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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Aquino’s ‘straight path’ a mere slogan without FoI bill passage


Source: The Daily Tribune
President Aquino’s campaign on ‘Matuwid na Daan’ would only be a mere slogan bereft of firm basis if the government sees no urgent need to pass the Freedom on Information (FoI) bill.
This was the statement made by a unit of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) as it joined mounting calls for the 15th Congress to immediately pass the long-delayed FoI measure.
The National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA), described as the social action and development arm of the CBCP, said the lack of access to information “systematically subjects our concerned sectors – farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, workers and rural and urban poor, particularly the Basic Ecclesial communities – to exploitation and manipulation by bad elements in the society.”
NASSA also called on the President to exert more influence on his partymates in Congress to ensure the immediate passage of the measure.
President Aquino had announced his support for the FoI measure as early as January this year.
However, Congress leaders claim that the President has not given any clear signals to his partymates in Congress to fast-track the bill.
The bill was also not mentioned during the President’s State of the Nation Address in July.
“In the spirit of truth and justice, CBCP-NASSA calls upon President Benigno Aquino III to immediately certify the FOI bill as a priority, and urge all the members of the House of Representatives, especially his party members, to support the passage of the FoI,” the NASSA said in a statement released to the media.
“Unless the President sees the urgent need to pass the FOI bill, his campaign (for a straight path of governance) is only a slogan, and has no firm basis.”
In the NASSA statement, signed by national director Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the group wondered why the FoI measure has not been passed despite 14 years of lobbying by civil society and media organizations.
In addition, Pabillo wondered why President Aquino has not certified the FoI as one of his urgent measures “when the President demands transparency and accountability in his effort to eliminate corruption in his government.”
“Why has the Congress not called committee hearings on the FoI?” the NASSA statement asked.
“Why is Malacanang not following-up the calling of hearings if there is nothing to fear about the legislation?”
Meanwhile, Malacanang hopes that both Houses of Congress would soon approve the bill to give the public easier access to government information.
Valte said the Palace hopes that discussions go well when lawmakers meet this October to tackle the bill.
She said it is a good development that the congressional committee will be hearing again the FoI Bill.
Rep. Erin Tanada, the author of the FoI Bill in the House, and Senate committee chair Sen. Gregorio Honasan have essentially adopted the draft coming from the Palace.

Casinos launder ‘jueteng’ money


By Jefferson Antiporda, Reporter
The Manila Times
(From left) Resigned Interior undersecretary Rico Puno, Philippine National Police Director General Nicanor Bartolome, and retired archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan take their oaths before being grilled by senators probing the P1-billion PNP gun deal on Friday. PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI
CASINOS provide safe havens for illegal gambling kingpins to launder billions of the “dirty” money they rake from their nefarious activities, according to retired Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan.
Cruz, a staunch anti-jueteng crusader, told the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, headed by Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, on Friday that jueteng operators and financiers
are frequent “players” in various casinos in the country where their profits are rolled and cleaned.
Because of this, Cruz said that jueteng and more than 30 other forms of illegal gambling continue to flourish.
The retired cleric said that he has several bases to support his claims.
Authorities, he said, can check the closed- circuit television (CCTV) camera recordings of all casinos in the country to find out who among known big time jueteng operators bet huge amounts money.
Sometimes these gambling lords use “gunners” or people who play on their behalf to avoid suspicion, Cruz further said.
He added that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) could check their recordings to see for themselves how gambling lords use casinos to launder money.
P30-B industry
Santiago previously disclosed that jueteng is an industry that earns a whopping P30 billion annually and that one percent of the profits go to the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
The lawmaker, who initiated Friday’s probe on the supposed involvement of Interior undersecretary Rico Puno in jueteng and for his other shortcomings in the department, said that she is convinced that the proliferation of illegal gambling in the country indicates that the activity enjoys the protection from national officials.
Santiago said that jueteng is as strong as it was in 2010 when she delivered her speech about illegal gambling and stressed that it will not continue to flourish without protection from local officials, the police and even those in higher offices.
Puno, who received intense grilling from lawmakers, recently resigned from his post. When asked by Santiago if he was receiving jueteng money, he answered “no.”
Santiago went on to ask if Puno knew someone in Malacañang who may be in the payroll of illegal gambling operators. Puno then replied: “Wala rin po ako alam [I have no idea].”
Santiago said that Puno’s answers were evasive because being assigned as the undersecretary on peace and order of the DILG he should have done something to curb jueteng and even have an idea as to who were those behind its operations.
“All the answers virtually were evasive, although I did not get the answer I wanted still I was not surprised. I anticipated the nature of the answer which was evasion, vagueness and ambiguity,” she pointed out.
Separate probe
Cruz’s revelations on alleged jueteng money laundering in casinos drew the attention of Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd who chairs the committee on games and amusement. Pimentel said that since Pagcor and casinos fall under his panel, he asked Cruz to put in writing everything he knows about laundering of gambling money.
“I will do that,” Cruz replied.
When asked about his assessment on the current illegal gambling situation in the country, Cruz said that jueteng and other forms of gambling are much alive during the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
“It is much alive during the GMA [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] administration and it is much alive during the Aquino administration, walang pagkakaiba [there is no difference],” said Cruz in an interview after the Senate hearing.
Drugs, too
In June, The Manila Times ran a series about how casinos are used by drug traffickers in laundering drug money by converting them into chips.
In an undated report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said that drug traffickers are more comfortable transacting business in casinos and other gambling spots because chips are safer to handle than crisp bills, which could turn out to be marked money.
“Casinos and other similar gambling establishments are also reported to have been used in transacting drug deals wherein payments for the illegal drugs are converted into casino chips to avoid handling marked money,” the report said.
A confidential informant from PDEA who gave The Times a copy of the report said that casinos are efficient venues for money laundering not only by drug dealers but by other criminals as well because chips can be converted to either clean cash or check.
“It’s fast and it’s easy to launder money in casinos. Even if we used marked money in sting operations where serial numbers are recorded prior to the bust and once the dealer requested to convert the money into chips, that will be a big problem. Marked bills would be useless,” the informant said.
No power
Criminal syndicates find casinos as the most effective and safest place to clean their money because the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has no power to pry into the transactions of high rollers who are suspected to be involved in nefarious activities.
At present, only banks are required to report financial transactions to the AMLC but with the expected the approval of Senate Bill 3123, the council can check the transactions of other financial institutions including casinos.
Senate Bill 3123 is one of the three measures filed before the Senate seeking to give the AMLC with more powers. The measure will strengthen and correct the shortcomings of the existing law and go after money launderers and similar offenders.
The authors of the bill seek to expand the list of entities required to report financial transactions to the AMLC by including casinos, dealers, pre-need companies, real estate agents, and trust and company providers, among others.
With the passage of the measure, the council can check the transactions of other financial institutions including casinos.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Roxas front-door act


COMMONSENSE 
By Marichu A. Villanueva 
The Philippine Star
Fireworks were initially expected at the Commission on Appointments (CA) last Wednesday when it held its plenary session before the 15th Congress adjourned for recess. Initially, a piqued Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago threatened to block at all cost the approval of the two latest Cabinet nominations of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
This was in retaliation to the Palace-ordered “snub” by Cabinet officials invited to her public hearing. Miriam also got peeved at her fellow senators for not supporting her Senate inquiry.
But while there were earlier threats of thunder and noise, the confirmation of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Manuel Araneta “Mar” Roxas II and Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya as Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) just breezed through at the CA.
In her usual dramatic flair and colorful language, Miriam earlier had vowed to invoke Section 20 of the CA rules which allows any member of the 25-man bicameral body to suspend the confirmation of any presidential appointee for any or no reason at all. Fortunately for all concerned, the better part of Miriam prevailed as she withdrew her objection against Roxas.
This was only after Miriam invoked her much “higher intelligence quotient” to acquiesce to the plea of Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III to withdraw her objection to the nomination of Roxas. With glowing words of praise, Miriam formally welcomed the appointments of Roxas and Abaya who she noted both carry the great names in Philippine history of their forefathers.
Unexpectedly, it was another senator who erupted later that day. Invoking a personal privilege, neophyte Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV delivered a speech lambasting at the Senate floor no less than the leadership of Upper Chamber. In scathing language, Trillanes accused Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile of allegedly railroading the approval of the bill that seeks to divide Camarines Sur into two distinct provinces.
But instead of taking on the upstart senator over the CamSur bill, the astute Enrile came prepared with his own charge sheet. Aided by the notes purportedly of former Philippine ambassador to China, Sonia Brady, Enrile recited a litany of violations by Trillanes of parliamentary conduct, if not breach of national security.
Enrile revealed that he was most surprised when he saw Trillanes in a national security meeting that President Arroyo called at Malacañang. It was at that meeting where Enrile witnessed how Trillanes went overboard in browbeating Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto del Rosario. In the Brady notes he read at the Senate floor, Enrile fumed at the virulent attacks of Trillanes and his hurling of “treason” charges at the DFA Secretary.
The Senate president questioned the unauthorized trips to China that Trillanes made as “backdoor” negotiator for President Aquino. As subsequently confirmed by P-Noy, Trillanes was tapped to help ease the tension between the Philippines and China following the intrusions of Chinese fishing and gun boats into the 200-mile exclusive economic zone in Panatag Shoal off Zambales.
As clarified later by the President, it was Trillanes who offered his services. Trillanes was in China where he was ostensibly asked by his Chinese contacts to help relay their message direct to the President. It was in this context that the presidential authority was given to Trillanes. But who is Trillanes to gain such confidence of no less than the President?
Although amnestied no less by P-Noy a few months after he took office in June 2010, Trillanes did not join the ruling Liberal Party (LP). A re-electionist senator, Trillanes recently joined instead the Nacionalista Party (NP) headed by Sen. Manny Villar who ran but lost to P-Noy in the May 2010 presidential elections. Go figure.
The only thing I know about Trillanes is his being one of the so-called “Magdalo” leaders who staged the failed coup d’etat against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by taking over Oakwood Hotel in Makati City in July 2003. While attending a hearing of his rebellion case at the Makati Regional Trial Court, Trillanes figured in yet another infamous failed coup when he led the siege on Manila Peninsula Hotel in November 2007.
How could Trillanes be possibly considered as someone very well connected and knowledgeable about China affairs? Was it because of an incident in Scarborough Shoal when then as Navy ensign, Trillanes figured in an “accidental” ramming of Chinese fishing boats?
This little unknown incident nearly caused a diplomatic row with China during the term of former President Joseph Estrada. The DFA was headed then by Domingo Siazon Jr. and the Defense secretary then was ex-Sen. Orlando Mercado. Private funds were tapped from Filipino-Chinese businessmen who pooled their money to pay for the damage to the Chinese fishing boats to help prevent irritants between the Philippines and China.
I would assume it was also in this context when Estrada called Trillanes “ingrate” after the senator engaged Enrile in a bitter exchange of words. Enrile is the president of Estrada’s Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino party.
Actually, Estrada disclosed it was him who included Trillanes in the 12-man senatorial ticket of the Genuine Opposition (GO) during the May 2007 elections. Trillanes got the GO slot, Estrada said, being a known “enemy” of then President Arroyo.
Perhaps, P-Noy also shares the same principle that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” when he accepted the offer of Trillanes to be his “backdoor” negotiator with China. But who needs that kind of “back door” when you can enter through the front door?
That’s what Roxas did in his special assignment last week as the President’s representative to the China-ASEAN Expo held in Nanning, China. Roxas met and talked with Chinese leader-in waiting Xi Jinping and talked they did.
The Roxas front-door act should decommission the “backdoor” negotiations of Trillanes if only to remove this vital national security matter out of the realm of shadowy characters.

Osmeña links GMA to ‘grandmother of all scams’


By Ira Pedrasa
ABS-CBNnews.com
  
‘President’s Bridge scam bigger than NBN, North Rail cases’
Horn: Bridge Program not just GMA’s
Arroyo lawyer: We challenge Osmeña to go to court
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo devised a scheme to overprice by tens of billions the P111-billion President’s Bridge Program, Senator Serge Osmeña alleged on Monday.
In a statement, the senator said the other cases such as the National Broadband Network-ZTE and North Rail deals pale in comparison to this so-called “serial plunder.”
He said, “these P111 billion serial scams are 8 times the [NBN] ZTE contract and 5 times the North Rail contract.”
He called the 14 bridge contracts as the “grandmother of all scams.”
He said the Filipino people would have saved around P61 billion were it not for the scheme.
Osmeña has already asked the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to probe the bridge contracts, which were supposedly misrepresented as having been funded via the Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Not just a GMA program: Horn
In a text message, Elena Bautista Horn, Mrs. Arroyo’s spokesperson, said: “We won’t even bother to speculate on the motive and timing of the latest accusations of Sen. Serge Osmeña. The President’s Bridge Program spans four administrations.”
She added that the Bridge program was undertaken not just during the Arroyo administration but with 3 other previous ones, so the accusation also affects previous presidents as well as the governments of Britain and France.
“Tandaan po natin na dumaan sa masusing proseso ang lahat ng kontratang ito. Kaya di lamang ang dating pangulo ang pinaparatangan ni Sen. Osmeña, kundi ang mga nakaraan at kasalukuyang pangulo, ang mga ibang gobyerno gaya ng Britanya at Pransia, pati ang daan-daang mga tapat at marangal na kawani na nagaral ng mga proyekto,” she said.
She urged those interested about the program to check the documents with the implementing agencies.
“Kung may mga katanungan po sila, maaari po ninyong matingnan ang mga papeles sa mga iba’t ibang ahensya na humawak ng programa.”
‘One man’s crazy opinion’
For his part, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio challenged Osmeña to file the case before the proper court rather than at the committee, “which is highly politicized.”
“He’s shooting his mouth off. If he really has the evidence, then he should file it in court…It’s just a privilege speech, it’s one man’s crazy opinion,” he told ABS-CBNnews.com
He said the timing of Osmeña is suspect. Bringing the case before the Blue Ribbon Committee will only push senators to grandstand ahead of the 2013 polls.
Topacio said he does not know if the former president has already been apprised on the matter. He said, however, he has already discussed the issue with Arroyo’s husband, the former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.
Steel bridges
Osmeña said Arroyo and other officials formulated a complex scheme that would push the costs of the bridges beyond fair market prices.
These were disguised as “local expenses,” which averaged 16% to 21% of the total project cost amounting to around P20 billion, he alleged.
“Such a fee is big considering that each steel bridge is estimated by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH)–and I think they were underestimating it–to cost around P560,000 per linear meter. But our concrete bridge costs only P240,000 per linear meter,” Osmeña said.
He asked why the Arroyo administration had to buy the more expensive steel bridges when the stable ones, such as the Sykway, are made of concrete.
“The Filipino people would have spent only P50 billion instead of P111 billion if we had hired Filipino producers to build the same length of concrete bridges,” he said.
He noted the steel bridges are now “rusting” in various parts of the country.
By justifying the projects as ODA-funded, these did not go through public bidding, he added.
“Mrs. Arroyo must explain to the Filipino people these very anomalous series of contracts that they forged with foreign companies. She and her cohorts could be held liable for plunder because this involves P111 billion in people’s money,” he added. — with a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Friday, September 28, 2012

What game is Aquino playing on China?


By Francisco S. Tatad  
Manila Standard Today
For the first time in the nation’s history, the charge of “treason” was hurled against one senator by another on the floor of the Senate last week for lending his services to the Chinese government at the height of the Philippine-Chinese maritime standoff at Scarborough (or Panatag) Shoal earlier this year.
This has raised serious questions not only about the official conduct of the senator concerned, but above all about President Benigno Aquino III’s own conduct in the whole affair.
For those who take international relations and national security seriously, this has the making of a major government scandal. It is the most serious national security problem to confront the Aquino administration, in any case.
In a verbal clash that threatened to overshadow the maritime standoff itself, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile branded the neophyte senator Antonio Trillanes IV a “fifth columnist” and a “fraud.”
His crime? He has traveled to China 15 or 16 times without the knowledge or consent of the Senate, and told officials of the Chinese government at the height of the standoff that no one in the Philippines cares very much about the shoal.
A “fifth columnist” is an infiltrator. The term “fifth column” originated from the news reporting of the Spanish civil war when in 1936 the nationalist General Emilio Mola said he would attack Madrid in four columns, but that once inside they would be joined by a “fifth column” that had already infiltrated the ranks of the enemy within the city.
Enrile did not accuse Trillanes of infiltrating the Chinese government to serve his country’s interests. To the contrary, he accused Trillanes of allowing the Chinese to use him against his country’s interests.
In Trillanes’s defense, Aquino said Trillanes was indeed his “backroom negotiator” with the Chinese government, and that he used him after the senator had called him from China to tell him that his Chinese contacts had asked him to act as a “back channel” to help ease the tension in the disputed area.
That admission, instead of being helpful, may have complicated matters not only for Trillanes but even for Aquino himself.
Trillanes needs to answer now not only the questions Enrile had asked him on the floor but also other questions outside parties have been asking since. Likewise, the President needs to answer the more serious questions his defense of Trillanes has provoked.
Exactly how many times has Trillanes gone to China? What was the exact nature of his travels? Since he was presumably traveling officially as senator, who authorized those travels? Who paid for them?
Those questions have not been answered since they were asked on the Floor. Trillanes walked out on Enrile, instead of simply refusing to answer any of his questions.
Under the rules of parliamentary procedure, a senator may not be compelled to answer any question he or she may not wish to answer. But to walk out while being asked a question constitutes grossly disorderly behavior, for which one may be disciplined by one’s peers.
Since then outside parties have raised other questions, including one which alleges Trillanes’s involvement in a proposed $70-billion Chinese business deal in the Philippines.
Some have suggested that the former navy captain, who was elected senator in 2007 while facing charges for his role in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny against then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, wanted his prospective business partners to see that he had become such a force in the Senate that no one could possibly interfere with his reputed “deal-making”.
Trillanes was reportedly hoping to force a vote against Enrile when he accused the latter of being a “lackey” of now Rep. Arroyo, and of trying to “railroad” the passage of a local bill from the House of Representatives splitting Camarines Sur into two provinces, purportedly to allow one of Arroyo’s two sons to run for congressman in the district that would be created by that legislation.
Trillanes appears to have forgotten that as a rule, all bills of local interest emanate from the House, and are generally passed by the Senate nearly always without debate. The Senate normally assigns one day of the week to pass all such bills. A senator does not have to explain when voting for a local bill, but he or she may have to explain if and when he or she chooses to oppose or block the passage of such a bill.
This practice is based on the presumption that the House knows the interests of its members best, just as the congressman representing his or her district is presumed to know the needs of his or her district better than any of his or her House colleagues.
In any case, even if the Camarines Sur bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by the President, it cannot be implemented unless and until it is ratified by the people of Camarines Sur in a plebiscite.
It appears that Trillanes, a freshman legislator, missed some of those basic points, and was determined to use the bill as a jump-off point for his attempt to oust Enrile, who had been instrumental in freeing him from detention and enabling him to occupy his place among his peers in the Senate.
It turned out, however, that Enrile was fully prepared for Trillanes. Quoting from notes taken by the Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Cataumber Brady during Trillanes’s talks with Chinese officials, Enrile said that while the Department of Foreign Affairs was trying its best to assert Philippine sovereignty over the disputed area, Trillanes was telling the Chinese that no one in the Philippines cared much for Panatag.
Trillanes said his mission had been fully authorized by Aquino, and that it had been a great success. And because of his intervention, Trillanes said 80 to 100 Chinese ships previously deployed at Panatag had been scaled down to only three or four, which now lie in international waters, no longer within Panatag.
Completely unacknowledged by Trillanes or Aquino is the real “back-channeling” job done by the U.S. government at various levels, in Washington, D.C. and in Beijing, which culminated in the recent visits by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to China—all of which were aimed at, and succeeded in, calming down the waters in the South China Sea, based on the evidence.
Until Aquino spoke, Trillanes tried to make the public believe it was Malacañang that had asked him, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. to do the job. Aquino made it clear that it was Trillanes who applied for the job, saying that his Chinese contacts wanted him for the job. This is something which deserves the full attention of the Senate.
As Enrile correctly pointed out, this was without the knowledge or consent of the Senate, which is part of a separate and independent branch of government. While a senator or congressman may form part of an official delegation that includes a member or members of the Executive Department, because of the separation of powers, no member of Congress may undertake an official mission for the President, without leave of the House of which he or she is a member.
Given the stakes and the level of the players involved in this controversy, the propaganda exchange could quickly turn wild. If the text blasts on the cell phones are any indication, it has in fact turned wild. But nothing should distract the nation from the main issues, which involve the nation’s highest security interests.
If Trillanes was indeed Aquino’s “secret negotiator,” and the President has not disowned any of his acts, does the President share Trillanes’s reported statement that no one in the Philippines cares that much about Panatag? What exactly was the report the President got, if any, from Trillanes? Prior to signing him in, did Malacañang ever try to check on Trillanes’s previous dealings with the Chinese government?
Given Trillanes’s rather narrow credentials, how was he able to connect to the Chinese government or to some Chinese businessmen in the first place? Is there any truth to the suggestion that he was sponsored by a powerful Manila- and Beijing-based taipan, who helped bankroll his campaign in the last elections? What special qualification or competence did he bring into this assignment? Is his open socializing with the Chinese ambassador in Manila a part or result of his “back-channeling” job, or is it merely a continuation of a previously existing relationship?
Enrile minced no words in suggesting that Trillanes was working for China rather than for the Philippine government. The President’s defense has not diminished the gravity of that accusation. The charge is so serious that if Trillanes were an impeachable official, he might have been already impeached. Were he still in the Navy and the same charge had been made against him by the third highest official of the land, he might have personally demanded a court martial in order to clear his name.
As of now, it is not only his name but also that of the President that must be cleared. Since the act of the agent is also the act of the principal, the charge against Trillanes could likewise be raised against the President.
Under the Constitution, treason is the first ground for impeachment. While the President’s hold on majority of the congressmen may not allow anyone to think of filing an impeachment complaint against him, nothing prevents him from voluntarily renouncing his office, or any party from demanding that he does.
Because of Trillanes, the President’s entire conduct of the nation’s foreign policy and national security has been compromised. The question the diplomatic community is asking now is, what game is Aquino playing on China? What will be his next move?
Known for its unembarrassed dependence on the U.S., the Aquino administration has stretched the meaning of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement to allow the nearly permanent stay of visiting U.S. forces, and the unimpeded access of U.S. military vessels and aircraft to the country’s territorial waters and airspace, ports and airports.
Aquino is accused in the foreign press of having committed his government to support unconditionally the so-called U.S. “string-around- China” strategy, which calls for building an active defense wall around China, stretching from Korea through Japan, Southeast Asia and Australia.
And yet Aquino’s use of Trillanes as a backdoor link to China seems to reveal a major demarche in his policy on China. What is Trillanes’s irreplaceable value to Aquino that he is unable to dismiss him from his questionable service, even after his cover has been blown? Even Aquino’s own Liberal Party seems to believe that Trillanes has become such an asset to the administration that he should be rewarded with a berth on its senatorial ticket and a second senatorial term in 2013 despite what Enrile and many others consider a treasonous act.
This is something Aquino needs to explain fully to the Filipinos, and to the country’s allies in Asia and the Pacific.

Prove the Archbishop wrong


ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
Rico Puno, PNP Chief Nicanor Bartolome, and Archbishop Oscar Cruz.
Frustrated by the continued proliferation of jueteng in the Philippines, retired Arhbishop Oscar Cruz once said: “There are three things that are exempted in the President’s matuwid na daan: Jueteng, Hacienda Luisita and the KKK (kaklase, kaibigan, kabarilan).”
President Aquino has yet to disprove his allegations. Hacienda Luisita, owned by the President’s relatives, continues to defy court orders to turn over its land to the farmers by filing unending appeals before the Supreme Court. A prominent kabarilan and kaibigan, erstwhile DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, seemed headed to a great escape with the President’s allies blocking efforts to investigate him over his alleged role in fraudulent arms deals and in the proliferation of jueteng. And jueteng has not only remained strong, but has actually flourished under the Aquino administration, according to Archbishop Cruz.
At least in the case of jueteng, Aquino tried to show this week that his administration is determined to stop the illegal numbers game. Although he did not say explicitly that the eradication of jueteng is a priority of his administration, the President said that it is one of the priorities of the Department of Interior and Local Governments under its new secretary Mar Roxas.
When confronted by Archbishop Cruz last year on the proliferation of jueteng, Aquino had said it is not a priority of his government.
Roxas seems a really nice guy and we just have to wait until his confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (which his predecessor, the late Secretary Jesse Robredo never got) and until he is ready to repeal his comprehensive plan to eradicate jueteng and other illegal numbers game.
Let’s hope Roxas’ “comprehensive” approach is not as shallow as the plan broached by the President during an interview in Lucena City on Sunday. Aquino said he has ordered the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to stop the Small Town Lottery (STL) because it has failed to stop the proliferation of jueteng. Instead, he said the PCSO would put in place a new numbers game that would put an end to jueteng.
In other words, the administration would put back into action the same failed approach to end jueteng – a legal numbers game against an illegal numbers game. Aquino, echoing an earlier statement by his friend Sen. Panfilo Lacson, said the STL failed because the jueteng lords even used the STL to its advantage by using the same winning STL numbers to determine their own winners and even got STL franchises to legitimize their collectors. And what assurances will the new legal numbers game have that the jueteng operators wouldn’t outsmart the government again by adjusting their operations to that of the new game?
Why oust the jueteng lords by trying to beat them in their own game? Even if it succeeds in putting the jueteng lords out of business, the government will just be replacing the gambling operators as an instrument to putting the poor people deeper into the quagmire of poverty and making them forever reliant on luck to get out of it. Is the government interested only in taking the money from the jueteng lords and not on stopping the people from forming a gambling habit?
Maybe the government also wants to put up its own prostitution ring to put the pimps out of business, or its own drug cartel to bring down the drug lords?
If the Aquino administration is really bent on eradicating jueteng, all it has to do is to arrest all the known jueteng operators and all the police and local officials in their payroll, prosecute them and punish them to the full extent of the law. Of course, this is easier said than done considering the corruption that pervades among the police and government officials. But who said fighting corruption would be as easy as impeaching a Chief Justice?
But if Aquino is serious in combating corruption in his “daang matuwid,” he should start with these jueteng operators and the corrupt officials who are coddling them, all the way to the top. His drive against corruption should not stop with the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona, whose alleged corruption has not really been proved in a legitimate criminal court.
If he is really serious in his drive against corruption, why hasn’t he done anything against smugglers who continue to defraud the government of hundreds of billions of pesos annually? Why do the wealthy continue to evade paying the right amount of taxes, resulting in large shortfall for the Bureau of Internal Revenue month after month? Why is land grabbing still rampant in the country? Why are businessmen still complaining of bureaucratic red tape and corruption in every nook and corner of government offices?
If he wants the people to rally behind him in his reform agenda, he must show he has the political will to really curb corruption at its very roots. He can start by starting to go after those jueteng lords and their coddlers in the government.
The President cannot let the people believe Archbishop Cruz’s statement on the “daang matuwid” exemptions. He has to prove him wrong. He can start with jueteng and one of his KKK’s
(valabelgas@aol.com)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Aquino distances from Trillanes


By Gerry Baldo and Angie M. Rosales
The Daily Tribune

PALACE WON’T CONFIRM PAYING FOR SOLON’S CHINA TRIPS

President Aquino appears to have started distancing himself yesterday from Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, his backchannel agent with China, as the Palace yesterday said Aquino does not plan to meet with Trillanes anytime soon while at the same time becoming ambivalent on its statement on where Trillanes sourced his funds on the 16 occassions that he met with Chinese officials.
Aquino’s deputy spokesman Abigail Valte discounted the possibility of a meeting between Aquino and Trillanes citing Aquino’s extremely hectic schedule.
She was also evasive on questions about the Palace providing the funds for Trillanes’ backchanneling mission as was claimed by the senator during a confrontation with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile last Thursday.
“Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to verify that over the weekend. Perhaps, we can start asking those questions when work resumes,” Valte said.
The Palace realized that Trillanes had placed the Aquino administration into a deeper problem than expected when Trillanes admitted yesterday that he did not coordinate with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and was doing it alone in his dealings with his Chinese contacts while performing the task of being the government’s supposed designated “backdoor negotiator” in easing tension over Scarborough Shoal.
“It’s not (part of) my responsibility (to coordinate with him). I assumed, since we we’re serving one and the same President that he’s being informed of what I was doing then, that I was engaged in backchannel talks. So there was no problem in that regard,” he said in a radio interview.
Trillanes on Friday claimed that Malacañang shouldered his travel expenses, in an effort to prove the legitimacy of his Beijing visits.
Valte added that she doesn’t also have any idea as to how much is involved in the 16 instances that saw Trillanes fly to Beijing.
“No, I don’t have an idea. I don’t have that information,” she added.
Valte likewise shrugged off reports that had both Trillanes and ailing Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady meeting eye to eye with Aquino standing between them.
“I do know that the President intends to talk to Senator Trillanes personally which he also mentioned, I think, last Friday in the interview with the press corps, the President even said that (he had) yet to talk to Senator Trillanes and that has to be done soon. The problem is that the President has so much concern requiring his immediate attention. I do not know about Ambassador Brady because as of the moment she is recovering”, Valte said while confirming that Brady had returned to the country after suffering from a stroke in Beijing.
“And, yes, it is confirmed that she is back in the country and while people are interested in speaking to her, we’d like to also appeal that allow Ambassador Brady to recover please before she is subjected to interviews of any sort because it is imperative that her health allows it, her full recovery is the priority at the moment”, she added.
Trillanes also resumed his tirades against Enrile despite the reported gag order on him by President Aquino.
He challenged Enrile to haul him to court if indeed he committed some violations to the country’s laws on his role in helping resolve the row with China and present evidence as to his alleged involvement in pushing the Chinese investor’s supposed interest in a P70-billion business undertaking eyed in the said disputed areas.
“The President has spoken (about my role as backdoor negotiator) and I’m thankful to him. It’s no longer important what happened. What’s more important is that we were able ease the tension,” he said.
When told that Enrile said he does not intend to stoop down to Trillanes’ level, the latter said the most senior senator should have opted keep his silence instead.
Valte, however, would not make any comment as to how the President intends to deal with the supposed “Brady Notes”.
“There are people in the government that have access to the Brady notes. I don’t know… While, again, there are people who do have access to that, we don’t have an idea if there will be really confirmation about vis-à-vis the notes that were read on the Senate floor last week”, Valte was quoted as saying.
Trillanes went to China 16 times since May 2012 in what he claimed was an effort seen to de-escalate and resolve the row between the Philippines and China over a maritime territory known to have an abundant deposit of oil.
Aquino, through his spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, said it was the senator who had volunteered to be the President’s backdoor negotiator in the China-Philippines dispute.
Malacañang admitted that a politician who was once jailed for coup plotting had been in secret talks with China over a territorial row, as the tactic appeared to backfire amid bitter infighting.
Trillanes had been “authorized” to hold back-channel talks with Chinese officials to settle a row over competing claims to Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, Lacierda said.
The appointment caused a deep rift with Del Rosario, who had been officially in charge of negotiations with China and was excluded from the unofficial talks.
Trillanes claimed he had been responsible for easing tensions with China after the dispute erupted in April, and accused Del Rosario of “treason” because of his allegedly aggressive tactics.
Trillanes added that he had met “top Chinese officials” at least 16 times in Manila and in Beijing since May.
The dispute between China and the Philippines began in April, when ships from both nations engaged in a stand off at Scarborough Shoal. The shoal is an outcrop of rocks about 230 kilometers from the western coast of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to other Asian countries.
A one-way trip to Beijing actually costs P37,410 or roughly P75,000 for a two way travel ticket, translating to an amount of P1.2 million covering all 16 trips just for the travel costs.
Claiming to have been on an official mission to Beijing, Trillanes found himself in an awkward position after Malacanang denied having designated him as special envoy of the President.
Trillanes went to China 16 times since May 2012 in what he claimed was an effort seen to de-escalate and resolve the row between the Philippines and China over a maritime territory known to have an abundant deposit of oil.
Aquino, through his spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, said it was the senator who had volunteered to be the President’s backdoor negotiator in the China-Philippines dispute.
Malacañang admitted that a politician who was once jailed for coup plotting had been in secret talks with China over a territorial row, as the tactic appeared to backfire amid bitter infighting.
Trillanes had been “authorized” to hold back-channel talks with Chinese officials to settle a row over competing claims to Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, Lacierda said.
The appointment caused a deep rift with Del Rosario, who had been officially in charge of negotiations with China and was excluded from the unofficial talks.
Trillanes claimed he had been responsible for easing tensions with China after the dispute erupted in April, and accused Del Rosario of “treason” because of his allegedly aggressive tactics.
Trillanes added that he had met “top Chinese officials” at least 16 times in Manila and in Beijing since May.
The dispute between China and the Philippines began in April, when ships from both nations engaged in a stand off at Scarborough Shoal. The shoal is an outcrop of rocks about 230 kilometers from the western coast of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, even waters close to other Asian countries.
A former navy lieutenant, Trillanes was among the leaders of two failed coups in 2003 and 2007 against then President Gloria Arroyo. He won a Senate seat in 2007 from a jail cell while on trial for rebellion. He was subsequently granted amnesty by Aquino, a fierce critic of Arroyo, before the trial ended.
Lacierda admitted Aquino is on top of the mission that saw Trillanes engaging with Chinese authorities, discussing merits of the dispute over the West Philippine Sea, even as he claimed that President gave the green light to the soldier turned senator’s supposed mission.
Aquino’s spokesman explained that the President’s concurrence on Trillanes’ clandestine diplomatic expedition could also be seen as a designation of the President, who wanted a dispute resolved in a manner that doesn’t involve firepower.
Asked for details on how the idea of backdoor negotiation with China came up, Lacierda clarified that the idea to negotiate with China via the backdoor wasn’t something from the administration even as he said it was Trillanes who had first approached the President and suggested backroom deals with the Chinese, and with him (Trillanes) as the negotiator.
Lacierda stressed that that Aquino’s act of having Trillanes touch base with Chinese authorities via the backdoor should not be seen as the President favoring the unconventional manner to resolve disputes.
House majority leader Neptali Gonzales II also urged Enrile and Trillanes to go on a “ceasefire” following China’s softening in its position in the disputed islands and shoals in the West Philippine Sea.
Gonzales said that it was apparent in the message of Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping to Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas that there is hope that the strained relations between the two countries could be repaired.
“I hope that Sens. JPE and Trillanes should likewise declare a ceasefire in the light of this development,” Gonzales said adding that the country has no other option but the diplomatic solution.
Roxas was sent by President Aquino to China upon the recommendation of Sen. Antonio Trillanes.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Gonzales said, however, that there is a need to pursue further diplomatic relations that have been strained by the conflict.
“Yes of course we need to further pursue diplomatic means in resolving the conflict,” Belmonte said.
But Belmonte distanced from the ongoing word war between Enrile and Trillanes citing interparliamentary courtesy.
“I don’t like to intrude into that. What’s said has been said,” said Belmonte.
Last Friday, Vice President Xi told Roxas in the sidelines of 9th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, China that tensions between the two countries had “eased” after a blow-up over a disputed island in the West Philippine Sea.
In separate interviews, House Assistant Majority Leader and Citizens Against Battle Corruption (CIBAC) party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna and Youth Against Corruption and Poverty (YACAP) party-list Rep. Carol Jayne Lopez shared Gonzales view that the verbal tussle between Enrile and Trillanes would only further jeopardize the country’s national security.
“The two senators should have discussed their differences and arguments in their closed door meeting, especially the China issue. Raising the China issue on national TV will not help us in our territorial dispute with China. It will appear before China that we are weak because of internal strife and disunity, adding already to our weak military position,” Tugna pointed out.
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JPE: Chinese intel officers aided Trillanes in Beijing

By Christina Mendez 
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said yesterday that intelligence officers of the People’s Republic of China’s Liberation Army helped Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in establishing contacts in Beijing while he was supposedly doing backdoor negotiations with China with the blessings of President Aquino.
Malacañang, meanwhile, said it has no idea whether Trillanes’ reported 16 meetings with Beijing officials were indeed authorized and paid for by the government.
“I understand that his channel that he developed is the intel service of the Chinese embassy, which is actually the representative of the Chinese military. The PROC Armed Forces, the Liberation Army of China, as you know, that is an institution that actually governs China,” Enrile told STAR columnist, former Senate president Ernesto Maceda in his radio program at dzRJ.
Enrile said Trillanes’ closeness with top members of the Chinese military bolsters his theory that the senator could be walking a treasonous line during his backdoor talks with China on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute.
“If he is indeed, close to the intel service of China, you can go in and out of China, that gives you the reason to understand why he was saying that the Filipinos are not interested in Scarborough Shoal,” he added.
More than meets the eye
Trillanes, in a separate interview, has accused Enrile of lying and reminded the people how the former defense minister supposedly faked his own ambush to justify the imposition of martial law during the Marcos era.
He denied that there were some business considerations in his negotiations with China.
“My mission is to diffuse the tension,” Trillanes said.
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Enrile revealed that during one of his visits in Beijing, Trillanes went with some businessmen of Chinese descent.
He said he will verify reports that Trillanes also had the backing of trader Domingo Lee, who was rejected by the Commission on Appointments as the country’s envoy to China.
“He called the President while he was seated alongside Ambassador Fu Yin,” Enrile said.
He also questioned Trillanes for pushing a bilateral approach on the China issue as against the position of the President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who are pushing for a multilateral position that includes other claimants in the region.
Enrile also noted that the Aquino administration’s line is to involve the country’s allies, apparently referring to the United States, in dealing with China.
‘His word against mine’
He said Trillanes does not deserve to be a senator and he has no plans of mending his severed ties with him.
However, other senators wanted the two of them to patch up their differences.
Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. said he is saddened by the latest developments in the Senate and expressed hope that the good relationship between the two senators can still be restored.
Both Enrile and Revilla have denied that former President and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called them to fast-track the passage of the measure on Camarines Sur.
But in another interview, Trillanes maintained that another senator confirmed to him that Mrs. Arroyo indeed tried to exert effort for the passage of the Camsur bill.
“I know my facts. They have to take my word for it or they would have to take JPE’s word for it,” he said.
Holding on
Enrile said he is not keen on punishing Trillanes for his attack last Wednesday but the latter would be stripped of his chairmanship of the oversight committee “to save the Senate some P10 million.”
Since Trillanes has joined the minority, he will also be removed of his seat on the Senate Electoral Tribunal.
But the former Navy officer maintained that he is not giving up his committees because he is entitled to it.
Keeping its distance
Meanwhile, the Palace is keeping its distance from the Trillanes-Enrile squabble.
The Aquino government also issued an appeal to the media that former ambassador to China Sonia Brady, who is back home after suffering from a stroke last month, recover first from her illness before she gets interviewed regarding the notes Enrile made public.
Malacañang professed innocence on the so-called “Brady notes” that Enrile read before the Senate last week, details of which have not been confirmed either by Brady herself or by the Aquino government.
The Aquino administration nonetheless maintained its position over ownership of Panatag Shoal, which is well within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone and part of the West Philippine Sea territory.
“The position has always remained the same that we intend to pursue a peaceful resolution through all diplomatic channels. We have the diplomatic track, the legal track, we also have the political track,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said, emphasizing that this is the three-tiered approach the Philippine government is adopting with China.
“When it comes to that particular incident in Bajo de Masinloc, our commitment really is first to resolve it through diplomatic means and, second, to refrain from doing anything that will tend to raise tensions,” she explained.
“It’s still a policy of de-escalation. The position has remained the same.”
– With Delon Porcalla