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.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pera, pulitika, at eleksyon: Comelec lays down rules

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism  
January 16, 2013

THE ELECTION campaign period is on and in the nick of time, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has spelled out in no uncertain terms the rules of the game on election spending and donations for all candidates, political parties, service contractors, election personnel, and voters.

Campaign finance has always been a muddled issue in these parts, the laws observed largely in the breach. Except for a few thousand pesos of finest hat had been imposed on a handful, not a single candidate, party leader or voter had been jailed for the most gross and the most willful violations.

On Jan. 16, 2013, the Comelec en banc issued Resolution No. 9616, or the General Instructions for the Implementation of Campaign Finance Laws, as well as the relevant provisions of the Omnibus Election Code and The Fair Elections Act.


Model politician: An austere life for Uruguay’s president

Here is a politician who walks the talk.

Excerpted from early January's The New York Times...

The New York Times
January 4, 2013

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Some world leaders live in palaces. Some enjoy perks like having a discreet butler, a fleet of yachts or a wine cellar with vintage Champagnes.

Then there is José Mujica, the former guerrilla who is Uruguay’s president. He lives in a run-down house on Montevideo’s outskirts with no servants at all. His security detail: two plainclothes officers parked on a dirt road. In a deliberate statement to this cattle-exporting nation of 3.3 million people,

Mr. Mujica, 77, shunned the opulent Suárez y Reyes presidential mansion, with its staff of 42, remaining instead in the home where he and his wife have lived for years, on a plot of land where they grow chrysanthemums for sale in local markets.