Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Red herring

The herring (hareng in French cuisine) is a favourite among people who live in the countries beside the North Sea. Pickled herring is a delicacy among the Dutch as much as Scandinavians, and there are as many country variations of the recipe.

Smoking fish and brine-salting were done in the 14th and 15th century to preserve it, much like our tinapa and tuyo. Now herring when cured, turns red. Fugitives hunted by the king’s soldiers would use “red” herrings to throw the soldier’s bloodhounds off the scent. If a herring was dragged across a trail that the hounds were following, it throws them off direction. Thus was born the metaphor of the “red herring”.

A red herring is something that is used to divert attention from the real intent. It is an issue subterfuge, throwing the news hounds off the scent of the real news, the real issue.

Over bottles of beer last Thursday evening, friends asked why the PaLaKa decided to field a Gibo-Ronnie tandem for 2010. Not that they thought BF would have been a better flag-carrier for their frog-green colours which Gibo relishes, his high of 1% compared to 0.2% of the former notwithstanding. But why didn’t the Dona inveigle Noli de Castro, whose numbers were infinitely higher than Gilbert Teodoro’s, they wondered?

Of course, we are told that Noli did not bite, or tarried too long such that when he wanted to bite, the herring was already devoured by Gibo. But then again, up until the Dona met Obama in DC, her political acolytes were pushing every possible legislative tactic to prolong her term by amending the Constitution. No time to make Noli feel there would be elections anyhow, nor time to assure him the baton of her “legacy” would pass on to him..

But likely too, I submit, a Gibo-Ronnie ticket is a red herring. The Dona has two other options in mind. One is rather “out-of-the-box”, and will require a thoroughly-bought and lapdog-loyal military to effect, that is, to cause a failure of elections and use the ensuing chaos to proclaim an emergency situation with the Dona still on top, as commander-in-chief and transition autocrat.

Some time ago, I merely listed the names and positions of the favoured Class of 78 in this space, and described their “familial” relations with their adopted classmate, La Donna, misma. Immediately thereafter, rumours about an “August Moon” plot surfaced, printed by another paper. That’s how credible GMA and her cohorts are.

The other is “in-the-box”, by trapo practice and the Dona’s character. And that is, transact, if it has not yet been struck, a “deal” with Manny Villar of the Nacionalista Party.

Gibo is thus, merely a red herring, to throw us all off the scent. We would be deluded into thinking genuine contest and genuine elections are in the offing, while the Dona just traipses all over the world, no longer savouring fine cusine (kuno) comme Le Cirque (though room service at the Park Lane Intercon can be just as expensive), while the ultimate in her longevity strategies are neatly playing out. One day we just might wake up to the reality of her “evil” designs.

Or, conventional but wicked nonetheless, she pulls all the strings to make Villar “win”, with financial contributions from cronies and relatives to augment Villar’s already deep pockets, and ensure that he is able to buy everyone and everything that needs to be purchased, and utilize a thousand Garci’s through the Venezuelan automated formula. But this gambit would require that Villar is a close enough Numero Dos to Noynoy or Chiz in the official campaign that unreels on February 8. And then he becomes the Venezuelan candidate, by the grace of Gloria and perhaps with the nihil obstat of Hugo Chavez?

* * *

With Mar finally accepting to be Noynoy’s vice-president, the Liberal Party is “kasado”, in gambling bettors’ lingo. And with the NPC expected to finally announce their Chiz-Loren tandem, it will also be “kasado”.

Funny, but it is Manny with the “mostest” in money who is finding it problematic to come up with a VP. He was the first to announce his candidacy. His numbers in the surveys are enviable, the result of hundreds of millions, perhaps close to a cool billion thus far, spent in commercial advertising. He has his own money to burn, and he is burning a lot.

After Chiz Escudero cut him off with a curt rejection two weeks back, he has sounded off Pia Cayetano, but the lady senator won’t do it, not even for the love of her brother Alan Peter. Vice-President Noli has categorically announced, on a “friendly” TV channel, that he will not be his friend Manny’s vice-presidential candidate.

Manny Villar has himself mentioned Jinggoy Estrada (“magaling iyan”, said the NP owner), but then the latter’s daddy, former President Erap, is still declaring that he will run for president himself, otra vez, con mucho gusto. So where does that put Jinggoy? Maybe Erap himself would join Manny as vice-president? He solves his probable disqualification that way, and tests his “vindication” dream.

Manny-Jamby perhaps? Unthinkable. Manny-Ping? Even more unthinkable. Manny-Jojo? Doesn’t seem like Jojo will bite. Why not Manny-Adel (Tamano)? Perfect geographical balance. Demographically, an “ageing” Villar side-by-side with Noynoy, Gibo and Chiz (from young enough to young still to youngest) could be complemented by Tamano, assuming he will be forty by May of 2010, of course.

* * *

Not a red herring, but foul-smelling “bulok” is how former SEC chair Perfecto “Jun” Yasay, tried to ride on the expose of Ping Lacson on the supposedly forcible manner with which Mark Jimenez brokered the sale of PLDT and PTIC holdings owned by Alfonso Yuchengo, Tony Boy Cojuangco, and Antonio Meer, to Manny Pangilinan’s Indonesian-controlled Salim Group, now Metro-Pacific.

Yasay tried to put himself in the “picture” (is Jun thinking of an umpteenth senatorial run?), by alleging that Jimenez got a broker’s commission of 3 billion pesos, which the Erap-proclaimed “corporate genius” divvied up evenly between Erap, then executive secretary Ronnie Zamora, and himself. Angered, Erap reportedly demanded that “Jimenez give up his 1 billion share, and around half of Zamora’s.”

Yasay’s tale is too fantastic and too tall. Nobody pulls, or even attempts to pull that kind of “fast one” on Erap. Certainly not Ronny, who sounded cocksure and even aloof before “ordinary mortals” like his fellows in Malacanang and palace reporters, but would almost always be terrified at Estrada’s ever-suspicious character.

Mark Jimenez, the whispers in the stinking palace at the time went, was invested with the title of “corporate genius” by a grateful president because he delivered whatever his gifts were, in full. Walang dagdag, certainly walang bawas. At walang singit, walang balato, except if the balato came from the cappo di tutti cappi’s generosity, mismo. And Ronny was not the type to get balato from Erap.

* * *

How often did we see DOF Secretary Ed Espiritu in the stinking palace during the days of President Erap? Once a week, sometimes twice, certainly not as often as then custom deputy Nelson Tan, eventually BOC Collector, who reported almost daily to the president. And Customs is under DOF, right? Call that hands-on monitoring of customs collections.

DPWH Secretary Gregorio Vigilar would be in Malacanang for cabinet meetings, which President Erap left to Ronny Zamora to preside, and during inspection trips to the provinces. But why was Region IV DPWH regional head Panganiban reporting almost daily in the palace?

When Ed Angara-recomendee, Dr. Felipe Estrella was the health secretary, who would report DOH matters to Pres. Erap, but Estrella’s undersecretary, Dr. Suzy Pineda-Mercado?

All this talk about exclusively talking only to cabinet-level officials is selective balderdash. It is partly true and partly false, depending on the president’s “interest” in certain departments, and the level of confidence he had in some cabinet members, or lack of the same. Ask the long-suffering-in-silence Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Ramon “Eki” Cardenas whereof I write.

I was there almost every day. I would report to the PTA office along T.M.Kalaw at eight, then leave for the palace by three; stay at the Political Affairs office in the Borloloy annex for two hours or less, depending on the paperwork. Then stay in the presidential residence cum office from five till nine, or sometimes beyond. Ronny and I would start getting fidgety when the President was in an expansive mood after dinner, looking at our watches, for the witching hour might commence when the “celestials” descend upon the palace grounds. That’s when the other “cabinet”, the midnight shift, takes over.

Exception to this daily routine was Monday of each week. Upon our instance, we would meet with the President for a news planning conference at eight and have breakfast with him. The first few breakfasts started at eight. In less than a month, Ronny Z, Rod Reyes, Jerry Barican, Jim Policarpio, and I, plus some quondam additions to the breakfast circle, would have to break our fast by ourselves, because the president was not yet up and about.

On one such day in November 1999, the president joined us at half past nine. Ronny reminded him that Ping Lacson was supposed to be sworn-in as PNP chief, and was already waiting in the anteroom of Heroes Hall. The president did not seem all that eager to swear him in, finally breaking our meeting at almost twelve, which was when Lacson was told that he would finally be sworn in.

In last week’s privilege speech, Lacson told the people the story behind his on-again, off-again appointment as PNP chief. Haaaaay … jueteng!

* * *

Jinggoy labels Ping as an “ingrato”, for telling the nation long pent-up experiences that demonstrate the character and competence of his father, the “Ama ng Masa”.

It is a cultural trait that we Filipinos hold dear and sacred. But “utang na loob” becomes cultural aberration when we close our eyes and shut up our mouths forever, even if the future of nation and people are at stake. “Omerta” or the Mafiosi code of silence is antithetical to the national interest. It is criminal to uphold a personal debt of gratitude over and above country.