1. Moving Past Inherent Inanities: Engaging, Interrogating, and Responding to Government Reform Programs

    One of the disconcerting elements of the current discourse on reform in government is the seeming assumption that limited reforms (or at least none meaningful) are being undertaken. And, as such, the government has been inutile in combating the prevalence of corruption. It is an overly simplistic view of a highly complex undertaking; one that a macro review of the efforts of the Aquino administration proves to be somewhat false. If anything, discussion should be more centered on the relative effectiveness and comprehensiveness of those initiatives. Or, just as importantly, the relative ability of the administration to publicize and engage civil society in those processes.

    For example, one of the key initiatives in the Open Government Program undertaken by the government is the revamping of the Official Gazette website (www.gov.ph) into a ‘one-stop shop’ for policy and reporting announcements. Programs, such as the Disbursement Acceleration Plan, the Open Government Initiative, and on-going (ignored) efforts like COMELEC and making elections more transparent, have been announced or relayed via the site; yet civil society and even certain legislators seem completely oblivious to their existence. This raises two questions:

    1. Is the Aquino government doing enough to make citizens, outside of media members, aware of the existence of the Official Gazette as a source of information and giving stakeholders opportunities to engage with transparency and accountability initiatives;
    2. Is civil society doing enough to empower themselves in engaging government processes for reform and good governance. Are they keeping track of initiatives and staying informed? That takes continuing effort to stay abreast of developments and educated about their specifics.

    I posted a question yesterday on Twitter (modeled after a famous Zen riddle): If information is available and no one uses it, is it really available? The institutionalization of transparency and accountability tools only occurs through continued use. That is a challenge to civil society; most especially those who have chosen to take on the mantle of public intellectuals, advocates, and activists. When information is readily available (now and in the future), civil society should no longer expect to be spoon-fed. That is not the nature of citizenship empowerment, in fact it is the opposite.

    Approaching Discourse

    …the facile dichotomies between Light and Darkness, free world and obscurantism, sweet tolerance and blind violence, tell us more about the overweening pride of their authors than the complexity of the contemporary world.

    - Tzveta Todorov

    Unfortunately, the current level of discourse ignores policy-centric and program-focused in favor more emotionally charged sloganeering, founded predominantly on motherhood statements and Manichaeism. That is a natural outflow of our typically emotionally charged discursive climate with regards to corruption and governance. And it fatally inhibits much needed engagement from all sectors in the public sphere. Right now this is expressed through the current almost fatal polarization among civil society ‘activists,’ as well as the wholly combative stance taken towards the Executive Branch (somehow avoiding certain legislators) in discourse; one being promoted and leveraged by some survival and/or agenda driven legislators and politicians.

    A third response - ‘overthrow the system!’ - is discredited by its inherent inanity: which bits of which system and in favor of which systemic substitute? In any case, who will do the overthrowing?

    We no longer have political movements. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns.

    -Tony Judt

    This is when Tony Judt’s dissection of modern protest movements and the hyper-charged emotionality of current levels of global discourse are most chilling. The sad by-product of this hyper-polarization and emotion driven ‘discourse’ is dismissal of dissent, or evidence and events that run counter to dearly held talking points. That is not to say that protests should not be undertaken or do not play a key role in society. They do. Informed dissent is the foundation of a functioning democracy and must be encouraged in all spheres.

    Moving beyond that, a nuanced analysis of government initiatives must be twofold:

    1. What is being undertaken by government, throughout the three branches, and how can those processes or initiatives be improved, engaged with, or supported;
    2. What are additional initiatives and policy proposals that civil society would like to see implemented.

    By basing our analysis of the public sphere on the willingness of government, media and civil society to engage in constructive, well-informed discourse, we will better be able to gauge our collective ability to move beyond Manichaeism and inherent inanities. So far, that analysis does not yield much positivity. That being said, there are elements of hope. Doy Santos has written about shifting public discourse towards policy, even initiating a hashtag (#PostPNoy) discussion thread to collate what we would like to see implemented over the next three years by the administration. While Cocoy Dayao offers recommendations on his experience in protesting the passing of the CyberCrime Law and the subsequent crowd-sourced bill to combat the CyberCrime Law called the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom.

    Just as compellingly, Marck Ronald Rimorin writes about our collective need to step back and move away from Manichaeism towards collaborative discourse. One key point that he makes is the need for us to truly leverage social media to develop crowd-sourced policies and ideas to combat corruption and reform governance. That is the missing element in the talk of ‘social media based protests’ and one that is disconcerting in its absence. Especially in light of the social media evangelical credentials on members of various protest organizations. Transparency, accountability, and consultative practices in reform movements is a missing ingredient in creating multi-sectoral solutions. As Cocoy Dayao has experienced with MCPIF, and Doy Santos hopes to encourage with #PostPNoy, substantive policy discussions and the crafting of reform agendas can take place in the public sphere and with the government.

    Stepping Back from the Emotional Precipice

    Sadly, contemporary intellectuals have shown remarkably little informed interest in the nitty gritty of public policy, preferring to intervene or protest on ethically-defined topics where the choices seem clearer…where unconventional opinion rarely finds a place…

    - Tony Judt

    Lost amid the emotionality of the moment is that some progress is being made towards transparency, investigation of corrupt practices, and the prosecution of illegal activities. Stepping back and taking a macro-perspective on developments demonstrates this. Thus, discourse must move past simplistic emotion driven dualities and consider the nature of endemic corruption in the government, as well as the culpability of legislators in promoting, leveraging, and protecting corrupt practices. It must touch on the worthiness or merit of stimulus programs under the administration. Failing to take these various issues on their own merit and lumping them together will result in flawed solutions; as Jego Ragragio points out. While branding anything financial in government we do not like as “pork” is excellent for talking points and slogans, it fails as a platform for comprehensive and cogent discussion.

    Considering Open Government

    In reviewing the reforms being proposed and undertaken by the Aquino administration, one multinational and sectoral initiative intrigued: the Open Government Partnership; of which the Philippines is one of the founding eight members. The Official Gazette has announced the ODP in the past, as well as published the 2012 Philippine Open Government Country Assessment Report in March 2013. It is disconcerting that this document went relatively unremarked. However, as an aside, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has been tapped to undertake an independent assessment of the Philippine government’s Open Government Action Plans and progress. A key part of the OGP is consultation with the private sector at every step.

    As a document the P-OGC Assessment Report offers a macro perspective of the administration’s reform agenda. As such, I would argue, it becomes a starting place for engagement between government and civil society on reform initiatives and their effectiveness. It offers a framework within which to evaluate and interrogate the structure of good governance programs and, subsequently, present suggestions, additions, or improvements as needed. Granted, this is separate from policy-centric discussions, but I would argue policies designed to address identified systemic flaws will naturally flow out of discussion and an increased understanding of system processes.

    The Open Government Partnership is centered around the following declarations:

    We acknowledge that people all around the world are demanding more openness in government. They are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.

    We recognize that countries are at different stages in their efforts to promote openness in government, and that each of us pursues an approach consistent with our national priorities and circumstances and the aspirations of our citizens.

    We accept responsibility for seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable.

    We uphold the value of openness in our engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities. We embrace principles of transparency and open government with a view toward achieving greater prosperity, well-being, and human dignity in our own countries and in an increasingly interconnected world.

    - Preamble of the Open Government Declaration

    Essentially, the Open Government Partnership is an initiative designed to enhance and institutionalize transparency and accountability measures to promote good governance. A review of the action plan of the Philippine government, linked to and patterned on President Aquino’s Social Contract with the Filipino People, offers an understanding of how the administration has approached good governance reforms, as well as gives an opportunity to review those reforms. All members of the Open Government Partnership declare their commitment to adhere to four principles:

    1. Increase availability of information of governmental activities
    2. Support civic participation
    3. Implement of the highest standards of professional integrity throughout the country’s administration
    4. Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability

    A full description of each of the four points can be found on the ODP website.

    My argument is not that the Open Government Program is the beginning and end of reform geared towards good governance and the elimination of corruption; nor does it appear that is how it was conceived. That being said it offers civil society insight into how the administration has chosen to approach improving transparency and accountability through the implementation of various initiatives. That gives civil society a method with which to critically interrogate the government’s adherence to their own self-imposed and created action plan, as well as weigh the effectivity of the various programs and policies.

    Addressing systemic corruption and improving good governance is a multi-sectoral long term effort, that requires consultative and collaborative processes from all stakeholders involved. There is no single solution to what faces us. True sustainable change must be multi-pronged in approach and scope; encompassing all sectors of government and civil society. They must multi-faceted, culturally bound, and inclusive, both in depth and nature, to truly effect change through the country. The key is how do we, collectively, approach crafting those solutions. And how do we then ensure any transparency and accountability, and anti-corruption reforms are both effective and institutionalized.

     

  2. Notes on Pork Barrel in the Philippines

    In the process of writing an essay on pork barrel and its place in the Philippine social and political context, there were some bits and pieces that were discarded. I am posting them here for whatever use they may be.

    On the Senate and Its Porky Disposition

    The representative historical, practical, and philosophical roots of pork barrel call into question the need for members of the Senate to have access to targeted investment structures. While district and sectoral representatives, theoretically, must serve the needs of their constituents (a forgotten element at this time), Senators in the Philippine context are required to consider the needs of the nation. That focus is at odds with the hyper-local focus of pork barrel.

    The client-patron ties between representatives and their sectors/districts is a natural by-product of their relationship; one that can only be rooted out by shifting the cultural prisms with which they reflectively view each other. However, in the case of Senators, bringing investment into any part of the country ad hoc, brings with it an instant suspicion of favoritism. It should come as no surprise that a quick review of some senators PDAF spending betrays favoritism. In the case of the Cayetanos that place is Taguig. While this is not a problem isolated in the Senate (look at some of the expenditures of party-lists sometime) it is one that seemingly is at odds with the purpose of this body.

    Clearly, careful consideration must be given to either eliminating senatorial pork, or putting definitive restrictions on where it can be invested. One suggestion would be that it cannot be invested in any district where the senator or a family member either served or is currently serving (in the case of relatives). Additionally, thought might be given to restricting targeted investment requests by senators to locational and size restrictions. For example, of the total package of requests by the senator for project consideration, specific social sectors and geographic regions of the country must be limited to 10% of the total amount.

    The Senate and the House, while part of the same branch of government, have different foci. House must serve the hyper-local needs of their constituents; while the Senate is tasked to consider the needs of the nation. Their ability to request for targeted investments (pork barrel in other words) must reflect that.

    On Ties that Bind: Client-Patron Relations in the Philippines

    One of the key criticisms of PDAF use in the Philippines is its connection to patronage and the crafting of client-patron ties. Again, this is not a fundamental flaw of pork barrel. Instead, it is an inherent flaw in the methods in which we have deployed targeted investment structures. Structures can be devised that can eliminate or mitigate the coercive nature of client-patron ties. But, from a purely intellectual level, these ties are inherent in the relationship between district and representative; citizen and nation. We are, by the very nature of governance and development, reliant and beholden to government for so much of what we utilize on a daily basis. What this means is we have to eliminate informal client-patron ties as well as mitigate formal client-patron ties and their attendant opportunities for abuse.

    This requires a blended approach to governance innovation, as well as a reorientation on a broadly national level of how citizens approach government, and government understands its role vis-a-vis the people. In some ways that means infusing the concepts of service leadership through-out government. As well, it means breaking the inherent cultural predilection for headship leaders. In terms of formal structures, this demands the creation of institutionalized mechanisms where-by government consults with civil society sectors and incorporates suggestions and feedback into policy, budgeting, and governance initiatives.

    On Unbalancing the Executive-Legislative Relationship

    There can be no doubt that pork barrel has been used as a way to forge client-patron ties in two directions: First, between the Executive and the Legislature; second, between members of the Legislature and their constituents. In this example, constituents are not necessarily people who live in the legislator’s district. The demand to abolish is driven by the mistaken belief that it will eliminate ties of patronage within government itself. This cannot be further from the truth. The abolition of pork barrel and the failure to implement a formalized and transparent system for localized project generation on a national level will result in the embedding of unseen client-patron ties between Malacañang and Congress. At worst, the Palace will have full control over the disbursement of development funds and the creation of nationally funded projects throughout the archipelago. At best, Congress will have to clandestinely dangle their votes on pet bills for development pesos consideration. That system does nothing to improve the plight of the Filipino, instead it puts us further at the whim of the national government. In many ways, this type of a situation resembles some of the dark instances in our collective past.

    This also demands consideration of how discretionary funds are used both by the President and various agencies within the Executive Branch. While fully discretionary funds are dangerous source of patronage and corruption, the fact is discretionary funds are a vital requirement in pursuing the objectives of governance throughout the country. Items like the Calamity Fund and social service/outreach funds help fill in the gaps of the national budget, while providing stop-gap resources for Filipinos who are in need. Discretionary funds, in other words, take on the role of contingency funds: Funds used when needed most on a personal, regional, and national level. Much like pork barrel, its about the use discretionary funds and their restrictions that we must consider; not their very existence.

     

  3. 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.

     

  4. The Digital Age and Human Rights.

    In the lead up to the May 2010 elections, UNESCO Philippines presented a white paper to presidential candidates enumerating their recommendations for much needed policies in Philippines.

    Key among them were policy themes focusing on internet access as instrumental in human resource development; anchors, if you will, for the Philippines in the digital age.

    9. Approve a Universal Internet Access Policy aligned with the World Summit on Information Society.

    10. Approve a Broad Band Bill of Rights

    The World Summit on Information Society took place in 2003 in Geneva. From that initial meeting a Declaration of Principles was released. Important to our current situation is the following declaration:

    We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers.

    It is important to read the entirety of the document and all sixty-seven principles, they are all in some way applicable to the Philippines today, and most especially our current situation.

    A quick run through of the core principles demonstrates a desire on the part of this multi-stakeholder document to foster a global environment of inclusiveness. Of particular note is the fact that there is a concerted effort to project the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) into the digital age. The crafters of this declaration, and all sovereign states that were a part of the process, obviously believed that the fundamental rights of human beings does not end at the keyboard of a computer. What happens in the digital space demands as much attention to human rights and dignity as what happens in the ‘real world.’

    Information technology, the internet, social media space, cyberspace, or whatever we choose to call it, falls under the same guiding principles of human rights and development as any other space. The sheer ignorance displayed by Philippine elected officials in drafting and ratifying the the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is staggering, precisely because it inadvertently infringes on globally accepted standards of human rights. Not only does it infringe on portions of the Philippine Constitution, it seemingly works against key globally accepted multi-lateral agreements.

    There has to be a fundamental presumption of protection of basic human rights and freedoms for an enlightened society to prosper. The fear of the unknown and ignorance (this is not an accusation, senators have already admitted they were unaware of all of the Cybercrime provisions) displayed by Congress should give all of us pause in the upcoming elections. A government that seeks to control its population through draconian measures best left in history is essentially setting itself against universally agreed upon standards of human development and rights protections. Rights are not absolute, but neither is government.

    I have hope that the controversial provisions of the Cybercrime Law will be excised. Already Senators are jumping on the bandwagon led by TG Guingona. I am sure others will be following suit as the full implications of this public relations disaster become apparent. I am almost positive the Aquino administration will barely lift a finger in defense of the Law.

    That being said, the passing of this law shows critical shortfalls in the ways and means bills are crafted, vetted, and ratified; not only on the part of congressmen and senators, but civil society and media at large. When a political process knowingly or not produces a document so antithetical to fostering a human rights centered, development oriented society something is critically flawed. That demands a bit of soul-searching on all our part. To be blunt, any bill that does not, at its heart, uphold the essential and universal rights of human beings, is anti-development. It exists as a measure of control and debasement; an attempt to strip away the dignity of humans, in favor of stagnation and social ennui.

    The very first declaration of principles by the World Summit on the Information Society is a principle we should best remember. Obviously, UNESCO Philippines did, they made these principles central to their information technology policy recommendations.

    We…declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Human rights. What a novel concept to keep in mind.

     

  5. The thing I find most funny about a lot of these Philippine faux-militants is all they really want is to be taken care of and to be held by their government. They want more government interventions, more state subsidies, more coddling.

    It’s not that they want a different form of government, or different economic policies vis-a-vis foreign ownership, direct/captured investments, inclusive growth, or a different fundamental basis from which government policies are formed and enacted.

    Nuh uh.

    They just want Noynoy (or whoever is in office) to be their patriarch and take care of them. Hell in practically the same breath they’ll go from insulting PNoy and the government for not increasing subsidies, or removing VAT, or intervening with regards to oil prices, to bitching about the vast powers politicians have, and how politicos use their positions and influence to leverage votes.

    Come on, be coherent. Subsidized programs need funding, else we get into massive deficit spending, which will in turn require increased borrowing on the side of the Philippine government, and in turn require a greater portion of the government’s budget shifting towards debt servicing, which will result in less funding available for social services.

    And of course there is the ever present issue of corruption, which only further cuts into the already shrinking pie of government revenues available for social services and infrastructure development. Yet, PNoy is doing nothing for the country by going after corruption in the government. Although, somehow the administration is able to reduce government borrowing and debt servicing, increasing revenues, and expanding government social services and infrastructure development (seriously, has anyone actually seen the infrastructure projects programmed for this year?). All the while, the government (via the BSP) is maintaining steady low inflation and an increasingly positive investor sentiment.

    Yes, but by all means, let’s focus on the short term issues, ignore the medium to long term concerns, and bitch and moan about that. Funnily enough other countries are even studying our oil subsidy programs that target those in need. And don’t give me this shit about targeted oil subsidies are anti-equality. The well-heeled can buck up. I thought we lived in a society that favored massive wealth distribution (CCT, agrarian reform, PhilHealth, free healthcare, RH, free primary/secondary education, with overly subsidized tertiary education etc). Don’t back off wealth distribution now.

    Most of the arguments I’ve seen against PNoy are basically because he isn’t doing exactly what certain elements of society demand of him. No RH yet? Lazy president. VAT on oil? Lazy president. 

    Laziest dictator ever, don’t you know.

    They ignore most of the other missteps he’s making in favor of cutesy little soundbites. Guess that stuff sells.

     

  6. I don’t hate the West. As a matter of fact I like the West. I pretty much spent my entire educational career in a Western context, so I understand where a lot of this shit is coming from. The sentiments are in the right place, it’s the methodology that is flawed, and more than a little dangerous.

    I think a lot of these armchair activists who jump on the advocacy du jour train need to spend a lot more time reading up and studying the underlying cultural and socio-economic contexts of other countries before offering solutions and being all “Imma gonna save the children.” It’s old, it’s tired, and frankly it’s just a rejiggering of the old white man’s burden schtick that has been oh so destructive in the past.

    Being all academic for a second, Margaret MacMillan said that "If you do not know the history of another people, you will not understand their values, their fears and hopes or how they are likely to react to something you do. There is another way of getting things wrong and that is to assume that other people are just like you."

    Basically, learn about other cultures and their historical context. Understand why their country is the way it is and what it actually is like right now. Listen to them. Don’t try and relate, don’t be all “I feel your pain.” That’s just demeaning. But try and learn from them, be open to their experiences. Respect where they are coming from.

    All you have to do is look at the history of Western interventionism to understand how profoundly misreadings of a people’s culture and history can fuck them up for decades. I live in a country that was the victim of that.

    Most in the developing world do. That should give everyone enough to pause whenever military interventions are declared as necessary and immediate. Work with the people to come up with solutions, that’s key and that is the critical ingredient that is often forgotten. We know our countries, we don’t need saving and we don’t need rescuing. What we do need is help on our own terms.

    I have encountered that a lot, people coming to the Philippines and immediately telling us what is wrong with our country and how to fix it; all the while making sad eyes and telling us they ‘understand our pain.’ Really? You do? How wonderful for you. Want a cookie?

    In other words, listen, study, and learn about other cultures and countries. It’s a novel idea.

     

  7. This Kony stuff is typical Western interventionism. Kony is not a ‘cause’, he’s a side-effect of whatever deep-rooted, social, and economic issues are plaguing Uganda. While it may feel good and all (and probably correct) to remove him from his sphere of influence, unless the issues that allowed him to aggregate power are addressed there will be another Kony to take his place.

    If we want to eliminate Kony and the opportunity for any one like him to flourish again there has to be more to this endeavor than just coming in and taking him out.

    That’s all.

     

  8. Denying Discourse

    There are a number of traits inherent in Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s worldview that I object to; among them her denouncing of any belief contrary to hers and her proclivity for hate-mongering and insult-laden ranting. The impeachment trial has brought her many faults into sharp-focus, at least for those who look past the inherent entertainment value of her screeds and weigh the value of the content.

    If anything Senator Santiago has fully embraced her role as the loose canon of the Senate, and the Impeachment Court; playing and pandering to the less introspective elements of society, obscuring whatever intelligent and incisive commentary she has amid a cascade of blithering, blathering, and bombastic pronouncements. She has, in fact, become a court jester, a sad figure who relies on the volume and cadence of her voice to attract attention, rather than the probity of her opinions. Sad, because she offers a valuable viewpoint to the proceedings and public discourse at large.

    One of my favorite 20th century thinkers was Tony Judt, a man who lamented the deplorable levels to which public discourse has fallen in the West. Unfortunately, we in the East (and especially the Philippines) too often adopt the less admirable qualities of Western democratic discourse. We have a discursive problem, one that Judt described as, "Our discursive disability: we simply do not know how to talk about things anymore." While he was referring to our proclivity to reduce any discussion into economic components, the guiding idea remains the same: We are no longer capable of discussing. Our culture has become one where we are talking on differing levels, with different foundations for opinions, and with conceits that inform the idea that “I am right and everyone else is wrong.” The sense of self-righteous superiority that fills the air can become oppressive. People talk at length, but say little. We are not longer strangers passing in the night, we are strangers shouting to the side, failing to listen, learn, or explore (even respect) alternate world-views.

    Judt continued to discuss the breakdown in social imagination: "A closed circle of opinion or ideas into which discontent or opposition is never allowed - or allowed only within circumscribed and stylized limits - loses its capacity to respond energetically or imaginatively to new challenges." The side-effect of an elected representative of the people haranguing and denouncing any opinion contrary to hers is in fact creating an atmosphere of circuitous thinking, it denies the validity of any contrary opinion. The reducing of public discourse to snide commentary, insults, and ‘cute’ names is a disservice. When a Senator, one of the highest elected officials in the land, contributes on a daily basis to that reduction it is a travesty.

    Quite frankly, I care little for the reaction of Attorney Aguirre to Santiago’s rants. He broke court decorum, he essentially kicked mud in the eye of the Senate Impeachment Court. But, between a Senator referring to other elected officials and representatives of the Filipino people as gago (in essence, attacking other members of Congress and deriding the Filipino people whom they serve) she was creating a situation where-by someone was going too react to her ‘trolling’ and provocations. Let’s not pretend that there wasn’t good reason for him to act the way he did, there was. And the fact that there has been little blow back on the bully is disheartening. More to the point, the fact that the stance of the Senate has been to refuse to reel her in and attempt to add some decorum to the proceedings gives insight into how the Senate views this exercise. Or even how the Senators view the position that they hold. Between Sotto cracking jokes, Drilon playing the role of lead prosecutor, Joker Arroyo blithering on about half-baked conspiracy theories, and Santiago basically mocking the entire proceedings with her actions we have a very good idea how they view their position and responsibilities. This holds true too for the failures of the prosecution and the tactics deployed by the defense and their client throughout these proceedings. By the way, Judt commented on conspiracy theorists who go off half-cocked with nonsensical storytelling: “Those who assert the system is at fault, or who see mysterious maneuverings behind every political misstep, have little to teach us.”

    Eventually someone has to stand up to a bully, and Santiago has always been a bully. She relies on the sanctity of her elected position to bolster her opinions and shield her actions from criticism. Yet, by acting the way she has, she is inevitably (and consistently) debasing the august position that she holds. In no shape or form should it be acceptable for a Senator of the Republic of the Philippines to continually go off half-cocked hurling insults, ridiculing the intelligence and education of Filipinos who hold contrary opinions (as she has the last few days), and treating the position she holds as license to bully and deride.

    Miriam Defensor-Santiago is not the cause of our discursive issues in the Philippines. But she is a consequence, one that continues to sow the seeds for reductive and ill-formed discourse in the Philippines. Judt’s book from which I quoted is called Ill Fares the Land. I cannot think of a better description for the state of discourse in the Philippine sphere than that.

     

  9. 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?

     
  10. Was digging around Youtube for speeches set during the backdrop of the Great Depression and World War II. Came across this little excerpt from a speech by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

    Disturbingly topical.