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, November 30, 2005

No end in sight

THE military says the ongoing rampage by communist rebels is in line with Jose Ma. Sison’s directive to step up attacks as the Left’s contribution to the campaign to oust Gloria Arroyo.

That’s no news, of course, as Sison’s directives are openly posted at the website of the National Democratic Front. There is that sly attempt by the military to lump together the basically middle class campaign to oust Arroyo and the communist rebellion. But objectively, the military is right. There is a commonality in the aim and there might even be organizational links between the underground and the open campaign to bring down the Arroyo administration.

But assuming that the military is right, what has that political analysis – however correct - got to do with the business of fighting the rebels on the ground?

The AFP last week directed field commanders to wrest the initiative from the rebels. We understand wresting the initiative to mean that government forces will henceforth bring the fight to the rebels, instead of merely fending off raids and ambuscades.

It isn’t happening. Most of the latest skirmishes were initiated by the rebels and the military was again just reacting to the attacks.

That’s the nature of a guerrilla war, Lt. Gen. Samuel Bagasin, AFP deputy chief of staff, said. The tactical initiative is almost always with the rebels.

But no matter, Bagasin said. The rebels in time will get exhausted. They are losing fighters. Their supplies are being depleted. They are running out of money. The attacks will subside.

Government forces, on the other hand, have a steady flow of replacements from the recruitment and training pipeline. They are not about to run out of bullets; the government, after all, has the Bataan arsenal. Money? Proceeds from rebel extortion are a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s tax collection.

Government forces will be back on top of the situation in no time.

The flaw in the argument? It’s the tacit admission that the war against the rebels cannot be won. After this wave of tactical offensives, the exhausted rebels will lie low for a while. They will consolidate their forces in preparation for the next wave of offensives. And the cycle goes on.

Call us pessimistic. But the insurgency has been going on for almost two generations and the end is nowhere in sight.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Beyond Garci

WE have always maintained the "Hello Garci" scandal is a closed case. The wiretapped conversations between election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and Gloria Arroyo opened the can of worms into the cheating during the 2004 elections. Subsequent inquiries by the Senate and the House yielded testimonial and documentary evidence that Garci orchestrated the systematic cheating in the South.

Garcillano finally surfaced after five months. He said he was prepared to talk, and talk he did to some mediamen during the weekend. Only to confirm that he is indeed the barefaced liar he is widely believed to be.

Consider his statement that he talked with Gloria. He said what they talked about was how to protect her votes, not how to pad them. Sounds like the Palace line? It is, down to that refusal to admit that the conversations were the very same ones caught in the wiretapped tapes.

When his story starts unraveling, as all lies must, one can expect Garcillano – again following Gloria’s line at the height of the scandal - to run for protection under the anti-wiretapping act. The conversations were tapped illegally. Ergo, he could not talk about them.

But we were frankly surprised by Garcillano’s claim he never left the country, that he had been traipsing all over Mindanao all these months for fear he might be humiliated if he appeared before the House inquiry.

That’s in direct contradiction of the information provided by Singapore that he landed in that country middle of July and immediately left for parts unknown. Does Garcillano want us to believe an impostor was the lone passenger in the executive jet that landed in Singapore?

The handlers of Garcillano must be slipping. Either that or they so hold the people’s ability to know truth from falsehood in utter contempt that they would dare peddle such brazen lies.

The Garci case, to reiterate, is closed. The challenge before the people is not how to deal with Garcillano. He can hole up in Mindanao for the rest of his life for all we care.

The challenge is how to deal with a cheating, lying and thieving government. The nation simply cannot move forward under the leadership of one who stole the presidency not once but twice over.

On the contrary, the malaise can only worsen with the continuing cover-up of the election fraud, a blow to the very heart of democracy and the rule of law.

Closure Gloria wants? She can always resign.

But if she insists on continuing to sit on the seat she stole, then the only alternative is to kick her out. There’s no other way to save this nation from perdition.


Hail the champions

(This was publsihed Monday, November 28, 2005)

LET the 23rd Southeast Asian Games begin.

For nine days, let us vicariously share in the joys and the heartaches, the defeats and the victories of the athletes from 11 nations who are participating in the biennial tournament.

Let us cheer our athletes. They wear the country’s colors; they are our representatives. Let’s us exult over every medal they win. Let’s us cry for every loss they suffer.

As hosts, let us shower the visiting athletes hospitality and friendship. We have done our best and if our preparations are not enough, our visitors will understand.

Friendship, cooperation and understanding across borders are invariably cited as the goals of international athletic meets such as the Southeast Asian Games. Perhaps.

But let’s not lose sight of the reason for being of athletic tournaments, be they a barangay affair or the Olympics. Competitions are held to determine who is the best. It is about pitting one self against the field. It is about emerging No. 1; it is about breaking records.

It is said that it is not the winning but the striving that counts. That’s only half right.

Let’s not short change the participants. They aim to win and there surely is nothing disreputable in that.

So, Viet high jumper 1st record breaker. And the champions emergent be resoundingly hailed.

A ceasefire?

‘So, let the scandal unfold. And the cheaters in the 2004 elections be resoundingly condemned.’

MALACAÑANG calls for a truce with critics during the Southeast Asian Games.

By all means, yes, let us not allow politics to mar our hosting of the games. Both sides should turn down the volume of rhetoric. Nine days, after all, is but a blip in the unfolding political drama.

But the games should not be exploited either for temporary political advantage, which is what Palace propagandists are apparently bent on doing. The call for "unity" in support of our athletes and of our role as hosts is hollow. The political division is too deep rooted and too wide to be papered over by slogans.

The "Hello Garci" scandal is heading for its denouement. The final act of the drama is likely to take place during next two weeks. The period overlaps the staging of the games. But it is wishful thinking to believe the "Hello Garci" scandal can somehow be put on "freeze" and then be allowed to proceed by pushing the "play" button.

So, let the scandal unfold. And the cheaters in the 2004 elections be resoundingly condemned.


Garci needs a good script

(This was publsihed Satruday, November 25, 2005)

THE handlers of former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano should better clean up their script for their "grand palabas." And see to it that Garci sticks to the lines they have prepared for him.

As it is, Garci is starting on the wrong foot. His lawyer has asked the Supreme Court to quash the arrest warrant issued by five committees of the House for his failure to show up before the "Hello Garci" hearings. Additionally, the lawyer asked that the P1 million reward for his arrest be lifted.

The gall of this Garcillano. He is the one who has been hiding since June 6 when Malacañang disclosed the existence of the wiretapped conversations. He "secretly" flew to Singapore and then to destinations unknown to escape being questioned by the five committees. Now, he is saying that the only reason he has not surfaced and told all on his alleged orchestration of massive cheating for Gloria Arroyo in the 2004 election is because of the arrest warrant hanging over his head.

Evidently, once a liar always a liar.

The House committee had repeatedly summoned Garcillano. He ignored the summonses for more than a month. He then flew to Singapore on July 14. It was only after his flight was reported – and eventually confirmed by Singapore authorities – did the joint committees order his arrest.

Garcillano wants to tell all? All he has to do is present himself to the House sergeant-at-arms. We are sure the House leadership can provide him accommodations comparable to what he is accustomed to. The joint committees can immediately schedule marathon hearings. The committees can dispense with him in no time.

Assuming, of course, that he would indeed be telling the truth.

Perhaps Garcillano’s wife, Gracie, gave the game away when she said her husband fears he would suffer the same fate as national security adviser Norberto Gonzales’.

So what exactly happened to Gonzales? He was invited to the Senate to shed light on the Venable lobby contract. He refused to answer key questions, citing national security concerns. The senators offered to hold an executive session. Gonzales would not budge. He was cited in contempt and placed under Senate detention.

If Garcillano would do a Gonzales, then he has good reasons to fear he would indeed be cited in contempt. Perhaps not by the original House committees which have been purged of the administration congressmen who supported the impeachment complaint against Gloria, but by the Senate committee on national defense, chaired by Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, which is looking into the involvement of four generals mentioned in the "Hello Garci" conversations.

So, to repeat, Garcillano and his handlers should better have a reasonably believable script. Representatives Ronnie Puno and Butch Pichay may be good politicians. But they’re poor fictionists.

They should tap the best. We suggest they get in touch with the writers enshrined in the Palanca Hall of Fame.

But then again we doubt the Palanca hall of famers would allow themselves to be associated with Garcillano, assuming he would be able to get hold of their cell phone numbers.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Red herring

HAYDEE Yorac must be turning in her grave. The new set of officials of the Presidential Commission on Good Government has decided to sack three of Haydee’s handpicked nominees to the board of the United Coconut Planters Bank, the trustee of the investments funded by the coconut levy.

The newly installed PCGG officials said Haydee’s nominees were mere representatives of civil society groups which claim to speak for coconut farmers. It is time, the officials said, that they were replaced by honest-to-goodness coconut farmers.

The new PCGG chairman, Camilo Sabio, is a pigmy compared to the last holder of that post, that is, Haydee, and to the first, Jovito Salonga. But by most accounts, he is a harmless old man in want of a sinecure. And that’s what should be triggering alarm bells over the last – and the most important – piece of business on the PCGG’s plate. We are referring to the coconut levy investments.

Some militant types suspect the replacement of Haydee’s nominees is meant to pave the way for Eduardo Cojuangco’s renewed control of the coconut levy investments.

They are running after a red herring.

Cojuangco’s single-minded pursuit now is to put an end to government efforts to seize the 21 percent stake in San Miguel Corp. that he claims he personally owns. In the meantime, he is busy expanding the regional reach of San Miguel.

It’s possible he might lose control of the company when the government finally sells the coco levy-funded stake of around 20 percent in San Miguel. But we’re not betting on it. The more likely scenario is that Cojuangco himself, with the help of foreign partners, would end up owning the shares when they would finally be placed on the auction block.

The coco levy investments in San Miguel are worth as much as P100 billion. Given the opportunity, we might also be sorely tempted to steal part of the money. But that’s neither here nor there. We know of only one group with greed insatiable plus the requisite capability of stealing the money.

This group has already inserted a toady into the PCGG. He is fond of seeking to impress everybody with his direct connection to a relative of a high Palace official. And we personally believe him. He is, without doubt, at the PCGG to carry out the group’s instructions.

So there it is, folks. Watch out for the old three shells and a pea trick. The $630 million recovered Marcos money disappeared in less than two years. Before we know it, that P100 billion coco levy investments would also vanish before our eyes.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Garci case is already closed

NOW we know why Gloria’s toadies have been calling for a closure to the "Hello Garci" election fraud scandal. Apparently, they have decided to bring in former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano from the cold. They are now preparing to stage a "moro-moro" where Garcillano will lead in singing paeans to the honesty and credibility of the May 24 elections in the South.

Gloria, Mike and their strategists are pushing their luck too far. They have already demonstrated to the whole world they are inveterate liars. Now, they want to cap the pyramid of lies with another lie.

Not all the affidavits in the world from election officials in Mindanao, especially in the Lanao provinces, Basilan and Sulu, can refute the mass of evidence (doctored election returns and certificates of canvass, among them) showing that Garci and his boys stole the votes for Fernando Poe Jr. and added these to Gloria’s.

These election officials were bought wholesale by Garci with money from Mike. That they have executed affidavits denying the poll rigging only means they stayed bought, and in the few cases where they did not, they are prepared to be bought.

Stealing votes for Gloria is no longer an issue. It is a proven fact. It is a closed case.

In fact, it is practically established that there was a conspiracy to steal the 2004 elections, starting with the appointment of Garcillano, leading to the doctoring of the results, and ending with the railroading of the canvassing based on the doctored certificates by Congress ("Hello, Raul;" "Hello, Francis").

There is also no denying the systematic cover-up of the election rigging and Gloria’s hand in it (the "Hello Garci" tapes). Garcillano’s disappearance at the height of the controversy with the help of Gloria’s operators is the prime evidence. The House’s decision to throw out the impeachment complaint capped the shameless efforts to hide the truth.

The closure the people are seeking is what to do with a lying, cheating and thieving president. The nation cannot move on with a leader who has utterly lost the people’s trust.

The impeachment road was blocked. Gloria is not resigning. On the contrary, Gloria is now on the offensive, dispensing with the niceties of morality and law in going after her enemies. Forget about calibrated preventive response or EO 646.

The regime has turned vicious. We fear the killing of militant leaders is just the start. Civil society and opposition leaders are likely the next target.

The closure the administration was contemplating was initially the silence of an amnesiac people. Now, it might be the peace of the grave.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A twisted way of getting even

YESTERDAY we wrote:

"The military should stop making excuses for the ambush on Saturday in Calinog town in Iloilo in which 19 soldiers were killed and 20 others were wounded. The soldiers were caught flat-footed. They paid for their mistakes. Such is war…

"All we are asking is that the military be honest in handling setbacks in the field. One can’t win all engagements. It should get even.

"If it could."

Well, we apparently opened our mouth without first engaging our brain. Hours before, the AFP had already got even. Unfortunately, the 10 fatalities in the purported "encounter" in Palo, Leyte, were apparently farmers, not New People’s Army rebels.

The military’s version was that it was tipped off about a rebel gathering. As troops approached, they were fired upon. The soldiers naturally responded in kind. When the smoke cleared after 45 minutes of "intense" firefight, nine "rebels" lay dead and five were wounded (one of whom would later die in the hospital). Nine others were captured.

The military said the troops recovered an M16 rifle, a carbine, two home-made shotguns, four cal. 38 revolvers, two handheld radios, a pair of binoculars, and "subversive" documents.

(There is no such crime as subversion after the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law, so what sort of documents, if military lawyers could tell us, are considered "subversive?")

Bayan Muna’s version is that the gathering was of farmers who were holding a vigil on the eve of their scheduled takeover of a farm being distributed under the land reform program. Bayan Muna said the vigil was open. It was even announced in Palo and neighboring towns.

Bayan Muna is not exactly our favorite party-list organization and we usually take its pronouncements with a grain of salt. But community leaders, including the Palo mayor, corroborated Bayan Muna’s claim.

It definitely looks like a massacre.

Lest we be accused of being "pusong mamon" liberals or, worse, communist coddlers, let’s make ourselves clear. We hold no sympathies for the Left. But we draw the line when soldiers kill non-combatants even if they are card-carrying – to use a Cold War term – communists.

And not simply because of moral squeamishness.

The fight against insurgency is a battle for hearts and minds (here we go again, framing our ideas in Vietnam War language). Killing non-combatants is a sure-fire recipe for further alienating the people from government. And that includes the assassination of Bayan Muna leaders and activists that seemed to have been adopted as an unofficial policy in the counter-insurgency campaign.

Ka Roger, for all his garrulousness, is right. The military, in committing atrocities such as the Palo massacre, is the most effective recruiter for the NPA.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Ottawa Convention

THE military should stop making excuses for the ambush on Saturday in Calinog town in Iloilo in which 19 soldiers were killed and 20 others were wounded. The soldiers were caught flat-footed. They paid for their mistakes. Such is war.

According to Camp Aguinaldo, the soldiers were on their way back to camp after an operation on board an Isuzu Elf open vehicle and an M-35 military truck around 8 p.m. A land mine blew up the Isuzu. The mine explosion was followed by heavy fire from pre-positioned rebels. Only darkness prevented the rebels from finishing off the soldiers.

The military is fighting a guerrilla war where the rebels have the tactical advantage in initiating hostilities, especially in staging ambushes. If the military hasn’t learned this lesson after more than three decades of fighting the communist rebels, then it’s truly hopeless.

The reaction from Camp Aguinaldo was pitiable. The brass whined about the purported violations of the Geneva Convention by the rebels in using land mines, purportedly a proscribed weapon of war. It just proves the rebels are plain terrorists, an AFP spokesman said.

How does that military bromide go? "Engage your brain first before you open your mouth," if we are not mistaken.

The Geneva Convention does not ban land mines. Perhaps the AFP spokesman was referring to the 1997 Ottawa Convention (full title is "Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction").

Pero, mali pa rin.

The Ottawa convention covers anti-personnel mines which are "designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons."

These anti-personnel mines do not discriminate between combatants and children, are inhumane and pose unimaginable social and financial costs for their disarming. An example of the proscribed mines are the bomblets indiscriminately seeded by Soviet forces in Afghanistan which even now children mistake for toys.

Anti-vehicles mines, however, are not covered by the Ottawa Convention although there are efforts to include this type when armed with sensitive fuses that explode from an unintentional or innocent act.

But let’s not belabor the point.

All we are asking is that the military be honest in handling setbacks in the field. One can’t win all engagements. It should get even.

If it could.


Monday, November 21, 2005

House members’ threat

SOME House members are threatening to do their own investigation into the pork barrel spending of senators in reaction to the ongoing Senate inquiry into the P728-million fertilizer fund diversion during the May 2004 elections.

During the hearings, Sen. Ramon Magsaysay’s committee on agriculture and food was told that at least 100 congressmen got allocations from the fertilizer fund. The money was given to NGOs, most of them non-existent, that were endorsed by the congressmen. There were no actual deliveries and in the rare cases where fertilizers were bought, the prices were from 10 to 20 times overpriced.

There was no question that the fertilizer distribution program – and the total P2 billion money for agriculture modernization in 2004, for that matter– was among the administration’s schemes to boost Gloria Arroyo’s chances during the election. It was originally thought to be along the lines of the PhilHealth card distribution. The benefits were largesse from Gloria. The recipients, mostly poor folks who were the natural constituency of Fernando Poe Jr., were supposed be swayed by the thinly disguised form of vote-buying.

While the programs were questionable, they fell under the rubric of the "equity of the incumbent." The party in power was expected to shower voters with doles. That’s how politics is.

Administration spending in 2004 elections, however, clearly went beyond the bounds of the principle of the "equity of the incumbent." As the Senate hearings show, the money was allowed to be hijacked by congressmen and local officials in exchange for their support for Arroyo.

We are not talking here of the usual practice of skimming off 20 to 25 percent of money allocated for government projects. This time, it’s wholesale thievery.

Former solicitor general Frank Chavez is right. It is plunder and the people behind the looting of the treasury deserve to rot in jail.

The House members who want to undertake their own investigation hint that the senators were also guilty of spending their pork barrel on ghost purchases. It’s possible. Nothing stands in the way of the congressmen’s investigating the senators, so they should carry out the threat.

But we have this suspicion the House members are bluffing. All they want is for the Senate to bury the can of worms. Back to the old quid pro quo.

The senators should not succumb to the threat. Unless, of course, they are as sticky-fingered as their House counterparts. Which is the only reasonable conclusion the public can make if the fertilizer fund inquiry is quietly dropped.



(This was published November 19, 2005)

MIKE Arroyo’s controversial fellow member of the Makati Rotary, former Agriculture Secretary Jocelyn "Joc Joc" Bolante, continues to ignore the invitation of the Senate committee on agriculture to the hearings on the alleged diversion of P728 million in agriculture fertilizer funds into the campaign kitty of President Arroyo.

Well, it appears he has good reasons to make himself scarce.

Witnesses have said farmers’ organizations did not receive any of the purported farm inputs. In the rare cases where there were actual purchases, the deals were outrageously overpriced.

Take the case of Eastern Samar.

In Thursday’s hearing, Antonio Salas, assistant provincial treasurer of Eastern Samar, testified that about P6.5 million of fertilizer funds under President Arroyo’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani program was released to then Gov. Clotilde Japson and Rep. Marcelino Libanan.

Salas said the amount was released sometime in April 2004 but the fertilizer was not delivered.

Salas said he then went to Jesus Agda, provincial agricultural officer, who informed him that there were no actual deliveries of fertilizers or implements to the provincial government.

Contrary to Agda’s certification, Salas told the committee, the provincial general services office, where the fertilizers were supposedly warehoused, declared that there were actual deliveries.

Salas said he would rather believe Agda’s claim of no actual delivery.

Salas further said that Akame Marketing, which had the exclusive contract to distribute the fertilizer, was non-existent. He said Akame’s telephone number – 3617527 – was listed as that of a vegetable store in Caloocan City.

Replicate Eastern Samar’s case nationwide and the conclusion is inescapable: the P728 million was stolen.

Bolante, according to the testimony of former Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, requested the money as part of the farm modernization program. He was on top of the releases, but he claims his role was purely ministerial.

Ministerial, my foot. If there’s anybody who can say with a clear conscience that his role was ministerial, that would be former Agriculture Secretary Luis "Cito" Lorenzo. It was no secret at the DA that Cito at that time deliberately distanced himself from the fertilizer distribution scheme. He knew something crooked was going on. But a false sense of loyalty to Gloria apparently prompted him to acquiesce to Joc Joc’s "special operations." So why did Cito also fly out to parts unknown when called by the Senate agricultural committee?

We don’t know the answer, but we do know that Cito, at core, is a decent man. He will surface soon enough.


Baka pagputi ng uwak at pag-itim ng tagak.


Cha-cha by the House’s lonesome

(This was published November 18, 2005)

THE House leadership is sure the proposed charter change resolution will be passed next week. It will call for the convening of Congress as a constituent assembly. The assembly can then proceed to tackle the proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution proper.

Rep. Constantino Jaraula, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments, is confident the proposed shift to the parliamentary system is as good as done. He has even come up with several scenarios for a transition, focusing on the role Gloria will play until the end of her term in 2010.

Arroyo’s first option, Jaraula said, is to finish her term as president until 2010 but with diminished powers since a prime minister will be elected to oversee the government; second, is for her to step down as president by 2007 and run as a member of the Parliament where she may make a bid to become the prime minister; and last, assume a dual role as president and prime minister until 2010.

"Plantsado" the charter change advocates say.

Wishful thinking is more like it.

It takes the two chambers of Congress to Cha-cha. After the House has passed the resolution and transmitted a copy of it to the Senate, then what? Perhaps Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, who chairs the committee on constitutional amendments, could be persuaded to sponsor a similar resolution. But given the prevailing sentiment among the senators, there is simply no way for the resolution to get the required two-thirds vote.

It is at this point where Jaraula said the House is prepared to go it alone. The House will convene and invite senators to attend a rump "joint session." Even if nobody from the Senate shows up, Jaraula said, the amendments can be pushed through by a vote of two-thirds by members of Congress.

By "members of Congress," Jaraula said, he meant the 23 senators plus the 250 or so congressmen. Under Jaraula’s interpretation, charter amendments can then be passed by 195 congressmen and submitted to a plebiscite.

Jaraula’s position seeks to stand on its head the principle of bicameralism. But with a Supreme Court under the control of the administration, who knows? More bizarre rulings such as the principle of "constructive resignation" by President Joseph Estrada have, after all, been dispensed by the Davide court.

Well, Gloria and her minions have shown they have only contempt for the laws and constitutional processes, so we suppose they could also railroad the proposed shift to the parliamentary system.

But that’s pushing their luck too far. If they tear up the 1987 Constitution, they will see soon enough that the absence of constitutional order is an open invitation to their eviction by any means.


Boils in the body politic

(This was published November 17, 2005)

WHERE’S presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye? He had been endlessly saying his principal’s battered ratings had no way to go but up. We had agreed with him. We had been saying the law of averages would in time come to Bunye’s rescue. The latest Pulse Asia survey providentially, if we may borrow a word from his principal, showed a slight improvement in Gloria’s ratings.

In the October survey, Gloria posted a net performance rating of minus 28 percent (24 percent approval against 52 percent approval). This is a 9 point improvement from July’s minus 39 percent (19 percent approval against 58 percent disapproval).

Arroyo’s net trust rating in October stood at negative 34 percent (21 percent against 55 percent distrust). This is an 8 point increase from July’s negative 42 percent (17 trust against 59 percent distrust).

Bunye should now be gloating that he had finally been proven right, that Gloria’s rating had not only arrested but, in fact, reversed.

But do the figures mean she is now secure in her position? Well, that’s what Gloria and her propagandists want us to believe. The "Hello Garci" case, they say, is closed. Time for the country to move forward.

They should take another look at the Pulse Asia survey report. Gloria’s trust and performance ratings are the worst for any president since the science of polling was introduced into these shores.

President Ferdinand Marcos’ trust rating was at 8 percent (44 percent trust and 36 percent distrust) in September 1985. President Joseph Estrada’s net approval rating at the height of the impeachment proceedings in December 2000 was 22 percent (45 percent approval against 23 percent disapproval). His trust rating was 10 percent (40 percent trust against 30 percent distrust).

We all know what eventually happened to the two.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. More so when the crown is stolen property. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Gloria has chutzpah. She even claims God is showering His blessings on the country with her as His chosen instrument.

If so, God indeed works in mysterious ways. He strengthens the peso and breathes new life into the moribund stock market. But He lets the poor become poorer and allows the cheats, the liars and the thieves to continue in power.

But we are skirting the edge of blaspheme. What He wills will be. Perhaps He is testing His people like Job and Gloria and her merry band of thieves are so much boils in the body politic.
Boils in their moral rottenness. Behold, Gloria, the "pigsa."


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A P25B pork barrel

WOULD you trust Gloria Arroyo with a blank check for P25 billion? Senators would not and they should ensure that the gargantuan "pork" is excised from the 2006 budget or realigned for other socially desirable but transparently implemented projects.

There are three programs Arroyo wants to launch where selection of projects and release of money will be completely under her discretion. These are Kilos Asenso with a proposed funding of P5 billion, Kalayaan Barangay with P3 billion, and Healing the Wounds of Edsa with P13.7 billion. The funding requirements total P23.7 billion although senators have rounded off Gloria’s pork barrel to P25 billion to include, we suppose, her traditional discretionary funds.

Budget Secretary Romulo Neri said the P5 billion Kilos Asenso fund is for counter-part funding for development projects of local government units. The P3 billion Kalayaan Barangay fund is for the rehabilitation of barangays in conflict areas. The P13.7 billion Edsa healing fund is for social services to indigents.

As Sen. Manuel Villar, chairman of the finance committee, and Senate President Frank Drilon said, these are good programs on paper. But why can’t the projects be undertaken by regular departments?

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said the Edsa healing fund is supposed to bankroll pharmacies in far-flung areas, medical care for indigents and, incongruously enough, purchases of police patrol cars. Enrile wondered how health care and police cars could remotely salve the social wounds arising from Edsa 1 and Edsa 2.

What is Gloria up to in wanting to have P25 billion in spending money for 2006?

The funds for agricultural productivity and for the repair of roads – estimated at around P4 billion in all – were shamelessly hijacked in 2004. But at least we reasonably knew where they went. There were elections in 2004 and the money was used to buy the support of congressmen and local officials. There was allegedly a systematic skimming off through overpricing, but the proceeds, again we are reasonably sure, went to the campaign kitty of Arroyo and not into the pockets of the Pidals of this administration.

Top of the head we can only think of one Arroyo initiative this year that would need that never-as-yet-seen magnitude of discretionary spending. We’re referring to the proposed constitutional changes. The proposed shift to the parliamentary system is supposed to end once and for all the legitimacy issue hounding the administration after the cheating in 2004.

The local officials are the key to delivering the "yes" votes in a referendum. The sum of P25 billion is not too expensive a price for ensuring Gloria’s continued stay in power.

That’s all there is to this P25 billion pork.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The war against rebels

THE chief of the AFP’s Visayas Command, Lt. Gen. Luisito Espinosa, recently said he was looking forward to the transfer of three Army battalions from Mindanao to his command. Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, Negros and Panay remain hotbeds of the communist insurgency and the Viscom could use some of the men currently deployed in the South.

We have a suggestion to Espinosa. Send those three battalions to Samar. They will be needed there following the DENR’s decision to lift the ban on logging by a firm owned Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile in one-third of the island’s forest reserve.

But let’s put aside discussions on the root causes of rebellion for another day and why this incompetent and corrupt Gloria administration is further fanning unrest with her utter disregard for the interest of the many.

Let’s go back to the planned redeployment of those three Army battalions. A couple of days after Espinosa’s announcement, the balloon was again up in Sulu.

Abu Sayyaf chief Khadaffy Janjalani has reportedly given the slip to the troops hunting him down in Central Mindanao. He’s back in either Basilan or Sulu. Troops were dispatched to check out the reports. They promptly ran into Abu Sayyaf fighters and secessionist rebels loyal to Nur Misuari in Sulu.

At least a score have been killed and the fighting is still going on. A day or two from now, the rebels will surely melt into the bush. The military will claim victory. And the cycle goes on.

In a way the situation in Mindanao has "stabilized" if by that the AFP meant that large-scale fighting has not taken place for about year now. But if the AFP meant that rebellion in the South has been crushed, it definitely is not the case.

The ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation is holding. But peace negotiations have also stalled. So the "stability" in Mindanao is probably just the lull before the storm.

If back-to-work national security adviser Norberto Gonzales would have his way, the Republic would hand over control of Muslim Mindanao to MILF. The troops and the equipment of Southern Command could then be divvied up among Viscom, the Northern Luzon Command and the Southern Luzon Command so they could wipe out Gonzales’ sworn enemies, the communists.

The reality is the government is going nowhere in the campaign against the communist and secessionist rebels. Worse, we have this suspicion that the ranks of the insurgents have grown under Gloria. The communist rebels are attacking military and police positions with seeming impunity.

The military and the police, meanwhile, are busy hunting "destabilizers" within their own ranks. At this very moment, combat units are twirling their thumbs in their camps in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, waiting for that "coup" that everybody sees coming.

That’s the result on the counter-insurgency front of having an administration which has utterly lost credibility and legitimacy.


From Red to terrorist bogey

(This was published November 14, 2005)

NORBERTO Gonzales, the national security adviser on-leave (is he?), last week griped that from two out of three to three out of four rallies and demonstrations are organized and led by communists.

We won’t dispute Gonzales’ figures. He is after all the national security adviser on leave. We also know where he’s coming from as head of the Partido Sosyalista Demokratiko ng Pilipinas, a rabidly anti-communist organization. And when he referred to "communists" we also know who he was talking about. He meant the leaders of militant organizations and party-list groups which he tagged as "front" organizations.

It’s like going back in time, hearing a Cabinet member talking about "front" organizations, that is, groups organized and led by communists which pretend they are otherwise. It’s like the Anti-Subversion Law has not been repealed and membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines remains a crime.

But Gonzales is not to give up because the government is losing to the communists in the "legal" struggle. He said the Anti-Subversion Law may be dead but he has an ace up his sleeve. And what is this new weapon against the communists? Why, it’s the proposed anti-terrorism law which seeks to ban "terrorist" organizations and proscribe membership in them.

Thank you, Bert. Nothing could be clearer. Since being a "communist" is no longer a crime, you want to jail suspected party members by pinning a new tag, that of being a "terrorist," on them. Neat and easy, no?

We suppose Bert could start with Satur Ocampo. Liza Maza, Etta Rosales and the rest of the left-leaning members of Congress. He could then proceed to throw into jail the leader of Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and other "terrorist front organizations." And while Bert is at it, he might as well also round up all "terrorist" sympathizers. He should also include members of the media who give succor and comfort to the enemy by glorifying "terrorists" and "terrorism."

When society would have been cleansed of "terrorists," then we suppose Filipinos would be ushered into Gloria’s Promised Land of economic prosperity, graft-free government, honest and truthful leadership and elected officials truly voted into office by the citizenry.

Pigs do fly. And Iggy Arroyo is Jose Pidal.


Inappropriate tactics

(This waspublished November 12, 2005)

That manhandling by Greenpeace campaigners by guards at the Masinloc power plant in Zambales was unfortunate. But those environmental protection campaigners should thank their lucky stars they got off with only bruises and scratches.

We have visited a few of the power plants of the National Power Corp. For the information of Greenpeace members and supporters, the guards there are prepared to shoot anybody who tries to break into highly restricted areas. That’s their job, to secure those plants. And it’s not because the Napocor management is paranoid. There are real threats to those plants.

At the Agus hydroelectric plant in Northern Mindanao, for example, a tank menacingly greets visitors. Soldiers in full combat gear complement private security guards. Secessionists have yet to mount an attack on the plant itself. But it’s not for want of trying to sabotage the island’s power supply. It so happens the plant is so heavily fortified that the rebels are reduced to toppling unprotected transmission towers.

At Angat, Pantabangan, Magat and San Roque, soldiers are permanently stationed to secure the dams and the power plants. If the dam at Angat is dynamited, the Bulacan towns downstream will be wiped out.

One might argue that sabotage of Masinloc, which runs on coal, is not as disastrous as blowing up hydroelectric plants. Perhaps, but the threat is as real.

A power plant in Batangas, which is nearer the capital, was attacked a couple of years ago by New People’s Army rebels. The raiders were able to breach two forward security layers and were repulsed only at the very door.

How much does the 600 megawatt Masinloc plant cost? At the rule of thumb of $1 million for every megawatt, that’s $600 million or around P32 billion. People get killed for entering and breaking into homes that cost an infinitesimal fraction of that. And we are not talking yet of the economic losses resulting from Masinloc’s going off line.

Greenpeace has been successful in raising awareness of environmental protection in First World countries with its members’ antics – lying down on railroad tracks to stop transport of nuclear waste, playing a dangerous game of tag with nuclear-power sea vessels, climbing smokestacks of coal plants, etc.

But could they not adapt their tactics to specific conditions of countries they are visiting?

We believe in Greenpeace’s campaign to wean the world from reliance on non-renewable and "dirty" sources of energy like petroleum and coal. But if members had done their homework, they would have known that the Philippines has one of the highest rates of power sourcing from renewable energy, specifically geothermal and hydro.

Thirty percent of the power supply to the Luzon grid is from hydro and geothermal. It’s 60 to 70 percent geothermal for the Visayas. It’s 70 percent hydro in Mindanao.

Why, in the name of environmental protection, should Greenpeace pick on us?


Friday, November 11, 2005

Shooting the messenger

Gloria Arroyo wants the media to stop covering "kangaroo courts, lynch mobs and witch hunts." Well, all right, we’ll stop covering her government, the No. 1 retailer of baseless charges.

Take the case of broadcaster Julius Babao. Gloria leaked to a columnist the tidbit that Babao shouldered the bail for a suspected terrorist. The source of the information, it turned out, was an unvalidated report from the Intelligence Service of the AFP. The ISAFP later said the evidence was circumstantial. Neither the ISAFP nor Gloria is apologizing.

Talking of witch hunts, it was Gloria who invented the word "destabilizer." Anyone who says she cheated in the last election is a destabilizer. Anyone who says she lied and continues to lie on the "Hello Garci" tapes is a destabilizer. Ditto on anyone who says she is surrounded by thieves.

Why can’t she refute the specific charges against her instead of tarring everybody – from Cory Aquino to Tito Guingona to the student marching in the streets – as destabilizers.

We will not say Gloria is paranoid in feeling the whole nation is against her. She is of sound mental health. People have had enough of her lying, cheating and thieving. The people want her out.

Unable or unwilling to grapple with the message, she now wants to shoot the messenger. Everything happening under her administration is uniformly bad. People are not safe in their homes and in the streets. Their stomachs are grumbling. They don’t have decent-paying jobs. Their children hardly learn at the schools. The sick can’t get medical attention or buy medicines. And prices of basic goods and services are steadily rising.

And when people complain, what is Gloria’s response? Well, there’s the calibrated preemptive response. There’s also Executive Order 464. Going a few months further back, she bought members of the House wholesale to dismiss the impeachment complaint against her.

She wants media to focus attention on the economy. The stock market is on a roll. The peso is strengthening against the dollar. Fine. But the Phisix and the peso-dollar rate do not exhaust the key indicators of the health of the economy.

Interest rates, for example, are on the rise. Many small and medium enterprises are on the verge of shutting down for lack of working capital, with resulting loss of jobs. And why the increase in interest rates? It is meant by the central bank to rein in galloping prices.

And so we come to crux of the matter. When prices of basic goods and services are threatening to rise by 10 percent and this is not matched by an increase in people’s income, what good economic news is Gloria talking about?

She is pitching fluff. She should not excoriate the media for not cooperating in the fraud.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

The language issue

It is well that the Department of Education has apparently not been stampeded into adopting English as the medium of instruction in the elementary grades.

All this talk about the decline in fluency in English and the resulting loss in labor competitiveness is only tangential to the real issue – which is the education of our children to provide them with competencies they will need later in life.

Gloria Arroyo some time back directed the DepEd to go back to English as the medium of instruction. Our nurses and caregivers – and even engineers and laborers - purportedly do not do well in jobs abroad because of their poor English. Only three out of a hundred applicants reportedly are accepted by call centers for the same reason.

So? Is education now limited to competence in communicating in English? And no, we’re not among those "nationalists" who would prefer that we do away with English altogether, although a good case could be made for developing a national language to promote a shared cultural identity or nationhood, if you will.

The medium of instruction debate is a pedagogical issue. Do children learn to read, write and do sums better and faster when the medium is English or Pilipino? The DepEd says their studies weigh in on the side of Pilipino. It adds that studies in other countries corroborate local findings. More telling yet, the DepEd says those taught in Pilipino in the first three years of the elementary grades learn English faster after gaining competence in the three R’s.

Sometime back, we noticed that high up in the list of countries whose students excel in mathematics is the Baltic state of Estonia. It was only in the late 1980s that the Estonians were able to partially free themselves from the Soviet-imposed Russian language. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, there was an Estonian renaissance. The Estonian language? A language based on Finno-Ugric. That didn’t prevent the Estonian schoolchildren from landing in the No. 8 spot. The Philippines? Near the bottom of the 50 or so countries surveyed.

If we have reservations over the DepEd decision to retain Pilipino as the medium of instruction in the first three years, it is again a matter of pedagogy. Studies after studies have shown that the most effective medium is the language used in the household. So why Pilipino? Why not Tausug for those who were born and raised in that dialect? Or Cebuano or Ilocano or Bicol or Ilongo?

After mastery of their first language, the kids can be taught in Pilipino and/or in English. Or in German or in Chinese, for that matter.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005


See what monkeying around with a reasonably acceptable system of wage fixing can lead to? Gloria is now trying to wiggle out of the corner she has painted herself into when she asked Congress to legislate a new round of minimum wage increases.

It all started with a lie that the wage boards cannot adjust wages within a year of the last fixing. The truth is the rules allow for adjustments during "supervening conditions such as extraordinary increase in the price of petroleum products and basic goods/services."

But, no, Gloria wanted to reprise the role of "Inang Bayan," whose heart bleeds for the poor who are now being battered by the double whammy of rising oil prices and the expanded value added tax system. Mindful, however, that businessmen and creditors are closely watching her patchy record of economic management, she wanted to protect her flanks from accusations of undermining the viability of businesses. So she dropped the hot potato on the lap of Congress.

The other day, during a meeting with businessmen, she flip-flopped in a matter of minutes. In her speech, she said a legislated wage increase is the right thing to do. In a closed-door meeting with business leaders which immediately followed, she backtracked with the explanation that all she wants is for Congress to make sure the last 8 percent pay increase ordered by the wage boards in July is complied with by employers.

Here we see again another lie being laid on top of the earlier lie.

Compliance with minimum wages is not the job of Congress. It is the Executive department’s. Congress does not have labor inspectors. The labor department does. So why fob the problem of non-compliance to legislators?

We’ll say it again. The 1988 law setting up regional wage boards - where labor and management are represented - was a big step toward keeping politics out of wage-fixing. After the passage of 17 years, what should be in the agenda is the possibility of narrowing the coverage of the minimum wage law and/or indexing pay increases to improvements in productivity.

Gloria, however, would not leave things well enough alone. She would do anything to prop up her bankrupt and illegitimate leadership. Increasing basic pay would win her the support of the restive labor sector.

Or so she hopes. The more likely outcome is she will disappoint the workers with a paltry increase while at the same time alienating business for burdening it further with additional operating cost.

Further eroding her paper-thin base of political support.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The liars are at it again

The liars in Malacañang are at it again, saying an act of Congress is needed to increase the minimum age, a measure intended to ease the effects of the price increases triggered by the new value added to tax law.

They say that after July’s increases, the regional wage boards are barred from adjusting the minimum wage until a year after. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the rules on minimum wage fixing, Section 3 (Frequency of wage order) indeed provides that "any wage order issued by the board may not be disturbed for a period of twelve (12) months from its effectivity, and no petition for wage increase shall be entertained within the said period."

But the sentence is immediately followed by one saying that "in the event, however, that supervening conditions, such as extraordinary increase in prices of petroleum products and basic goods/services (underscoring ours), demand a review of the minimum wage rates as determined by the Board and confirmed by the (National Wages and Productivity) Commission, the Board shall proceed to exercise its wage fixing function even before the expiration of the said period."

Officials conceivably claim that provision cannot be invoked because the increase in prices of petroleum products and basic goods/services is nothing "extra-ordinary." The easy counter-argument is if indeed the increase is "ordinary," then we can all wait until July 2006 for another minimum wage increase.

The advocates of a wage increase say workers income have to be protected from the seemingly endless price increases due to rising oil price and the effects of VAT (starting Nov. 1 in the case of its coverage of fuel and oil and starting Jan. 1in the case of the increase in the VAT rate from 10 to 12 percent).

Those who are against say another wage increase barely half-a-year after the last one is beyond the means of employers, especially the small ones. The biggest victim, they say, will be the very workers who will find themselves out of work if their employers retrench or close shop.

We believe the likelihood of shutdowns should give pause to demands for pay hikes. But that’s not our point.

Out beef is with wage increases mandated by Congress. We made a big step towards de-politicizing wage increases when the regional wage boards were created in 1988. The boards are equipped to do price surveys on the ground. They are in a better position to look into what employers can actually shell out without condemning them to bankruptcy. The boards – with representatives from labor and management – are flexible in making compromises.

Congress? It is vulnerable to pressure politics. For every employer-voter, there are probably 100 worker-voters. So it’s no brainer to guess what the legislators will do. It’s not their money after all.


Monday, November 07, 2005

No way to go but up?

The Pollyannas at the Palace are at it again, saying there’s no way for the economy to go but up. They base their optimism on last week’s rally in the stock market and the firming up of the peso following the implementation of the new value added tax.

There’s nothing wrong, we suppose, with Malacañang playing the tout. Confidence – both by businesses and consumers – does perk up the economy. But when rosy pronouncements collide with stark reality, the Palace is only frittering whatever remains of its credibility.

Prices of basic goods are already steeply on the rise. Economic managers keep on saying that agricultural and fishery products remain VAT-exempt, thus, there is no reason for the prices vegetables and fish to go up. They should go to the wet markets to see that their academic theories have already been empirically refuted by reality.

It takes gas to fish or to move farm products to the market. What we are seeing now is the market response to higher oil prices only. When power bills start reflecting the 10 percent VAT in a month or two, we will be seeing another round of price increases.

On Jan. 1, the 2 percentage point increase in VAT to 12 percent will kick in. That will be the killer.

Inflation was already at 8 percent before the VAT law’s implementation. We’re heading to double digit territory and any erosion in purchasing power in the neighborhood of 10 percent should already be a cause for alarm. Official figures put the number of the poor at four out of 10. A 10 percent increase in prices will push these people to the edge of destitution.

That’s the human dimension of the rise in the abstraction called the consumer price index.

Now let’s talk about business. Except for cell phones, not many products are moving nowadays. The reason is that people do not have money to spare. When their purchasing power is further eroded, they will be forced to forego even items that they have been habitually buying. Lower demand immediately translates into lower production. Real businessmen – not those brown-nosing leaders of the chambers of commerce who seem to be spending more of their time before the TV cameras than on the factory floor - are already running scared.

Let’s take it from the only people in government whose optimism is tempered with a healthy dose of realism. We mean the people at the central bank. They have already nudged up interest rates. They have said that they expect the impact of the VAT law to be fully felt by next year. They have said they are keeping an eye on inflation in line with their primary mandate of maintaining price stability. They have openly said they are prepared to further jack up rates if inflation goes out of control.

If the Bangko Sentral does that – increase rates to ease inflation – and we have a feeling it’s inescapable, then there’s no way for the economy to go but down.


What the people want is Gloria out

(This was published November 5, 2005)

Malacañang says it is up for the people to decide whether to cut short Gloria Arroyo’s term in the proposed shift to the parliamentary system in 2007. It says the proposed charter changes will be presented in a plebiscite anyway. So that’s the time the people will decide on the proposed early exit of Arroyo.

Nothing could be more misleading. Assuming the proposed amendments are passed by Congress, the changes will be presented in a plebiscite as a whole package. The people cannot say "yes" to one proposed change and "no" to another.

Assuming the transitory provisions call for the continued exercise by the president of the powers of the chief executive, leaving the prime minister as chief operating officer, then that’s it. The people will either vote "yes" to a parliamentary form with Gloria completing her term in 2010 or reject the whole package altogether.

So a graceful exit for Gloria is not the "people’s decision" as the Palace wants to make it appear. It will be the decision of the lawmakers who are pushing charter change.

This early, we know that Gloria is threatening Speaker Jose de Venecia with ouster if he insists on his proposal to let Gloria stay after 2007 only as a ceremonial head of state. De Venecia appears to have caved in. President Fidel Ramos seems to be willing to go along, although nobody is really sure he has abandoned his call for Gloria to "make the supreme sacrifice." He might have agreed to a 2007 timetable, a one-year grace from his earlier call for a 2006 transition. But Gloria as chief executive until 2010? Ramos is not likely buying.

But enough of this latest Palace effort to pull the wool over the people’s eyes. Charter change is but a ruse to distract the people from calls for Gloria’s resignation or, as the ultimate alternative, her ouster. All this purported bargaining among Gloria, Joe de V and Fidel is, when we come down right to it, a "moro-moro." The call is for Gloria to step down. When a legitimate government is installed, that’s when we can talk about the proposal to shift to a parliamentary-federal form of government.

It’s also rather funny hearing the Palace talk about what the people want. Right now, up to three out of four want her to step down. So why, if Gloria sincerely cares about what the people want, does not simply resign? She stole the 2004 election, so quitting the position she fraudulently grabbed is the fair and just solution.

But we’re talking about fairness, about justice – two words absent in the dictionary of Malacañang.


The Honasan doctrine

(This was published November 4, 2005)

The Armed Forces has expressed confidence officers and enlisted men would remain loyal to the Constitution and that any attempt to recruit them for attempts to overthrow Gloria Arroyo would fail.

Wish we were as confident.

The AFP was reacting to reports that former Sen. Gregorio Honasan is doing the rounds of field commands, offering his "National Recovery Program" as the blueprint for national salvation. This time, however, Honasan is said to be wooing company grade officers (lieutenants and captains) instead of the lieutenant colonels and colonels who formed the backbone of the military component of the 1986 Edsa People Power revolution.

The Oakwood mutiny in 2003, led by lieutenants and captains, was instigated by Honasan, if we are to believe government claims. The mutineers’ bible, again, if we are to believe government claims, was the same National Recovery Program of Honasan. So it’s plausible that indeed Honasan is anchoring whatever plans he has hatched on the participation of junior officers. This implies that Honasan has given up on the colonels who are said to have shed their idealism in their climb up the promotion ladder.

The alleged new organizational program ties in with what appears to be a new ideological tack taken by Honasan.

Let’s listen to Ernie Macahiya, spokesman of the Philippine Guardians Brotherhood. He said the current leadership crisis is but a squabble between the opposition and the administration, two factions of the same oligarchy which for long has dominated Philippine politics. He said the Guardians is not taking sides until what the people really want becomes truly manifest.

Fair warning, we say.

The opposition continues to operate under the 1986 model where the military is treated as the decisive force that will tip the balance in a political stalemate. The administration, for its part, treats the Armed Forces as praetorian guards who will protect it as a matter of loyalty to the Constitution and the chain of command. An unstated assumption is that once the leadership crisis is over one way or the other, the military will return to the barracks as what happened in 1986 and in 2001.

Now comes the Honasan doctrine which seeks to extend the meaning of the constitutional provision which says the AFP is the "protector of the people and the state." This provision is conventionally interpreted as giving the AFP the right, nay the duty, of withdrawing support from a government that has lost the trust of the people and has become their oppressor.

The Honasan "ideology," if we may call it that, posits a stalemate between two factions (the administration and the opposition) of the ruling class. In this view, the role of the military is not to take sides in the internal squabble but to rise above the fray and act in the name of the people and the nation.

The word for this, we believe, is Bonapartism, the well-spring of all contemporary justifications for military rule.

And as the nation lurches toward self-destruction under Gloria with no credible alternative from the opposition, Honasan’s vision may yet become attractive to a confused military and a despairing nation.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Gloria-Eddie-Joe trio’s new tune

The Gloria-Eddie-Joe gang is at it again, selling a fraudulent bill of goods in their "agreement" to hold elections in 2007.

In the first place there are already elections scheduled that year for all local officials, all members of the House and 12 members of the Senate. Second, the trio’s proposed shift to a parliamentary system through a charter change is not by any means a done deal. Third, Gloria is hardly assured of her continued survival in the next few months, let alone until 2007. And, fourth, it’s the height of arrogance for the three to presume they could decide the fate of this whole nation all by themselves.

Who do Gloria, Eddie and Joe think they’re fooling?

A shift to a parliamentary government and elections in 2007 are clearly intended to steal the momentum from the snowballing oust-Gloria campaign. Do the three really believe the people would forget Gloria’s cheating, lying and thieving on the promise she would only serve as ceremonial president when a parliament is in place?

What the three are afraid of are elections under the 1987 charter in 2007, assuming Gloria is still in the Palace by then. Lakas, the party of thieves, will surely be swept away from Congress and even from local positions. Goodbye, Joe. Goodbye, Eddie. People want change. And change there will be even in traditionally controlled-vote territories.

The more important question is whether the country can survive two years more of Arroyo, Ramos and De Venecia. They offer such grand solutions as a shift to a parliamentary-federal system. But the form of government is not the issue. Rather it is pure and simple governance.

Government should stop corruption. It should make people safe in their homes and in the streets. It should upgrade the quality of education. It should make doctors, hospitals and medicines available to the sick. It should build roads and bridges.

These are Pol Sci 11-level duties and responsibilities of the government. Basic concern for the good of the people is a necessary motivation for a government to undertake these tasks and a modicum of competence is a sufficient condition for these tasks to be accomplished.

But what do the people do when the government is utterly insensitive to their plight and is driven only by the imperatives of survival? When their sovereign right to choose their leaders has been subverted by wholesale buying and stealing of votes?

Given this, the people could not possibly agree to more of the same – the Gloria-Eddie-Joe triumvirate – under the new habiliment of a parliamentary-federal form of government.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Watching VAT

(Note: This was published October 31, 2005)

The imposition of VAT on power and fuel takes effect tomorrow. The effects are a straightforward 10 percent increase in power rates and a lower 7 to 8 percent increase in the prices of petroleum products because of the reduction in tariff on crude and finished products.

How the increases will translate down the line – manufacturers, distributors and retailers all use power and fuel – is not clear. Economic managers claim the increases will be manageable. Critics say government projections are way off the low side. We’ll see soon enough.

The inflation rate has already breached the 8 percent level. By any measure, an 8 percent increase in the cost of living is punishing enough. The rich can very well afford it. Even the middle class can survive with minor adjustments in the lifestyle they are accustomed to. But for the "isang kahig, isang tuka," an 8 percent increase in basic goods can mean the difference between a full and a hungry stomach.

So what can we expect with the 10 percent VAT on power and fuel? An inflation rate running to 10 percent? Let’s see how it goes in the next few months.

We have been grudgingly supporting the new VAT measure because of the very real danger that at the current level of revenue collections, the government will sink into a fiscal crisis. If failure to service obligations comes, the economy will implode for lack of credit from either domestic or foreign lenders.

But we do recognize the dangers of higher taxes. There’s the political risk. The resulting higher prices could add fuel to the already tinderbox political situation. The protest rallies against Gloria are at present limited to the organized Left and the politically conscious section of the middle class. If the truly poor join the mass protests, the country will go up in flames.

The other risk is economic. Higher prices will lead to slower demand. Consumption – bolstered by overseas workers’ remittances – is what is keeping the economy going. A slowdown in consumption will result in production cutbacks. Fears are raised this early that the VAT might backfire. An economic slowdown could lead to lower revenues despite the comprehensive VAT. So the VAT might be worse than the disease it seeks to cure.

Bills have been filed in Congress seeking to restore the VAT-exempt status of power and fuel. Let’s wait and see. But at first indication that the comprehensive VAT would drag down the economy, the legislature should act on those proposals fast.

Gloria might exercise her veto. But pigheadedness would likely give way to the imperatives of self-survival.


Value for value

(Note: This was published October 29, 2005)

Does the Palace really mean that for all of Edong Angara’s brown-nosing, all he gets is a governor’s seat in the Development Bank of the Philippines for his sidekick Mike Romero? Not even the finance portfolio that Angara has long been casting a moist eye on? How much cheaper could one get?

Say what you will about Gloria Arroyo, the transactional president, but she knows value. Angara’s Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino is not worth the paper its Comelec accreditation as a political party is printed on, so all he gets from Gloria is crumbs.

But seen from the point of view of Angara, he is already ahead with one foot inside the administration. At least he has a future (or so he believes) in Gloria’s so-called government of national unity and none at all with the opposition.

So what else can Angara and his boys look forward to?

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita has helpfully provided a listing: There are posts in the Boracay Board, in the agencies under the supervision of the Philippine Coconut Authority, in the Coconut Industry Investment Fund, in the United Coconut Planters Bank, in the Food Terminal Inc., in the reorganized Asset Privatization Trust, etc.

Pretty slim pickings, but old pols with no influence can’t be choosers. Not even when the post offered is purely for show and without a single peso in appropriation. The "Boracay Board," for example, is a non-existent agency. What is in place is the Boracay Eminent Persons Group, which as of last count has only Fred Elizalde and Inigo Zobel as members. Rubbing elbows with an Elizalde and a Zobel might be some people’s cup of tea, but we don’t see how that fits with establishing a government of national unity to end the leadership crisis.

What is more interesting than the paltry offers of Gloria is the mind-set of the people who cooked them up. Do they seriously believe opposition leaders would turn their back to the people’s call for her resignation in exchange for such sinecures? And do they really believe they can buy Gloria’s survival with such inconsequential appointments?

If they do, they are more deluded than we think. The issue is Gloria’s legitimacy after stealing the 2004 elections and the continuing cover-up. Eighty percent of the people want her out.

To cling to power, she has prostituted the House, tried to castrate the oversight powers of the Senate, made herself hostage to the police and the military, gutted her very own Cabinet, undermined professionalism in the civil service and, the worst, assaulted the civil liberties of the citizenry.

She wants to buy unity, there is only one currency: the presidency. She stole it, she should return it.