Philippine Commentaries

Read Malaya's daily commentaries on economic and political developments that shape Philippine society. Veteran Filipino journalist Joy C. de los Reyes is the paper's editor-in-chief of Malaya, an independent daily newspaper in the Philippines. To visit Malaya's website, just click the Malaya link below.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Targeting the judiciary?

Rep. Satur Ocampo had a court order allowing his departure last weekend for Geneva where he was scheduled to give a briefing to an Inter-Parliamentary Union-sponsored meeting on the mounting human rights abuses under the Arroyo administration. Ocampo, however, was held at the airport on the strength of a hold-order issued by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. He was allowed to leave only after arguing it out with Gonzalez and presidential chief of staff Mike Defensor.

But before he was allowed to board his plane, Ocampo had to execute an affidavit that while in Geneva he would not engage in acts that violate Swiss and Philippine laws. What sort of undertaking was this? And what was its worth as a commitment? Did Gonzalez and Defensor really believe Ocampo was going to Geneva to commit illegal acts?

It was probably meant as a face saver for Gonzalez , but it only highlighted his seeming penchant to thumb his nose at the judiciary.

An information for rebellion has indeed been filed by Gonzalez’ prosecutors against Ocampo and the four other members of the Batasan 5. But if the court had already determined that Ocampo was not a flight risk by giving its consent to the trip, by what right did Gonzalez second-guess the judge?

More, the Supreme Court has ordered that the preliminary investigation of the rebellion charges be stopped pending its action on the Batasan 5’s claim that the investigation was arbitrary and the prosecution panel was biased.

While the Supreme Court ruling came after the fact – the DOJ had completed the investigation and had filed the charges – a more respectful justice secretary would have instructed his prosecutors to bow to the high tribunal’s wisdom.

Gonzalez, however, chose to contest the SC’s ruling, saying there was nothing to restrain because the charges had already been filed.

What arrogance.

Gonzalez has been striking out at trial judges who have ruled against the DOJ. Remember the intimidation that prompted the original judge in the rebellion case against the Batasan 5 to inhibit herself from the case?

Is it now the administration’s game plan to bring the judiciary to heel?

The Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional the edicts of this administration that seek to clothe itself with authoritarian powers. It has shown itself to be a bastion of the people’s rights and civil liberties.

In the mind of administration, this apparently makes the judiciary fair target for demolition.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Gloria’s ‘pasalubong’

We were against the re-imposition of the death penalty. The law repealing that barbarity is much welcome. But its signing on the eve of Gloria Arroyo’s trip to Vatican for a meeting with Pope Benedict smacks of hypocrisy.

Gloria’s propagandists want us to believe her action sprung from a deeply held moral position. They say she is a devout Catholic and was following the Church’s teaching against the taking of life. If so, how come she stood prominently among those calling for the execution of the sentence on Leo Echegaray, the first to be put to sleep after the restoration of the death penalty?

For moral compass, Gloria apparently has a weather vane.

There’s a joke going around. Gloria junked judicially imposed death penalty. In its stead she has substituted extra-judicial killing of suspected rebels, their sympathizers and critics of her bankrupt regime.

Well, if nothing else Gloria is a master of the game. Give her two shells and a pea and she’ll make the bean appear inside one or the other faster than one can say "Hello Garci."

Fortunately, people have wised up to her con trick. Her outward pietism cannot hide her amorality. She is obsessed with power. How to retain it is ruling principle of her administration. She would lie and cheat without regard to the law, morality, custom or tradition.

Did we say she is amoral? Amorality, by most ethical codes, is the same as outright immorality.
Gloria wanted to make the repeal of the death penalty as some form of "pasalubong" to Pope Benedict. It’s her calculus for gains and losses that is again at work. The bishops are again restive. Her studied act of being the Church’s obedient daughter is meant to temper the growing opposition among the bishops to her viciously manipulative government.

Benedict, as a sovereign in his own right, will no doubt welcome her and her oversized traveling circus with utmost courtesy. But the Pope is no fool. His personal envoy, papal nuncio Fernando Filoni, recently defended the bishops from accusations of meddling in temporal concerns hurled by Gloria’s lapdogs.

Cheating in the 2004 election. Stealing of taxpayers’ money. Repression of dissent. Killing of critics. Manipulation of the people in order to amend the charter. These are moral concerns that bishops cannot be silent about. The Pope is not about to tell the bishops to do otherwise.

"Pasalubong" or not.

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On with the impeachment complaint

(This was published Monday, June 26, 2006)

The opposition will file today, the end of the one-year ban, a second impeachment against President Arroyo.

Opposition leaders hope public pressure on House members as the 2007 election approaches will succeed in collecting the 79 signatures needed to send the complaint directly to the Senate for trial. Gloria’s allies, on the other hand, are more determined than ever to junk the complaint. An administration victory is the more likely outcome. This should not, however, deter the opposition from pursuing the complaint. On the contrary, the opposition should pursue the case with renewed vigor, if only to further expose the bankruptcy of this administration.

The accusations against Gloria are culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

The nation has not seen such a concerted attack on the Constitution – calibrated preemptive response, Executive Order 464, Proclamation 1017 and the unspoken policy of killing dissenters – since martial law. If Gloria is not stopped, the nation will wake up one day with democratic institutions in ruins and people’s freedoms and liberties just a memory.

It’s also time the stealing of the 2004 election and the use of taxpayers’ money to frustrate the people’s sovereign will be revisited. The "Hello Garci" tapes scandal has yet to find closure. The use of government funds, of which the fertilizer fund scam was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg, has been amply documented. These two acts alone are sufficient to impeach Gloria for betrayal of public trust.

Gloria’s allies are vociferous in maintaining that impeachment is a political act. They interpret this to mean that however damning the evidence against Gloria is, the primary consideration is their stay in power. Gloria goes, they also go. Ergo, they should junk the impeachment complaint as a matter of survival.

Fine with us. Gloria and her allies want to reduce impeachment, the constitutionally enshrined procedure for unseating a president, into a sheer exercise of power without regard to truth and justice, it’s their lookout.

That’s the reason we believe pursuing the complaint even with the certainty of its defeat by members of the party of thieves is a valuable exercise.

The ways to ousting a president is not limited to impeachment. The people should start looking at other options.

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Militarism in Bulacan

(This was published Satruday, June 24, 2006)

Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, chief of the 7th Infantry Division, has accused Bulacan Gov. Josie de la Cruz of being uncooperative in his "all-out" war against the communist rebels. It just shows once again how the militarist mind is incapable of grasping the multi-dimensional character of the rebellion.

Leaving aside the morality of killing non-combatants, and considering pragmatic considerations alone, we are sure Palparan, who we understand is retiring this year, will long be remembered as the general who single-handedly provided fuel to the insurgency in Bulacan that was already showing signs of simmering down.

Palparan’s attacks on De la Cruz apparently were triggered by a recent manifesto denouncing the extra-judicial killings of suspected rebels, the intimidation of suspected sympathizers and the food blockades on whole communities in areas where rebels operate.

Heading the list of signatories was De la Cruz. She was joined, moreover, by a virtual who’s who of Bulacan society – representatives to the House, mayors, bishops and civil society leaders. Probably not since the Spanish colonial period has the principalia of this prosperous province banded together to denounce the abuses of the armed organs of the state.

We do not have an intimate knowledge about this province north of Manila. But we have been hearing about De la Cruz and the stories uniformly tell of her single-minded focus on improving agriculture and promoting manufacturing in order to generate jobs and raise incomes.

The provincial government’s investments in physical and human infrastructure are paying off. Business, especially medium and small scale, is booming. Big projects are slower in coming, but this is mainly due to the delay in opening the eastern Central Luzon transport corridor.

De la Cruz and the Bulacan political leaders are by all accounts doing quite well in seeking to eliminate the root causes of insurgency. The efforts perhaps are not as dramatic as shooting suspected rebel leaders in broad daylight. But improving the lot of the people is the only viable way to ending the insurgency.

De la Cruz is an ally of Gloria Arroyo. The governor’s appeals to rein in Palparan, however, have fallen on deaf ears. One more proof the militarists have captured Malacañang.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Penalizing the victim

Taxes are expenses. No businessman with an eye to the bottomline would hand over money to revenuers with a smile. In fact, he hires expensive lawyers and accountants to reduce his liabilities to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

The businessman who pays "revolutionary taxes" to communist rebels does so not out of sympathy to the programs of the Communist Party of the Philippines. He is clearly a victim of threat and coercion.

It is easy for Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to threaten those who pay "revolutionary" taxes to the communist rebels. His person is heavily secured by the Presidential Security Group. His property is not vulnerable to confiscation or torching.

But for a small trucker, fishpond owner, grains trader and miller, coconut or sugarcane planter, the reality of being killed or his machinery being burned in areas where the New People’s Army is active is a day-to-day reality. He would rather come across than prematurely meet his Maker or go out of business.

And it’s not only small businessmen who enter into sub rosa arrangements with NPA "tax collectors." Contractors of infrastructure projects, mining companies and transport operators pay "taxes" to the rebels. They just book the payments as expenses incurred in the ordinary course of business.

As we said business comes to an accommodation with the rebels not because of ideology or politics. They do so because business is business.

Consider the two telecommunication companies who dominate the cellular telephony business. One’s cell sites located in the countryside are blasted with regularity by the rebels. The other’s sites appear immune to rebel attacks. No need to guess who’s playing footsies with the rebels.

The fact is the government cannot secure the facilities of these business outfits. They pay VAT, franchise and sundry taxes. They are hit by taxes to the extent of almost a third of their income. For all the money they are sharing with the government, the latter could not extend them adequate protection.

Taxpayers – individual and corporate – are not getting back their tax money in the form of government service.

Ermita should stop threatening businessmen who submit to NPA exaction. He should instead see that law enforcers do their job. If businessmen feel secure enough, they will stop paying to the NPA.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Itchy trigger fingers or itchy palms?

The Philippine National Police is itching to get its licks in at the communist rebels following Gloria Arroyo’s declaration of "all-out war."

"We want an active role, like conducting offensives," PNP spokesman Sr. Supt. Samuel Pagdilao said.

According to Pagdilao, the PNP has always been on a "defensive mode" toward the communist rebels. The police can act only when attacked. As a result, they have been relatively easy targets for raids which usually result in firearms being carted off by the rebels.

The zeal of the PNP is commendable. But why can’t it devote its attention to maintenance of peace and order first?

Criminality is rampant. The PNP admits as much by saying it could not perform its job well because it is undermanned and inadequately equipped. The PNP has 118,000 members securing 80 million people, for a policeman-to-population ratio of around 1:700, well below the 1:500 minimum.

The PNP even lacks basic firearms, let alone prowl cars, ships and planes to carry out its mission. Of handguns, the PNP has 100,500 in its inventory, leaving 14 percent of its men without this basic equipment.

So why should the police look for a new fight when it cannot even lick the enemy at hand?

Perhaps, it’s not a case of itchy trigger fingers, but of itchy palms? This is probably unfair to the PNP leadership but, let’s face it, the military and the police have not exactly been known for, ah, scrupulous financial accounting.

Gloria has ordered the release of P1 billion to bankroll her all-out war against the communist rebels. A total of P400 million is earmarked for the Armed Forces, P300 million for the PNP and P300 million for unspecified "developmental" projects.

We are not begrudging the PNP for seeking a fair share of the P1 billion funding. It certainly needs the money. Let’s go back to the handgun shortage. Let’s place the shortage at an even 18,000. At P30,000 a piece, the price the PNP is paying for it latest negotiated purchase, 18,000 guns already cost P540 million.

(Of long firearms, the PNP has 60,000, including those on the pipeline. That’s a shortage of 58,000. But Gloria says 100,500 handguns plus 60,000 long firearms gives a total 160,000 firearms. There is, therefore, no shortage by Gloria’s kind of arithmetic.)

Our suggestion to the PNP is to use all P300 million to buy 10,000 handguns. That still leaves an 8,000 shortage. But it has to start somewhere. The police need not raise the Red bogey to ensure each member has a sidearm.

Just waive the 10 percent "SOP," please.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Boundless delusion

If the generals can cite one example, just one, where a Maoist insurgency has been "crushed" by military means, we’ll go along with Gloria’s "all-out" war against the New People’s Army.

And before the generals jump on us, we are prepared to concede that the British defeat of the communist rebels in Malaya in the Sixties was primarily through military means. The communist rebellion in the peninsula, however, was distinctly "un-Maoist" in that it was limited to ethnic Chinese who were swimming in a decidedly hostile sea of an indigenous populace.

The defense and military establishment is making a big show of the deployment of additional troops to Central and Southern Luzon and in Bicol, considered the hotbeds of insurgency in Luzon. The ongoing negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have enabled the military to pull out a number of units from Mindanao. These are the units that are now reinforcing the two divisions operating north and south of Manila.

Here’s what we expect the NPA would do. Initially the rebels would lie low and try to avoid major engagements to preserve its forces. When the military offensive would have lost momentum, the rebels would start mounting tactical offensives while strategically maintaining a defensive posture. Meanwhile, NPA units in other areas would step up attack in an attempt to relieve the pressure on their besieged comrades.

In time, the military would exhaust itself. And everything would be back to where it started, with the communist rebellion proving its resiliency once again. And for all we know, that how far Gloria’s touted P1 billion go will go, except for the few hundred millions that will go into corrupt pockets.

The basis for our scenario? Well, it’s that 30-year-old communist party document "Specific Characteristics of Our People’s War." The mid-Seventies document spelled out the rebel strategies that would offset two major liabilities facing the rebel movement. One is the loss of the "rear base" in the form of China, the main source of logistical support in the NPA’s younger days. The other is the archipelagic character of the country which enables the military to mass its forces at a theater of its own choosing.

We have never underestimated the strategic and tactical brilliance of Jose Ma. Sison and the CPP’s senior leaders. Proof is the rebellion’s survival through the succeeding administrations of Marcos, Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo.

Lest others think we are giving too much importance to the role of leaders in the pursuit of a revolutionary war, we aren’t. We recognize that the other side of the coin is failure of governance. But that is a given. It’s a matter of which administration is better or worse. Hands down, Gloria’s wins as the most unpopular, the most incompetent among them.

And she expects to rout the rebellion in two years? What boundless delusion.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Gloria’s politics of extermination

The Wikipedia has this to say about the Left:

"In politics, left-wing, the political left or simply The Left are terms that refer to the segment of the political spectrum typically associated with any of several strains of socialism, communism, social democracy or social liberalism, and defined in contradistinction to its polar opposite, the right.

"The term originates from the French Revolution, when liberal deputies from the Third Estate generally sat to the left of the president’s chair, a habit which began in the Estates General of 1789. The nobility, members of the Second Estate, generally sat to the right. It is still the tradition in the French Assemblee Nationale for the representatives to be seated left-to-right (relative to the Assemblée president) according to their political alignment.

"As this original reference became obsolete, the meaning of the term has changed, and is now used to denote a broad variety of political philosophies and principles. In contemporary Western political discourse, the term is most often used to describe forms of socialism, social democracy, or, in the sense in which the term is understood in the United States, liberalism."

Nothing is said about the Left being a party or a movement out to overthrow the government.

We are unabashedly pro-market and deeply suspicious of the Third World conventional wisdom that the state is the prime engine of development. We would prefer the state to focus on defense, peace and order, public health, education and basic safety nets for the truly socially unfortunate. So, we suppose, that makes us rightist or conservative.

But this same belief that society is better off with each member pursuing his self interest is grounded on the primacy of the individual and tolerance of the politics of others. That’s what democracy is all about. And the freedoms guaranteed by that democracy are the very wellspring of the dynamism of a free market.

So Left, Center, Right and all shades in between are, for us, very much welcome to join in the tumultuous world of politics.

Authoritarianism of whatever form is anathema to a democratic system. So why is Gloria now declaring war on the Left with her words "the fight against the Left remains the glue that binds."

The communist rebels do not exhaust the spectrum of Leftist parties, of Leftist programs of government, of Leftist conceptions of what just society ought to be. Not all Leftists are out to overthrow the government by force of arms. Many are indeed out to overthrow Gloria (who is not the government or the state by any means) but by peaceful and legitimate means.

But we are talking political philosophy and politics of the respectable kind. Gloria is engaged in the politics of extermination of enemies.

It’s thuggery elevated to a principle of statecraft. But what could one expect from cheat, a liar and a thief?

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Monday, June 19, 2006

Victory over the NPA?

Waging war is a worn-out tactic used by discredited leaders to regain public support. Gloria Arroyo must be more desperate than we think by declaring all-out war against the communist rebels.

Right off, we can say this obvious ploy won’t work. Opposition to her illegitimate government won’t be distracted by a stepped-up counter-insurgency campaign. The rebels, moreover, will certainly be able to ride out any purely militarist approach to end this decades-old problem.

Practically all surveys show around 80 percent of the people are dissatisfied with Gloria and want her out for three reasons: Stealing the 2004 election, worsening graft and corruption, and her failure to pursue economic policies that can make a dent on the growing poverty of the masses of the people.

Peace and order probably would come as fourth on the list. Even on this score, criminality weighs more heavily in the citizenry’s mind than insurgency.

This Roman circus of "crushing" the communist rebels will only be applauded by the reactionaries in our midst, who by the way are already solidly behind her. Conceivably this is the game plan to consolidate support of the military and the traditional politicians – her remaining political base – in a form of circling the wagons.

In the best of circumstances, it takes a clear-cut national consensus revolving around a popular leader to pursue a successful anti-insurgency program. Think Magsaysay. As it is, people trust the New People’s Army more than the lying and thieving Gloria administration.

At the moment, Gloria enjoys a modicum of support in the countryside with her fabricated anti-imperial Manila stance. Unleashing the military, with its established record of abuses, will only erode this remaining marginal support for her administration.

Let’s take a look at the model for Gloria’s end-game plan against the communist rebels. In Central Luzon, Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, "the butcher," is on a rampage. This blowhard boasts of dealing crippling blows to the communist rebels. The fact: Palparan’s 7th Infantry Division has killed or captured fewer rebels than the three to four brigades operating in Northern Mindanao. That, of course, is not counting the victims of summary execution that is the signature of Palparan.

Gloris is digging her own grave. We are tempted to applaud her speeding up of her downfall. We won’t, however, succumb to the temptation. The suffering all-out war will bring to our people
we cannot accept.

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‘Low-level’ bombings

(This was published Saturday, June 17, 2006)

The recent spate of "low-level" bombings, which has been owned by the newly emerged group Tabak (Taong Bayan at Kawal), has so far been purely for show. The bombers appear to have no intention of harming people and destroying property. But how long will this state of affairs last?

The military and the police said they have already identified the people behind the attacks. They said the perpetrators do not belong to the political opposition. They have also not tagged the usual suspects, the communist rebels. So by a process of elimination, that leaves rightist groups seeking to overthrow the Arroyo administration as the suspects.

If indeed the rightists are behind the attacks, the speculation is that these bombings are an exercise meant to expose the government’s vulnerability. These are also likely meant as a subtle warning to the AFP and the PNP that two can play the game, that they are open to retaliation over the crackdown on rightist groups and their leaders.

The PNP and the AFP have said they have launched a manhunt against the perpetrators. Let’s see how this new war conducted in the shadows plays out.

The fear is that if the PNP and the AFP succeed in taking out the bombers, those who succeed in evading arrest will launch a wave of attacks that will be for real this time around.

The alternative scenario is that agents of the Arroyo administration are themselves responsible for the bombing wave to justify the declaration of a state of national emergency or even martial law.

There has been credible information coming from friends of the Palace that the hawks who now surround Gloria Arroyo are seriously entertaining the possibility of martial law. The administration’s recent efforts to suppress dissent – the calibrated preemptive response to protest rallies, Executive Order 464 and Proclamation 1017 – have all been thwarted by the Supreme Court’s striking down of their repressive provisions.

The administration, in effect, has shot all its arrows, save for the declaration of martial law.
Palace officials have denied any plan to impose martial law. The denials, however, have come from congenital liars like national security adviser Norberto Gonzales. They are, thus, less than reassuring.

Maj. Gen. Jose Angel Honrado, spokesman of the AFP, has also scoffed at the reported plan to impose martial law. He said there is no anarchy in the streets as was the case in the months leading to the imposition of martial law in 1972.

Right on cue after Honrado’s statement, the bombs started exploding.

Coincidence or design? It’s probably the latter given this administration’s desperation to stay in power.

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