Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: August 2019
Thursday, 29 August 2019 11:50

‘Eyes wide shut’ politics

“In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. All issues are political issues and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” – George Orwell, English novelist and noted language critic

SUCH unflattering Orwellian description of politics should sound off phlegmatic leaders to the kind of pervasive rottenness that eats into the fabric of our political system. But I doubt if they, save for a few exceptions, possess a collective conscience for self-abnegation that allows them to rectify or redirect their energies with a genuine regard for public service. Most would take advantage of the weak links that sustain their hold to power. Like the populace they are sworn to serve, grown weak and weary of grandstanding, sweet-talking, manipulative politicians, they remain largely apathetic to the affairs of the state, allowing “lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia”, with “eyes wide shut”, to permeate the system which has become a “self-perpetuating mockery of democracy”.

The phrase “eyes wide shut”, an oxymoron word-play, is culled from a Stanley Kubrick movie of the same title which intrigued me as applying to naïve people showing ignorance to the obvious or who persist in their beliefs with a closed mind even if being shown wrong. I thought this closedmindedness aptly describes both political leaders and electors who tenaciously hold to their positions “all the while fully aware of the perils or dubious outcome” of their manifest indifference. Traditional politicians wield power using money and patronage as magic wands to win votes despite electoral laws that prohibit the practice. They know they can skirt around the law such as campaigning or spending more than the allowed limit before the official election period. Voters choose to keep a blind eye to questions of qualifications and competence in exchange for favorable considerations such as money, jobs or medical assistance quite aware that the practice is tolerated under unenforced laws. This is an uptake of a political phenomenon known in psychology as “cognitive dissonance and backfire effect” which basically describes a theory proposed by Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist.

Cognitive Dissonance

He said that “people have an innate desire to ensure their beliefs and behavior are consistent with one another. A contradiction between these leads to internal strife which people fervently try to avoid.” Among the factors which influence the degree to which an individual experiences cognitive dissonance (inner conflict) are beliefs about self or other thoughts which are very personal tending to result in greater dissonance. “In general, the greater the dissonance, the greater the pressure there is to relieve the feelings of discomfort generated by this dissonance.” Voters being told that certain favored candidates are charged with corruption and other malfeasance would certainly have an effect on their egos and beliefs and create a resulting cognitive bias known as the “backfire effect”.

The Backfire Effect

“When faced with evidence that causes an individual to doubt their beliefs, stubbornness along with the effects of cognitive dissonance cause people to latch onto their current belief system and defend it with fervor. What is more, beyond rejecting the new evidence, the individual may then go on to strengthen support for their belief system. This strengthening of support is cognitive bias known as the “backfire effect.” Like turtles retreating inside their shells. Now we may have the answer on why people tend to “justify” their preferences of candidates running for elective office even if presented with overwhelming evidence of lack of ability and/or absence of adequate experience or records of wrongdoing. They would reason in effect, “these are my choices and there’s nothing you can do about it,” period.

We can’t keep our eyes wide shut to the political realities in our country. Politics is not an inherited trait that runs through our genes but rather a gradual learning process that we acquire everyday of our lives. Unconsciously, we breathe, think and act politics. The relative peace we enjoy, the opinions, proposals and decisions we and our leaders make, contribute to the propagation of democratic politics in our midst. We live in an organized society, as a group of individuals sharing common interests and values even as we compete for leadership of this group. This is what politics is all about. We can’t be close-minded keeping off the decision-making processes of our government. Our indifference and apathy may lead us to an abysmal existence like thoughtless lemmings on a consensual suicide.

We can’t close our eyes absolutely sick of glaring flaws in the political and electoral system now brazen in the extremes as for example using defective and discredited vote counting machines (VCM). Imagine winning elections through pre-programmed computer software making it harder to trace fraud. They even have the gall to call their machinations as “smart”. I daresay its non-traceability made those infernal machines acceptable to that agency considered by some as the most corrupt constitutional body in the country. PRRD promised to eradicate the system for next elections. Will the lawmakers accommodate him?

There is no “keeping off politics.” If elections are used as a benchmark, with voter turnouts averaging above 70 percent (slightly higher in presidential polls), that is over 40 million voters out of over 60 million base which have registered in 2019, it can be realistically assumed that so far as that goes, Filipinos are indeed politically wired and willing political participants who can decide, for better or worse, the future of this country. The rest may have to suffer through their stations in life with eyes pathetically wide open and mouths agape.

They say that those who neglect their social and political duties end up being governed by underlings.
Published in News
MY last two columns were devoted chiefly to the coming of age of the Deegong’s two elder children and the role they are carving for themselves in Philippine politics. Today’s column will touch on the young and the not so young who have in one way or another hogged the limelight or courted media attention the last few days. As a point of departure, I juxtapose the type of youth that I have been working with these past decade.

Centrist Democrats
My advocacies have been amply covered in my columns: federalism, parliamentary government, political reforms and some ideas on the liberalization of our economy through the principles of social market economy (SME). I wrote a book on a short history of the Centrist ideology in the country. This is not an erudite tome but intended more as a monograph or handbook for the thousands of Centrist Democrats in the country who helped found the Centrist Democratic Movement (CDM) that morphed into the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP). I somehow try to contribute to the literature on political technocracy and attempted to organize a few good men and women from various professions inculcating in them the Centrist ideology. We don’t make ideologues of these people but simply for them to “weave Centrist ideas and political technocracy into their daily lives.” All have participated and contributed to our seminars, forums and political leadership formation. A few have been privileged to go through advanced immersion in the country and abroad. Lately some just celebrated a decade of their camaraderie in a reunion in Singapore — the Konrad Adenauer School for Young Politicians (KASYP).

In parallel, we also nurtured over the years, a motley group of young to middle-aged Centrist advocates. These “cadre of true believers” are preparing themselves to be the backbone of the type of politics awaiting a new political paradigm; one critically needed if this country is to be emancipated from the perverted type of politics that has condemned us to perpetual imbalance resulting in stark poverty, corruption in government and general malaise. These men and women are biding their time. They are the Fellowship of the 300. These Centrist political technocrats are embedded in their own communities, learning, observing, teaching and engrossed in furthering their careers.

We hope that in the next decade or two, these driven young people will be in the forefront of a political paradigm shift in the country. Some of them have already started running, winning and losing in entry-level elective positions in the barangay and local governments and some occupy responsible positions in the government bureaucracy. And they are spread all over the country. I hope, they will keep the faith. (For further info access our websites www.cdpi.asia)

Presidential youth, the sycophant
Which brings me to a sampling of today’s youth. Lately, we were witness to a heavily headlined spectacle on the exploits of Ronald Cardema crying on TV, pleading his case to be seated as party-list representative. He has been disqualified (overaged) as substitute-winner of their Duterte Youth party list by the Comelec. But this ex-chairman of the National Youth Commission and the president’s man consciously whittles down and erodes PRRD’s credibility by dropping the President’s name and reminding everyone of his crucial role harnessing the youth on DU30’s campaign victories — the Deegong’s presidency and the recent midterm senatorial elections. His public histrionics and desperate accusations of alleged extortion by a Comelec official and persistence in gaming the electoral system, however, leaves a bad taste in the mouth that is now forcing a hard look at and reassessment of the party-list system, thus doing injustice to other legitimate members of the Duterte Youth. Ronald Cardema and his type may not bring to mind an exemplar of the classic Jose Rizal adage about being the hope of the fatherland.

The revolutionaries
Contrast this with “Cindy Terado alias Jill, deputy secretary of Guerilla Front, Sub-Regional Committee 2, Southern Mindanao Regional Committee of NPA (who) was killed in a firefight in Tagum City, Davao del Norte last April 15,2019” (Batang Kumintang, blog in social media). Cindy was a student of the Assumption College of Davao City and was affiliated with the Kabataan party-list, League of Filipino Students and Karapatan. All leftist organizations under the National Democratic Front (NDF). She was 28 years old. (Manila Bulletin, April 15, 2019)

Or Kimberly “Kimay” Jul Luna of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT). She joined the LFS at age 21 in 2009. She was killed in Bukidnon in another encounter. She would have been 30 years old now.

They were recruited into leftist organizations directly from schools, some joining the New People’s Army (NPA). Many are no doubt idealists and highly motivated, fighting and dying for a cause they believe in. A case is now being made by government officials who are disparaging leftist organizations for supposedly “brainwashing“ and enrolling young people into their armed cadre as cannon fodder, while their own children are either matriculated in top schools in the country or in universities abroad. An interesting article a few days back “Lifestyles of the Left and famous, and their ‘princelings’“ (TMT, Rigoberto Tiglao, Aug. 19, 2019) described the disparity between the children of ordinary people recruited into the leftist groups while the latter’s leaders have insulated their own progeny.

LGBTQ
And we have the youth that represents a fringe but recently vocal segment of our society. Gretchen Diez, a transgender woman who has assumed upon herself the burden of bringing the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues into public consciousness through social media. Accused of being a scheming person (or a sincere advocate by others), she has gotten the attention of the straight community and even squeezed in an audience with the President. This probably advantaged the Deegong most as corruption and other pressing issues were being diverted and refocused into which “comfort room“ (CR)’ is most appropriate for Gretchen and the rest of the “alphabet“ genders. The raging debate proposition is now centered on penises and vaginas: are persons with penises (gender female) allowed into the straight women’s CR? Conversely, are persons possessing vaginas (gender male) permitted in men’s CR?

The permutations are mind-boggling. Is government coming out with policies to lump the non-straight to a third neutral CR, irrespective of their intimate members still in place or penises cut off or converted or vaginas sewn in? How about those that have both their penises and vaginas intact — the hermaphrodites? Would it not be discriminatory if we don’t allow them their own CR?

With tongue in cheek, methinks that the solution could be simplified. We already generally accept and respect the existence of the non-straight and may even agitate for the passage of the Sogie law. But as far as the CR is concerned, can we not just direct the penises to the urinals and the vaginas to the water closet; and keep the two traditional CRs separate? And the hermaphrodites can choose which.

Whew! What a convoluted life our Filipino youth has precipitated!
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 21 August 2019 13:11

The son also rises

LAST week’s column touched briefly on presidential daughter Sara’s Shakespearean quandary, not exactly a Hamlet-like soliloquy as she was conversing with the charlatan “appointed son of God” on the future of the presidency and her possible role in it. This week’s is a discussion of the curious behavior of Rep. Paolo “Polong“ Duterte, and the son’s presumptions of his role in affairs of state.

Term sharing
As a backgrounder, the fight for the Congress speakership was a heated one fought over by three avowed sycophants of the President. Polong, the neophyte, expressed dismay over reports that two of the candidates, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco and Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, had agreed to a term-sharing arrangement. “If it’s term sharing they want, then let’s all have term-sharing,” the President’s son said, reprimanding his elders. Obviously, he was against such compromise and declared his own bid for the speakership. But sister Sara pricked his balloon by announcing Hugpong Ng Pagbabago’s (HNP) choice of Representative Ungab as candidate for speaker a day after younger brother declared his bid. Perhaps chastised, Polong withdrew his bid. All these came to nought as the Deegong stepped in and supported the term-sharing formula, catapulting Cayetano to the seat of power.

Congressional unifier?
It should have ended there. But Polong, buoyant in his self-appointed role, announced: “The House is divided, I might be able to help unite it…in unity there is strength. Let us show the Filipino people that we can all be united toward one common goal. This would be a first in Philippine politics…” blah, blah, blah. Thus appeared the would-be unifier of a divided Congress — a budding legend in his own mind or upon the sufferance of an indulgent Congress majority. The hardnosed politicians and old hands in Congress, used to this outburst of clichés, may have decided to play the upstart along given that he carries a formidable name. He was rewarded a deputy speakership (1 of 22), a patent sinecure for a tenderfoot.

But this is not to disparage the younger Duterte. Au contraire, I would even laud him for his chutzpah toward his congressional elders enduringly cowed by Polong’s surname inducing their collective tails between their legs. Polong’s and my path never crossed, though we were locally bred but several generations apart. But both of us are public figures; him wielding influence and power; and I, simply the power to influence — by bearing witness. I am therefore compelled to write about his assertions as my representative to the halls of the mighty, entrusted with the majesty of the law and a descendant of a president whose legacy, if nurtured well, could be a boon to the next generations he leaves behind.

Like the President, a Davaoeño, I am very concerned. Not in a hundred years since the Spanish regime has one from my birthplace been catapulted to national prominence and gifted the privilege to make such a difference in the lives of my countrymen. And he can’t afford to botch this one, despite his profane mouth and the conduct of his children. One can’t help but draw parallel lessons from the immediate past when another son, PNoy, besmirched the legacy of his mother, consequently causing those that wore yellow to be vilified as a symbol of emancipation from the abomination of the Marcos regime. The Davaoeños looking beyond the flaws of the man’s character are appreciative of DU30’s accomplishments thus far and are reluctantly proud; but we will not tolerate shortcomings from untested offspring.

Yet lately, Polong managed to intrude into the national discourse by joining the National Unity Party (NUP). The significance of this move is his attraction as a prominent son, nothing more. Consequently, 24 legislators bolted from PDP-Laban, emaciating his father’s party and making the NUP the third largest conglomerate in the House.“In a speech delivered in Taguig, Duterte criticized Paolo for switching political parties. President Duterte jokingly suggested to his son, Rep. Paolo Duterte, that he should just join the New People’s Army (NPA).” (Politico Mindanao, July 2019.)

But the greater implications and nuances of his deed utterly escapes him, that of our convoluted and dysfunctional political party system, as evidenced by his weird pronouncement: “To all other political groups out there, I am still up for adoption! If being adopted by most, if not all, political parties is to be of service to the people, then I am more than willing to join all of you…help me fulfill this task of unifying all members of Congress.”

Politically clueless
What’s with the Polong? His very act of jumping from one party to another and his invitation to be adopted by all is in itself a dramatically disuniting act. Does he even know what a political party is and its role in a democracy? Clearly, he needs basic political science 101 lessons. Taken from my blog several years back, I quote: “Political parties are the backbone of democracy in modern societies. They are primarily formed not only to contest elections and hold power in government, but they must possess an ideological core, aggregating the needs and aspirations of a diverse segment of our society. A party must write and adhere to a unique platform or vision of governance with a set of principles and strategies. This vision defines the ideological identity of that party, and members are expected to go by these principles and strategies. Voters must be given a choice as to who must govern them based on what candidates and their political parties stand for.”

What could be outrageous is he took it upon himself to be the unifying force. Can you believe that! This tyro’s main claim to fame is not his experience in governance or expertise in political technocracy but by the accident of birth and his membership in a newly minted political dynasty.

The Deegong has never shown the kind of warmth to the son as he does the daughter. Perhaps this is ingrained in the DNA of any father. In March of last year, PRRD said “…he would have his son killed if drug trafficking allegations against the younger politician were true, and that the police who carry out the hit would be protected from prosecution. ‘My orders are to kill you if you are caught, and I will protect the police who (will) kill you.’“ (Politico Mindanao and The Guardian, September 2017).

Furthermore, he intimated that “…he could only trust his daughter, Mayor Sara, but not his son Paolo, whom he described as a ‘gangster’ following his resignation as a city vice mayor at the height of the controversy that surrounded the smuggling of shabu out of the Bureau of Customs last year.”(PhilStar Global, March 2018.)

Perhaps these are words of exasperation to a son who does not measure up; yet a peculiar way for the President to express endearment and love for his children, if at all. Whatever, his children’s exploits are proving to be a serious distraction from the business of governance. And the Deegong must understand too that he must serve his extended larger family, the Filipino people. To do that, he needs to discipline his immediate one.
Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 15 August 2019 14:46

Plunder

In the deliberation regarding the restoration of the death penalty, some have suggested including plunder among the crimes punishable in the extreme.

Those suggesting this might do better recasting the law governing the crime of plunder. In recent cases, lawyers have identified a loophole in the law as it is framed that could make it very difficult to convict anyone going forward.

Plunder is a crime specific to Philippine laws. What distinguishes this particular crime is the specification of a threshold of P50 million of funds accumulated through an act or a series of acts of self-enrichment. Only public officials found to have used their office to accumulate ill-gotten wealth could be guilty of the crime.

Plunder is a serious offense. Anyone charged, with compelling evidence, of this offense cannot post bail.

Being a newly conceived crime, the commission of plunder is still in the process of definition through jurisprudence. Only a few cases have been filed so far to set clear precedents.

In the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vs. Sandiganbayan case, the Supreme Court en banc ruled that the law required that a “main plunderer” to be specifically identified in the information against the accused. The identification of the “main plunderer” is now an essential element of the crime of plunder.

Like a hub that controls all the spokes of a wheel, the Court ruled that the “main plunderer” controls all the actions that lead to the commission of plunder. As such, a private person cannot be the “main plunderer.” By extending that logic, it will be a stretch to argue a mere employee of a senior public official is the “main plunderer.”

In relation to the pork barrel scandal a few years ago, three sitting senators were charged with plunder: Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada. They were all detained for a significant period until the Supreme Court ruled (in Enrile’s case) to grant bail and (in Revilla’s case) the Sandiganbayan voted to acquit.

The acquittal of Bong Revilla was controversial. While the Sandiganbayan found insufficient basis to convict the (now reelected) senator, he was ordered to reimburse government of the amount that was supposed to have been plundered.

His chief of staff Richard Cambe was found guilty – and by the terms of the law must be considered the “main plunderer.” The conviction is under appeal.

Jinggoy Estrada expects that the decision on the Revilla case will also benefit him. In which case, his chief of staff Pauline Labayen will be left holding the bag.

Enrile, who tried but failed to regain his seat in the Senate, is out on bail. His chief of staff Gigi Reyes languishes in jail.

Napoles
The common co-accused of the three is Janet Lim Napoles. Her name has become synonymous with the scandal, having run the outfit that “processed” the pork barrel funds.

A few months ago, Estrada and Napoles filed a Demurrer to Evidence before the Sandiganbayan. The motion basically asks the court to dismiss the case because the evidence provided by the prosecution failed to prove guilt.

The Sandiganbayan rejected the motion. The new counsel for Napoles has filed a supplemental motion for reconsideration on a novel premise.

This supplemental motion argues that the case filed against both Estrada and Napoles failed to categorically name the “main plunderer”. Because of that, the case is void from the start. No amount of additional evidence the prosecution might submit will cure the deficiency.

The “main plunderer” could not be Napoles since she is a private citizen. But the information filed did not specifically name Estrada as the “main plunderer.”

This supplemental motion draws heavily from the Supreme Court ruling in the Arroyo vs. Sandiganbayan mentioned above. Arroyo won dismissal in this case because, even as the information charges ten persons with plunder, no “main plunderer” was named. As such the charges could not stand.

In the Supreme Court ruling, the “main plunderer” has to be a single individual. He or she has to be named in the information filed. In a “wheel conspiracy”, regardless of the number of persons named as co-conspirators, that single individual must be established as the “hub” controlling the entire commission of the crime.

Because plunder is a crime that only a public official can commit, the “main plunderer” could not be Napoles. She may be charged as co-conspirator, but without a “main plunderer” named, she is co-conspirator to no one. Ill-gotten wealth of at least P50 million must accrue to someone. He must be so positioned as to cause the accrual to himself.

All these might sound like legalistic hair-splitting. But the argument over definitions is important. Some of the most earth-shaking court cases have ended in a whimper, the charges dismissed on a minor technicality.

For this reason, there is a great burden on prosecutors to frame the case precisely and to provide the evidence to support the charges. In the wake of the SC ruling in the Arroyo case, it is now essential that the prosecution identify the “main plunderer” among those charged for the crime.

In failing to identify a “main plunderer” in the cases where Napoles is co-accused, there is a real possibility the charges will be dismissed. This is not mere technicality. It is an indispensable ingredient given the precedence of the SC ruling mentioned above.

We will see how the Sandiganbayan responds to this supplemental motion. It opens a novel line of argument based in previous Supreme Court rulings. It also exposes a flaw in the way the plunder law was framed.


Published in News
THE past two weeks’ op-ed pages, TV talking heads, social media blogs and comments echoed the SONA interpretations of the President’s intent or non-intent. Their critique and follow-up stories, both constructive and negative, were roughly split in two major categories — the somber and the bizarre. An example of the former dealt with the instructions by the Deegong to his subalterns in Congress to reinstate the death penalty covering crimes involving illegal drugs. The bizarre involves the President’s daughter imploring God for signs for her next political moves. But I am getting ahead of my narrative.

A cursory reading of the pros and cons were argued from the point of view of how President Duterte sits with the proponents. The DDS and fist pumpers epitomized by the newly minted senator Bato de la Rosa, architect of Duterte’s bloody campaign of the dreaded “tokhang” that resulted in thousands of deaths, will be filing a bill in Congress to reinstate the death penalty. Incongruously, he declared that as a devout Catholic, he goes through “…confession to seek forgiveness after he has killed criminals.” His doppelganger, Sen. Bong Go goes further to include “…heinous crimes such as illegal drugs and corruption… and plunder convicts.” If passed by both houses, we will soon see legal executions not seen perhaps since the French guillotine was devised. Some cynics view the reinstatement of the death penalty as simply the formalization of what DU30’s government is being accused of — extrajudicial killings (EJK).

But one anti-death penalty columnist carried the cudgels for the opposing side and argued on the “cost-benefit” of a death sentence. He posits that the appeal of the classic deterrent effect of a death sentence is not due to its severity but on the certainty and consistency of carrying out a severe punishment. Death itself does not deter crimes but when punishment comes swiftly, consistently and inexorably, then perhaps the deterrent appeal (of a death sentence) could be effective. He may be right, particularly in the Philippines where statistics bear him out. Despite years of capital punishment protocol, statistics show heinous crimes have not declined. This is attributable to the uncertainty of punishment where the rich can get away with crime, the poor don’t, and the justice system sucks.

On the other hand, the proponent of capital punishment argues in a linear manner. You kill a murderer legally so he may not kill again. You kill a rapist so he will not rape again. You kill a plunderer so he will not plunder again, ever. Period! This could be akin to a child who touches a hot oven. The punishment is instant, severe and deadly. This will deter the child from touching a hot oven ever again. Lesson learned.

This killing ethos nurtured by our President is perhaps a reflection of his success as a local executive in what was once a lawless city, a laboratory of the communist pogrom in Davao in the 1970s and 1980s; or a flaw in his character as simply a manifestation of his alpha proclivities. Therefore, I shall not pass judgment on the man as even the Catholic hierarchy has its tail between the legs when confronted by the Deegong’s public moral outrages.

Be that as it may, the arguments for and against capital punishment have been debated internationally for years. Until 1986, the Philippines had capital punishment in its statutes, but a moratorium was imposed by the Cory regime as an affirmation of the country’s Catholic heritage. In 1993, President FVR reimposed the death penalty and executions were resumed during President Erap’s time in 1999. And towards the end of President GMA’s term, Congress passed a law abolishing capital punishment. But the debate goes on and on, and this “urong-sulong” may yet take another turn, if DU30’s minions will carry the day in Congress. My take on this is somewhat altruistic. Capital punishment is a cry for society’s collective desire for revenge for a wrong done. In the olden days, this was embedded in the concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But our culture will no longer permit individual revenge — as this too is a crime if resulting in murder or death. So civilized society concocted capital punishment, translating the individual’s lust for vengeance into civil and collective catharsis.

Now back to the bizarre. One such ridiculous digression from the country’s pressing concerns is Apollo Quiboloy interviewing Sara Duterte on her political plans for 2022. Sara intimated that she was praying for guidance, allowing God a target date for His signs to appear by January 2020. Very considerate of her, yet superfluous as she was in fact already talking to the “appointed son of God.” True enough, Quiboloy has anointed her as the next president of the republic. We will either waste energy speculating on Sara’s ascendancy to the throne upon the instance of an influential charlatan and the subsequent appearance and distractions of other wannabees contesting her; or buckle down to work in the next three years advancing the tattered remains of DU30’s legacy.

I am wary about leaders consulting God publicly on their political plans. This may have been acceptable in ancient times when the Deity was believed to intervene in the affairs of men and give instructions to prophets from behind burning bushes. Certainly, it is stretching imagination too far when political leaders, as they have been wont to do during election season, trek to prayer mountains or their personal Mount Sinai to seek and receive affirmation of their political agenda.

If one recalls, in 2009, Mar Roxas was the Liberal Party’s niño bonito and was the leading presidential contender until Tita Cory with exquisite timing exited the scene. And the son, PNoy, thereafter decided to seek God’s guidance and discern what the almighty’s plans were for him. Looking back, God must have cringed at the effrontery of this heir presumptive supplicating divine aid to become president. And since “vox populi vox dei,” God must have made a mistake.

But I want us to go back to the realities at hand and what the Deegong articulately put:

“Though we cannot change the past, we will not squander the future. I will push harder in the pursuit of programs that we have started, but always within the parameters of the law. I will not merely coast along or while away my time during the remaining years of my administration. It ain’t my style. But I will not stop until I reach the finish line. Then and only then shall I call it a day.

“Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos. We have made significant strides and accomplished signal milestones as a nation in the past three years. This momentum must continue with greater fervor in the next three years and beyond.”

So, stop this prattle about Sara becoming the next president. We still have this unenviable task of making this current president become truly a president for all.
Published in LML Polettiques
THE past two weeks’ op-ed pages, TV talking heads, social media blogs and comments echoed the SONA interpretations of the President’s intent or non-intent. Their critique and follow-up stories, both constructive and negative, were roughly split in two major categories — the somber and the bizarre. An example of the former dealt with the instructions by the Deegong to his subalterns in Congress to reinstate the death penalty covering crimes involving illegal drugs. The bizarre involves the President’s daughter imploring God for signs for her next political moves. But I am getting ahead of my narrative.

A cursory reading of the pros and cons were argued from the point of view of how President Duterte sits with the proponents. The DDS and fist pumpers epitomized by the newly minted senator Bato de la Rosa, architect of Duterte’s bloody campaign of the dreaded “tokhang” that resulted in thousands of deaths, will be filing a bill in Congress to reinstate the death penalty. Incongruously, he declared that as a devout Catholic, he goes through “…confession to seek forgiveness after he has killed criminals.” His doppelganger, Sen. Bong Go goes further to include “…heinous crimes such as illegal drugs and corruption… and plunder convicts.” If passed by both houses, we will soon see legal executions not seen perhaps since the French guillotine was devised. Some cynics view the reinstatement of the death penalty as simply the formalization of what DU30’s government is being accused of — extrajudicial killings (EJK).

But one anti-death penalty columnist carried the cudgels for the opposing side and argued on the “cost-benefit” of a death sentence. He posits that the appeal of the classic deterrent effect of a death sentence is not due to its severity but on the certainty and consistency of carrying out a severe punishment. Death itself does not deter crimes but when punishment comes swiftly, consistently and inexorably, then perhaps the deterrent appeal (of a death sentence) could be effective. He may be right, particularly in the Philippines where statistics bear him out. Despite years of capital punishment protocol, statistics show heinous crimes have not declined. This is attributable to the uncertainty of punishment where the rich can get away with crime, the poor don’t, and the justice system sucks.

On the other hand, the proponent of capital punishment argues in a linear manner. You kill a murderer legally so he may not kill again. You kill a rapist so he will not rape again. You kill a plunderer so he will not plunder again, ever. Period! This could be akin to a child who touches a hot oven. The punishment is instant, severe and deadly. This will deter the child from touching a hot oven ever again. Lesson learned.

This killing ethos nurtured by our President is perhaps a reflection of his success as a local executive in what was once a lawless city, a laboratory of the communist pogrom in Davao in the 1970s and 1980s; or a flaw in his character as simply a manifestation of his alpha proclivities. Therefore, I shall not pass judgment on the man as even the Catholic hierarchy has its tail between the legs when confronted by the Deegong’s public moral outrages.

Be that as it may, the arguments for and against capital punishment have been debated internationally for years. Until 1986, the Philippines had capital punishment in its statutes, but a moratorium was imposed by the Cory regime as an affirmation of the country’s Catholic heritage. In 1993, President FVR reimposed the death penalty and executions were resumed during President Erap’s time in 1999. And towards the end of President GMA’s term, Congress passed a law abolishing capital punishment. But the debate goes on and on, and this “urong-sulong” may yet take another turn, if DU30’s minions will carry the day in Congress. My take on this is somewhat altruistic. Capital punishment is a cry for society’s collective desire for revenge for a wrong done. In the olden days, this was embedded in the concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But our culture will no longer permit individual revenge — as this too is a crime if resulting in murder or death. So civilized society concocted capital punishment, translating the individual’s lust for vengeance into civil and collective catharsis.

Now back to the bizarre. One such ridiculous digression from the country’s pressing concerns is Apollo Quiboloy interviewing Sara Duterte on her political plans for 2022. Sara intimated that she was praying for guidance, allowing God a target date for His signs to appear by January 2020. Very considerate of her, yet superfluous as she was in fact already talking to the “appointed son of God.” True enough, Quiboloy has anointed her as the next president of the republic. We will either waste energy speculating on Sara’s ascendancy to the throne upon the instance of an influential charlatan and the subsequent appearance and distractions of other wannabees contesting her; or buckle down to work in the next three years advancing the tattered remains of DU30’s legacy.

I am wary about leaders consulting God publicly on their political plans. This may have been acceptable in ancient times when the Deity was believed to intervene in the affairs of men and give instructions to prophets from behind burning bushes. Certainly, it is stretching imagination too far when political leaders, as they have been wont to do during election season, trek to prayer mountains or their personal Mount Sinai to seek and receive affirmation of their political agenda.

If one recalls, in 2009, Mar Roxas was the Liberal Party’s niño bonito and was the leading presidential contender until Tita Cory with exquisite timing exited the scene. And the son, PNoy, thereafter decided to seek God’s guidance and discern what the almighty’s plans were for him. Looking back, God must have cringed at the effrontery of this heir presumptive supplicating divine aid to become president. And since “vox populi vox dei,” God must have made a mistake.

But I want us to go back to the realities at hand and what the Deegong articulately put:

“Though we cannot change the past, we will not squander the future. I will push harder in the pursuit of programs that we have started, but always within the parameters of the law. I will not merely coast along or while away my time during the remaining years of my administration. It ain’t my style. But I will not stop until I reach the finish line. Then and only then shall I call it a day.

“Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos. We have made significant strides and accomplished signal milestones as a nation in the past three years. This momentum must continue with greater fervor in the next three years and beyond.”

So, stop this prattle about Sara becoming the next president. We still have this unenviable task of making this current president become truly a president for all.
Published in LML Polettiques
Even after he was already adopted by the National Unity Party (NUP), President Rodrigo Duterte’s son and Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte welcomed invitations from colleagues to become part of other political parties.

In a statement on Wednesday, the younger Duterte said that while he was honored to have been adopted by the NUP, he was willing to join other parties to better serve the people.

“To all other political groups out there, I am still up for adoption! If being adopted by most, if not all, political parties is to be of service to the people, then I am more than willing to join all of you,” he said.

Appointed deputy speaker for political affairs, Paolo cited invitation from colleagues from other parties that could help him fulfill his task of unifying all members of Congress.

“In unity there is strength. Let us show the Filipino people that we can all be united toward one common goal. This would be a first in Philippine politics, and it happened under the Duterte administration,” he said.

Paolo did not get a key position in the NUP as an adopted member, as the party’s leaders noted that they still have to review bylaws to consider his qualification.

He remains the president of Davao City-based Hugpong ng Tawong Lungsod, associated with the regional party Hugpong ng Pagbabago headed by his sister and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

The Davao lawmaker did not attend Tuesday’s general assembly and oath-taking ceremony for new members and officials of the emerging political bloc.

It was on the same day that speculations swirled about the looming move of members of Partido Demokratiko Pillipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) to other parties because of internal conflicts involving leadership positions in Congress.

Paolo is not a member of the 84-strong PDP-Laban, the party of the President despite it being the biggest political bloc in the House of Representatives.

Around 15 PDP-Laban congressmen have officially moved to the NUP, while some 20 more members are reportedly moving to the Nacionalista Party, the party of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

Aside from the PDP-Laban, the House party-list coalition had conducted a loyalty check to reaffirm ties with party-list representatives, as some of them have also forged alliance with the NUP.

“On Monday, the 54-member party-list coalition will submit a signed manifesto to Speaker Cayetano stating that the coalition is intact and that none of our members has joined any political parties, which by law is also not permitted,” said 1-Pacman Rep. Michael Romero, the president of the party-list bloc.

ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Nina Taduran, one of the representatives now allied with the NUP, earlier claimed that their alliance with the group does not affect their membership in the party-list bloc.

Among those who joined the NUP were ACT-CIS party-list Representatives Jocelyn Tulfo and Eric Yap; AKO-Bicol Representatives Alfredo Garbin Jr., Elizaldy Co, Angelica Co and Sonny Lagon; Dumper Rep. Claudine Bautista; Galing sa Puso Rep. Jose Padiernos; LPGMA Rep. Rodolfo Albano; Marino Rep. Carlo Lisandro Gonzales; and PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles.
Published in News
Wednesday, 07 August 2019 12:45

Without structural reforms, we are doomed

AS expected, the President’s SONA was coasting along nicely in the first 30 minutes or so. With uncharacteristic aplomb, he opened his discourse boasting of the latest survey results that showed a disapproval rating of only 3 percent, taunting Congress “sana hindi kayo included sa 3 percent.” Conversely, the high approval score, again with atypical display of humility, “…inspires me with determination to pursue relentlessly what we have started at the start of the administration….” We must give it to the President. The economy is doing well, thanks to his superb economic team. As described succinctly by Bangko Sentral Governor Diokno, “We’re doing great at this time. I describe it as ‘Goldilocks economy’ — not too hot, not too cold — just right. Strong growth, low inflation.”

Although not detailed in the SONA, the economy’s numbers are indeed admirable, growing at an annual 6 percent rate during DU30’s three-year watch. The strength and resiliency of the economy is expected to go beyond this year, barring any global economic headwinds brought about by the challenges and dislocations of the US-China brewing trade war.

Whether the economy is all-inclusive benefiting the greater mass of our people and lifting them out of stark poverty, is a subject of debate best left to the partisans of the Deegong versus the naysayers of the opposition — now lumped incongruously and misnomered as the Yellows.

But the President couldn’t help reverting to a familiar rehashing of his old song and dance number on illegal drugs, the foundation on which his killer-strongman reputation was built, while skirting the issue of human rights violations. This has demonized his international image and for someone who is hypersensitive to criticism and an avowed misogynist, it is ironic that he is now pitted against world-famous celebrities fronted by the beauteous lawyer Amal Clooney before the international courts. But the Deegong doubled down as if taunting the whole world. The man really doesn’t give a damn! His first request to Congress was the reinstatement of the death penalty for crimes covering not only prohibited drugs but corruption-related plunder and other heinous offenses. The uproar that ensued from the local Catholic Church hierarchy was echoed by the world’s liberal bleeding hearts.

It may be recalled that quite a few suspected drug lords were compelled to take a shortcut from the Deegong’s formal path through the justice system and court trials; and have been efficiently dispatched while being arrested, or worse, while incarcerated.

From this point on in his SONA, he discarded his written speech and degenerated into his rambling off-the-cuff remarks and inane ad libs that held the audience self-consciously uncomfortable with the predictable sexiest jokes. For one who just signed the Bawal Bastos law, he detracted from his narrative of cleaning and turning Boracay into a real world-class resort with a tasteless aside teasing a cabinet member on ogling the skimpily clad foreign women, and peppering his storyline with comments of his “smelly” girlfriend during a water crisis in Manila. The audience response was a half-hearted, timid and polite applause, mostly by congressmen, senators and their spouses pusillanimously tolerant of the Deegong’s breach of decorum.

Digressing from the details of the SONA, this column will now attempt to parse the implications on the big elephant in the room; the intentional lapses on his campaign promises. For one, he may have written finis to the shift to federalism and stick to the dysfunctional unitary form, which to the advocates is really the main root of the politico-economic systemic anomaly (please refer to my 4-part series July 10, 17, 24, 31, 2019). From the standpoint of the serious reformers, this could be construed both as a disaster and an opportunity. A fiasco in the sense that the President who rode on the crest of federalism as a slogan to capture power has failed to define its core concept and parameters, leaving federalism as a mere mantra with its promises still-born. But it could also be an opportunity in that the serious reformers confronted with this setback can now interject their agenda of real political reforms that must be put in place now while DU30 still rules, leading towards a Federal Republic, after he exits the scene.

In other words, the federalists, political reformers, the centrists — all advocates can best use this hiatus to refocus their energy to work with the two houses of Congress who really hold the power for legitimate change. First is for the advocates to accept DU30’s paradigm shift. Oddly enough, a few of the President’s men, particularly in the DILG, his political party and allies in the academe are second-guessing the President, refusing to take his definitive statement that “federalism will not happen during my watch.”

As I have argued in past articles, federalism is not a surgical procedure to be applied to the republic. There is the imperative to introduce the issues to the populace with clarity and shape the debate on the definitions of the federalist universe. In short, the people need to buy in as they are the true beneficiaries of the real changes these reforms towards federalism will result in. And the biggest hurdle here are the opposing forces of the partnership of the traditional politicians, the elite and the oligarchy who feed on the confusion and dislocations that ambiguous federalist reforms will entail. And these are the true enemies of change, and like the proverbial biblical outcasts, they are legion; their tentacles extend to the two houses of congress. Our Centrist Democratic (CD) position is to accelerate the demand for the revision of the 1987 Constitution, Cha-cha, and support the President to achieve the achievable within the rest of his remaining term. This is the marching orders which the DILG and the PDP-Laban, the President’s main political instruments, must adhere to.

The three-year relentless pursuit of a nebulous federalism sloganeering shunted aside the multitude of problems facing the country calling for immediate solutions. But the political components of DU30’s government is in a disarray. We see no strategy for reforms — but merely relying on coping mechanisms.

Corruption in government, his other mantra, has been so persistent and overwhelming that DU30 has succumbed to knee-jerk policy and oftentimes contradictory declarations: suspend operations of PCSO, disallow nationwide gambling, replace leadership in PhilHealth, MWSS, GSIS. Customs personnel that can’t be fired due to security of tenure are made to report to Congress. Improve and simplify services at the LTO, SSS, BIR, LRA and Pag-IBIG. “Pag hindi pa ninyo nagawa ‘yan ngayon, papatayin ko talaga kayo.” Even the threats coated in the colorful lingo of the streets that earlier had endeared him to the masses have lost their edge and have become mere platitudes, a presidential lament of exasperation and perhaps despair. DU30 and his government have so far instituted only palliatives. A permanent systemic long-term solution is imperative — the revision of the 1987 Constitution. If our leadership cannot see beyond the end of their noses, then the Deegong’s rephrasing of an American cliché is indeed applicable: “I have seen the enemy, and it is us!”
Published in LML Polettiques