Monday, August 31, 2009

An Erap redux?

On January 8 this year, I began a series on ten presidential wannabe’s, beginning with Joseph Ejercito Estrada, which I entitled “The Hamlet Act”. It has been almost 8 months since that article was printed on this space. Let me reprint an abbreviated version of the same:

Quote the Bard of Avon, “To be or not to be, that is the question” in his well-read Hamlet. For Joseph Ejercito Estrada, dispossessed 13th president of the Republic, that translates into: “To run or not to run, that is the question”.

The ostensible reason behind a run is the threat that if the opposition does not unite, he himself will run. Anybody with two cents worth of political experience knows that the opposition is not going to unite behind one candidate in 2010, and Erap’s premise is ipso facto and ab initio defunct. And the man knows it, but, “just like in the movies”, he has to dissemble.

He has increasingly made his decision to run known to almost every person he has privately talked with. He has moved around the country, in what he bills as “lakbay-pasasalamat” meanderings, because he is “giliw na giliw” with his adoring masa, and the curious throngs that greet him are in turn spun off as “sabik na sabik” for the return to the presidency of the fallen leader. But for the fact that he is not FPJ, an entertainment columnist could as well call an Erap redux as “Ang Pagbabalik ni Panday”. It would be well nigh political sacrilege, at least for this writer, to call it “Ang Pagbabalik ni Asiong Salonga”.

Lately, the private intent has become more publicly disclosed. But a week or so before Erap’s announcement of preference for Loren, the NPC under Ambassador Danding Cojuangco pre-empted him by announcing in its Christmas get-together that they would field a complete slate in 2010, from president to a 12-man senatorial slate, down to the local candidacies. And to head their team would be Francis Escudero and/or Loren Legarda, preferably a team-up of both. The “both” is likely if Chiz agrees to be Loren’s number two; vice-versa, the lady would not agree. (Fast forward to recently --- Erap’s handlers are floating that Chiz is his likely running-mate, but Chiz, who knows his law, merely smiles, confident perhaps that Erap cannot “win”).

Jojo Binay assumed that he would be Erap’s running-mate as the UNO president and Erap’s loyalist sans pareil. Of course, his survey numbers are nowhere as close to Loren’s, at least for the moment. (Jojo’s numbers have increased, and as VP material, he has become viable).

Indeed, Loren was FPJ’s running mate, and insists she too was garcified out of electoral victory by the Gloria-Noli tandem in 2004. She protested all the way to the Supreme Court, but the politics of being in the public eye required her to run for the Senate in 2007. She was Numero Uno, and Chiz was Numero Dos. The impact of their victories still reverberate in the surveys of presidential preferences in 2008.

But then, enter El Erap. After a series of mega-Manila warm-up tours, complete with a campaign truck from which he and his Manong Ernie Maceda shower candies at the children of the gathering lumpen, 1998 style, his name was entered into the surveys by mid-2008. And as expected, he shaved off points from the other presidential wannabes. Three to five points from Noli and Ping Lacson as well, a whisker or two from Chiz and Mar Roxas, hardly any from Manny Villar that his money and his advertisements could not cover, but a decidedly big slice off Loren’s early lead.

To lay his legal predicate, Erap commissioned (hired is not a politically correct term) retired justices and legal minds to reason that he is not covered by the constitutional provision against “any” re-election. I will leave it to the lawyers to debate in the meantime whether Erap’s legal legs are straight or squat.

In any case, the issue will not be before the bench and with the barristers until Erap files his certificate of candidacy, which is at least 90 days before the elections of May, 2010, if at all. The first bench to hurdle is the Commission on Elections, on the proper assumption that someone will go before it to question the validity of his candidacy. If the Commission should decide that Erap is not qualified, then Erap appeals to the highest bench of law.

Meanwhile, the focus of the campaign of 2010 will shift from the “others” and their “platforms and programs”, if any, to the courtroom drama, first before the Comelec, and then to the Supreme Court. Exactly as Erap would want it. It allows him to play underdog, his and the late FPJ’s favourite script in their action movies, “aping-api” throughout the movie, until they prevail against the bad guys in the end. “Tagumpay!” sa takilya, and “just like in the movies”, so also in politics. This has always been Erap’s electoral praxis anyway.

Conveniently, there will be no time for debates (as usual), and this time, apart from the hectic campaign schedule, there is the “inconvenience” of being hobbled by the legal conundrum. Meanwhile, the other candidates are deprived of prime time, as Erap reprises his favourite act. And I can read the script this early. Ninakawan ng tagapagtanggol ang masang Pilipino nang ninakaw kay Erap ang pagka-pangulong handog sa kanya ng masang Pilipino. The script then segues into the “conspiracy” of the elite, whose interests were threatened by an Erap presidency that “refused” to give in to the demands of the elite at the expense of his adoring masa. So…”ibalik si Erap”, the “people” chant. (A June survey of Mindanao voters show that this sentiment has mesmerized the “masa”, along with their approval of Erap’s mailed fist policy against the secessionists).

Erap’s re-run scenario expects all these to convert into high survey ratings, enough to eclipse his opponents, and enough to convince the high tribunal to debate and tarry, rather than decide abruptly on what could be a political issue more than an open-and-shut constitutional interdict. If the justices, all of whom but for the Chief will have been appointees of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo should decide to tarry, then Erap hopes that the hordes of the masang Pilipino shall have made their vox populi clear enough to make the issue of qualification moot and academic.

All very fine in Erap’s mind, as well as his handlers. Except for a few things, principal among which is the single most important question a prospective candidate has to personally hurdle --- who foots the bill? And in an Erap political extravaganza, with Erap as the lead actor, this is always an expensive proposition. The bill will always run into many billions.

For now, a few of the usual Chinoy believers help in footing the bill for his “trailer” runs, the “lakbay-pasasalamat”, but the bulk of his political expenses, which includes the cost of being in the public eye, is pump-primed from his own personal fortunes, which ought to be considerable, humongous legal fees debited for his trial notwithstanding. But an Erap campaign is “otra cosa”, and many big businessmen have yet to be ensnared into the “cosa”.

Which brings me to the question --- who in this day and in these parlous times, would risk his money in a candidacy the life expectancy of which is dependent on what the Comelec and the Supreme Court declares? What happens to your contribution if the Comelec declares the Erap re-run a no-no? You could pee in your pants as much as you want, but the money goes down with it. But wait! There is hope, you think, in the Supreme Court. It has been swayed by “public opinion” before. It might make a “play for history” and reverse itself, when it declared in 2001, that Joseph Ejercito Estrada, duly-elected and duly-constituted President, “constructively resigned” on January 20, 2001. So meantime, contributors fly out of the country, making themselves scarce to calls from the Erap camp to up the ante. Remember the truism that while business is essentially a take-risk affair, businessmen try to be as risk-averse as possible.

“To run or not to run”, Erap ponders. The answer lies in the money. Whose money, that is.

And then again, what if the Court tarries, and debates what to many should be an open-and-shut case, which is, and I quote the second sentence of Section 4, Article 7 of the Constitution: “The President shall not be eligible for ANY re-election”.

Then the Comelec cannot print Estrada’s name in the ballot, if computerized, nor on the official registry of candidates, if manual. How then will “vox populi” be recorded, as to moot whatever the Court decides or not decide?

That is why Erap, quite to his destined presidential misfortune, will need a lifeline in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the woman who conspired with many to remove him from his throne in the stinking palace beside the stinking river. As it was she who pardoned Erap right after the Sandiganbayan convicted him for plunder, she it is who will ultimately decide whether an Erap re-run and an Erap re-election to a presidency once before lost, is better guarantee of her judicial peace after 30 June 2010, a “peace in her time” that would best protect her economic interests, more considerable than any in presidential history, as well as the political interests of her bloodline.

After all, Erap has ostensibly pardoned Angelo Reyes, and even Chavit Singson, and welcomes Joe de V into his political tent. He has “forgiven” just about everyone who did him wrong. But how well has he forgotten? He revels in the thought that Cory has said she is sorry for her role in Edsa Dos, even if everybody knows she was sorry only because the beneficiary, Glory, turned out to be such a political monster, not necessarily because ousting Erap was so reprehensible to her and Cardinal Sin.

“Son capaz”, nuestros abuelos would say, of such kinds of political compromise, both Erap and Gloria, unthinkable though it may seem to the ordinary Filipino mind.

But then again, can one trust each other, she more than he? For even in this day and age, transactions require a great level of personal trust. And it seems foolhardy for Gloria to trust that Erap has completely forgiven, and forgotten.”

* * *

What political events have unfolded since then?

In the chronology of events --- Erap persisted, and his survey ratings have increased. In the SWS survey of mid-June, he is virtually in a three-way tie with Villar and Escudero. In the Pulse Asia survey of late July till the first week of August, he is six points behind and Numero Dos to Manny Villar, whose humongous advertising budget seems to have dazzled the “masa” enough to believe in crap.

Ping Lacson withdrew from the race on June 5. And although Jojo Binay is still polled among the presidentialities, the mayor has already declared that he is willing to slide down to being the vice-presidential candidate in an Erap ticket.

President Cory Aquino died on August 1, and the overwhelming outpouring of grief has created a new political phenomenon --- the budding entry of her son, Sen. Benigno Aquino III, Noynoy, into the presidential sweepstakes.

By and large, the contest remains open to Villar, Estrada, Escudero, De Castro, and either Mar or Noynoy. Everybody else has either given up, or will wither in the short vine of 90 days, beginning today. Noli de Castro, whose numbers have floundered, has recently announced that he is GMA’s anointed, and the palace confirmed, but he has yet to declare whether he is indeed going for the top post, despite Gloria’s endorsement that “De Castro has the qualities of a good president”. He will probably want to test whether his numbers will increase with Gloria’s encomiums, or whether they will flounder even more. Or, Noli may be waiting for the funding, courtesy of Gloria’s bagmen. Good luck!

But the basic questions I asked about the prospects of an Erap redux remain unchanged. Which is why I re-printed almost fully my January 8 column on the man who wants a Take Two on the presidency he lost.

Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gloria should visit Mr. Bean

Dona Gloria will fly again. To London, but not to visit the Queen, whose royal presence she was already granted, was it last year? And for what deal?

The ostensible purpose is to honour an invitation to speak before a gathering of businessmen and academicians assembled by that hoity-toity magazine The Economist. Oh well, she should be in her best elements before these people. They might believe her pompous remarks about how she grew our economy, how she saved her benighted land from recession, and all that ek-ek. After all, at the end of the day, the audience could not care less about this over-populated sprinkling of tiny islands somewhere in the distant Pacific.

Oh well, she can always have a photo op with Mr. Bean. That should be the test of newly-minted Ambassador Lagdameo’s mettle, arranging an "audience" with Mr. Bean.

And likewise to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for a state visit this time, with the expenses of a number of her party charged to the oil sheiks of Araby. No, they are willing to close their eyes to the fact that our president is not "halal", as I mentioned in yesterday’s article. For a few days, they will have a visitor who, though not "halal", will not be treated as "haram". And what, pray tell, might the deal be?

Don’t bring the congressmen or even the senators, Madamme. Pork, as you now, is also "haram". Their barrels still reek of pork’s "infernal" stench. You might want to invite Ping Lacson to fly with you. He does not partake of the pork barrel, and oh, yes, he likes lamb.
And then again, she will address the United Nations General Assembly for the umpteenth time. The General Assembly’s annual plenary sessions are not really all that plenary. Nothing of real importance is discussed. It is the annual junket for heads of state who will address a plenary hall that’s virtually empty except for their own "hakot". Which is why I cannot understand why Dona Gloria keeps going to the UN General Assembly year in and year out. Either she and her esposo meet private bankers at the Waldorf or the St. Regis in between the lunches and the dinners, and/or she loves to hear herself while addressing an empty session hall.

But then again, getting a crowd of listeners can be easily arranged in the Big Apple. Daming Noy-pi roon. Just tell them Martin Romualdez or Danny Suarez will give them a blow-out at David Bouly afterwards. Or cheaper Wolfgang’s. No more Le Cirque --- much too expensive. But if steak is your fare, try Peter Luger. Thick and juicy, certainly better than Bobby Van’s in northwest D.C.

That’s Erap’s favourite, by the way. And you know how Erap loves steak, just as much as lechon. He used to joke with us in Malacanang that his vice-president, and that’s you, Madamme President, was the one sending him lechon. Lechon was coming out of our ears when Erap was president, but it turns out he had such teflonized arteries that the cholesterol plaque would not adhere.

He never realized until it was too late that you had other plans, and your esposo Jose Miguel was really talking to generals all the time Erap gorged on lechon that he alleged to us you supplied him with.

Why do I always digress when food presents itself as a sidebar?

And then again, we should perhaps console ourselves that our Dona is flying in and out because she wants to enjoy the remaining ten months of her presidency. Sana nga.

She told Obama in no uncertain terms that "yes, we have elections in 2010…I will leave office on June 30. But I will be working until the last minute on issues that matter."

"Issues that matter". Like visiting the sheiks of Araby. Like addressing a half-empty General Assembly, with her own diplomats and their extended friends and families, along with a smaller delegation this time of pork-crazy fine diners called congressmen. Like posing with Mr. Bean.

And for that and other "issues that matter", we will be dunned with 1.5 trillion pesos in the final budget of her presidency.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Political jokes

Trust Senadora Miriam to make your day whenever she vents her ire on whoever. Aliw na aliw.

She chewed Buboy Syjuco and spat him out with such sardonic humor that even the masa clearly understood. “Pasayaw-sayaw pa, e ang tanda-tanda na…puti na nga ang buhok!” And even if you knew she was purposely lying when she described her Jun Santiago as “one of the handsomest men in the country”, you simply got bowled over by the way she stitched her barbs together.

Indeed, Buboy Syjuco should ask himself --- why spend 28 million pesos of taxpayers’ money on an infomercial, just to make an ass of oneself. Surely there are cheaper ways to achieve the same result --- making an ass of himself.

* * *

The King of Saudi Arabia has been prevailed upon by the Royal Privy Council to cancel the purported state visit of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The King’s advisers got verified information that Dona Gloria is not “halal”.

* * *

I do not want to join the chorus asking Noynoy to run, whether for vice-president, as Mar Roxas and Frank Drilon hope, or as president, as others in the Liberal Party see as their ticket to glorious resurrection. As one who served in his mother Cory’s government, and was a friend of his dad Ninoy, I want to give him and the rest of his family the needed space --- to grieve, to collect their thoughts and feelings, unfettered by the political noise and perhaps the self-serving agenda of those who would use Noynoy for ends other than the perpetuation of the good and heroic memory of Ninoy and Cory.

So let me instead make him and others laugh. Here’s a joke that’s been passed to many:

Everyone and his mother (that’s not intended for anyone in particular, please) wants Noynoy to be his or her vice-presidential team-mate.

With the Filipinos’ love for abbreviating names and coming put with cute acronyms, how about these?

Mar-Noynoy tandem --- Ma-noy
Binay-Nonoy tandem --- Bi-noy
Chiz-Noynoy tandem --- Chin-noy
Ping-Noynoy tandem --- Pi-noy
Noli-Noynoy tandem --- No-noy
And the impossible tandem: Gloria with Noynoy --- Una-noy!

Joke, joke only!

* * *

The PaLaKa formula to make Gilbert Teodoro win the presidency, according to the disjointed parties’ strategists, goes like this.

Gilbert should up his survey numbers to at least 10 percent by November 30, or even close to that. Their “command” vote, their humongous machine-generated votes. Will give him a “sure” 15%. That makes a total of 25%, enough to make him win in what is expected to be a multi-candidate brawl. (FVR made it in 1992 with just 23.4% of the total vote, and Miriam still disputes that to this day).

Gibo’s problem is how to magically transform 0.2%, (that’s one-fifth of 1%, or out of 1,800 nationwide respondents, according to Pulse Asia, only 4, yes sir --- only four of 1,800 mentioned him as their choice for president if elections were held in the first week of August.

Now how does he get 180 votes or 10% in 90 days? From 4 to 180?

For starters, Gibo hired a talent scout and events manager to handle his pre-campaign. That explains the T-E-O-D-O-R-O disaster relief infomercial launched during the abbreviated Pacquiao fight last March. Pilit na pilit to give some calamity work nexus to Gibo’s family name. Sophomoric, to say the kindest. No wonder it was a disaster.

Could Gibo re-invent himself in the next 90 days? And it’s the lunar calendar’s ghost month, if he does his product re-launch. If you’re Chinese, or knows anything about feng-shui, you know what I mean.

* * *

But it seems like Gilbert’s Tito Danding is not laughing. And just to demonstrate he is dead serious about regaining political turf in his beloved Tarlac, he has persuaded his very private gentleman of a younger brother, Henry Cojuangco, to run for Congress in 2010, against Gilbert’s wife, Nikki Prieto-Teodoro.

Now surely, that’s no joke.

* * *

Another reader, reacting to our article on “Senator-hopefuls”, loved the way we said that “Pichay might run for senator again, this time resurrecting himself as a cabbage”.

But this reader, whose name I shall keep a secret lest Butch discovers he is one of the LWUA employees, said the more appropriate vegetable is “kangkong”. “Pupulutin na naman siya sa kangkungan”, the reader wrote.

Salvaje tu eres.

* * *

Margaux Salcedo, the comely spokeswoman of former President Joseph Estrada, clarified in a press statement that former President Joseph Estrada, “did not call former President Fidel Ramos "amoy-lupa" as quoted in an article in the Philippine Star the other day”.

"It was merely a text joke that former President Estrada shared. The reporter picked up the joke as if President Estrada meant it, which he did not," Salcedo explained.

Regarding the two former presidents challenging each other to run, Salcedo said, "We have to understand that the two statesmen are just kidding. Men of such stature have earned their right to boast and challenge the other even in jest once in a while.

Talaga? Erap joke only? Ang kaso, Margaux, pikon si FVR. Tingnan mo na lang ang ginawa nung Edsa Dos, and before that.

* * *

A reader wrote: “Ang sabi mo ay subung-subo na si Manny Villar sa pagkandidato sa presidente at mga 700 million na ang tinatapon”.

Let me clarify: It is estimated that Villar has spent 700 million on TV air time alone since he started his commercials. That’s for TV time alone. Add 75 or so million for production costs. Add radio air time. Add print advertising. Add “paid” media men, spread throughout the archipelago. Add “paid” handlers and “paid” spokespersons. Add the cost of building a political infrastructure, including giving “deposits” to the Lakas and Kampi stalwarts who will at the right time become “converts” to Villar’s “good governance” bandwagon and join his heaving gravy train. Add the cost of paying “volunteers”.

Exchanging notes the other day with a veteran of many political campaigns, we estimate he has thrown 2 billion pesos thus far. But for Villar, “pera-pera lang ‘yan”.

And our reader asks: “Hindi ba nakakatakot kung ito ang manalong presidente? Tiyak na babawiin niya ang gastos na iyan. E di korapsyon kaliwa’t kanan?”

That’s easy. All he has to do is to get all public lands titled in the name of Vista Land. And that, dear readers, is not a joke.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


While we have almost twenty men and women who hope to be president of the land, and who, in one way or the other, have expressed such intent, we do not have enough men and women to fill up the slates of these presidential wannabe’s. Almost all those who have announced presidential quests have declared their intent to field a senatorial slate, but there are very few takers, as of now.

There are quite a number of re-electionists in the present Senate, namely, Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile, his pro-tempore, Jinggoy Estrada, and Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Pia Cayetano, Jamby Madrigal, Richard “Dick” Gordon, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Lito Lapid, even Mar Roxas, who, along with Dick and Jamby, would rather be president. Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Rodolfo Biazon are “graduating” after two consecutive terms, but while Nene’s Koko is yet hoping to unseat Migs Zubiri, Pong wants to bequeath his seat to his congressman-son Ruffy of Muntinglupa.

On the assumption that Mar goes for the presidency, while Jamby and Dick lower their sights to a re-election, the following are likely to run for senator once more next year: Enrile, Estrada, Defensor-Santiago, Cayetano, Revilla, plus Gordon and Madrigal. That’s seven. Lito Lapid wants to go back to the Pampanga capitol. Assuming that Koko’s protest is yet unresolved before November 30, he is likely to run for election, foregoing protest, as his father in 1998 did.

If we go by the Pulse Asia May 4-17 Ulat ng Bayan, most of these incumbents are doing well. The rankings are in this order: Roxas, Estrada, Pia Cayetano, Miriam, Revilla, Jamby, Frank Drilon, Ralph Recto, Koko Pimentel, Jojo Binay, Tito Sotto, Serge Osmena, Dick Gordon, JPE, Edu Manzano, Ted Failon, Juan Flavier, Lito Lapid, TG Guingona, and Ruffy Biazon in the top 20. All have high name recall.

Realistically therefore, if the incumbents seek re-election, they are likely to win, with the probable exception of Lapid, especially since he is likely to run, if at all, in the line-up favored by his kabalen Gloria. Drilon and Osmena, if they should run, are likely shoo-ins as well, unless Gloria Mac’s newest spokesman, Romy Mak, succeed in getting Comelec, and eventually the Supreme Court, to uphold his interpretation of the Constitution that hiatus between term limits and subsequent election ought to be an entire “term” of six years and not just three.

Thus, it will be a tight contest for those who hope to be senator for the first time. Well-known surnames like Biazon and Guingona, now borne by sons who wish to be senator also, have a decided advantage. Media and television celebrities like Edu Manzano and Ted Failon also have clear awareness that they only need convert into votes. The recent resignations of Recto as NEDA chief, and Manzano from the Optical Media Board indicate their desire to run for a Senate seat, and could be viewed as an attempt to distance themselves from a possible “kiss of death”, Gloria’s that is.

Recto may run with his Wednesday dinner partner Manny Villar, and Edu will be either with Chiz or Mar. Failon denies interest, but you never can tell. Erap is wooing him, and so is Mar.

In the administration ranks, only Pingkoy Duque of DOH and TESDA’s Buboy Syjuco seem raring to run with whosoever their Dona chooses, be it Noli or Gibo. Running with them would be re-electionists Miriam and Bong. If he does not run for a local post in Quezon City, Tito Sotto might make another try, also with GMA’s choice. Or, eschewing her kiss, he may also line up to Villar’s money.

Tourism’s Ace Durano and Education’s Jesli Lapus are likely to run with their political party, the NPC, with either Chiz or Loren as standard-bearer. That will save them from Gloria’s “kiss”.

As of now therefore, the Gloria candidate can count only on Miriam and Bong, Duque and Sotto, as senatorial candidates, possibly with Lito Lapid if the Arroyos do not give him back the kapitolyo in San Fernando. Pichay might try once more, and resurrect himself as a cabbage this time. So there: Miriam, Bong, Duque, Syjuco, with Sotto, Pichay, possibly Gary Teves, and no more at this point in time. Maybe Pagcor’s Genuino, who also dreams of the presidency. Mike Defensor is reluctant to make another run.

But Miriam wants to collect 200 million if Villar will get her, and Teves is also being wooed by the owner of the Nacionalista Party. His sister, Bebot Teves, is the mother of Rajo Laurel of the Nacionalista Laurels. But Gary has to improve his ratings, with 71% awareness and a conversion rate of only 2.8% as of mid-May this year, no matter that he is touted as Asia’s best finance minister. Still a long way to go to reach Number 12.

Who will run with Erap? Senate President Enrile has indicated his desire to join Erap in his jeep, along with Jinggoy, of course. If Jojo Binay decides to lower his sights, he most likely would join Erap too, either as vice-president or as senator. But Erap’s run is chancy, no matter what his lawyers say, now including Koko Pimentel, who might also end up running for senator either with Erap or Villar. What happens to these candidates if the Supreme Court declare finis to Erap’s re-run? You can’t win as a vice-president with no president, nor as senator abandoned by your presidential candidate. And surely the wise lawyer-politician that Enrile is, he knows that. He just does not want to hurt a friend’s feelings nor bruise his ego.

Which is why JPE, Jinggoy and Binay are likely to have “reserved” seats in the tickets of either Chiz or Mar, just in case. That makes it easier for the two candidates to choose only nine more candidates. Mar will have Drilon, Biazon, Risa Hontiveros, Leah Navarro, Cory Quirino, possibly Neric Acosta. Quien mas? Jamby and Dick, in case they reconsider their presidential quests.

But JPE, Jinggoy and Binay would likely run with Chiz instead of Mar. To them, the NPC would likely add their Ace Durano, Jesli Lapus, and Ompong Plaza of Agusan. And Chiz, if he is chosen the NPC standard-bearer instead of Loren, will try to add his former congressional buddies TG Guingona (who is with the NP) and Ted Casino of Bayan, plus Edu Manzano, Toots Ople (Ka Blas’ daughter who runs a foundation helping workers and OFW’s, and FPJ and Susan’s daughter Grace Poe.

As for Villar, he has Pia Cayetano, Adel Tamano, Satur Ocampo, Col. Ariel Querubin, possibly TG Guingona, most likely Ralph Recto, and of course Miriam, if Villar thinks that at 200 million, up-front, she is worth it. Maybe he can ask Roy Golez to forsake a mayoralty run in Paranaque, and try his luck in the Senate. Vice-Governor Rolex Suplico of Iloilo has decided to seek his old congressional seat in Iloilo’s sixth district rather than risk a chancy and expensive senatorial run. Butz Aquino’s name is mentioned, but he personally confided that he has little desire to run once more.

In the wings, mentioned as a senator-hopeful, is Rep. Bongbong Marcos of Ilocos Norte, who is close to all the four leading opposition presidential wannabe’s --- Erap, Chiz, Villar and Mar (Bongbong’s wife Lisa is a cousin of Mar from the Araneta side). And ZTE-NBN whistleblowers Joey de Venecia and Jun Lozada, but if they do plunge into the fray, there are as yet no clear indications under whose presidential ticket they would run. There is Among Ed Panlilio and Grace Padaca, both announced presidentiables, who might yet run for senator, likely with Mar Roxas. Also mentioned are Sonia Roco, the educator-widow of the late Sen. Raul Roco, and Rep. Liza Maza of Gabriela. (It looks like the parliamentary Left has decided to distribute their chances among the leading presidentiables).

And there is Brig. Gen. Danny Lim of Nueva Vizcaya, now jailed in Camp Crame in the company of Senator Sonny Trillanes, who astounded everyone by winning in 2007, sight unseen and voice hardly heard. Lim hopes to duplicate Trillanes’ feat, this time running under the banners of either Chiz or Mar, definitely not Villar’s.

The point is that if there are four to five presidential candidates, there will be anywhere from 48 to 60 senatorial candidates, and more if the other “also-runs” insist on fielding their complete or incomplete senatorial “fillers”. Pang-fill-in the blanks. And there aren’t that many who are either foolhardy enough to go for broke, or have money enough to buy costly advertising air time, or would run for the fun of it, not the “funds” of it, because little if any are forthcoming for “saling-cats”.

Which is probably why guys like Adel Tamano have made an early beeline to the doorsteps of the old Laurel mansion which Manny Villar bought from distinguished legacy through now-discovered debatably dubious means. Pera-pera lang iyan.

* * *

But wait! While Dona Gloria had jettisoned her earlier desire to ride in style via a 1.2 billion executive jet, in the face of the scandalous discovery of fancy and expensive pig-outs in the US of A, what’s this we hear about a multi-million peso new Pangarap club house in the golfing grounds of the PSG compound, a stinking river-crossing away from the stinking palace? The new “ Bahay Pangarap” was inaugurated just last February, perhaps in time for Valentine’s Day. It is ultra first-class, according to my Malacanang moles in the woodwork. The foyer looks like the lobby of a six-star hotel.

But what if the next president elected in 2010 neither plays golf nor needs a hide-away? Why is the Dona spending so much public money to give cushy perks for her successor, like a sleek new jet and a plush hide-away across the stinking Pasig?

Does she really want to let go?

Perish the thought at this point. The “fat” lady will not sing just yet, and she has the Venezuelans to take care of her chosen “assign”, or better yet, ensure there will be chaos come E-Day, which gives her reason to stay beyond June 30, 2010, to “fill” the leadership vacuum. Power, after all, abhors a vacuum.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The umpteenth

It’s been the umpteenth time we heard Gloria Macapagal Arroyo bark orders to “her” soldiers to crush the Abu Sayyaf. Remember how many?

They’re still there, and they still kill, the latest being an ambush in Basilan, in coordination with their brothers MILF, of 23 of the Republic’s fighting men.

It’s been the umpteenth time that we have sued for peace, renewing “stalled” peace talks with the MILF. Talks see-saw between formal and informal, between open and back-channelling. And always, we look up to the Malaysians to help untangle the web we could ourselves untangle, if we only had the requisite political will.

It’s been the umpteenth time we heard Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declare war on poverty. But the poor are increasing, with the middle class shrinking, and the poorest of the poor legion, in the countryside as well as the urban centers. Last week, in the wake of her scandalously expensive pig-outs at Bobby Van’s, thence Le Cirque, David Bouley’s and Wolfgang’s, and perhaps more, she unveiled another anti-hunger effort, dole-outs of government monies from “her” table of plenty. The gall.

It’s been the umpteenth time, and oh so countless, that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has declared a war against corruption, but he, he, he … not even her numerous spokesmen believe her. Ermita continues to feather his nest, either for retirement or political hegemony over poor Batangas; Remonde has his fingers in the waterfronts of Cebu, in preparation for a congressional run. Golez is running in Bacolod, and supra-intelligent and hyper-articulate Lorelie, if she can’t wangle the agriculture portfolio once Art Yap resigns to run for congress, will try her luck once more in Nueva Ecija politics. Wonder what Gary Olivar hopes to get in return from his Dona.

As for the presidential wannabe’s, the list gets longer and longer, never mind if SWS and Pulse Asia and Synnovate and PSRC and even Ibon, have long eliminated the also-rans, and are reporting a tight contest among four or five hopefuls.

Now wait till you discover the “umpteenth” candidate.

For now, let me mention the original 10, whose bona-fides we delineated in several articles early this year. From the Liberal Party --- Mar Roxas; from the NPC --- Chiz Escudero and Loren Legarda; from the Nacionalista Party --- its owner, Manny Villar; from Lakas --- Bayani Fernando; from Lakas-Kampi, whose marriage can best be described as on the rocks even before consummation (coitus interuptus, our teachers taught us) --- Gilbert Teodoro; from UNO/PDP-Laban --- Jojo Binay; from PMP, provided the Supreme Court and Comelec can close their eyes on patent constitutional infirmity, and be terrorized by the “hordes” of his masa following, there’s former President Joseph Estrada. Then there are independents Vice-President Noli de Castro, Dick Gordon and Ping Lacson. Lacson has since withdrawn from the race, and will likely run as someone’s vice-president. Dick’s Bagumbayan, where Hayden Kho was an early fixture we are told, has since become limp, not necessarily because Hayden’s acrobatics has waned. As for Noli, he is still contemplating, somewhere in a spacious Dasmarinas lawn, whether he has what it takes to be president of the land. That was eleven, until Ping made it ten.

And then there came more: JC de los Reyes of Kapatiran, a nephew of Dick Gordon and councilor of his Olongapo; Among Ed Panlilio, because he has grown weary fighting the mayors of his Pampanga; Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela; Nick Perlas (who he, a lot of people still ask. I know him, but hey Nicky, dream on…); Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas; and Bro. Mike Velarde, who celebrated his birthday yesterday among his El Shaddai flock. That’s 16 in all, folks!

And then Senadora Jamby Madrigal had everyone’s jaw dropping when she herself announced, ( was it in company of her pet greyhound?) that she too would run for the presidency, no less. Seventeen.

Based on the latest surveys, the contest has narrowed down to a few: Erap, Villar, Chiz, Noli, and Mar. Loren seems to be on free fall. Jojo has moved upwards, with those beautifully-crafted television ads, but it seems he really hopes to be Erap’s VP. Bayani and Gilbert and Dick languish at one percent, give or take another percent. Among Ed and Grace and JC de los Reyes and Nicky are also in the one percentum cellar. Bro. Eddie and Bro. Mike, along with Jamby, have yet to be seriously tested by the survey firms.

Now that Lakas will disengage from the PaLaKa, because FVR and Joe de V are not ready to go to bed, Bayani ought to be happy, being an original Lakas. And Gilbert, having taken his oath as the newest member of PaLaKa, will suddenly be running under a non-existent party, because Comelec has no material time to accredit it as the dominant majority party, as Gibo had hoped, with FVR and JDV going all the way to the Supreme Court to keep their ownership of the party they founded in 1991.

Now for the umpteenth candidate. Hold your breath, folks…

It’s Hermogenes Ebdane of Zambales, former PNP Director-General, now DPWH Secretary, and FVR loyalist to the core. I am serious!

Soon, we are told, he will announce his candidacy on the basis of his “credentials” as Dona Gloria’s infrastructure czar. Is he the “engineer” FVR touts as most worthy to be the next president? And will FVR dash Bayani’s fondest dreams?

Question --- who will be the Venezuelan candidate?

Ronnie Puno is quietly smiling. Is he the Venezuelan candidate for VP?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Venezuelan candidate

Because Ninoy Aquino offered his life so that freedom and democracy may return, a day which we will commemorate tomorrow, Cory Aquino was able to preside over the return of those cherished freedoms during her presidency. The most fundamental of those rights is the right to freely choose the men and women who shall lead the country, as president and as lesser officials.

I am afraid that unless the Supreme Court strikes down the automated system of counting the votes come May 10, 2010, we will be electing not a leader chosen freely by the Filipino people, but one chosen by a foreign company, working for whoever, most likely the present wielders of power who will want to make certain their choice prevails over the true will of the majority.

The foreign company happens to be Smartmatic, with original provenance in the Barbados, supposedly controlled by citizens of Venezuela, or assigns of its current political leadership. The adventures and mis-adventures of this company and its limited participation in elections elsewhere in the world would be enough to make even a simpleton think twice before awarding the contract to supervise the elections in a country with close to 45 million voters.

But not the Comelec. Not those who have abdicated the responsibility for clean, open, honest and orderly elections to this foreign company, which may well choose the Venezuelan candidate or whosoever its real client assigns, and decides --- to be its successor-in-fact.

Article 3.3 of the July 10, 2009 contract entered into by the Comelec with Smartmatic-TIM constitutes a wholesale abdication of its constitutional mandate, because it gives complete control of the technical aspects to this foreign-owned and controlled corporation, in joint venture with a local firm.

The public and private keys to the PCOS machine, 82,200 units of which will be deployed to all our voting centers, will be under the control of Smartmatic. The expedient reason given to this queer set-up is that only the Smartmatic technicians, yet-to-be-hired, yet-to-be-trained, would best know how to operate those optical scanners, not the board of election inspectors, not our teachers who likelier than not, are computer-illiterate or butter-fingered.

One thousand voters, or those who would otherwise vote secretly in five classrooms constituting their voting precinct, will shade small-sized oval spaces beside the names of some 300 or more names of candidates and parties, such as perhaps, Alyansa ng mga Sabungero and Alyansa ng Matatakaw, using two Smartmatic-provided felt-tip pens. If the 200th voter sees that his felt-tipped pen has run out of ink, then he can ask the BEI for the second felt-tipped pen. If the 399th voter sees that the felt-tipped pen has also run out of ink, he will likely force his fingers to squeeze whatever shading the pen can imprint upon the ovals. Those will no longer be read, because the optical scanner cannot read light shades of grey. And the 400th voter, all the way to 1,000th voter, will be effectively disenfranchised. Why not use pencils then, or metal-tipped ball pens? Question --- the optical scanner may reject the same, which means the ballot, yes that 30-inch long ballot, will just fall into the bin, un-read, and wasted.

Now pause to think about the likely time-and-motion this whole process will take, and picture in your simpleton of a mind how this will act out on Election Day. Chaos.

Go further and wonder what would happen to a 30-inch long by 8.5 inch wide paper (longer than your average newspaper, and as wide as common bond paper) if it is fed by a line of one thousand (even less) voters into the slot provided by one PCOS machine, and imagine if such a narrow but long piece of paper should fold or crumple when fed into that machine. The machine jams. Chaos.

But here is the trick --- because only Smartmatic controls the keys and the source codes, not Comelec, not the Republic of the Philippines, is it possible for Smartmatic to pre-fabricate the results of enough counting machines (PCOS) so as to give a numerical advantage (“will I win by one million?”) to the choice of its real client? Most certainly it can.

In fine, the Venezuelan candidate, or better yet, whosoever among Villar, Noli, or Gibo is favored by the real client of the Venezuelan company, can be made to win. In place of one Garci, we can have ten thousand Garci’s, operating beyond our sight, beyond our mind.

But wait! The software that runs the PCOS is not even owned by Smartmatic-TIM, let alone Smartmatic standing alone without its local alalay and labor sub-contractor TIM. The source codes are controlled and owned by Dominion Systems, a Canadian firm! Which means that Smartmatic just put together Canadian voting software, which the Canadian firm leased but not sold, got some backyard industry in China or elsewhere to assemble the parts, and sold the whole caboodle to Comelec and the Republic of the Philippines.

Ah! The wonders of globalization. Even the agents of Hugo Chavez can talk turkey with the Canadians up north, incorporate a firm in the Barbados, order hardware from China, and sell to a Fourth World country a system which would decide the fate of 92.5 million poor souls, after (after?) the reign of Dona Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, y, nunca te olvidare --- su esposo fabuloso.

In any case, the legislators who crafted Republic Act 8436, as amended by R.A. 9369, presciently provided as condition precedent to the nationwide implementation of an “automated election system”, under Sec. 5 of the same, that pilot-testing be done by the Comelec before it goes all-out. Even the deliberations of Congress show a deliberate intent that pilot testing is a condition, precisely to obviate any failure of elections.

But Comelec is unperturbed. Neither, it would seem, is the PPCRV, or those who constituted the advisory group that, along with the Special Bids and Awards Committee of the Comelec, supervised the testing of these PCOS, using shorter bond paper, using a few and certainly less than a thousand would-be voters, under controlled conditions. They have simply put their faith, their trust, their confidence, their Pollyanna dreams, upon this Barbadian company, its sub-contractors, its sub-lessors, its “good” faith, it’s uncertain reputation.

And only the Supreme Court stands between sanity and chaos, come the 10th of May, 2010.

God help this benighted land!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Straws in the political wind

So many stories to tell. So much political “trivia” has been coming in from reliable sources and old friends. So let me use this Tuesday space for these straws in the political wind, just before we enter the “ghost month” of the lunar calendar.

Manny Villar has once again foiled the attempts of Jamby Madrigal to conclusively tar him with the ghosts of C-5 and his real estate dealings with government and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. He has been adept at parrying her evidence, so far, with “paid” media burying her documentaries, and his spokesmen, the trio of Adel, Gilbert and Alan (three in all, wow!) coming up with the lame excuse that whatever transactions Jamby exposed happened when he was “not yet a senator”.

Well, Villar wants to be president, and everything must be bared for public consumption and judgment --- when he was senator, congressman, real estate magnate, gravel and sand supplier, shrimp vendor, anything and everything.

As Erap would say, “walang tinatago”. Dapat.

* * *

But how far can the obfuscations of A, G and A go? How many land deals will their principal need to paper over through glitzy “cono-cono” ads, which reminds me of that Ilokano delicacy that they serve at La Preciosa on Rizal St. in downtown Laoag ( a must visit if you’re in Amianan country), a melange of chopped shallots, eggplant, native tomatoes, folded over and easy with scrambled eggs, called poqui-poqui. It’s like the Pampango’s “sarciadong ebun” with ripe native tomatoes, except that the Ilokano version has the added semi-bitter twist of inihaw na talong. Poqui-poqui is how cono-cono (or per Villar, conyo-conyo) translates in Ilokano, though not in Tagalog. Baka ipatanggal ni Bishop Yniguez ang TV ad ni Villar.

No wonder my friend Greg Garcia gave up on the guy. I’m not sure if it’s because being a Dominican-bred guy, he understood what cono-cono meant, or he was shocked to learn the origins of Manny Villar’s billions upon billions. In any case folks, those ads, and the yarn about the Moriones, Tondo house with Boy Abunda and Villar in situ, are not Greg’s creations. Those were an insult to my friend’s prodigious talents.

* * *

Speaking of food --- glorious food --- that dinner at Le Cirque and pig-out at Bobby Van’s cannot seem to get out of the public mind. Reports about those fabulous dinners, and the Palace reaction to them would make an excellent case study for mass communications students. Case title? Choose one: (a) When lying does not fly; (b) How to put your foot in your mouth after an expensive dinner; (c) Don’t invite low-life to haute cuisine; (d) Get your facts straight before you invent a lie; and (e) all of the above.

* * *

Danny Suarez loves to lie, but he does not convince. First he says Martin Romualdez, who is dumb-struck, beat him to the draw at Le Cirque. Then he says he asked someone in the Malacanang staff (Medy Poblador or someone else?) to advance the payment in cash, because he was not sure his credit card limit could answer the humongous tab (“baka ako mapahiya”, Danny told media) for a dinner that happened on July 30 at Bobby Van’s, when Le Cirque was on August 2. He, he, he. Reimbursement of wads of cash at Bobby Van’s, and a credit card at Le Cirque? That’s what I mean by getting one’s recollection of facts right before one lies. Sa dami ng kasinungalingan, nagkakandabuhul-buhol.

But was it not the first gentleman’s buddy-buddy, a Rotarian who once headed a scandal-wracked agency, who gave the cash to a Malacanang lady official, who then paid the cashier of Bobby Van’s, who was awed at handling so much cash, because most all of their clients paid by card? He, he, he --- in a party of 65 or more, someone will always “sing”.

* * *

Oh, and speaking of Madam Remedios Poblador Dia, otherwise known as Medy Poblador, La Dona’s most intimate and most trusted official, what official business did she accomplish in Damascus and Tripoli? Like a faithful marine, she waded into the “shores of Tripoli” after a visit to Damascus. She wanted to be home and pay her final respects to the Tita she once served in Malacanang as an assistant in the Protocol Office, but her Dona ordered her to proceed to Syria, pronto, right after the “triumphal” photo-op with Barack Obama.

People in Malacanang and the cabinet are still asking, why Medy, who is neither envoi extraordinaire et plenipotentiaire, nor an official of the DFA? And what was so urgent about the Syrian rendezvous, or the Libyan assignation? As far as my moles tell me, the Dona arrived Wednesday, August 5, in the wee hours. Senora Medy came home just this weekend, eleven days later.

You and I will never know these secrets, until after the Dona exits, which, as far as Medy and Glory, Miguel y su Ermita, will never be.

* * *

Today, August 18, BGen Danny Lim will motor to his hometown in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya, to file for a transfer of voter registration. He is reportedly running for senator in the 2010 elections.

I will vote for him, and will urge many others to support him. First, because he epitomizes the ideals of integrity, courage and reforms for which our soldiers should live and die for. Second, because he will not be a candidate in Manny Villar’s senatorial ticket, which would be completely antithetical to integrity, courage and reform.

* * *

A retired soldier sent me this “conversation between GMA and an unident… Judge”. I don’t know if it was filched from ISAFP files just like Hello Garci’s:

Judge: Where will you go if you tell a lie?
GMA: To Hell.
Judge: Where will you go if you tell the truth?
GMA: To Jail.

* * *

Nobody beats Senadora Miriam Defensor Santiago when it comes to candor. She wants to run in the senatorial ticket of Manny Villar. Why? Pera-pera kasi. But her asking price is stiff. 200 million pesos, and no more the barya-barya that Manny used to help her with in past elections. After all, Miriam learned from Alan Peter Cayetano how much of a killing Manny made in Vista Land shares. What’s one percent of that for La Miriam? Ka-dyutay lang nga balato!

But the lady senator was not given the “due respect” as Chair of the Economic Affairs Committee which recently conducted an investigation into the television advertisements of government officials, disguised as “in aid of public information”, when her bête noire, Ronnie Puno snubbed her queer investigation “in aid of legislation”. What in heaven’s name does Economic Affairs have to do with advertorials? Maybe the Committee on Public Information, or even Dick Gordon’s Blue Ribbon, but Economic Affairs?

So, Ronnie just went to Pangasinan and perhaps looked for a perfect mango tree, so that next time around, “maganda ang bunga” of The Tree.

* * *

But then again, could not Senadora Miriam, for the sake of consistency, also file an ethics complaint regarding the “pre-mature campaigning” of her fellow senators, particularly her favourite, Manuel B. Villar Jr., who has outspent them all? Villar started his ads on March of 2008, in time for a poll survey’s fieldwork. Then resumed each time either SWS or Pulse Asia’s sub-contracted enumerators worked the field. From April of 2009 to the present, Villar has doubled and tripled his television presence, and must have spent close to 750 million by now on air time alone. That’s a lot of moolah. And if plenty of moolah is the justification for an investigation “in aid of legislation” by the Economic Affairs Committee, why spare your fellow senators, Madam Senator?

Care to know the provenance of such great wealth, Senadora Miriam? Or you just want a piece of the action? Two hundred million, and to think a poor spokesman was promised only 50 million --- 10 million before the campaign, and 2 million up-front.

* * *

Still, from a retired military official, one of our avid readers, comes this story, aptly entitled, “The Wave”:

“The Pope and GMA are on the same stage in front of a huge crowd.

“The Pope told her: Do you know that with just one wave of my hand, I can make every person in the crowd go crazy with joy?

“One wave of your hand, and the people will rejoice forever?”, GMA marvels.

“This joy will not be a momentary display like that of your constituents, but will go deep into their hearts, and they will forever speak of this day and rejoice”, the Pope explains.

GMA dares the Pope --- “Show me!”

The Pope slapped her. Just one wave of his hand.

Of course the people rejoiced, forever and ever.

Kay daming tagapagasalita

Sabi ng mga tagapag-salita ni Manny Villar, sina Alan Peter Cayetano, Gilbert Remulla at Adel Tamano, hindi na raw dapat busisiin pa ni Jamby Madrigal ang mga ginawa ni Villar nung ito’y hindi pa senador. Kasi daw, ang kaso sa Ethics Committee ay para sa mga ginawa o hindi ginawa ng kapwa-senador lamang.

Kasi naman itong si Madrigal, ipinaliwanag sa mga senador kung paano binili ni Villar sa mababang halaga ang tatlong parsela ng lupa sa Las Pinas, pagkatapos isinanla sa sariling bangko sa mas mataas na halaga sa madaliang panahon, at pina-ilit ito. Pagkatapos, bilang kabayaran sa bilyones na pagkaka-utang sa Bangko Sentral ng naturang bangkong pag-aari ng mga Villar, e ibinigay ang mga lupain bilang dacion en pago. Pero teka! Ayon pa rin ay Madrigal, ang mga parsela ng lupa ay kasama sa naibenta sa DPWH na dinaanan ng C-5!

Wow! Ilang beses ginisa sa sariling mantika si Juan de la Cruz?

Kanya-lanyang siste talaga. Sistema sa pagpapayaman. At sistema sa pagpapalusot. Porke’t congressman pa lang si Villar nang nangyari ito, hindi na raw dapa’t inuukilkil pa ni Jamby, ani A-G-A (Alan, Gilbert, Adel) , mga taga-pagsalita ni Villar.

Bigatin talaga itong si Villar, tatlo-tatlo ang tagapagsalita --- isang kapwa senador, isang dating kinatawan ng Kabite, at isang nais maging senador.

Si Mar, sino ba ang tagapagsalita, si Korina? Si Chiz, meron bang tagapagasalita? Si Noli, meron din? Si Loren, meron na ba? Maski nga si Erap, nilayasan ni Adel Tamano at sumilong kay Villar.

E bakit ba hindi si Villar mismo ang siyang magsalita, at harapin ang mga paratang sa kanya sa Senado, at hindi nagkukubli sa isang damakmak na mga tagapag-salita?

* * *

Parehung-pareho sila ni Donya Gloria. May Cerge Remonde na Press Secretary, laging nagsasalita, maski na balu-baluktot.

May Ed Ermita, ang kanyang Executive Secretary, na nais ding magsalita palagi. Saan ka ba naman nakakaita ng Executive Secretary na may lingguhang press conference? Wala ba siyang tiwala kay Remonde? Minamata ba ng Batangueno ang Cebuano?

May Anthony Glolez pa, na taga-Bacolod. At may Lorelie Fajardo, na taga-Nueva Ecija.

Nagdagdag pa ng spokesman for economic affairs kuno, ang lumipas na aktibistang si Gary Olivar.

At dahil lamang sa pagkain sa mamahaling mga restawran sa new York at Washington, na nagkakahalaga ng halos dalawang milyong pisong tumataginting para sa dalawang hapunan lamang, aba’y may Romy Makalintal pa, at may Danny Suarez pa, na kinatawan ng isa sa pinakamahirap na distrito ng buong Katagalugan!

* * *

Kanya pala naman nagsisiksikan ang mga trapo sa Partidong Lakas-Lampi, o Palaka (wika ni Mar Roxas), na sumilong sa matayog at malapad na payong ni Manny Villar sa Lapiang Nasyonalista (kuno). Pati nga si Senadora Miriam, nais tumakbong muli bilang senador sa ilalim ng pundilyo ni Manny Villar. Kanya nga lang, mataas ang presyo – 200 milyung piso.

Kung sabagay, isang porsyento lang daw ang 200 milyon ng kinita ni Villar sa IPO ng kanyang Vista Land, ayon sa tagapagsalitang si Alan Cayetano. Kanya lang, kapag nakuha na si Miriam, e baka isang-tabi sina A, G at A? Kawawang Adel, na tila dalawang milyon pa lang ang napaunang bayad sa usaping 50 milyones, bago itakwil nito si Erap at sumilong kay Villar.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Unending excess

If we thought the $20,000 Le Cirque fine dining where Senator Lito Lapid complained about the service, too slow and too elegant for his taste and hunger pangs was all there was to the gustatory adventures of Dona Gloria y su esposo in the US of A, here comes the Washington Post no less reporting about a “pig-out” at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse on Fifteenth St., NW, right after Obama allowed a photo-op with the Dona.

It must have been a triumphal blow-out, with Medy Poblador (she is now called Secretary Poblador, what more since she bumped-off no less than Gilbert Teodoro, the Secretary of National Defense and would-be president by their Dona’s benediction) allegedly pulling 15,000 dollars from her handbag to pay. Now that looks like the dinner was charged to Malacanang. Unless Mindoro Occidental’s Girlie Villarosa belatedly claims she used her money. Husband Joe Villarosa, whom her presidenta saved from the slammer, just might get a heart attack if he learns about the tab Girlie “answered for”. No Danny Suarez is she, nor he.

15,000 dollars, in cold cash --- no less, The Washington Post declares. Now that’s neither a gossip paper nor a Moonie-owned broadsheet. Let’ see how Cerge Remonde will attack the credibility of the Post, one of the most highly regarded newspapers in the world.

The food was more familiar to Lito Lapid, perhaps enough to mollify his hurt at not being seen or photographed with Barack Obama, his one and only reason for tagging along. Sixty five to seventy dollar steaks (3,200 pesos more or less) are about the price of a steak at El Esposo’s favourite Tsukiji in Pasay Road, except that Bobby Van’s serves them huge and thick, while Tsukiji’s are thinner. I wonder if Surigao’s Lalo Matugas found the lobsters as fresh and succulent as the ones they have in Dapa or General Luna in Siargao.

What was so scandalous for Washington observers was the number of gluttons who pigged-out on steak (wonder how many ordered theirs “well-done”, he, he, he) --- 63 free loaders with the President and First Gentleman of this hunger-driven Fourth World Country, that their ill-advised Barack Obama gave audience upon the ministrations of Hillary Clinton’s staff, in turn through the spadework of Ronnie the Tree’s friends. My, not even Nicholas Sarkozy and beautiful Carla Bruni would have brought such a large entourage of hangers-on. Pardon me, Nicky and Carla would never, never, dine at Bobby Van’s. Even a more plebeian Au Pied de Cochon would be more suitable for the loving couple. (Sorry, dear readers, for one week of articles about food and travel. It’s broadening though, literally and figuratively.)

Now will Malacanang please tell the public who pigged-out at Bobby Van’s? At Le Cirque, a group of 25 chalked up a bill of a million pesos, 40 thousand apiece, enough to buy pag-pag for all the residents of Payatas for perhaps a year. Yes pag-pag, and if either Cerge or Lorelie or even their new spokesman, Romy Makalintal do not know what pag-pag means, I suggest they ask Arnold Clavio of GMA-7, who did an excellent, if heart-rending expose on how the poorest of our poor survive on fast-food kitchen left-overs.

Grabe! Imelda Romualdez used to be excoriated for flying to Hong Kong at a whim, because of a craving for sharks’ fin or roast goose, even birds’ nest double-boiled in black chicken broth. But now, a party of footloose officials fly halfway through the globe, almost 20 hours away by jet from Manila, just to pig-out on steak, and suffer the “slow” service of haute cuisine. Even Marie Antoinette would have gone pale with envy.

Of course, Imelda’s nephew by brother Kokoy is back in step with the new powers-that-be, this Gloria woman who wants to ape her husband Ferdinand. What is it with this branch of the Romualdez family that sets them so apart from the Marcoses of Ilocos in propriety and good sense? So what else is new? The unending excess is all so familiar. Back to the early 80’s for this benighted land.

But there is talk that Ferdinand Martin, Kokoy’s son, is just a fall guy, and the one who really paid Le Cirque for the 20,000 dollar tab was an otherwise parsimonious Cebuano businessman, a dear, dear friend of Dona Gloria y su esposo. Will she and her esposo refund him for the bill? Or is that part of representation expense for some new deals?

Imagine the total cost of the abbreviated White House hegira:

Payable to Lucio Tan’s PAL – All of first-class and business class, plus half of coach; Manila-Vancouver 29 July, 2009;

Payable to Lucio Tan’s PAL – Charter service from Vancouver to Washington D.C., thence DC to NY; thence New York to San Francisco, and San Francisco back to Manila, 04 August, arriving Manila 05 August 3:23 a.m., in turn for a seven-minute visit in the Manila Cathedral, sneaking in “like a thief in the night”. Don’t forget the humongous “parking fees” at the tarmac of JFK International. Or maybe Newark, which is perhaps a tad cheaper?

Willard Hotel presidential suite plus fifty de luxe rooms and junior suites, including breakfast, lunches, snacks, coffee and tea. Tips, generous, but naturally.

Limousine service in Washington DC, and tips, naturally once more.

Waldorf Astoria presidential suite (no less than 3,500 dollars, plus plus). And about forty de luxe rooms as well as junior suites (some cabinet members had left after Washington DC), each at an average of 900 dollars per, and breakfasts, snacks, plus plus. Not to forget the generous tips, but naturally.

Stretch-limo service while in the Big Apple.

How much was the “donation” for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on the fashionable Fifth Avenue, such that no less than the Cardinal himself said Holy Mass? Maganda ring photo-op ‘yun to complement a fruitless visit. Don’t ask Archbishop Oscar Cruz, or Bishop Soc Villegas, or even Archbishop Lagdameo.

And what about the envelopes, for each and every member of the presidential party, including those congressmen (excepting Danny Suarez and Martin Romualdez, of course) so they could shop at Bloomingdale’s on the Fifth or cheaper Macy’s in Lower Manhattan? How much each, Medy? Sixty envelopes with 5,000 dollars inside? Or 3,000 only, in keeping with the “bad times”?

All these for a photo op, and a lousy single question in an 8-minute press conference at the White House, with Rey Langit asking about Pollyanna’s impressions about the youthful-looking Brown Father, and the Brown Father’s appreciation of the “implants” (?) and it’s implications on Uncle Sam’s coordinator for Asean.

Such unending excess for a “big deal”.

But Medy Poblador flew to Syria, on a top-secret personal mission for Dona Gloria. Poor woman, she could not even bid farewell to her beloved Tita Cory, because she had a message for Assad and some others in Damascus. Urgent and top secret, and no ifs or buts. I’m sure “poor” Medy prayed for Tita Cory when the plane crossed the Sea of Gallilee.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I was yet thinking of what to comment upon for this Thursday article, given the many sickening developments we have heard or read about in this week after the outpouring of grief over Cory Aquino’s death, when a reader, Steve, sent us this reminder about a forgotten American president.

“Harry Truman was a different kind of President. He probably made as many important decisions affecting American history as any of its other 42 presidents.” (Barack Obama is the 44th POTUS, Truman was it’s 33rd).

But a measure of his greatness may be seen on what he did after he left the White House. “he came out of the White House poorer that when he went in”, our reader states.

The only asset he had when he died was a simple house in Independence, Missouri. It wasn’t even his, really, for it was inherited by his wife from her mother, and other than their years on Pennsylvania Avenue, the couple lived their entire lives in that simple Missouri house. (Recall Cory and Ninoy. Other than the ancestral house in Concepcion, just Times St., the same modest Times St. bungalow when Ninoy was a senator, and the same Times St. bungalow that Cory donated to only son Noynoy).

Vice-President Truman became president on April 12, 1945, after the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, and won election in 1948, in what political history records as the most stunning upset in American presidential elections. In a book entitled “The Last Campaign” written by Zachary Karabell, which was gifted to me by my friend Raymond Burgos, the interesting details of that campaign are written. The Chicago Tribune bannered a story the day after the elections, proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman” and its editors later had to “eat crow” after the final results showed that Democrat Truman scored an unbelievable upset over the Republican Thomas Dewey. But honest Harry, the haberdasher from Missouri, did not cheat.

Now back to his life after the presidency: When he retired in 1952, his income was a modest U.S. Army pension, reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. In those days, that was equivalent to P27,015.44 (yes Virginia --- it was two pesos to one dollar in those days!) Congress, noting that their former president was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an “allowance” and later, a retroactive pension of $25,000. per year. (Ah, the good old days. Four thousand pesos a month for a retired president of the USA. In the Philippines then, a minimum wage earner, at 120 pesos monthly, could afford to pay instalments on a spacious bungalow in what was then far-away Quirino District, those housing projects beside Cubao and Balintawak, envisioned and initiated by Elpidio Quirino, Harry Truman’s counterpart in Philippine history).

After Republican Pres. Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated as his successor, Harry and Bess Truman drove home to Missouri themselves, without any Secret Service detail following them. (yes Virginia, the kind of secret service agents Danny Suarez now claims, also supped with them at Le Cirque. Maybe Danny mistook the Philippine PSG’s who were perhaps allowed by the Dona to sup at Le Cirque, because US secret service agents are never, never allowed to sit down while watching their principal, whether it is Barack Obama or Dubya, or a visiting potentate like Dona Gloria y su esposo, con su conjunto de veinte tres mas borrachos. New York Post, in a follow-up story, reports there were 25 diners in all. That means on the average, 800 dollars per head, or roughly 40,000 pesos cada uno, bawa’t isa, at hindi pa natuwa si Lito Lapid).

Truman was offered corporate posts with hefty salaries, but he declined, saying in his candid manner, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people, and it’s not for sale”.

Retiring gracefully and quietly in Missouri, he was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honour in 1971. He refused to accept the honour, writing, “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, congressional or otherwise”.

As president, he paid for all his own travel expenses and the simple food that he ate. (Read that, Remonde, sir).

In his memoirs, good old Harry Truman observed, “My choices in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house, or be a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference”.

* * *

What would Dona Gloria y su esposo Jose Miguel reminisce about when they retire (if she ever will) at some palatial villa at Faro in the Algarve where Portugal shares boundary with their Madre Espana? The “cena” at Le Cirque? And what would the Dona be saying?

“The Filipino is worth dining for”.

Si, Senora Dona. Veinte mil dollares…isang milyong piso…only. While Obama “feasts” on hotdogs and burgers, and drinks beer with a policeman and a professor, in the White House lawn, with “mani” as pulutan. Pinapagpag pa ang asin sa kanyang pantalon.

* * *

I caught the tail-end of Pia Hontiveros’ Strictly Politics over ANC Tuesday night. The guests included Atty. Chito Gascon of the Liberal Party and Albay Gov. Joey Salceda. I don’t know what it was they discussed in the program, but Joey, in his final remarks mumbled something like this:

“She tried to govern well; she had good programs and economic policies. We thought that “doing well” (I dispute that) would be enough mandate. But I guess even these could not correct a questionable election”, he said.


And if I may correct you slightly, Governor Salceda, you probably should have said --- an illegitimate, not only a questionable mandate. I understand though. You had to be polite.

History, I am certain, will neither be polite nor kind.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grossly insensitive

L’addition, s’il vous plais, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez must have told the head waiter at Le Cirque. He could have added, “The President has a funeral to catch in Manila”.

Le Cirque does not get this large a crowd of diners these days, the economy being in recession. In any case, the celebrities that come to the East Side restaurant which boasts of a wine collection like no other in Manhattan, caters to twosome’s and foursome’s mostly, not boisterous over-dressed gaggles unable to distinguish between osetra from the Caspian or caviar from California.

Looking at the reported dishes ordered for the celebration of the wedding anniversary of our Fourth World presidenta y su esposo, you notice a clear divide. It reminds you of one of her state of the nation addresses, where she decried “two Philippines”, “a Philippines for the rich, and a Philippines for the poor”. And thereafter vowed she would make us in her watch --- “one Philippines”.

Clearly neither Cerge Remonde nor Eduardo Ermita did the ordering. Cerge would probably not know the difference between a “torchon of foie gras” from “Dover sole”. Ermita would have wondered why “isdang dapa” should fetch such a high price of 75 dollars per order, or 3,700 pesos, when out in Balayan Bay (during his childhood, for “isdang dapa” has become a rarity these days), it would hardly fetch 200 pesos for a kilo, or 75 pesos (not dollars) per fish. But Dover is veddy British, and the English Channel must have something in it that makes the “dapa” more fleshy than the emaciated ones that Ermita used to feast upon from his hometown. Cerge is Cebuano, Ed is from West End Batangas; both are penny pinchers by upbringing.

It could have been Remedios Poblador on her last night before flying to Syria upon her Dona’s express orders. Why go to Syria instead of Tita Cory? Ask Medy, if she would speak, or better yet, Gloria and Mike, if they would ever, ever say whatever was so important in Syria. For Medy would know what to order for the coven of hangers-on, and what La Dona y su esposo crave for. My guess is that El Esposo had the Dover sole (doctor’s orders), while the Dona feasted on her “dry-aged” prime striploin, and compared it to the best that Mamou’s at Serendra served her.

Or Medy and Martin Romualdez together. For the “paisanos”, the chef’s seasonal menu, a three-course meal of soup, salad and main course, likely a chicken timbale or some bourguignon of beef. That’s what Cerge complains about, “just set menus”. He must have been treated like a pobrecito paisano. Far, far away from the table reserved for the elite of the elite, who had a menu degustacion avec vin, at 180 dollars each, for appetizer rather than main course, out of which they chose their entrée of sole, or halibut poached in coconut milk (tastes like lapu-lapu sa gata), saddle of lamb and “dry aged” prime steak.

But why eleven bottles of champagne, Krug at 510 dollars a bottle (25,000 pesos per? (Still cheaper than a bottle of Erap’s vintage Chateau Petrus, at 80,000 per bottle, but Erap opened just a bottle or two at a time, as if that makes any difference). The toasts must have been “plenty” that night of August 2 at Le Cirque. Like “plenty of sex”, remember the interview?

* * *

Three worlds and twelve time zones apart, people of her country were lining up, braving the heat of scorching sun and outbursts of soaking rain, to pay their final respects to the simple bier where their first lady president lay in state. This was the president whose husband was murdered in the night of the dictator’s reign, the dictator whose wife used to dine in the same elite restaurants her full-blooded nephew Ferdinand Martin Romualdez now fancies as well. This was the president who, brought to power by the people, called upon the same to oust a duly-elected president for excesses she found too scandalous, only to rue the day she did it, because she ushered into power a woman whose excesses far outweigh everyone else’s. And had the grace to accept her mistake, while the woman she brought to power could only say “I am sorry”, for nothing she would admit.

Ferdinand Martin, if indeed he was the one who paid for the million-peso dinner tab, must have rushed the check, lest dessert of fraiche au chocolat and after-dinner liqueurs push the “chit” beyond a million, not to forget the 3 to 4 thousand dollar additional “tip” that he would cough up, lest the waiters of Le Cirque snub him when next he visits the Big Apple. “The President has a funeral to catch back in Manila…” ne c’est pas?

During the short wake for the beloved lady, text jokes were being passed around, about a Pinoy who, seeing that it would take him five hours of lining up just for a fleeting glance at Cory, told another --- “Hihintayin ko na lang ang burol ni Gloria. Doon sigurado walang pila”.

* * *

Such insensitivity, everyone now says. Wining and dining while the nation was in grief. Was the Dona y su esposo ever affected, when they went back to the presidential suite of the Waldorf Astoria, the same address in Manhattan Imelda Marcos favoured?

But why ever be affected, the Dona must have thought? She paused for an ersatz prayer for Cory’s worsening health on July 27, just a pause, not even a minute, before she mouthed her SONA lies. When Cory breathed her last, Hillary Rodham Clinton was calling on her at the Willard Hotel, only to find that her cabinet had left for shopping or sight-seeing, because of a mix-up in their schedules, one of several egregious errors in the comedy that was her Washington visit. (Ellen Tordesillas has already written about how SND Gibo and how SOF Gary were bumped off from the Oval Room encounter with Obama, in favour of He-he Alvarez and Medy Poblador). The “singit” displeased their American counterparts, Gates and Geithner, who thought they could say anything substantial in the abbreviated call on their POTUS of this little lady who was given nothing more than a sop --- coordinator for the ASEAN, merely because she spoke Georgetown English with the funny nasal twang.

Now back to the Willard, which was after Barack Obama’s photo op with her, and the asinine press conference where Cerge chose a non-journalist, voice modulator Rey Langit, to ask the only question that floored both Barack and his Dona because of its pusillanimous inanity (pardon the quaint redundancy, the editor would have excised my initial choice of expletives).

As her staff support were told that the Hillary call was cancelled (by whom, Ed or Cerge or Medy?) there was hardly anything to talk about. Whether the Dona was told about Cory Aquino’s last gasp of mortal air before she faced Hillary or whether the Dona intentionally withheld information about the same to Hillary with Kenney, one could only deduce from the pained and surprised reaction Hillary had when she was informed by the ABS-CBN correspondent, Ging Reyes.

Now comes the Dona’s “official” reaction. Hours later, she declared a ten-day mourning period, dressed in appropriate grey propped over a red settee. Caught on cruel camera, right after reading the message of “grief”, the Dona quickly stood up, then breaks into some indescribable laughter, half-nervous, half-acting, definitely a give-away to insincerity. Sans the audio, the lip-synch expert would have sworn that she was asking her “handlers” (was that you, Lupita?), “O, okay ba?” How many takes? Surely less than the 21 or more when she pronounced “I am sorry” over Hello Garci four years back.

I saw the footage after Cory had been interred. I briefly greeted Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara as she strode to her seat in the funeral mass at the Manila Cathedral. I could not ask, as I had not yet seen it, nor had I opened my e-mail in days.

* * *

At about three in the afternoon of Friday, August 7 (Manila time), I was caught by rain and heavy traffic rushing from one meeting in Quezon City to another in San Juan. My driver took a circuitous route upon seeing the traffic bottled up at the corner of Aurora Boulevard and Gilmore, and went through 6th St. to Balete and a round-about route past N. Domingo in a narrow street whose name escapes me.

There in the middle of the street were an emaciated couple, looking like zombies, skin and bones put together only by God’s amazing grace, looking like they were in their sixties when probably they were half that age. The woman was pushing a small dilapidated makeshift cart while the man was picking what litter in the street they could sell for repast. The rains had slowed down to a “tikatik”, and my driver was about to honk because the couple had blocked a narrow street where cars had double-parked. I stopped him, and allowed the couple to pass, painful step after each slowed step. I caught a glimpse of those faces wearied by suffering, the torment etched for eternity. I noticed how the lady’s mouth foamed and her tongue whitened in what seemed like clear signs of hunger, if not starvation.

And then, later that evening, a friend sent me a copy of the New York Post, where the million-peso dinner was reported on Page Six.

Where is justice in this benighted land? How can those who style themselves as leaders even sleep in their opulent settings, or gouge on astronomically-priced cuisine and libations, while countrymen survive on picking trash?

Insensitivity most gross is the kindest descriptive. Just because the provenance of wealth is thievery, and conscience is barren.

What a country!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

From Ninoy to Ballsy

I hope this is not going to intrude into the quiet private life of Maria Elena Aquino Cruz, the eldest daughter of Ninoy and Cory, but in these moments of national grief, I find it appropriate to quote excerpts from a poignant letter written by a father to his eldest daughter.

The letter was written while Ninoy was incarcerated in Fort Bonifacio, one of many the prolific hero wrote in his lifetime. Ninoy would pound on his typewriter so fast, “dut-dot style” words pouring from mind and heart straight into a typewriter. I treasure one particular letter written to me from Boston, but that is not apropos for the occasion of our nation’s grief at the passing into eternity of President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino.

“My dearest Ballsy,

“I write you this letter with tears in my eyes and as if steel fingers are
crushing my heart because I wanted so much to be with you as you celebrate
your legal emancipation. Now that you have come of age, my love, a voice
tells me that I am no longer young and suddenly, I feel old.

“An old poet gave this advice very long ago “when you are sad, remember the
roses will bloom in December.” I want to send you bouquet of roses, big red
roses from my dreamland garden. Unfortunately for the present, my roses are
not in bloom, in fact they have dropped all their petals and only the thorns
are left to keep me company. I do think it is fitting to send you a thicket
of thorns on this memorable day!

“I am very proud of you because you have inherited all the best traits of
your mother. You are sensible, responsible, even-tempered and sincere with
the least pretenses and affection, which vehemently detest in a woman. I am
sure like your mother, you will possess that rare brand of silent courage
and that combination of fidelity and fortitude that will be the life vest of
your man in the tragic moments of his life.” (Ballsy married a fine gentleman, Eldon Cruz, in the aftermath of the tragedy that befell the family with Ninoy’s death. and together they have sired very fine children, living quiet and dignified lives away from all the glare of publicity, and never for one moment, even during Cory’s presidency, did they partake of the pelf and privileges of power).

“During my lonely hours of solitary confinement in FortMagsaysay, Laur, Nueva
Ecija last March and April with nothing else to do but pray and daydream,
with only my fond memories to keep me company, I planned a weekend barrio
fiesta for you in Tarlac for your 18th birthday. I fooled myself into
believing that my ordeal would end with the fiscal year. I planned to invite
all your classmates and friends and their families for the weekend.

“The schedule called for an early departure by bus from Manila and the first
stop will be Concepcion, where lunch will be served by the pool. And after
lunch, you were to visit the Santa Rita Elementary School to distribute
cookies and ice cream to the children of that public school where you were
first enrolled.

“I guess sheer nostalgia prompted me to include Santa Rita. We were only
three then: Mommie, you and I. Those were the days of happy memories, little
responsibilities, tremendous freedom, a great future ahead and capped by a
fulfilment of love. You are the first fruit of our union, the first proof
of our love and the first seal of our affections.

“From Concepcion we were to proceed to Luisita for the barrio fiesta. I
intended to invite a friend who could roast an entire cow succulently.
Swimming, pelota, dancing and eating would have been the order of the day.

“Sunday morning was reserved for a trip around the Hacienda and the mill and
maybe golf for some of the parents and later a picnic-lunch on Uncle Tony’s
Island. Return to Manila after lunch. (So very Ninoy. Every detail had to be pat).
I am afraid this will have to remain as one of the many dreams I had in Laur.

“Our future has suddenly become uncertain and our fate unknown. I am even now
beginning to doubt whether I’ll ever be able to return to you and the
family. Hence, I would like to ask you these special favors.

“Love your mother, whose love for you, you will never be able to match. She
is not the greatest mother in the world, she is your sincerest friend.

“Take care of your younger sisters and brother and lavish them with the love
and care I would like to continue giving them but am unable to do so.

“Help Noy-noy along and pray hard that he will grow to be a real, responsible
man who in later years will protect you all.

“You are the model for your three younger sisters. Your responsibility is
therefore great. Please endeavor to live up to our highest expectations. Be
more tolerant to Pinky, more accessible to Viel, our little genius-princess,
and more charitable to Krissy, our baby doll, and make up for my neglect.

“Finally, forgive me, my love, for not having been an ideal, good and
thoughtful father to you all as I pursued public office. I had hopes and
high resolve of making up, but I am afraid my destiny will not oblige.

“I seal this letter with a drop of tear and a prayer in my heart, that
somehow, somewhere we shall meet again and I will finally be able to make up
for all my lapses, in the kingdom where justice reigns supreme and love is

“I love you,


* * *

A personal tragedy struck during the wake of Tita Cory. Ariel Digma of the Kyodo News Agency was returning to his home in General Trias, Cavite, in the early hours of Monday, August 3. He was driving an old Starex van after covering the wake of the beloved president in Greenhills, when a road accident in Bacoor altered what could have been a more brilliant career for this young journalist.

Monday morning, while Cory’s mortal remains were being transferred to Manila, I got a text message from a common friend, informing me that Ariel was fighting for his life in a government hospital. Then in the early hours of Tuesday, he was gone.

Ariel had written for Malaya and the Manila Times. When the latter was sold by the Gokongwei’s in the wake of President Erap’s ire for a picture my friend Ermin Garcia placed in the front page, I immediately got him into my staff at the Philippine Tourism Authority. I had known him when he was covering the Senate, and was impressed by his dedication to craft, his hard-working traits, and above all, his personal integrity. (Ariel created a furor when he returned an envelope of cash that was handed out to him and colleagues by a PR man, courtesy of a well-known politician).

When I walked out one “stormy” Malacanang evening (November 2, 2000) to be exact, when the crisis spawned by Chavit Singson’s revelations had rocked the government, it was partly because Ariel Digma was fighting for his life at the PGH, and needed blood transfusions because of dengue. The other reason was because I had decided to resign from the Estrada government. Ariel got out of that life crisis in time, and later went back to his journalistic career, this time as a foreign correspondent.

We have kept in touch periodically and he helped arrange meetings with the FOCAP for the man I had helped in 2001 when he ran for the Senate, and then in 2004 when he sought the presidency of the land. Like me and others in media, dear friends like Nixon Kua and Raymond Burgos, Ariel was a Ping Lacson believer. Through all these years of Gloria’s bad governance, Ariel could always be counted upon to spread the word for good government.

When Rey Marfil of Abante sent me the text message informing me of the sad news of Ariel’s demise early Tuesday morning, as I was preparing to go to the Manila Cathedral, I could only respond to him, “Diyos ko po! Bakit ba ang mga mababait ang siyang kinukuha ng Panginoon?”

My deepest sympathies go to his wife Grace and his parents. Ariel’s mortal remains, for the information of his many friends, lies in state at the Alvarez Funeral Home in Cavite City until Monday, 10 August, when he shall be interred in Noveleta.

Fare thee well, friend Ariel. Cover Ninoy and Cory up in heaven. And Tito Celing Fernan as well. I am sorry that you will not be with us when we as a people finally redeem this country from its state so benighted. But surely, when such time comes, you will be first to report to the Good Lord.


I write this an hour or so before I proceed to the Manila Cathedral to attend the funeral mass for President Corazon C. Aquino. Over the past five days since Saturday, the first of the month, we have been in mourning, and the images I saw, the feelings I have experienced, inspire and overwhelm.

A member of the family confided that the immediate plans were to have a simple wake at the Heritage Park, and a simple funeral after five days. But they realized that the place was too inaccessible, and they were right. Cory does not just belong to her grieving family; she belongs to a grieving nation.

On Saturday afternoon, I even ventured that perhaps they could stretch the period to until eight or nine days, with burial either this coming Saturday or Sunday. I had in mind people coming from the provinces, for I watched the Cory magic during the years following Ninoy’s assassination and well into the years of her troubled presidency. Even then, the lines outside were fast forming. And I personally witnessed the public’s admiration and love in so many parts of the country. Surely, I said, many would want to travel just to pay their last respects. But it was Cory’s wish to have as simple a funeral as possible and part of that was a short wake.

On Friday, July 24, one of her internal organs had already collapsed, the inevitable result of a prolonged and debilitating cancer. A doctor-friend told me that the end should normally be a few days at most. At her age, it could even be hours, I was told. In the week when Congress opened, I was told that before her physical situation deteriorated, she expressed the desire for a very simple burial and wake, and shunned any state funeral. That was very Cory.

A close relative of mine once found herself aboard the same plane bound for Hong Kong when Cory was no longer president. She was surprised to see her in coach. She politely declined an upgrade that the flight crew willingly offered.

I was not surprised at her first person account of Cory Aquino. To those of us who have observed her closer than most, that was quintessentially Cory. Utmost simplicity and humility that one could only describe as class.

In an interview over ANC, while the flat-bed truck bringing her was yet slowly moving through Roxas Boulevard last Monday, when I was asked what I thought was the reason behind the Cory magic so vividly seen in the last few days, and more so in the loving and rousing reception shown by the people when her mortal remains were transferred to the Cathedral from De La Salle Greenhills, I said “her nobility of character”.

Many wondered why the poor and downtrodden identified with her even if she was born and bred rich. I could not explain that I have seen that in many alumnae of St. Scholastica’s College, for many would not understand the difference between one convent school and another. Closest kin have been educated there, and I have personally appreciated the social awareness inculcated upon their students.

It warmed my heart most to see how the people who survive in the urban warrens of South Superhighway and Quirino in Paco enthusiastically filled the streets, waiting for hours beneath the noonday sun just to catch a glimpse of the bier. I was sure the day before that the Makati financial center would burst into yellow fever. I was not that confident about Quirino and Paco’s urban poor. But there they were, with makeshift placards, grabbing almost anything yellow-coloured they could see in their households, and somehow fashioning these into instruments of love. The sight was too over-powering. Clearly, that was the nobility of the poor. The innate nobility of the Filipino.

Back home last Monday night after helping in the reception of visitors at the Cathedral, I recalled the Sunday night incident at De La Salle Greenhills where President Joseph Estrada and his wife, Senadora Loi, his immediate family and members of his cabinet paid their respects to Tita Cory. I met them at the corridor on their way to the hall. Here was a man in whose Edsa Dos ouster the late president herself was a leading figure, but here he was paying her homage. That too is nobility.

But such nobility in President Erap was presaged by another class act on the part of President Cory. In the aftermath of the revelations of Hello Garci, scandalized that the woman she had helped make president even at the expense of thwarting a popular sovereign mandate, had debased herself by a clear conspiracy to cheat, and lying through her teeth throughout that crisis, President Cory asked her to resign. Of course she did not, and she has buckled herself, nay, shackled herself to her illegitimate throne. Thence did Cory take the rather unexpected act of publicly apologizing to the deposed Erap for her role in Edsa Dos.

Nothing could be more noble. To accept human mistake, to acknowledge an error in judgment, and lament the result that has wrought, that was an act of humility like no other. No wonder even the masa who kept their faith in Erap were one with Tita Cory, in her pain, in her illness, and in her death. They saw in her a nobility of character unusual, atypical in many of the politicians whose heads swelled with the power they abused.

Over the past few days, we have seen how even ordinary folk would bring flowers and deposit these in front of her modest Times Street residence, the same house where she and Ninoy grew their five children at. Times Street then and still the same Times Street now, through a senator’s highly charged life, through incarceration, through the heady days of presidential power, and through retirement from power.

We have seen the ordinary folk suffering the intense heat and bursts of rain intertwined, patiently through hours and hours of queuing just to pay their respects, albeit as fleeting as a second or two, and not complaining throughout. We have seen small businessmen sending food and umbrellas to that long queue, all in a gesture of unity in mourning. Once more you feel the pride swelling into your being. Pride in the Filipino, that which we have lost in a decade of political disaster, where the democratic institutions Cory led to restoration, are now shorn of almost all credibility. In one moment of sadness, we have regained it. Would that it would last.

Would that it would continue to burn, as we face another test of what Cory Aquino called “democracy’s most solemn responsibility”, the transfer of power from one bereft of any nobility in character, to one who hopefully would yet embody it, in the tradition of the simple lady whose loss we mourn today.

I was also in the Cathedral when Bongbong and Imee went inside to pay their respects to the president whose courage and resolve led to the downfall of their father, the man who led us through an entire generation. And I saw the sincerity in the siblings, with Bongbong more composed to a visibly unnerved Imee. They were led to the pews reserved for the family of Ninoy and Cory, where Ballsy greeted them warmly and gratefully. There were hardly any words exchanged. Words were unnecessary after all. The nobility showed.

Later, asked by rather pestering but understandable media furor, Bongbong simply said, “We just came here to condole”. The siblings and Bongbong’s wife Lisa would have stayed longer had not media attention become a disturbance to the solemnity of occasion.

And Pinky Aquino Abellada, caught by inquisitive media, said of the Marcos’ visit --- “Sa amin naman talaga, they really sincerely prayed for my mother when she was sick”. When asked about the prospects of reconciliation between their two families which had been politically at odds with each other, Pinky answered, “I cannot say for now; we really cannot foresee the immediate future, pero … sana”.

Again, such nobility.

I should now hurry up, because I have duties at the Cathedral. It is the least I can do for a woman whose marvellous life touched me in more ways than one.

Paalam, Tita Cory.