THE broadsheet Philippine Star has fired Ramon Tulfo, its most widely read and most hard-hitting columnist, allegedly at the Palace’s behest. First lady Liza Araneta reportedly blew her top because of a post in Tulfo’s Facebook page that alleged that her brother, Martin Araneta, is “involved in smuggling in the piers,” particularly of onions, the price of which has made it the most expensive in the world last month.
Philstar CEO Miguel Belmonte, however, told Tulfo that it was the paper’s top management, and not Malacañang, that had found his columns to be a liability for them, and that his columns would no longer be published in the paper. (The daily is owned and controlled through thick corporate layers by the Indonesian-owned First Pacific conglomerate.)
Who is this joker fooling? Why on earth would Philstar fire its main asset that attracts readers and therefore ads, and therefore revenues, if not to follow the instructions of the Palace, the sole power that could hurt the conglomerate it serves? Or are the Belmontes still of the Yellow persuasion and have hatched a plot to anger Tulfo and his many readers against the Marcos government?
Belmonte claimed that Tulfo was merely on “an extended leave” and that “it is not impossible for him to return.” Tulfo however texted me: “Do you think I’ll still return after being shooed away like a pest?”
Presidential Communications Office secretary Cheloy Garafil replied to my query on whether the first lady asked for Tulfo’s head: “That is absolutely not true.”
However, it is too much of a coincidence that Tulfo was fired the day after he posted the following on his Facebook page:
“I was friends with First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos even before BBM got elected as the country’s No. 1 leader.
“In fact, Liza gave me a space in her law office to do my job as special envoy to China during the Duterte administration. I was so close to her she invited me to the BBM presidential inauguration and party in Malacañang. We have since parted ways.
“The reason was my text message to her which you will read below. My love for my country and my job as a journalist made me send that message to her.
“The following was that [January 26] message that got me into trouble with her:
‘Ma’am, please don’t get mad at me. I’m just trying to help the BBM administration. Please check rumors that your brother Martin is involved in smuggling in the piers. Check before other reporters get hold of the rumors and have a field day. I’ve checked and it seems the rumors have basis. Why don’t you have Ariel Nepomuceno take over if you want a clean Bureau of Customs?’ (End of text message.) To paraphrase Manuel L. Quezon, “my loyalty to my friends and relatives ends where my job as a journalist begins.”
Was the first lady enraged, or did the Palace fear that Tulfo would expound on his allegations in his columns, which would be widely disseminated, and which therefore should be stopped?
Tulfo’s FB post a few days earlier had prepared the ground for his allegations:
“Bakit napakataas ng presyo ng sibuyas?Ang Pilipinas siguro ang bansa na ang presyo ng sibuyas ay parang presyo ng ginto… Ang nagpaparating kasi ng sibuyas ay isang Tsinoy na nagngangalang *****. Si ***** ay kasosyo ni *****. Pinipigil ni ***** ang paglabas ng sibuyas sa merkado upang magmahal ang presyo nito.
Paano nga naman bababa ang presyo ng sibuyas kung ang smuggler nito ay *****?”
(“Why are onion prices high? It’s because onions are imported here by a Chinese Filipino named *****, the business partner of *****. ***** has been blocking the availability of onions in the market in order for their price to rise. Why on earth would onion prices go down if the smuggler is *****?”
Martin Araneta is officially vice president for external affairs of Michael Ma’s China Philippines Unified Enterprises Inc. (CPUE), which describes itself in its website as a consultancy firm for Chinese firms investing in or trading with the Philippines. What proves CPUE’s very strong links to the Palace is that one one of its executives, Franz Imperial, was appointed July 7 as undersecretary in the Office of the President, one of just three undersecretaries there. Imperial had supervised Marcos’ campaign rallies for the elections.
Martin as the first lady’s brother and its former executive, Imperial, in the very office of the President Marcos is certainly a huge attraction for firms to contract its consultancy services — and an advantage to easily import whatever products that seem profitable to sell here. Sources claim that with such an advantage, CPUE may have angered the old smuggling cartels so much that they’ve ratted on it, reaching Tulfo’s ears.
Four days before Tulfo’s explosive FB post, Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr. named possible smugglers of onions and agricultural products, including Michael Ma, and asked for a House ways and means committee hearing to summon him and the others he named. While that hearing was scheduled for January 30 at 9 a.m., it was canceled through a message to Suansing at 5 a.m. by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Joey Salceda, who has so far not given any reason for the cancellation.
That Tulfo believes it was the Marcos couple, whom he had been a staunch supporter of during the election, who asked the Philippine Star to sack him is certainly reflected in his angry lashing out at them in his Facebook post yesterday:
“Kung tamad si President Noynoy Kuyakoy, sampung beses na mas tamad at iresponsable itong si Bobong Marcos.
“Habang binabayo ng Typhoon Paeng ang Kamaynilaan at ibang lugar ng bansa, si Bobong Tamad (BBT) ay nasa Ilocos at kumakain sa Dawang’s Restaurant kasama ang kanyang mga kaibigan. Nagalit pa nga sa kanya ang pamangkin niyang si Gov. Matthew Manotoc dahil sa di niya pagpunta sa mga lugar na nasalanta ng bagyo.
“That was at the time he went missing for two days and only came out after people were asking where he was.
“Kung pakialamera si Imelda Marcos noon, sampung beses na mas intrimitida itong kanyang daughter-in-law sa pamamalakad sa gobiyerno.
“Walang naaapoint sa administrasyon ni BBT kundi dadaan sa kanyang asawa na si Liza Araneta Marcos. Nabudol na naman ang Pinoy sa pagpili ng lider.”
(If President Noynoy was lazy, the irresponsible “Bobong Marcos” is 10 times lazier. During the typhoon that hit Metro Manila and other places, he was in Ilocos dining with his friends His nephew, Gov. Matthew Manotoc, was even angry at him for not going to the areas hit by the typhoon…If Imelda Marcos interfered in the elder Marcos’ government, her daughter-in-law is 10 times the meddler in government. Everyone appointed in Bongbong Marcos administration has to be approved by his wife Liza Araneta. Filipinos have again been fooled in their choice of leader.)
Indeed, Shakespeare’s famous quote that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” applies to close friends betrayed.
Of course not on that scale, and Tulfo is no insider, but this “breaking” episode reminds me of that time when the infamous Luis Chavit Singson, thinking that President Joseph Estrada had ordered his assassination, ratted on the corruption of his erstwhile close friend, triggering his impeachment and eventual fall.
The Palace must not risk that scenario and quickly come clean on this issue. This certainly is a gut issue for Filipinos, that those very close to the president may have been responsible for the unbelievably high price of onions, that even flight attendants have been caught smuggling it in, that the red vegetable had replaced the bride’s wedding bouquet, and even the poorest Filipinos have been deprived of that ingredient necessary to make their scanty dish edible.
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