1. Cybercrime, Civil Society, and History.

    "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it." - Thomas Jefferson

    History retains a presence, palpable if you know what to look for. During election season, historical narratives take center stage in every politicians campaign. The past is interpreted, re-interpreted, re-written, and engineered with on specific goal in mind: Getting elected. While in position? The public and officials alike call on history to defend positions, criticize opposition, and distract in equal measures. The past, by its very nature, maintains an allure. The attraction of the unknowable and its ability to be what we need it to be. Narratives are malleable and the past always at our disposal.

    The current hullaballoo surrounding the CyberCrime Prevention Act of 2012 is no exception. On both sides of the ideological divide, the specter of history and its lessons looms large. References to Martial Law, not so far-flung draconian eras, Nazism (naturally), the Arroyo administration, and our colonial past have been deployed in pointed (and at times almost hysterical) criticism of the bill and the current administration and Congress. The fears are relevant, the perceived curtailment of civil liberties, whether in the ‘real’ world or ‘cyberspace, must be addressed through open and balanced public discourse. The concerns of a vocal portion of the population, a minority though it may be, must be headed and not dismissed by administration mouthpieces. That is the heart of democracy and the dismissal of those concerns only reinforces growing fear and paranoia among the intelligensia. Despite our popular construction of history, the middle class (the upwardly mobile educated and economically emancipated) almost always form the backbone of any social resistance and civil disobedience. Today, they occupy social media and the cyber world; moving in and staking claim to a space that lends itself as a platform for dialogue and discourse. Yet, the reaction so far from administration spokespeople has not generated further discussion, instead the intelligensia’s concerns have only been heightened. In a sense, the Aquino administration remains lucky that social media has only crossed over into traditional media and society large in limited respects. Else the pronouncements of Edwin Lacierda in his ‘discussions’ with netizens over the weekend would have raised more of a furor than the relative ‘squeak’ we are seeing now. That remains the single greatest obstacle for social media relevance: Translating social media angst and agitation into real world action.

    A firm understanding of history is also necessary in putting public pronouncements into context. Whether it is Secretary Leila de Lima’s comment that we have little to fear from this government (what of the next?) or spokespeople’s tweets in cyberspace, a sense of history is needed to peel apart the comment and get to the heart of the issue. For example, one of the more noticeable comments from Lacienda, in response to comments on the administration’s actions, was his reference to an oft-quoted line from Thomas Jefferson.

    A government official deploying a reference to Jeffersonian ideology in response to criticisms is a risky play, at best. Thomas Jefferson is noteworthy, and hallowed among certain segments of the American population, precisely because of his distrust of government, driven by anti-monarchy sentiments. Jefferson, towards the end of his life, crafted an almost pastoral vision of the United States, one where people lived in communes and government was practically non-existent. Jefferson’s loathing of overreaching of government was such that some quotes for which he has become famous have a decidedly revolutionary tinge to them:

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

    The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

    I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

    The deployment of Jeffersonian ideology in response to criticisms of a government over-stepping itself is ironic at face and ludicrous in analysis. I cannot say, in all honesty, that the CyberCrime Prevention Act is not necessary. It is and there are provisions contained within it that are needed. However, the original intent of the bill has been hijacked by personal agenda and misguided concerns. The law, as fashioned, betrays a distinct fear on the part of our elected congressmen; fear of the unknown, fear of something they do not, and maybe cannot, understand, fear of something they cannot control. This is a blatant attempt, incidental or not, to control a legitimate vehicle for social discourse and dialogue. Jefferson, through his writings and speeches, spoke rigorously against the restriction of civil liberties. A refined sense of history, on the part of the administration spokespeople, can only help them in their widely lauded goal of reforming Philippine public life. History can be a defense and an avenue for criticism; but only when properly understood and utilized. Else the misuse of history just opens you up for further misinterpretation and new avenues for critique.

    For the Filipino, the sense of history is recognized in a limited sense. As I have remarked elsewhere, we retain a historical sensibility only when reacting to events after the fact. In this, some of the pointed critiques of Cocoy Dayao and (only when loosely interpreted) Lacierda, are relevant. We remain reactive to events and political developments. Only a select few in New Media made themselves aware of the Cybercrime Prevention Act prior to it being signed into law and only a few even bothered to speak out against the measure. Granted, it appears that there may be some irregularities involved with the crafting of the bill, but that does not distract from the fact that either the bill itself went un-noted, or the collective subconscious decision was to address the situation when it came to a head. Either is deeply concerning for our political future. No matter, the bill was overlooked, and the current reactions from civil society are wholly expected; inflammatory, polemical, and in some cases distractingly overwrought. That being said, civil society is taking calculated and appropriate action to address the contents of the law; one hopes those actions are not lost amidst the sturm und drang and fear mongering of some social media denizens.

    Only now do we see the critical mass necessary to create a grassroots movement against. Even after its passing, our response reflects a relatively shallow and superficial understanding of the political and social process. President Aquino has been lambasted from all corners for signing the bill into law. The question of whether Aquino should have expended veto power on a bill that never should have made it to his desk in the first place has been set aside. One has to wonder if the bill would have been signed into law, if the efforts currently being expended now, existed prior. It is a hypothetical, but one that touches on our current relationship with the political process.

    While the Aquino administration does deserve criticism, the malaise that led to the crafting and ratification of such a wayward and potentially draconian law, runs far deeper. This is where our superficial sense of history fails us as a republic. Our history, one of colonialism not from out but within, warns of the dangers of taking civil liberties and elections lightly. Yet, those warnings are little heeded. Instead, elections continue to be reduced to the lowest common denominator, the best name, the most money, the most appealing narratives. Our sense of history does not guide how we plan out the future of this country, whether its through elections, grassroots organizations, or advocacies. We are restricted to applying our fears of Martial Law and creeping dictatorships to decisions already made, actions already done. The use of history as an anticipatory guide, one that helps refine our decision-making process and even vision for the Philippines, is absent. The mechanisms to allow us to assert our voice in the political process, to take co-ownership of government, have to be put in place and utilized.

    Over a century ago, Juan Luna crafted his masterpiece the “Spoliarium.” It retains much of its majestic resonance and social relevance. Then it was a plaintive critique of the prevailing society situation in the Philippines, one where civil liberties were trampled on by an over-bearing and antiquated colonial government unresponsive, and frankly failing to understand, the needs of its educationally and economically developing population.

    Superficial parallels are there to be drawn with the situation today. I say superficial because there are avenues to remedy iniquities like provisions of the Cybercrime Prevention Act; avenues that civil society must be allowed to explore else those parallels become less polemical and more reality-based in nature. However, if power is exerted to kill challenges, the equation changes and the parallels become applicable. History’s presence is a warning for those in power and a guide for those who wish to curtail power.

    The vigilance that Lacierda so aptly referred to is necessary. But it is a vigilance less built on reactive fear and paranoia, and more focused on nation-building and civil society playing a more active and integral role in the entire political process, not just after the fact. But, the government, in all its various forms and functions, must be open to civil society engagement, it has to reflect and represent the will and needs of the people. Or else it becomes akin to an ancien régime, one that requires relegation to the dustbins of history. Jefferson would agree.


  2. "

    Bernas is of the opinion that the next President after the May elections should be the one to appoint the next chief justice.

    He said that even with the constitutional requirement that a President has to appoint a new Chief Justice within 90 days after the vacancy, the next President still has 45 days to make the appointment when he or she assumes office on June 30…

    He said any person who accepted the post of Chief Justice from Ms Arroyo would open himself or herself to impeachment by the next Congress.

    — Bernas: Arroyo Appointment may destroy SC Credibility, Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 23, 2010 (via @aupijuan)

  3. Shadow of Doubt Excerpt - On Corona’s Appointment

    It later became apparent, as Malacanang officials pushed for the early appointment of a Chief Justice, what the rush was all about. Defensor’s move was aimed at making President Arroyo appoint the next Chief Justice before the ban on appointments began - which was sixty days before the May elections and until the end of her term. The Constitution prohibits midnight appointments because, as the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) said in its letter to the JBC, the outgoing President ‘becomes a mere caretaker administrator tasked only with preparing the peaceful and orderly transfer of power after the elections.’

    Various groups, like the Supreme Court Appointments Watch and the PBA, objected to Defensor’s initiative and pointed out flaws in his arguments. First, the history of the Court showed that it had functioned with a Chief Justice in many instances. In 1966, Cesar Bengzon was appointed CJ three months after the post was vacated; Querube Makalintal (1975), six months; Enrique Fernando (1985), two months; and Claudio Teehankee (1986), twenty six days.

    Second, the Court could go on with its normal work under an acting Chief Justice who presides over deliberations and certifies decisions. ‘Whenever the Chief Justice is abroad or on leave, the most senior Associate Justice becomes acting Chief Justice and certifies all decisions. This has been the practice under the 1935, 1973, and the present 1987 Constitution.’ SCAW said in its letter to the JBC.

    Third, both groups assailed what was at the heart of Defensor’s move, 'Judicial independence, the very purpose of the JBC, is now under threat by the eleventh hour proposal (of Defensor),' the lawyer’s group, PBA, said in its well-argued letter, calling the proposal ‘brazen’ and ‘unconstitutional’ and citing a Supreme Court decision in 1998 that annulled appointments to the judiciary made during the ban. Puno voted with Chief Justice Andres Narvasa and the majority in this case.

    The SCAW was equally forceful, calling it a ‘naked attempt to allow the appointing power to circumvent the presidential appointment ban.’

    - Marties Vitug, Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court, pg. 244.

    The Defensor referred to was Representative Matias Defensor, a known ally of then President Arroyo.

    We know how this little saga ended: Corona was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court right in the middle of the ban on midnight appointments to the executive and judiciary.

    At the heart of the impeachment of Corona is the prior subversion of our institutions. Yes the timing may be suspect, yes I would also like to see Aquino using his political capital to push through certain legislative measures. But we should not forget that there is merit behind Corona’s impeachment (even if it’s buried amidst political whining and bullshit). Even the irregularities surrounding Corona’s wife are grounds for questioning.

    I have my own qualms about this move and some of the suspect motives behind it. But, why should we wholesale defend Corona? The new public construct of Corona and the SC as unimpeachable (heh) and untouchable is antithetical to the concept of accountability. If we can call into question the integrity of our elected officials, why should our appointed officials (who without a doubt suffer similar ethical shortfalls) be exempt? The question that should be facing us now is if there actual merit in the impeachment?

    What is disturbing is how quickly we have forgetting the circumstances surrounding his appointment; more to the point, how quickly people who assailed Arroyo for appointing Corona are now turning on Aquino for doing what many have called for: Bringing accountability to the judiciary.

    Are we gun-shy? Or are we so wrapped up in oppositional politics that we forget eventually you have to stand for something?

  4. Diplomacy 101 with Domingo Lee Part 1 (via @carlosceldran)

    Warning: Watching may be hazardous for your health.

    Over the last few weeks I have been in an on-going discussion about the intersection of leadership and public intellectuals in the Philippines. That we need better leadership, and I am not talking about government, is without a doubt. In this sense, we are talking about leaders who are have the capability to see problems and innovate solutions. Innovation is in short supply. 

    Yet, there is a distinct lack of public intellectuals in the Philippines; men and women who not only challenge the system, but seeks redemptive national paths. The distinct lack of the two is intertwined, and I would argue deeply linked to our social aversion to questioning authority and challenging pre-conceived notions of how we think things are and how we want them to be.

    This is all a roundabout way of saying, what the shit is this? And why the hell is he being offered as one of the leaders of the Philippines on the global stage? The man can’t even spit out a coherent sentence for God’s sake. This is the man, the person, who has been selected to represent the Filipino people in one of the most difficult, demanding, and visible posts in the entire world. Are we serious? We can’t be serious.

    I am fairly certain we could pluck a student out of an international relations track in any university and s/he will be able to answer these questions with more coherence, sense, and basic intelligence. I’m not saying he’s not intelligent, I’m just saying he can’t form an intelligent response to the questions, much less understand the questions being asked of him.

    It’s very difficult to even quantify how much of a train wreck this is. I can’t find a single redeeming factor in his performance. Not. A. Single. One. And if it seems that I am disgusted? Goddamn right I am. Based on this performance, I would be ashamed to have this gentleman representing the Philippines and its constituents in any position, much less one of such importance as China.

    If the weather isn’t enough to get you down, Part II can be found here.


  5. uhitsjayvee:

    Think about it, Mr. President: what good would a straight road serve if it is splattered with the blood of the innocent?


    While the intention is valid, and the criticism apt, I can’t help but feel that his remark towards the end (cited above) is somehow misstated.

    If he was going to draw his comparison of Ninoy’s assassination with the Maguindanao Massacre there is a far more logical place to go: That the pursuit of justice and the straight path should not leave the violated innocents by the side of the road. Saying that the straight road is splattered with the blood of the innocents intimates that the process of combating impunity results in the innocent dying. Not the case.

    If are talking about social upheaval, about the battle to change prevailing social corruption, the thorny path towards a society founded on the ideals of justice and social responsibility is hallowed by sacrifice. It remains hallowed though only as long as society remembers why it was necessary. Ninoy, at least, understood the risk he was running and the danger he was in. The victims of the Maguindanao Massacre? Not so much. They share more, in this respect, with the nameless, faceless, and forgotten victims of the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship.

    It is the sacrifices of the innocent, that shock and disgust, that provides the impetus to address cultures of impunity. What we cannot do, what we should not do, is forget those who suffered; forget those who died in pursuit of something greater and nobler than themselves and their own self-serving needs. Again, while I respect and agree with the Salud’s sentiments, I think he actually does the argument a disservice by trying to connect Ninoy to the Massacre victims; most especially when there are so many forgotten victims who are still crying out, not just for justice, but remembrance.

    Ninoy’s death was the catalyst for change, but let’s not forget that change took three years. And we are still grappling with trying to come to terms with exactly what EDSA meant, and was supposed to accomplish. That change was enacted not by Ninoy, but by the millions of Filipinos who finally stood up against a corrupt ruling elite, who passionately and selflessly worked in the shadows for years to create the necessary linkages. Those are the heroes of EDSA, they are the ones who brought down a dictatorship. And today? It is Filipinos who will finally change the culture of impunity in this country. Not the leaders in Malacanan, though they must be allies, not hindrances, not the corrupt elites who walk the halls of Congress, but Filipinos.

    But, let’s set Ninoy aside for a moment. The issue for me that the Maguindanao Massacre victims are going to the way of the various Marcos era human rights victims: Forgotten. Sure we remember that they were brutally killed, but how many of us remember, much less know, why they were killed? Impunity is not a dead journalist. Impunity is the culture that allows men and women in power to believe they can kill indiscriminately, and lets them do so.

    We remember Ninoy’s assassination, even if we have forgotten why he was killed. We remember the Maguinandao Massacre, even if I fear we no longer know why they were killed, or the reason why they could be killed. But we do not remember the victims. We have forgotten the Marcos human rights victims. And we no longer remember why they suffered.

    Ninoy lives on in the zeitgeist, in many ways no longer really resembling the man or his personal politics. That is the nature of violent bloody death that has become heroic. He is an icon of democracy and resistance. Though, I truly wonder if he can be termed an icon of resistance when our society at large does not even understand what he was resisting.

    But the victims of Maguindanao? The human rights victims of Martial Law? The men and women who suffered under GMA? They are intrinsically they same. They are what can be, and has been, left behind; discarded by the same twisted road our country still travels. The context of their deaths has been forgotten. As a result, the road stays the same, impunity reigns.

    The straight path will never develop without remembering the victims, and most importantly, the reasons for their victimization. The Aquino administration has to reassure us that the Massacre is being addressed. But even more importantly, we as a nation must begin to remember why this Massacre happened, why Marcos was able to kill thousands and steal billions, and why Arroyo was able to almost do exactly the same.


  6. On Blind Politics and Historical Perversions

    The recent hullaballoo caused by the latest twisted take on Philippine history (and continuing series of Marcos apologetics) has been best covered by @marocharim, @ellobofilipino, and now @cocoy over at ProPinoy. So, to what they have written I really have nothing extra to add. Though, I will.

    One mystery for me is how leftists and so-called ‘radicals’ have ended up on the side of legitimizing (and forgiving) the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship.

    It is possibly an example of how perverse ideology inevitably blinds; the fractured sort of worldview that results in the adherence to an -ism. It might be something ever more simple: The antipathy felt towards the current leadership.

    Yet, it boggles my mind that knowing the excesses of the Marcos regime, knowing the levels to which the country was reduced, videos such as the one now circulating still try and whitewash the Marcos regime in pursuit of a single agenda. Then we find journalists and high-profile bloggers jump on the bandwagon; naturally allowing their own prejudices and internal biases to wholly govern their decisions in this matter. In supporting the entirety of the video, whether there is a modicum of truth held within, they are inevitably supporting that interpretation of Philippine history.

    They are basically saying that American imperialism (classic and neo), the rise capitalism and the creation of an international system of patronage and client-state relations, the Japanese Occupation, the Cold War, the Marcos Dictatorship and all its attendant ills, have had less effect on the fortunes of the Philippines than the blind greed of a single family. It reminds me of those conspiracy theorists out there who still believe the world is controlled by the Illuminati. 

    Even worse, at least for me, it betrays a continuing critique I have of ‘leftist’ politics and historians (chief among them Agoncillo and Constantino): They treat Filipinos as little more than illiterate, mindless, automatons; capable of being manipulated by any and all with little capability for personal thought and considerations. We see that most readily with the treatment of the Philippine Revolution and Republic; we see that same pseudo-intellectual thread maintained with the decontextualization and gross simplification of EDSA I and broad reactions to Marcos socio-economic depredations.

    Setting critical analysis aside, as @marocharim well pointed out, what casts this as bad history and nothing more than propaganda, is its utter lack of historical methodology. It works backward from a certain view and cherry-picks, twists, and misrepresents moments in Philippine history in pursuit of a single narrative thread. That is the worst type of history, one that purposefully excludes contextual elements in pursuit of an ideology. It, as well, a common practice in Philippine historiography; representative of a sort of shallow interpretation, and I think somewhat lazy, approach to what history means. Then again, this type of shallow historical analysis is representative of a larger malaise seen in our so-called intellectual and academic circles.

    Everyone brings biases to the table. The question becomes is how rigorous is that person in trying to mitigate bias in pursuit of the story. The same holds true in journalism as in history. Methodology, a rigorous analysis of evidence and primary source documents coupled with questioning assumptions, helps separate ‘proper’ histories from polemics and propaganda. When any document offers itself as factual and accurate it invites close scrutiny of its agenda and biases. In the world of history and cultural analysis, most writers are upfront with the framework and school of thought in which they are writing. This is part of disclosure and a key element in maintaining intellectual honesty. When a writer chooses to hide those biases, distract from them, or maintain that they are offering the one true view, that calls into question, not their impartiality, but their openness to discourse and their capabilities to rationally discuss issues. In this they share similarities with dictatorships; their first inclination is to suppress dissent through shaming, innuendo or outright banishment. Ah, maybe that helps explain why a movement in support and to whitewash the Marcos dictatorship seems to be growing in those circles.

    Interpretation of historical data is what history is based on. I can hand a single primary source document to five different historians, from different ideological schools of thought, and arrive at five different interpretations. Depending on what framework they come from that document will fit in different ways. The key is they are basing their interpretations on evidence, filtered through a logical and apparent framework. And quite frankly, all of their interpretations will have merit. I personally have never had an issue with leftist interpretations of Philippine history. I do have an issue with histories that rely too much on ideology and forgo actual evidence based and methodologically sound processes.

    When there is little evidence and only innuendo? That is propaganda. That is bad history. And that does little more than inflame passions and obscure the past. When we lose track of the past, when we forgo basing our understanding of the past on evidence and cohesive analysis, we lose the capability of truly understanding the realities of today, and developing effective solutions to address existing social iniquities.


  7. Quick Hits: SONA

    Setting aside my dismay over the lack of mention on personal areas of concern (RH, FOIA, heritage), there were some distinct high points in the narrative of the speech. Most importantly, as Teddy Boy Locsin pointed out, is the fact that he essentially broke away from the election-driven agenda that has marked previous politicians. Too often one of the governing drivers behind presidential actions is both protecting and promoting party members in future elections. Aquino’s speech broke away from that historical narrative.

    In fact, with his simplistic use of wang-wang, he was delivering an easily understandable declaration of war against long-standing practices. That is what was remarkable in his highlighting corruption in PAGCOR, LGU, and the ARMM. He not only was challenging Filipinos to think about deep-seated corruption, but warning Congressmen and politicians down the line that they have to change their practices; else they’ll not only be left behind they will become antiquated.

    That is what I am taking away from the speech, that is what basically sets the tone for the future: The fact that he is targeting corrupt members of the government. It is a sentiment that resonates throughout the country. And while some analysts are criticizing the simplistic language, it was necessary. He crouched the terms in easily digestible language, while at the same time basically declaring war not only on corruption and corrupt practices, but corrupt individuals.

    The speech was pitched towards them, but he was inviting Filipinos from all walks of life into the discourse. The SONA did that through very localized expressions of corruption (Php1B spent on coffee for example) that hopefully will resonate. Along with his hitting of areas like ‘paying taxes,’ improvements in human rights, and the continue war against impunity.

    It was a unique speech in many ways. And I hope, amid the dismay over the lack of certain policy measures (which Belmonte actually hit and promoted pretty strongly), we do not lose that thread. It is that war on politicians which truly needs our support.

    Tagged #SONA #Aquino

  8. On the PCSO: Milking Cows and Stalking Horses

    The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) on-going expose is an excellent introduction into the abuse of GOCCS during the last administration; and those prior. Naturally, GOCCs began during Martial Law. The mechanism for siphoning money out of government coffers and translating public funds to private pockets began then. Outside of entrenched government corruption, GOCCs offer almost unlimited resources for enrichment and the payment of personal favors. It should little surprise that one of the last acts of the previous administration was to place individuals in lucrative positions on various GOCC boards. The fact is, cleaning out government of corruption and private interests, has to include the GOCCs. The fact is the government has way to much discretionary funds at its disposal; most of it originating from GOCCs. Unallocated funds are a magnet for corrupt practices. It has even been noted that the PCSO has Php30 billion at its disposal, as much as the entire budget of the Department of Health. Casts new light on that old saying that the Philippines really is not poor; it is just a matter of its wealth being misused. 

    Ignoring my primary criticism that a government corporation like the PCSO should not be in the business of handing out funds on its own, what is coming out in the news should not be a shock. GOCCs are the milking cows of the corrupt leadership. What I am concerned is that some of the more egregious instances of GOCC abuse will be lost amidst the almost gleeful pronouncements of the immorality of certain priests. The most infamous now being Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of Butuan and his birthday request to GMA for a brand spanking new SUV. His diocese received a PCSO check in the amount Php1.7 million (notably made out in his care) for that very purpose. Curiously, or not so much, Pueblos has been a strident and almost hysterical critic of President Noynoy Aquino’s administration. Going so far as to recommend that he step down from office, before he is forcibly removed. Even in the midst of this, he is using interviews and the like to air his grievances against Aquino, stating that evidence will be released revealing the ‘true character’ of the President. How…tenacious. Much like Morato and others, Pueblos is essentially acting as the stalking horse of vested interests.

    At the moment that issue seems to be at the center of the PCSO expose and on most people’s lips. For good reason, it’s titillating and more than a little salacious. Especially in light of some people’s anger towards the Church’s stand against RH. With many going ahead and saying government funds should not be used for any religious or faith-based initiative; and citing the Constitution to defend their position. We should be focusing on the legality of the transfer of funds (based on the PCSO charter and relevant laws), not just on the salaciousness of the transfers.

    That being said, I strongly feel that a differentiation needs to be made between giving discretionary funds to a Church diocese (bishops) and faith-based or religiously alighted non-government institutions. Non-government institutions (NGOS) are non-profit, non-stock vehicles created for outreach purposes. And many of them do have religious or faith based components; at times they are multi-sectoral entities with strong representation from both the Church and civil society. While foundations can, and have, been used for selfish means, on the whole most do a tremendous amount of good work in the field and throughout the country. I think we need to be very careful about lumping religious based foundations that have received government funding in with the current issue of diocese directly receiving government funds. Foundations have to rigorous and transparent in their donations and spending; more often than not only soliciting funds for certain outreach vehicles. And there are many religious based NGOs that are doing amazing work out in the field that rely on government support. In essence, they are even filling in gaps left by government failures.

    As egregious as the issue of the bishops and their vehicles are, we have to careful about letting it overshadow some of the other instances of gross corruption.

    For example, the fact that the PCSO has an intelligence fund that amounted to nearly Php160 million pesos. Seriously, can someone explain to me why the PCSO needs an intelligence fund? Anyone? What on earth is the justification for that? Other than the obvious: Free funds for free use.

    Or the fact that Manuel Garcia probably made off with hundreds of millions of pesos in advertising kickbacks.

    Or the Php1.3 billion contract given to Carlo J Caparas. Let’s not forget, the bishops did not steal the funds used to buy vehicles, it was given to them. Given by members of civil society who were raiding the coffers of public funds for personal use and repayment of political favors.

    Or that there is a one billion peso stand by fund for SARS awareness. WTF?

    We also should not, we cannot, lose sight of the fact that this scandal is not of the making of the CBCP or the Bishop of Butuan; no matter how ludicrous and irritating their pronouncements have been since. Good to know the CBCP seems to have an almost non-existent ability for self-reflection and criticism. Then again, there should be little surprise there.

    Instead, this is a continuing example of how government was abused and subverted for private interests. And while it is exciting to get to hurl accusations and invectives at high-ranking Church members, we should reserve the greatest share of our ire for those who perpetrated the crimes. Those who continue to get off scott-free. This also relates to the almost disturbing rapidity with which certain members of the media lapped up the ‘exposes’ of Manoling Morato (a man who is far from an unimpeachable source on anything, much less where he has vested interests to distract from COA disclosures) a few weeks ago; exposes with nary a shred of evidence. I suspect they listened almost greedily to him because it offered them another avenue to criticize the Aquino administration. Now those media members are now remarkably silent on this evidence-backed issue, with the sole exception of popping up to criticize the bishops. Their inconsistency is almost absurd.

    Focusing solely on issues like SUVs actually helps the perpetrators of the subversion of the PCSO. It distracts from the broader picture; one of egregious and gross corrupt practices. Practices that touched on all sectors of society; not just the religious. Think about it this way, no matter what the Bishop of Butuan said, his diocese would not have received the funds for a SUV unless someone agreed. Go after the ones who agreed. And make sure what was given is returned. 


  9. "

    At face value, the drop in government spending appears to be a downside to the Aquino government’s performance. Data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) indicate that disbursements in the first four months of the year were P60.5 billion or 11.6 percent lower than in the same period last year. Some observers now fault the new administration for “underspending,” for indeed, not only has it spent less than it did last year, it has also spent even farther less than what had been programmed to be spent by this time. But before casting this government as inept and lacking absorptive capacity, one must remember that this year’s budget was still drawn up by the previous administration. And if the current government has been more prudent about spending the money, it could well be because they have found that they don’t have to spend as much as the former government would have, to accomplish as much.

    And it seems they have. The Department of Public Works and Highways is one of the biggest “culprits” in the underspending. It turns out that the agency has made dramatic changes in the way public works projects are costed out, leading to substantial savings. For one thing, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson has significantly reduced allowable “indirect costs,” including contractors’ profit margins (and quite likely the so-called “bukol”), in public works projects. Coupled with a strict policy on transparent public bidding, the agency boasts of more than P2 billion in savings from 2,797 projects over the past year.

    Another reason for the underspending is that much of the large lump sums allocated by the previous government to various departments remain unspent. These are substantial amounts that the previous leadership gave department secretaries the discretion to allocate and spend—and it’s not hard to imagine how much of it must have gone to less than responsible uses. If the current department secretaries are slow in spending such sums, it could be because their predecessors had over-provided them in the first place. The new administration intends to cut these “lump sums” to a bare minimum in the 2012 budget, the first budget they truly own.

    — 'Aquinomics': What difference has it made? - Cielito Habito. Inquirer

  10. A Brief Note on the National Museum

    Almost a year ago to the day, the National Museum and other cultural institutions (CPP for example) found themselves part in parcel with ex-PGMA’s attempts to ‘stack the deck’ so to speak. The board of the National Museum and the CCP were summarily dismissed, contravening existing protocols, and new boards were instituted. As with the dismissal of the existing boards, the composition and creation of the new boards did not follow protocol or precedent. Worse even, the board of the National Museum was composed of individuals with scanty cultural and art credentials to say the least. By all appearances, political favors were being paid off.

    The example of the NCCA during the GMA years provides insight into how culture and arts can be subverted for political expediency. Culture and arts should be separate from political by-play. Art is not only the expression of a country and it’s people, it provides a medium in for self-exploration and analysis. Art cannot just be for art’s sake. It has to criticize and uplift in equal measures. This is a component long missing from our communities. Art cannot just be for derogation, it also has to be a vehicle for identity formation and understanding. That is the importance of art and culture. It is why they have to be outside of the political process, even when they focus on criticizing politics.

    Yet, the NCCA became one of the leading institutions of a new censorship. Ideas apart from what the ruling members saw as acceptable went unsupported. That is the type of attitude and atmosphere that GMA sought to perpetuate. To stifle voices and to control the mediums of understanding.

    There has been some concern, a lot actually, that Aquino, as opposed to understanding the power of the art and culture communities, instead just did not care. This can be just as damaging as attempts to control the communities. Thankfully, the reconstitution of the National Museum board at least indicates that someone in the administration understands the need for support of our history and culture. Three appointees in particular signal this: Corazon Alvina, Felice Sta. Maria and Father Rene Javellana, SJ. Cora was the long-time Director of the National Museum, who frankly performed miracles on a limited budget and even less political support. Felice, of course, is highly experienced in culture and the arts, both from an institutional level and as a contributing artist. Father Javellana has done wonders at the Ateneo de Manila in promoting the arts in innovative ways, and demonstrating that art based programs can help target and alleviate poverty.

    One other important development is Pagcor finally turning over the Php170M that was owed the National Museum. To be frank, much more financial and political support is needed to truly improve the National Museum, but it is a start. An important gesture at that, one that I hope is the first of many.

    Culture, history and the arts are necessary components in nation-building; something I fear has long been overlooked by the technocrats. These developments offer the slight hope that this is an idea the Aquino administration is finally beginning to understand. Supporting the culture community means much more than wearing barongs and watching pretty dances. It means helping a country understand and re-evaluate who they are as a unique people.