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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


‘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.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Midas in reverse

The head of Military Intelligence Group 15, an Army colonel, has been relieved over the illegal arrest of five supporters of President Estrada and the torture of one of them during three days of detention that officials had initially denied. The relief is supposed to pave the way for a no-nonsense investigation.

It should be remembered, however, that the MIGs are but operating units of the Intelligence Service of the AFP. Since the rise to power of Gloria Arroyo, the ISAFP has gained notoriety of acting as Gloria’s personal Gestapo. There have been repeated outcries against the use of the agency to run after political enemies of this administration, but ISAFP has not mended its ways. Clearly the outfit has turned rotten to the core. It probably is already beyond salvage.

When Col. Victor Corpus, the Army officer-turned-NPA rebel-turned-officer, was named to head ISAFP during the early days of the Arroyo administration, he promised to re-focus its attention to tactical intelligence that would support military operations against communist rebels.

The promise, it turned out, was smoke and mirrors. At that time Corpus was already hatching up the demolition job against Sen. Ping Lacson. ISAFP produced Rosebud who went on to accuse Lacson of every syndicated crime under the sun when the latter was PNP chief.

Corpus fed a newspaper a list of alleged accounts in foreign banks of Lacson, with total deposits of up to $800 million. The list, it has been established, was a total Corpus fabrication.

The wiretappers of former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano were ISAFP operatives. That Garcillano’s conversations with Gloria were recorded was reportedly a fluke. The ISAFP men’s mission was to monitor Garci’s conversations to make sure he would not double cross his principal. It was allegedly just a small part of systematic spying on the opposition.

Then there was this raid on a house rented by an election-fraud specialist hired by losing vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda to collect evidence of fraud to support her protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

This background would show that ISAFP’s targeting of the political enemies of Arroyo is not some honest operational mistake committed by its agents or unsanctioned operations conducted by rogue elements.

The ISAFP has become a tool for persecution by this illegitimate administration. But why should we be surprised? Everything Gloria touches turns corrupt – the AFP, the PNP and the bureaucracy.

She is Midas in reverse. Everything she touches turns to dross.


Balance is needed

(This was published Wednesday, June 15, 2006)

For a young and neophyte senator, Pia Cayetano is showing a maturity that some of her media-hogging colleagues can emulate. Cayetano, chairwoman of the committee on natural resources, has rejected calls for the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995.

"Let us not be hasty because even with the consultations and the statements made by the proponents of the repeal… clearly the concern is that we do not exploit and look into the economic gain without balancing the social impact," Cayetano said during a Senate hearing on proposals to repeal the mining law.

Social impact is the word. Mining should not displace people from the land they till. It should not bring sickness or death to those living near the mines or the processing plants. It should not harm the environment.

Windfalls from sales of minerals should be shared with surrounding communities. This should be on top of the jobs created, the taxes collected by government, and the foreign exchange generated from exports.

Cayetano’s position is certainly reasonable. It stands in sharp contrast to that of anti-mining advocates who would rather let the country’s estimated $1 trillion mineral wealth remain underground even as many of our people wallow in abject poverty.

As Cayetano pointed out, a balance has to be struck between the economic gains and the potential social dislocation and environment degradation.

The other day the environment department lifted the suspension of the operation of Lafayette Mining on Rapu-Rapu island off the Bicol peninsula. Lafayette’s mine site experienced two tailings spills last year. The company has accepted responsibility for the accident and has promised to adopt additional safeguards to protect residents and the environment.

Some groups, however, demanded the shutdown of the mining site and the imposition of a moratorium on exploration and commercial production everywhere else. What sort of logic is this?

Australia, Canada and the United States are among the world’s leading mineral producers. While there certainly are kooks in these countries who want all mining activities stopped, the consensus is that there is nothing wrong with mining as long as adequate health and environmental protection safeguards are in place.

Anti-mining groups claim that the Philippines is not like Australia, Canada or the United States. Mining companies operating locally are irresponsible, enforcement of safeguards is lax, authorities are easily bribed, etc.

They have a point. But the answer lies in making the law and the rules work. If we allow fears of a catastrophe lurking at every corner to rule our lives, we might as well stay indoors. We might be struck by lightning, get run over by a truck or slip on a banana peel and hit our head on the pavement.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A most unlikely prophetess of democracy

Democracies can be lively but they must not be divisive. Many of those who shout in the streets have done nothing for this nation except foment strife and stagnation. But time will eventually expose them as false prophets whose primary platform is self-interest and national divisions." So said Gloria Arroyo in her Independence Day speech.

For one who stole the election in 2004, Gloria should be last to lecture us on democracy and the primacy of national over personal interest. She talks about a degenerate political system, but what could be more degenerate than an illegitimate government which, to cover up the original sin of robbing the people of their sovereign to choose their leader, is now subverting the Constitution with its bogus "people’s initiative" to shift to a unicameral parliamentary system?

The root cause of the current instability is the illegitimacy of Gloria’s claim to the presidency twice over. The people were prepared to let pass her usurpation of the presidency in 2001 despite President Joseph Estrada’s being alive, not having resigned and not having been impeached.

This much was recognized by Gloria during her solemn vow on Rizal Day in 2002 not to run for the presidency in 2004. She said she had been the main cause of national division, so she was removing herself from the scene.

What subsequently happened? The greed for power and self-interest prevailed. She ran, stealing and buying votes on her way to "victory."

The people were expectedly outraged. They sought the truth behind the manipulation of election results by former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano. Gloria’s minions spirited Garci out of the country to cover up the crime.

An impeachment complaint was filed. Gloria paid off her allies in the House to trash the complaint.

When the people marched in the streets to complain, she responded with the calibrated preempted response (CPR) to protest actions. When the Senate tried to pursue the investigation into the military’s role in the election cheating, she came out with EO 464 which barred senior officials from appearing before Congress.

On Feb. 24 when the nation was celebrating the 20th anniversary of Edsa 1 revolt, she unleashed Presidential Proclamation 1017 which barred rallies and demonstrations, authorized the police and the military to arrest people without warrant and threatened to shut down uncooperative media outlets.

The repressive provisions of CPR, EO 464 and PP 1017 have been struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

It’s three strikes against Gloria. But she’s still there at the plate, swinging the bat with her people’s initiative to keep herself in power. So much for her pretensions to being the prophetess of democracy.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The fool’s gold that is unity

When politicians talk about national unity, we automatically check whether we still have our wallet in our pocket. Great crimes have been committed in the name of national unity. One of these days we might just return to classical liberalism and praise pursuit of personal interest as the genuine path to human progress and prosperity.

Remember Marcos’ New Society? It sought to uplift this poverty-stricken country by its bootstraps by subsuming personal, sectoral and class interests under the singular national purpose of rapidly developing the economy. Complementary myths (the eden of pre-Spanish barangay) and ideology (revolution from the center) were erected to justify the authoritarian rule that purportedly was necessary to smash the oligarchic structures that stood in the way of national development.

The result was indeed unity in suffering among the great masses of the people, while the dictatorship and its cronies stole everything in sight.

Yesterday at the Independence Day celebrations, Gloria Arroyo was again tiresomely calling for national unity. The enemies are the divisive politicians and the destabilizers. She tagged them as the roadblocks to the march to the Enchanted Kingdom of First World status within a generation. She wants to overhaul the political system, which she has tagged as dysfunctional, through charter reforms.

But before we talk about whether a given political system promotes or retards a nation’s progress, let us point to actual cases involving specific actions.

Let us take the "obstructionism" of the Senate which is being used to justify a shift to a unicameral parliament. How was Senate "obstructionism" expressed? The Senate persisted in investigating the role of the military in the "Hello Garci" scandal. It looked into the use of the fertilizer fund to buy electoral support for Arroyo. It opposed calibrated preemptive response, EO 464 and Proclamation 1017, all three of which have been struck down by the Supreme Court.

"Obstructionism" in these cases served either to expose the lying and cheating of the Arroyo administration or to protect the rights and liberties of the people and democratic processes. If this is obstructionism, then let’s have more of it.

Could one imagine where we would be now if the Senate was "united" with Gloria? We would have the peace of the grave and the prosperity of a looted treasury.


An invitation to an execution

(This was published Monday,June 12, 2006)

The Palace is calling for unity in celebrating Independence Day. It says it’s time to end divisions and muckraking for the country to move forward. Once again the Palace is mistaking the package for the content, the form for the meaning.

Indeed Independence Day marks the formal severing of ties with the colonial power Spain and the official birth of the Filipino nation. But the war for independence whose victory was proclaimed 108 years ago in Kawit, Cavite, on June 12 was also a revolutionary war with its declared intent of gaining sovereignty for the people, securing them their fundamental rights and advancing social justice and equity.

The Filipino people were one in that historic moment in pursuing these principles. Now that the Philippines is free – nominally as this may be as some would say – can we really claim that the fundamental principles that impelled the Revolution of 1896 have been realized?

The Palace is rankly hypocritical on this score.

We have not seen such relentless assaults on people’s rights and liberties as this administration is doing since the Marcos years. The crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, the illegal and indiscriminate arrest of critics and the killing of mediamen and dissenters evoke echoes of the abuses of the guardia civil.

The attempts to destroy democratic processes and institutions rightly raise fears of a return to authoritarianism. While contemporary authoritarianism may not be equated with the absolutism of colonial rule, the effects are the same: denial of people’s sovereign right to rule themselves and suppression of human rights and civil liberties.

Gloria Arroyo stole the 2004 elections. Protests against this "heinous" crime against democracy have been met with the cracking of people’s heads and outright killings. The subsequent cover-up has been met with the demonization of institutions, principally the Senate, in search of the truth behind the cheating, stealing and lying.

As the nation celebrates Independence Day today, there are frenzied efforts to change the Constitution to ensure Gloria’s continued stay in power.

Gloria is not the tyrant that the Spanish colonial administration was. But she certainly is trying.

Now her minions are calling on us to unite behind her. Filipinos, whatever may be said about them, are not about to honor any such invitation which will mean their execution as a free and sovereign people.


Well done, Frank

(This was published Saturday June 10, 2006)

Following a gentleman’s agreement at the start of the 13th Congress, Senate President Franklin Drilon will yield the top Senate post to Sen. Manuel Villar when session resumes in July.

The transition comes at a time when the Senate’s very existence is under threat. Gloria Arroyo and her allies are moving heaven and earth to shift to a parliamentary system with a one-chamber legislature. The reason is clear. The Senate, along with the Supreme Court, has stood as a bulwark of democracy against the relentless assaults by this power-crazed administration on the people’s rights and civil liberties.

By seeking to abolish the Senate, Gloria and her minions are paying the chamber the highest compliment. We could not imagine how democracy would have survived had the Senate been as spineless as the administration-controlled House.

Drilon has provided the leadership that allowed the Senate to act as what he called the "rampart of freedom." Well done, Mr. Senate President.

Let’s hear it from Drilon:

"I have presided over the Senate during challenging times. It was during my term that some of the gravest threats to democracy arose. Sadly, those threats are not over, they are only getting worse.

"As Senate president, I did my very best to defend democracy from the plots and designs of those who have tried to harm it. I have exerted every ounce of strength to defend the Senate from those who have tried to diminish its powers or remove it for being an obstacle to authoritarian rule.

"I shall continue, in solidarity with Filipinos who believe in freedom and decency, to pursue the task of defending democracy. Ultimately, it is not the positions that people hold that lend strength to their task, it is the purity of their task that lends strength to the positions that they hold.

"Again, I am not leaving the presidency of the Senate with a heavy heart. I do so gladly in the knowledge that I could not be turning it over to a more able person. Sen. Villar’s own contributions to defending democracy, or indeed to making this country a little more livable, are well known.

"I am certain Sen. Villar will continue to maintain the Senate’s position as a rampart of freedom in this country today. I am confident he will make the Senate soar to even greater heights."

Like Drilon, we are certain that Villar will ably meet the challenge.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Petty tyrant

The petty tyrant in Malacañang just cannot get it into her head that she is president of a modern republic, not a monarch in a feudal absolutism. She heads one of the three co-equal branches of government whose relationship with each other is guided by the principle of check and balance.

We have already seen a succession of efforts at an over-reaching consolidation of powers by Gloria Arroyo. There’s Executive Order 464 which sought to restrict Congress’ power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation and to exercise its oversight functions. Then there’s the Proclamation 1017 where she sought to usurp the power of the courts to issue warrants of arrests. The Supreme Court has struck down the obnoxious portions of these two decrees, with finality in the case of Proclamation 1017.

But how does one deal with a mind-set characterized by intolerance toward criticism of policies and programs?

In the case of the proposed P1 trillion budget for 2006, the Palace said it’s all or nothing. Either the Senate restores all the cuts in the proposed budget or the Palace will resort to the expedient of operating under the reenacted budget of the previous year.

The Palace talks about a mangled budget because of the Senate’s P51 billion cuts. That’s about 1/20th of the proposed total appropriations. If the Senate indeed intends to re-channel the proposed appropriations into programs of dubious benefits, the Palace may have cause to take an all-or-nothing stance.

The truth is the Senate cuts are benign. The biggest items scrapped by the chamber are the proposed increase in the salaries of government workers and the proposed early retirement program. The salary increase, however, is covered by a special appropriations bill that is expected to enjoy easy sailing in both chambers of Congress. The early retirement program can be postponed for one more year without doing harm to the long-term goal of streamlining the bureaucracy. In fact, postponing this expenditure will help ease the strain on the cash-strapped government.

The heart of the budget deadlock is the P3 billion Kilos Asenso Support Fund and the P3.6 billion Kalayaan Barangay Program Fund. These two programs call for the building of roads, expansion of social services and construction of classrooms, etc. The Palace, however, wants to treat these items as "unprogrammed" spending, meaning, the funds may be spent by Arroyo any which way she pleases.

This is what the Palace’s all-or-nothing intransigence is all about. Gloria wants a blank check for P6.6 billion. She’ll sink the whole budget process if she can’t get her way.

This is not how a reasonable chief executive would deal with the legislature which holds the purse strings of government. But who ever said Gloria is reasonable?


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Throw out those recruiters of mercenaries

With Filipinos serving as laborers, nurses and caregivers in all corners of the world, deploying them as mercenaries is probably an idea whose time has come. A US outfit, Blackwater, has set up shop at the Subic Freeport and is now recruiting active and retired soldiers, preferably combat veterans, to help fight America’s war against Iraq.

Actually, Filipinos have a long history of involvement in foreign wars. They served as auxiliaries in Spanish misadventures in neighboring countries. Even before that, they had been drawn into wars among native rulers in what is now the Indonesian archipelago and Malaysian Borneo with which they had kinship ties.

In the more recent past, Filipino soldiers were recruited into the "secret war" waged by the United States in Indochina. This was on top of the not-so-secret role played by Pinoys in providing construction and logistical support to the Americans during the Vietnam War. The recruiters were nominally private corporations, but were in fact CIA fronts.

This time around, thanks to privatization and globalization, the recruitment and deployment of mercenaries has truly become a business, albeit with the encouragement of the US government which finds such arrangements cheaper and more palatable to American voters who have grown angry, as in Vietnam, over burying their sons (and daughters under a now gender-equal US military) for some dubious cause in some place they could not find on the map.

That said, it should be remembered that globalization is not limited to business. The US claims it is fighting a loose global network of terrorist organizations driven by an implacable hatred toward the West.

In our people’s search for jobs across the seas in the absence of local opportunities, we might find ourselves in the forward trenches of that war. And we’re not talking of the Abu Sayyaf and its links to the Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiya alone.

A few of our countrymen have already been kidnapped in Iraq for having been identified as drivers, waiters and laundrymen of what are seen as foreign occupying forces. If we take a more high-profile role as armed security guards at US installations and as shotgun riders on convoys – which appear to be the jobs reserved for Filipino mercenaries – we will be seen as hostiles and be open to attacks both inside and outside Iraq.

We may be beggars but we do have a choice. Let’s throw out those recruiters. But we’re not holding our breath. With jobs so scarce, many will be desperate enough to lay their lives on the line.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Budgeting debased

The Senate might as well scuttle bicameral conference deliberations on the proposed P1 trillion budget for 2006. That would have the effect of denying Gloria Arroyo P93 billion in new money, the difference between the proposed 2006 budget and the P907 million in 2005, to play around with.

Gloria’s allies in the House are insisting on restoring the items slashed by the Senate. In the unlikely event they would relent, Gloria herself said she would veto the bill. Talking further is futile. It’s now June, almost halfway through the year. Government could keep on plodding with a reenacted budget.

Over the years, Gloria and her allies have made it a habit to pack the Palace-originated general appropriation bills with dubious spending, hoping that the threat of reenactment would force the Senate to go along. Remember the budget deliberations last year? The Senate had to approve the House version in full to prevent further horse trading at the bicam.

No budget measure was passed in 2001. This was understandable because of the unsettled conditions following Edsa 2. Budget laws were passed in 2002 and 2003. But the budget was again reenacted in 2004. And we now know why. It enabled Gloria to raid the treasury to buy the presidential election (remember the fertilizer fund scam?). The budget, which is supposed to be a key government developmental tool, has been debased into a currency for buying political favors.

Take the current budget impasse. Let’s forget about the Senate cuts of P10 billion for salary increases (the item is covered by a pending special appropriations bill) and another P10 billion for early retirement (one year won’t make much difference in trimming the bureaucracy). Or the zero budget for the Presidential Commission on Good Government and the National Printing Office (the funding for these two agencies is small change).

The bone of contention is the P3 billion Kilos Asenso Support Fund and the P3.6 billion Kalayaan Barangay Program Fund. The Palace said these programs are supposed to be the people’s dividends from the recent round of additional taxes. The programs call for the building of roads, expansion of social services and construction of classrooms.

Strangely, despite the identification of the projects, the proposed funds were not allotted to the public works (in the case of roads) or health and social work (in the case of health and other social services) or education (in the case of classrooms).

The total P6.6 billion was classified as "unprogrammed funds," meaning Gloria can dispense the money any which way she pleases. Pork in short.

Who cares about basic housekeeping to reassure the country’s jittery creditors?


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Political arithmetic

Gabriel Claudio, presidential adviser for political affairs, the other day said the impeachment complaint the opposition is expected to file when Congress opens next month is dead in the water. So there is no need for the Palace to declare martial law if the intention is to secure the continued stay in power of President Arroyo.

Claudio said his headcount shows that the new complaint would likely get fewer signatures than last year’s which was supported by 51 House members. He dismissed outright the possibility of the complaint getting the magic number of 79 signatures that would automatically lead to trial by the Senate.

We have no reason to doubt the assessment of Claudio, who definitely is wired to what is happening in the House.

Still the question that begs an answer is why the Palace continues to seriously entertain the declaration of martial law. The information we are getting is too specific to be ignored or dismissed out of hand.

The opposition promises to drop new bombshells when if files the complaint. The opposition could be bluffing. What is sure is that the complaint cannot easily be dismissed as lacking in substance as what the heavily bribed House majority did last year. The House has to go through the motions of conducting a fair hearing. And even on the issue of election cheating alone, there remains an unopened can of worms.

Gloria is in for another roughing up, to say the least. And given her rock bottom trust and credibility, the last thing she needs is renewed charges of cheating and thievery.

Looking farther ahead, there are elections scheduled in 2007. Control of the Senate, whose members are voted nationally, is already a lost cause. Gloria has a fighting chance of maintaining her current grip in the House. But the opposition need only gain 28 more seats to succeed in impeaching her in 2007. Given the current mood and considering that more than half of House seats come from highly urbanized areas with well-informed voters, this is a fairly easy target to meet.

Claudio is no dunce at political arithmetic. On the contrary, he is some sort of a wizard, ensuring that congressmen and local officials stay loyal to his beleaguered principal.

No thoughts of declaring martial law? Well, Marcos was saying up to the eve of the proclamation
of martial law that he had no intention of doing so.


Monday, June 05, 2006

There’s money for classrooms

The way we hear it, everybody – from the executive department to the legislature – appears to have given up on the long-running problem of not having enough classrooms.

All this talk about lack of money to build classrooms is a lot of hogwash.

Acting Education Secretary Fe Hidalgo, in her presentation last week that made Gloria go ballistic, put the shortage at 6,000 or so classrooms at a ratio of one room for every 50 students. Gloria tartly disputed the figure, saying that there is no shortage based on a policy adopted last year that the ratio is one room for per students using two shifts a day.

Let’s muddy the dispute some more. The Commission on Audit in a report prepared in 2004 said the shortage stood at 45,000 classrooms. We cannot readily ascertain what ratio COA used, presumably one room per 40 students. Also the exact year when the figure applied, possibly 2003.

Assuming that the school building program since then has only been able to keep in step with the growth in the student population, 45,000 remains a reasonable figure.

How much exactly do 45,000 classrooms cost? At the P200,000 per room which is used by the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of the Philippines (almost half the building cost of the public works department), the total amounts to P9 billion.

The sum of P9 billion might appear humongous, but to place it in proper perspective it represents less than 1 percent of the proposed P1 trillion budget for 2006. In fact, the appropriations for two items that the Senate scrapped from the budget bill can wipe out two-thirds of the 45,000-room shortage if so realigned.

We’re referring to the P3 billion Kilos Asenso Support Fund and the P3.6 billion Kalayaan Barangay Program Fund. The Palace said these programs are supposed to be the people’s dividends from the recent round of additional taxes. The programs call for the building of roads, expansion of social services and, mark this, construction of classrooms.

We can forego construction of more barangay roads. We can live with the current level of social services. We are after all talking only of seven months more before the year ends. Let’s put the whole P6.6 billion into an emergency school building program.

The senators have nothing against more roads, classrooms and social services. Their beef is that Kilos Asenso and Kalayaan Barangay funds are in the nature of "unprogrammed spending," meaning the money may be spent by the Palace any way it wishes.

The bicameral conference committee is meeting this week to come up with a consolidated budget bill. It will not take them an hour to insert a school building program into which the P6.6 billion can be realigned.

There’s still time to do this before Congress adjourns on June 9. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.


Torquemada and Isabella

(This was published Saturday, June 3, 2006.)

National security adviser Norberto Gonzales the other day feigned outrage at reports that he has been egging President Arroyo to declare martial law to permanently put away those pesky communists and fellow travelers. Gonzales said he was a victim of martial law, Part 1, and he would be the last to seek its re-imposition.

Gonzales is a liar. The Senate found him so, the reason he was cited in contempt and placed under custody during an inquiry into the lobby contract he entered into with the US firm Venable LLB. He remains a liar in insisting he is not pushing for martial law.

Let’s take a look at Gonzales’ claim he was a victim of martial law. Indeed he was hunted -- or rather he claimed he was hunted -- during martial law for leading an anti-Marcos armed group identified with the "clerico-fascists" like the Jesuit Romeo Intengan (the Gonzales-Intengan tandem remains as the most rapid anti-communist faction advising Arroyo). In reality, Gonzales’ group of middle class "revolutionaries" was no more than a nuisance to the Marcos martial law regime.

The Marcos regime reserved its most ruthless and vicious assaults for the Left. And guess who were lustily applauding Marcos’ policy of extermination? Gonzales and Intengan, that’s who.

And guess who were financing Gonzales and Intengan? There was this businessman, now sporting the title of taipan, who lost his stake in a telephone company and the immensely profitable ancillary business that went with that stake. Then there was this family which Marcos stripped of its power distribution company and media empire.

Gonzales was indeed an anti-Marcos fighter. But in the cause of the oligarchic families which have made a strong comeback with the restoration of the formal trappings of democracy.

The fascist mind of Gonzales is in full display in his public utterances. He wants left-leaning party groups to be stripped of their rights to participate in elections. He wants "communist fronts" declared illegal. He wants the military freed from the niceties of conventions protecting non-combatants to make easier the task of crushing the communist rebellion. Gonzales would have been in his elements as an assistant of Torquemada. Burn all those heretics (communists) at the stake. God will sort out his own from those unfortunate souls.

But then he is already Torquemada to Gloria, his Isabella.

What a match! The Strong Republic’s grand inquisitor in the service of the self-proclaimed La Catolica.


Friday, June 02, 2006

The lure of martial law

The crazies are on the loose in the nuthouse by the Pasig. But even paranoids do have enemies. So it should come as no surprise that some people in the Palace are pushing for the declaration of martial law.

The political scene is relatively quiet at the moment. Gloria Arroyo survived calls for her resignation at the height of "Hello Garci" scandal last year. Protest actions have failed to reach a critical mass that would invite withdrawal of support by the military.

Let’s give the devil his due. Arroyo has exhibited a ruthlessness in dealing with critics and dissenters not seen since the time of Ferdinand Marcos. There was the calibrated preemptive response to street protests. There was the declaration of state of national emergency, with its warrantless arrests, ban on rallies and demonstrations, and assaults on the media.

The Supreme Court struck down these authoritarian tactics as unconstitutional. But what cannot be done in the full light of the law is now being done in the limbo of the dirty war where dissenters and media men are being killed with impunity.

Gloria has exhibited ample proof of her capacity to violate the law and trample on people’s rights and liberties. She stole the election in 2004. What crime could possibly be graver than that in a democracy? Cracking the heads of people, gunning them down or jailing them for saying she is a cheat, a liar and a thief, we suppose, could qualify.

We are now witness to creeping tyranny. For that’s the only way for an illegitimate government to continue in power.

Declaration of martial law, of course, is no insurance of this regime’s survival. Naked repression will only turn dissent into active resistance. A de facto civil war will sink all of Gloria’s promises of a glorious march to a prosperous future on the back of a thriving economy.

Rationally, Gloria should know that martial law is not the answer to the challenges she is facing. But if she were rational, she would not be listening to the likes of Norberto Gonzales, Raul Gonzalez and Eduardo Ermita. Neither would she have appointed them to the Cabinet in the first place.

But rationality should be the last thing we could expect from a leadership desperate for survival. As we earlier said even paranoids have real enemies. Gloria has robbed the people of their sovereign right to elect their leader and done other abominations to hide the fact.

She has all the reasons for surrounding herself with a ring of bayonets. She is mightily afraid of the people’s wrath.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

No classroom shortage?

It appears the country will have no problem in the foreseeable future with the classrooms available for the increasing number of students in public schools. By our estimate, the classroom situation is good, well until the doubling of the student population.

How so? Simple. The government can always introduce four shifts of classes per day.

Those who attended grade school during the time of Macapagal probably still remember "first bell" at 7 a.m., followed by "second bell" at 7:30 a.m. After the flag ceremony, lessons started at 8 a. m. Morning sessions ended at noon. "First bell" in the afternoon came at 1:30 p.m. "second bell" at 2 p.m. Kids knock off at 5 p.m. That’s seven hours of schooling a day, including recess.

Education OIC Secretary Fe Hidalgo probably was thinking of those days when she informed Gloria Arroyo the other day that the public school system is short of 6,800 classrooms to accommodate the incoming students of school year 2006-2007.

She was quickly brought back to reality by Arroyo who informed her that there really is no classroom shortage. As per the calculation of Arroyo, a classroom can accommodate 100 students, not 45 as reported by Hidalgo. The reason is that it is now government policy to hold two shifts of classes per day.

Let’s take a look at some figures under the Arroyo’s two-shift scheme, which is actually already in place in most Metro schools. Classes start at 7 a.m. and end at noon. The second shift is from one to five in the afternoon. Whichever way we cut it, that only comes to five hours a day of schooling. No wonder the public school system is going to the dogs.

Still pursuing Arroyo’s scheme, would this not also require the doubling of the number of teachers to handle twice the number of classes? The last time we heard, the public schools do not enjoy a surplus of teachers.

Do we expect the teachers then to handle two classes a day? Teachers are people too. They cannot work 10 straight hours a day without physical rigor and mental stress taking their toll. Again, no wonder the public school system is going to the dogs.

Arroyo trained as an economist. She also taught economics. If we didn’t know these facts, we would have been led to believe she taught Philosophy instead, focusing on the Sophist school.

When reality jars with one’s preconceptions, just redefine the terms. We remember the reported drop in unemployment last year. It turned out that the "achievement" was the result of fiddling with what is meant by being out of work.

More "achievements" like these and this country is well and truly sunk.