Monthly Archives: October 2011

P5M Gift for the MILF

October 28, 2011/ Friday
Good Morning Philippines
ON SECOND THOUGHT

The controversy involving the P5M given to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is causing the spokespersons of the Palace to get entangled in different and sometimes contradicting statements about the said gift. Its initial reaction when the story first broke out was to brush it off as the doing of the previous administration (it’s the “blame habit”) and something this administration simply had to comply with. But it must have dawned on them soon after that that explanation would not wash well with all their boasting about the number of contracts entered into by GMA’s administration that they have rescinded due to provisions in those contracts supposedly “disadvantageous” to the government, as they have claimed. They did not mind that the European corporations involved in those contracts would sue the government in international courts and ask for corresponding damages which some have already promptly done or have threatened to do. In other words, they can’t claim to have their hands tied to agreements made by the previous government so now, they will have to switch tact and defend the P5M gift to the MILF as worthy. Secondly, there seems to be conflicting statements as to when the check was physically turned over to the MILF, one saying it happened during the meeting in Tokyo between the President and MILF leaders while another saying it was handed to the MILF peace panel by Mr. Leonen during the opening of the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur. It must be noted that this gift or news of it comes at the wake of the recent massacre of AFP soldiers in Basilan by rebel groups still unconfirmed whether belonging to the MILF or the outlawed Abu Sayaff bandits or both. It has become a sensitive issue to the military because of P-Noy’s lack of sympathy with the bloodied army and seeming partiality towards the MILF which angered not a few in the military establishment. The President has since tried to make up for it by the sudden announcement of the release of P10B pesos for the AFP’s modernization program, something that has long been included in the budget. He has also since authorized the bombing of identified lairs of the Muslim rebels responsible for the carnage, something the military feels he should have done immediately after the killings but instead, ordered the relief of a couple of Army Commanders and its’ spokesman involved in the shootout. He has also ordered an “all out justice” which is a new name for what the military felt he should have done early on – to go after the perpetrators. The coining of the non-sensical “all out justice” order, something unheard of in military parlance, was a way of saving face so as not to seem like he had yielded to the not so veiled threats of some officers’ plans to offer their resignation in protest of their Commander in Chief’s lack of support when they needed it most. This, of course, could have triggered a serious confrontation between the military and Malacanang, something P-Noy is most familiar with from experience during his mother’s regime when several coup attempts had taken place, one that almost had him killed when he received bullet wounds from rebel soldiers at that time. This probably explains the intrinsic antagonism towards the military still felt by the current President of the Republic and Commander in Chief of the AFP, not to mention the vengeful nature most people perceive in P-Noy. If the P5M gift cannot be adequately justified and explained to the satisfaction of the military, the rift between Malacanang and the AFP could widen further and threaten the on going peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government. For now, the differentiation between friend and foe remains blurred.

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“Winner for the Most Asinine Statement”

Good Morning Philippines
ON SECOND THOUGHT
For October 26, 2011/ Wednesday

“Malacanang clarified that ‘there is nothing wrong with Italy’s travel ban on its citizens to the Philippines after the recent murder of Italian priest Fr. Faustino Tentorio in North Cotabato,’” it was reported in a daily last week. What kind of statement is that, whether in reference to the travel ban or to the murder of a priest or both, saying that there’s nothing wrong with it? Everything is wrong and nothing is right about it. That announcement from the palace is plainly absurd and beyond belief unless it was meant to be surrealistic; but we’re afraid the Palace was serious in their pronouncement. That one should win the trophy for most asinine, not to mention uncalled for, statement coming from the spokespersons in Malacanang, all of whom have become the butt of jokes among Filipinos across the internet.

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Governor Vilma Santos Recto explained that the proposal to construct a huge sign on Taal volcano similar to the tacky one on Hollywood, California “is not final yet,” and will undergo a process of consultations with various government agencies, including the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, along with concerned sectors like the fisher-folk and other stake-holders. It seems no one has told her yet about the “aesthetics” concern of the people opposing it which, admittedly, is a question of personal taste. That means they will also have to convince her that it’s ugly and will ruin the natural and pristine beauty that millions of people have appreciated over countless of years. We hope she will agree with the obvious.

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President Benigno Aquino III expressed dismay at the performance of the Philippine Army in the wake of a spate of killings of AFP soldiers over a four day period that left 23 soldiers dead. The attacks on the soldiers occurred two days apart in Basilan and Zamboanga, Sibugay. PNoy’s disappointment with the military caused some rumblings among officers that felt their Commander in Chief was giving too much credence to the version, and justification, of the MILF for the attack on the soldiers, and little sympathy to the protectors of the State. Shortly after, Malacanang announced a PHP10B release of funds for the AFP modernization program stressing it had nothing to do with the events in Mindanao. To some, it sounded like buying his way out of a confrontation with a heated military. The majority of the population, based on a survey done by a broadcast station and the comments made in social media platforms in the internet, were miffed by the President’s lack of resolve to avenge the deaths of the soldiers. The following day, the President ordered the military to bomb areas in Mindanao where the perpetrators were believed to have fled. But for the most part, the President held on to his “dovish” stance and expressed his confidence in the on-going peace talks with the MILF. The President has said he is against an all out war as some have suggested. It’s difficult to understand the President in anything he does regarding the decades old strife in Mindanao until it is clear what exactly he agreed to with the MILF during their secret meeting in Tokyo some 3 months ago. When you keep secrets from your people, don’t expect understanding and support to come easy.

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Good Morning Philippines
ON SECOND THOUGHT

“Word of Honour”

The Supreme Court has decided on RA No. 10153 declaring it constitutional after several petitions were filed questioning its’ constitutionality. This is the law to synchronize the ARMM elections together with the 2013 elections in the rest of the country. It was a priority bill of the Palace so we assume they are pleased with the results. This law also allows for the President to appoint OIC’s to serve from now until the elections in May of 2013. The reason for Malacanang’s sponsorship of this law is ostensibly to pursue an intensive development program in one of the poorest regions of the country and it is the President’s stated belief that they can only do this if they are given a free hand to choose who to implement it by handpicking the “right” people for the job. Let’s hope they are right for the sake of the people of ARMM who have just been deprived of electing their own officials. There is plenty of bitterness among them because, ironically, their region operates under a special charter giving them autonomy enshrined in the Constitution yet it is the only local government that will be run by officials appointed by the President.
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Another Wikileaks cable has been published, this time about Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s assessment of then Presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro. She described him as having “many positive attributes, including an impressive intellect, an excellent grasp of policy and strong public speaking skills.” Her assessment then of the now President Aquino was of “a diffident, unassertive man continuing a political tradition handed on by his parents but not carving his own legacy.” This caused a furor among the minions of the President including his Foreign Secretary who publicly decried Ambassador Kenney as “a dismal failure in helping the Filipinos defend our democracy.” The assumption that it was the US Ambassador’s job to defend our democracy was as strange as how she supposedly failed in defending it. Her description of “Gibo” many, if not all, will agree with and see as “spot on.” On the other hand, her opinion of PNoy has been seen by not a few as already “being kind” on her part.
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There’s been speculation on whether there was a “secret” agreement between President Aquino and the Marcoses on what PNoy would finally decide on regarding the remains of the late President Marcos’ burial at the LNMB. What we know from reliable sources is the “secret agreement” was pretty much what VP Binay had recommended in his report to the President. The recommendation had a built-in opposition “group,” no longer anywhere as large as even just a decade ago, composed of the ardent Marcos haters, the usual leftists, oligarchs and their dependents, and a smattering of individuals with their own personal grudges. Added to that were those that did not want to see the Vice-President gain more popularity than he already had and that could include the “Balay” faction and their following. Still, Binay’s own survey showed 2/3 of the population in favor of full military honors at the LNMB. “Secret agreement” or none, the “one word” (word of honor) Senator “Bongbong” Marcos mentioned as absent in PNoy’s character traits could very well be in calling the people his “boss” because 2/3 of the population plus 2/3 of their representatives in the Lower House were not allowed to have their way and those numbers certainly constitute “the people” or the “boss” given that there is no one thing anyone can get a hundred percent of the population to agree on. Even PNoy’s ascendancy to the Presidency was thanks to less than 2/3 of the votes. Who really is the “boss?”

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Witch-Hunt at Whose Behest

Good Morning Philippines
ON SECOND THOUGHT

However you look at it, there persists something amiss about the case being investigated in the Senate involving a supposed “behest loan” obtained from the Development Bank of the Philippines by investment banker Roberto Ongpin, erstwhile Minister of Trade of President Ferdinand Marcos. At the onset, one would imagine it to be a loan unpaid and delinquent. But in this case, not only has it been fully paid, it was never delinquent and quite the contrary, settled before its maturity date. Furthermore, it earned the bank P4M in interest alone and a hefty P1.3B in trading profits. Ongpin has also repeatedly stated that the loans were adequately collateralized and was less than a fifth that formed part of a  loan package. Charges and counter charges are being disseminated through PR firms and direct interviews of the protagonists by media. After the Senate investigation is done, they should be able to determine where this loan fits in. This column believes the loan will eventually pass as a legitimate undertaking but there is a parallel issue that is now unfolding in the course of the investigation: the presence of “insider trading” of the stocks purchased using the loan funds wherein the borrower, Mr. Ongpin, doubled his money after selling them a month later. These stocks were bought from DBP, which also gave it (DBP) a windfall of more than a billion pesos in profit at the time of sale.  The crime of “insider trading” is as difficult to prove as the crime of “prostitution.” Both practices are done in utmost privacy and secrecy and never written on paper, issued a receipt, or announced to the public.  Since the Senate investigation has no prosecutorial powers whatsoever, it will eventually be the courts that will decide the fate of all the accused in this case. The Senators can make all the insinuations, conjectures, and implications they want but this is the type of case that will be decided primarily on documentary evidence. The senate investigation is merely for the benefit of revisiting laws or “in aid of legislation,” which to a lot of people has come to mean, “grandstanding by politicians.” Others are convinced it’s part of a witch-hunt orchestrated by the Palace.

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The Lower House of Congress has about 119 neophyte members, the highest number since the late nineties. The colleague a good number of them look up to is also a first term Congressman (but no neophyte) in the person of Rudy Farinas, Deputy Majority Floor leader and Vice-Chairman of three of the most powerful Committees in Congress, namely: Justice; Ways and Means; and Rules. It is easy to see why they would choose him to guide them in what could be a maze for a greenhorn. He is essentially a maverick by nature, approachable, helpful, and among the brightest legal minds in this Congress. His “independence” does not preclude his abilities as a team player; but with Congressman Farinas, one usually finds him in a leadership role in whatever group he belongs. The neophytes are correct in their choice of a mentor. We believe there are bigger responsibilities waiting for Mr. Farinas in this “come-back” stage of his political career that began as the youngest Mayor of Laoag City, at the age of twenty-eight. He is the man to watch in the Lower House but that should come as no surprise to those that have worked with this energetic, (1978) bar-topnotcher, straight shooter, competent, tough, and reliable friend and ally. In the context of his checkered past that included serious controversial issues, his own words could not be more apt: “They’ve seen the worst of me; now is the time to see the best of me.”

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A Divided People

Good Morning Philippines

ON SECOND THOUGHT

A Divided People

It must have been frustrating for Senator “Bongbong” Marcos to be talking to the administration of P-Noy on the burial issue of his late father, President Ferdinand Marcos. It started off with a forthright admission by the President that he was biased on the issue and so would leave the decision to his Vice President whom he instructed to study and submit his recommendation on the matter. The President was hailed by not a few for his candid admission of bias and his willingness to give the Marcos family a fair decision. It even looked like a policy of the President to heal the wounds of the nation and unite the country under his leadership.

Subsequently, after a few months, VP Binay submitted his report but not before conducting a thorough study that included a survey and consultations with all those concerned; Binay’s recommendation called for a full state honors burial but to be laid to rest not in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB) but in his home province of Ilocos Norte. The Palace announced that the President needed a couple of days to look it over and make his decision.. This must have surprised the Marcos family because it was a turn around from his admission of bias and his waiver in making the decision. The two days passed by and still no official word from the President. After a week or so, the Palace announced that there were more pressing matters to attend to.

Meanwhile, in March, the Lower House had passed a resolution signed by no less than 2/3 of its’ members, urging the President to allow for the burial of the former President at the LNMB. A couple more months dragged on and nothing more was heard either from the Marcoses or from P-Noy. Then as recent as a month ago, VP Binay announced to a crowd in Ilocos Norte that the burial of their beloved former President, as he had recommended to the President, was a done deal and that the Marcos family had agreed to the conditions. This was denied by Senator Marcos as he explained that they still had to receive official notice from the palace and so there was nothing they could accept, reject, or agree to. Then, the bomb-shell from P-Noy last Wednesday (12 October) telling the members of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines that he will not allow the burial of Marcos’ remains in the LNMB nor give the late President state honors and accused him of masterminding the sufferings of all the human rights victims during martial law. This prompted an angry and frustrated Senator Marcos to lash out on Aquino calling him a man whose word cannot be trusted and accusing him of partisan politics and fomenting deeper divisions among an already divided people. The angry Senator could not hide his infuriation when he lambasted the President lamenting what he called a missed opportunity for the President to unite his country and adding that it showed he was not a “natural leader.”

With the President still adorning his formal and casual outfits with a yellow ribbon as he did throughout the campaign, the Senator may have been among the last to know that this President is not inclined to heal the wounds that have divided the Filipinos to their own detriment. We’re afraid that will have to await a more stable and confident leader to become president.

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What is Yours is “Mine”

Good Morning Philippines!

ON SECOND THOUGHT

The NPA attacks on three mining facilities in Surigao del Norte could have been avoided had there been  a military presence in the area, a province known to be with NPA rebels. It was reported that  P3B worth of equipment and infrastructure were destroyed. The NPA rebels took an entire half day, with no one to prevent them, to carry out the destruction and burning of dump trucks, backhoes, bulldozers, barges and other equipment as they held about 2,000 employees hostage and carted away whatever they saw was of some value. That’s how far the nearest AFP battalion, division or brigade was from the area.  Three Billion Pesos is a lot of money to lose in one afternoon even for giant Sumitomo of Japan, a joint venture partner of Nickel Asia Philippines, owners of the mining concern. Fortunately, no one was killed but others that would have wanted to do business here might think of not being as lucky next time this sort of thing happens again. More than what was lost in the raid is the incalculable loss in business opportunities by way of Direct Foreign Investments that our country desperately needs. Knowing the huge amount of capital invested in their operations, why did anyone not think of providing safeguards in protecting these expensive equipment, not to mention lives? Whose responsibility is it among the government departments, agencies, or  bureaus to protect not only the companies engaged in mining but the mines themselves? Is it the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the DENR, the AFP or all three in coordination? If we want to lure other foreign investors to come in and do business here, we have to show them that there are people that will have to be answerable to this latest rebel attack that has made obvious the lack of “intelligence information” on the part of our military. A couple of hundred rebels in an area should not be easy to hide from our armed forces if they were heads-up in their intelligence gathering against the NPA. The first order of battle in any war is knowing where your enemy is. Instead of acquiring antiquated naval battle ships that don’t make the slightest difference in our naval strength in comparison with the navies of our perceived or imagined enemies, like China over the Spratly islands for instance, we must focus instead, once and for all, in destroying the NPA that is “already” within our territory and will never give up their violent “struggle” if the last half century has taught us anything.

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We’ve heard P-Noy say more than once that he is not in favor of Charter change or even amending some economic provisions in the Constitution; and as an economist, he must have his reasons for thinking so. What’s curious is why none in his economic team are explaining in detail to business leaders why this is, indeed,  not  going to be of help in  growing the economy, as their boss has opined. The question that begs to be asked is: are P-Noy and his economic appointees in agreement on this issue?  The silence of his economic managers on the merits of amending economic provisions in the Constitution is getting more and more deafening.

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Missing in Action

Good Morning Philippines!

ON SECOND THOUGHT

It was amusing to see how the spokespersons at the Palace took turns in explaining why the President was nowhere to be seen during the twin typhoons, “Pedring” and “Quiel”  as they barreled through the Philippines last week. Mr. lacierda gave the opening salvo with his story about the President being “not fond of photo-ops” by way of explaining his “missing in action.”  Seriously, is that something a leader tells a citizen drowning in a flood as being the reason he’s not around if only to reassure the flood victims and  give them hope that help is on its way? Is the President’s “camera shy” quality more important than assuring families desperate in their life and death situation that the government is there to help and no less than the President is on top of the situation as evidenced by his presence. Put in his own terms, does an “employee” tell his “bosses” he can’t make it to work because there are people with cameras in the office building and he’s against photo-ops?

When another day passed by and still no sign of the President, it was Abigail Valte’s turn at excusing the President with her version of an asinine remark saying the President “does not want to become the focus or the center of attraction when he visits” the provinces submerged in water,  hence, his conspicuous absence.

And finally, word came out on  some personal reaction from the President to the devastation: “the President was shocked,” Ms. Valte announced, this, coming 5 days after the first and the worse of the twin typhoons struck and some thirty people had already perished.  All the while that they were explaining why the President was not here or there but was monitoring the situation closely, no one was able to say exactly where  he was and with whom and doing precisely what. That was as transparent as it got. And we’re talking here simply of his whereabouts during a calamity.

It is as easy for Mr. Aquino to call all Filipinos his “boss” as it is for him to behave like one and an insensitive one at that. It is no different from the diner at an ultra expensive restaurant calling the waiter “boss” to order him, discourteously,  to bring  more wine. If there is one trait of this President that has been made obvious to all, it is this: insensitive and callous. It was shown when he acquired the Porsche; made evident when he refused to apologize to the families of the victims of the botched rescue operations during the infamous “Luneta hostage crisis;” and  revealed during the recent calamities that saw more than fifty people die and millions suffer and who are still suffering.

So when the President repeats to us that we are his bosses, picture the brash, arrogant diner at the fancy restaurant rudely ordering the waiter to bring him more wine, condescendingly addressing him as “boss,” “amo,” or “chief.” And then imagine yourself as the waiter having to bear with him.

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