Saturday, May 31, 2014

Arroyo’s and Corona’s ordeal: It was always about Hacienda Luisita

In trying to explain the ordeal of impeachment that he and his family were subjected to by President Aquino and the administration, former chief justice Renato Corona bluntly declared that it was the Hacienda Luisita issue that was the principal reason for his impeachment and for the unusual maneuvers (fair and foul) taken by the President to secure his conviction by the Senate.
In the Supreme Court’s en banc decision on the Hacienda Luisita case, which was handed down on Nov. 22, 2011, and which associate justice Presbitero Velasco penned, the high court ordered the total distribution of the hacienda to 6,296 registered farm worker-beneficiaries. The tribunal ordered and pegged the just compensation to Hacienda Luisita, Inc. based on the hacienda’s market price in 1989. It also ordered that the P1.33 billion proceeds of the sale of some 500 hectares of the land be returned to the farmers.
Ten of the 14 justices who participated in the deliberations concurred with Velasco that the valuation of the lands should be computed according to the prevailing rates when Hacienda Luisita implemented the stock distribution option (SDO) on Nov. 21, 1989.
If Hacienda Luisita was indeed a major factor behind Aquino’s push to impeach Corona, it was arguably an even more compelling reason for Aquino’s relentless and non-stop campaign to indict President Arroyo on plunder and other charges, and to secure a conviction in court.
Luisita: A tangled, troubled and tragic history
Cases of this magnitude and importance, with high-profile personalities on the dock, do not materialize from nowhere. They have a history, and the beginning, without doubt, is Hacienda Luisita, the 6,453-hectare plantation and farmland in Tarlac, with its peculiar, tangled, troubled, and even tragic history.
At an elemental level, those battling for control over the land are the Cojuangco family clan of President Benigno Cojuangco-Aquino 3rd, who have farmed, managed and profited from the property since the 1950s, and aspire to keep the rights to the land, and the over 6,000 farmer beneficiaries and their families, who seek to assert their rights to the land, by virtue of the original deed and conditions for awarding the land to the Cojuangcos and in line with the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in November 2011.
President Arroyo and former Chief Justice Corona are protagonists in this by virtue of the high offices they used to serve, and of their involvement in critical decisions by the government that bear heavily on the fate of the hacienda and the fate of land reform in the country.
It is a measure of Luisita’s significance that the cases and the tragic incidents associated with it have drawn considerable coverage from international and local media, including the New York Times, and most recently, the Al Jazeera international cable network.
GMA Network, in its popular website, has admirably put together a special report on Hacienda Luisita, that seems to me the most comprehensive, detailed and insightful overview on the Hacienda Luisita story and its attendant cases and controversies.
Written and reported by Stephanie Dychiu, it consists of five extensive parts, and it was first posted on January 18, 2010, to coincide with the presidential election campaign of 2010, in which one Cojuangco heir, Benigno Aquino 3rd, was a leading candidate.
Ms. Dychiu’s exceptional report admirably telescopes the key events, developments and dates in Luisita’s torturous story that help to explain the intense antagonisms that developed between Presidents Arroyo and Aquino, and between President Aquino and Justice Corona.
Part of this is due to the shifting of political alliances and objectives.
Part of this is also due to points of fact and law, and tragic incidents that clamor for justice and closure.
From allies to bitter enemies
From a careful reading of Ms. Dychiu’s report, particularly the timeline she provides, I am convinced that President Aquino’s hostility to President Arroyo is rooted in differences between them regarding the resolution of the ownership dispute between the Cojuangcos and the farmers, and certain unreasonable expectations that were not met.
How could two leaders, coming from the same region and erstwhile allies with each other, turn into bitter enemies?
At a media forum in Annabel’s Restaurant last year, I asked Arroyo counsel, Raul Lambino, what is the personal animus between Presidents Arroyo and Aquino that underlies the indictment of Arroyo on plunder and other charges, and the repeated filing of cases even after they have been dismissed or withdrawn.
Do Aquino’s actions and statements indicate a desire to exact revenge on GMA? If so, for what offense? I asked Lambino whether this had something to do with the decision of the Arroyo administration to revoke the stock distribution option (SDO) to implement land reform at Hacienda Luisita?
The timeline in Ms Dychiu’s special report is revealing and suggestive. Here are the most significant events and developments.
January 22, 1987—tragic shooting of 13 protesting farmers on Mendiola street, in front of Malacañan Palace.
May 18, 1988—the Court of Appeals dismisses the case filed in 1980 by the Philippine government—under Ferdinand Marcos—against the Cojuangco company TADECO to compel the handover of Hacienda Luisita. It was the Philippine government itself—under Cory Aquino—that filed the motion to dismiss its own case.
June 10, 1988—Cory Aquino signs the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. Soon after, Hacienda Luisita is placed under the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) that Aquino included in the law. Through the SDO, landlords could comply with the land reform law without giving land to farmers.
June 8, 1988—Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate Minority Leader, delivers a privilege speech questioning Aquino’s insertion of the SDO in her outline for the land reform law, and the power she gave herself through Executive Order No. 229 to preside over the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), the body that would approve stock distribution programs, including the one for Hacienda Luisita. Enrile also questioned the Aquino administration’s withdrawal of the government’s case compelling land distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmers. All these, Enrile said, were indications that the Cojuangcos had taken advantage of the powers of the presidency to circumvent land reform and stay in control of Hacienda Luisita.
December 4, 2003—Luisita farm workers file petition with the department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to have Luisita’s SDO agreement revoked.
January 25, 2004—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo greets President Cory on her 71st birthday, and sends her a cake with the dedication, “To Tita Cory, from your number one fan, Gloria.”
In the May 2004 elections, Cory and family throw their support behind Arroyo. Arroyo beats Fernando Poe Jr. in the presidential balloting.
November 16, 2004—7 farmers are killed near the gate of the sugar mill of Hacienda Luisita.
May 24, 2005—President Arroyo signs the EVAT into law, two weeks before the existence of the Hello Garci tapes was announced to the media by Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye on June 6, 2005.
June 30, 2005—Tarlac Representative Benigno Aquino 3rd votes against playing the Hello Garci tapes in Congress. The day before, the Philippine Star reported that Aquino called Arroyo’s televised apology (for calling an election official) a “good start” for her administration, and said Arroyo should be commended for admitting her mistake.
July 8, 2005—Cory and Noynoy Aquino withdraw their support for Arroyo and join calls for president Arroyo to resign. In 2005, GMA survives her crisis of survival, with the backing of former president Fidel V. Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia, and the support of the armed forces.
July 2005—Nasser Pangandaman is appointed as Agrarian Reform Secretary. He succeeded Rene Villa, who joined the Hyatt 10, and was busy lawyering for Janet Lim Napoles.
The Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) revokes the stock distribution option (SDO) of Hacienda Luisita, Inc (HLI) on the ground that the SDO failed to improve the farm workers’ lives within the 16 years of its operation. HLI must withdraw its petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court so the land can be distributed by the DAR to the farmer beneficiaries.
August 1, 2009—former president Corazon Aquino dies of colon cancer and is mourned by the nation.
August 2009—the SDO is formally abolished in the updated land reform law CARPER (CARP with Extensions and Revisions) that is passed in August 2009 by Congress and signed into law by President Arroyo.
February 9, 2010—Candidate Noynoy Aquino kicks off his presidential campaign in Concepcion, Tarlac and vows that his family would ensure the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmer-beneficiaries by June 2014—the extended deadline for agricultural lands to be turned over to qualified beneficiaries under CARPER (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extensions and Revisions).
Tomorrow. It will already be June 2014. The farmers will be ready to collect. But no one knows whether the agrarian reform department will deliver.
GMA earned CORY’s ire for not honoring SDO
Judging by this narrative of events, it seems highly likely that President Cory met her death, bitter and frustrated about Hacienda Luisita, and bitter toward President Arroyo.
Presidents after her, including Presidents Ramos and Estrada, sought to keep the goodwill of the Cojuancos by respecting the SDO at Luisita. Estrada, according to Mark Cojuangco, bestowed on Congressman Noynoy Aquino a whopping pork barrel of P1 billion.
Under President Gloria Arroyo, the tacit agreement was apparently unhinged.
What evidently changed the situation was the masasacre of seven farmers at Hacienda Luisita in November 2004.
Although Noynoy Aquino had been elected as deputy speaker for Central Luzon, the reform of CARP was inexorably moving forward. President Arroyo gave her support to CARPER, which decreed the elimination of the repugnant SDO. The amended law was passed by Congress in August 2009.
Noynoy Aquino was by then a senator, and he could not stop the bill from clearing the legislative mill.
Having failed to force Arroyo’s resignation in 2005, the clan took to blaming her for its looming reversal of fortunes in Hacienda Luisita.
And then followed the deluge. The Supreme Court declaratively ruled in favor of the farmer-beneficiaries, and against the Cojuangcos, whose main tactic had been to avoid following the conditions for the deed of agreement
The enormity of this setback to the family no doubt fed into Noynoy’s feeling of vindictiveness toward President Arroyo and Chief Justice Corona—the one for being unwilling as president to stop the sword of Damocles from falling, and the other for being party to the principled decision of the Supreme Court.
The hunger for revenge fed into the psycho-profile of the young Benigno Aquino 3rd provided by the Jesuit psychologist Fr. Jaime Bulatao, who observed Pinoy’s evident obsession to punish all those who had done harm to his family.
From here, it is an easy jump to a policy of inflicting as much punishment and humiliation as possible on President Arroyo and Justice Corona. And to using all the powers of the executive to accomplish the purpose.

China’s maritime power trip

By Alan Dupont
The Australian
IN early January, Australian intelligence analysts watched with increasing concern as three Chinese warships passed through Indonesia’s Sunda Strait on a southerly course towards Australia in a powerful demonstration of China’s growing strategic reach.
 The first deep-water drilling rig developed in China, is pictured at 320km southeast of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. Source: AP
The first deep-water drilling rig developed in China, is pictured at 320km southeast of Hong Kong in the South China Sea. Source: AP
An AP-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft was quickly sent to photograph and shadow the Chinese ships, which then turned east, sailing along Java’s southern coast before transiting the Lombok Strait adjacent to Bali and returning to China.
The message from Beijing to Australia and the region was unmistakable: China is on the verge of becoming a maritime power and it will send its ships wherever it pleases.
But the deeper, more unsettling subtext to this message illuminates this era’s most important foreign policy question.
Will a rising China be a revisionist power or a responsible stakeholder in the existing international system? Judging by its ­increasingly assertive behaviour, we now have an answer.
It is abundantly clear that China is intent on challenging the status quo in Asia through the ­coercive use of its formidable economic and military power.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the western Pacific, where China is pursuing a high-stakes maritime strategy aimed at dominating the seas that bear its name and maximising its territorial and resource claims.
The dangerous escalation in tensions with Vietnam triggered by Beijing’s decision to begin drilling for oil only 120 nautical miles from Vietnam’s coastline, and well within its exclusive economic zone, is merely the latest example of China’s increasingly muscular unilateralism.
When the offending HD 981 oil rig was moved into position off Vietnam’s coast earlier this month, it was flanked by a supporting fleet of up to 80 Chinese paramilitary and naval ships.
This was clearly a premeditated strategic decision approved at the highest levels of government.
The same disturbing pattern of coercive and unilateral decision- making is evident in many of China’s other maritime disputes with its neighbours.
Since 2010, there has been a worrying escalation in the number and seriousness of confrontations in both the East and South China seas involving the Chinese fishing fleet, the largest in the world, and ships from China’s maritime law-enforcement and fishing surveillance fleets, many of which are armed.
In tactics best described as “fish, protect, contest and occupy”, Chinese fishing vessels appear to have been given a government green light to fish with impunity in contested maritime areas. If other claimant states diplomatically protest or physically challenge their presence, Chinese paramilitary ships are quickly on the scene to “protect” their fishers, after which the island or reef is ­occupied and frequently garrisoned.
This creeping annexation of contested islands and reef has been pursued in the face of protests from not just Vietnam but an increasing number of other Asian countries.
The Philippines is locked in a tense confrontation with China over disputed islands in the Spratly Islands and the Scarborough/Half Moon Shoals on the eastern side of the South China Sea.
Jakarta has recently toughened its rhetoric in response to repeated incursions by the Chinese fishing fleet into the EEZ of the Indonesian owned Natuna Islands at the southern edge of the South China Sea, more than 2000km from China.
In the East China Sea, Japan, South Korea and even fraternal North Korea have all been ­involved in confrontations with Chinese fishing and paramilitary vessels. These range from low-level harassment to more serious incidents that include the ramming and sinking of ships, shootings and pitched battles between Chinese fishers and regional constabulary forces.
Beijing seems to believe that with the US distracted and preoccupied by domestic and other foreign policy challenges, a geopolitical full court press of its smaller and weaker neighbours will deliver the resources, territory and regional pre-eminence that are its rightful patrimony.
If so, this is a serious miscalculation that serves no one’s interests, least of all China’s, serving as it does to heighten fears about China’s long-term intentions in Asia, stimulating reciprocal ­responses, militarising resource disputes and worsening existing interstate rivalries.
Beijing faces increasing regional isolation as other states line up to hedge against a China whose rise is beginning to look more threatening than benign.
Five of 10 Southeast Asian states — Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei — have serious or potentially serious maritime disputes with China, along with Japan and the two Koreas. If Taiwan is ­included, this adds up to more than half the polities in East Asia.
China’s worst nightmare is a more assertive, independently minded, rearmed Japan. But each outbreak of hostilities over the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea makes this outcome more likely, with Tokyo moving to reverse nearly 70 years of pacifism by allowing the Self-Defense Forces to be deployed for combat outside Japan.
Perversely, China’s patent unwillingness to accommodate other countries’ equally strong claims to the maritime features and resources that China covets has provided the opportunity for the US to reinvigorate its alliance system in East Asia and more effectively balance against China.
All this raises the question of why Beijing would engage in such an obviously counterproductive strategy if the consequences are likely to prove inimical to China’s carefully cultivated international image and long-term relations with neighbouring states.
There are several linked explanations. Like all rising powers, China wants to change the ­regional order to advance its strategic ambitions, which cannot be met while the old, US-led order prevails.
Beijing’s long-term aim seems to be what might be called a Monroe Doctrine with Chinese characteristics.
From a Chinese perspective this makes perfect strategic sense. If a rising America could construct a Monroe Doctrine in the 19th century as a blunt but effective instrument for keeping other powers out of the eastern Pacific, why should an ascendant, 21st-century China not seek a comparable ­outcome in the western Pacific?
This, of course, represents a direct challenge to US pre-eminence in Asia and, more particularly, the US Navy’s dominance of the western Pacific, where the 7th Fleet has ruled the waves since the destruction of the Japanese navy in World War II.
Such challenges are representative of the structural problem in international relations — what the eminent American strategist Graham Allison calls the “Thucydides trap”.
Writing about the Peloponnesian wars in the 5th century BC, the Greek historian Thucydides observed that the previously dominant Spartans felt threatened by Athens’s remarkable rise, leading to a 30- year conflict in which both states were virtually destroyed.
Could this happen in East Asia? Sceptics argue that such historical allusions are far-fetched, pointing out that the increasing trade interdependence between China, the US and the wider region mitigates the risk of conflict because it raises the cost of war to all sides. True, but it should not be forgotten that Britain and Germany’s extensive trade ties in the early 20th century did not prevent them going to war in 1914. And a recent study by Georgetown University’s Oriana Mastro suggests that East Asian countries, including China, may be prepared to accept significant economic losses to protect their sovereignty.
So it would be wrong to conclude that deepening levels of trade interdependence are a guarantee of peace.
Moreover, the historical record is hardly reassuring. During the past 500 years, six of the seven hegemonic challenges to the existing order have led to war or serious conflict: Spain against Holland (16th century); Holland against England (17th century); England against France (18th and 19th centuries); France and Britain against Germany (20th century); Germany against Russia/the Soviet Union (1914-18 and 1941-45); the US against the Soviet Union (1945-89).
Resource insecurity is another important driver of China’s muscular unilateralism. By 2030, up to 80 per cent of China’s oil and 50 per cent of its gas will be imported by sea, through the ­Malacca Strait, a classical maritime choke point due to the narrowness and shallowness of its approaches, the number of ships the pass through it daily and the strait’s vulnerability to interdiction or environmental blockage.
The rate of growth in China’s energy imports has few, if any, historical parallels. In a little more than two decades the country has moved from a net exporter to importing more than 55 per cent of its oil. Even China’s enormous ­reserves of coal are insufficient to meet domestic demand.
In a little noticed development, China became a net importer of coal in 2007 and overtook Japan as the world’s biggest importer of coal at the end of 2011. A substantial proportion of its future coal imports will transit the South China Sea from mines in Australia and Indonesia.
The rich fishing grounds of the western Pacific are also a vital source of fish for the Chinese economy, making them as critical to China’s future food security as oil, gas and coal are to its energy future.
China is the world’s largest fish producer as well as consumer, with the fishing sector contributing $330 billion annually to the economy, about 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product. With wild fish in decline and demand rising, fish have become a strategic commodity, to be protected and defended — if necessary, by force.
This resource vulnerability weighs heavily on the minds of Chinese leaders who, in addition to worrying about terrorism, piracy and environmental disruptions to their energy supplies, are acutely aware that their main competitor, the US, exercises effective control over the Malacca Strait and most of the western ­Pacific, courtesy of the US Navy.
Invoking the so-called Malacca dilemma, former president Hu Jintao gave voice to these anxieties in 2005, and a succession of senior Chinese officials have since made it clear that their nation is no longer prepared to outsource the security of its Pacific trade route to the US 7th Fleet.
China’s strategy is also hostage to the still acutely felt resentment over past injustices suffered at the hands of foreigners when the country was weak.
At one level, this is understandable given the ruthless exploitation of China’s resources by a succession of would-be colonial masters during the long decline of the Qing dynasty in the 19th century, followed by Japan’s brutal ­occupation of Manchuria in the late 1930s.
But victimhood is a poor basis for strategic policy. China’s barely concealed revanchism will do little to convince an increasingly sceptical region that a Pax Sinica would be demonstrably fairer and more stable and peaceful than Pax Americana.
As the Abbott government’s defence white paper team weighs the implications of these developments, what conclusions might it draw? The first is that China’s re-emergence as a great power is likely to be far less benign than optimists had hoped.
After 35 years of relative peace, strategic volatility is destined to supplant stability as the defining characteristic of Asia’s future geopolitical landscape.
Second, China’s challenge to US maritime power in East Asia strikes at a deeply held American conviction that continued naval dominance of the Pacific underpins vital national security interests and the country’s standing as the pre-eminent global power, all but guaranteeing there will be a ­robust response.
Third, Australia cannot be a disinterested observer in any ­future conflict in the western ­Pacific because virtually all our core defence and economic interests are engaged.
Hence the prospect of heightened strategic competition in this maritime domain will clearly shape future strategy.
Fourth, for the first time in its modern history Australia is no longer at the periphery of world affairs, as economic and military power shifts inexorably from the Atlantic to Australia’s Pacific back yard. As one influential US think tank observes, Australia has moved from “down under” to “top centre” strategically because of our proximity to the maritime trade routes of the Indian and ­Pacific oceans.
The key question for the ­defence white paper is whether these developments warrant a change in strategy or the size and composition of the Australian ­Defence Force.
There are many voices arguing for a shift in strategy. Academic Hugh White advocates accommodation of China’s regional ambitions; former prime minister Malcolm Fraser wants Australia to be more independent and less subservient to the US; others contend that we should ally ourselves more closely with the US as a hedge against a new Chinese hegemony in Asia.
Given China’s more assertive recent behaviour, it is difficult to see what a policy of accommodation would achieve other than to further embolden Beijing, which would consequently have even less incentive for acknowledging the territorial claims and interests of its neighbours.
The idea of greater independence seems appealing, especially to those who chafe at Australia’s alliance with the US. However, true independence, in the sense of a non-aligned foreign policy, would be costly financially and risky strategically.
Regular reviews of the benefits that the US alliance brings continue to find that Australia gains more from the alliance than it pays, and polls consistently record high levels of support for ANZUS.
However, there is no doubt that the alliance needs a makeover and an injection of new thinking, given the considerably altered security environment.
Enhanced defence co-operation with the US is a sensible, cost-effective way of building the ADF’s capabilities.
But care should be taken to avoid portraying ANZUS as an anti-China alliance or feeding the misperception that Australia is merely a proxy for the US.
There is also enormous, unrealised potential within the alliance framework for Australia to work more closely with Asian friends and partners, particularly Indonesia and Japan, to advance our common security interests.
Operationally, it will be important to resist the temptation to build a defence force to counter China’s newly acquired military clout. This is well beyond Australia’s modest defence capabilities and would needlessly jeopardise the stable, long-term relationship with China in which all Australian governments have invested heavily over the past three decades.
Such a policy would require a substantial increase in defence spending that would be costly, difficult to sell politically and liable to seriously distort the structure of the ADF, bearing in mind the many other defence tasks requiring funding and resources.
Smart power, leveraging off effective, well-funded defence diplomacy, is far more likely to yield results than a strategy based primarily, or exclusively, on hard power.
The challenge for Australia is to help persuade Beijing that muscular unilateralism is contrary to China’s own interests as well as the region’s, while understanding the limits of Australia’s capacity, as a middle power, to decisively influence military outcomes should there be a serious conflict in the western Pacific.
Our return message to China ought to be that a responsible stakeholder would immediately take steps to reduce maritime conflict by looking for real win-win ­solutions.
These should include the speedy conclusion of a code of conduct on the South China Sea and the negotiation of a western Pacific fisheries management scheme that would complement the parallel development of oil, gas and other mineral resources.
Such an approach would increase trust between China and its neighbours, reduce regional tensions and signal that China is prepared to assume the constructive leadership role in Asia that would make it a truly great power.
Alan Dupont is professor of international security at the University of NSW and a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute.

All DAP, including impeach incentives, OK’d by Aquino

By Angie M. Rosales
The Daily Tribune 
Chiz7All releases in the obscure Palace creation called the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), that accumulated to a total P150 billion, needed the knowledge and approval of President Aquino, which is a process that directly implicates the President in the distribution of the so-called “incentives” given to senator-judges who had voted to convict former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona in the 2012 impeachment trial.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee, said the Department of Budget Management (DBM) representatives said during yesterday’s hearing regarding the special allotment release orders (SAROs) which were the source of the alleged diversion of Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF) that funds are known to be part of DAP since all releases from it carried the signature of Aquino.
“I was asking them who identifies funds which are part of the DAP, and according to the DBM, DAP releases needed the signature of President Aquino,” he said.
In a privilege speech last September, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada revealed that P50 million was distributed to members of the Senate court who had issued a guilty verdict on Corona that led to magistrate’s ouster. It was Aquino himself who led the move to oust Corona through his impeachment at the House of Representatives which was controlled by an alliance of Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP).
Described by Estrada as an “incentive”, the money was later found and admitted by Budget Secretary Florencio Abad as having been sourced from the DAP which was described as a pool of funds intended to accelerate government spending.
It was just among the series of alleged payouts, supposedly in the form of additional pork barrel which was strikingly similar in purpose to the PDAF. Similar allotments were allegedly offered to lawmakers in deciding on the issues, such as the impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, the sin tax bill and the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill.
In the case supposedly of the aborted impeachment trial of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, Abad also sent senators a threatening text message to certain congressmen led by then Liberal Party Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, who is now Transportation and Communications Secretary on the possibility of impounding their pork allocations should they vote against the impeachment of the former Ombudsman.
“According to the DBM, DAP releases need the signature of the President, so that’s what determines it. I asked the question since we don’t know how they classify the DAP. I can’t accept that what they classify as DAP are what constitutes it, we have no basis to verify and to check,” Escudero said.
“So according to them, the check valve, the identifying mark or signature would be the endorsement of the Office of the President,” Escudero added.
The DAP is being challenged, in terms of its constitutionality, with the Supreme Court and the tribunal has been holding oral arguments on it. Todate, the SC has not bothered to rule on the DAP issue.
“We’re trying to get information from them about DAP, in spite and despite and pendency of the Supreme Court case so at least while we are waiting, we can gather information, raw data, on the DAP releases,” Escudero added.
Escudero said his committee is trying to gather data first while awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision, since we might be investigating something that does not constitute any anomaly. That depends on the Supreme Court, so if the High Court ruled it as an anomaly, then at least we have details, Escudero added.
So either way, at least we are not delaying the committee’s inquiry into the DAP as filed by Senator JV (Ejercito), Escudero said.
In case it is ruled unconstitutional, we will cntinue with the inquiry to look into each expenditure made under the program, except if the court rules that the decision is prospective, meaning to say, in which case there’s no further cause to look into it.
Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who first revealed about the existence of DAP, following a report from the Commission on Audit (CoA) on its 2007 to 2009 special audit report as being the alleged source of P100 million in funds supposedly tapped for the projects of bogus non-government organizations (NGOs), immediately raised alarm over the implication of such revelations from the DBM.
“That’s new,” he commented, adding that “there’s a very large legal question that has been asked to the SC” by some stakeholders.
“That’s the reason it’s being questioned before the SC, if such tact is feasible. I think (the issue on savings) is not for other purposes, the realignment without appropriation. They can’t do that. The purse strings are with Congress. That’s one of the powers and functions of both Houses. So all expenditures must be appropriated and the only ones who can do the appropriating is Congress,” he said.
While there are exceptions in the use of unspent budget appropriations, such as realignment within the department or concerned agency before the year ends or before it’s declared as “savings”, it cannot be realigned to other government offices, Marcos emphasized.
DBM director for legal service Rowena Candice Ruiz was asked to explain by Escudero as to how the budget department accounts the funds released by the Executive from DAP or what control mechanism being followed to make government savings impounded for the said program.
“We have a consolidation of the list approved by the President,” Ruiz replied.
“So the President approves this?” Escudero asked to which he was given an affirmative answer, with Ruiz underscoring the fact that those funded by savings “goes to the Office of the President for approval.”
While some unprogrammed funds would have the certification from the national treasurer, since the funding source is not included under the budget expenditures and sources of financing (BESF), there are those tapped from DAP through unprogrammed funds and “it comes with the approval of the President.”
“Because the DAP is a program of the Aquino administration to quickly disperse slow-moving projects,” Ruiz said.
“So you mean to say that there’s actually a document signed by the President that enumerates all of the availments of DAP from savings and from the unprogrammed funds?” the senator further inquired.
“Yes your honor and we submitted that to the SC,” the DBM executive retorted.
Escudero then asked that his committee be furnished with the same submissons made before the high tribunal currently deliberating on filed petitions concerning the legality of the now controversial DAP.
“So all availments of unpro-grammed with national treasurer certification would be under DAP or not ”, he asked.
The Senate panel was also told that there exists a supposed list on all fund releases under DAP, based on the approval of the President, that the DBM prepared or included under the said program. “How will we know if it’s DAP or not?” Escudero asked.
“I was informed that some of the SARO (special allotment release order) may include under the notes, ‘under the DAP’ but only the notes. There’s a portion sir below the SARO where there are notes for additional remarks,” Ruiz said.
“Only those fast and quick disbursing programs and projects are included under the DAP,” she also said.
When asked whether the Executive used savings for other purposes not necessarily under DAP, senators received a positive response.
“My understanding of DAP was that it’s a program on the utilization of savings. So it’s not. You use savings for other purposes not under DAP?” Escudero asked.
“Yes your honor. In fact, there are various funding sources for the DAP. Only one of them is savings. So DAP is not a mechanism to use savings,” Ruiz said, adding that unprogrammed funds are also a source of resources for the said program.

Strategic alliances in Asia

By Val G. Abelgas
Obama and Aquino
Obama and Aquino
With China increasingly aggressive in asserting its territorial claims over most of the South China, it is inevitable that its smaller neighbors would form strategic defense alliances to protect themselves from the region’s bully.
The Philippine government was right in seeking strategic alliances with Japan, Vietnam and, of course, the United States. After forging a defense accord with Japan, the Philippines signed last week a roadmap towards a strategic defense partnership with Vietnam, China’s former ally.
Nguyen Tan Dung and Aquino
Nguyen Tan Dung and Aquino
The agreement presents the start of a united front against Chinese incursions in the disputed isles in the South China Sea, almost 90% of which is being claimed by the Chinese using an ancient map dating back to the time of the dynasties.
Both the Philippines and Vietnam are embroiled in escalating disputes with China over oil and marine resources-rich areas in the South China Sea.
Vietnamese ships recently engaged in a battle of water cannons with Chinese coast guard vessels near the Paracel Islands when the Chinese pulled a gigantic oilrig to the area obviously to begin tapping oil and natural gas in the area. Luckily, both protagonists opted to use water cannons instead of real cannons. Earlier, Vietnamese fishing vessels collided with a Chinese frigate that was part of the convoy towing the oilrig.
In 1974, the Chinese took control of the Paracels, which are well within the 200-mile economic zone of Vietnam, after a brief battle that resulted in the death of 54 Vietnamese troops.
Shinzo Abe and Aquino
Shinzo Abe and Aquino
The Chinese have also been slowly occupying islands claimed by the Philippines that are well within the country’s 200-mile economic zone. In 1993, the Chinese started occupying Panganiban or Mischief Reef and last year began occupying Panatag or Scarborough Shoal after a long standoff. In May last year, the Chinese sent a fleet of fishing vessels, two large civilian ships and a frigate to waters near the Ayungin Shoal. And early this month, the Chinese were found to be reclaiming land and building an airstrip over the Mabini Reef, which is very close to Zambales.
Despite repeated protests, Chinese officials insisted that they have the right to do anything in the disputed islands because they were rightfully theirs.
It is increasingly obvious that China could not be deterred by protests and the filing of legal cases before the international courts in its bid to take control of the South China Sea, which is critical to its goal of becoming a world superpower by 2025.
The 1.7 million square kilometers of the disputed South China Sea area is believed to contain from seven billion to as high as 130 billion barrels of oil reserves, and billions of barrels of natural gas, important resources that are necessary to fuel China’s economy and consequent rise as a superpower. The area is also a rich source of fish and other marine resources to feed the more than a billion Chinese.
Just as importantly, the area is a major shipping lane for many nations and accounts for more than half of the world’s shipping activity.
Amid the escalating tension in the area, analysts are questioning the weak and tentative response of the Obama administration. They said that after announcing a “pivot to Asia,” the US government has not really done much to back up its promise. Instead, they argue, Russia has done more to pivot to Asia, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping all but formalizing a Russian-Chinese alliance earlier this month.
Putin and Xi signed an energy agreement that calls for Russia to supply China with $400 billion of natural gas over the next 30 years. And to show to the world that they have become comrades in arms, the Russian and Chinese Navies held a joint naval exercise in the East China Sea amid territorial tensions in Asia.
While China is spending billions of dollars to beef up its military muscle, the US is actually cutting down on its military budget as it focuses on its domestic problems.
Just like the Philippines, the US is aware that it needs to forge stronger alliances with Asian nations to counter the emerging Russo-Chinese alliance in the region. The US is not ready to build expensive new bases in the region, but it can reach agreements with host countries to use existing bases, just as it did with the Philippines through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
The US is also planning to expand its use of bases in Australia and Japan, and possibly Singapore and Thailand. In addition, Washington is wooing Malaysia. These countries are in the thick of an Asian arms race with China, which has become inevitable as their economies grow.
The world has indeed changed. The rise and fall of economies have resulted in shifting alliances, where friends have become foes and vice versa. Russia and China were major allies of the US in World War II and are now major rivals in the race for world dominance. Japan and Germany, which were the Americans; biggest enemies in the Second World War, on the other hand, are now America’s allies.
Vietnam was an ally of both Russia and China during the Vietnam War in the 60s, but is now an important American ally. Japan, which invaded and occupied the Philippines for five years in the Second World War, is now a Philippine ally.
Europe and the Pacific were the main theaters in the Second World War, and from all indications, Asia would continue to be the flashpoint in the world’s military theater in the coming years. China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, the two Koreas, and other Asian countries are all beefing up their military muscles in one of the biggest arms races the world has ever seen.
The Philippines, which does not have the means to keep up with its neighbors in the arms race, needs to start positioning itself rightly in this developing drama.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

As ‘pork’ heats up, Legarda mad, Marcos relieved over Napoles affidavit

By Maila Ager

Senator Loren Legarda and Bong Bong Marcos.

MANILA, Philippines — A “perjured lie” and “actionable criminally” was how Senator Loren Legarda described her alleged involvement in the ”pork barrel” scam as she denied “in the strongest terms” any dealings with suspected scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

“I categorically deny, in the strongest terms, allegations that I had any dealings with Ms. Napoles or any of her group. I have never dealt with them and have never even heard of their foundations,” Legarda said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Above all, I have never received monetary or any form of illegal benefit from my PDAF or its equivalent at any time. I have never authorized anyone in my staff or outside of my office to transact with anyone,” she said.

PDAF is Priority Development Assistance Fund also known as “pork nbarrel” funds.

Legarda said she has “judiciously allocated” her PDAF to accredited government agencies and local government units as prescribed by law, and not to any non-government organizations (NGO).

“I never endorsed any NGO to benefit from my PDAF. Any statement to the contrary contained in any affidavit is a perjured lie and is actionable criminally against those involved in this smear campaign,” she said.

Asked then if she was planning to file criminal charges against Napoles, Legarda said her lawyers were still studying all media reports and submitted affidavits to the Senate.

“There is clearly a massive well-funded operation to muddle the issues, divert from the cases, besmirch reputations of people with credibility,” she said in a text message.

Legarda was among those mentioned by Napoles in her affidavit that she submitted to the Senate blue ribbon committee in connection with the “pork” scam.

Senator Ferdinand “Bong-Bong” Marcos, meanwhile, felt that Napoles has cleared him of any participation in the scam when she admitted in the affidavit that she did not know the senator and that she had not directly talked to him.

“The Affidavit speaks for itself. As I’ve said from day one, I never met Ms. Napoles. I never spoke to her nor did I ever have any personal dealings with her. Ms. Napoles’ affidavit confirms this fact,” Marcos said in a separate statement.

“While Ms. Napoles has cleared me of any participation in the PDAF scam, let me reiterate, once more, that my office is willing to fully cooperate with the concerned government agencies so we may all get to the bottom of this,” he said.

In her affidavit, Napoles claimed that it was Catherine Mae “Maya” Santos, who served as agent of both Legarda and Marcos.

Marcos admitted that Santos was “engaged” as consultant by various committees in the Senate and was detailed to his office from January 2001 to June 2013.

But after the State of the Nation Address in July 2012, Marcos said he reorganized his office in the Senate and adopted a system whereby all departments were required to submit an annual “Year End Report” for internal purposes.

“Consequently, on 31 January 2013, all departments were requested to submit their reports for the previous year,” he said.

But since his office has not received any “Year End Report” from Santos despite several verbal and written requests to submit the same, Marcos said, he was “constrained” to terminate her consultancy services on March 21, 2013.

“It is instructive to note that Ms. Santos’ consultancy was terminated in March 2013 –four months before the PDAF scam became public,” he pointed out.

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Drama or the real thing?

JANET Lim Napoles’ signed affidavit has been made public.

From the introduction, one can believe that these are the words of a woman who has decided to tell the truth–as God wishes her to.

She denies being the brains behind the PDAF scam.

She names people who belong to the political camps of those who could fight President Aquino’s anointed bets for the 2016 election as well as a few of those who are known to be his close allies. Of the latter, the most important is the chief of the President’s Department of Budget and Management, Secretary Florencio Abad.

Foes of the Aquino administration have zeroed in on Mr. Abad as the President’s right hand man, his most trusted and closest planner, braintrust, strategist and co-worker. Some even believe that the Malacañang official who really runs the government, who calls and presides over Cabinet cluster meetings, is Secretary Abad.

Now, Mrs. Napoles has listed Sec. Abad among those who benefited from the P10-billion PDAF or pork barrel scandal. In her affidavit, she even makes it sound as if it was Secretary Abad who taught her what a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) is. And it was also, she says, Sec. Abad who taught her that one needs to use a non-government organization (NGO) or a cooperative to be seen as the implementer of any project.

It is worth examining what Mrs. Napoles actually wrote about Secretary Abad. For if what she wrote really dooms the DBM chief, then we can trust her revelation to be the real thing.

But if the narration of Secretary Abad’s involvement in the scam does not quite convict him of any malfeasance, then we must conclude that Mrs. Napoles’ affidavit is nothing but a part of the drama to titillate the public. And to confuse us all—including the good justices of the Sandiganbayan and possibly the Supreme Court—on whether the testimonies of Mrs. Napoles and those of Ben Hur Luy and the other whistleblowers have any value as evidence.

This is what Mrs. Napoles wrote:

“Nagkakilala kami ni Congressman Florencio Abad dahil kay Mr. Manuel Jarmin. Nagkita kami sa isang Japanese Restaurant sa Edsa Shangri-la Plaza hotel. Pinakita niya sa akin yung Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) tapos pinaliwanag niya sa akin para saan iyon. Binigyan ko siya ng 2M Pesos nung meeting na iyon. Noong lumabas ang Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA) binigyan ko siya ulit ng 2M Pesos doon sa Cravings, Katipunan. Noong pinagusapan namin ang implementasyon ng project, tinanong niya ako kung meron akong NGO or COOP. Nung sinabi ko na wala sinabi niya sa akin na siya na daw ang bahala. Sa aking pagkakalala [the document appears to have the error of “pagkakalala” instead of “pagkakaalam”] ginamit niya ang Batanes Electric Cooperative para implement ang proyecto. Kalaunan binalik niya sa akin ang 4M Pesos na binigay ko sa kanya na may dagdag pa na Php 2M.”

Our Translation: “Congressman Florencio Abad and I came to know each other because of [it doesn’t say “through”] Mr. Manuel Jarmin. We met at a Japanese Restaurant in Edsa Shangri-la Plaza hotel. He showed me that Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) then he explained to me what it was for. I gave him 2M Pesos at that meeting. When the Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA) was released I gave him another 2M Pesos in Cravings, Katipunan. When we discussed the implementation of the project, he asked me if I had an NGO or COOP. When I said I had none he told me he would take care of it. What I know is he used the Batanes Electric Cooperative to implement the project. A long time later he returned to me, with an additional Php2M, the 4M Pesos that I had given him.”

This does not look to us like Mrs. Napoles is implicating Secretary Abad of any crime. It will only make justices asked questions the answers to which will confound everybody and make it harder to show that Mr. Abad had misused any money.

We think the drama is still on. It was heightened some days ago when Justice Secretary Leila de Lima made a melodramatic appeal to the Senate: “Please do not make Napoles’ affidavit public.”

It’s now public. But we see that it will take years to figure out who stole what, who were Mrs. Napoles’ mentors, who the real masterminds are, and who among the persons she mentions have been unjustly lumped with the crooks.

This case could take more years to resolve than the Ampatuan Massacre.

Don’t blame the airlines for flight delays

By Ramon Tulfo

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Don’t blame the airlines for delays in the departure and arrival of their planes which are now a regular—rather than an occasional—occurrence.

Blame the government for not widening the runway or constructing more runways at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).

Naia is the main hub of the country’s airport system.

These delays at Naia affect the timetable of the country’s other airports. Call it a ripple effect.

For example, a Davao-bound Cebu Pacific flight that didn’t leave Naia on time will arrive at its destination late. Its flight back to Manila will also be delayed.

Ditto with Philippine Airlines and other domestic airlines.

* * * 

The Naia runway can no longer accommodate as many planes for takeoff and landing as it used to.

There just are too many planes coming in and out of the country’s premier international airport.

The runway was built decades ago and since then, the number of planes making Naia their port of call has increased by leaps and bounds.

There is heavy traffic in and out of Naia.

The premier airport’s runway should either be expanded or more runways should be constructed to accommodate more planes, according to experts.

Another factor causing congestion at the Naia runway is the lack of expert air-traffic controllers manning the airport tower.

Air-traffic controllers are like traffic cops at a busy intersection, regulating the flow of aircraft landing and taking off.

They tell arriving planes when to land and departing flights when to take off.

It takes years of experience for one to become an expert traffic controller.

The Philippines is losing traffic controllers who receive an average of P30,000 a month to other countries that offer a monthly salary of $10,000 (P440,000 at the current exchange rate).

So the next time your flight is delayed, by all means fume but don’t blame the airline; blame the government for its lack of foresight and inefficiency.

* * * 

If the administration of President Noy is daring enough, it should buy out owners of houses and lots in middle-class villages, as well as the houses of squatter colonies surrounding Naia, to make room for the expansion of the runway.

P-Noy can set aside billions of pesos for the purpose.

After all, he has done away with the much reviled Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

With the savings from the abolition of PDAF, plus the money collected from departing passengers as airport tax and terminal fee, the government can afford to buy out the owners of houses surrounding the airport.

* * * 

Despite a quadruple bypass, Jose Angel Honrado, Naia general manager, refuses to resign and let another more capable and healthier man take over his place.

Honrado, a close relative of the President, is the most inefficient general manager Naia has ever had.

With his condition, he should have resigned because the job is too stressful for him.

But the guy doesn’t mind the stress and continues to burn the candle at both ends.

One wonders why he continues to hold on.

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