Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Throwing the Kitchen Sink

We are now in the homestretch of a marathon election campaign where the runners have to sprint to the finish line, where it now goes quickly from ugly to really ugly. It’s kitchen sink time when candidates behind in the count start throwing everything at the frontrunner. In the case of Manny Villar, who has invested billions of pesos of his personal fortune into his presidential campaign, this means throwing the previously discredited hoax of a psych report back at Noynoy Aquino with full force one final time.

Three weeks ago, according to former CNN correspondent now Managing Director of ABS-CBN News Maria Ressa, unidentified individuals in Villar's Nacionalista Party released a psych report about Noynoy Aquino that supposedly came from Ateneo’s Psychology Department that was allegedly signed by Fr. Carmelo Caluag.

After Villar supporters spread the derogatory report virally throughout the Internet and to the mainstream media, it was exposed as a hoax by Fr. Caluag who was the principal of the Ateneo High School at the time the report was done and who had no connection with Ateneo’s Psychology Department.

While conceding that the psych report was a hoax though not admitting that he had anything to do with it, Villar nonetheless demanded that Noynoy submit to psychological testing to prove that he is fit to be president. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), through a Malacanang spokesman, echoed Villar’s call and asked the public to consider the “brain health” of the candidates before making their choice.

Undeterred by the backfire this desperate "Hail Mary" approach has unleashed, the Nacionalista Party this week, through spokesman Guido Delgado, released a second psych report again alleging that Noynoy suffered from depression and melancholia when he was a 19-year old college student. This time the report was allegedly signed by Fr. Jaime Bulatao of the Ateneo Psychology Department. The only problem with the report is that, like the first one, it is also bogus as Fr. Bulatao himself confirmed.

Since citing the names of actual people can be dangerous as the claims can be easily repudiated, the Villar supporters now attribute their Noynoy psych reports to anonymous sources. First there was “Tomcat”, a supposed Ateneo classmate of Noynoy, who described Noynoy’s erratic behavior in grade school. The latest salvo comes from my friend, Mila Aguilar, a supporter of Brother Ed Villanueva, who sent out to her yahoogroups the April 24, 2010 "Clincher" hit piece of Philippine Star columnist Carmen "Chit" Pedrosa who cited as her source a friend who is “a private person who received information she feels must be told. She is connecting a story many years ago when Noynoy was a young boy in Boston.” In law, this would be called quadruple hearsay.

Though Mila sent out Chit’s column to everyone on her email list, she included a warning to readers that Carmen Pedrosa and another columnist, Belinda Cunanan, “are tainted sources since we all know whom they are for.” Chit has been an outspoken advocate for Charter Change and a supporter of the president who backs it.

The strange coincidence is that Chit’s column appeared in the same week she unexpectedly dropped by my office in San Francisco for a friendly chat. Chit is an old friend whom I had not seen since late 1970 when she wrote “The Untold Story of Imelda Romualdez Marcos”. She and her late husband, Albert, had to flee to London when Marcos declared martial law in 1972.

In our candid conversation, I expressed my disappointment at the vitriolic attacks she had been leveling against Noynoy Aquino. I asked her why she was so merciless. Chit explained that she believes Noynoy is America’s candidate and, as she stated in a previous column, “we have to assert our sovereignty and independence against those who think they can manipulate our politics, to suit their own agenda”.

I told her that I thought that view was “soo 1970”. The world has changed considerably since then. The Cold War is over and the Philippines is not as important to the US now as it was during the Vietnam War when the US had military bases in the Philippines. Just because the majority of Filipinos in the US support Noynoy’s candidacy doesn’t mean the US supports Noynoy. I wish it did.

When Chit asked me what I have against Pres. Arroyo, I said "Ampatuan". I explained that I wasn't just referring to the November 24, 2009 brutal massacre of 58 journalists and members of the family of Andal Ampatuan's political rival by the Ampatuans but also to the whole corrupt political system where GMA coddles and through prok barrel funds financially supports warlords like the Ampatuans all over the Philippines as long as they deliver the votes to her.

GMA is so beholden to the Ampatuans that if they asked her to dismiss the murder charges against two Ampatuan uncles, she would do so. Ampatuan Jr. is so beholden to GMA that if she asked him to wear a yellow shirt and flash an "L" sign at a press conference in his jail cell, he would do it for her even though he had personally expressed his support for Manny Villar. Of course the acts are not inconsistent.

I could have gone on and on but Chit had to go so we promised to see each other again after the elections.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

People Power 3 or Martial Law 2

The blogosphere has been inundated with projections about the probable outcome of the May 10 elections in the Philippines with many bloggers predicting an outright Noynoy Aquino victory based on the strength of polls that show him consistently holding on to 37% or more of the vote.

Still others contend that Manny Villar will eke out a win despite falling in the polls from 35% to 22%, just slightly ahead of Erap Estrada at 20%, because of “logistics”.

As Villar Los Angeles supporter Bobby Reyes candidly wrote in his Mabuhay Radio blog, “in the Philippines, the Golden Rule applies: "The political party that has the gold (money, bread, dinero, pera), rules… only the Nacionalista Party has more-than ample resources that can translate into votes during the Election Day. And …while money cannot buy you love, it can help a lot in rallying the troops during the last hours before Election Day. I am not saying for the record that money can buy votes (which is supposedly illegal) but let us be pragmatic about the whole electoral process in the Philippines.”

An increasing number of bloggers and prognosticators believe, however, that there will likely be a failure of elections. As Jason Gutierrez noted, “electricity supply problems, data transmission complications, the reliability of the machines themselves and the potential for the system to be manipulated could lead to a failure of elections”.

But it will largely be a failure of “national” elections as local elections for House seats will likely succeed. Under this scenario, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will handily win her House seat in Pampanga and then be elected Speaker of the House.

Because senators are elected nationally, the failure of elections will mean that they will not be able to convene after June 30 to elect a senate president who will rule in the absence of a duly elected president and vice-president. Without a Senate President, the next in line would be the House Speaker. (June 30 News Flash: “Incoming House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today assumed the presidency from outgoing termed-out President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo”)

But a failure of elections can also pave the way for an “interim revolutionary government”, an idea that was publicly floated in late 2009 by then Presidential National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales. Instead of being reprimanded by Pres. Arroyo for making this suggestion, he was instead rewarded with his appointment as Secretary of National Defense to succeed Arroyo’s presidential candidate, Gilberto Teodoro.

In Gerry Cunanan’s widely-circulated blog (“A Worst Case Scenario”), he described a visit last November 2009 by Secretary Gonzales and his political adviser, Fr. Archie Intengan, with Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias “to convince the good bishop to support them in their plan to install an interim Revolutionary Government. What gave them the idea that Bishop Tobias would cooperate was a supposed letter from the activist bishop addressed to the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines)--which they claim to have been able to obtain--saying that he does not believe that the 2010 elections would do us any good and what we need is an interim revolutionary government to reform the political system.”

Sec. Gonzales is the national chairman of the Partido Demokratikong Sosyalista ng Pilipinas which was founded in 1973. According to its website (, it is “the only member of the Left (a long-time member of the Socialist International) that does not trace its roots to the Communist Party of the Philippines or to the ideology of Jose Ma. Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)”.

Gonzales’ PDSP has been engaged in a hot war with Jose Ma. Sison’s CPP which supports Villar because he accdepted two members of the Makabayan slate on his senate ticket. Gonzales accused the CPP and its military arm, the New People’s Army, of assassinating PDSP secretary-general Danny Yang in July 2009. According to the PDSP website, which lists Fr. Intengan as an active member, the CPP and the NPA liquidated over a thousand people from 2000 up to May 2006, and majority of their victims were civilians. “Documents gathered from the military revealed that in a span of six years, the CPP-NPA perpetrated 1,130 liquidations, resulting in the killing of 1,227 people. The victims included 384 soldiers, policemen and intelligence operatives and 843 civilians.”

Arroyo’s appointment of Gonzales in November of 2009 drew an angry response from Lito Ustarez, a top official of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a labor organization affiliated with the CPP: "With the appointment of the much-hated national security adviser...Gloria Arroyo has just brought Adolf Hitler back to life…He is one of the worst Filipinos for the job of a Defense secretary. We are concerned that his appointment will signal another escalation of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and all-out militarization in the country, especially in Mindanao." Ustarez charged that Gonzales was the architect of Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2, the counter-insurgency program linked to extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances of activists.

Cunanan’s blog posits the “hypothetical scenario”where something goes wrong after the May 10 elections and people “go out into the streets denouncing the delay or failure of the elections. Such unstable situation can grow worse after every day that would pass. If any violent incident happens--say, an explosion that would kill a number of demonstrators- -chaos may ensue. In such a situation, the President, with the support of Congress, can "legally" declare Martial Law.”

After May 10, will it be Aquino or Villar or will it be People Power 3 or Martial Law 2?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who is Vetellano Acosta?

No one ever heard of him before and no one knows anything more about him since but the hitherto unknown Vetellano Acosta is the first name that close to 55 million Filipino voters will see on their ballots in the May 10 elections.

Prior to January 15, 2010, the Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) had only approved eight presidential candidates whose names would be listed alphabetically on the official ballot in groups of three with “Aquino, Benigno” topping the list on the first column and “Villar, Manny” posted at the bottom of the third column.

On January 15, 2010, however, the Comelec added two more names to the list. The first one, Nick Perlas, was not a surprise because the environmentalists’ candidate had obtained a Supreme Court order for the Comelec to place his name on the ballot. But even with the Supreme Court’s order, only 5 of the 7 Comelec commissioners voted to do so.

In contrast, all 7 commissioners voted unanimously to include Vetellano Acosta’s name on the list even if none of them had ever heard of him before he applied. In his Comelec application, Acosta listed his residence to be in the Salcedo Village commercial district of Makati but his voting precinct in Santa Ana , Manila , a clear electoral violation that the Comelec ignored.

Acosta also did not sign his Comelec application which was filed after the filing deadline had passed.

Acosta listed his job as a “financial consultant” and his party affiliation as the “KBL” which is the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos founded in 1978 and which had not fielded a presidential candidate in the two previous presidential elections.

When the Comelec announced Acosta’s surprise inclusion in the January 15, 2010 meeting, there were gasps of disbelief in the audience which included a number of would-be presidentiables whose candidacies had been rejected by the Comelec. Among them was Atty. Ely Pamatong whose previous 2003 presidential bid had also been rejected by the Comelec. After the announcement was made, Pamatong stood up and yelled “Magnanakaw!” (thieves!) at the Commissioners, accusing them of receiving 5 million pesos each to approve Acosta’s application.

The Liberal Party immediately challenged the qualifications of Acosta as LP leaders smelled a foul plot to include Acosta’s name on the ballot simply to list him at the top of the first column to dislodge Noynoy Aquino’s name from that top slot and to put Manny Villar’s name alone in a column all by himself.

Because of the LP’s protest, the Comelec commissioners conducted a hearing on January 28, 2010 to determine Acosta’s qualifications after they had already listed his name on the ballot. At the hearing, Acosta appeared “accompanied by a battery of lawyers that included former election commissioners” (Philippine Daily Inquirer). Acosta claimed to be the president of a bank in Palau which the Comelec then asked for verification. (What was he doing in the Philippines then?)

In reply to a question, Acosta said that he couldn’t recall when he joined the KBL. He said that it was “only an accident” that made him the KBL nominee. In an interview after the hearing, he said that he will no longer campaign and join presidential debates, and that he would leave his candidacy to God.

When interviewed about Acosta, former national KBL president and son of the KBL founder Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. said “I don't know him. I don't even know what he looks like. It seems that his running is a big joke.” The KBL vice-presidential candidate, Jay Sonza, said he never heard of Acosta.

It turned out Acosta wasn’t even a registered voter in Manila or anywhere else and was never connected with a Palau bank or any other company. With no visible means of support, who provided Acosta with the funds to hire an impressive battery of expensive lawyers?

Though Acosta failed to provide any documentation to support his qualifications, the Comelec still waited until March 5, 2010 to officially disqualify him from the presidential race. By then, the Comelec had already printed 9 million ballots with Acosta’s name on it. Because it did not want to “waste money” by reprinting those ballots just to remove Acosta’s name, the Comelec decided to proceed with printing the rest of the 55 million ballots with Acosta’s name still on it.

These series of events raise a lot of disturbing questions:

Was Pamatong right? Did the Comelec commissioners accept 5 million pesos each to include Acosta’s name on the official ballot?

Was Bongbong right? Was Acosta’s candidacy just “a big joke”? Who was the “big joke” on?

What did Acosta mean when he said that his candidacy was just an “accident”? Was it just by “accident” of birth that his surname Acosta happened to be alphabetically ahead of Aquino?

Did a conversation occur in an alternate universe where Bongbong Marcos, upon accepting a senate slot in Manny Villar’s Nacionalista Party, suggest to Villar as a big joke fielding a KBL candidate with a name that would be listed ahead of Aquino?

Why wasn’t there anyone in the Comelec with an ounce of integrity to reject this obvious ploy against Noynoy?

How can the Comelec be trusted to conduct fair and honest elections on May 10 when it hasn’t shown any desire or willingness to do so thus far?