WHILE President Rodrigo Duterte tries to blunt an impeachment complaint in the House of Representatives, rant at the Catholic Church and its moral and spiritual leaders, battle the Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN, The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, the European Union, and all the harsh critics of his brutal war on drugs, he cannot have any two of his closest Congress allies slugging it out in the social and mainstream media, and threatening to bring down his power base, especially in his own home city of Davao. Ironically this is exactly what’s happening now.
An unexpected and bitter personal feud between Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo Jr., DU30’s biggest reported election contributor, arising from the highly publicized quarrel between their two “girl friends,” has unmasked the moral bankruptcy of the regime, and exposed DU30 to serious risks not earlier considered by political observers. It could cost Alvarez the Speakership, or at the very least split the House against his leadership, and make it harder for DU30 to kill the impeachment complaint against him. Until now, most analysts tend to believe that the complaint, filed by Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, is doomed to fail.
Should DU30 intervene?
The feud needs to be patched up before it gets worse, and if there is anyone who should do it, it should be PDU30 himself. But Malacañang has announced a “hands-off” policy on the conflict—for understandable reasons. The genie is already out of the bottle, it would not be easy for DU30 to send it back in. How would he undo Alvarez’s complaint before the Ombudsman that a “sweetheart deal” has allowed Foirendo’s Tagum Agricultural Development Corp. (Tadeco) to utilize over 5,000 hectares of the Davao Penal Colony at an insignificant annual rental for its banana-growing? I am not sure whether this includes the use of “convict labor.”
And how would DU30 undo the clamor to make Alvarez accountable for the moral depravity he has inflicted upon his position? Could he ask Alvarez to dump his paramour, without inviting a riposte about his own, publicly admitted, paramours? Still, DU30’s “hands-off” position could be a costly error. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella is talking nonsense when he says this is but a “private quarrel” which the parties should privately settle. There is nothing private about the personalities involved, and there is nothing private about this scandal anymore.
What began as a “bitches’ brawl” between Jennifer Maliwanag Vicencio, Alvarez’s reputed “girl friend,” and Cathy Binag, Floirendo’s alleged live-in partner, has thrown their respective partners into the ring, and the scandal has spilled over the social and mainstream media and the whole DU30 government. It has also sought to distort the standards of morality for the nation.
Who doesn’t have a girl friend?
When asked about his reported extra-marital affair with girl friend, Alvarez proudly and mechanically replied, “Sino ba’ng walang girl friend?” (Who doesn’t have a girl friend?)” Indeed, even lesbians have girl friends; only male homosexuals don’t have girl friends. But the question here was about a married man, a high public official at that, who in the words of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the women’s group Gabriela, was expected to set a high moral tone in his public life. As Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao recently put it in a statement, what is wrong is wrong even when everyone is doing it, and what is right is right even when nobody is doing it.
Alvarez tries perversely to recall the words of Scripture: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” A man in public office is not expected to stop sinning, but he has no right to flaunt his sins and scandalize the nation. His duty, whatever his vulnerabilities and defects, is to try to behave his best, even though he always fails.
Thus goes Alvarez’s sexual and conjugal morality. But supposing he had been asked whether he was also stealing money from the public coffers, would he have answered, “Sino ba’ng hindi nagnanakaw?” —“Who doesn’t steal?” Or, if he had been asked whether he was also ordering the killing of mere suspects, would he have answered, “Sino ba’ng hindi?”—-“Who is not?”
Worse than ‘what are we in power for?’
In an earlier period, we heard Senate President Jose Avelino, the first Senate president of the Third Republic, say, “What are we in power for? We are no angels.” Which makes you puke the more? Despite this, Alvarez has shown no intention of stepping down. He has in fact challenged his critics to have him disbarred as a lawyer.
Not too long ago he was among those who were stridently calling for the disbarment of former Justice Secretary and Senator Leila de Lima, now detained on drug-related charges, after she admitted having an extra-marital relationship with her driver-bodyguard. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Alvarez finds it absurd that some people are asking him to vacate the legal profession for the most obvious reasons.
The House must act on its own
The matter does not become moot and academic simply because DU30 has decided not to intervene. Or because Alvarez has decided not to step down. Or because no disbarment proceedings are initiated against him. The members of the House, on their own volition or at DU30’s behest, could still remove him as Speaker.
DU30 should have no qualms doing this because he owes Alvarez nothing, while Alvarez owes him everything. My friends in Davao are convinced that removing Alvarez should be as easy as removing a bad tooth—he was neither the President’s nor the congressmen’s original choice as Speaker. According to these sources, after the May elections, some 200 newly elected congressmen had signified support for Davao Rep. Karlo Nograles to become the Speaker.
Karlo’s father, Prospero Nograles, had been Speaker during the Arroyo administration. But someone very close to former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appealed to Nograles to give way to Alvarez, a former GMA transportation secretary, as a special favor. So, Nograles gave way and agreed to chair the appropriations committee instead.
How ironic therefore that Alvarez quickly removed GMA as Deputy Speaker after she voted against the offensive death penalty bill. Even more ironic that Alvarez would have this bitches’ brawl with Floirendo because he suspects the latter of cooking a plot to install GMA as Speaker. Floirendo vehemently denies this, but I would not be surprised if he decides to support GMA should she agree to such an option. The late former President Diosdado Macapagal was the old man Tony Floirendo’s original supporter.
The Macapagal-Arroyo option
With or without the scandal involving the House politicians and their paramours, GMA has begun to occupy an important part of the political narrative. More and more people are hoping DU30 would give her a pivotal role in running his government, if he is in earnest in pursuing basic reforms. At the Philippine Constitution Association Inc. (Philconsa), where I sit as governor, we listened to Alvarez talk about constitutional reform last August, and to GMA on the same subject last week. I walked away from the Alvarez lecture convinced that his inverted federalism should be rejected. By contrast, I came out of the GMA lecture thinking that her proposal deserves a chance to be heard and tried.
Ex-minister Mendoza’s paper
More than that, an objective reexamination of her record as President shows that despite her own political troubles, her contribution to safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty has been substantial. Some senior academics and scholars are inclined to pay Arroyo special credit for her single-minded effort to advance the country’s identity as an “archipelagic state.”
A primer written by former Solicitor General and Justice Minister Estelito Mendoza for the UP Law Center, and titled, “The Open Space and Maritime Area of the Philippines,” says it was not until RA 9522 defined the baselines of the Philippine archipelago in 2009, under Arroyo, that the Philippine government “took the necessary steps to assure the recognition of the Philippine archipelago as an ‘archipelago’ and our country as an ‘archipelagic state’.”
Mendoza is convinced that next to Ferdinand Marcos, Arroyo was the only President who took the necessary steps for the Philippines to gain permanent recognition for its archipelagic status. This is an important historical statement. Aside from being the country’s top practicing lawyer, Mendoza was, together with Foreign Undersecretary Jose D. Ingles, vice chairman of the Philippine delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea headed by Senator Arturo Tolentino and Vicente Abad Santos. This delegation sat in the conference from 1968 in the seabed committee, through the entire UNCLOS from 1972 to its completion in 1982. Mendoza is the last surviving member of that delegation, and therefore the preeminent living Filipino authority on the UNCLOS.
Mendoza narrates that after the Philippine government deposited the instruments of RA 9522 with the UN Secretary General, as depositary of the UNCLOS, China sent a Note to the UN Secretary General taking exception to the inclusion in the law of Bajo de Masinloc and the Kalayaan Island Group, which it referred to as “Huangyan Island” and Nansha Islands respectively, in Chinese. These have been part of China’s territory since ancient time, the Note said; China has indisputable sovereignty over them and their surrounding maritime areas; any claim of territorial sovereignty over them by any other state is therefore null and void.
But the Note, Mendoza points out, “did not contest our sovereignty over the “Philippine archipelago”—its corresponding territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. “Considering that China had in fact taken possession and occupied several of the islands within the Kalayaan Island Group and over Bajo de Masinloc, it may be assumed that if we were to initiate any proceedings against China, it would be in regard to these matters,” the primer says.
But the Philippine arbitral claim before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which ruled in favor of the Philippines in July 2016, did not deal with these matters, the primer points out. Instead of limiting the discussion to Bajo de Masinloc and the Kalayaan Island Group, then-Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario took general exception to China’s nine-dash line in the whole of the South China Sea, describing it as unlawful and contrary to UNCLOS. No other government has tried to question China’s use of its nine-dash line. This provoked a strong Chinese reaction, and tension could not be avoided. And this is what we are still trying to deal with.
As DU30 tries to navigate the tricky diplomatic waters of the South China Sea, he cannot afford to have a Congress led by hedonistic politicians saddled with “girlie” problems that casually divert their attention from our paramount national interests. Putting the House in the hands of mature, morally responsible and crisis-tested political leaders (statesmen, if any are available) is an option the DU30 government cannot afford to waste or lose.
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IN MEMORIAM. Former Undersecretary of Finance and National Treasurer Victor Macalincag passed away on Thursday at 81, in the peace of our Lord, after battling a sudden illness. Beloved by family and friends and highly respected as a technocrat, he served the longest as finance undersecretary, where he became a valuable and irreplaceable resource to the President, the Cabinet and various government agencies. He is survived by his wife, Remy Lava Macalincag, a highly regarded banker, and their three daughters, in different professional fields, and mourned by countless friends in private life, government and the corporate world. His remains lie at Heritage Park in Taguig. He was a dear personal friend. I ask the pious reader to join me in praying for the eternal repose of his soul. Thank you very much.