Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Bitbag - Sept. 2013
Articles written by Alan Mark De Luzuriaga for The Bitbag - - 
for Sept. 2013


Abbot Hit for being like Bush and  for Lack of Women and Science
by Alan Mark De Luzuriaga

Tony Abbot named his front bench on Monday the 16th of September 2013. And immediately, the much heralded new Abbot immediately morphed into the old one. That is, if one is to believe the criticisms that are are being hurled right after the announcement.  A major cause of the criticism is the lack of women in the 19-member cabinet. The only woman in the cabinet is deputy prime minister elect Julie Bishop. Abbot himself expressed “disappointment” that there were not “at least two” women in his cabinet saying that he expects more women to be promoted and join the front bench over time. 

The prime minister-elect, however showed a cabinet that is very much experienced. His senior ministers, numbering 15, have all served under former Prime Minister John Howard. As Australia's last conservative minister, Howard is considered by many as Abbot's mentor, having brought him into the Howard cabinet in 2001. These selections of ministers, however, are igniting other criticisms on how Abbot will most likely  mirror not only Howard's policies, but that of former President of the United States, George W. Bush. It can be remembered that Howard once referred to himself as Bush's “Deputy Sheriff” in the region and pundits are pointing out that Abbot might take on that role as well. 

Early indications from international observers, as well as comments from foreign leaders have indicated that they perceive  Abbot as a leader in the same “mold” as former President and Conservative Republican George W. Bush. Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom tweeted that he was delighted to work with “another center right leader”.  Tim Stanley, a columnist for the UK's Daily Telegraph declared Abbot's win as a victory for “Christian Conservatives”.  Abbot has campaigned on a mixture of conservatism mixed with populism and this combination seems to have been a winning formula as evidenced by his victory. But, critics are predicting that his conservative and right wing agenda will be more evident in the days to come. 

An indication of his policies, like his stand on climate change, can be gleaned from his non-appointment of a science minister.  It is noted that since the establishment of the office in 1931, this will be the first time that Australia will not be having a Minister of Parliament that will be directly answerable for the development of science in the country.  Critics are “confused” and “disappointed” that something as important as science and technology will not have a minister to oversee its mandate in dealing with health, industry and other affected sectors.  Abbot decided that the science portfolio will be divided and shared between the ministries of Education and Industry. 

Abbot's “slow and steady” manner in assuming his post in government is definitely not stopping the judgments and opinions on his recent actions.  So it is probably prudent on his part  not to recall parliament at this point saying he would only do so until some form of legislation is needed. He has also managed to sidestep questions about the budget by  deferring the budget review till January 2014, amidst criticism by the opposition that he is trying to evade scrutiny on the so called “budget emergency”.  The one area, he is not evading, though is his policy on asylum seekers and vows to “stop the boats” once he is sworn into office. His admission that it is a “stand or fall issue” on this matter, just might, like other matters that are being raised against him at this early juncture, decide how his government will rise up to the challenges in the coming days. 


Aquino Spokesman Lacierda To Resign if Tatad Proves Tales On Napoles

President Noynoy Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said he will resign his position if former Senator Francisco Tatad can prove his allegations that the President had indeed met with Janet Lim Napoles, the alleged leader of the syndicate behind the pork barrel scam that is creating massive political earthquakes in the Philippine political arena. The meeting was supposed to have taken place hours before Napoles surrendered to the government. Tatad has implied in his newspaper column of impropriety on the part of the Philippine President for giving Napoles special privileges.

For the past several weeks, the Napoles “Pork Barrel Scandal” has created shockwaves that have the potential to bring down the political careers of countless senators, congressmen and government officials that are allegedly involved and have pocketed billions of Pesos in government funds. The “Pork Barrel” fund refers to the PDAF – or the Priority Development Assistance Fund that is allocated by the government for projects based on the recommendation and approval of legislators. The Pork Barrel Fund has long been accused of being used by politicians to influence their constituents and calls to the legislators for its abolishment for many years has fallen on deaf ears.

A criminal complaint filed against Napoles had inadvertently spilled a can of worms when it was discovered that Napoles headed a syndicate for many years (dating back to the administration of disgraced former President Gloria Arroyo – herself facing charges of plunder) that created fake organizations that received the pork barrel funding approved by legislators . Napoles would pocket a huge percentage of the fund while she provided the legislators with a share of the released budget. Current reports indicate that more than 10 Billion Pesos of government funds have been pocketed by Napoles and the legislators who conspired with her.

Francisco Tatad, a former information minister of ousted President and dictator Ferdinand Marcos, wrote in his column that Napoles met with President Aquino and other government officials for a period of six hours on the 28th of August, the same day that she surrendered to the authorities.

Lacierda challenged Tatad by saying that “ If he can prove to me that Napoles had lunch with the President, I will resign, simple as that. Let me also say that if he doesn’t prove his claim, then he should stop. He should apologize to us. I mean, we’re giving him too much news already. It’s all used. It’s all not true, obviously.”

He added that Tatad continues to invent “tall tales” against the President without any evidence or proof. Tatad has yet to identify his supposed source inside the Aquino government. Lacierda said that he is still waiting for Tatad to reveal who his source is and prove his allegations.

Tatad meanwhile has made additional charges that President Aquino allegedly conspired with Napoles herself to use 49 to 69 Billion Pesos worth of pork barrel funds to bribe members of the lower house to support the passage of the RH or reproductive health bill and also to guarantee the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.


ASEAN : Relevance in the Asian Era of Prosperity and Conflict
By Alan Mark De Luzuriaga

It has been several years ago when the current times had first been declared as the Asian Century. And it may be rightly so. Not only with the rise of China as a superpower at par with the United States, but, also with the positive development of a number of Asian economies, from the perennial Asian Tigers like Japan, Singapore and Korea and the rapidly growing Asian Cubs such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

This dynamic region is also home to a Forty six year old economic and geopolitical organization known as ASEAN, short for Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Currently composed of Ten countries (from the original five founders – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Philippines), ASEAN has strived these past decades to foster economic cooperation as well as promote peace and order in the region.

In the past years, ASEAN has struggled to establish itself as a power bloc, primarily because of the internal problems and instability that each member country had to prioritize. Likewise, direct interests in dealing with the United States, Europe and China has made its commitments to its Southeast Asian neighbours secondary in importance. With the rise of China as a major superpower in the recent years, members of ASEAN continue to find itself with conflicts of interest in establishing itself as a relevant grouping. On the other hand, relaxed trade barriers and access to markets between member countries and with China has resulted in the rapid growth of these Asian economies.

Recent territorial disputes within the South China Sea / West Philippine Sea is a possible litmus test for the identity of ASEAN as a relevant organization. The Spratly islands, a grouping of 750 islands have a total land area not exceeding two square miles. However, they are believed to have massive oil and gas reserves, enough reason for its six claimants, namely China and Taiwan, as well as four of the ASEAN members – Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, to risk possible conflict and confrontation. How ASEAN will manage to mediate between its member countries, as well as deal with China and Taiwan on this matter may be the biggest challenge yet to this alliance.

In 2012, serious confrontations erupted between China and two ASEAN members – Philippines and Vietnam – over the islands. Both ASEAN nations have accused China of sabotaging its oil exploration activities. China has sent an array of warships into the disputed territories to display its superior military might. The Philippines has called on their treaty with the United States to counter the Chinese show of force and renamed the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea. But, in all these disputes, ASEAN has never taken a solid stand. It was only recently, in August 2013 that ASEAN announced a unified statement. And this is only to say that they are one in convincing China to sit down and talk on the long delayed completion of the code of conduct on the South China / West Philippine Sea.

Many have longed for ASEAN to make the quantum leap as an organization and make it as relevant as other international alliances such as the European Union. In the recent 22nd ASEAN Summit early this year in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, the leaders of these ten member countries met under the theme of “ Our People, Our Future Together”. These coming months, amid the climate of global economic growth and uncertain conflicts, ASEAN will have more than its plate full to once and for all, after almost fifty years of existence, prove its purpose and importance as an influential and relevant confederation in the international community.


A Surprising New Abbot Enters a New World
By: Alan Mark De Luzuriaga

Australia has just elected a new government over a week ago and all eyes are on Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbot. Since the opinion polls practically showed him winning even before election day, political pundits have made countless predictions on how Abbot was going to run the government to the ground from day one. His reputation as presented by his opponents with the help of unfriendly media did not help counter the projection of a “crazy and misogynist” leader once he is sworn in. His verbal blunders made him an attractive target for many a doomsday scenarios for his administration. So what has happened since?

The recent campaign, surprisingly proved his detractors wrong. Once described as not having the temperament to be a world class leader, most especially in handling foreign affairs, Abbot was able to transform his persona into somebody else, surprising even some of his most vile critics. Many observers noted that Abbot conducted himself as a serious candidate and erased doubts about his electability. Even as his opponents tried to resurrect several of his political gaffes during the campaign, Abbot was able to cultivate and maintain a positive image long enough to last until judgement day. His reportedly usual style of frenetic and confrontational interaction was replaced with a slow and calm demeanor, especially during the last days of the campaign.

Since his election last September 7, 2013, The newly elected Prime Minister has not held a press conference in the week that passed, but instead has met with his potential front bench members and his defense chiefs. His office has also indicated that he has communicated with a few international leaders in the past days. His caution at making announcements on possible changes he is implementing once he is sworn in has caught a number of political figures and commentators by surprise. People have even downplayed a few verbal boo boos such as comments about the sex appeal of a female candidate and a simplistic remark about the crisis in Syria.

In a meeting with his Defense Chiefs early on before assuming his position, Abbot is projecting an image of preparedness, in particular, in the defense policies of his administration. Although defense, like foreign policy were peripheral issues during the campaign ( with the economy taking the lead issue), he is showing the public a new person that is more in tune with the new post he is about to occupy. Defense issues are going to be a prominent part of his agenda in the coming days as Australia enters into its presidency of the U.N. Security Council and amid the backdrop of a growing and volatile situation in Syria.

As Australia assumes the chair of the G20 in 2014, Abbot also needs to prove his critics wrong in showing a new kind of foreign leader that is ready to continue steering Australia's role as a leading trading nation and a significant and reliable contributor of foreign humanitarian aid. His position on Syria vis-a-vis maintaining relations with the United States, Europe and China will also test his mettle on the myriad of issues that need to be handled on the foreign affairs front.

No one is betting that these new changes that were evident during the campaign and his first few days after the election will stick, or eventually disappear into the Abbot of old. His supporters on the other hand, are saying that this new person is the real Abbot all along. For all Australians and the rest of the world, all eyes are indeed on the old and the new Tony Abbot and the new world he is embarking on.