April Fool’s Day came on an Easter Sunday and in the aftermath of pranks and the Lord’s resurrection, the first eight days of April simmered in politics coated with political will.
April 2 rolled with the recounting of the votes for the 2016 vice-presidential elections with the Supreme Court (SC) acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).
Both the Manila Times and the Manila Standard led in coming out with full and detailed reports about the goings-on in the recount to determine who between former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Leni Robredo really won in the VP electoral race.
Citing “PET insider/s who requested anonymity” as source/s, the reports—in a span of almost a month—covered missing audit logs, wet ballots, heads of revision committees resigning for unknown reasons, pre-shaded ballots and excess ballots that reportedly favored Robredo, and 16 air conditioners simultaneously going kaput, in the process, temporarily suspending the recount.
It didn’t take long before the SC issued a gag order to the Marcos and Robredo camps and to explain why they should not be cited for contempt on the basis of the statements on the recount they made to the media.
By April 18, the recount had chopped Robredo’s lead by 5,000 votes.
Robredo won the vice presidential race in the May 2016 polls with 14,418,817 votes or 263,473 more than Marcos’ 14,155,344 votes.
‘ESCAPE’ FROM KUWAIT
The first week of April brought news about a Kuwaiti court sentencing in absentia the couple accused of murdering and stuffing in the freezer Filipina maid Joanna Demafiles.
The news, while welcomed by the Duterte administration, did not lead to the lifting of the ban on the deployment of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to Kuwait.
Pres. Rodrigo Duterte said the ban stays until the Kuwaiti government can assure the safety and protection of Filipino workers by not confiscating their passports, feeding them properly and giving them enough time to rest, stopping the practice of selling them to other employers, and allowing OFWs to use cell phones so that they can keep in touch with their families in the Philippines.
Reports seemed promising such that on April 12, the President announced he might fly to Kuwait to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Philippines and Kuwait that guarantees better treatment for Filipinos working in the Arab state.
More than a week later, on April 22, Kuwait was up in arms over the video-documented and aired “rescue” of distressed OFWs by the Philippine diplomatic staff.
Calling the action a “violation of their sovereignty,” the Kuwaiti government expelled the Philippine ambassador to Kuwait, arrested two Filipinos allegedly for enticing housemaids to run away from their employers’ homes, and later recalled their own envoy from Manila.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano at first apologized for the diplomatic faux pas. But, upon the expulsion of Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa, demanded an explanation for the expulsion, adding that Kuwaiti’s action was “deeply disturbing and inconsistent.”
By April 30, Pres. Duterte said the deployment ban to the Gulf State was now permanent. But he reassured Kuwaiti officials that there was “no bitterness” in his decision.
NOT ENOUGH RICE
What started as an announcement from the National Food Authority (NFA) that it would temporarily stop issuing NFA rice to accredited retailers because of low supply, quickly morphed into rumors of a possible rice shortage as early as March.
On April 4, NFA officers told the media they were pushing the NFA Council, to schedule the earlier arrival of imported rice. The Council, for its part, said it would first audit NFA’s rice stocks.
By April 8, Pres. Duterte ordered the NFA chief to ignore the NFA Council and to proceed with rice importation.
Ten days later, on April 18, Duterte placed the NFA under the Department of Agriculture (DA). He named Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol as the new chairman of the NFA Council, replacing Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco.
April saw the resignation of Vitaliano Aguirre II as secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
With March heavy with the vestiges of perceived DOJ blunders—the dismissal of the drug charges filed against suspected big time drug traders Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Co and Peter Lim, as well as media going to town with the news that pork barrel scam suspect Janet Lim Napoles was now under the DOJ’s Witness Protection Program (WPP)—some said it was only a matter of time before Aguirre was replaced.
On April 6, the big news was the resignation of Aguirre and his replacement by Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra. Losing no time, Guevarra ordered all department undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to submit their courtesy resignations by April 30.
April quickly became a month for replacements and appointments: Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde replaced Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa; Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. replaced Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff; Court of Appeals Associate Justice Socorro Balinghasay-Inting was appointed as Elections Commissioner; Jose Arturo Garcia was appointed as general manager of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA); and Pia Cristina Bersamin, daughter of Supreme Court Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, was appointed as judge of Las Piñas Regional Trial Court Branch 198.
Pres. Duterte gave the ultimatum: 60 days for the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to restart peace talks.
The NDFP represents the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) in peace negotiations with the Philippine government.
Media reported the President’s pronouncement on April 8, some two months after the Duterte government petitioned the court to declare the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations.
In that same petition, the government tagged as terrorists about 600 people, two dozen of which were NDF consultants.
Last year, on Nov. 23, Duterte signed Proclamation no. 360, terminating the peace talks between the government and the NDFP. In December, he issued Proclamation no. 374, declaring the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations under the Human Security Act.
In setting a deadline for the resumption of the peace talks, Duterte reiterated that a coalition government with the NDF was out of the question.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr., speaking for the President, said the revival of talks would depend on the communists’ commitment to honor a genuine and absolute ceasefire; to cease and desist from collecting revolutionary tax; and again, to stop insisting on a coalition government.
Former chairman of the NDFP panel Luis Jalandoni, now its senior adviser, said the two-month deadline was doable.
SERENO’S QUO WARRANTO
If the month of March proved hostile to embattled Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, every week in April rumbled with more intense moves to impeach or disqualify her from the highest post of the highest court in the land.
Five SC Justices— Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Francis Jardeleza and Noel Tijam— refused to recuse themselves from the quo warranto petition filed against her by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
A quo warranto is an action that is brought against a government official who is not qualified for his or her position.
A statement from her lawyers that nine of her ‘missing’ SALNs have been found was belittled by Calida, saying this recovery would not weaken the petition because the nine documents did not reach the Judicial Bar Council when she applied for the CJ position in 2012.
The situation was not helped by the outcome of the Pulse Asia Public Satisfaction Survey for the first quarter of 2018. which showed Sereno’s ratings plummet to -7 in March from +6 in December 2017.
Sereno’s supporters say however, that granting a quo warranto petition would weaken the entire SC since this could be used by the Office of the Solicitor General to control the SC.
April 26 came and officially laid claim to the closure of top beach destination Boracay Island in Aklan province on the strength of a presidential edict.
On that day, Pres. Duterte signed Proclamation No. 475, placing Boracay under a state of calamity. It also ordered its temporary closure for six months, beginning April 26.
It was the first time a President managed to close down a top tourist destination on the basis of the need to address its environmental concerns.