With the Duterte government formally sending notice to the United States terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), alarm bells sounded all around.
After the US received and formally acknowledged the notice, it means the VFA is terminated 180 days or six months from now. In the meantime, the VFA remains in force until the end of that six months.
It is this “meantime of six months,” which should be highly interesting, enough for surprises including the very possibility the VFA might not even be scrapped.
Six months indeed is a long enough time for official and unofficial maneuverings that will either make the VFA finally dead or not. This, even if some alarmed quarters are fearing its abrogation is fatal, a done deal.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. himself hinted on such possibilities on Tuesday when he suggested there could be room for a vigorous review of the VFA to take place even after notice was given.
A newspaper reported that when a reporter commented the VFA termination would trigger “furious negotiations” Locsin tweeted a response: “You’re the only one who got that.”
Locsin’s cryptic remark is puzzling enough. Except for the fact there is a forthcoming official forum where both the Philippines and the United States will formally tackle the full range of issues governing relations between the two countries. That official forum hints why Locsin is looking forward to “furious negotiations.”
When then will this “furious negotiations” take place? It should be as early as next month.
Prior to Tuesday’s formal notice, a high-ranking US official on Monday in a teleconference with reporters said the annual Bilateral Strategic Dialogue (BSD) between the Philippines and the US is set for March.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper told reporters he expects the VFA to be tackled in the coming BSD meetings.
It is not clear where this year’s BSD meetings, the ninth such formal dialogue, will be held. The BSD take place yearly and are done to tackle political, security and economic cooperation between the two countries.
On Tuesday also, the US Embassy issued a brief tantalizing statement on the termination notice: “This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippine alliance. We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests.”
Reacting to the statement, the Palace said, “The President will not entertain any initiative coming from the US government to salvage the VFA, neither will he accept any official invitation to visit the United States.”
The embassy statement can be read many ways with the Palace’s reaction as but one interpretation. Though the Palace’s stance seems firm and tough, it still did sound as if the Executive is armoring itself against negotiating gambits — the word “initiative” and a Duterte US trip being dead giveaways to such an interpretation.
At any rate, while dialogues and even possibly intense negotiations may or may not happen in the coming BSD talks, immediate consequences and major issues involved in the termination of the VFA are already being addressed.
Should the VFA in fact be terminated even after the BSD meetings, Cooper told reporters termination would affect hundreds of military “engagements and exercises” between the Philippine and American militaries. Clearly, the impact is on the country’s military establishment.
“All the engagements, all the freedom of navigation operations, all the exercises, all the joint training, having US military personnel in port, on the ground, on the flight line, does require that we have a mechanism that allows that, and that’s why the VFA is so important,” Cooper said.
As a backgrounder, the VFA is a security pact between the Philippines and the United States. It contains guidelines and conditions for US military and civilian personnel temporarily sent to the Philippines. The VFA was crafted following the Philippine Senate’s rejection of US bases in 1991.
The VFA affirms the two countries’ obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) signed in 1951. The MDT is a commitment of the two countries to defend each other in the event of an armed attack.
Provisions of the VFA are also threshed out in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), an executive agreement signed in April 2014.
EDCA provides for increased rotational military presence of US troops, planes and ships in the country and gives them wider access to military bases in the country. EDCA is also seen as helping boost the country’s defense capabilities and contributes to modernizing the country’s military.
Interestingly, Cooper says EDCA “still is in place” with communication channels between the two militaries “remain(ing) very open” and current talks on future military procurements by the AFP still continuing.
As it is, however, the Department of Justice says it is still studying the effects of the VFA’s termination on EDCA, as well as on the MDT. This, even as one policy expert says that any executive agreement based on the VFA will have “no leg to stand on” if the VFA is scrapped.
On the issue whether terminating the VFA will affect the 1951 MDT, Cooper did not categorically address it.
But Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate Defense Committee, has a grim view on the future of the MDT. “What is certain is that the 1951 Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty will now be reduced to a mere paper treaty as far as the US is concerned,” Lacson says.
Lacson’s view on the MDT might be dire but his support for the VFA’s benefits on the country’s military and security arrangements echoes views held by other senators, policy analysts, some members of Mr. Duterte’s Cabinet and senior military officers.
In response to all these concerns, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo optimistically quipped, “As the President said, it’s about time we rely on our own resources.”
How such official optimism will stand up or look like after all the “furious negotiations” are done or not we should see by August. If anything, hold your horses momentarily as the VFA conundrum still isn’t a dead deal yet.
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Foolish American politicians don’t realize that their meddling ways put off a greater part of the Filipino population into rallying behind Mr. Duterte.
The Democrats in the United States have placed in high gear their push to reclaim the White House by drumming up the campaign against what the liberals call as strong leaders of the world, and the best way to do that is to target President Rodrigo Duterte.
Coaxed largely by the Filipino-American groups seeking to oust the President and install a pro-US administration, Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild introduced a bill in the US Congress seeking to suspend American security assistance to the Philippines until supposed reforms in the military and police to end human rights abuses are instituted.
The usual critics were able to swing a similar resolution from their liberal democrat patrons in the European Union Parliament, which incidentally are also the sponsors of leftist fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Wild’s proposal also cited the Anti-Terrorism Act, which the US lawmaker claims is another excuse to launch repressive measures against opposition groups.
Her country, however, has one of the toughest laws against terror acts brought about by the 2001 attack.
Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go rightly said the legislative move poses interference, since the law being passed involved another sovereign country.
He called for the US legislator to intently study what appears to be a haphazard move that would affect lives not only of their citizens but the rest of the world.
The President’s men asked Wild and her peers in the Democratic Party how would they react if Philippine legislators enact laws that would tell the Americans how to conduct their business.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the real agenda is too obvious since the chance of its passage is slim.
Roque said the measure would also need the approval of the US Senate for concurrence.
The presidential campaign in the United States is reaching its climax, and the Democrats are pulling all stops in promoting their platform.
A difference of American politics with that of the largely personality-oriented Filipino brand is that its two main parties battle it out for votes in terms of platforms.
The 2016 Philippine elections, however, was an exception as the vow of eradicating crime and drug addiction propelled Mr. Duterte to the presidency.
Similarly, US President Donald Trump’s America First advocacy appealed to many Americans in the elections in the same year, and it still resonates in the runup to the November polls.
Comparisons between both leaders, thus, are always the content of American newspapers, which called Duterte the Trump of the East.
In an indirect way, the opportunistic foes in the United States and locally who are closely linked firmly believe that an attack on Mr. Duterte would ricochet on Trump.
Foolish American politicians don’t realize that their meddling ways put off a greater part of the Filipino population into rallying behind Mr. Duterte.
Bongbong’s quixotic quest
Bongbong Marcos has more than once presented himself before a national electorate. He’s won and lost, judged each time, against criteria directly applicable to him.
In a mature political milieu, an elusive utopia where both sides across a partisan aisle pursue only the public interest, fully realizing the imperatives of a perennial political battle that’s been keeping us from truly progressing, the realization of a vice presidency under Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos sans the vitriol of revisionism may be the hope that’s eluded us.
Some say that is blindly ideal and naïve. That we are dreaming. But what is wrong with idealism? To paraphrase Cervantes on the irony of quixotic quests, why accept reality if reality is mad?
Should we not seek the ideal under a present leader? Not the Marcos of the past. Keloids and calluses have cauterized, layered and left fading scars over ancient wounds. Those are the natural responses of the body. Perhaps we can learn from nature’s resiliency.
As we vet Bongbong, it is ludicrous to resurrect the specter of martial law as well as fears that a second Marcos presidency would rewrite history. We know the truth about the 20 or so years. Nobody can forget those nor is anyone trying to rewrite the truth. History has been written. Facts cannot be changed, save for it to be studied under values and hues that time and maturing attitudes compel.
To force the Marcos children to admit what everyone knows will not make it truer. Truth does not have degrees. It is as absolute as the reality that Bongbong is innocent of accusations levied against others.
Note the utterly impossible demands that pent-up blinding hate, rabid bloodlust and inflamed passions inflicted on Bongbong. The victims of martial law want the children of Ferdinand Marcos to admit to circumstances they, the children, had not personally caused, save for expressing unquestioning filial love amid a mountain of hate.
Paternal inequities are not visited on innocent children. Not when they’ve come unto their own and, in the case of Bongbong, where he has proven, not simply a committed desire to lift the lot of his constituencies, but the capacity to craft policies both patriotic and profoundly significant. Compare him to the lazy and inexperienced bungling buffoon we once stupidly installed as president.
To compel an admission against self-interest for one who is not personally guilty of the specific crimes charged is grossly unfair. This is worsened by insisting an undetermined amount of wealth that remains in the realm of speculation and accusation be returned sans due process. One must remember Bongbong has not been accused much less charged with plundering what they insist he returns. Cast in the mystic mists of conjecture, what specific law are they invoking that he must follow if he were not guilty?
Bongbong Marcos has more than once presented himself before a national electorate. He’s won and lost, judged each time, against criteria directly applicable to him and arrayed against others he competed. He has been vetted and the votes he’s garnered have been enough for a national mandate. That’s a quantifiable reality. More than that, the numbers show how the electorate has discounted the negativities many insist on pinning on a man innocent of the faults they attribute to someone else.
We need a Vice President keenly attuned, intelligent and articulate with a heart in the right place, loved and respected, and most important, driven to be successful, both as an exemplary and inspiring leader and one for the books that have recorded a history of mostly the worst.
That crazy 6-putt of Danny Lee
Golf mirrors life. A golf swing is executed, bringing the club up and then down, much like life’s ‘ups and downs.
Poor Bryson DeChambeau. When golfers reminisce the 120th edition of the United States Open Golf Championship, they will likely talk about the disastrously stupid 6-putt of New Zealander Danny Lee than the dreamed victory of long-hitting DeChambeau, his first major championship title. Lee’s embarrassing gaffe, which is of epic proportion, has stolen the thunder from him.
I hadn’t watched live the US Open last week. In fact, I forgot all about it — traditionally, it is held during the month of June, but had to be postponed to last week on account of the pandemic — until Professor Gerry Collado posted in our exclusive Viber chatroom about the exciting match in the monstrous Winged Foot golf course. Later, Councilor Marciano Medalla posted a video of Lee’s monumental meltdown.
Lee was scoring relatively decent until this queer twist of fate. They were playing in one of the most difficult and treacherous golf courses in the world with narrow fairways, thick roughs and undulating greens — Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. Earlier, legends Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other golf stars did not make the cut of players qualified to play in the last two days of the four-day tournament. Lee scored 3 over par going to the disastrous 18th hole of the third day, Saturday, when his nightmare happened.
Allow me to quote a report to visualize how it happened. “After missing his par putt and then his bogey putt, he seems to lash out in a frustrated manner at the third out, which couldn’t have been longer than two feet, then basically ping-pongs his way back and forth across the hole until it eventually goes in at the sixth attempt for a quintuple bogey.” He carded a score of nine in that hole.
The golfing world was shocked at what happened. What was playing in Lee’s mind? How did he lose his focus and composure? Was he overwhelmed by his desire to win to cause his anosognosia on the fundamentals of executing a putt? Was it self-flagellation for putting poorly the whole day? Did he have an attack of mental deficit or aberration? Or a combination of the above? Golf psychologists could explain it better. Lee has not offered any explanation except to say that he withdrew from the tournament because of wrist injury.
You think Lee was the only golf professional who committed that mental lapse? Wrong. Ace golfers Ernie Else in the 2016 Masters and Sergio Garcia in the 2016 Players Championship 6-putted. But they were not four feet close to the hole as Lee.
All golfers can relate to the woes of Lee. They are humans and are prisoners of emotional and psychological variants. They are not robots. A little mental distraction and disturbance could affect their swing. That is why golf is both a physical and mental game. One must have the physique, strength (DeChambeau was reported to have added 40 pounds to prep for the tourney), confidence and the mental fortitude to resist interference. And the latter qualities are most needed in the crucial aspect of the game — putting, the bane of golfers.
A story is told about a first-time learner who asked his golf instructor why is the word spelled “putt” instead of “put.” The instructor answered that “put” means to place a thing where you want it, while “putt” means merely a futile attempt to do the same.” The pressure is very much in putting. Your 300-yard long drive and accurate iron shots will not count much if not complimented by a good putt. More often, a golfer walks out cursing for a missed short putt.
Golf mirrors life. A golf swing is executed, bringing the club up and then down, much like life’s “ups and downs.” In golf, you have mishits and good hits like life’s miseries and joys.
Yes, everybody experiences hiccups in life, but a man is measured by how many times he rises every time he stumbles. In golf, you may score bad in one hole but you can recover in succeeding holes.
Fr. Suarez healed Saudi royalty
Fr. Suarez was indeed a controversial priest. He was careless, forgetting to get permission to say Masses from local bishops.
This story was related to me by someone in the inner circle of the late Fr. Fernando Suarez, the healing priest, at a crowded fundraising party. She took me aside to a quiet corner, and rattled off this story almost without breathing.
At one time, Fr. Suarez visited the overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Saudi Arabia. They were so hungry to see a priest, hungry to hear Holy Mass. He was literally mobbed. He saw how important it was to soothe these tired workers thirsty for the Lord, who were subjected to extreme hardships and loneliness.
(The dialogue has been reconstructed.)
OFW1 — Father, we beg you, please say Mass for us.
Fr. Suarez — Are you kidding? You want me to lose my head? Mere possession of the Bible can get you beheaded here, what more saying Mass.
OFW2 — We guarantee your safety, Father. We will do it in the basement of our residential building. No one will know about it.
Fr. Suarez — Sorry, I am not ready to become a martyr.
Hounded for hours, finally, his heart softened — Mass at the basement of an unknown building. News spread like wild fire. Everybody wanted to go to his healing Mass. The basement was full to the brim. Alas, the mob drew the attention of the security. They barged in and arrested Fr. Suarez. They reported the news to the King, who summoned him.
King — Where do you get your power to heal? (Fr. Suarez points a finger upwards without a word.) You mean Allah? My mother is very sick. If you can heal her, I will let you go.
And so, the mother was healed and he was set free. But for a moment there, he thought he was a goner.
You are never a goner if the Lord is on your side.
Fr. Suarez healing prayer goes viral
I met Fr. Suarez quite by accident. I was asked to join him in Los Baños. In the morning, we went to Monte Maria in Batangas, a future global pilgrim site. I brought my video camera along.
The site had a panoramic view of the Verde Strait from about 500 feet above the sea. The place reminded me of the giant statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro. Hundreds of ships pass by every day, looking so tiny from our commanding view.
The subsequent healing prayer I shot of Fr. Suarez at Monte Maria was also quite an accident. I just suddenly had the idea, and he readily agreed. He said the healing prayer spontaneously beneath the makeshift adoration arch. The wind was howling like a wolf, and I had a hard time editing the soundtrack.
His healing prayer was my very first YouTube video. I learned to post it by myself by trial and error. It was the Holy Spirit clicking the mouse.
That healing prayer had 10,000 viewers in a few days.
Then did I realize it was the Lord who did the video. All those “accidents” were His plan. In a few months, the video went viral with more than a million hits. There were reports of people healed by praying with Fr. Suarez on the Internet. God heals even in cyberspace.
You can view his healing prayer, and pray with him for healing at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UP3LHBgtIc.
Rejected by Filipino bishops but endorsed by the Vatican
Before Fr. Suarez passed away on 4 February 2020, anti-Suarez groups led by Filipino bishops accused him of sexual abuse of children based on hearsay, ending up in distortions and trial by publicity in social media. Even the CBCP Monitor, official newsletter of the Church, attacked him. It was said that when he went to them to explain his side, they refused to listen to him.
Unable to defend himself, ignored by his accusers, Fr. Suarez went to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF), the highest authority of the Church, which investigates miracles.
Before he died, the CDF cleared him of all hearsay accusations. A broadsheet wrote — “Cleared ng Vatican sa mga akusasyon sa kanya (Cleared by the Vatican of all accusations).”
Fr. Suarez was indeed a controversial priest. He was careless, forgetting to get permission to say Masses from local bishops. Or the priest who invited him forgot. He left his Canadian congregation and became a floating priest without a parish, until a bishop in Batangas took him in. Controversy followed him everywhere. But they were all immaterial, because the Lord still chose him to be His healer, and he healed tens of thousands worldwide. His charisma was total.
Here is his reply to his detractors, who ignored his explanations. Listen to his side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgMH _GLmrag&feature=share
EU Parliament threatens Filipinos’ human rights
Someone ought to tell the EU parliament that its act of threatening the Philippines with economic sanctions, without valid grounds for doing so… is in itself a violation of human rights.
Days ago, the parliament of the European Union (EU) threatened to revoke the trade perks and tariff privileges it has been extending to the Philippines for the past years. The threat came in the wake of reports the EU received from anti-government elements in the Philippines about alleged human rights violations in the country.
According to the EU Parliament, the Philippine government should improve the human rights situation in the country or face economic sanctions such as tariff adjustments designed to disable Philippine industries.
That threat from the EU Parliament is rooted on the faulty premise that the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte actually tolerates human rights violations in the Philippines.
The human rights situation in the Philippines is far from perfect, but then, even the United States, the bastion of human rights in the world, has its share of human rights problems. According to the international news media, racism is robust in America today, something the EU Parliament seems to ignore.
In assessing the human rights situation in a given country, it is not enough to focus on the existence of violations. What must also be considered are how its government addresses the problem, and if systems are in place to check abuses.
Take the problem of illegal drugs in the Philippines. Critics of the administration claim that many innocent people have been killed in the government’s war against the drug menace.
The critics, however, conveniently overlooked that because past administrations allowed the drug problem to proliferate over the decades, the drug menace became so extensive that only a strongman approach to it can stop it.
In other words, had it not been for the iron-handed approach President Duterte took against the drug menace, taxpaying citizens would not have found out that many government officials identified with past administrations, like Quezon City Councilor Hero Bautista, for instance, were drug users all along.
That same iron-handed approach led to criminal charges being filed against ex-Justice secretary Leila de Lima for her alleged role in allowing drug lords in the national penitentiary to operate with impunity from inside its walls. De Lima’s continued detention has been upheld by the Supreme Court (SC).
Like all wars, the anti-drug war waged by the Philippine government will have casualties. Thus, the question to ask is, who should be criticized — the current leadership fighting the drug syndicates, or the past administrations that allowed the drug menace to grow unabated through the decades?
If free speech and press freedom are inexistent in the Philippines today, all privately-owned media would have already been shuttered and reopened under government control. From the time Duterte assumed office in 2016 up to the present, the news media remain at liberty to criticize the government and to publicize the views of critics of the administration.
The ABS-CBN broadcasting giant was not shuttered by the government. It discontinued broadcasts because its last legislative franchise expired and Congress did not renew it because of violations of law cited in the congressional record, particularly the network’s illegal use of the franchise of another broadcast facility.
Rappler queen bee Maria Ressa is currently facing libel and tax evasion charges, but the operations of her online news forum continue unrestricted to this day.
Elections take place as scheduled, and the political opposition have representatives in both houses of Congress. Their voices are heard in the legislature and disseminated by the news media.
There is even a Commission on Human Rights, which never misses any opportunity to criticize the administration.
The SC and lower courts are open and functioning. Laws enacted by Congress and the acts of the President and his Cabinet have been challenged in the SC on many occasions. Court rulings are obeyed by the Executive and Legislative branches of the national government.
Someone ought to tell the EU parliament that its act of threatening the Philippines with economic sanctions, without valid grounds for doing so, and at a time when Filipinos are facing serious economic and health problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is in itself a violation of human rights.
‘Masks up, emissions down’ as climate demos restart
Who is going to demand our right to a livable future, if not us?
BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — Thousands of young people across Europe joined a global day of climate protests on Friday, many wearing masks and keeping their distance against the coronavirus.
The rallies marked the resumption of street protests by the “Fridays for Future” movement, which had kept its actions mainly online in recent months because of the pandemic.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who launched the school strikes two years ago, led the protest in Stockholm.
The goal was to “build up this pressure on people in power so that something happens,” the 17-year-old said outside the Swedish parliament, wearing a white mask emblazoned with the Fridays for Future logo.
With Sweden’s coronavirus rules limiting crowd sizes to 50 people, Thunberg said the demonstrations would “focus on being few people in many places and keeping distance.”
Posting pictures from protests held around the world, Thunberg later tweeted satisfaction with the response.
“What a huge success! With masks and socially distant, hundreds of thousands returned to the streets, demanding climate action, in over 3,200 places on all continents, including Antarctica!
“The fight for a future doesn’t end here. This is just the beginning,” Thunberg wrote.
Previous global Fridays for Future demos have seen millions of young people pour into cities to demand action against global warming.
In Germany, police said some 10,000 protesters braved the rain to gather at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. Organizers estimated the figure to be twice as high.
Demonstrators clutched umbrellas and carried signs to highlight the climate crisis, while some scribbled messages on their face masks such as “Not a single degree more” and “Unite behind the science.”
A Berlin police spokesperson said participants were adhering to hygiene regulations imposed to contain the virus spread, with many demonstrators standing or sitting at least 1.5 meters apart.
Who if not us?
Elsewhere in Germany, some 7,000 people turned out in the western city of Cologne, while the cities of Freiburg and Hamburg each drew around 6,000 demonstrators.
Bad weather across the country however was believed to have dampened the overall turnout somewhat.
A large protest planned in the southern city of Munich had to be cancelled because of a regional spike in coronavirus infections, and was replaced by a smaller event outside the city center.
Climate strike organizers in Austria said that 6,000 people had attended a demonstration in the capital Vienna despite heavy rain and organizational hurdles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vienna’s police department estimated turnout at 2,500.
Protest organizers said a further 2,000 people had rallied in other parts of Austria using the slogan: “Masks up, emissions down!”
“We don’t know when the pandemic will be over, but we do know that the climate crisis is getting worse every day and is endangering human rights,” said Vienna-based activist Klara Butz.
“Who is going to demand our right to a livable future, if not us?” she asked.
Greenpeace meanwhile marked the day by releasing a photo recently taken in the Arctic of 18-year-old ornithologist Mya-Rose Craig, known as “birdgirl.”
She is pictured standing on an ice floe holding a poster reading “Youth Strike for Climate” — in what the environmental campaign group said was the world’s most northerly climate strike.
“I’m here because I want to see for myself what’s at stake as this crucial protector of the planet, the Arctic Ocean, melts away at a terrifying rate,” she said from the Svalbard archipelago in a statement.
Don’t push your luck
Image is also a long-standing problem of Cayetano, who is not known as a unifying force, but rather a divisive figure in his stint in both the Senate and the House.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is committing political suicide in reneging on the gentleman’s agreement among him, President Rodrigo Duterte and Marinduque Rep. Allan Lord Velasco.
Already, the Speaker is losing his support base in the House of Representatives since all of his peers know that Cayetano assumed the Speakership merely on the basis of the term-sharing agreement by which he was able to maneuver Mr. Duterte’s key support.
The fine print of the deal also came from Cayetano that makes it shameful that he is now turning his back on it.
The deal disheartened many members of the chamber who adhere to the principle of the independence of the legislature in deciding its affairs and in choosing who should stand as its leader.
Now, Cayetano had to resort to transactional politics to maintain his tenuous hold to the top House position.
In effect, Cayetano was voted in as Speaker only due to his having begged President Duterte’s intervention, even on a 15-month speakership term, after which another speaker, who already had the majority of the House vote and should have been rightfully elected as Speaker, had little choice but to give in to Cayetano.
Prior to the term-sharing deal, Cayetano was hardly ever considered as a serious contender for the speakership.
Cayetano used the same ploy in 2015 in his failed bid to become the country’s vice president by latching on Mr. Duterte even when he still, at that time, had no blessing from his supposed co-tandem or his family members.
He tried to wrangle a leadership sharing deal personally with Velasco in negotiations that promptly fizzled out.
The thinking then among congressmen was why should Velasco agree to be tied down to a compact when he had a good chance of securing a majority, while the other party had little to zero chance of winning the speakership.
The vote, prior to the horse trading initiated by Cayetano, was split in the middle between Velasco and Leyte Congressman Martin Romualdez, who is president of the Lakas Party that had its heyday during the reign of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Then money flowed as some of the bets angling to win the speakership were quoted as saying that hundreds of millions of pesos were offered.
Image is also a long-standing problem of Cayetano, who is not known as a unifying force, but rather a divisive figure in his stint in both the Senate and the House.
Cayetano may just have to kiss his grander ambitions goodbye in double-crossing his peers.
Overrating the Supreme Court
So far, there seems to be no public accounting as to how the SC spends the Judiciary Development Fund.
At least 31 petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court (SC) questioning the constitutionality of the controversial anti-terrorism law recently enacted by Congress.
A retired chief justice (CJ) of the SC recently stated in a newspaper (not the Daily Tribune) that the numerous petitions against the anti-terror law filed in the SC reveals the public’s trust in the tribunal. That statement is self-serving as it is contestable.
By praising the SC of his time, the retired CJ ultimately praised himself as one its helmsmen, despite having been appointed to the SC without any prior judicial experience on his part.
The retired CJ’s praises for the SC are also contestable because the large volume of cases filed in the SC does not necessarily mean that the people trust the tribunal.
He should know that the petitions against the anti-terror law were filed in the SC because there is no other forum for them. The petitioners have no other choice under the law.
Events of very recent vintage likewise dispute the retired CJ’s one-sided assessment.
When the SC en banc granted the petition for quo warranto filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida and, in the process, kicked out de facto CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno from office, many lauded the action taken by the SC. There were, however, many anti-administration personalities who denounced what the SC did. Their unflattering remarks against the SC were all over the news media.
SC justices should keep their personal quarrels private. The personal animosity between Sereno and Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro was, however, an open secret.
When he was still a member of the SC, Justice Antonio Carpio went around town delivering a lecture on Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, during office hours. Whether he did so on official leave, SC personnel refuse to disclose.
So far, there seems to be no public accounting as to how the SC spends the Judiciary Development Fund, which consists of money paid by all court litigants. The fund is supposed to augment the salaries of low-income judicial employees.
The retired CJ knows that there was a time when the SC refused to allow the public and the media access to the luxurious cottages SC justices use in Baguio City during their so-called “summer sessions” there. Because the SC does not need to hold sessions in Baguio, analysts say those cottages are vacation villas for the justices, maintained by public funds.
Further, the retired CJ is aware that there was a time when the SC refused to let the public and the media access the justices’ individual statements of assets and liabilities (SALN). He should also be aware that the current Ombudsman, ex-SC Justice Samuel Martires, recently banned public and media access to the SALN of top government officials.
Ex-Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., a die-hard follower of President Corazon Aquino and her son, President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III, gave the lame excuse that allowing public access to the cottages and to the SALN undermines the independence of the judiciary.
How the exercise of the constitutional right of public access to public property and public documents can actually undermine judicial independence, Davide did not explain.
Davide was one of the authors of the defective 1987 Constitution. According to former Senator Ernesto Maceda, Davide also wrote Executive Order 1 for President PNoy. That EO, which created the short-lived Truth Commission to investigate anomalies allegedly committed during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was declared unconstitutional by the SC.
The retired CJ should be reminded that his ex-colleague Sereno was twice sued in the SC when she was the de facto CJ. One case against Sereno was filed by then Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza, who later became a justice of the SC. The other case involved Sereno’s meddling with nominations for judicial posts. Sereno lost in both cases.
Finally, the election protest filed by ex-senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. against Vice President Leni Robredo has been pending in the SC sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal for over four years now. The case is assigned to Justice Alfredo Caguioa, a PNoy appointee, whose wife was with the campaign camp of Robredo.
There are other stories that the public should know, but that will be for another occasion.
As uncomfortable as we are at being judged unfairly, that the Philippines remains the worst regional hotspot is a matter of record by both the World Health Organization and other external organizations that compare us, rightly or wrongly, with other countries battling COVID-19.
The comparisons are however debatable as most benchmarks might be inapplicable or inadequate in capturing many of the minute complexities where the virus is itself generally an unknown variable. Understandably, there are reasons to debunk comparative benchmarks as cultural factors including immeasurable and non-comparative standards are applied.
Unfortunately, such inapplicability is worsened by the increasing crash of credibility among the medical community upon whom we entrusted the pandemic responses.
For one, the Philippine medical community cannot seem to agree with itself. We saw this in the two years prior to 2020. The deadly Dengvaxia scandal had split the community along several widening fissures and fault lines. From those conflicted and guilty for politicizing the vaccine’s program, to those seeking justice for the dead children, and even those who simply sought the truth.
In this pandemic, chasm-wide fault lines are getting in the way of credible and timely responses. Diagnose the symptoms of an increasing lack of unity within the medical community. Public trust and confidence are quickly waning as division, infighting and intrigue cancel each other out.
Note, the Health undersecretary has more credibility than her principal. Former secretaries have taken to denying involvement with anonymous physician groups.
One faction raised their fists against the authorities where they were negotiating for a two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Without demanding for an ECQ, a larger group that included frontline nurses sought a more intelligent, non-military, health care-focused approach, including quantified allocations to appropriately compensate health workers.
Among the divisive skirmishes was the debate on the dangers of rapid anti-body tests peddled by some against a greater many who exposed its dangers in catalyzing the infection rate.
Poisoned by political partisanship and entrepreneurial posting and peddling in social media, these wars among the community are fought very publicly and very visibly, as factions now go for each other’s jugular on the issue of continued lockdowns advocated by one group against another that pushes for specific medication and a complete opening of the economy. How polarizing is that?
Yet, both are evidence based.
The medical battlefield is aggravated by a lengthening string of reversals coming from supposed experts and scientists who openly argue issues like the toggling of on-again, off-again impositions of quarantine permutations and combinations.
Worse, the infighting has its own comorbidities. People have noticed drastic and self-destructive power play within the Inter-Agency Task Force populated with a forced mix of political appointees and career doctors and scientists. As infections rose, it is unfortunate that guidance has been increasingly dictated by political appointees rather than by scientists as police powers are increasingly employed against a health issue.
While continuously testing various and even divergent hypotheses is integral to the scientific process, warring doctors face the danger of killing their patients as they play the game of one-upmanship.