WHEN POLITICIANS WED, it almost always seems like they throw all caution to the wind and forget about how they are supposed to comport themselves as public officials. They should, according to the Constitution and the law, live by some principles, not least of them these two: Lead simple lives and avoid conflict of interest situations.

CHIZ AND HEART | Photo from Heart Evangelista's Facebook page

CHIZ AND HEART | Photo from Heart Evangelista’s Facebook page

The upscale wedding of Sen. Francis Joseph G. Escudero and actress Heart Evangelista (baptized as Love Marie Ongpauco) on Feb. 15, 2015 was just the latest in a series of grand political unions.

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Escudero, of course, was not the first politician to have shown he is given to excess when it comes to marrying.

On Oct. 27, 2009, then Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas II exchanged wedding vows with broadcast journalist Korina Sanchez at Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City. More than 10 bishops and priests officiated the ceremony attended by about 3,000 people, and before a crowd of spectators outside the church.

On Jan. 22, 2012, then Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad, one of the former girlfriends of President Aquino, tied the knot with Pasig City Representative Roman Romulo in glamor and style at St. Benedict Church in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Some of those prominent and powerful from politics and business attended, too.

But at the Escudero-Evangelista nuptials, no less than President Benigno S. Aquino III was enrolled as best man, although pressing affairs of state prevented him from attending the ceremony. The two men have been chummy since their days as members both of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

For starters, the Escudero-Evangelista gig was held at the Balesin Island Club, an exclusive, members-only resort in Polillo, Quezon province. Alphaland Corp. developed the resort; its chairman and chief executive officer, Roberto V. Ongpin, also stood as one of the principal wedding sponsors.

ROBERTO V. ONGPIN | Photo from interaksyon.com

ROBERTO V. ONGPIN | Photo from interaksyon.com

Two lavish wedding receptions were held for the couple and their guests – the first on Balesin Island and the second, three days later, at the high-end Blue Leaf Filipinas in Aseana City in Parañaque City.

The groom and bride would not disclose how much they’ve spent on the wedding and the receptions. Escudero would only say that they spent only what they could afford.

Suggestions that the wedding had locked him in a conflict of interest situation on account of some sponsors from big corporate entities, Escudero had been quoted in an ABS-CBN news report as saying: “Tatayuan ko ano ang tingin kong tama at lalabanan ko ano ang tingin kong mali. Anumang conflict, ang importante dinedeklara iyon para kung ano man ang posisyon mo sa isang bagay, maliwanag at alam ng publiko (I will stand by what I think is right and fight what I think is wrong. What’s important is to declare any conflict so that whatever your position is on anything is clear to the public}.

Photo from Heart Evangelista's Facebook page

Photo from Heart Evangelista’s Facebook page

Numerous sponsors were drafted into the wedding, because, Escudero explained, “siguro kasi sa larangan ng showbiz ang napangasawa ko kaya maraming sponsors kaugnay sa bagay na iyon (Maybe we had many sponsors because my wife is in showbiz).”

A lawyer by profession, it is unusual that Escudero seems to make light of the relevant provisions of the Constitution and the law.

Under Section 4 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6713 or the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees,” public officials and their families are supposed to live simply and modestly and “to not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”

Then, too, how Escudero managed to bankroll such a grand wedding is not clear. In his 2013 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth or SALN, he declared a net worth of only P8.243 million, including = cash of only P3.183 million.

The roster of wedding sponsors are an evident trigger of a conflict of interest situation for Escudero. Such conflict, the law and jurisprudence say, could be either real, perceived, or potential.

THE BALESIN Club House pool | Photo from balesin.com

THE BALESIN Club House pool | Photo from balesin.com

Apart from Roberto V. Ongpin of Alphaland, the other sponsors who saw Escudero wed Evangelista were the other top guns of Philippine business — Ramon S. Ang of San Miguel Corp. a food-infrastructure conglomerate; Fernando Zobel de Ayala of the Ayala Group of Companies that is into retail, telecommunication, and real estate ventures; Lance Y. Gokongwei of JG Summit Holdings, a food-retail-property-retail-airline combine; Hans T. Sy of the SM Group of Companies, a property and mall developer; and Andrew L. Tan of the property developer Megaworld Corp. Then, too, the couple had sponsors from among the top executives of the television networks ABS-CBN, GMA-7, as well as Viva Entertainment Inc.

Indeed, while he had said that having many sponsors was largely on account of his wife’s job as an actress, the couple’s longer list of sponsors from business and politics seemed to have been hinged more on Escudero’s job as a politician.

From the world of politics, those who attended as wedding sponsors included Sen. Grace Poe; Adelbert W. Antonino, former mayor of General Santos City; lawyer Gilberto M. Duavit Sr., former representative of the first district of the province of Rizal; Faustino S. Dy Jr., former governor of the province of Isabela; and Esther E. Hamor, mayor of Casiguran town in Escudero’s home province of Sorsogon.

THE BLUELEAF FILIPINAS | Photo from theblueleaf.com.ph

THE BLUELEAF FILIPINAS | Photo from theblueleaf.com.ph

Some of the bills that Escudero has filed as a legislator offer clues to how he has engaged with some of these sponsors.

For instance, Escudero was the principal author in the senate of R.A. No. 9649, an act amending the charter of General Santos City, that was signed into law on July 7, 2009.

In August 2010, the local government of General Santos City had cited R.A. 9649 as a ground for the filing of administrative and criminal charges against the officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Register of Deeds for issuing an ancestral land title to the Bansalao-Banisil family of the B’laan tribe.

In a MindaNews report, former city Mayor Darlene Magnolia Antonino-Custodio, daughter of Adelbert Antonino, pointed out that under the amended city charter, proper consultations with the local government is needed before NCIP can issue a Certificate of Ancestral Land Title. (Like Escudero, Darlene Custodio had also served in the House of Representatives.)

For another, Escudero has also filed Senate Bill (S.B) No. 2104, which aims to amend Batas Pambansa Bilang 68 or the “Corporation Code of the Philippines” and allow a one-person corporation. Under the current law, at least five but not more than 15 persons are needed to form a private corporation.

Also as a senator, Escudero filed S.B. 2449, which seeks to amend the National Internal Revenue Code to lengthen the period for qualified VAT-registered individuals to apply for claims for refunds and tax credits.

Meanwhile, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is currently investigating a property deal between the Boy Scout of the Philippines (BSP) and property developer Alphaland Corp. whose chairman and CEO is Roberto V. Ongpin, an Escudero wedding sponsor.

The Senate had summoned Ongpin to explain the agreement between BSP and Alphaland on the development of the BSP’s one-hectare property in Makati City.

Then, too, two of Escudero’s wedding sponsors, Ramon S. Ang and Gilberto Duavit Sr., had also served as Escudero’s election campaign donors in 2007.

Ang, president and chief operating officer of San Miguel Corp., had donated P9 million to Escudero on his first run for the Senate in 2007. Duavit, a former politician and former chairman of the Republic Broadcasting System (now GMA Network, Inc.), gave Escudero P1 million in campaign contribution, also in 2007. – Fernando Cabigao Jr., PCIJ, February 2015

“There is one dream that we all Filipinos share: that our children may have a better life than we have had. To make this country, our country, a nation for our children.” — Jose W. Diokno

Do not forget: We Filipinos are the first Asian people who revolted against a western imperial power, Spain; the first who adopted a democratic republican constitution in Asia, the Malolos Constitution; the first to fight the first major war of the twentieth century against another western imperial power, the United States of America. There is no insurmountable barrier that could stop us from becoming what we want to be. – Jose W. Diokno

EXACTLY two days after the first year anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolt, a nationalist died.

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Photo from www.diokno.org

Today, February 27, 2015, is the 28th death anniversary of Jose Wright Diokno – human rights lawyer, senator, nationalist. Yesterday, he was supposed to turn 93.

Starting today, we will be featuring the three-part video of the PCIJ on the life and times of Pepe Diokno. This video was first aired on the PCIJdotOrg Youtube Channel on February 2012.

WE ARE reposting this article originally titled “Pacquiao’s other ‘sideline’” first published on the website of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

The article reads in part:

Cheers to the Philippine press for being consistently on the lookout for boxing champ and politician Manny Pacquiao’s physical presence — or the lack thereof — during House of Representatives sessions.

4: Number of days Pacquiao reported in Congress in 2014,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran in its Jan. 14 front page.

“Boxing champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao showed up for work at the House of Representatives only four days last year,” the report’s lead said. It went on to explain in detail about his absences, as well as other top absentee representatives.

Click on the photo to read the full article on the CMFR website.

PHOTO from Manny Pacquiao Facebook page

PHOTO from Manny Pacquiao Facebook page

 

 

Remembering Ka Pepe Diokno

“I know my people. We will be free. We will develop. We will build our own societies. We will sing our own songs” — Jose W. Diokno

KA PEPE DIOKNO | Photo from www.diokno.org

KA PEPE DIOKNO | Photo from www.diokno.org

EXACTLY two days after the first year anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolt, a nationalist died.

Today, February 26, 2015, is also Ka Pepe’s birthday. He would have turned 93. Tomorrow is his 28th death anniversary. “Senator, Secretary of Justice, Lawyer, Nationalist, and Filipino” is the simple description of Jose Wright Diokno on the webpage diokno.org.

Starting today, we will be featuring the three-part video of the PCIJ on the life and times of Pepe Diokno. This video was first aired on the PCIJdotOrg Youtube Channel on February 2012.

It is often said that the likes of Senators Jose W. Diokno and Lorenzo Tanada belong to an entirely different generation of lawyers and legislators. Theirs has been called the golden age of statesmanship and politics, a time when legislators could hold the public spellbound for hours with their mastery of the law and the language.

Jose Wright Diokno was the first Filipino to top the licensure exams of both accountancy and the bar. He excelled in trial law at a time when trial lawyers were considered the best and the brightest in the legal profession. In 1961, he was appointed to head the Justice Department, where he attempted to prosecute an American businessman to the consternation of some high-ranking government officials who were said to be in his pocket.

Fired unceremoniously, Diokno ran and won a Senate seat, where he enthralled a new generation of lawyers who would later form the core of his Free Legal Assistance Group.

WE ARE REPRINTING this article originally titled “MILF guerrillas watch from a distance as PNP Board of Inquiry visits encounter site” first published on the website of MindaNews on February 25, 2015.

SITIO ALILING, Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 25 Feb) –“Tingnan nyo, basta may coordinate,wala talagang problema(See, if there’s coordination, there is really no problem), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Haramen said as he and his men watched from behind a row of banana plants on Tuesday while members of the Board of Inquiry of the Philippine National Police (PNP) led by Director Benjamin Magalong walked across the cornfields where 35 of the 44 slain members of the Special Action Force (SAF) were found on January 25.

Unknown to the newly-arrived visitors, Haramen, operations commander of the 7thBrigade of the 105thbase command of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), and his men – all of them armed – were, earlier that morning, mingling near the river with members of the PNP who were serving as the advance security team. By noon, across the river, elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who helped escort Magalong’s team would line up to stand guard when the BOI team arrived.

Click on the photo to read the full article on the MindaNews website.

A MEMBER of the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces watches from a distance from under the shade of a banana plant the arrival of the Philippine National Police's Board of Inquiry on Tuesday, February 24, at the cornfields where the bodies of 35 of the 44 slain SAF members were found. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

A MEMBER of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces watches from a distance from under the shade of a banana plant the arrival of the Philippine National Police’s Board of Inquiry on Tuesday, February 24, at the cornfields where the bodies of 35 of the 44 slain SAF members were found. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

REPRESENTATIVES of civil society organizations from Mindanao appealed to members of the Philippine legislature not to hold hostage the deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law following the Mamasapano incident in Maguindanao province.

To know more about their calls to Philippine lawmakers, view this video short by PCIJ deputy producer Cong B. Corrales.

Read our story here.

Civil society groups, peace advocates call on solons

REPRESENTATIVES of civil society organizations from Mindanao appealed to members of the Philippine legislature not to hold hostage the deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law following the Mamasapano incident in Maguindanao province.

Forty-four members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force, 18 Moro Islamic Liberation front fighters, and five civilians died in the police-led operations codenamed Oplan Exodus. It aimed to kill or capture two foreign bombmakers declared as terrorists by the United States government.

However, lawyer Mary Anne Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC) stressed that this does not mean that investigation on the bloody “misencounter” between the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) and armed groups in the area should stop.

“The (probe on the) Mamasapano incident should proceed; we want to know the truth… we are not preventing anyone to investigate,” she said.

THE CALL IS CLEAR: Members of civil society with their message to members of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

THE CALL IS CLEAR: Members of civil society with their message to members of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

“But the thing is, it should not be used as a reason, justification, to suspend or derail the peace process with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) which is now in the process of implementation,” Arnado told the PCIJ.

At least 6,000 residents have fled their homes in Mamasapano town after the January 25 incident.

Sister Arnold Maria Noel, spokesperson of the Free Cocoy Tulawie Movement, feared that the suspension on the deliberations of the BBL might lead to more bloody incidents like the Mamasapano incident.

Huwag natin i-hostage ang BBL dahil sa Mamasapano kasi kung hindi natin mapasa itong BBL baka ilang beses pa yung Mamasapano incident. Ngayon kasi ang nangyari dahil sa Mamasapano nahinto na yung deliberations ng BBL. Na-hostage mo yung BBL dahil sa isang incident,” Noel said.

Datuan Magon of the United Youth for Peace and Development, on the other hand, said the investigation on the incident and the deliberation of the BBL should be treated separately since the two are not related.

THE MILF has been talking peace with the government for 17 years - Aga Khan Sharieff | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

THE MILF has been talking peace with the government for 17 years – Aga Khan Sharieff | Photo by Cong B. Corrales

Aga Khan Sharieff, chairman of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development, agreed with Magon citing the fact that there have been no armed encounters between government troops and the MILF over the three years since President Benigno S. Aquino III sat down to negotiate with the MILF.

Ang MILF, 17 years na nakikipag usap sa gobyerno. Sinabi doon sa report, tatlong taon mula noong umupo si PNoy walang encounter na nangyari sa pagitan ng MILF at saka ang gobyerno natin. Noong panahon ni Erap (Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada), 989 encounters.

Sharieff also reiterated that MILF does not own the BBL and is not intended to appease the revolutionary group.

Bigyan po natin ng lugar ang BBL na maitatag. Hindi po ‘yan pag-aari ng MILF dahil (may) plebesito tapos (sa) 2016 mag e-eleksyon,” he said.

Photo by Cong B. Corrales

Photo by Cong B. Corrales

Arnado also pointed to the fact that members of the Bangsamoro Ad Hoc Committee have already gone around Moro communities in Mindanao for the public hearings and have told people that the law will be passed “within the timeline as agreed in the peace agreement.”

“It is very worrisome at this point when we hear our legislators saying this is already suspended and the reason is because of the Mamasapano (incident). This could not be understood at the ground level,” Arnado said.

The representatives of civil society organizations from Mindanao held a news conference during a two-day gathering in Manila of peace advocates from across Asia. Dubbed “Defying Extremism: Asian Dialogue,” it carried the theme, “Civil society voices; discourse and action for peace.” | Cong B. Corrales