1. Embarrassing.

    All this effort, expense and diplomatic arm-twisting just for the chance to convince the Sino supreme court chief justice to save three convicted drug mules. People who understood that what they were doing was wrong; who were carrying over four kilos of drugs. This is a separate issue from why they were drug mules. This is even separate from the human rights issues with the Chinese government and the death penalty. This is about the fact that they were drug mules, were aware of what they were doing, were caught on foreign soil and were convicted under that country’s laws.

    I wish that we weren’t sending our Vice-President to beg and plead for lawbreakers and drug peddlers. Look, I can understand and even appreciate making diplomatic overtures to save their lives. What government wouldn’t? I do not understand nor can accept sending our Vice-President to beg and plead the Chinese government for leniency. This coming on the heels of Aquino boycotting the Nobel awards to placate the Chinese government. Compromising his and his government human rights position in the process. You cannot say that you uphold human rights, when at the drop of the hat your compromise that position. We are debasing ourselves as a nation.

    What in their history demands this type of expense and effort to save them? What have they provided to society in tangible benefits where we are spending time and effort at the highest levels of government to save them? They are Filipinos. I guess that is enough to ignore their crimes. I would even understand this type of effort on behalf of Ronald Singson; at least he is an elected Representative of the Filipino people.

    Do you know what will be truly embarrassing? If Binay is successful in getting these threes death sentence commuted and returned they’ll likely be hailed as heroes; the government may even provide them and their families with some sort of monetary assistance.

    I made the observation yesterday, and have heard it from many others, that this is an administration of mis-placed priorities. They have become flash and no substance.

    There are thousands of refugees in the South.

    There are thousands of street children inhabiting our urban streets.

    There are hundred (probably thousands) of OFWs being beaten and abused each and every day; many of them in state-sanctioned jobs.

    There are hundreds of thousands of Filipinos illegally trafficked within and out of this country each and every year; thousands of them children who are sex slaves and manual labor living in deplorable conditions. 

    Each and every day.

    These are people whose very lives are death sentences through no fault of their own. But, through the negligence of the powerful in government.

    Yet these three convicted and confessed drug mules plight demands the full diplomatic attention of the Philippine government. Why I even remember the government whining when presented with the plight of illegally trafficked OFWs overseas: “We can’t do anything about that, we can only work with the partner government.”

    This is rapidly becoming the legacy of the Aquino administration: Superficial grandiose gestures, little substance and even less backbone. For every few steps forward we appear to see in one area, as many or more steps back are taken in another. The end result is little momentum forward. No one is demanding instantaneous change. What we are demanding is more than just minor goodwill gestures designed for good publicity. “Oh well. We did our best. We tried.” Cannot be the motto of this government.

    It’s becoming an administration of nominally good intentions and completely misplaced priorities. Inexperience can be forgiven, incompetence cannot.


  2. What’s more important?

    I completely missed this last week (damn manuscript deadline…that I still haven’t met) but what the hell is the Republic of the Philippines Vice-President doing escorting a member of a fraternity accused of throwing a grenade anywhere?

    APO leaders, led by Vice President Jejomar Binay, accompanied Nepomuceno to the NBI two weeks ago. But since no case had yet been filed against him then, authorities released Nepomuceno with commitment from the fraternity leadership to bring him to the DoJ when needed.

    APO Frat Behind 3 Manila school bombings - Inquirer

    As a matter of fact, I am not even sure why this was not more of a story, unless I missed it. The Vice-President of the Philippines is putting himself and his office in the midst of a lawful, criminal investigation. For what? His fraternity brothers? The APO? Under Cory and during the latter part of the Marcos regime, Binay was a staunch human rights lawyer. I would hazard that fraternity affiliations are now more important than upholding human rights.

    Oh and by the way, with all of the hand-wringing, doomsaying and far-out conspiracy theories over the travel advisories here is a prime example of why the Philippines has such a poor peace and order situation. In the midst of investigating an incident that resulted in 45 people injured, the Vice-President of the Philippines deems it more important to show solidarity with his APO brethren than support the DOJ and NBI in their investigation.


  3. Time to bow out of this rigadon

    Where I put together some thoughts from the last few days (actually wrote this last night). Of course everything can be summed up simply: Do Good Dammit.

    After all of the pointless sturm und dram of the last few weeks (initiated quite forcefully by the volatile as always Teddy Boy Locsin, further elevated by the inanity of Dilangalen et al and nicely capped by the meandering threats of Homobono Adaza) we will have the anti-climatic proclamation of President-elect Benigno Aquino III and Vice President-elect Jejomar Binay finally. We will of course watch out of the corner of our eye the death throes and last gasp efforts of the campaign of Senator Mar Roxas, who will end this election as the tragic figure of 2010. But, for all intents and purposes, the will of the people (of which I actually do believe that this election is an accurate reflection) has been recognized.

    A Fall from Grace

    One word on Senator Roxas though. He remains a man of promise, someone who I voted for. Yet you cannot help but think, that unless he is careful, he may become one of those “what could have been” historical footnotes. I hope not. His path this cycle did not take him to the vice-presidency. That does not mean he is no longer a power player or a force for ‘good’.  Over the next six years, he can carve out for himself and honorable legacy as a statesman and supporter of President Aquino. And who knows? If anything Senator Escudero and ex-President Erap have proven that you can remain a potent and relevant political force. If you play your cards right that is.

    What his problem is though, is that his actions, and those of his circle, are coming under increasing scrutiny the more this plays out. The longer this goes, the more likely there is to be a political backlash. Roxas does not have the innate charisma or broad support of the aforementioned to survive that. Right now there is serious public sentiment on the side of President Aquino. If, as Esposo says, it is true (and what I have heard is that it is in parts) that Roxas and his circle were trying to treat Aquino as a “puppet” public sentiment may turn irrevocably against him. For an example of how missteps can destroy a political career, all he needs to do is study the career of Loren Legarda.

    Same Tune?

    Post-Martial Law the problem in government is quite simple actually. The Powers-that-bide play the same tune, the dancing partners just change. But, it is business as usual. It is a rigadon. And we, the Filipino people, sit on the sidelines, wallflowers in our own country. It is the rhythm of self-interest and selfishness; opacity and shadow deals; patronage and politics as usual. The rhythm of the rigadon needs to change. That is undeniable.

    The Filipino people understand this (emotionally if not intellectually), it is the reason that Aquino was voted into power and (in my hopefully not overly optimistic view) Binay was as well. I mentioned this before but the dominant theme of the election was Camelot. The Camelot of moral and ethical rectitude represented by Noynoy Aquino as the standard bearer of the legacy of his parents. And in Binay, the Camelot of financial security and social justice via government programs. Binay has long been an Aquino boy and from a certain perspective you could see some hope in the Noy-Bi tandem. Binay could be that strongman and shield necessary for Noynoy to navigate the morally murky waters of Philippine politics and enact some change. That is the hope. That is the compromise I hope they settle on.

    Our government system is flawed, there is no doubt of that. Too much power is invested in the Executive. It is part of the reason why GMA was so influential and untouchable. It the reason that she has been doing what she can to leave a brewing constitution crisis so she some how limit the power of the presidency. Noynoy has to harness that power, and like the Caesars of old (before Julius that is) use the power for good, limit it in the end and set it aside gracefully.

    As it is right now though, the danger that faces the new administration is that they are new dance partners, following the same tune. Just look at LP’s bet for the Speakership and their new Senators. The Senate is made up of old names (even if they have a new face like with TG) who really have not made much of a difference in the past.

    And of course in the house lurks Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. A woman who, some how, became everything her father was not. It is hard to find a historical corollary for her. She fancies herself a Sonia Gandhi. She has become though the quintessential corrupt Third World “leader”. A rejection of everything this country was supposed to stand for.

    Just Push Play

    Dramatic change is not going to be found in the next six years. But substantive change can. It’s a difficult question though, what should he focus on first and foremost?

    The first priority, at least for all, is reducing poverty. I will always tend towards real and tangible education reform. However, those can be addressed and addressed well if he puts in place in his cabinet strong-willed and competent individuals. I think it would be a mistake though to recycle the same old faces. Much like my fear with the Senate and the House, just because they are experienced does not necessarily mean that they are competent in anything other than self-aggrandizement (monetarily and publicity wise). President Aquino comes into power with something remarkable, a real and definite mandate (or at least as much as is possible in our multi-party system). He has political capital to burn.

    The advocacy where I think his capital is best spent is on combating impunity. My suspicion, since this was his platform, is that this is the plan. The question though is, how to do this?

    In this country change is going to have to start from the top. It has to start in the government and among the leaders. I actually agree in part with his campaign rhetoric. The system is not irrevocably broken, it does not necessarily need to be drastically changed. There are good laws on the books, and with proper enforcement and application, they can be effective tools. There are a few laws though that I think he needs to get passed. If he is able to, somehow, get the Freedom of Information Act and the Anti-Dynasty bill passed, that is a definable win. If he can clean up and strengthen the oversight of the judiciary and peace and order forces (like the police) that is a win as well. As it stands, the judicial system is under-funded and over-burdened (sounds like a lot of the branches in our government). But, they are needed tools if he truly wishes to fight corruption. Just waving a magic wand and saying “Poof! Begone” (an exaggeration) won’t work. He needs weapons in the form of an independent and functional judiciary, a professional police force (and military) and usable laws with teeth.

    In this light, his battle with Corona makes sense. Corona’s judicial past is highly checkered, complicated further by his close relationship with GMA. It is true that just because someone is appointed by GMA does not necessarily mean he will protect her. This was born out by people like Panganiban. However, Corona is no Panganiban. And nothing in the decisions he has penned indicate he will change. A careful study of Carpio and Corona’s decisions effectively demonstrate why Carpio was passed over in favor of Corona. Carpio has shown a tendency to hew close to the law and not be swayed by personal relationships. He is not perfect, but he is more independent than Corona.

    Tackling reforming the judiciary and passing certain legislative measures are less showy than meeting the Millennium Development Goals, something I believe he should anchor his social agendas on as well. But, they can pay dividends for administrations in the future. Without a sense of justice there cannot, and there will not be, social development. It is that simple. Sweeping legislation can be an effective platform of governance. What Aquino has is a plurality of the people on his side, and the cautious support of (almost) every Filipino. If he can effectively prove that the laws he wants to get passed are for the good of the people, my suspicion is that the House and Senate will not be able to block it. He must realize he is going to be fighting a public relations war as much as a legislative war against the old guard.

    There are other considerations and foci that I likely will write and comment on as they pop into my head (and I have the time). For example, if somewhere along the way he can get agriculture going, fix our misguided economic policies, encourage sustainable energy development, conserve and protect our natural and man-made patrimony, solve the peace process and bring the country closer together (ahem…to name a few). Why, that would be great too!

    But for me, re-invigorating a sense of justice in the country should be foremost on his personal agenda. Based on his campaign promises and subsequent rhetoric, it makes the most sense for him to focus on. That really is his challenge, convert promise and possibility to actuality. Justice is the antithesis of impunity. Everyone, from all socio-economic sector, must know that justice can be had and wrongs punished. In this country, impunity flourishes with nary a word spoken against it; or at least a word with the teeth and conviction to do something about it.

    It appears that the Filipino people put someone in office and provided him with a mandate as a weapon. My hope is he and his allies in the House and Senate can do something with it.

    And it looks like he’s a lousy dancer.


  4. A Failure of Election Coverage

    On the whole the elections have been successful. Granted long lines, extreme heat, disorganized voting procedures and rising tides of passion and anger (in the mornings) were experienced in many polling locations. And yes there were some failures in the south (Lanao del Sur). It went as well as can be expected and Monday remains a solid foundation to build on for the next election.

    My current small bone of contention is with the media’s coverage of the vice-presidential election. Namely, their failure to report voting and provincial details of the election.

    In truth, the vice-presidential race still remains uncertain. A gap of 800K votes, with 5-6 million left to be formally counted by the Comelec (they have halted at around 78.8% counter). The PPCRV continues to do a bang-up job and via their twitter has about 89% counted. The uncertainty though of the VP race is not being adequately explained via print or televised media. Drilon is correct when he says that Roxas still has a chance.

    With the automated system and electronic transmission of results and that clunky and frankly unusable website of the Comelec the media should be able to report in detail what areas remain uncounted, how many extant votes are there, and the historical voting trends of those areas. It is not enough to say these are Roxas’s bailiwicks.

    Detail how many votes in these areas went to him in the last Senatorial campaign, show the historical results from the last two elections (1998 and 2004). Was Erap especially strong there? How has the LP traditionally done in the national elections? Explaining the scenarios that would result in a Binay win or a Roxas comeback can be done; I am just not sure if the local media is used to it yet. With 5-6 million votes still extant and primarily coming from Roxas territory; statistically there remains a chance that Roxas can win. But, just saying that does no one any good. The media should be explaining why or how it could happen.

    Fundamental and detailed analysis like this will help head off those accusations of cheating that are already being disseminated.

    The word war started when Dr. Marichi Ramos, a campaigner of Binay in Negros Occidental, admitted on Wednesday that she passed on a text message alleging an attempt to rig the returns in Western Visayas in favor of Roxas due to a “sudden surge” in votes for the senator.

    - Roxas Binay Camps trade barbs - Inquirer

    Knowledge here will help save a lot of national heartache down the road. What we do not want is what Manolo Quezon just predicted:

    As it stands, I don’t see how a messy 2004-style situation can be avoided, with the vice-presidential contest potentially getting bogged down all the way to the Presidential Election Tribunal. It will take maximum statesmanship from both the eventual winner and loser to avoid turning this failure of the system into a festering bone of contention over the next six years.

    It may be that the next 48 hours will tell whether glee will turn into dread.

    The Long View: Glee - Manolo Quezon


  5. Camelot

    I’ve been thinking of writing something longer and more incisive on the subject of the themes of this election. But, for now Binay’s rise to prominence is a perfect vehicle to touch on one of themes I noticed. Namely, Camelot as a campaign.

    The dominant theme of this election was Camelot: hope, change and goodness. Noynoy was able to sell that message quite effectively. Genetics and borrowed aura played a huge part in it, but that does not necessarily explain his dominant victory; or the second place finish of Erap.

    Noynoy and his campaign crafted a campaign message grounded on hope and built on a response to the collapse of the Philippines over the last 10 years. Erap as well was able to effectively campaign on this premise. EDSA II has become a regret, and Erap (compared to GMA) has begun smelling of roses. While he did not have the traction to overtake the message of Aquino, his themes of pro-poverty and anti-GMA resonated. Not only that, but part of the collapse of Villar can be traced to Erap becoming more prominent; and people remembering the role Villar played in Erap’s downfall.

    Noynoy and Erap sold, in varying degrees, Camelot to the people. Binay, who has always been identified with Cory Aquino and being a vehement critic of GMA, is the Mayor of Makati. For many Filipinos (and I say this with just a touch of irony) Makati and it’s Golden Ghettos is as close to Camelot as the Philippines has. It is difficult to counter the physical reality of wealth and achievement, with the relatively ephemeral achievements of successful economic policies.

    Binay sold the Dream of Makati; and he had the apparent credentials to back it up. Namely, many of his pro-poor programs such as the Senior Citizen’s card, an innovation that began in Makati. Roxas, while having much more impressive credentials vis-a-vis job creation and encouraging foreign investment (the Father of Outsourcing and PEZA), could not sell that as an tangible vision.

    In the end, this election (like 1953 and 1986) was the story of moral and collective calls to action in response to the current administration. - with the vision of a Philippine Camelot as the achievable dream for all.

    For Noynoy, Camelot came in the form of honesty, integrity and continuing the work of his sanctified parents - the two who became the figureheads in the movements to tear-down a corrupt dictator. While Roxas would have been the perfect candidate to work reforms in the Philippines, he did not come with the built-in resonance that Binay possesses. For Binay, his connection to Erap (and Erap’s newly minted status as bad-but-not-as-bad-as-GMA), his connection to Cory Aquino, the relatively unknown status of his personal wealth and his stature as leading Makati all became contributing factors in his apparent rise to the top of the partial post-election returns.


  6. And the beat goes on.

    No matter who wins (looking like Aquino and Binay at this point) the job doesn’t end this week. It’s only just beginning.

    Six years to begin addressing the myriad problems facing the country. Six years to build some momentum, that hopefully can be carried over into the next six years, and subsequently beyond.

    The key here will be for the administration to build consensus, create momentum, enact long-term legislation (and/or enforce laws on the books) and build a real party and party platform that can run in 2016 on the basis of extending fundamental change. This will not be easy, by any long-shot. There will be the ever-present issues of politics as usual, partisanship and the potential for Arroyo-induced charter change (pending results).

    In truth, the outlook cannot be six years, it has to be twelve years. By looking at a twelve year window of development potential (as in building a party as more than just a wrapper for machinery) we can also begin to force change in the multi-party system. Looking at the development of nascent democracies (such as the US in its first 75 years) consolidation is key in democratic maturation. My hope is that the winning tandem will be able to forge some sort of consensus in terms of long-term development; in doing so creating a platform of ideas that a party can adopt and re-form itself around. Pie-in-the-sky? Definitely. But, consolidation via policy/platform/idealogical compromise and negotiation is more plausible and implementable within the existing framework of our democracy than wholesale shifting our system of government. 

    We all basically know the areas that require attention: education, the environment, the economy, the judiciary, agriculture, poverty and healthcare (to name a few broad areas). The issue is, can the disparate elements of the government and the various parties pound out and craft legislation based on consensus and discussion; not on back-door politicking.

    If the latter rather than the former occurs, we will extend the failures of the last 24 years. Ideological consensus must drive the new administration.

    Will this administration be able to begin the process of change?

    The benefit of an election is always that. Not change, but…hope.