s and Maricar’s and Vicky’s and the devil knows how many else.

I have discussed this issue of Villar’s ethics, or lack of it, and Villar’s breach of the public trust several times, and will likely discuss it more as the evidences unfold. For now, I am in receipt of a press kit in power-point format, of Villar’s defense. Fine. But if he was so certain about the “facts” he proffers to media, why not present the same to his peers in the Senate? These proceedings are televised, and even if not, they constitute public record, so why be afraid? Why cry against “tailor-fit” rules, when in fact, the rules of the Senate Committee on Ethics, as adopted by the Committee of the Whole, can be simply placed side by side with the old rules of the previous Congress, for the public (and “free” media, in case it is willing to read beyond what the PR bagmen supply) to appreciate the difference, if there is anything substantial at all.

It is a question of trust, whether we think of Dr. Hayden and his betters in the medical profession, or whether we essay Senator Manuel B. Villar and the re-alignment of C-5. Private trust, between doctor and patient, lover and beloved. Or public trust, between a senator and the public which chose to elect him, because of “trust”.

* * *

But Joker Arroyo, who believes that he and his colleagues in the Senate should be treated deferentially because they are a rare breed of human beings, calls the Senate investigation of a peer as “embarking on a very dangerous experiment”.

And his theory of the dangerous experiment rests on ascribing base motives to those among his peers whom he labels “presidentialities” or “presidentiables”. Conversely we ask, if one is presidentiable, one ought be exempt from any investigation of malfeasance, misfeasance and non-feasance? Was that the reason why Rep. Joker Arroyo, then the gentleman from Makati in the Lower House, did not press for the investigation of then Speaker Manuel B. Villar, whom he charged right on the floor for actions even worse than what Senator Jamby Madrigal has now charged Villar with? Because in 1998, Manuel B. Villar, Speaker of the House by the grace of Joseph Estrada who welched on assurances given to Joker himself, was not yet a presidentiable, or, as Joker puts it, not yet a presidentiality?

Is the right honourable Joker Arroyo saying that presidentialities are above the law, and other presidentialities must forever keep their silence if malfeasance, misfeasance or non-feasance is discovered? Is he suggesting likewise that all senators, because they approved in plenary session of a three-inch thick budget written in small font, are forever embargoed from looking back, and perhaps discover something wrong in the interstices of what they had previously approved? That they must forever hold their peace, no matter what they belatedly discover? If so, then time heals all crime. Is that what the right honourable Joker Arroyo wants now to impress upon students of the law and citizens of this republic?

But what takes the cake for sheer gall, and something I find quite unforgiveable, is when the right honourable Arroyo virtually likens the Senate Committee of the Whole to Military Commission Number 2 which “tried” and sentenced Sen. Ninoy Aquino. “Faced with sure conviction from unfair rules and unfair military judges, Ninoy refused to attend or participate…there is dignity in not attending a trial with built-in rules stacked against you”, Joker, one of Ninoy’s lawyers, now ruminates.

Hey Joker, was Ninoy charged with a corrupt act? Was Ninoy charged with self-dealing? Shame on you to even attempt to use Ninoy in trying to justify the cowardice or guilt, or both, of your fellow-Wednesday Club diner, whom you yourself --- si, Senor Joker, as in usted mismo, charged most vehemently in a privilege speech before your peers in the lower House, on August 17, 1998, “for clear conflict of interest” in his dealings with government agencies as real estate magnate and his sworn responsibilities as a congressman under the laws of the land.

You, Senator Joker, accused then Speaker Villar on August 17, 1998, of making piles of money from housing loans that government provided through the Comprehensive and Integrated Shelter Finance Act of 1994, authored by Rep. Manuel Villar (mismo!), which provided for 5.5 billion pesos to re-capitalize the NHMFC where Villar’s corporations “took out” and monetized future instalments of Pag-ibig loan homeowners. And many, many more. (For more details, read back our column entitled “Queenmaker; Kingmaker?”, published in Malaya on 25 September 2008).

The charges of the right honourable Joker against then Speaker Manny were not investigated, at least not to most everybody’s knowledge. But Joker has remained silent on his own charges against Villar, and now, he dares liken the Senate of which he is a part, of acting like the military tribunal which tried Ninoy Aquino.

Joker was one of Ninoy’s lawyers then. Perhaps our common good friend, Ninoy Aquino shifts restlessly in his grave now, for in the dark night of martial law, he was deprived of the kind of free press access that Manny Villar now uses as forum. But the unkindest cut to the memory of a martyr for democracy is to be placed in the same “hallowed” pantheon of “dignity” as one charged with corrupt practices, by one’s lawyer-friend who has the effrontery to disingenuously use legal parallelisms. Must Ninoy’s memory suffer the indignity of such unseemly simile?

Ini-insulto tayo ni Joker

Akala yata ni Senador Joker Arroyo ay magogoyo niya ang sambayanan. Akalain mong idepensa ang hindi pagkilala ng kaibigan niyang si Sen. Manny Villar sa mga kasamahan sa Senado na nag-iimbestiga ng “conflict of interest” at paglabag sa Saligang Batas patungkol sa pagpapapagaw at paglilihis ng C-5 road extension?

At ang depensa ay nakahihindik --- para daw Military Commission No. 2, na siyang lumitis kay Ninoy Aquino noong panahon ng martial law ang Senate Committee of the Whole. Akalain mo, igagaya pa at ihahalintulad si Manny Villar kay Ninoy Aquino? Senyor Joker, senador, hindi po pinaratangan si Ninoy ng paglabag sa Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Samantalang si Manny Villar, kung masusuri ang ebidensya, ay pwedeng sampahan ng ganyang kaso. At kayo na mismo, Senador Joker, noong kayo ay kinatawan pa lamang ng Makati sa mababang kapulungan, noong hindi pa nagogoyo ang taong ihalal kayo bilang senador, dahil napapaniwala ninyong “uubusin n’yo ang corrupt” at “pag bad ka, lagot ka!”, ay tumindig sa Kamara at inakusahan si noon ay Speaker Manuel Villar nang mga gawaing mas grabe pa kaysa sa mga akusasyon ngayon ni Senadora Jamby Madrigal.

Sa aking kaalaman, hindi naman ninyo pinursigi ang mga grabe ninyong akusasyon laban kay Speaker Villar. Bakit kaya? Dahil ba, batay sa inyong pagdadahilan ngayong dinidepensahan ninyo si Villar, e hindi pa siya “presidentiable” noon? Kapag pala naging “presidentiable” ang isang senador gaya ni Villar, e “exempted” na siya sa pagbusisi ng kanyang nakaraang mga ginawa, lalo na at patungkol sa interes ng sambayanan, o sa pondo ng sambayanan? Ganun po ba? Aba’y di dapat pala mag-deklara na rin si Jocjoc Bolante na tatakbo siyang pangulo.

Siyasatin nga nating mabuti ang mga nagdaang pangyayari. Una, nagsampa ng kaso si Madrigal laban kay Villar noong huling bahagi ng nagdaang taon. Walang kinilos ang Committee on Ethics na noon ay pinamumunuan ni Sen. Pia Cayetano. Nang malipat ang komiteng ito kay Sen. Ping Lacson matapos mapalitan si Villar bilang Senate President ni Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, inanyayahan ni Lacson ang mga taga-minoriya (Villar, dalawang Cayetano, Joker, Kiko Pangilinan at Nene Pimentel) na mag-nombra ng kanilang miyembro. Ayaw nila.

Naglathala ng mga alituntunin ang Ethics Committee, na kung susuriin ay wala namang gaanong pagkakaiba sa mga alituntunin noong nagdaang mga Kongreso. Hindi man lang binasa ng minoriya. Nang umpisahan ang pag-iimbistiga, sa pamamagitan ng pag-determina ng form and substance, biglang umangal sina Pimentel, Joker at Alan Cayetano. Tumindig pa sa Senado si Manny Villar, at nag-deklarang hindi niya kailanman kikilalanin ang Committee on Ethics na pinamumunuan ni Lacson, pero handa raw niyang sagutin ang mga paratang sa kanya “sa harap ng lahat ng mga senador”, sa buong kapulungan ng Senado.

Pinaunlakan siya ni Lacson, at ito mismo ang nagmungkahi sa Senado na ilipat sa Komite ng Kalahatan ang kaso ni Villar, para lamang hindi nito masabing “kinokopong” siya sa Committee on Ethics. Nag-marakulyo na naman si Pimentel, Joker at Cayetano. Kinuwestyon ang mga alituntuning na-aprubahan na. Gayunpaman, dininig sila ni Senate President Enrile at ng komite. Ipinasa ang tatlo o apat sa kanilang mga nais na pagbabago. Nguni’t malinaw na ang nais lamang ay hindi matuloy ang pag-iimbestiga kay Villar, dahil pabalik-balik na lamang sa mga paratang na hindi patas ang paglilitis.

Ayaw pa ring humarap ni Villar. Bago nagkaroon ng hearing ukol sa kung katanggap-tanggap ang ebidensya ni Madrigal, nagpa-field trip pa sa media, kung saan inilihis sila sa kwestyonableng lansangan, at binigyan sila ng press kit kung saan inilahad ang kanyang mga “ebidensya” laban sa akusasyon ni Madrigal. Ipinasa sa akin ang “press kit” na naka power-point format. Tanong ko lang --- may depensa naman pala siya, e bakit hindi ilahad sa kapwa niya mga senador, samantalang siya na mismo, malinaw na malinaw, ang nagsabing “handa siyang sagutin ang mga paratang sa harap ng kapwa senador”? Nguni’t kasabay nang pagputok ng isyung Hayden-Katrina, nag-press conference na naman si Villar at sinabing siguradong siya ay “guilty” sa harap ng mga kasamahan. May kunwa’y “interbyu” pa na scripted, ni Boy Abunda at Villar na ipinaririnig sa radio (para na rin siyang si ‘Tol, natandaan pa ninyo?). Katakut-takot na gastos, samantalang libre naman siyang sabihin ang kanyang panig sa Senadong kinabibilangan niya. At ngayon naman, nagtungo sa Korte Suprema, sa pamamagitan ng mga abogado niyang sina Pimentel at Cayetano, at pilit na pinatitigil ang imbestigasyon.

Punung-puno na tuloy si Enrile, na nauubos na ang pasensya sa mga walang basehang paratang nitong dalawang nag-aabugado kay Villar. Tuloy ay nagiging malinaw na “mukhang guilty nga” itong si Villar, gaya nang sabi ni Cayetano noon patungkol kay GMA at asawang Mike Arroyo. Dahil kung hindi, gaya nga ng sabi ni Sen. Pres. Enrile, harapin niya ang kaso niya.

Kung sabagay, sadya yatang pailalim ang alam na laban ni Manny Villar. Hindi ba’t sa pamamagitan pa ng pagdarasal nang bigla niyang i-impeach si Erap, at ipinalitis sa Senado? At hindi ba’t ang nagturo sa kanya ng pamamaraang ito ay walang iba kundi si Joker Arroyo? At ngayon ay ini-insulto pa ni Joker ang alaala ni Ninoy, na iginagaya niya rito si Manny Villar?

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Each weekend, and many other days in between, we see stories and pictures splashed in the print media about what Thostein Veblen labelled “conspicuous consumption” --- fabulous wedding parties, debutante balls, a celebrity here and there buying a handbag worth more than a million pesos, another sporting diamond bling-blings the cost of which could feed a barangay for an entire year. I remember having in my files an article written by the scholarly daughter of one of Asia’s most respected men, one who transformed colonial backwater so small and with hardly any natural resource, into the economic powerhouse that it is today.

After that article yesterday on dynasts and oligarchs, where our Chief Justice laments the inequitable distribution of wealth and the abysmal poverty of the multitudes of our people, while the economy is controlled by a very few who use proximity to political power to entrench their vested interests, I thought it apropos to share this article with you.

In 2008, in an end-of-year message to the staff of the National Neuroscience Institute, Associate Professor Lee Wei Ling, daughter of Lee Kuan Yew, former president and now fondly called the “Minister Mentor”, wrote:

“Whilst boom time in the public sector is never as booming as in the private sector, let us not forget that boom time is eventually followed by slump time. Slump time in the public sector is always less painful compared to the private sector.

“Slump time has arrived with a bang.

“While I worry about the poorer Singaporeans who will be hit hard, perhaps this recession has come at an opportune time for many of us. It will give us an incentive to reconsider our priorities in life.

“Decades of the good life have made us soft. The wealthy especially, but also the middle class in Singapore , have had it so good for so long, what they once considered luxuries, they now think of as necessities.

“A mobile phone, for instance, is now a statement about who you are, not just a piece of equipment for communication. Hence many people buy the latest model though their existing mobile phones are still in perfect working order.

“A Mercedes-Benz is no longer adequate as a status symbol. For millionaires who wish to show the world they have taste, a Ferrari or a Porsche is deemed more appropriate.

“The same attitude influences the choice of attire and accessories. I still find it hard to believe that there are people carrying handbags that cost more than thrice the monthly income of a bus driver, and many more times that of the foreign worker labouring in the hot sun, risking his life to construct luxury condominiums he will never have a chance to live in.

“The media encourages and amplifies this ostentatious consumption. Perhaps it is good to encourage people to spend more because this will prevent the recession from getting worse. I am not an economist, but wasn't that the root cause of the current crisis - Americans spending more than they could afford to?

“I am not a particularly spiritual person. I don't believe in the supernatural and I don't think I have a soul that will survive my death. But as I view the crass materialism around me, I am reminded of what my mother once told me: 'Suffering and deprivation is good for the soul.'

“My family is not poor, but we have been brought up to be frugal. My parents and I live in the same house that my paternal grandparents and their children moved into after World War II in 1945. It is a big house by today's standards, but it is simple - in fact, almost to the point of being shabby.

“Those who see it for the first time are astonished that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's home is so humble.. But it is a comfortable house, a home we have got used to. Though it does look shabby compared to the new mansions on our street, we are not bothered by the comparison.

“Most of the world and much of Singapore will lament the economic downturn. We have been told to tighten our belts. There will undoubtedly be suffering, which we must try our best to ameliorate.

“But I personally think the hard times will hold a timely lesson for many
Singaporeans, especially those born after 1970 who have never lived through difficult times.. No matter how poor you are in Singapore , the authorities and social groups do try to ensure you have shelter and food.

“Nobody starves in Singapore .

“Many of those who are currently living in mansions and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle will probably still be able to do so, even if they might have to downgrade from wines costing $20,000 a bottle to $10,000 a bottle.. They would hardly notice the difference.

“Being wealthy is not a sin. It cannot be in a capitalist market economy. Enjoying the fruits of one's own labour is one's prerogative and I have no right to chastise those who choose to live luxuriously. But if one is blinded by materialism, there would be no end to wanting and hankering. After the Ferrari, what next? An Aston Martin ? After the Hermes Birkin handbag, what can one upgrade to ?

“Neither an Aston Martin nor an Hermes Birkin can make us truly happy or contented. They are like dust, a fog obscuring the true meaning of life, and can be blown away in the twinkling of an eye.

“When the end approaches and we look back on our lives, will we regret the latest mobile phone or luxury car that we did not acquire?? Or would we prefer to die at peace with ourselves, knowing that we have lived lives filled with love, friendship and goodwill, that we have helped some of our fellow voyagers along the way and that we have tried our best to leave this world a slightly better place than how we found it?

“We know which is the correct choice - and it is within our power to make that choice. In this new year, burdened as it is with the problems of the year that has just ended, let us again try to choose wisely. To a considerable degree, our happiness is within our own control, and we should not follow the herd blindly.”

That is rich Singapore, and the writer is the sister of the current president. Both in turn were raised by former President Lee Kuan Yew into the productive and sensitive citizens that their actions, lifestyle and words amply show.

How different from our benighted land, where the very few who are very rich, and the very few who are excessively privileged by political power, live with utmost insensitivity to the plight of the rest of our countrymen.

The message of this article of Lee Wei Ling is simply so powerful.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oligarchs and dynasts

The Chief Justice laments that the government is beholden to business oligarchs who control the economy of the nation.

In a speech delivered last week to launch the Moral Force Movement in Davao City, Reynato Puno said something that most of us already know, but have become powerless, in this day and age, to do anything about --- that the nation’s wealth has increasingly and inexorably gone to the control of a few people, a few families, a few presidential cronies and favourites. “Government remains beholden to those who control the wealth of the nation”, Puno rued.

“If you have that kind of predicament, we will never have a healthy democratic system. The rich are very few and the poor are the multitude”, the chief justice declared. How so very true.

This space has written several times, that ours is a feudal system, not a real and functioning democracy. Almost like a mantra, we keep lamenting that all we have are the “forms of democracy”, and not the “substance of democracy”, which is the equal opportunity of every citizen, regardless of the poverty of his origins, to rise up and develop, to improve and to progress. That has long been denied “the multitude” by oligarchs in cahoots with powerful politicians. And it gets worse by the passage of time.

Romulo Neri, before he was castrated into the silence of the cowardly, used to deliver lectures against the monopolies who have thrived on regulatory capture. He was then the NEDA Director-General, and he railed against the oligarchs who controlled ports, shipping, air transport, telecommunications, water distribution, power generation, transmission and distribution. Like most free trade economists, he believes in healthy competition, but because government is the regulator of these “strategic” industries and services, the presidency has always been in the pivotal position of regulating in favour of some, to the exclusion oftentimes of the national interest. Even the so-called privatization policy of government, where its strategic assets are sold to the more efficiently-run private sector, has been used as an instrument to favour the few whose proximity to power is converted into the entrenchment of monopolistic privilege.

Who suffers? The consumer, the small businessman, everyone. Small businessmen for instance who find that shipping costs from Davao to Manila are far more expensive than shipping produce from Davao to Korea. Consumers who buy pre-paid cellphone cards where proper accounting of call time versus charges are the exclusive domain of the company.

It is the classic case of “ginigisa sa sariling mantika”. Consumer protection is an oxymoron in a country where hardly anyone cares, whether government or even the abused. The latter probably because they have continually seen how futile it is to complain to a bureaucracy that cannot do anything anyway.

But the other side of the coin, the other side of unbridled, unrestrained and deeply-rooted economic oligarchy is the prevalence of, and entrenchment even, of political dynasties all over the land. The economic oligarchs and the political dynasts reinforce each other in a perpetuating orgy of greed, both in the local communities, as in the national scene.

Look at the map, check out each province against the entrenched political families, and see what I mean. While on a national scale, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is able to cause the interests of her favourites to prosper, whether in the sale of government assets or in the take-over of regulated industries and services, the same holds true in the provinces and cities where a favoured few, mostly relatives and/or cronies, bag the juiciest contracts from the governors and mayors, their heirs and assigns.

If we have Razons and Aboitizes, Cojuangcos and Angs, and a gaggle of other “oligarchs” in control of huge corporations, while perceived “enemies” like the Lopezes find their empires floundering, so too do we have, on a smaller scale, but by the millions still, favoured contractors for anything from badly-paved roads to garbage contracts, courtesy of their friend or family, the mayor or the governor.

Few of these political dynasts are genuinely motivated by public service. The profits and the enlargement of political capital come first; public service is hardly a factor. Let me name some genuine exceptions, though.

Not until I went to far-away Batanes did I realize how a well-meaning political dynasty can nurture a smattering of islands disadvantaged by topography, weather and distance into a thriving community where the people are proud and happy about the state of public services, the environment is kept as pristine as possible, and cultural traditions are proudly preserved. Thanks to the Abad political dynasty. From Butch and Pacita Abad’s father, who was congressman for the longest time, and became for a few years, public works secretary. To Butch himself, who has served as congressman, later briefly as agrarian reform and education secretary, with distinction. From father to son, and briefly to Butch’ wife Dina, the Ivatans had been well-served.

Roads built forty years ago still remain in excellent condition. One could perhaps say that few vehicles pass those roads, but hey, if a corrupt congressman had built that on tongpats-laced pork barrel, he would have built it so badly, because the typhoons would be excuse to ravage them anyway, and re-build once more, for additional tong-pats. Go to Eastern Samar and see the difference.

Another example is Negros Oriental, where a Silliman-influenced community exacts some kind of peer pressure on politicians to behave, at least in Dumaguete and the nearby towns and cities. People do not mind Tuting Perdices re-elected mayor over and over, just as they did his father before him, because they see genuine service and simple living. The same goes for Dr. Emilio Macias Jr. and his father before him, as governor, as congressman, as governor once more despite term limits.

A surprise to this writer is Bukidnon’s Jose Zubiri, who, from the distance of imperial Manila, sounds just like any other trapo, with his son Miguel, a three-term congressman now a senator by the dubious grace of Maguindanao’s Ampatuan and Lintang Bedol (where the hell is he, by the way?). Yet go to Bukidnon, as I did twice last year for private business pursuits, and see how genuinely loved Governor Zubiri is. Barangay farm-to-market roads that reach the top of the mountains are properly cared for by constant grading. Farmers produce reach the markets. And they have community health services that are the envy of the entire nation. So much so that even the Asian Institute of Management has cited Joe Zubiri’s health care programs.

There’s Edward Hagedorn in Puerto Princesa, the capital of beautiful and rich Palawan but his effectiveness stands in stark contrast to the mediocrity of provincial officials and the congressmen they keep electing. Jesse Robredo of Naga City, Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City, controversies about human rights notwithstanding.

Yet look elsewhere and weep at how dynasties have made a thriving business of their politics. Even in the metropolis, you see the same. Right here in Metro Manila, you wonder why citizens seem either unmindful or unable to abate the rapacity of their local officials. Kalookan, for instance, from the old Asistio dynasty to a rigodon of mediocrities, has consistently deteriorated. The same for Pasay, which entrenched an “approachable” but vision-less Pablo Cuneta for forty long years, only to be replaced by another old man with hardly any effort at change or renewal. Standing out in fair contrast is Marikina, thanks to Bayani and his Marides.

Chief Justice Puno is right in saying that the fundamental problems afflicting the country stem from “a lack of morality, the weakness of our ethics, the problem of inequitable distribution of wealth, the problem of poverty and the problem of peace and order”. But these are the same problems that Claro M. Recto and Jose P. Laurel and Jose Wright Diokno and Benigno Aquino Jr. in their time perorated about.

The system does not work. Democracy is a sham. Feudalism, entrenched by dynasts and oligarchs, reign supreme.

And elections, as public opiate, as release for perpetuating disenchantment, merely postpone proper reckoning. Especially because in recent times, the same elections have become farce --- from voter information, to vote-buying, to results manipulation.

Mr. Chief Justice, sir --- it is the system. It sucks. It needs a thorough overhaul, not by constitutional tinkering, but by revolutionary reform.

Hinaing ni Mahistrado Puno

Sa pagsusulong ng kanyang “Moral Force”, isang kilusang ninanais na manumbalik ang mga adhikain at kaugaliang naaayon sa tama, batay sa atas ng konsensiya at ng mga kaugaliang panlipunan na hinubog ng panahon at kasaysayan ng ating lahi, nagsalita kamakailan sa Lungsod ng Dabaw si Punong Mahistrado Reynato Puno ng Kataas-taasang Hukuman.

“Kung ating susuriin ang kayamanan ng bansa, makikitang ito ay kontrolado ng iilang tao…at ang pamahalaan ay hawak sa kamay nitong mga iilang mayayamang mga tao”, pananaw ni Puno. Dagdag pa niya, “Sa ganitong kalagayan, kailanman ay hindi susulong ang demokrasya. Iilang mayayaman ang makapangyarihan samantalang kay dami ng naghihikahos”.

“Ang ganitong kawalan ng katarungan maging sa paghahatian ng ating pambansang kabuhayan ay dala na rin ng kakulangan ng wastong asal, kahinaan ng ugali, at lalaong nagpapalala sa kahirapan at kawalan ng katahimikang panlipunan sa ating bansa”, paliwanag ng punong mahistrado. (Isinalin natin ang winikang Ingles sa Pilipino).

Tama ang pananaw ni Mahistrado Puno. Hindi naman kaila sa mga Pilipino ang ganitong katotohanan. Maski nga si Romulo Neri, na minsang hinawakan ang NEDA bilang kalihim, ay nagsabing an gating ekonomiya ay hawak sa leeg ng iilan, na yumayabong dahil sa ang mga ito ay nagsasamantala sa mga patakaran ng pamahalaan at sa impluwensya sa namumuno ng pamahalaan. Anu-ano ang mga industriyang hawak ng iilang makapangyarihan, na kanilang nakuha at patuloy na pinangingibabawan dala ng impluwensya?

Kuryente, na may tatlong bahagi: ang pag-generate, ang pag-transmit, at ang pagdala sa mga gumagamit (generation, transmission, distribution). Sa power generation, na isinasa-pribado ng pamahalaan, sinu-sino liban sa Napocor, ang siyang nangingibabaw: Aboitiz, Lopez. Sa power transmission, ang nanalo sa diumano’y patas na bidding (patas nga kaya?) noong nagdaang taon ay isang grupong may kasaling korporasyong Tsino, at ang kaibigan ng mag-asawang Arroyo na si G. Ricky Razon. Sa power distribution, ang Meralco, na ngayon ay pinaghatian ng San Miguel ni Danding Cojuangco at Ramon Ang, at ng korporasyong Indones-Pilipino sa pamumuno naman ni Manuel V. Pangilinan, matapos na ibenta ng pamahalaan at ng mga Lopez ang kanilang aring mga sosyo dito.

Telecommunications, kasama ang telepono, cellphone, internet, atbp --- Smart/PLDT/Piltel ng korporasyong Indones-Pilipino ni Manny Pangilinan; Globe ng mga Ayala, kasali ang Singtel ng Singapore; Sun ng mga Gokongwei; at Bayantel ng mga Lopez.

Eroplano: PAL ni Lucio Tan; Cebu-Pacific ni Gokongwei; Air Philippines ni Lucio Tan; Zest-Air ni Alfredo Yao, na diumano’y may kasosyong makakapangyarihan.

Sasakyng pandagat: WG and A ng mga Aboitiz; Montenegro Shipping ng mga balae ni Pangulong Arroyo; Negros Navigation na dating sa mga Ledesma na ngayon ay tila naibenta na.

Distribusyon ng tubig: Maynilad, na dating sa mga Lopez, nguni’t ngayon ay naibenta sa isang grupong pinangungunahan ng mga Consunji; Manila Water ng mga Ayala, at iba’t ibang patubig na kontrolado, sa kani-kanilang lalawigan o rehiyon, ng mga makapangyarihang pulitiko o malalapit dito.

Pagpapatakbo ng mga pantalan o pier: Ricky Razon. Maliit na operator din si Reghis Romero na kilala dahil sa Smoky Mountain project. Sa maliliit na pantalan sa mga lalawigan, hawak ng mga pulitiko o malalapit sa kanila.

Real Estate at Bahayan: Ayala; mga korporasyon ni Sen. Manuel Villar; Megaworld ni Andrew Tan; Robinsons ni Gokongwei; Henry Sy; Filinvest ni Andrew Gotianun; mga Concepcion, Consunji; George Ty ng Metrobank.

Shopping malls, na halos ay kinitil na ang maliliit na negosyanteng nagtitingi: SM ni Henry Sy; Robinsons ni Gokongwei; mga Gaisano sa Bisayas at Mindanao.

Ang tanong: Hindi ba’t kabahagi ng paglaki, at patuloy na pagiging dambuhala, ng mga “oligarkiyang” ito ang lakas at impluwensiya sa mga namumuno sa pamahalaan? Hindi ba’t kaakibat ng mga ito ang mga dinasiya naman sa pulitika, na ginawa na ring malaking negosyo ang pulitika, at hindi serbisyo publiko?

Tama si Puno. Hindi iiral ang tunay na demokrasya sa ganitong sistema.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Villar goes forum shopping

First, Sen, Ping Lacson, as the new chair of the Committee on Ethics, announced the names of the Senate majority who would be members of the committee. Twice he asked the new minority membership to submit their nominees for membership. They refused. Minority Leader Nene Pimentel told Lacson, “Pasensya ka na, but that is the decision of our group”.

Having been so mandated by the Senate plenary, Lacson’s committee proceeded with their task. Sometime in March, they had the rules published in the Official Gazette. After the lapse of proper time, the Senate Ethics committee scheduled a meeting to dispose of cases pending before it. There was a case filed by ex-QC congressman Dante Liban against Senator Dick Gordon, for accepting chairmanship of the Red Cross, and likewise a case filed by Miriam Santiago against Antonio Trillanes, for participation in the November 29, 2007 “mischief” at the Manila Peninsula. And another that wanted to inquire about Sen. Joker Arroyo’s “invitation” of Budget Secretary Nonoy Andaya to participate in an executive session of the Blue Ribbon where Romy Neri eventually “gagged” himself. And there was the celebrated ethics complaint of Sen, Jamby Madrigal against Sen. Manuel Villar for taking undue advantage of his position in order to profit immensely from a public works project the funds of which he himself provided for in various appropriations acts he authored.

Again, the minority refused to participate, and when a draft decision prepared by the committee’s general counsel, finding sufficiency in form and substance to the Madrigal complaint was passed around the day before it was to be promulgated, Villar’s chief acolyte, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano went to town calling it a “pre-judgment”, even a “political rub-out”. Lacson delieverd a privilege speech the following Monday to dispute Pimentel and Cayetano’s criticisms of the conduct of his committee, and Manny Villar, in a rare display of verbal daring, also took to the floor and declared that he would never submit himself to the Ethics Committee, claiming that it was composed of “presidentiables” who wanted to bury political hatchets on his cranium. “But I am willing to answer these on the floor”, he repeated twice in his speech.

Whereupon, the next Monday, Lacson stood on the floor and suggested that since Villar would not submit to the committee he chaired, “but was willing to answer the accusations against him on the floor”, it would be best that the Senate Committee of the Whole, that is, the entire Senate, be the one to investigate Madrigal’s allegations against Villar. He likewise moved that the Committee of the Whole be chaired by the Senate President in order to obviate perceptions of partiality Villar et al tarred him with. And he further moved that the rules of the ethics committee be adopted as the same rules of the Committee of the Whole. By a vote of 10-0-5, the motions were carried. Zero because no one objected, and the five were the faithful of Villar, who was not in the hall, namely, the Cayetano siblings, plus Joker Arroyo, Kiko Pangilinan and Nene Pimentel, who all abstained. Asked to react, Villar called the Committee of the Whole “a bigger kangaroo court”. And “free” media did not protest.

When Senate President Enrile convened the Committee of the Whole, Pimentel, Arroyo and Cayetano questioned the fairness of the rules, yet even if the Senate in plenary had already approved the rules set by the Ethics committee, Enrile allowed the minority to propose revisions to the rules. Some four of their proposed amendments were voted favorably upon, and Enrile thought that the debate was over. He scheduled the preliminary inquiry last Thursday, May 14. Pimentel and Cayetano still made last ditch efforts to question the rules, but Enrile had had enough of the duo’s dilatory tactics, and ruled that the discussion was over, and the rules had been disposed of by the Committee of the Whole. He bade the general counsel to proceed with his stipulation and evidentiary trail of the Madrigal complaint. If the Committee found “probable cause”, as in a fiscal’s investigation, that the complaint was supported by ample evidence, then the adjudicatory process – the trial, could commence. If the charges were unfounded, then the Committee could very well throw away the complaint against one of their own. Fair is fair. The two members of the minority who were present walked out, the other four --- Villar himself, Arroyo, the Cayetano sister, and Kiko Pangilinan, opted not to attend even.

Thus did the general counsel, Atty. Johnmuel Mendoza, ask the private lawyer of complainant Madrigal to present their case. Atty. Ernesto Francisco took the floor, where he charged, among others, that Villar had violated the Constitution by initiating and appropriating funds therefore, as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and later as Senate President, a road project called the C-5 Extension between SLEX and the Coastal Road.

That Villar caused the transfer of the road’s location from one which passed properties of Multinational Village and Amvel Properties of Bro. Mike Velarde, into a nearby location between San Dionisio in Paranaque and Pulang Lupa in Las Pinas. That as a result of which, the road right-of-way payments already paid for by government to the tune of 1.8 billion pesos were wasted, and another round of payments were made.

That of the 36 lots traversed by the new location of the C-5, thirteen lots belonged to corporations owned by the spouses Manny and Cynthia Villar.

That road right-of-way payments made to the Villar corporations amounted to 13, 300 pesos per square meter, while adjacent lot-owners were compensated a mere 1,000 to 4,000 pesos per square meter.

And that through the years 2003 to 2008, Villar had caused the appropriation of monies for the DPWH to construct the said C-5 road passing through is properties, ”including road right-of-way-payments”.

And, I hope I heard right --- that the titles ceded and sold by the Villars to DPWH were annotated by encumbrances, having been foreclosed earlier by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas! Oh my God!

Madrigal’s lawyer presented a map, purportedly from NAMRIA, the government mapping agency, and super-imposed the loci of the two roads, the original route which was abandoned, and the other which has been constructed and opened. The portion from SLEX to Sucat is yet on the drawing board. The new C-5 extension from Sucat to Quirino National Road in Las Pinas is complete, and the distance from the original route in San Dionisio, Paranaque, facing the Amvel property and El Shaddai pyramid is about a kilometer, more or less. After the hearing was suspended, Enrile in an interview described the accusations as “grave”.

Yet right after, out came Alan Peter Cayetano with a different google map, and presented the same before media. “Horrified” that even maps would be tampered with, Madrigal came out on the same network which covered the hearing live, and wondered how google could be out-googled by her colleague. Oh well.

And about an hour or so later, Manuel Villar called for a press conference, where he denied the accusations of wrong-doing leveled by Madrigal.

There is no constitutional bar to owning properties, he claimed, and there is no need to divest. (The constitutional injunction is not on ownership, Mr. Senator; rather, it is in passing a law, and the budget IS a law, where you are directly or indirectly benefited as a result of the passage of that law).

Those are two different roads, he avers. The road that passed through Bro. Mike’s property is a toll road, while his C-5 is free for road users to utilize. (Ah, so! Then how come you did not tell the Committee of the Whole so? And, just wonder what cretins in the DPWH would entice private BOT investors to put up a toll road facility, while less than a kilometer or so away, there is a free six-lane highway? Sinong gago ang dadaan sa toll road at magbabayad? And another wonder --- the C-5 is free from SLEX to Diliman. Why would westward of SLEX, towards the bay, be a toll facility? Doesn’t make sense.)

And finally, Villar said he was willing to bet he would be found guilty, that the Committee of the Whole had already prejudged him. That all these were about the presidential ambitions of his competitors.

In any case, whatever Villar’s arguments in his defense were or would be, why could he not muster the courage to present the same to his peers, “on the floor”, as he once harrumphed? Why did he choose to ventilate the same before the media? Just as he spends hundreds of millions on “paid media” to entice voters to his presidential quest, he now uses “free” media to press his case?

The wonder of it all comes the day after. Lo and behold! Villar’s forum shopping paid off! A particular broadsheet, for one, presented only Villar’s side as gleaned from his press conference, and no mention was made of the official hearing and Madrigal’s presentation of her list of accusations, other than the walk-out of Pimentel and Cayetano. Breathtaking! My, if only the lady who founded that paper were yet alive. But then again, I guess it pays to advertise Camella. And it pays to choose your forum.

Eventually, Villar will run out of media, paid or free, to cry his woes about. As it is, Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile lashed back at him for “denigrating the very institution to which he belongs”. “My God, what does he think of us who are not presidential aspirants, that we are robots? That we are paid hacks of these presidentiables?”

Now let me tell you a story. One senator who “belongs” to the majority who is always absent in every hearing of consequence surprised everyone by his presence. He had a role to play, and that was, to suggest to the Whole, after listening to the accusations of Madrigal’s lawyer, to “just bring the case to the Ombudsman”. But something went awry with his “script”. When Pimentel and Cayetano left the hall, all of Villar’s staff also left the hall, and left the lone senator (their double-agent) to his own mental devices (which are not prodigious), as to when and how to spring his suggestion. He, he, he, natahimik tuloy.

Even the Tribune could not get Villar’s “style of defense”, which is “no different from Gloria and her Malacanang, whenever a Senate probe is focused on her and her husband’s alleged criminal acts. They refuse to heed the Senate summons and refuse to attend hearings (or allow cabinet members to attend), but they hold press conferences to answer the charges. But everyone knows that answering charges via the media sorely lacks one thing: the person, in this case Villar, cannot be challenged on what he says by the panel, or in this case, the Senate.”

Manuel Villar is forum shopping, to borrow from the language of lawyers. But forum shopping, which is not permitted by Philippine judicial rules, is the practice of litigants and their lawyers to get their case heard in the court thought most likely to provide them “fair judgment”. And while media, “paid or free” is not a judicial forum, nor a venue for peer judgment as in the Senate acting as a Committee of the Whole, evidently Manuel Villar and/or his lawyers deem it a more convenient forum. And the Senate to which he belongs, having been duly elected and re-elected to that rarefied circle of two dozen, is an “inconvenient forum”.

When one goes shopping, at least in a Pilipino sense, one looks for bargains. But maybe the supra-affluent Villars do not really shop when they go forum-shopping. They bid, as in an auction. In choosing media as one’s forum, or so wags say, you bargain upwards, as in bidding at an auction. Forum shopping becomes a seller’s market.

Tumatabo, as media wags say. Anyway, there’s more where it came from.

Pintakasi o tupada?

Ayaw sumali sa pintakasi ni Manuel Villar. Kay yaman pa naman niya, at bilyun-bilyon ang kayang isugal para sa pagkandidato, e ayaw lumarga sa pintakasi, nais ay makipaglaro sa tupada.

Kung sadyang magaling ang iyong panabong, at ang kanyang mga sipa at tadyak ay umaalagwa sa ere, aba’y dapat kang humarap sa pintakasi. Andun ang pintakasi sa Senado, kung saan matalim ang mga tari na hinasa laban sa iyo ni Jamby Madrigal. Bakit ayaw ni Villar humarap sa ka-liga niya?

Bakit nagsasasayaw ng kung anu-anong mga patutsada at mga ribote sa harap lamang ng tupada? Tupada ng media? Doon ka mag-esplika, wika nga, sa mga kabaro mong senador, at hindi sa media. Hindi iyung parang naglalako ng listahan ng jueteng ang mga bata mo, na makikipagkindatan sa mga kahina-hinalang media kung paano isusulat ang kanilang mga istorya. At paano ring sisiguruhin na hindi gagalawin ng mga nasa tanggapan ng mga patnugot ang istoryang ayon sa “script”. At kung sakali man na may reporter na iskirol at balansyado ang isinulat, ay aanguluhan ng “tama”, aayusin ng mga nasa tanggapan ng mga patnugot? Halatang-halata naman e.

Binibiro mong mayroon pang malakas na broadsheet, na diumano’y binabasa ng nakararami, kung saan ang buong istorya ukol sa C-5 at Taga ay wala ni anumang kuwento noong nangyari sa opisyal na hearing, liban lang sa walk-out ng dalawang alalay ni Villar? Buong istorya ay batay lamang sa winika ni Villar sa press conference. Ala, e. Halatang-halatang sadya. Maski na siguro ang butihing ginang na nag-umpisa ng broadsheet na ito na pinagpipitaganang taga-lathala na ngayon ay yumao na, e hindi mapakali sa kinahihimbingan.

Ang nagagawa nga naman ng salapi. Lalo na kung galing lamang sa mga gawaing wika nga ni Jamby Madrigal, ay “hindi kaiga-igaya” at “nakahihindik”.

Biro mo nga naman, kung ating paniniwalaan ang sambit ng abogado ni Jamby, na may mga dokumentong iwinawagayway --- Una, may kalsadang nabayaran na ng pamahalaan kay Bro. Mike Velarde ng El Shaddai, pinabayaan at ibinuro, bagama’t 1,8 bilyon na ang nailalagak ni Juan de la Cruz; upang, Ikalawa, ilipat ang kalsadang C-5 sa isang lugar na halos isang kilometro lang ang layo, at mas mahaba ang landasin, upang tumahak sa mga ari-arian ng mga korporasyong pag-aari ng mga Villar. Pangatlo, ang pagkakabayad ay iba-iba, depende sa kung sino ang binabayaran. Kapag timawa ka, isa hanggang apat na libo ang kabayaran sa bawa’t metro kwadrado, pero kung kumpanya ni Villar, aba’y 13, 300 kada metro. Wow na wow!

Pang-apat, at ito’y talagang kahindik-hindik, e nakasanla at nailit na raw ng Bangko Sentral ang mga lupaing nasabi, na naisalya pa sa DPWH! Nakasulat raw sa likod ng titulo ng mga lupain ang “annotation” na ang mga lupang ito ay may “encumbrance”. Paano namang napahintulutan ang ganito?

At ika-lima, nangyari ang mga ito sa panahong senador na ang Manuel Villar, at bilang tagapangulo ng Finance Committee, ay siyang nagpapa-apruba sa kapulungan ng badyet, kung saan nag-singit at nagdagdag ng mga kaukulang salapi para mabayaran ng DPWH ang mga lupain naturan, at maupmpisahan ang construction kung saan makikinabang ang mga lupaing nadaanan.

Nguni’t “paninira lang ito”, wika ni Villar. Hindi iyan iisang kalsadang inilipat, kundi sadyang dalawa”. Kaya raw “pupusta (siya) na guilty siya sa Senado, dahil puno ito ng mga presidentiables”. At ang kanyang solusyon?

E di sa media humarap, doom magsalita at hindi sa tunay na korte --- ang kanyang mga kasamahan sa Senado.. Sa wikang Ingles, apela sa “court of public opinion”. Kanya lang, katotohanan ang hanap ng “court of public opinion”. At kung hindi ka haharap sa pintakasi, sa malaon at madali, mabibisto ng taong-bayan, na pang-tupada ka lang pala.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Magical, enchanting Loboc

When you’re feeling depressed and need to get your mind off personal problems or problems of the benighted state, or when you just want to get out of the dreadful metropolis of smog and traffic and ugly billboards, hop into a Tagbilaran-bound flight. There are now seven of them each day, PAL, Cebu-Pacific and Zest-Air. Ten years back, there was but one flight, and it wasn’t even daily.

And if there is any president who could truly be considered pro-tourism, it must be Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Not only does she travel so often, and how! To her eternal credit (O ayan, may sinulat na akong maganda. Some readers twit me for having nothing good to say about Dona Gloria), and I’ve seen it with my own eyes, she has pushed for tourism like no other president since Ferdinand Marcos appointed the late, and well-loved “Sunshine Joe” Aspiras. Over the past few months, I have been to Batanes, Palawan and Bohol, all of which are tourist destinations. And Gloria has prioritized the kind of infrastructure that tourism badly needs, in these provinces at the very least.

I am sorry if I will not give her full credit for Boracay. The improvements that have made that island’s carrying capacity quintuple in the Gloria years (from 120,000 in Ramos’ last year to 630,000 visitors last year) were a continuum from FVR and Erap. My predecessor Ed Joaquin at the PTA, along with then DOT Secretary Mina Gabor started the water and sewerage system projects for Boracay. I implemented these, and managed to get further Neda-IC approval for a solid waste management facility, all funded by the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (formerly OECF). These were inaugurated during the time of Dona Gloria, with hold-over PTA GM Nixon Kua, my successor at PTA, opening the gate valves along with Dona Gloria. Management of these facilities have been mangled by Kua’s successor, and now, PTA has sold the assets to the private sector. But that’s a long story.

I mention Boracay as an example because it was the cooperation of the national and local governments during the Erap regime that resulted in not a few infrastructure projects which the PTA, the DPWH, as well as the DOTC jointly undertook with the full funding support of President Estrada. Then Governor Joben Miraflores of Ibajay even deputized a common friend, Art Alejandrino, a Pampango whose wife is from Kalibo, to push and push for Boracay in these agencies. As a result, and in a frenzy of construction, we got DPWH to widen and improve the road from Kalibo to Malay, DOTC to construct jetty ports in Malay (Caticlan) and the nearest tip of Boracay, enlarge the Kalibo airport terminal, and eventually lengthen its runway, while PTA went full steam on the water and sewerage projects. (I went as far as lobbying in Malacanang for the shift of the Panay International Airport from Sta. Barbara in Iloilo to Kalibo in Aklan, but then Senate President Franklin Drilon prevailed). Governor Joben, now lone district representative and I discussed even more plans, but Erap’s presidency was cut short.

I made that long digression to highlight what has happened to Bohol, where my good friend Nonoy Torralba, one-term governor during the time of President Cory, laid out all the development plans, including the financial feasibilities, that would turn his beloved province into the bustling tourism destination that it now has become. Succeeding governors, my friend Rene Relampagos and the incumbent and soon-to-retire Erico Aumentado, to their credit, faithfully lobbied with whoever was in Malacanang, to pursue Nonoy’s plans. The plans and their implementation, in fairness, were given full support by President Gloria.

So off I went weeks ago, upon the invitation of a friend, to a short working visit to Tagbilaran, followed by a day and two nights of tourist pleasure. Now let me tell you about a town called Loboc.

Forty minutes away from the airport by land, past historic Baclayon and the seafood eateries of Albuquerque (which Boholanos irreverently shorten to Albor), thence the small town of Loay where the Loboc River meets the Bohol Sea that fronts Northern Mindanao to its south, is the quaintly charming town of Loboc.

I have been to Loboc twice before --- first on an inspection trip bound for the Corella tarsier sanctuary that the PTA supported, and the Chocolate Hills where we were incorporating plans at the time. Then, smitten by Bohol, I once brought my family for a private weekend, and took a lunchtime river cruise along the Loboc River. It was nice, relaxing, but very far from the Loboc River experience I had last.

Loboc is also famous for its children’s choir --- angelic voices almost as good as the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the difference not being a shortage of talent, but a far lesser measure of public support, and a dearth of real marketing effort.

It is also rather notorious for a genuine “bridge to nowhere”, a span constructed by obvious dolts during the Marcos reign, where one end began on a bank of the river, with the final destination aimed straight at the centuries-old Loboc parish church. Residents were horrified at the travesty, but the DPWH went on, insisting that it was the church which ought to be demolished to give way to their contraption. Mercifully, good sense and the Cory presidency stopped would-be demolition.

My friend told me we would be dining at the Loboc River. Yes, dining, at seven in the evening. And indeed, that was possible now, for a Loboc River cruise is now day and night, and oh, what a magical and enchanting experience a night along the river is.

First off, you board the rafts on a well-organized system in a modern, Balinese-inspired terminal equipped with spic-and-span restrooms (would that they always remain as spotless). Nimble foot or clumsy foot, you need not worry at getting soaked as you board your numbered raft. The concrete banks become easy steps which usher you into waiting bamboo and wooden rafts. After a sumptuous dinner, the raft begins to move, and you get enthralled by beautifully, tastefully emplaced and wonderfully colored orbs of light emanating from the coconut and tree-lined banks of the river. There is green and yellow up-lighting and softly colored blue, purple and orange transforming the banks of the river into a dreamy landscape. Believe me, nothing can be more enchanting. None of the garish China backyard-made uglies that dot the once-beautiful City of Manila, or the diamond-shaped and outer-space kitsch that the mayors of ever-ugly Pasay and newly-ugly Paranaque have made of the once-upon-a-time famous boulevard by the bay.

Then you stop by a makeshift bamboo pier, where a group of some forty youngsters of various ages, helped by a few old ladies in native garb, serenade you with Visayan ditties and an occasional English song, with ukelele’s, guitars, and handmade bamboo percussion accompaniments. So very honest entertainment, so very clean fun, so very sincere hospitality.

And finally you reach the small waterfalls, rightly but not brightly spotlighted, as if unwilling to disturb the nocturnal creatures, be they birds or insects, whose natural habitat the river’s banks are. The boat turns back after a 2.8 kilometer upriver drive and some forty minutes of sheer magic. Only to discover that the good mayor of Loboc has another surprise for his guests. In a small but well-equipped hall within the river cruise terminal compound, the Loboc Children’s Brass Band was set to perform for us! (Yes, the children’s choir has expanded to three groups, voice and band). Young kids, male and female, from seven to perhaps fifteen, performed on stage some twenty musical numbers with a rousing New York, New York finale that got the small audience stomping its feet in absolute delight.

Now let me tell you how all these came about. Because it is a story of one man’s vision and determination, and how he harnessed good souls and a proud townspeople to rally behind that vision.

Leon A. Calipusan was a small businessman in 2004 when his constituents elected him mayor of Loboc. This is the second year of his second term. But as soon as he became mayor, he was enthused with a vision of beauty for his native town. The river cruise, its main attraction only because Lobocanons kept their river clean and preserved the trees and foliage along its banks, was about his only natural resource.

And then came a good man, my friend Carlos Chan and his family. Plain tourists when they went to Loboc, they soon decided to put their money where their heart truly melted. With Calipusan enthusiastically rallying folk labor, the Chans lighted the banks in such tasteful manner, with their private funds. Carlos, patriarch of the clan that parlayed their father’s original Liwayway gaw-gaw (cornstarch) business into an empire that now produces the Asia-famous Oishi snacks, with sixteen factories in China, and a few more in Vietnam, plus the headquarters in Pasay and Cavite, undertook the lighting project simply out of an appreciation of natural beauty and friendly townsfolk.

The Balinese-inspired boat quay and terminal was also tastefully designed by a Zobel-commissioned architect, and Carlos Chan likewise donated the pavilion where the Loboc Children perform their world-class recitals.

I am sure Carlos or his son, my friend Larry sourced the orbs and lights from China, where he has been appointed special envoy extraordinaire for investment promotion, but hey, these are private funds, and no tong-pats adorn their acquisition. You see, in this country, the more garish, the more tasteless, the greater the tong-pats likely have been. Just look at Pandacan and Paco, Nagtahan and Roxas Boulevard and its recent additions to tastelessness, and weep the cry of otherwise proud and cultured residents of the once-beautiful pearl of the Orient!

Mayor Leon Calipusan got his townsfolk, “bayanihan” style, to donate their labours, and have gotten their strict cooperation at preserving and maintaining Carlos Chan’s gifts.

“Who pays for the electricity and the upkeep of the terminal?”, I asked the genial and oh so humble mayor of Loboc. “The municipio”, he proudly beamed, and then explained --- “when we took over, the LGU’s income from the river raft rides was a mere 600,000 pesos a year. You see, for a standard fee of 300 pesos per passenger, the municipal government gets 50 pesos. Last year (2008), the municipio’s share was 18 million pesos. I expect to surpass 20 million this year, even more”. The Saturday that we were there, Mayor Leon asked the terminal manager how much the day’s income was, and it was 120,000 pesos!

Now what happened to that “bridge to nowhere”? Mayor Leon has converted it into a well-lit hanging-garden type of park, from where residents could do a leisurely paseo, and the municipio rents it out also for outdoor parties, al fresco.

Once before, Vicente “Ting” Paterno, former BOI Governor, former Trade and Public Works minister, former senator, a gentleman of the old school who rues at how the beloved land has become so benighted through the years, remarked before us that “there are gems of good leadership in the local governments.”

Leon A. Calipusan is one such gem. Lucky are the people of Loboc, with their children’s talents and their pristine environment, that they chose the best among them, to lead them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Would you bet on Erap?

Thursday last week, a favourite cabinet official of former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada motored to the residence of a Catholic charismatic lay leader. They were after all neighbours in an exclusive, gated subdivision in the southern periphery of the national capital region. Together they proceeded to a meeting with the former president who in his prime was quite close to the charismatic figure.

The former president declared before his “spiritual adviser” that he had decided to run for re-election, or another election as he distinguishes it. The lay leader said “hindi ka papasa sa Supreme Court”. For some time, both non-lawyers debated constitutional law, with the former cabinet official, also a non-lawyer, just listening intently.

Erap showed the lay leader a pile of “legal opinions” from a law dean and a retired jurist. Both had achieved high positions in the past. Both left records quite undistinguished of lasting legacy or even erudition. But, they supported the desire of the former president to run once more for the highest post in the land, and assembled arguments in support of a 50-50 chance that another run for the same post would be constitutionally allowed. Yet all those arguments come down to an iteration of the legal maxim of “vox populi, vox Dei”. The voice of the people is the voice of God.

The trick lies in the timeline within which the Comelec and the Supreme Court decide whether or not an Erap re-run is constitutionally infirm. Erap’s legal minds posit that when the High Tribunal sees an avalanche of votes, especially from those my friend Tony Abaya calls the “screaming masa”, the Court is likely to recoil in holy terror, and not rule as immediately as they ought an open and shut case. It should then be overtaken by events, by “vox populi”, which should then make any decision of the tribunal mooted by a political event, which is the victory of then president, and the president-once-more.

Lay leader was on a betting mood. “Pupusta ako hindi ka lulusot sa Supreme Court. Agad-agad magdi-declare ang korte na hindi ka pwedong tumakbo --- that it would be unconstitutional”, the lay leader flatly stated to the disappointed president who once honoured the lay leader publicly as his “spiritual adviser”.

“Gusto mo, ganito”, lay leader added. “Kapag kumandidato ka, at hindi ka na-disqualify ng Comelec at Supreme Court, susuportahan kita. I will endorse you”.

“Pero, pagna-disqualify ka, you will throw your support behind my presidential candidacy”, lay leader dared the former president, his once “spiritual” ward. “Bakit, tatakbo ka rin ba?”, Erap asked.

“Oo”, came the quick reply. “So, if we both run and you are disqualified, you will withdraw and throw your support behind mine. If the Court sustains you, or makes no decision, I will endorse you instead”, the lay leader proposed.

“Call”, Erap reportedly said.

* * *

Would such a scenario come to pass? The lay leader seemed mighty pleased as he recounted his story to others. As I have not had a serious discussion about anything with President Erap since his pardon by GMA, I do not know his version of the “politically spiritual” encounter last week.

It does look like Bro. Mike Velarde is seriously contemplating a presidential run. Why, with Noli, Loren, Villar, Chiz, Ping, Mar, Jojo, Bayani, Dick, Gibo, Among Ed, Manny Pangilinan, Ephraim Genuino, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, and Erap signifying their intent to seek the presidency, why not throw himself into the fray as well? Assuming there are six or seven candidates, as in 1998 and 1992, Bro. Mike’s long shot might be numerically feasible. And what if he wins his bet with Erap?

* * *

Erap may have been trapped into agreeing to Bro. Mike Velarde’s dare, but my guess is he will indeed declare for the presidency, whether on November 30, if the automation program pulls through, or in the first week of February 2010, assuming the same manual system is adopted by the Comelec.

Last Tuesday night, while appearing before Pia Hontiveros’ ANC institution, Strictly Politics, a listener asked the question, “What will the many opposition candidates do if Erap runs?” I answered that Erap’s running is already factored into the decision of many candidates to run nevertheless. My co-panelist, Chito Gascon agreed, stating that the Liberal Party does not take whatever Erap does into its consideration of political moves.

Erap, I noted there, keeps mouthing the blarney that he would run “if the opposition will not unite behind a single candidate”, yet he himself throws his hat and comports himself more like a candidate than the others in the field of “oppositionists”. By positing himself in the picture, he ensures that the opposition will not “unite”, as if that unity in itself, given the circumstances, is not oxymoronic.

What will prune down the list are two and only two factors --- popularity (as measured by Pulse Asia and SWS, as well as candidates’ in-house pollsters) and pesos. The latter also makes it possible to ratchet up popular perception. More advertisement, in this hopelessly low-brow perception game, equals higher popularity rating. Until perhaps the 90-day campaign period, when hopefully voters will think better, and discern more. Hopefully.

But will Erap pursue his candidacy to the end? Again, barring an open-and shut case decision by the High Tribunal, which should end his quest short, Erap would look at the ratings game himself. He has been a serious believer in surveys, by his own admission, since the time he first ran for public office, as mayor of the municipality of San Juan. His brother-in-law, Dr. Raul de Guzman of the UP College of Public Administration (now NCPAG), exerted such scientific influence on him, at a time when opinion polls were not as in as today.

Would Erap in his comeback “movie” get the same “screaming masa” adulation at the tills? I do not believe so.

In much the same manner that there is a prevailing sentiment that asks “Wala na bang iba?”, “Is there no one else?” when people view the landscape sans Erap, all the more will even the lowest in the social structure think twice about a president who’s been there, done that, and blew it.

Sure there are the faithful, the “loyalists” --- just as Ferdinand Marcos, after all of two decades still has. But pity for a fallen idol can only go so far.

Yet the value of an Erap endorsement, given to a congruent candidate whose numbers in the campaign are respectable enough, could perhaps spark a bandwagon for the endorsed. And that is what the former president, in my esteem, will parlay his candidacy into. He will pre-empt even a Supreme Court decision that would be unfavourable to him, and at the right moment, swing in favour of someone.

If that candidate wins, Erap’s image as kingmaker shines. He can ride into the sunset, his dreamt people’s vindication sufficiently satisfied.

But would he listen to reason, from persons who think of country first, and his place in the polity second, his personal vainglory last? It is time perhaps, Mr. President Erap, to introspect, sans your fawning courtiers, and those advisers whose be-all and end-all is just drooling over conjured prospects of “happy days are here again”.

Isyu ng hurisdiksyon

Noong Lunes, matapos ang halos apat na oras na pagdinig at pagdi-debate, nagpasya ang mga senador, bilang Committee of the Whole na siyang umangkin sa hurisdiksyon ng Senate Committee on Ethics, ayon na rin sa panukala ng taga-pangulo nitong si Senador Panfilo M. Lacson, na tapusin na ang mga alituntunin o regla ng kanilang pag-iimbestiga.

Ang pinakamainit na pinag-debatehan ay ang isyu ng hurisdiksyon. Sa malinaw at maikli, ang nais ni Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, ay i-limita ang hurisdiksyon ng Senado o Committee of the Whole, sa mga nagawa ng isang senador mula lamang sa kanyang huling pagkakahalal. Sa madaling salita, ang pwede lamang imbestigahan, ayon kay Cayetano, ay ang mga nagawa ni Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. mula noong muli niyang pagkakahalal noong 2007. Ano man ang kanyang pagkakasala, kung mayroon man, noong una niyang termino bilang senador, ay hindi raw dapat imbestigahan.

Ang pananaw naman ng mayoriya, na siyang napagdesisyunan sa pamamagitan ng botohan noong Lunes, ay anumang pagkakasala, kung mayroon man, o akusasyon na dapat imbestigahan, ay sakop ang mga ginawa ng nasasakdal mula nang siya ay maging senador ng bansa. Si Manuel Villar Jr. ay nahalal na senador noong 2001, at dapat daw siyang ma-imbestigahan kapag ang akusasyon laban sa kanya ay nangyari mula nang siya’y maupo bilang senador.

Ang ganitong pananaw ay batay sa katotohanang ang Senado ay isang “continuing body”, hindi tulad ng mabababng kapulungan na tuwing tatlong taon ay nababakante lahat ng mga pwesto. Ang paghalal sa labindalawang senador kada tatlong taon ay hindi nagpapatigil sa Senado bilang kapulungan, at mayroon pa ring labindalawang miyembro na nagpapatuloy ng Senado habang inihahalal naman ang kalahati pa. Liban dito, administratibo lang ba ang pagkakasala, kung mayroon man, o tahasang paglabag sa Saligang Batas, o di kaya’y sa anti-graft law, na criminal at hindi administratibo?

Ang argumento kasi ni Cayetano ay kung ano man ang pagkakamali o paglabag sa batas na nagawa ni Villar noong una niyang termino mula 2001 hanggang 2007, ay napawalang-saysay na ng pagkakapanalo niyang muli noong 2007. Sa madaling salita, dahil inihalal siyang muli ng bayan, nahusgahan na siya at napawalang-sala. Ang problema sa argumentong ito ni Cayetano, liban sa isyu ng “continuing body”, ay ito --- alam ba ng sambayanan ang pagkakasala ni Villar, kung mayroon man, bago siya inihalal na muli noong 2007? Nang madiskubre ang double insertion ay Septyembre ng 2008. Nang sabihin ni Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. na “congressional insertion” ang pangalawang 200 milyon ay 2008 na rin. Nang aminin ni dating Finance Committee Chairman at ngayon ay Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, batay sa mga records, na si Manny Villar ang siyang humingi ng karagdagang 200 milyon ay sa isang hearing ng Senado noong 2008 na rin. At nang madiskubre at ilahad ni Senadora Jamby Madrigal ang mga dokumentong naglalaman ng pakikialam ni Sen. Villar sa paglilipat ng lokasyon ng C-5, maging sa pamimili ng lupaing daraanan ng inilipat na kalsada, ay Septyembre ng 2008.

Sa madaling salita, paano malalaman ng bayan, at magiging base sa kanilang paghatol, ang isyu ng C-5 noong 2007, e hindi pa ito nadidiskubre at nailalahad? Bulaan ang pinangangalandakan ngayon ng mga kaalyado ni Villar sa Senado, na pati raw mga nagawa ng isang senador noong siya’y teen-ager pa e maaring busisiin ayon sa alituntuning ipinasa noong Lunes. Ang sakop ay malinaw --- mula nang maging senador, at hindi kung ano pa man ang nagawa nito bago siya naging senador.

Dahil dito, maaring lumusot si Senador Villars a Commoitte of the Whole para sa kanyang mga nagawa noong 1995, habang siya ay miyembro pa ng mababang kapulungan, o maski pa noong 1998, nang siya ay basbasang Speaker ni Pangulong Estrada. Halimbawa, ang mga paratang ni Senador Joker Arroyo mismo, sa harap ng Kamara mismo, sa isang privilege speech noong Agosto 1998, kung saan pinaratangan niya si Speaker Villar ng mas grabe pang mga akusasyon kaysa sa mga akusasyon ngayon ni Senadora Jamby Madrigal --- ang mga ito ay maaring hindi saklaw ng Senado ngayon, dahil congressman pa siya, at hindi senador noong panhong iyon. Nguni’t walang ginawa ang Kamara na pinamumunuan ni Villar, mismo. At hindi naman pumalag si Arroyo, na ngayon ay masugid na alalay pa ni Villar. Lusot? Oo, sa Ethics, o sa Committee of the Whole na siyang sumakop sa Ethics Committee. Pero hindi sa Ombudsman, at hindi sa ibang komite o investigating bodies, ng ehekutibo o ng lehislatura.

Sa konting pananaw ng pitak na ito, lalo lamang magtataka ang sambayanan kung bakit ayaw na lang harapin ni Villar ang mga paratang sa kanya ni Madrigal. Kung totoong wala siyang sala, e di pabulaanan na lamang niya ang mga akusasyon, at hindi itong tago nang tago sa saya ng mga kapwa senador at sa pagsisinungaling ng mga isyu, at pagbabaluktot ng mga patakaran.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Defining who are “opposition”

Last Friday, we analyzed the claims of three major “presidentiables” as oppositionists. Let us continue with the rest.

There is Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati. From Day One of the Arroyo presidency, Binay steadfastly remained in the ranks of the opposition. When the storm troopers of Ronaldo Puno tried to arrest him on the basis of a suspension order for some graft charge hurled by his local nemesis, Bobby Brillante, Mayor Binay resisted, with residents and supporters surrounding his City Hall. Puno blinked, and the Court of Appeals later issued an injunction.

In successive elections from 2001 to 2007, Makati stood behind the national candidates of the opposition, and midway through the presidential run of FPJ, Binay was named campaign manager. Perhaps if the mayor had run the show earlier, opposition unity could have been achieved. When the Hello Garci controversy erupted in the middle of 2005, Makati became the open city for street protests; Manila, the previous capital of dissent then being under GMA supporter, Lito Atienza. Since then, Binay has become a respected leader within the splintered opposition.

The Hello Garci scandal was watershed that defined who were truly opposition and who would later masquerade as such.

During the Marcos era, there were very few who defied the strong arm of the dictatorship. Most of the resistance was waged in the hills, by the organized left as well as the Muslim secessionists in Mindanao. Politically, the first test of defiance was the Laban campaign of 1978, when Ninoy Aquino led the 21-man opposition slate for the Interim Batasang Pambansa from a prison cell. Just once during the campaign period was he interviewed by a gaggle of pro-Marcos media persons, and broadcast live. Ninoy’s performance electrified the metropolis both in the intensity of his defiance and the depths of his knowledge. Because of that singular interview, the electorate was sufficiently fired up such that on the eve of the farcical elections, thousands lined up the streets and banged pots and pans, while cars and jeepneys blared their horns in a noise barrage like no other. The dictatorship was shaken, but it still cheated the opposition, with Imelda Romualdez Marcos herself heading a clean sweep where virtual unknowns trumped even Ninoy.

But as fate would have it, the public slumped back into a mixture of fear and resignation after the May 1978 elections, and the real watershed came when Ninoy returned from exile on August 21, 1983. He was murdered on the tarmac, and the nation’s conscience was shocked, its spirit of resistance unleashed. Ninoy was brought to his mortal resting place in Paranaque after a 10-hour funeral procession that was accompanied by a million people, with millions more lining up the streets of the national capital region. From that point on, anyone who openly showed defiance by joining street protests and organizing groups demanding a return to democracy, was legitimately opposition. Signal victory came when a third of the regular Batasang Pambansa was won by the opposition, punctuated by an almost clean sweep of Metro Manila, where even members of the Marcos cabinet were roundly trounced by under-funded men and women running purely on grit.

Yet all these culminated only in the snap elections of 1986, where a Cory Aquino-Doy Laurel tandem won the hearts of the population, particularly in the urban areas where Marcos’ command votes held little sway. Marcos minions padded the votes in Northern Luzon, Mindanao, parts of the Visayas even, but Cory refused to accept electoral defeat. Days of February tension ended when Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Valdez Ramos led a mutiny that was to be memorialized in history as the first people power revolt.

I digress too much, though. I always find it difficult to stem the mental rush of history where I was an active participant. Back to the contemporary, I always mark the Hello Garci episode as the point where one drew the line between oppositionists to, and collaborators of --- the present regime. Anyone who could stomach a lying, cheating and stealing regime by keeping silent and “neutral” during the time Hello Garci’s revelations exploded into the national consciousness is an Arroyo collaborator. Those who drew the line, those who resigned, and those who demanded GMA’s resignation, I consider bona-fide opposition.

Thus do I view the Liberal Party led by Frank Drilon and Mar Roxas, who, when push came to shove, when conscience ought prevail, drew the line between continued collaboration and trenchant opposition. Recall that Drilon was Senate President in 2005, and Mar Roxas, who was Gloria’s secretary of trade between 2001 and 2004, won as first-term senator under her ticket. Similarly do we view the Hyatt Ten --- Dinky Soliman, Ging Deles, Emy Boncodin, Mely Nicolas, Butch Abad, Johnny Santos, Rene Villa, Cesar Purisima, Bert Lina and Willie Parayno. They drew the line, when enough was enough.

The call for GMA’s resignation in the wake of the cheating scandal also splintered the Liberal Party, between those who took Drilon’s lead, and those who remained loyal to their Dona Gloria, principally Lito Atienza of Manila, now DENR secretary, Mike Defensor, who lost miserably in 2007, and a gaggle of congressmen led by the quintessential wheeler-dealer, Danilo Suarez of Quezon’s poorest district. Given this line of distinction, the Roxas-Drilon wing of the Liberal Party are justifiably “oppositionist” while the Atienza-led wing is definitively administration.

The Nacionalista Party of Manny Villar is something else though. The Cayetano siblings present a queer case. Alan Peter, was re-elected as congressman of Taguig-Pateros under GMA’s banner, as was his elder sister, Pia, who won as senator also under her wings. When Hello Garci erupted, Alan joined the vociferous minority in the House who called for impeachment. But sister Pia remained with Lakas and claims now to be “independent”. Similarly, Manuel Villar never did call for GMA’s resignation, perhaps afraid that he might lose his chairmanship of the powerful Finance Committee, or that he might lose his chance at the Senate presidency she promised him under a term-sharing deal with Drilon. But Rep. Cynthia Villar of Las Pinas joined the signatories to the impeachment complaint against Gloria. Nimble brinkmanship indeed.

Ping Lacson is inarguably the biggest thorn that continually pricks at the Arroyos. He ran as senator after Edsa Dos and after resigning as PNP chief. He was incessantly vilified and politically framed-up by the agents of the Arroyos, from the late Wycoco of the NBI, to Victor Corpuz and his clowns --- Rosebud, Mawanay, what have you, and of late, by Raul Gonzalez and his jokers. But Lacson has withstood their barrage of black propaganda, and has dished out expose after expose against the culture of corruption that is the Arroyo regime personified.

He began with the Pacifico Marcelo telecoms case, then segued into the sensational discovery of the fictitious bank accounts of Jose Pidal. He brought out the gory details of the Hello Garci cheating conspiracy, the involvement of the Arroyo males in jueteng operations, and laid bare the use of bolantic fertilizers in the 2004 campaign. He delivered the privilege speech that opened wide the salacious details of the NBN-ZTE deal that was aborted as a result. No one can lay claim to being more of an oppositionist than the senator from Cavite.

But Erap and the FPJ loyalists cannot seem to forgive him for not giving way to the movie king when he wanted to become president in 2004. Yet all that Lacson needed from the high priests of the “opposition” in 2004 was to be treated with respect. They disdained his legitimate ambitions and treated him like dirt. Media floated a dream ticket of FPJ-Ping, but that was only in media. The LDP of Edong Angara pushed Lacson out and insisted on an FPJ-Loren tandem, and even Erap kept quiet, interested only in the “winnability” of his FPJ, never mind principles, never mind competence, never mind character.

In the five one-on-one meetings that FPJ and Ping had, and I was privy to all, FPJ never once offered the vice-presidency to Ping. At the second meeting, he said that it would be demeaning to both of them to talk about the vice-presidency because each had already launched their respective presidential campaigns. “Siguro mas mabuting magpatuloy na muna tayo, kanya-kanya, pero magpatuloy tayo sa pag-uusap”, FPJ suggested. The meeting before that, held on November 18, 2003 at the Poe residence and arranged by mutual friends, led to an agreement to have a convention, or at least some process of democratic choice, to determine who between them should be the standard-bearer of the opposition. That never materialized, because Poe was prevailed upon by his handlers to make a unilateral announcement of his quest at a Manila Hotel press conference a week later.

In their fourth meeting, arranged by businessmen-friends, the chief finance officer of FPJ made the mistake of first conveying to Ping the morning before the meeting that they were willing to commit the following: full reimbursement of expenses already spent by the Ping campaign group, plus a cabinet post of his choice and a few more for Ping’s recommendees, plus the assurance that he would be endorsed by President FPJ for the presidency in 2010. Ping resented the transactional approach. No talk about self-sacrifice, no talk about shared visions, just real politik. As I described Lacson in a previous article, he is an “atypical” politician. FPJ’s chief finance officer, businessman that he is, was in the mood to talk turkey and trimmings, not knowing the character of Lacson. In a text response, Lacson replied that he was not about to lose his self-respect and was not for sale. The decent FPJ, in the meeting which nevertheless pushed through, absent the rejected businessman, disclaimed knowledge of any transactional approach.

Only on April 28, twelve days before Election Day, did any headway in the unification talks materialize, and only because Jojo Binay, who as a crusading lawyer in the anti-Marcos efforts knew better parlance and better manners than pure transaction, and Ronny Zamora, who knew Ping Lacson better than the trapos who surrounded Poe, led the way to a solution. But that solution, agreed upon by both Poe and Ping, were sabotaged by the trapos allied with Poe. The whole story is enough to fill a book. Unfortunately, FPJ died of a broken heart, and only he, Zamora, Binay, Butz Aquino, myself and JV Ejercito in whose house that final meeting took place, know the real truth. I will not today mention the name of a trapo who also had personal knowledge of that meeting, as he is now in the employ of Gloria.

So there you are, as far as this writer judges: on the side of the administration --- Gilbert Teodoro, Noli de Castro, Bayani Fernando, possibly Richard Gordon. And for the opposition, in the order of their genuine credentials --- Ping Lacson, Jejomar Binay, Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, Mar Roxas. As for Manny Villar, he is what his lawyer-friend, Nene Pimentel should know deep inside but could not publicly admitt, as “pseudo-opposition”. Which is why his recent trip to Spain with wife Cynthia was rumoured, and credibly posited, to be an attempted meeting with Dona Gloria somewhere close to the Mediterranean, north coast or south coast, only two businessmen knew, the ones who supposedly arranged what Senadora Jamby called “une rendezvous mauvais”.

How then should we view Erap Estrada, the “titular head of the opposition”, as Jojo Binay continually describes the former president. Ah! Erap deserves sui generis treatment.

* * *

Last weekend, in a friend’s house-warming fete, I met my Tagaytay neighbour, jolly fellow FVR, the president who like Cory served full elected terms after Marcos, and he admonished me to “keep writing about 2010”, as he is more into “thinking about the prospects of the next generation”. At age 81, the former president, still hale and hearty, tobacco and cognac (although he sipped red wine like the rest of us) notwithstanding, spoke with authority on a lot of developmental prospects.

We did not have occasion to talk politics. Perhaps, when cognac is served, and in the evening, s’il vous plais, with cafĂ© a la barack.