A black hole for a heart: PH hunger games


Hunger that drives people to madness and despair is tragic. Ignoring needs of hungry folk and answering demands for food with a hail of bullets is criminal. Launching a parade of lies to defend the indefensible is obscene. It strips President Benigno Aquino’s government of legitimacy.

The President is missing in the face of crisis, as usual. His spokespersons and alter egos, and local stooges, swerve and lurch from one falsehood to another.

tudla corn darwin
The Agriculture Secretary claims drought isn’t so bad in North Cotabato. This photo by Tudla productions shows Mrgy Malibatuan, Arakan,  hometown of 22-year old Darwin Sulang, killed in the April 1 dispersal of hungry farmers’ Kidapawan City barricade.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Spokesman Wilben Mayor claimed cops didn’t carry guns. Photos show armed cops were there from the start of the protest.

KILAB MARCH 31 Screen Shot
Kilab Multimedia staff took this photo of the police line in the Kidapawan protests on March 31, the day after cops shot at protesters. Their negotiators says the armed cops, contrary to national officials claim, were stationed very near the rallysts from the first day of the protest. 

Then the PNP said armed cops were sent because of the reported presence of rebels. They got a search warrant against the protesters’ church-owned sanctuary, but came out of the United Methodist Church compound with only one sports cap.

Manila officials cringed when the regional head of the Commission on Human Rights came out to say that cops had fired at kneeling and fleeing protesters.

KILAB SHOOTING2
Still image from Kilab video, “Bullets for Rice” (see below)

It didn’t surprise anyone who’d already seen video footage of the dispersal. The (pleasant) surprise was to find that some government officials remain committed to truth-telling.

Watch: Bullets for Rice by Kilab Multimedia

Suddenly, functionaries who had demanded the public wait for a government probe decided CHR Region 12 Director Erlan Deluvio. was not a person of authority.

 

The government ignored Deluvio and turned right to focus on a new tack:  communists were to blame for “duping” the farmers.

Farmers didn’t know why they were there, said these spokespersons.

mar-roxas-1Who fed them? demanded Malacanang factotums and lapdogs. There would have been no protest if nobody fed and encouraged these poor farmers, they said.

Liberal party standard bearer Mar Roxas has joined the chorus, as if he didn’t see the outpouring of support for the Lumad he and his patron refused to help.

Filipinos responded to the callous spin with an outpouring of rice donations for the farmers.

donation
Donations roll into the United Methodist Church compound after an embarrassed government ordered the lifting of a food blockade. These 400 sacks of rice from the Kilusang Mayo Uno. Photo by Kilab Multimedia

Officials staged more tantrums. The donations were aimed at embarrassing the government, they said.

donate2

Cops barred food from reaching protesters. They also tried to bar lawyers, rights workers and kin from access to the wounded, even to the dead.

National Union of People’s Lawyers Edre Olalia said cops kept arrested protesters in a gym way beyond the legally prescribed time — and then, in the absence of a lawyer, made them sign away their rights.

Every right had to be fought for. In the city of Kidapawan, the Philippines has its first display of urban hamletting — mass illegal detention and denial of the most basic needs.

The government even tried to scare off local businesses. Tudla Productions reported on April 5:

Kidapawan City Councilor Lauro Taynan, Jr. recieved a call from a trader that 300 sacks of rice to be donated to farmers were held up in the warehouse for the police refused that the sacks be taken out. The sacks were purchased by Becky Vidanes, Robin Padilla’s manager.

The persistent outcry and appalled statements from multilateral agencies and international groups and most media outfits prompted an about face that finally allowed the flow of aid today.

But not before the most obscene act opened.

The budget secretary, responding to reports that it had slashed P2-billion off requested El Nino mitigating funds, said agencies had been told to source whatever was needed from the budgets for other programs.

It truly needs people living on a different plane of reality would think it is right to cut an urgent request in half, and then stealing funds from allocated programs to cover up.

That’s a shell game, pure and simple, using people’s money – and you wonder what they’re covering up because they’ve been throwing money left and right to their pet legislators and local government officials.

National government started an outpouring of technocratese to numb the debate. But one of the ruling coalition’s most powerful members decided spice things up by suddenly becoming a security spokesman for the government.

alcalaProspero Alcala, President Aquino’s untouchable agriculture secretary – a slew of graft charges, his congressional slush fund ending up in ghost NGOs that used farmers without ever giving them the benefit of taxpayers’ monies – told media:

Things aren’t so bad; the communists only want it to sound bad, because they wanted a big shebang to celebrate the March 29 anniversary of the New People’s Army. The entire protest, says Alcala, was just a show. There wasn’t much hunger. There was, in fact a bumper crop.

That made for a collective puke heard around the country.

And that’s how you know it’s over, when the government starts botching up even the simplest rules of logic.

Government neglect and inefficiency and hubris were responsible for the Kidapawaan tragedy. Everything else that follows is just proof that this is a government without soul and, thus, without legitimacy. #30

READ Nat’l Food Authority workers say govt neglect led to Kidapawan Massacre

 

 

 

 

 

As Philippine elections near, gambling lords take spotlight


Do read scaRRedcat’s latest commentary for UcanNews on the US$81-million, money-laundering scandal involving funds stolen from Bangladesh’s central bank via cyberheist.

As gambling lords and casino operators, and their bankers and remittance agents, blithely talked of personal turnovers of millions of dollars, Filipinos took to social media to express bewilderment and outrage.

Kim Wong, one of the country’s most powerful junket agents and among those charged with the money laundering of cyberheist proceeds, told a senator that it would be “an insult” to even inquire where his clients’ money comes from.

“Someone who gambles amounts as huge as this should be considered suspicious,” said Joaquin Astono on Twitter.

Poverty stalks more than a quarter of the country’s 100 million population; average monthly income is less than US$200.

“I can’t even make half a million pesos in a year of hard work and very little sleep, and I hear people dismiss half a billion pesos of gambling losses,” said Lorena Lopez, a call center agent.

The country’s Catholic bishops issued a statement decrying casinos “as a symbol of the reckless abandon with which many live their lives.”

He’s a touch, cocky guy, is Kim Wong.  He told the Senate that if his friends were called in, they’d fill the chamber. Many politicians would be included. Politicians from almost ALL political parties. He’s been a big donor since Estrada’s time, Arroyo’s time and now, in the time of Tuwid Na Daan. He has friends from all the different senatorial lineups. 

Please read the entire story HERE Latest news is Kim Wong has returned the funds. The only message we really get, is kung lulusot, lulusot. (If they can get away with it, they will.)  

You can also read more about Wong here.

People wonder why it’s so hard to clean up corruption in this country. Every election shows us why.

We know that lords of jueteng (an illegal numbers game) subsidise election campaign expenses of many candidates. An earlier post here, #Jeueteng=Good Governance?, tackled Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas and running mate Leni Robredo cosying up to a Central Luzon clan known to head one of the country’s biggest illegal gambling network.

 

#Jueteng = #GoodGovernance?


pineda-together again
photo from Rappler news site

Mar Roxas resigned from the Cabinet of ousted president Joseph Estrada on November 3, 2000 at the height of the #Jueteng scandal. 

Today, he celebrates the Pinedas of Pampanga – underwriters of Estrada and then former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and supposedly the region’s gambling lords.

He heaps praise on Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda:

Roxas said that in his view, Pineda’s leadership can pass as an example of “Daang Matuwid.” He cited the provincial budget surplus of more than P1 billion, with all basic services and education subsidies provided to Pineda’s constituents.

This is the man who claims to be the successor of Daang Matuwid.

Pineda is efficient. So is former Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay. The latter is accused of corruption, plunder included, has specialised in a dance of evasion and should be, as he likes to say, abjured.  Estrada, the man Roxas abandoned when the ship was sinking, liked to say he didn’t steal from the people’s coffers.

Is this the line Roxas and his vice presidential bet Leni Robredo want to sell? That bathing in the profit well of criminality is preferable to bathing in the tub of corruption? Is this the lesson we get from six years of Tuwid Na Daan?

Roxas, the Wharton economics graduate, showed his lack of historical context in his comments about “Muslim invaders”.

His historical amnesia also goes for illegal gambling – among the scourge of this country and also said to be linked to other criminal activities, including money-laundering.

Just to refresh Mr. Roxas’ memory – and ours:

Who are the Pinedas?

Lilia is the wife Rodolfo Quijano Pineda – better known as Bong Pineda.

Pineda is no run-of-the-mill jueteng collector. Amid political intramurals in the country, Pineda gained strength from one administration to another.

 

The beneficiary of Mr. Estrada’s ouster was Mrs. Arroyo. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, she, too, had tight links with Pineda.

“… many because of her detractors’ charge that she has links to Bong Pineda, the gambling lord of central Luzon island. She dismisses criticism about her being godmother to one of Pineda’s children, saying that, as vice president, she is godmother to hundreds of children.”

gma with lilia

A more detailed, historical report on Pineda was done in 2001 by Newsbreak’s Chay Florentino-Hofilena. Circa Estrada:

The reported lord of jueteng gained nationwide notoriety because his alleged operations had corrupted and harmed no less than the institution of the presidency. Almost legend, Rodolfo Quijano Pineda was implicated by Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson in his testimony before the Senate last year about jueteng collections channeled to deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Pineda, “Bobong” to his townmates, was ordered by the former President to stop delivering collections to his (Estrada’s) Polk Street residence. The Pinedas also maintain a house in nearby Northeast Greenhills. According to Singson, the deliveries were getting far too obvious, and perhaps embarrassing, for Estrada.

Because he ate into Pineda’s collections, Estrada, according to one resident familiar with political goings-on in the town, ended up competing with the locals. Pineda was unable to shower as much money on them because of the former President’s demands—and the people felt it, too.

Circa Arroyo:

Pineda, unlike his tamer predecessors, has exhibited greater audacity by directly influencing and meddling in politics, not just at the local but also at the national level. Not content with the anonymity offered by small-time operations, he has ventured into jueteng big time.

This May, as in the past, he is expected to influence voting in President Arroyo’s province, in much the same way that the Catholic Church or Mike Velarde is able to exercise their clout over their flock during the election season. But Bobong Pineda has his own style.

But wait, we shouldn’t even stop with Estrada or Arroyo.

Slippery Pineda is a survivor. In 1996, he was named by Potenciano “Chito” Roque, former head of the defunct Task Force on Anti-Gambling from 1986 to1989 under former President Aquino, as among the jueteng operators who gave him protection money. Along with four other suspected jueteng operators, he was charged with “corruption of public officials” but was acquitted in 1998.

 Electoral fraud

Newsbreak said “at least P4 million a day” is collected from Central Luzon bettors. This was more than a decade ago.

gma with lilia

If Mar Roxas and his vice presidential bet, Leni Robredo, claim good governance can be compartmentalized from jueteng, they are either lying through their teeth or dangerously naïve. I will be blunt and say it is the former.

There is no shortage of evidence showing how illegal gambling and other crimes often underwrite electoral fraud.

In 2005, as congressional hearings went on with regards Mrs. Arroyo’s electoral fraud in the 2004 elections, a new reports noted:

Senators heard testimony from an army officer on Wednesday who said he witnessed widespread election fraud in Arroyo’s favour on the southern island of Mindanao, where the allegations against the president have centred.

Captain Marlon Mendoza testified that former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano bragged during a drinking session that a gambling lord gave 300 million pesos (RM20.2 million) to help Arroyo win a second term in the May 2004 polls.

Mendoza, the chief security officer for Garcillano from April to June 2004, also said he saw a presidential employee distribute cash to an election officer on polling day.

Lest we forget, the Liberal Party senators run under Arroyo’s 4-K ticket in the 2004 “Hello, Garci elections.” Yes, the elections that focused on defeating action superstar Fernando Poe, Jr., the father of Senator Grace Poe.

The Liberal Party waved off persistent claims of fraud. It was not until much later – some of them even tried to prevent the airing of the ‘Hello Garci’ tapes – when the wages of sin were too heavy that they broke away from Arroyo. (In 2010, they embraced Arroyo’s minions, who have become the most vociferous attack dogs of the LP.)

Et tu, Leni?

Roxas’ is known for his strong self-preservation streak. He will bask in reflected glory and wash his hands of collective fault (check out the second presidential debates last week).

The times he stands up – or screams “P***ngi*a” after telling aides to corral media – is hardly ever a matter of principle. In Mamasapano hearings, he cried and presented a woebegone face but never said a word about President Benigno Aquino III appointing a suspended police chief to oversee a highly delicate, perilous operation. People urged him to break away then. I knew he wouldn’t – no way Roxas stood a chance without the infinite lardchest of the government.

If that penchant doesn’t serve Roxas these days, it’s because people have grown wiser after six years double standards that have shown how only enemies fall under the LP’s banner of corruption. Enemies and the people they see as latak or those who have outlived their usefulness because a more powerful and richer  padrone has come along.

But Leni, aaaah, Leni is the true disappointment.

From her own press release:

Naniniwala tayo kay Gov. Pineda bilang mahusay na lingkod bayan. . . . Hindi naman tayo nakipag-alyansa dahil sa links niya sa jueteng,” Robredo said when asked if she finds any conflict between her position against jueteng and her acceptance of Pineda’s backing.
Asked if Pineda’s support overshadows her alleged jueteng links, Robredo said, “Wala naman siyang hinihinging kapalit. Lahat ng nag-ooffer ng tulong naa-appreciate ko, pero iyong may hinihinging kapalit, ibang kwento iyon.”

Utang na loob. Leni, have you forgotten how one of the reasons for the prolonged sidelining of Jesse – even after he took the interior department portfolio – was because of his opposition to #Jueteng lords?

Where were you when Pineda money was bankrolling Arroyo’s elections?

Electoral fraud

pineda 222

Guns, goons and gold are the staples of Philippine elections. Pineda’s operations also allegedly funded electoral fraud, according to Newsbreak:

Of all schemes, the “cadena de amor” was perhaps among the most efficient, if not the most novel of ways to guarantee that Pineda’s anointed candidate got the votes. How does it work? One campaign manager explains that during the first voting hour, a trusted person of Pineda, with a hidden sample ballot, goes to the precinct to get a real ballot. He or she goes to a voting booth and writes on the sample ballot, then drops it in the ballot box. The real and clean ballot is pocketed then brought to the Pineda compound along the Gapan- Olongapo road. Here, voters who are being dined and entertained are waiting.

In exchange for P500, the ballot is surrendered and Pineda people on top of the operation write on the clean ballot the name of the candidate they are supporting. This way they are absolutely sure that the P500 does not go to waste.

The next person in line then brings the ballot to the voting precinct and then returns with another clean ballot in exchange again for P500. There can be as many as five to 10 people doing this simultaneously, the campaign manager says.

You really think you can keep your hands clean, Leni? Or do you believe the excuse that your supporters have been giving, that politics is addition and that the cleansing will have to wait post-victory?

I expressed disappointment that Poe could not confront the original sin of her patron, Danding Cojuangco, the fount of the entire coco-levy mess. But Danding has lost the case at the SC. This doesn’t excuse Poe of the omission, but between hidden wealth recovered — but not yet distributed to rightful claimants — and seeking the patronage of gambling lords who have amassed power all throughout the post-EDSA I decades, I no which sin weighs more.

Roxas, by the way, did his darn best to win Danding’s Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) and in fact counts on NPC bigwigs in Danding’s bulwark, Negros Occidental, as key supporters. So all that righteousness over Poe doesn’t wash.

Not a single shed of illusion over Roxas. But you, Leni, justifying using the proceeds of criminality (unless, you prefer Pineda dips into government funds to help you?) … Aaaah, and we thought some decency remained in government.

 

Big swing vote…and I’m one of them


In very tight electoral contests, analysts like to peer at the swing votes — the undecided, uncommitted voters.

The latest Pulse Asia survey results show six percent of 5,200 respondents having no presidential or vice presidential choices. They could make a difference given that the top bets are in neck-to-neck races.

The survey section dealing with second preferences also shows that an overwhelming number of those without original candidates also do not have alternate bets — 84% for the presidency, 78% for the vice presidency.

I’ve never been interviewed for these surveys. But I’m in that swing vote demographic. The NOTA (none-of-the-above) crowd.

But I have pledged to vote and continue to wrestle with conscience and study the candidates.

Do I vote so that particular candidates don’t win? Every voter will dislike some candidates more than others. Do I vote for the least evil? Those are questions for one’s conscience. I have no answers yet.

But there’s no point in bashing other voters. Each Filipino has the right to vote, according to that personal light. Even while disagreeing with other people’s choices, some part sees where they are coming from.

Just how real are these wannabe presidents?

#4, Mar Roxas

Roxas, former transport and interior government secretary, has spent the most in campaign ads, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) — P969,173,267 in the pre-campaign period as of Jan. 31 this year. That’s ad time, not including the government resources poured into getting media mileage for Roxas.

Yet there he languishes, despite Edwin Lacierda’s hopeful noises, and despite a switch to a combative campaign image at the start of the official campaign season.

Most people just don’t get Roxas. I’m one of them. He claims to be pure — “hindi magnanakaw” (not a thief, an obvious reference to Vice President Binay’s plunder raps).

But it’s not enough to claim you’re not corrupt. A real enemy of corruption speaks out, consistently, against anomalies and shortcuts in governance. Roxas is zero on this point.

He attacks Binay but fails to mention that Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, his ally, has been untouchable despite links to pork barrel scandals and a host of other complaints filed with the Ombudsman. He also backed the administration’s insistence on doling out pork, even with two defeats at the Supreme Court. His department was among the biggest beneficiaries of discretionary funds.

Roxas claims to be pro-poor (well, his wife claims he is, by way of tattered house shirts). He claims to be pro-environment. But he has defended his miner friends, as if oblivious to documented cases of abuses that reached the Supreme Court. Roxas, infamous for the line, “kung alam ko lang” (had I known…) probably doesn’t know that the Supreme Court ruled against his friends. That puts in question his vaunted high IQ and educational pedigree.

Roxas is also silent on  the involvement of a Liberal Party governor who rewarded Shenzhou Mining Group — whose nickel mining operations were suspended after it created a waste pond right on the shoreline of Claver town, Surigeo del Norte — by petitioning the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to allow shipment of ore worth P179 million.

mar shenzou1

He may not be a brute — his word for Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte — but he hasn’t raised a pinky finger to stop the brutalities of this administration. Again — he pretends not to know. He’s so ignorant he once told a lumad evacuee to seek help from his military tormentors. And Roxas was in the company of Surigao del Sur governor, Johnny Pimentel, who’d long sounded the alarm over military and paramilitary atrocities.

Roxas loves to parade his technocrat abilities. He headed the Transport Department and hand-picked his successor. MRT, LRT, airports, traffic — ’nuff said. A former MRT executive has named him and DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya as responsible for anomalous deals responsible for repeatedly stranding millions of commuters in the national capital.

He slams Sen. Grace Poe for theatrics. And yet Roxas is the butt of jokes for all those awkward, laughable attempts at presenting his pro-poor credentials — by posing as a pedicab driver, stevedore, traffic aide, rescuer, even a carpenter.

politiko_pic1676
Graphic from politico.com

Roxas is not just saddled with the absence of a backbone. He’s an opportunist who has ignored the most atrocious deeds just to stay in the good graces of a tantrum-prone President. Despite public weeping, he couldn’t even be bothered to confront the President on the deaths of 44 elite cops in Mamasapano.

#3 Duterte

Duterte has overused that hyperbole excuse. He’s given too many threats, spat at civil liberties too many times.

Now he claims a Binay victory will usher in a dark age for the country. He may be right there. But how can he slam Binay’s corrupt ways and proclaim affection for the Marcos dictatorship? He apparently has double standards for corruption, the same way he does for human rights.

digong111

Read: Killing for Peace in the Philippines

#2 Binay

binay1

The vice president has taken to criticising the inefficiencies of the Aquino administration. Check. We agree.

He has also attacked corruption in the Aquino administration. Check. We agree.

But he, too, faces very serious corruption charges. That huge hacienda. The overpricing of building contracts. Sweetheart deals. We’re not talking spare change. We’re talking big, big money.

Read: Senate probe on Binays: ‘Plunder through grand conspiracy’

And he has responded to these with a strategy of evasion, hoping the largesse he gives to local government officials across the country will allow him to rack up their command votes.

Many people say better an efficient master of corruption than a bumbling one. Good god. And we wonder why young people sneer when we lecture them about martial law.

As retired journalist  Alex Allan notes:

A parallel situation to voting for Binay is smoking. One has been given tons of evidence that smoking causes cancer and kills and yet one continues to smoke? That’s akin to committing suicide. In the same vein, we have already been shown tons of evidence that Binay’s billions have been gained from graft and corruption and we still would want to vote for him? That, too, is akin to committing suicide.

Read my story: Source of Binay funds a puzzle (and that’s not even covering all aspects of the raps he faces)

#1 Poe

Poe is bright. She’s sharp. On many governance issues, she is ready with figures and analysis. I like her platform of governance and don’t agree with others who urge her to junk every policy of Mr. Aquino.

The Supreme Court has handed her a victory, giving her the legitimacy needed to rev up her campaign. (I have no issues on grounds of citizenship or residency.)

11800304_1004869546210926_5108868291687819720_n

But I’ve been troubled by the stance Poe has taken on several issues — her response to the INC’s efforts to stop the investigation of its leaders, for one.

Read Grace Poe and the INC

She shows some problematic tendencies in the face of negative reports — always chalking these to malicious enemies, dodging straightforward responses, ignoring opportunities to provide clear proof in the face of silly reports and thus, giving detractors a longer shelf life.

My biggest reservations, however, have to do with a penchant for ingratiating herself with power blocs. There was the INC And then the Marcoses, obviously to gain some northern Luzon votes.

There’s a strong taint of slip-sliding morality in her fluffy stance to give Bongbong Marcos space to decide on whether the nation is owed an apology for his father’s rapacious regime.

Charles Englund on Facebook disagrees:

“You may be missing the need to ally and talk in campaign speak during this period to appeal to broadest segment possible. The PNoy role was clearly a throwaway olive branch, as is the BBM comments.”

He believes people won’t vote for Binay. But that’s not what Pulse Asia says, unfortunately. If people will go for him in the unlikely event that Poe can’t finish the campaign, they could go for him if they find her playing cutesy too many times.

We’ve lost the strong, steely woman who topped the last senatorial race. Grace Poe needs to find her moxie again, be firm, be strong, be true. Babae ka, Grace. Show us true grit.

 

 It’s about us, friends

The most common question these days is, “who are you voting for.” The question is often posed as a challenge for every critique of any candidate.

The honest answer is, I have no choice yet. But even if I did, it would make no difference. My vote doesn’t confer sainthood on anyone. Nor does your vote.

My vote won’t deprive me of critical faculties. Nor should yours.

We’re so preoccupied at latching on to politicians, seeing them as saviors. We don’t believe in ourselves as citizens.

That’s why we cannot bear to acknowledge our bets’ weaknesses, before and after victory. That is why we are where we are today, with youth so disenchanted they’re raring to throw egg on our faces.

Should we blame them? No, in many ways, they’re right. We need to regain their trust.

Having a candidate is no excuse to play blind, deaf and dumb to their failings. We mock the Yellow Army for dropping the first, crucial word in “critical collaboration”. And yet almost all of us are doing the same thing all over again.

These politicians are not going to save the nation. It’ll be up to us — all of us, it doesn’t matter who your bet is — to rein them in. Silence is the greatest friend of the abuser. Let’s not forget that.

House bungles on PPP; why they didn’t dare push it on last day of session


The better title would be, “Drive Out The Clowns” — the real clowns.

speakerbanal

We all saw the news on Monday night.

The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading the proposed institutionalization of the Aquino administration’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. 

It was one of the bills approved by the Lower House during its plenary session Monday.

The bill was approved with a vote of 126 in favor and eight against.

Bugles and drum rolls, right? Public-private partnerships, after all, rank high on President Benigno Aquino III’s list of priorities.

Looks like the hosanna chorus was premature.

The House on Tuesday had to recall plenary approval on third reading of the much ballyhooed measure. (Yes, I noticed very few media outfits came out with this update.)

Why? Because Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares did his homework.

Colmenares takes the Constitution seriously. In his sweet, sing-song, Ilonggo-accented Tagalog, he moved to recall the third reading vote on HB 6631.

Colmenares pointed out that the third reading approval  violated Section 28, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution.

What does the Constitution say?

SECTION 28. (1) The rule of taxation shall be uniform and equitable. The Congress shall evolve a progressive system of taxation.

(2) The Congress may, by law, authorize the President to fix within specified limits, and subject to such limitations and restrictions as it may impose, tariff rates, import and export quotas, tonnage and wharfage dues, and other duties or imposts within the framework of the national development program of the Government.

(3) Charitable institutions, churches and parsonages or convents appurtenant thereto, mosques, non-profit cemeteries, and all lands, buildings, and improvements, actually, directly, and exclusively used for religious, charitable, or educational purposes shall be exempt from taxation.

(4) No law granting any tax exemption shall be passed without the concurrence of a majority of all the Members of the Congress.

Colemares voted against the bill, one of only eight nays.

One of his reasons: “It grants tax exemptions and deprives both the national government and LGUs of taxes, fees, and charges. This will deprive the people of accessible public service and take away billions in public funds from our people’s needs.”

He checked the Monday rolls. Only 136 congressmen voted to pass the measure.

The House of Representatives has a membership of 291. For constitutional fealty, HB 6631 needs 146 members voting on third and final reading.

Gonzales say other legislators quickly realised the #FighterNgBayan was right. He did not contest. And so the House recalled approval Tuesday night.

They were going to push for it again Wednesday night. Elections are coming; some guys can’t afford a tantrum by that petulant guy in Malacanang.

Congressional staff say Gonzales tried to get Colmenares to push his SSS-pension hike veto override AFTER they rectified the results of their carelessness and negligence.

They probably thought Colmenares was the kind of fool their subalterns are. Of course, he’s not. As notes, news website Interaksyon’s sweet, back-handed compliment:

Funny how the President’s defenders now accuse Colmenares of “playing politics”, as if a socialist who actually knows how to work in a House dominated by the bourgeoisie is more frightening than a President who ignores what is happening in his co-equal branches of government until a paper with a deadline lands on his notoriously clean desk.

Colmenares, of course, said, nyet.

  • The lard-bloated lapdogs of Mr. Aquino found themselves facing a nightmare:
  • It looked like the 57 signatures on Colmenares’ override document were just for starters;
  • A little bird from a top House leader’s office told me that some phone calls to representatives got nervous responses (there was a gallery  filled with what Quezon City 3rd district Rep. Bolet Banal notes were elderly people “fooled” (nauto) by the militant legislator.

SIGNERS OF THE OVERRIDE RESOLUTION **Note: five more have since added their signatures.SIGNERS OF THE OVERRIDE RESOLUTION

With a quorum, how could  solons who voted for the SSS bill explain their refusal to override the veto? By claiming they were irresponsible enough to sleep walk through three years of hearings? By claiming they were hypnotised into voting?

SSS voters

When Speaker Feliciano Belmonte says they didn’t want to embarrass the President (who deserves it, as the Interaksyon editorial clearly shows), the unspoken half of his thought was:

bff
President Benigno Aquino III and suspended (and now resigned) national police chief Alan Purisima go a long way back.

They didn’t want the public to see how cavalierly they take their tasks given the gazillions we contribute for their upkeep. They didn’t want the public to be reminded that this is a President who can’t exercise coherent leadership, especially where and when it counts. They didm’t want yet another example of the right hand going opposite the left hand — remember #Mamasapano?

The truth was simple. Aside from their fear of losing the perks of being presidential pets, they couldn’t let the nation’s last memories of the 16th Congress be that of buffoons.

So they sidelined the PPP bill just to cover that up. They cut off the microphone as Colmenares spoke.

That is why there was silence from Malacanang the day after.

When Belmonte, Gonzales and Banal (who voted for Colmenares’ bill and whose senior citizen father was one of those who spoke on behalf of the bill) rant and rave about Colmenares’ alleged politicking, they’re desperately trying to convince people that he’s like them. Tough luck.

Now we know who’re the real clowns and fools. One mistake following the other, one solution dragging them deeper into the muck.

 As Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law, said the  House could pay for forcing session adjournment just to avoid tackling important unfinished business.

He pointed out:

Under Sections 15 and 16, Article 6 of the Constitution, Congress sessions are predetermined and cannot be adjourned arbitrarily, especially in a bid to avoid taking up important measures.

House leaders may be charged with dereliction of duty before the Office of the Ombudsman, he warned. Of course, they can always contest this. But that would mean another nightmare and, certainly, embarrass the President (and his handpicked successor who is, after all, among the Liberal Party bosses).

 

Belmonte says they’ll ram it through when they next convene after the elections.

Guess what? There are now 62 signatories to the override resolution. And more representatives are calling to add to say they’ll be signing, too.

One of those additions told me there are some things you cannot swallow. Public displays of amazing stupidity for one. And public displays of dishonour.

As for Banal, he may have caused his dad a helluva number of votes. Guess which party-list many senior citizens will be voting for?

And that’s how cookies crumble in the Neverland we call Congress.

 

 

The Shadow of the Eagle over #Mamasapano


Slide1

American operatives exercised lead roles in the planning, preparation and botched operations last year against a Malaysian terror suspect hiding in a southern Philippine stronghold of Muslim rebels.

The United States gave “real-time” intelligence assistance and training to members of the Special Action Forces (SAF) in the hunt for Malaysian terrorist Marwan and his Filipino accomplice, the sacked director of the elite cop unit told a Senate panel.

It also isolated the SAF from the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a bungled bid to ram through its war-on-terror goals at the crucial homestretch of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

And the Philippine President was complicit in all this.

Getulio Napeñas, who is seeking a Senate seat in this year’s elections, also told senators his insistence on time-on-target information sharing was on the urging of American advisers.

The lack of coordination has been blamed for the deaths of 44 SAF members. More than a dozen rebels and armed residents, and six civilians were also slain in the carnage that lasted till late afternoon.

US involvement went on through several oplans targeting Marwan, up until the Jan. 25 Mamasapano operation. The United States wanted Marwan for the deaths of American citizens in the 2002 Bali bombings. It offered a $5-million reward for information leading to the capture of Marwan, who had  since moved to Mindanao and masterminded other bomb attacks.

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President Benigno Aquino III and suspended (and now resigned) national police chief Alan Purisima go a long way back.

That aid was filtered through a very small group focused on the get-Marwan mission, called in its Jan 25 version as Oplan Exodus.

Only President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, the suspended national police chief Alan Purisima, Napenas and PNP intelligence chief Fernando Mendez, Jr. were involved in the final planning. There was no oversight from other key Filipino officials who could have warned of grave unintentional consequences, including a breach of a ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Peace a major casualty

Marwan, SAF troops, civilians, rebels. There was one other major casualty of Mamasapano: The peace legacy that President Benigno Aquino III and, yes, the US government had been touting as the key to progress and security in one of the world’s most volatile areas, a region prized by both big corporations and the rampaging ISIS.

Slide1Filipinos erupted in anger when a previous Senate probe indicated a reluctance by the military to deploy the artillery and mechanised armour Napeñas belated sought for his beleaguered forces.

Transcripts of previous hearings show Purisima informing Mr. Aquino early morning that the SAF had run into guards of Basit Usman, Marwan’s Filipino accomplice who managed to escape from Mamasapano. This was after he told the President that Marwan was dead and a SAF member wounded.

Despite US intelligence, instead of between 15-20 men from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway MILF group, there were scores within deployment range of the target area.

Purisima, text messages show, also failed to inform the President of that particular fact. He did not correct the Commander-in-Chief’s 7:59 am text:

If I remember correctly 160 SAF troopers were directly involved in this operation plus provisions for other PNP and AFP units to assist. The terrain is flat and clear as opposed to upland forested or jungle terrain. Why could they not contain and or overwhelm 15 to 20 members of opposing force. Are they still in contact with other targets? If not, and the opposing forces escaped, are we now back to square one?

As a result, Mr. Aquino ordered : “Basit should not get away.”

Aside from the BIFF, the area is also home to MILF supporters. A big formation of mainstream rebels were within a kilometre of the target. Alerted by gunfire — dozens of residents had joined the fray — MILF forces engaged the retreating SAF and a blocking force, exacting the most casualties.

The MILF ultimately became the scapegoat, blamed for the SAF slaughter. Politicians decried what they called the rebels’ treachery. They used Mamasapano as the bogey to crush the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, the key condition for forging a permanent peace with the MILF.

The government itself had signed an agreement  with the rebels — praised by foreign states and development donors — on the conduct of military and police operations in its strongholds.

The ceasefire aimed to prevent ground clashes; the agreement is premised on an MILF pledge to root out extremists and criminal gangs in its areas.

Policy as main threat

Fallen 443 justice
The wake of the #Fallen44 (graphic courtesy of abs-cbnnews.com)

The ceasefire monitoring body involves the Armed Forces. Military officials factor this in during operations.

The President did not bother to inform top AFP officers that he had approved a US-supervised plan that listed the MILF among the “enemy forces” in Mamasapano.

“The AFP has internalized the peace process and operates within this framework. It is an instrument of national policy, in this case the ceasefire with the MILF,” a retired AFP officer who has direct experience in the peace process stressed in an earlier interview.

“Had the President given a clear signal to ignore existing ceasefire mechanisms or exempt the January 25 Mamasapano operation from coverage, the military would have obeyed.”

Read: AFP officials can’t usurp top-level policy

But Napenas and American advisers viewed that same agreement and assimilation of former rebels in the AFP, the result of a previous peace pact with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), as the greatest threat to the hunt for Marwan.

Purisima said Americans had no involvement in the intelligence packet initially furnished by the PNP Intelligence Group.

Questioned by Sen. Ralph Recto, Napenas gave examples of where military involvement jeopardise the outcome of operations to hunt down terrorists. He cited one operation where the military reneged on a promise to loan mechanised units because of a ceasefire provision requiring coordination with the MILF.

In the hunt for Abu Sayyaf commander Purugin Indama of Basilan, Napenas said surveillance showed the targets of an aerial bomb moving away 15 minutes before attack.

“Nakita doon sa surveillance. Galling din sa liaison namin na Americano ang impormasyon na ‘yun. From the Seaborne and siya din mismo ang nagsabi sa akin na alam nya na before naibagsak ang bobmba sa kalaban, nakaalis na sila.” (Surveillance showed that. I was also told by our American liaison from the Seaborne. He knew that the targets left just before planned aerial bomb.)

Conflicting goals

While there is suspicion that the military-police rivalry may be rooted on the big rewards (there was also a P7-million reward for Marwan from the Philippine government), the real cause of the debacle may be the tug-of-war between doves and hawks from both governments.

iqbal1
President Benigno Aquino III and suspended (and now resigned) national police chief Alan Purisima go a long way back.

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has the most clear-eyed reading of events: A collision between the government’s commitment to conflict resolution and its support for the United States’ global “war on terror” sparked the clash that derailed the Mindanao peace process.

Unlike the country’s communist insurgency, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US government, the MILF officially enjoys some support from Americans.

Like Philippine officials, the MILF was initially reluctant to focus on the US government role in Mamasapano.

But pressed at a peace forum, Iqbal expounded on the MILF’s balancing act with a supportive superpower viewed with hostility by Muslims who have experienced the fallout of its global war on terror.

Below is an excerpt of a piece I wrote for ABS-CBNNews.

“Ang trato namin sa Amerikano iba sa komunista,” Iqbal said. “May bilateral agreements. Kung nandiyan ang US troops, hindi mali sa amin.” (Our view on American presence differs from that of the communists. There are bilateral agreements between the Philippines and the United States. We see no problem with the presence of US troops.)

“But in Mamasapano, there were complications,” Iqbal acknowledged. He confirmed that Americans funded Oplan Exodus, gave intelligence, operated drones for real-time monitoring of the target and SAF teams, and evacuated government forces.

Two national policies — conflict resolution and supporting the US-led war on terror — “crossed paths” in Mamasapano, the MILF negotiator pointed out.

“Imbes na ang priority ay conflict resolution, naging war on terror, kaya nagka-leche-leche na,” Iqbal said. (Shifting the priority from conflict resolution to the war on terror caused the mess.)

 

Those conflicting goals led to the shut-out of the AFP, which Mr. Aquino approved. He ordered Napenas to increase the number of troops for Mamasapano, knowing it was a stronghold of the MILF.

Who ordered ceasefire?

Military officials have repeatedly said they could not deploy mechanised units or artillery for fear of hitting friendly forces and civilians. In any other situation, they would be applauded for this. (Elsewhere, they mow down civilians, especially those suspected of supporting communist rebels.)

AFP officers insist Napenas did not give clear locations of his men. SAF personnel testified that they regularly updated Napenas of their positions. The SAF commander, at least, knew where his men where. Yet more than half of close to 400 men were not moved from their highway waiting posts.

The biggest revelation of the latest Senate hearing answered the question: Who ordered a halt to reinforcements.

From ANC’s coverage of the hearing:

Napeñas: (Despite SAF asking for help via radio), Purisima ordered us to ceasefire, hold on to our position, and don’t move forward

Purisima: I contacted MILF persons to assist us in pulling out MILF troops. I was just giving Napeñas the info MILF gave me.

Purisima: I asked MILF to pull out their troops because our SAF forces were already at a disadvantage (“nahihirapan na ang SAF natin”).

The AFP had scrambled to convene the ceasefire body mid-day in a bid to halt the carnage. But it was apparently still Purisima who meddled — without coordinating with the AFP.

By this time, the President would have come to realise the horrible fallout of Mamasapano.

Mr. Aquino did not even discuss events with his AFP chief of staff or Interior Secretary Mar Roxas until late afternoon. Nobody bothered to shake him awake because he seemed to have been busy dealing with other persons — Purisima and some other still unknown parties.

Nobody seemed in charge — except for Purisima and the American companions of Napenas, who at one point was told off by a military officer for trying to order the firing of artilery.

Everything that followed — the dodging, the hedging during his speeches and that of officials during congressional hearings — were all premised on salvaging what the Commander-in-Chief and his men, enthralled with Americans, had jeopardised.

A lot of the shadow-boxing and outright lying in the weeks following Mamasapano were precisely aimed at hiding the US hand.

“The bloodshed triggered bitter recriminations in one of America’s closest allies in Asia, and put sharp new strains on Manila’s security relationship with Washington,” said a special report by the LA Times.

Within weeks, the Pentagon announced that it was withdrawing a special operations task force. It had been sent to the Philippines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and had become a model for U.S. counter-terrorism teams later deployed around the globe.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III‘s government delayed plans to give U.S. troops, warships and aircraft wider access to military bases that the Obama administration sought for its strategic “pivot” to Asia. The planned expansion has been stalled since.

The botched raid also left a landmark 2014 peace deal between the Philippine government and entrenched Islamic rebels in tatters, sparking a renewal of violence by insurgent groups.

“It was a bungled operation and it has had major fallout,” said David Maxwell, a retired Army colonel who commanded the U.S. special operations force in the Philippines in 2006 and 2007.

CIA? Or FBI?

The LA Times quotes Pentagon officials insisting, “No Americans joined or issued orders to the assault team.”

But they gave orders from the command post. They were still trying to give orders to reinforcing military officers in the afternoon.

Napenas said his men underwent training in the US Joint Task Force facility in Zamboanga City.

Asked about the general identities of the trainers by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, defense chief under two Philippine Presidents, Napenas said some were members of the US military, “but some are mere members of the Joint Task Force”.

Napenas later said he presumed the non-military members of the Joint Task Force were from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), since “they were giving us intelligence”.

However, BAYAN USA, an overseas chapter of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, announced that it has filed a Freedom of Information Act request before the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, to uncover the role of the agency in the bloody Mamasapano incident.

The FOIA request covers communications between the FBI and PNP , DNA tests results on Marwan, as well as details of the supposed bounty set up for the targets of the operation. Full text of the FOIA request can be found here: http://bayanusa.org/foia 

Enrile offers an explanation for American reluctance to use the military. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries does not include police operations. It covers defense against external threats, like China. Anti-terror covert operations, especially one with a potential to derail a major peace policy (also backed by the US government) is a particularly slippery slope.

The Senate hearing adjourned with no clear answers. If anything, senators play at the edges of the US question but show reluctance in directly accusing a superpower. Elections are, after all, in the offing.

Information gatekeepers

The Senate’s original report on the Mamasapano incident raised the question: Who actually called the shots in Mamasapano.

Accountability is a requisite for Justice. While President Aquino is Commander in Chief, the US government can neither wash its hands of the blood of those it tapped to do its dirty work.

If the US was giving real-time info, did the relay or withholding of information affect the decisions to save or not, on that fateful day?

Did the relay or withholding of information affect the planning of the operation? Did the relay or withholding of information prompt the Philippine government to cut losses on a triumph that was crossing over to disaster category?

In other words, did information lead to a decision to sacrifice SAF men?

Information – the right information provided at the right time to the right people – plays a great factor in success.

The major disasters faced by the United States – including the Twin Towers bombing – were partly rooted in information being hogged (jealously compartmentalized by competing but allied organizations) and thus not passed on to key decision markers, or passed but ignored, or passed, weighed and then buried under other priorities.

Mr. Aquino, hPurisima and Napenas seemed to rely heavily on US military might, including advanced technology for intelligence.

Now Napenas is hinting that, for all intents and purposes, Philippine leadership may have been a farce in Mamasapano — although Filipino lives were at stake. That may be the greatest treachery of all.

Sino daw ang ‘bobotante’? (Binay, Poe, Mar and the latest surveys)


VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR BINAY HAS LOST A SUBSTANTIAL PORTION OF D VOTERS. But guess where he improved his ratings?

Illustration from http://www.evolutionofadreamer.com
Illustration from http://www.evolutionofadreamer.com

MANILA – The strategy of patronage has a point of diminishing returns when it comes to national elections.

When the media banner voters’ top issues of concern, and race leaders trip under the spotlight, other candidates can play catch up without breaking the bank, according to political scientists assessing the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey.

In the Philippines, voters’ preference for “pro-poor” bets has long been interpreted as a boon for contenders who bribe voters with cash or services sourced from their pork barrels.

Political scientist Temario Rivera, however, points out that results of past national elections show that poor voter choose on the basis of their core issues. In the last half decade, these have been  graft and corruption – and equal enforcement of the law.

Perception that Binay cannot walk the talk has cost him substantial support from the critical D and E voting blocs, says Bobby Tuazon, director of policy studies at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg).

Rethinking ‘bobotante’

Good governance and election watchdogs like to trace  the Philippines’ endemic corruption to the huge base of poor voters with low-educational levels.

The message can be grating: “bobotante” (stupid, unthinking voters) elect corrupt politicians in exchange for a few hundred pesos worth of bribes and other displays of patronage.

The latest series of presidential preference surveys by Pulse Asia, however, show a different story.

Binay, long known as king of largesse – decades of twin-city programs and a vast array of social services and quaint perks for Makati City residents — has slumped among the crucial Class D and E voter demographics.

(The D class accounts for 60% of the population, according to a report released in 2011 by then National Statistics Coordinating Board (NSCB) head Tomas Africa. The lowest end of the middle class, or the higher end of the poor — monthly income from P8,000 to P15,000 — comprises the D voters. Rivera places the D voter base at 60% to 65%, and the E class — the real poor with a monthly family income of less that P5,000 — at 25% to 29%.)

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who for now has the administration’s formidable resources behind him, continues to inch up the surveys, not enough to ease concerns about his “winnability.”

Independent contender, Sen. Grace Poe, meanwhile, zoomed past Binay, doubling and tripling her ratings in crucial economic demographics and the most vote-rich areas.

Crucial base

Graphics courtesy of abs-cbnnews.com
Graphics courtesy of abs-cbnnews.com

In the latest Pulse Asia report, Binay saw a drop in Class D and E backers, from March to May this year.

The period featured legislative and legal probes into alleged corruption which led to a freeze of his assets and that of kin and trusted aides.

His portion of D voters slipped from 30% to 20%. From 33%, his class E share went down to 25%.

Graphics courtesy of abs-cbnnews.com
Graphics courtesy of abs-cbnnews.com

Why the slump?

Holmes, in an interview with ANC, said there were days when Binay’s alleged links to corruption was “only thing hogging the news.”

Political science professor Antonio Contreras agrees with Holmes.

“I guess the CDE voters for Binay are now getting the message,” he told ABS-CBNnews.com.

Some broadcasters are “very effective in painting Binay as a crook in dramatic ways,” he pointed out.

“Alam mo naman ang CDE, yan ang nakikinig pa sa radio,” Contreras said. (The CDE classes listen to radio.)

Tuazon believes Binay’s defense against mounting corruption issues was flawed.

While his lawyers, political allies and children tried to fend of charges raised in and out the Senate, “the effort was not consolidated”.

“The perception is, that he has been avoiding tackling the issues head on,” Tuazon said.

Poe, on the other hand, gained from the almost daily coverage of the emotional hearings on the Jan 21 Mamasapano carnage that claimed the lives of 44 elite cops.

She also oversaw hearings on issues important to the D class – the breakdown of the MRT system used daily by half a million Metro Manila residents.

Rivera said attempts to attack Poe using her status as a foundling backfired in a culture where abused underdogs are a favorite conversation topic.

ABC support

Graphic by Denggai Silorio
Graphic by Denggai Silorio

Strangely, as senators crowed about new evidence of alleged plunder, and details of bank accounts in the billions of pesos were leaked to media, Binay’s ABC supporters increased.

In fact, Binay has seen a steady increase in ABC believers since Pulse Asia’s November 2014 survey, when news reports were already full of details from the Senate probe spearheaded by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.

Grahic by abs-cbnnews.com
Grahic by abs-cbnnews.com

From 17% last November, Binay’s ABC preference rating rose to 22% in March and to 29% in the latest survey conducted from May 30 to June 5.

Traditional wisdom, oft quoted by political pundits, assigns to the middle and upper classes the conscience vote, the high ground focused on issues like corruption and good governance.

In 2010 presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III used the slogans, “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” and “tuwid na daan” (straight path). It caught fire in the end days of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s scandal-plagued administration.

What could account for the rise in Binay’s ABC rating?

Contreras said, “the rise of Binay among the ABC is perhaps sign that the elites are getting irritated at the no-holds barred lynching of Binay. ”

Political opinion-writer Beth Angsioco was also puzzled by the rise in Binay’s ABC ratings, “unless people in this cluster think that he is being unfairly crucified.”

But while allies of Roxas and the LP went all out against Binay, the biggest beneficiaries was not the Interior secretary, but Poe and Duterte, she pointed out.

Did Binay become the “protest choice” by anti-corruption advocates angered by the Aquino administration’s display of “double standards” on issues of governance?

Activist artist Mae Paner disagrees.

“I don’t see those disappointed in Aquino, on issues of transparency and fiscal abuse, and corruption by his aides, going for Binay,” Paner said. “They will be looking for an alternative to these two examples of trapo politics.”

Rivera, however, downplayed the increase in Binay’s ABC support, calling it “statistically insignificant.”

While the figures may seem substantial, he said the small representation greatly increases the margin of error, especially with the AB class, which is traditionally reluctant to participate in surveys. The demographic’s margin of error, he pointed out, can be as high as 20%.

Tuazon said the ABC figures could be a reflection of the old Binay-Roxas polarity.

Both have long signaled their plans to contest the presidency, he pointed out. In contrast, the other perceived contenders – Poe, Duterte and Estrada – have not issued clear statements on their political ambitions.

“That (ABC) figure will dramatically change once the candidates come clean about their plans for 2016,” said Tuazon. READ MORE AT http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/focus/06/19/15/candidates-need-rethink-bobotante