Saturday, August 02, 2014

Backing down from confrontation

1:28 am | Friday, August 1st, 2014

CANBERRA—President Aquino’s fifth State of the Nation Address last Monday signaled a back-down from the confrontational course on which his administration set out starting in mid-July against the Supreme Court. It embarked on that course after the high court struck down as unconstitutional on July 1 the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, or the presidential pork barrel.
In his Sona, the President not only did not defend the DAP but also refrained from raising it as an issue worthy of national debate in his annual report to the nation. His speech was notable for its conciliatory tone, in stark contrast to his pugnacious defense of the DAP in two nationally televised speeches two weeks ago, which locked the two constitutionally independent branches of Philippine democracy, the presidency and the judiciary, in conflict. The omission of the DAP issue from the Sona defused the tensions between the two great institutions.

Whatever prompted the President to change his confrontational course, it cannot be said that it was due to his deep-seated devotion to the system of checks and balances. He had, after all, warned in his TV speeches that the Supreme Court’s decision invited intervention from the third branch, Congress, to overrule it. It was not an empty warning because the President’s coalition in the House of Representatives led by his Liberal Party, controls the majority in the chamber.

The presidential tour de force in the Sona appears to have reduced the risk of a constitutional stalemate over the DAP. The President has indicated that he is not taking an activist stance to retaliate against the Supreme Court, to the extent of instigating administration allies in Congress to file bills transferring the administration of the high court’s multimillion-peso Judiciary Development Fund to the Bureau of Treasury. The fund was created 30 years ago under a Marcos-era decree that authorized the judiciary to generate its own funds in order to help augment its budgetary requirements for the benefit of its personnel and to help ensure its independence.

Opposition lawmakers noted the conciliatory tone of the Sona, which made no mention of the plunder and graft cases filed against three of their own—Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, who are all in detention. The cases had been held out as a trophy of the administration’s “daang matuwid” campaign. The three senators have been charged in connection with the P10-billion scam allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim Napoles, in which their pork barrel allocations were supposedly funneled to a syndicate of fake nongovernment organizations operated by the businesswoman in exchange for hefty kickbacks.

In explaining the President’s change of focus in his Sona from highlighting corruption and emphasizing his administration’s accomplishments in economic growth and poverty reduction—about which the administration has come under growing criticism for giving priority to the criminal prosecution of officials involved in corruption cases—Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said Mr. Aquino “wanted to show he was a statesman.” Although the President has downgraded his bashing of the Supreme Court and of the previous administration, Malacañang admitted that criticisms had taken a toll on the administration’s popularity ratings, which plunged to record low levels in the past few months.

The criticisms have centered on the DAP, which is seen as an abuse in the disbursement of public funds that were claimed to have served as stimulus to economic growth. This argument was earlier shot down by Senator Estrada who, in a privilege speech, charged that millions of pesos in DAP funds intended to ramp up economic growth were used to provide additional allowances to senators who voted to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona during his impeachment trial in the Senate.

In glossing over the mention of the DAP in his Sona, Mr. Aquino removed the fund from public scrutiny, into which Budget Secretary Butch Abad, its ingenious architect, has been drawn as the official accountable for the unconstitutional program. There is public demand for the dismissal of Abad. Mr. Aquino has rejected his resignation and Abad hangs on to his post, saying he still had the confidence of the President.

The removal of the DAP from the hot seat is thus a self-serving act of political survival.

The Sona, through its nonmention of the DAP, has become the crucible on which the administration’s self-righteous declarations of transparent governance are being tested. It was clear that the President is smarting from criticisms, and referring to those who air them as “those who have turned public service into business” and “those who have no other goal but to overthrow government.”

There is very little in the Sona to justify accomplishments in poverty alleviation and job creation beyond the overzealous criminal prosecution of officials accused of corrupt practices. Governance is more about productive activities and creating jobs to bring incomes to the poor. It is less about not being nasty to the critics of government.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Out of context

By Luis V. Teodoro | Posted on 17-03-2014


PROVIDING CONTEXT is not a strong suit of the dominant media,* whether in the form of  a few paragraphs recalling the background of events,  a sidebar,  or an entire article recalling the history of the public issues they report on. Context is often glaringly absent even in reports on the most complex  and  publicly-relevant events and issues.

Providing the context of the news is universally understood as a necessary component of the journalistic responsibility of truth-telling.  The five Ws and the H (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) can answer only the immediate questions media readers, viewers and listeners ask about an event, but cannot provide the history or background that can make it understandable. Context serves not only the individual need to understand the complex events and issues that at the personal level can make the difference between ignorance and knowledge; it is also crucial to the shaping of the informed public opinion crucial to the decision-making duty of citizens in a democracy.

The lessons every generation learns it also has to pass on to the next if only for the sake of developing the collective awareness a society needs to arrive at a consensus on the issues that concern it, and to move forward.  While the responsibility of making sense of their experience and imparting the lessons they’ve learned from it is primarily that of the antecedents of the men and women upon whom the shaping of the future depends, in societies in crisis that duty is increasingly being neglected, as the stresses of living divide and even break up families, and arriving at any consensus on the meaning of the past becomes more and more difficult.

That burden is increasingly being thrust on the schools and the media, on which now depend the transmission of the knowledge and insights of past generations.  The failure of both institutions—the schools are arguably even more deficient in imparting the lessons of history to the children and youth under their tutelage—has resulted in the making of a population largely ignorant of the lessons the experience of past generations can teach. No issue is ever really settled in the Philippine public sphere: in what is supposed to be a democracy, practically the same arguments raised years earlier are raised for or against public policy.  But what‘s even worse is the lack of debate and discussion on matters of vital public interest.

Illustrative is the absence of public discussion over the Aquino administration policy of “inviting” US troops to use Philippine bases on a “temporary” basis.  The terms in which the policy is being described and framed seek to avoid a clash with the Constitutional prohibition on foreign military bases and the presence of foreign troops in Philippine territory.

The linguistic legerdemain aside—the “invitation” is being issued in the context of the US “pivot” to Asia, while the supposedly temporary presence of US troops has been going on for well over a decade—the policy has vast implications on Philippine sovereignty, politics and society.  Despite its expected and other possible impacts, when it was first proposed the dominant press provided neither the historical nor current context that would have provoked public debate on the basis of the lessons the country learned from the 90 years during which foreign troops were based in several US military installations in the Philippines.

Only in the past few days has some of these implications found space in one broadsheet. In an attempt to put in context the refusal of the Senate to approve a treaty extending the lease on US bases in 1990, and to provide a background on the deployment of US troops in Philippine bases, the Philippine Daily Inquirer looked into the possible resurgence of prostitution in and around the “facilities” where US troops would be based.  The networks have so far not bothered to recall history and the lessons citizens may learn from it.

While some senators are likely to question the constitutionality of the Aquino administration “invitation” to US troops and its coyly deceptive description of their presence in Philippine territory as “temporary,”  most citizens are likely to ask what the fuss is all about. It’s not a Senate debate over the Aquino policy that’s the danger, but the lack of public discussion over an issue that can have far-reaching consequences on Filipino lives.  For that appalling state much of the blame must be laid on the dominant media.###

*Mislabeled the mainstream, corporate media dominate the Philippine press and media landscape in terms of size and reach, but it is the alternative press, with its over a hundred years of history and relevance—from La Solidaridad, Kalayaan and El Renacimiento to We Forum, Veritas and Bulatlat– that constitutes the mainstream tradition in Philippine media. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Damage control, twisted logic

 Bulatlat Perspective |

The August 26 Luneta protest activity attended by tens to hundreds of thousands from all walks of life has jolted the Aquino administration. It is now in a quandary on what to do with the pork barrel, which it is trying to repackage, and how to save its eroding positive image.

Malacañang’s proposal to have legislators identify the projects it would want funded with their pork barrel allocations during the budgetary process misses the point completely. Even if the projects are to be identified by lawmakers during budgeting, the accessing, implementation, and skimming process could still be done later. More important is the fact that whether the identification of projects was done before or after the budgetary process, it still does not do away with the patronage politics that characterize the pork barrel system.

Malacañang and its allies in politics and media are trying very hard to make it appear that the August 26 protest activity was not at all directed against the Aquino administration but on corruption in general, the pork barrel, Janet Lim-Napoles, and the five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives whose signatures appeared in the documents that showed that their pork barrel allocations went to fake NGOs established by Napoles. If they only listened to the speeches from various groups from different parts of Luneta during the August 26 activity, they would realize that the Aquino administration – including President Aquino and Budget Sec. Florencio Abad – was not spared from the expressions of frustration, exasperation and protest.

Why? When the Aquino administration opted to defend the pork barrel system and repackage it in a failed attempt to make it more acceptable, rather than abolish it altogether, it threw in its lot among the government officials and legislators who benefited from corrupting the pork barrel allocations. That is why when presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on national television that the people at Luneta are the allies of government in the campaign against corruption, it was one twisted logic.

And that is not all…

The infamous Janet Lim-Napoles – whose picture was all over Luneta last August 26 – finally surrendered after hiding for two weeks in Metro Manila. And she demanded that she surrender to no one but the president. President Benigno Aquino III, instead of ordering those who met with Napoles to immediately arrest her and remand her to the custody of the police, waited for her at Malacañang, talked with her, then went out of his way to go to Camp Crame ahead of her to ensure her safety. Napoles was then taken to Camp Crame in a car accompanied by Lacierda, as well as other Cabinet officials.

What for? Don’t they have anything better to do with their time?

Is that the job of the president? When the president was criticized for not being visible when the southwest monsoon was battering the country with heavy rains causing floods last year, Malacañang reasoned out that the president does not meddle with tasks that are rightfully assigned to government officials. When he was not visible again during the first days of the recent disaster brought about by monsoon rains again, Malacañang did not bother to explain. But during the surrender and remanding to custody of Napoles, the president was visibly on top of the situation.

What debt of gratitude does Napoles have over the president that he would go out of his way, in the middle of the night, to make sure that she is safe and secure? He, who is wont to lash out angrily at the corruption prevalent during the previous administration, suddenly felt the need to show an act of kindness to someone accused of plundering the nation in cahoots with government officials and lawmakers? Besides, isn’t the headquarters of the Philippine National Police one of the most tightly-guarded place in the country?

What message is the president’s action sending to big-time crooks in and out of government? They could claim taxpayers’ money as their own and plunder the nation, and when they are caught red-handed, they could demand to surrender only to the president, have a 10-minute private talk with him, and be rest assured that the president will do everything within his power to make them safe and secure. Oh, and they could even be offered immunity by being a state witness.

And now, Napoles, who the government claims is not getting any special treatment, has been reportedly transferred to the Makati City jail but in her own air conditioned room with a sofa, desk, and her own toilet. She was even assured of added security 24/7. These amenities are being provided to her while ordinary detainees are crammed in jam-packed cells all over the country. This not-so-special treatment being accorded her defies logic.

There is a term for what the government’s actions with regards the pork barrel and Napoles breed: impunity.

When pressed for an explanation, Lacierda said that if the president met with Murad [MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim] in Malacañang, what is wrong with meeting with Napoles? Twisted logic once again.

Murad is not a criminal. Murad is the chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is fighting for the right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro people. What Lacierda said is an insult to Murad, the MILF and the Bangsamoro people.

There is no logic and consistency to the actions of the Aquino administration. President Aquino, who was propelled to Malacañang on a campaign platform of good governance and the daang matuwid appears to be coddling someone accused of corruption and plunder while leaving whistleblowers in the cold.

All these show that the campaign against corruption and the pork barrel and other discretionary and un-programmed funds does not end with the August 26 Luneta protest activity. A lot more protest activities and political pressure from the people are required to force the hand of government.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pissing on the party-list

April 17, 2013
The Manila Times

What is painfully true about the party-list system is that what it stands for, what it is truly about, is clear to most all of us, and yet—and yet—we decide to read between the lines, we demand that words like marginalized, and underrepresented, mean more than they should. We also mess with the idea of representation.

Mikey Arroyo, former congressman, now running under party list.

Because in whose crazy head does it make sense that Mikey Arroyo, former congressman, could stand as security guard representative in Congress? In what world can someone like convicted rapist Romeo Jalosjos run as representative of those who have been falsely accused? This is a former congressman who was convicted on two counts of statutory rape and six counts of acts of lasciviousness.

And remember Jovito Palparan, he of Oplan Bantay Laya fame? He is responsible for the disappeared activists and extra-judicial killings from 2004-2010. He who says he is innocent of the murders and disappearances, even as he is in hiding and on the run, refusing to prove his innocence.

In whose crazy head does it make sense that these three men are running as party-list representatives? In whose head does it make sense that those serving time in Muntinlupa on a false conviction must warrant congressional representation? In whose head would Palparan’ Bantay—“a union of pro-democracy advocates committed to save the Philippine Republic against communist terrorism”—be a valid party-list organization that deserves a seat in Congress?

In whose stupid head?

Welcome the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn the Comelec’s disqualification of 52 organizations wanting to run for party-list seats.

Welcome a Supreme Court for which it makes absolute sense that someone like Palparan, someone like Jalosjos, someone like Mikey Arroyo, might vie for a party-list seat.

Welcome a Supreme Court that has effectively put these three men in Congress.

Because that is what it has done, and right there is the Supreme Court’s and Comelec’s—the party-list system’s – crisis. These guys are shoo-ins and that’s not because they are worthy of those Congress seats; it’s because they are in a position to already get these seats, they are already part of the political machinery that will ascertain for them these wins.

The Supreme Court’s new guidelines for the party-list elections has effectively allowed for every rich mainstream powerful politician and political party to take on seats in Congress, as if those halls weren’t already full with the cohorts and every-other-tuta of political dynasties and Malacañang itself.

But of course we’re in denial, and we’d rather spin this with a dash of democracy, some Constitutional gobbledygook, too. Louie Guia of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections asserts that “This new ruling is more in line with the 1987 Constitution. If the intent of the Constitution was for the party-list system to be sectoral representation, it should have said so. Instead, the Constitution says the party-list system is for proportional representation. “

Which of course begs the question: how in the world would an anti-communist organization like Bantay be about proportional representation? Palparan, as its representative already holds power, member of the military as he is. And no matter that he is in hiding, Palparan trained his people well, with the likes of Col. Ricardo Visaya who has been able to place towns in Legazpi City in Bicol under close AFP watch. Certainly Col. Visaya is already doing what Bantay promises to do?

Certainly, the Visayas and Palparans should not be given a congressional seat to continue doing what they do: that is, sow fear in communities and make everyone collateral damage in the task of red baiting?

Certainly an organization like this, which is nothing but advocacy, one that can only be premised on the violence of Palparan, cannot be about proportional representation?

And what of Jalosjos? Convicted of the rape of an 11-year-old girl, how can he even be allowed to represent the cause of the falsely accused who are doing their time in jail? How can he be representative of innocence, when he’s been convicted of his crime? And what exactly is an organization like this one supposed to be doing in Congress, when it seeks to do nothing but support the cause of those who are innocent-but-jailed? And how, pray tell, would Jalosjos’ presence—questionable as it is—mean proportional representation?

And then we ask: proportional to what exactly? Because if the goal is to try and create a balance between the powerful political families that riddle our local governments and our Congress, then why would Jalosjos, Palparan and Arroyo be about creating proportion?

Justice Marvic Leonen meanwhile asserts that this will make the party-list system more inclusive, as it allows those with advocacies and causes to vie for a Congress seat. Well, I am all of inclusivity, but why allow the powerful and moneyed, those groups that already have the support of say, PNoy’s Liberal Party, to make a mockery of the party-list and its task of creating proportion by engaging the marginalized and underrepresented in the task of lawmaking?

Also there is this: how does allowing these causes and advocacies create proportion? Causes and advocacies are such because they are generally taken on by those who have the time and money for them. They are also already generally the moneyed class, the ones who are already represented by the larger political parties.

In effect, Leonen is saying that by virtue of inclusivity, party-list organizations need not be about a sector that has yet to have representation. He is saying that every cause, including the task of ridding this side of the world of communists, deserves a seat in Congress. He is saying that this cause that has killed and disappeared members of left organizations, deserves a seat in Congress.

He is saying that this is but equal to organizations that actually have a constituency, one that is made up of the members of the particular sector each organization seeks to represent. He is saying that it doesn’t matter anymore whether these organizations are for and of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, because every Tom, Dick, Harry, every Arroyo, Jalosjos, Palparan, can find a cause and run for party-list.    

This of course includes, oh I don’t know, business owners who decide to band together and protect their interests. Interests that are already mostly protected by this political system, if not interests that ultimately oppress those who are truly economically and politically marginalized. And no, this is not about whether or not a sector is “poor.” It’s to insist that a sector has to be underrepresented in government and mainstream society, and the needs of its members silenced by the big shot machinery of the moneyed and powerful.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was Treasurer of ACT Teachers Party-list when the organization first ran (and won) for Congress in 2010. The time I spent as a member of this organization was time spent reckoning with the little that I knew of the plight of our public school teachers, hailed as important, but never appreciated enough. The time spent was crucial to my sense of why the party-list system can work: here, there is a chance at change from within, there is a possibility of working for the protection of a sector that would otherwise be considered irrelevant, or unimportant, or just not worth listening to.

The party-list, to me, was always a beautiful thing, because it allowed for the likes of Satur Ocampo and Liza Masa and the late Ka Bel, to be in Congress, to engage in its travesties, and ultimately to reveal to us an alternative to the existing system, and the possibilities that navigating the system bring. It shows us how engaging with government through the party-list system need not mean selling out to, and becoming mere puppets of, the larger political parties.

But here we are, 15 years since the 1998 elections when we first worked with the party-list system, and here is government and the Supreme Court pissing on it.

We, meanwhile, refuse to engage in this discussion. Maybe we think it small compared to say, the issues of political dynasties and faulty PCOS machines. Maybe we think the way Retired Justice now Vicente Mendoza thinks, where he asserts that if existing party-list organizations of the past nine years have yet to gain political strength, then this means they are “weak and not chosen by the people to represent them.”

On the contrary, the fact that these party-list organizations with constituency and membership, have yet to go beyond Congress, is telling of the real condition of our national politics. You do not become a large political party, you do not gain political strength, when you are truly and really an organization that is about representing the marginalized and underrepresented. You create alliances, yes, but you do not sell out to the President’s political party. Neither do you merely watch as the Supreme Court messes with the Constitution in order to put the powerful in the party-list.

That’s pissing on what it means. That’s pissing—bright yellow—on what the party-list stands for.