Pic.Belinda.Cunanan

  • President Duterte graces PDP-Laban celebration where Nene Pimentel serenades him with popular postwar ditty, "You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine." Bigger focus, however, on Sara's "Hugpong ng Pagbabago" especially given Duterte's recent revelation about his desire to "step down" and Star's banner today about his intention to join Sara's HNP. Query: is HNP preparing Sara for "succession to the throne?"







    Photos taken during launch of Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) last week (photos by Ian Cruz from Tweeter)



    Last Wednesday evening,  Aug15, PDP-Laban, the party founded by former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Sr and son, former Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, held a reunion at the GSIS compound next to the Senate, to launch its "PDP-Care" program for typhoon victims. Gracing the occasion was no less than President Rodrigo Duterte who ran and won under its banner in 2016.

    It seemed like a convivial gathering of political forces,  so that 85-year old Nene Pimentel---all white hair now and voice raspier than ever---even took to singing the American ditty popularized during early post-war years,  “You Are My Sunshine, My only Sunshine,” and dedicated it to Mr. Duterte, "who has always been my sunshine.” The President, staying late into the evening, graciously acknowledged Nene's tribute. 

    XXX

    Behind the festive atmosphere of the PDP-Laban celebration,  however, loomed  the shadow of the new “regional party” announced days ago  by presidential daughter and Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, the “Hugpong ng Pagbabago” (HNP), in a launch in Paranaque City..  Like an ultra-powerful magnet, the HNP instantly attracted various political groupings---though most of them were hardly the “regional” type. 

    To be sure, there was initially a sprinkling of regional politicians from Mindanao and the Visayas at Sara’s launch---a total of 11 governors. More  significant, however, were those from the national political parties who flocked to the HNP launch, flaunting the Duterte signature fist-bump. 


    Adding to the political excitement over this new "regional" party is the fact that today, Friday, Aug. 17, the Philippine Star headlined that Duterte will join Sara's HNP. This news headline should not be treated with incredulity, however, as blood is thicker than water, most especially in politics.   

    XXX

    Boosting the HNP were national figures like Sen. Cynthia Villar and Rep. Pia Cayetano of the Nationalista Party, whose son and sibling, respectively, are key members of the President’s Cabinet---namely Secretary Mark Villar of Public Works and Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano of Foreign Affairs. 

    Also very prominent at the HNP launch were Gov. Imee Marcos of the “Ilocano Timpuyong” NP Ilocos chapter; Rep. Fredesnil Castro of the National Unity Party; Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte of Serbisyo ng Bayan Party; former Batangas Rep. Mark Leandro Mendoza, secretary-general of the Nationalist People’s Coalition; and Gov. Lilia Pineda of the Kambilan Pampanga, who's very close to Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  Another recruit was Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. 

    XXX

    Statistics-wise, attendance at Sara Duterte’s HNP launch may still be too insignificant to be touted as a “regional party:” 2 out of 23 senators; 1 House member out of 292 members; 11 of 81 governors.  But noteworthy was Sara's release of  HNP's initial list of senatorial candidates to back up for the 2019 mid-term elections: former PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa, presidential aide Bong Go (despite his frequent denials, he went around distributing relief goods during the storm) and Sen. J.V. Ejercito. Certain to also be included is Harry Roque.

    Sara was quoted saying that the HNP supports the ruling PDP-Laban and has no wish to take away its members. As she put it, “We do not meddle with the factional problem of the PDP-Laban.”

    XXX

    With the entry into the national political ring of the new “regional” party from the South, however, all eyes would be on the fate of  PDP-Laban, the party under which Mayor Rodrigo Duterte ran for the presidency in 2016 and won.  PDP-Laban leaders have admitted that some of their politicos are flocking to HNP, and this has led to “confusion” among party leaders as PDP struggles for unity and survival ahead of the 2019 mid-term elections.

    At the outset, Mr. Duterte was quoted saying he has nothing to do with the HNP of his daughter, but he is also set to grace the  swearing-in and oath-taking of its political leaders.  As if to make amends, however, he also attended the anniversary celebration of PDP-Laban last Wednesday. 

    Then came the expected, delivered by the Philippine Star headline today: Duterte is joining HNP.  The question now is, what happens to PDP-Laban with its "super-majority," if Duterte himself is abandoning the party he won under? 

    XXX

    The situation is becoming tough for PDP-Laban. Senator Koko Pimentel, a stout ally of the President, was yanked out of the presidency of the Senate and the party's majority leader, Sen. Tito Sotto. was installed in that post.  Koko admitted in media that “the possibility of HNP endorsing national candidates could be an issue to the ruling party.” Clearly an understatement.

    Governor Anthony del Rosario of Davao del Norte, one of the HNP stalwarts, admitted that his group did not anticipate “the level of interest that other political parties had with (Sara Duterte) Carpio’s party.”  Del Rosario also stressed anew that the HNP supports President Duterte’s political agenda and will endorse 8 senators all supportive of him. 

    Sara Duterte, however, does not seem confused and in fact was candidly quoted in media as saying, “I am confused with (the PDP-Laban’s) confusion.” HNP,  she insisted, “is not a national political party. Perhaps the right way to put HNP in perspective is that it's a 'regional party' with super-strong 'national links.' ”

    XXX

    One grizzled LP stalwart who has seen administrations come and go over decades, noted to this blogger the super-strength demonstrated by Sara Zimmerman Duterte-Carpio, e.g., the unceremonious ouster of the object of her reported ire---Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who was replaced by Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This pundit also noted the easy removal of staunch presidential ally Koko Pimentel from the Senate Presidency and his replacement by Majority Leader Tito Sotto, also of PDP-Laban. In both cases, noted this pundit, "both party leaders were ousted without Malacanang throwing its vaunted “life savers.’ ”

    If this analyst is to be believed, we are witnessing in the HNP today preparations for "succession to the throne.”  This theory becomes especially fascinating in the light of yesterday's Inquirer banner:  “DU30: I’m thinking of stepping down.” 

    Sara Duterte as defender of the political fate of her father, especially if it should worsen, or as eventual successor to the throne through an electoral coup in 2022?  Any which way, Duterte's popular daughter is---as the French would say---"tres formidable." 


  • In aftermath of firing of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang, new Ombudsman Martires will be measured by same yardstick of arrogant independence that Conchita Morales displayed. Titimbangin si Martires nguni't kulang kaya?

    In happier times, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Deputy Melchor Arthur Carandang



    Newly appointed Ombudsman Samuel Martires takes his oath of office before Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio
    Aug. 06, 2018




    The sacking of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Melchor Arthur Carandang by President Duterte, as conveyed in a 10-page decision by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea last July 30 will be watched for weeks, months and even years to come---for a good number of reasons. The Palace had objected to the disclosure by Carandang of bank records of the Duterte family, which it felt Senator Antonio Trillanes could use to accuse the President of plunder. Carandang had claimed that the figures were obtained from the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

    Actually, sympathizers of the President are predictably rallying to his defense inasmuch as the release of the figures would be regarded as questionable from their perspective. As Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo put it, "What is patently illegal is that Carandang created a prejudiced environment against a person he is investigating".There is some truth to this, no doubt.

    XXX

    For the moment, however, the legality or non-legality of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang's disclosure of the supposed wealth of the presidential family becomes less interesting---compared to the way he was dealt with by the Administration and implications for the Office of the Ombudsman in the long run.

     A major point at issue here is the harshness of the manner whereby Carandang was fired. According to Secretary Medialdea the dismissal order spells "accessory penalties" of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, being barred from taking civil service examinations and perpetual disqualification from holding public office."  For a civil servant with lifelong service to the government, the forfeiture of retirement benefits is doubtless the harshest, as it deprives him of the nest egg he hopes to enjoy in the twilight of his life.

    XXX

    What's interesting was that the Palace clearly waited until Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was safely retired two weeks ago, before firing Carandang. Actually ex-Ombudsman Morales already clashed with the Palace over her Deputy's dismissal by the Palace as early as last Feb. 1, but the fiercely independent and seemingly arrogant Morales simply refused to carry it out.

    Morales argued with her signature arched-eyebrows that the President had no business firing Carandang, inasmuch as the Supreme Court had ruled as early as Jan. 28, 2014 that the provision of the "Ombudsman Act" of 1989 that gives the Office of the President disciplining powers over the government's watchdog deputies is UNCONSTITUTIONAL. As per that Act, only the Ombudsman can discipline his or her deputy, and she probably would have done so, except that the Palace couldn't wait for her retirement to cool off a bit in axing Deputy Carandang. .

    As Morales insisted to media, "The Ombudsman will not allow herself to betray her sworn duty to uphold the Constitution by recognizing what is patently unconstitutional, as ordained by the Supreme Court." There were initial threats about impeaching Morales on this issue, but this was abandoned inasmuch as the feisty lady graft-buster remained popular and admired for her guts vis-a-vis Duterte.  While Morales was in the saddle, the Duterte administration kept its distance.

    XXX

    The Palace appointed 69-year old former Supreme Court Justice Samuel Martires last Monday as Morales' successor and all eyes are now on the poor man, who will be measured by standards set by the feisty lady. Would Martires enforce the President's order to kick out Carandang or would he have the guts to follow his gutsy predecessor on her avowal of independence for the office?

    Recall that the Palace had already clashed with Ombudsman Morales when it ordered the 90-day suspension of her Deputy Ombudsman---on the issue of his supposedly irregular release of bank records of the Duterte family, allegedly in the billions, to the President's arch-critic,  Sen.Antonio Trillanes. The Palace feared that the information supposedly from AMLC would be used by Trillanes to charge Mr. Duterte with plunder.

    Solicitor-General Jose Calida of quo warranto fame defended the validity of Carandang's dismissal resulting from this issue---arguing that the Constitution does not bar the President from disciplining a
    deputy official. The Administration's rationale seemed to be that the authority TO HIRE also implies the  authority TO FIRE, but this is not upheld by recent decisions of the Supreme Court.

    Some observers rue, however, that SC decisions are not cast in stone, and Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque has already predicted confidently this reversal by the SC.. New Ombudsman Martires, however, seems to take the safe way out when he stressed that the sacking of Deputy Ombudsman Carandang "is a matter left to the courts to decide." .

    XXX

    President Duterte will retire on June 30, 2022, and until then, it is easy to predict that many legal skirmishes will still be fought by his officials in his name. With the retirement of the feisty Conchita Carpio Morales, aunt of the President's son-in-law, lawyer Maneses Carpio, last July 26, the ball is now in the court of new Ombudsman Martires whose association with Mr. Duterte appears to have come a long way.

    Some observers don't give Mr. Martires the same allowance for impartiality that Carpio Morales displayed. For one,  Martires, a fraternity brod of President Duterte, who took his oath as Associate Justice on March 8, 2017---who also happened to be Mr. Duterte's very first appointee to the SC.  Justice Martires had previously occupied the post of Sandiganbayan for 10 years, starting in 2005, leaving a trail of controversial decisions.

     In 2012, he rendered the verdict clearing Marcos and Bobby Ongpin in the alleged Binondo Central Bank scam. News accounts also said that in April 2013,  Martires penned the Sandiganbayan resolution upholding the plea bargaining agreement struck between military comptroller Carlos Garcia and the Ombudsman.

    The Filipino people are in for interesting times. 
  • Digong's third SONA delivered at the 17th Congress would best be remembered for coup vs. Speaker Alvarez that installed GMA in his place. A pity that the coup buried some meaningful pronouncements by Duterte in a SONA sans expletives and verbal sling-shots at other leaders, such as toward VP Robredo last year.



    Former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo plays out a new and more challenging role as the First Female Speaker of the House of Representatives. 




    The 17th Congress of the Philippines will be remembered not for the surprisingly brief State of the Nation Address of President Duterte---but for the coup against Speaker Alvarez that took place over many hours at the Batasan last Monday. In a series of lightning moves by 184 members of the House of Representatives (out of a total membership of 234), who chose to install as their new leader former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, co-province-mate and co-PDP-Laban party-mate of President Duterte and his longtime ally, garnered only 48 votes while  12 representatives abstained. 

    The Batasan audience sensed something big was going on when the appearance of the President in the cavernous session hall was delayed for over an hour---even though the giant screen inside the hall showed that he had already arrived. The audience realized something was afoot when a huge group of representatives milled around near the stage, discussing something still unclear to the vast SONA crowd at that time. Many in the audience, including the diplomats, grew more and more restless as still no SONA. I whiled away the time by chatting with a US Embassy political officer and a UNDP official.

    XXX

    Soon enough, I sensed that a coup vs. Speaker Alvarez was in progress and the buzz went around quickly that GMA was going to replace him. Still more waiting amid the raucous of voices and then GMA, who came in a an orange business suit and not in a Filipiniana outfit like most of us, obviously because she didn't have enough time to change outfits, went up the dais to sit at the Speaker's place---all by herself. By then great confusion reigned in the session hall. GMA tried the microphone, but no sound came out. The Alvarez camp had shut it out. 

    Finally GMA decided to leave the dais and take her seat among her colleagues on the floor. More groups in a buzz, and after a long while a page came in and set up the Mace---the symbol of the House. 

    XXX

    President Duterte began the shortest speech among his three SONAs so far---which was cut short probably because he had already known what was happening in the House---which was the bigger story. Then Senate President Tito Sotto and by then still-Speaker Alvarez adjourned the session on behalf of their respective chambers. The buzz in the hall was that an arrangement was fashioned between the two protagonists for the Speakership that Alvarez would still get to preside over the House for the SONA---ONE LAST HURRAH FOR HIM.  

    Soon after the reception for the guests, the President left by chopper back to the Palace. Then followed the climax of the day journeying quickly into late night---the viva voce voting for Speaker in the session hall, which was being very seriously taken. At that late hour, there was a quorum, which was in itself AN INCREDIBLE FACT IN A CHAMBER NOTORIOUS FOR ABSENCES. 

    XXX

    A big snag: the Alvarez camp, aside from turning off the power on the stage earlier, also did a good job of hiding the Mace---the symbol of House authority---so that it couldn't be produced for last Monday night's over-extended session and voting. Someone questioned whether voting without the Mace would be legal, but this argument was shot down by Camarines Sur's Rolando Andaya who likened the Mace to the policeman's chapa---even without it the policeman remains an officer of the law.  His explanation quieted the objectors and voting began fast and almost automatic---no complex explanations, just voting one by one, overwhelmingly for GMA. 

    Buhay Rep. Joselito Atienza termed it "spontaneous combustion," though later reports said the plot was hatched earlier in Bonifacio Global City by a group led by Andaya. 

    XXX

    Lots of theories arose in the search for a rationale for Alvarez's ouster. Some pointed to his vigorous espousal of a "No-El" (no election) scenario---recently headlined by newspapers---which was said to have drawn flak toward the President inasmuch as Alvarez is considered one of his closest political allies and the latter would not do anything without Mr. Duterte's blessing. Perhaps it was there, but the whispered animosity of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte toward Alvarez---which was widely known in Davao---gathered more credence and showed the power of this young politician. Significantly, other politicians from Davao, such as Rep. Karlo Nograles and TonyBoy Floirendo were allied with Sara vs. Alvarez.

    I spoke to Rep. Floirendo whose Tagum banana plantation became the object of Alvarez's ire after their two ladies quarreled over who gets to sit at which place of honor at the Bacolod Masskara Festival two years back. Floirendo, known to have been a major donor to Duterte's campaign, had few words of endearment for his fellow Davaoeño Alvarez. 

    Another solon felt that Alvarez's espousal of same-sex marriage and divorce drew the ire of the Church.

    Indeed, many possible reasons for Alvarez's unceremonious eviction. Everyone concedes, though, that the shake-up wouldn't have been possible without at least the tacit approval of Mr. Duterte.  At the session hall  after the voting, I managed to query new speaker GMA, looking quite tired, whether the coup vs. Alvarez had the approval of the President and she replied tartly and almost inaudibly, "Does it have to have his approval?"

    XXX

    Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was elected Speaker of the House tonight---a new phase in her long and distinguished political career. Former Senator and DENR Secretary Sonny Alvarez noted that In becoming Speaker after her nine year-presidency, GMA took the same path as John Quincy Adams in US history. After Adams finished his term as President of the US, he became a member of the US Congress---but as ordinary legislator and not as Speaker. Interesting new world for GMA. Great expectations from her colleagues. Congratulations, Mme. Speaker---the first Filipino woman to achieve this distinction in a predominantly man's world.

    If the shift to federalism, as President Duterte is now campaigning furiously for, takes place, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could conceivably become the first Prime Minister and the first Filipino woman to achieve this goal. Some commentators note that with Duterte shooting his mouth off frequently without thinking, GMA would be the perfect foil, as she is known as a meticulous plodder especially in the realm of economics and foreign investments. 

     At the moment the idea of GMA's return to the top is reaping a lot of favorable remarks, but her political enemies are also quite active in shooting it down. This petite woman, however, has fought many political battles over the decades and she appears to be in this new game to stay. 




  • Pacquiao made Pinoys forget even for a brief moment the galloping inflation, high prices and Duterte's rant vs.God as we celebrated his stunning victory vs.Argentine champ Matthysee. OPAPP's Dureza quotes "moral hazard" (coined by World Bank) of giving livelihood to warriors abandoning arms but seemingly neglecting those who live peaceful but economically challenged lives.
    Manny Pacquiao waits in corner for his opponent to rise, which he never did.

    Indeed the Filipino people were united for perhaps one and a half hours last Sunday noon, as our champ Manny Pacquiao challenged Argentine champ Lucas Matthysee for the WBA Welterweight World Title in the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia---with no less than President Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad watching from the galllery. 

    Frankly, I was quite nervous as Pacquiao at 39 is four years older as well as three centimeters shorter in height than his opponent---in a sport where age and arm’s reach could spell disaster on the short end. But Manny stuck to the legend he has created, with 20 more wins than the Argentinian, even though our hometown boy had 7 losses vs. Matthysee’s four.

    XXX

    As the boxing fight raged, I was speeding to Wack Wack Subdivision in Greenhills to attend the 87thbirthday celebration of my longtime friend Teresa V. Daza, and I knew that my driver, Rod, was watching the fight from the car TV even as we drove.  That he could bump someone else’s vehicle and we’d get into a fight worried me, but I couldn’t find the heart to stop him from watching intermittently, as I knew how much Pinoys had yearned for such a match---after the long disappearance of our champ from the ring.

    After the luncheon for Tessie Daza I visited my ailing brother Danny Olivares in Marikina and this time I got to watch the replay---how Pacquiao’s lightning jab finally sent Matthysee half-kneeling on the floor----the third in the 7th round, though not quite a knock out. That punch by Pacquiao, though, was enough to TKO the Argentinian.

    XXXX

    I have never been a boxing fan as I find this sport too brutal for my sensibilities, but I can understand why the Inquirer would banner that “Pacquiao victory unites nation anew.” Superficially, I agree. For one bright shining moment, in practically every home across the archipelago, Filipinos forgot their own wrestling with galloping inflation, high prices, maddening traffic in the metropolis, brutal killings of priests and drug addicts and many more, as they waited with bated breath for that one right-left punch that would cut short the Argentinian’s reign as welterweight king.

    XXX

    Just as interesting as the boxing fight between Pacquiao and Matthysee, though,  was President Duterte’s advice to Manny Pacquiao after that splendid victory. Along with Manny’s friends, the presidential wish is that the champ would retire to enjoy life and “rest on his laurels,” adding that he has already so much money, no problem.” Manny retiring? That looks like one for the books for one who has managed to win unprecedentedly in no less than eight different weight divisions. At age 39---he'll be 40 in December--- he's raring to take on anyone in the boxing world. 

    But I agree with Mr. Duterte: Manny should quit while he's ahead and enjoy life: have fun with his family, smell the flowers and look at the blue sky more often.  After all, he is already one of the greatest boxers of all time---a legend unto himself with his 39 KOs in his 23-year boxing career. With his earnings from his spectacular boxing career that have run into billions of pesos, Manny could also make history by putting up a foundation that addresses the primary needs of his countrymen, e.g., providing education to the poorest of the poor, so that these citizens could be more productive and reduce the appalling poverty and unemployment levels. 

    But no, he's quoted tonight as wanting to take on Floyd Mayweather once again!   His body may be that of a nearly 40-year old guy, but the spirit is that of a boxing ingenue who seem never to have tasted defeat..                 

    XXX
    Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jess Dureza
    My radio partner, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, and I had a most productive interview with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Chief Jesus “Jess” Dureza, aired last Sunday at 6pm. on "Radyo Balintataw" over nationwide dzRH. Jess Dureza is a friend from way back and I hold that he is ideal to head OPAPP as he is naturally simpatico and approachable---not the abrasive and antagonistic type of public official. 

    We all long for peace in our country, so that precious resources currently devoted to killing fellow Filipinos could instead lift them up from the poverty of centuries. The NPAs thrive on existing poverty and hopelessness to spread their gospel of violence, but as Secretary Dureza pointed out in our program, the dissidents "should help us win goodwill for them---because to integrate them into society would need a law to be passed." 

    XXX

    Stressing the importance of continuing cultural discussion and mediation, Peace Adviser Dureza noted that there are leftists who started as ideologues but who are now happily desirous of peaceful integration into society. He stressed, however,  that even if a ceasefire could be maintained on the collection of revolutionary tax, there are still those who would resort to this method, such as the 'violent extremists' "out of step with those desirous of peace."  

    "The work for Peace is the work of a lifetime, and should be undertaken by all Filipinos who love their country," the OPAPP Chief stressed, adding that "you cannot have peace if you don't have it in your heart." In this I agree. Dureza also admitted that society really has to address anger and the angst in the hearts of some Filipinos. 

    For instance, he recalled that his grandfather was beheaded by the Japanese and it took him a while to appease his anger over this horrible incident in his own heart.  My radio partner, RM Awardee for Theater Cecile Alvarez, also recalled that her own grandfather suffered the same fate, but that she lost her anger over the tragic episode once she started getting to know the Japanese students studying drama in the famed La Mama Theater in the US, where she enrolled in the Alvarezes' exile years in the US. 

    XXX

    At our dzRH program, Secretary Dureza spoke about the twin paradigm of Peace and Development, and prevailing complaints about lack of livelihood in certain areas, such as Sulu. He admitted that while giving livelihood to former dissident warriors could upset those who have remained peaceful, this is what the World Bank had coined as the "moral hazard." He also referred to the "peace lens" that's community-based and inclusive. 

    Dureza stressed that President Duterte is committed to bringing about peace in the country. He also cited how the Chief Executive would often talk with some jest about how his mother Soledad, a known disciplinarian, would make her young son Rodrigo face the wall as punishment when he was naughty. That early, the President would tell his officials, "I was already united to Jesus." 

    Did Secretary Dureza narrate this episode in Duterte's early years by way of negating the effect of the latter's controversial pronouncement about God being "stupid" some weeks back? 
                                                                                                                                        

  • In a country where poverty and limited education exist, involvement of some politicos in drug trade is foregone conclusion. Bong Go's beautiful wreath lined up with those of prominent politicos in De Venecia sister's wake and his huge billboards along the highways going north are sure signs that he'll run for the Senate in 2019.

    Friends and followers of slain Mayor Antonio Halili of Tanauan, Batangas, give him a hero's burial (photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)


    Five local officials have already been killed in a most violent way---shot in cold blood mostly by riders in tandem---and the prevailing suspicion is that they were eliminated because of their involvement in the drug trade. Their families have staunchly denied the accusation; nevertheless, there are certain realities that must be looked into in these unfortunate incidents.

    One is that mid-term elections are coming up next year and it's possible that these local politicians were eliminated by their opponents. That a number of local officials become victims of brutality prior to or during elections is a fact of life in the Philippines, as politics is extremely local and so much is at stake for each political family. Since time immemorial politics here has involved dynasties and the tendency is to consolidate forces to preserve dynastic rule in various areas for generations.

    XXX

    In recent weeks, however, a new phenomenon has surfaced which was just being whispered about in past elections, but which has now been elevated to a major factor, with the coming mid-term elections---mainly because President Duterte recently raised this specter. This is the possibility that politicos who were eliminated were linked to the drug trade. There is a supposed list held by the Palace of local officials involved in drug trafficking, and the popular belief is that those officials killed in recent weeks were among them---victims of the administration’s brutal campaign against drugs.

    In fact, following the high-profile killings of Mayor Ferdinand Bote of Cabanatuan and Mayor Antonio Halili in Tanauan City, members of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) are now pressing for a dialogue with President Duterte, in an effort to understand what's going on in the so-called campaign against "narco-politicians" and the seeming culture of impunity and violence. 

    XXX

    The administration’s campaign against drugs is not bad per se---as it is obvious that this societal menace has proliferated in our nation especially with the inaction of the previous regime. It has seriously affected the peace and order situation in many parts of our country. At this point, however, despite the administration's efforts to eliminate it,  it seems impossible altogether for a number of reasons---the most significant of which is that it appears to be funding the election campaign of a good number of politicians. 

    It's a chicken-and-egg situation. To win in this country, even in the littlest barangay, in many places politicians have to buy votes---in fact, in the latest barangay elections, many pols spent disproportionately huge funds to win. But the terrible fact seems to be that much of these funds may be coming from the drug trade flourishing in various municipalities across the country. 

    XXX

    In turn, the propensity of Filipino voters to sell their votes stems from the pervading poverty and poor political education of our people at the grassroots.  Extracting funds in return for their votes is the poor's revenge on their politicos who have been negligent over the years. In fact, politicians seek to raise funds to finance expensive election campaigns even at the barangay level. Because of these realities, a good number of politicians have turned to illegal ways of amassing campaign funds, and apparently, judging from Mr. Duterte's pronouncements, the most lucrative is the drug trade. 

    Mr. Duterte is said to have a list of the politicos involved in this nefarious trade and the five killings in recent days are being regarded in some quarters as proof that his men are behind the slayings. This is why local politicians now clamor to dialog with the President---to clear themselves of involvement in the drug trade or have their names stricken off the presidential list of narco-politicians---lest they too fall victim to slayings. . 

    XXX

    The trouble, however, is that elimination via the anti-drug campaign could also be a way for some candidates to get rid of political rivals. It is indeed a worrisome thing any way one looks at it. We Filipinos can only long for and pray for the factors that will establish a strong and vibrant state we can truly be proud of---clean politics that greatly reduces poverty and raises the educational level of our people. 

    Sadly, what we have at present is a lot of unmitigated poverty, a large mass of uneducated and poorly employed people totally dependent on unscrupulous politicians, whose only aim seems to be to get to power by hook or by crook and stay on top ad infinitum.  More by crook obviously, the way the drug war is flourishing. 

    XXX
    Presidential Assistant Bong Go (from ABS-CBN Photo)

    Presidential confidential assistant Bong Go is rumored to be eyeing a Senate seat in the coming mid-term elections. At first it was impossible to think of such ambition from this super-loyal but very low-key aide of President Duterte---who has been with him for many years and is perhaps the closest to him. 

    I've seen and observed politics in this country for many decades now. Years before Eggie Apostol, Letty Magsanoc and I set up the Philippine Daily Inquirer, I was recruited by the great Eggie A. to be a political writer for the black-and-white Mr/Ms. Magazine that she converted from an innocuous women's magazine full of recipes, baby care and advice to the love-lorn, into a political weapon against Ferdinand Marcos. It was the epitome of the powerful mosquito bite that grew epidemic. Since then I have known how to watch out for political signals. 

    XXX

    Three days ago, at the wake at Heritage Memorial Park for Ms. Aurora de Venecia San Jose, elder sister of former Speaker Jose de Venecia, lo and behold, Bong Go's beautiful flower bouquet was neatly displayed alongside the wreaths of the most prominent officials of the land. Moreover, from Pampanga all the way to the Ilocos billboards bearing Bong Go's huge photo may be seen.  

    All these signs I take to mean that for sure it's a Go for Bong Go for senator in the mid-term elections of 2019. Whether he will win is another question, as recent surveys show him in the near bottom rung. Will President Duterte's campaign for him shoo him in?  





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