19 February 2020

  • At our Radyo Balintataw weekly Sunday evening program, we tackled with CDO Rep. Rufus Rodriguez two crucial issues pending in Congress: the Visiting Forces Agreement that was unilaterally discarded by the President, and the fate of giant TV-radio network ABS-CBN

    At the recent "Radyo Balintataw" program over nationwide dzRH, which Cecile Alvarez and I co-host every Sunday, 6-7pm., we invited 4th term representative of Cagayan de Oro Rufus Rodriguez as our guest. Rep. Rodriguez chairs the Constitutional Committee in the House and is also vice-chair of the House Committee on Justice, as well as a law professor in the San Sebastian College of Law.

    Cecile and I focused on the two burning issues of the day: the recent, unilateral abrogation by President Duterte of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the franchise of media giant ABS-CBN, whose fate is now pending in the House of Representatives committee on franchises.


    At the moment there are only 180 days left in the House session,  to reconsider the status of the VFA between the US and the Philippines. This has prompted moves in both chambers of Congress to challenge the VFA issue---which goes to the very heart of the long-standing US-Philippine relations---before the Supreme Court, which has constitutional authority to review our treaties with foreign countries.

    The move to raise the VFA issue to the SC has predictably drawn support from both chambers of Congress. Leading the move in the  Senate to raise this burning issue to the SC is Sen. Panfilo Lacson. In the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel  has filed a resolution urging the DFA not to abrogate our standing treaty with the US.

    Not lost on political observers is the fact that this issue of the sudden proposed VFA abrogation came about in a moment of strong presidential pique. The President was enraged by the refusal of the US to renew the visa of his close friend and ally, Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa, on the grounds of the latter's less than desirable record on human rights.  Mr. Duterte may be credited for being a most loyal friend, but he certainly is acting less presidential than he should on this issue.


    On the other hand, as Rep. Rufus Rodriguez explained during our dzRH program last Sunday, the matter of franchises, which directly affects the fate of media giant ABS-CBN, is exclusive to the House of Representatives.

    At the moment, as Rep. Rufus pointed out, there are already 13 members of the House who are for extending ABS-CBN's franchise and this number is expected to swell---a clear indication of the power and force of the media giant, among other considerations.


    Rufus Rodriguez stressed the particular interest of the Filipino people in these two burning issues of the day---the move of President Duterte to unilaterally terminate the VFA  and to close down media giant ABS-CBN.  The people's reaction to these two issues can be measured in the recent SWS survey.

    As Rodriguez noted, according to the SWS survey, a whopping 93% of the Filipino people want to recover Mischief Reef, while a full 87% feel that the Philippines should assert its victory on this issue. This issue was embodied in the favorable ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino a few years back---which recognized  and continues to uphold our country's rightful position vs. China's claim to these islands in the West Philippine Sea.


    This large percentage of the Filipino people backing up our victory in the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, in turn, Rodriguez stressed, shows the large percentage of Filipinos' trust in America (78%), vs. 12% who are distrustful.

    To the great frustration of many of our people, however, this sentiment appears to be ignored by the Duterte administration, in its pivot to our big aggressive neighbor to the North.  The administration's current closeness to China is being viewed as Mr. Duterte's protest over the US' refusal to renew the visa of his closest ally, Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa.

    Recall that this US refusal on Sen. De la Rosa's visa renewal comes on the heels of allegation that the latter was a notorious human rights violator during his days as PNP Chief---when he launched a brutal crusade vs. alleged drug dealers, most of them minors.


    Rep. Rufus Rodriguez pointed out that the issue of the franchise renewal of the giant network ABS-CBN, lies within the domain of Congress and not of the Supreme Court,  but that a hearing has yet to be scheduled by the Committee on Legislative Franchise, which is headed by Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez. Rodriguez noted that the giant network has 11,000 employees and that its franchise expires by March 30 next year. 

    This reality, Rodriguez said,  has prompted him to ask Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to start hearings on the ABS-CBN issue, perhaps in concurrence with the counterpart Senate committee headed by Sen. Grace Poe.

    Very much involved in the Administration's battle against the giant network, the country's No. 1 radio-TV network,  is the constitutional provision on freedom of expression and of the press.  As Rep. Rufus Rodriguez pointed out, tremendous uncertainties spawned by a non-renewal of its franchise to operate would be very bad for the country in the eyes of the world. Moreover, Rufus stressed that the BIR has certified that the giant network has paid all its taxes.

    So, what gives, other than immense presidential pique at this giant network?
  • Coronavirus now in 27 countries around the world---and counting. The Duterte administration has to come down hard on those who allow Chinese tourists to enter our country indiscriminately during this crisis period.
    Statistics from the New Coronavirus (NCov) are simply staggering, showing how tough it is--- and would continue to be---to control this new epidemic upon the world. In fact there is fear among scientists that this coronavirus could be fast reaching pandemic proportions that recall those scourges in the Middle Ages which slew thousands upon thousands of people all over the world.

     Starting as a virus in a market of wild animals and bird species in the city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province in central China, the NCov has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), due to the fact that there are now more than 27 countries around the world that have confirmed cases of the virus. This includes the Philippines, where one death was reported last week---a person who had been in direct contact with an ailing someone in Wuhan.

    Soon after, a second case involving a Filipino surfaced, and today, the Inquirer reported of a 60-year old woman from Wuhan, who arrived in Cebu via Hongkong last Jan. 20 and went straight to Bohol. Two days later, she came down with fever  and colds and was admitted to a hospital there.


    The whirlwind development that ensued with the virus, in turn, prompted many governments to prohibit travel to and from China,  with the epicenter of the virus, Hubei province in Central China, in total lock-down of its more than 50 million inhabitants. Just the thought of feeding these 50 million people locked in Hubei daily is already a huge nightmare for the Chinese government.

    Unfortunately, however, there's no  such thing as total isolation of the deadly virus, for Wuhan is only 175 kilometers southwest of the very large city of Shanghai, China's financial hub, and the latter city has already reported more than 200 cases, including one death.  As of today, Thursday, Feb 06. 2020, China has confirmed some 28,049 cases of the virus, with deaths nearing 500 and 3,850 reported to be severe. 

    Wuhan alone is said to have some 25,000 people ill with NCov as of this day. 


    The NCov that's upon a broad part of the world, however, does not seem to have assumed pandemic status as yet at this point, for as of last Feb 04. some 15 countries around the world have tested negative. Russia was perhaps the first to close its long border with China. Other countries that tested negative of the NCov are the Czech Republic, Peru, Myanmar, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Austria, Mexico, New Zealand, Cyprus, Croatia, Switzerland, Greece, Denmark and Ireland. 

    The Czech Republic has come up with a monofibre technology that could manufacture face masks that would limit the virus spread. This protective mask should be manufactured in bulk and scattered by governments around the world. 


    Our country is trying its best to cope with the deadly virus and one key to containing it is to follow government regulations strictly. It is troubling, however, that such cooperation does not happen too often. For one thing, the Duterte administration did dilly-dally a bit in shutting down travel to and from Wuhan, despite early pressures to do so as the virus became more menacing.

    But even when the Philippine government had already ordered a shut-down of travel to and from Hubei province---the airlines that used to travel to China have been grounded--- the Inquirer today reported that Chinese tourists continue to stream into Boracay despite the ban on planes to and from China.   How some unscrupulous folks manage to get those tourists to defy the ban is the million $ question. 

    The Duterte government should come down hard on errant travel agencies involved in the trafficking of Chinese tourists, as they are jeopardizing the Filipino people's health for the sake of more business. 


    What further aggravates matters for our country is that we host a tremendous lot of Chinese workers, young ones too and found mainly in the Philippine Offshore Gaming Offices (POGO). This makes it very tough for our government security to check these workers' movements in and out of our country. In addition, these Chinese workers frequently live in enclaves all over the metropolis that are shut off from the local authorities.

    Recently there was news about Chinese women of ill-repute who come in and out of our country. It's easy to see that apart from the danger to our people's morals, they could also be harbingers of various diseases.


    The government just has to be strict about regulations affecting public welfare and come down hard on those who disobey our laws. Otherwise we'll reap ill winds and hell's to pay for our laxity. Awaiting the Duterte administration is the tough task of bringing home Filipinos mainly from China, where the virus epicenter is located. 

    Planes have been mobilized to bring the Pinoys back from the stricken Chinese cities, and the plan is to quarantine them first in the Athletes' Village in "New Clark City," the recent site of the ASEAN SEAGAMES. Such mass evacuation will entail tremendous effort on the Duterte administration as well as enormous expenses, but all these would be well-worth it, as tens of thousands of Filipino lives are at stake. 

    The least we citizens could all do is to cooperate with the government.  


  • Creation of the Department of Disaster Management, as proposed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, is most sensible---in fact, ASAP PLEASE. In the light of continuous terrible abuses of our Filipino domestics in Kuwait, let's impose A TOTAL BAN vs. Kuwait and not just a partial ban, Secretary Bello.

    Trust the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Filipinos in the face of disaster.  Take the ongoing quakes that continue to shake the towns around Taal Volcano since a few days ago. When news first burst in media about these quakes shooting up deadly magma and victimizing surrounding towns around the lake, which could possibly affect towns and cities as far away as Metro Manila, folks all rushed to stores to buy face masks to protect them from the deadly volcanic fumes. Pretty soon these stocks ran out and here is where the latent ingenuity of the Pinoy came shining through once again.

    Women all over Metro Manila and environs searched their aparadors for old brassieres and even panties, cut them up and used them as improvised gas masks, or for the panties to at least filter out volcanic ash. In fact, news came that even some churches were  recommending using these bra cups. Photojournalist Mandy Navasero became the poster girl for the improvised gas mask.

    Ah, Pinoys, we will never be helpless.


    Sen. Panfilo Lacson has made a most sensible and timely proposal: let's create a department dedicated primarily and exclusively to handling DISASTER MANAGEMENT.  It will be recalled that Lacson had directed the rehabilitation plan for communities affected by supertyphoon "Yolanda" in 2013. His idea is to create a permanent office under the Office of the President, that would handle IMMEDIATE AND SUSTAINED DISASTER RESPONSE.  

    As he argues, right now the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) does not seem to be that effective, precisely because too many offices are involved---mainly chaired and composed of Cabinet secretaries who are not focused full-time on disaster and rehabilitation.


    I thoroughly agree with Sen. Lacson about the urgent need for A DEPARTMENT DEDICATED EXCLUSIVELY TO DISASTER MANAGEMENT.  At the rate our country is being hit by disasters that are natural, not political, in various forms every year, response has been helter-skelter. Recall that until now, the destruction of Marawi City has not yet been fully addressed and it's far from being rehabilitated. Recall too, that there have been a number of strong earthquakes that have rocked Mindanao in the past two months that have ruined buildings and homes. Even the havoc created by Yolanda nearly seven years ago has not yet been fully addressed.

    Sen. Grace Poe supports Lacson's idea of a separate Disaster Management Department, as she noted that until now, relocation of families in danger zones from past calamities has not been fully implemented. She also noted---and I totally agree---that the NDRRMC is just a COORDINATING body which does not have sufficient powers to complete the job of rehabilitation. 

    The two senators should file an urgent motion to create such a Department of Disaster Management.


    The Duterte administration has imposed a PARTIAL BAN on the deployment of Filpino maids to Kuwait. I say---and I'm sure a lot of our countrymen will agree with me---that we should have a TOTAL BAN on sending our Filipino women to that country to work as maids. Recall how a Filipino maid named Ofelia Dimapilis was mercilessly killed and frozen in a refrigerator FOR ONE WHOLE YEAR by her evil employer. While the employer was arrested and jailed, still, this was murder of a Filipino in the most gruesome way imaginable.

    Then recall in very recent times a Filipino housemaid who jumped to her death from a tall building in Kuwait, to escape molestation by her employer. Then, just weeks ago, another Filipino maid named Jeanelyn Villavende came home in a box, with her skull cracked.


    Of all the Middle Eastern countries, Kuwait seems the most abusive of our women. The ban on deployment of our women to that country should not just be partial, but TOTAL  It is no longer just a mere matter of economics, but sheer national honor and dignity crying to high heavens for justice---not just for the housemaids who had died but for the entire Filipino people. 

    Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the government is imposing a PARTIAL BAN which should serve as a "clear message" to the Kuwaiti authorities. I maintain that this ban is not good enough, Sec Bebot Bello, let's COMPLETELY STOP SENDING OUR WOMEN TO THAT AWFUL COUNTRY.  Better still, let us manage our economy well and eliminate corruption in government, so that we would be self-sufficient and not needing to sacrifice our women's honor and dignity at the altar of foreign labor. Let's train our women in dignified work and employment right here in our homeland. 
  • Sen. Richard Gordon's Justice Committee to open inquiry into Marcos wealth. First thing: check out date of deposit in BSP vault of original documents Salonga brought back to Manila in 1986, which, contrary to allegations, were never stolen

    I'm so glad that Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Committee on Justice, has decided to open its inquiry into the string of recent successive failures of the PCGG to recover the hidden billions from the Marcoses.  It is time this whole issue of the Marcos wealth is laid bare in the Senate and if anyone could do it,  it's Richard Gordon.

    In two successive issues, the Philippine Daily Inquirer bannered the failure of the PCGG to recover a P200 billion forfeiture case against the  Marcoses---THE FOURTH CASE THE PCGG HAS LOST ON THE MARCOS WEALTH. Yesterday's story quoted the Sandiganbayan as stating that "Absent sufficient evidence that may lead to the conclusion that the subject properties were indeed ill-gotten by the Marcoses, the court cannot simply order the return of the same to the national treasury." The story cited that the graft court "has dismissed a P200-billion forfeiture case against dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his widow and their children DUE TO INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE." (underscoring BOC's) 

    Sen. Gordon should begin his Committee inquiry---to which the entire nation would be glued without doubt---by ORDERING THE EXAMINATION OF ALL DOCUMENTS PERTAINING TO THE MARCOS WEALTH ISSUE THAT ARE SUPPOSEDLY IN THE VAULT OF THE BANGKO SENTRAL NG PILIPINAS. All these documents should be examined by the proper authorities, including the dates when they were deposited in the BSP. 

    This is because, according to the PDI story, the Sandiganbayan recently dismissed the government claim to the P200 billion of the Marcoses due to lack of ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS. The allegation in this 4th case dismissed by the Sandiganbayan is based, as in previous cases, on the allegation THAT PROSECUTORS SUBMITTED 'MERE COPIES' OF THOSE DOCUMENTS.


    The recent story in the Inquirer about the dismissal of this fourth civil case vs. the Marcoses and their cronies is most interesting, as earlier this month, the newspaper had also ran a series on the PCGG's efforts to recover the Marcos stolen wealth. Its third tranche played up all over again the controversy that had involved then PCGG Chair Jovito R. Salonga and the pursuit of the Marcos hidden wealth in the US. 

    This story that has refused to die over the decades alleges that the AUTHENTIC DOCUMENTS on the Marcos wealth, contained in a valise, were supposedly stolen BY A THIEF while the Salongas and their party were dining in a restaurant in New York City. Salonga and PCGG deputy commissioner Pedro Yap were in NYC to testify in a federal court on the gargantuan Marcos acquisitions in that city.


    Senate President Salonga for years took pains to explain in various forums that the stolen documents were actually mere DUPLICATES in the valise held by his longtime associate, PCGG Commissioner Pedro Yap. Salonga also repeatedly stressed that the ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS WERE IN ANOTHER VALISE held by his aide-de-camp--- NONE OTHER THAN MY LATE HUSBAND, THEN COL. THELMO CUNANAN.

    The latter did not go to the Korean restaurant with the Salongas and Pete Yap after they were dropped off by the Philippine Embassy car. Instead, Col. Cunanan, still in that car, went back to their hotel not far off, CARRYING THE VALISE OF SALONGA ALL ALONG, to check on messages, before heading back to the restaurant. By the time Cunanan got there Pete Yap's valise had been stolen, together with Lydia Salonga's handbag. 

    This writer has made it a point in an earlier Facebook article to argue the reliability of then Col. Cunanan as custodian of the valise containing the ORIGINAL documents---because by so doing, I felt I would also establish that those documents  WERE NEVER LOST. I also made it a point to stress that PCGG Chief Salonga had handpicked Col. Cunanan as his aide for that crucial US trip because of the latter's good standing in the Armed Forces---as well as his high degree of intelligence, having bested 4,000 other Filipino applicants for a four-year scholarship at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating in 1961.  Cunanan retired three decades later as a three-star lieutenant general in the AFP. 
    I'm stressing the movements in NYC as well as the high intelligence of then PCGG Chair Jovito Salonga's aide, in order to debunk the fairy tale that Salonga lost the valise containing original documents on the Marcos stolen wealth. Lt. Cunanan indeed left the Salonga party in the restaurant and went to the hotel, CARRYING THE BRIEFCASE ASSIGNED TO HIM, WITH THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS INTACT, AND HE RETURNED LATER TO THE RESTAURANT WITH THE VALISE. .
    Credit must also be given to then PCGG Chair and one-time Senate President Jovito Salonga, who was one of our most intelligent political officials in his time. A bar-topnotcher, Salonga also topped the senatorial slate at one time, and was equipped with a doctorate in jurisprudence from the prestigious Yale University in the US and author of many books on law and meaningful legislations.
    Thus, it was thus entirely conceivable that Mr. Salonga would entrust the valise containing the ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS ON THE MARCOS HIDDEN WEALTH TO A MUCH YOUNGER ARMY OFFICER WHOM HE KNEW AS A FRIEND, rather than to his highly respected but aging colleague, Pedro Yap. What was stolen in the restaurant was the valise held by Mr. Yap which contained MERE COPIES of the original documents in the Salonga briefcase. 

    In fact, I heard that story of Pete Yap's stolen valise directly from my husband, and I wrote it up in my Inquirer column soon after, in an effort to help clear the air.
    It is easy to see why the Marcoses and their cohorts would insist on this fairy tale of the stolen original documents---IT WOULD HELP WEAKEN THE GOVERNMENT'S RECOVERY CASE AGAINST THEM. From what the newspapers tell us, all the documents needed to pin down the Marcoses on the stolen wealth issue are in the Bangko Central ng Pilipinas vault. If this administration is serious about recovering the stolen assets from the Marcoses and returning them to the Filipino people, all it has to do is to assign people of unquestionable integrity to studiously pour over all the documents in the CB vault, and they will have a solid case.
    Whatever happened to the original documents that PCGG Chief Salonga brought to the US, which were later deposited in the vault of the then Central Bank of the Philippines? Inasmuch as it's beginning to appear that the Marcoses' interests are being truly pushed, instead of their getting their just desserts,  Sen. Gordon should begin his committee hearing by checking out with the BSP VAULT THE EXACT DATE WHEN PCGG CHAIR JOVITO SALONGA DEPOSITED THOSE DOCUMENTS THERE AFTER HIS PARTY'S RETURN FROM THE US IN 1986. THEN CHECK OUT WHETHER THOSE ORIGINAL PCGG DOCUMENTS ARE STILL IN THE VAULT. 

  • The appointment of VP Leni as ICAD co-chair has become the nation's great telenovela, with all its ups and downs, tears, fears and challenges. But for the sake of our country's youths, let's demand that our top two officials unite in this fight vs. drugs, and let's help them all we can.
    President Duterte and Vice President Robredo in happier times

    The appointment of Vice President Leni Robredo as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) has taken a number of twists and turns---promising to be the great telenovela the nation has been anticipating since President Duterte issued her appointment to this crucial post earlier this month. 

     Recall that a few weeks back, the President---to the utter surprise of the nation---appointed Leni Robredo as "Drug Czar," with the accompanying promise that her post would be endowed with a Cabinet rank. The nation was elated, as mukhang nagbati na ang dalawang pinakamataas na opisyales. The next thing for us citizens to do was to pray that the appointment goes smoothly, and all would work well against this most serious menace especially among our youth. VP Leni seemed happy with her appointment.

    Subsequently, however, the picture became more and more disturbed and disturbing. First, Leni was not going to be the  DRUG CZARINA (I prefer to call her in the feminine form), but merely co-chair with the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Aaron Aquino. If that demotion affected her, she gave no indication as she went on with her reconstituted job, after conferring with the PDEA Chief. 


    Then came a series of what the Palace considers Leni's "blunders," or what President Duterte's debonair spokesman, Sal Panelo, termed "miss-steps." in the drug war. Leni was quoted by the press as requesting for the list of drug-users, including high-priority ones--- the high-rollers as they are called in the lingo. 

    The Palace, however, refused to grant Leni's request. But why not? If this is a real fight vs. drugs, you'd want the big-time boys reined in? Leni's request was deadma-ed. Why?  


    Eventually, an explanation surfaced: Leni is with the political opposition LP,  and no one knows what she'll do with the list of drug high-rollers in the administration's possession. Thus, the list had to be withheld from her. VP Leni continued to insist on getting access to what Secretary Panelo referred to as "classified information"---but no success. 

    Whoever advised this move, however, was most stupid. Because this list was verboten, it sort of confirmed in the mind of many folks---rightly or wrongly---that the high-rollers are indeed in the administration. Speculations then flew fast and thick. 


    There were other "missteps"|which truly irked the Palace. Leni began consulting US Embassy officials on the drug situation as well as local and international sources. This is a must for Leni as Anti-Drug Czarina, as everyone knows that the drug war is fought on so many war-fronts all over the world with their own linkages.

    Besides, some of the anti-drug battles the world over are successful, but many are not. There are lessons to be learned, and mistakes to be studied and avoided. Various nations really work hand in hand in the worldwide problem against powerful international drug syndicates.


     Leni's conference  with US Embassy officials and other foreign agencies, however, did not sit well with the Duterte administration.  Hence came the axe:  she was stripped of her post as Anti-Drug Czarina as well as her promised Cabinet rank which was never attained from the beginning. As Palace Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed to media: "Trust is earned. The missteps of the Vice President did not inspire confidence in the matter of keeping to oneself classified information."

    This is a rather unfortunate position of the Palace, for what is most imperative is for the administration and its various agencies to unite vs. the huge drug menace that's already upon our society---and not place exaggerated importance on anything personal or the issue of  turf. 


    Various politicos, who have been watching the tug of war between the Palace and VP Leni have their own explanations and positions on this issue. Senators Panfilo Lacson, Franklin Drilon and Leila de Lima (the latter commenting from her jail) have all come out with the verdict:  the  Duterte administration wants Drug Czarina Leni to fail. 

    As Sen. Lacson was quoted in media as saying: '(Leni) will not succeed because (she was) given a big responsibility without authority. How will (Leni) reconcile what she will do?"

    It is a sad development that's happening: our officials are quarreling over how to handle the drug war when it's becoming--- like a wild forest fire in summer---already so tough to control and the drug syndicates are getting bolder and more aggressive. We should all unite, beginning with our officials, against this common menace in our midst, instead of bickering with one another.    

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