Archive for the ‘Noynoy Aquino’ Category


President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA before the joint session of Congress

President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA before the joint session of Congress

 

Yesterday was another State of Nation Address (SONA) day in the Philippines.

The SONA is supposed to be a report of the country’s chief executive on his government’s accomplishments over the past year as well as his plans for the future. In the case of the incumbent, President Benigno S. Aquino III, his plans for the remaining two years of his term.

Sadly, the SONA had been transformed into something less than that.

 

Philippine Congress hears President Aquino's SONA

Philippine Congress hears President Aquino’s SONA

 

For one, the exercise has become a fashion spectacle, an obscene, ostentatious and insensitive display of wealth, pomp, and bad taste in the midst of hunger and poverty.  You have the people’s representatives and servants trying to outdo each other on the red carpet.

Second, it became a game of up-onemanship, a very swell pissing contest. A president will list his accomplishments and declare he did more than his predecessors.  Or all other previous administrations combined, for that matter. What should he do that?  Does he have to do that?  Under the 1987 Constitution, he is limited to a single term.  He is not eligible to run for re-election. Why behave like a candidate on the hustings?  Why can’t he locate himself in a continuing narrative of nation-building even if one president supposedly accomplished more than others?

Why can’t a president talk and report to the nation as the President of all Filipinos and not as leader of his party?

 

After all, the members of the opposition are fellow Filipinos, fellow citizens, and thus also his constituents.

 

Can a reform of our winner-take-all electoral possibly remedy this parochialism and short-sightedness?  How about electing the president and the vice president as a single package, similar to what they do in the United States, to enhance unity at the very top of the country’s political leadership?

In the post-Marcos period, all chief executives have been put on the defensive sometime during their presidency and it has limited their effectivity.  For some reason or the other, they sustain a significant dimunition of their political capital and suffer the consequences.

 

Even the saint-like Tita Cory saw a decrease of her political stock as her administration was unable to solve a power crisis (the same problem confronting his son at the moment).  Only her clear intent not to succeed herself after 1992 prevented a further decrease in her political capital.

 

President Fidel V. Ramos developed a reputation of being a doer fortified by complete staff work (CSW) by his able lieutenants.  He is the only post-Marcos president with a grand plan for the country (Philippines 2000) as well as the first one to plan to succeed himself. Thus the deliberate use of the year 2000 in the fighting slogan “Philippines 2000” even if his presidential term was supposed to end in June 1998.

 

Ramos’ image first took a hit with the execution of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic, in Singapore on murder charges.  Most Filipinos believed she was innocent of the crime, that she was wrongly accused and put to death, and that the Philippine government acquiesced to the Singapore government’s judgement and did not do much to help her escape death.

 

Ramos’s bid to succeed himself through PIRMA was foiled by the opposition of erstwhile allies led by Jaime Cardinal Sin and Tita Cory.  What finally did him was the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. 
While President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was elected in 1998 by the single largest number of voters in the country’s political history, his downfall was swift.  As early as 2000, he faced accusations of grand corruption and tried to parry his political opponents by launching a war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Eventually, he was impeached and removed by another people power insurrection in January 2001, after only two years and seven months in power.

As vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) assumed the office and served the remainder of President Estrada’s term.  The constitutional restrictions of a single term did not apply to her and she successfully stood for election as president in May 2004.  Following the 2005 revelation of her taped conversations with a top Commission on Elections (COMELEC) official suggesting that the count be tampered in her favor, GMA was put on the so-called “survival mode”.  She was hounded by corruption charges during the remainder of her term, largely because of the unsavory reputation of her husband, the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.

This time around, President Noynoy Aquino has to deal with a Supreme Court decision that declared his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) (or budget impounding schemes, as other would have it) unconstitutional. His popularity rating plummeted and he faces impechment complaints–an entirely new situation for him.  He chose to go on an offensive short of calling the Supreme Court as the chief obstruction to his progressive reforms. His defense: he did what he did for the good of the people.  He says he will follow processes and file a motion for reconsideration with the Court. Then he commits the gaffe of accusing the Court of committing the same proscribed cross-border transactions when in fact, the Court did not.

In yesterday’s SONA, the President wisely backed away from his tirades against the Supreme Court.  What he did was to ask his allies in the Lower House to act on a proposed P2.3 trillion 2015 budget which will give him the leeway to spend public money as he saw fit. 

 

He spent the initial part of the SONA listing his accomplishments in a rather haphazard manner and lacking a unifying or thematic framework that could have earned him a very low grade if he was making the presentation in my class.  It was too micro and a big picture is barely discernible. 

 

While the accomplishments are praiseworthy, I would have wanted them to be presented in the context of what needs to be done for the remainder of his term.  A generic “good governance” may suffice at the beginning of his term but is inadequate given the context of his remaining years.

 

I think he made a few assertions regarding the swiftness of government’s response to the super-typhoon Haiyan that can be effectively challenged by the victims themselves and fact checkers.

 

The single most important gap is the parochialism of the speech.  President Aquino focused on domestic matters and did not respond to urgent foreign policy concerns.  For instance, there was no mention of (continuing?) preparations for the impending 2015 full integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
He spends some choice minutes by attacking his critics and so-called “enemies of reform” first before individually naming and praising allies and well-meaning Filipinos who can continue his reform efforts even after he steps down from the Presidency.  He succumbed to the cheap joy of finding comfort among friends instead of embarking on the more difficult path of reaching out and establishing broad unity.

 

While I am pessimistic of the prospects, I do hope he will change his stance and will be the President of all Filipinos.  That is after all what is contained in his oath of office.

 

 

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Pro-administration Team Pnoy senatorial slate

Pro-administration Team Pnoy senatorial slate

The campaign period for the May 2013 by-elections has started.  It is probably the best time to review what we (should or already) know about elections in the Philippines.   

UNA: opposition senatorial slate

UNA: opposition senatorial slate

  1. Even if the Philippines is in the tropics, it also has four seasons like temperate countries. It has a dry and a wet season.  And there’s the Christmas season–purportedly the longest Christmas celebration in the world.  It starts in September and ends in early January of the following year.  Last but not least is the election season, which starts in January and ends in the middle of May.  Note that the election season almost immediately follows Christmas for a seamless stream of festivities.  Formally, elections are held only every three years.  However, politicians (incumbents especially) usually behave as if elections will be held tomorrow.  So they preen, and they tidy up, and they put their best foot forward, and dispense all kinds of goodies to constituents.
  2. There are only two kinds of politicians in Philippine elections: the winners and the cheated.  Instead of conceding gracefully, the default behaviour of losing candidate is to claim the occurrence of fraud in favour of the winning candidate.
  3. Even if the Philippines is the oldest democracy in Asia, it took more than a century to modernize the way we vote and count votes.  Younger Asian democracies (with larger populations) like India had started using electronic voting machines since 1999.  In contrast, the Philippines adopted similar machines on a nation-wide basis only in 2010.  In both countries, though, the credibility of the voting machines rests on an independent verification system  designed to allow voters verify that their votes were cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results. Since every election in the Philippines is governed by a specific law, the continued use of voting machines is not assured. 

    Liberal Party: head of the ruling coalition

    Liberal Party: head of the ruling coalition

  4. The Philippine Constitution provides for a multi-party system, which is actually more fit for a parliamentary system.  While multiple parties exist in name, most of them are mere vehicles for electoral bids of key politicians. There is no prohibition on party switching and voters do not penalize politicians who switch
    Nacionalista Party: a component of Team Pnoy

    Nacionalista Party: a component of Team Pnoy

    parties.  For example, the senatorial slate of President Benigno Aquino is composed of candidates from several political parties.  The opposition line-up is similarly constituted by politicians from different parties.  What makes the situation rather absurd is the

    PDP Laban: a component of the UNA slate

    PDP Laban: a component of the UNA slate

    adoption by the opposing coalitions of three guest candidates. It is an indication of the bankruptcy and lack of imagination on both sides.  There is surely no lack of suitable candidates on both camps but they decided instead to guest ‘sure-win’ candidates.  In the past week, so-called guest candidates chose to campaign with the administration candidates.  This prompted threats from the opposition coalition that it will no longer carry said guest candidates followed by inane

    PMP: another component of the UNA slate

    PMP: another component of the UNA slate

    ripostes from some of the ‘guests’ that their loyalty is to the Filipino people and not to any political coalition.

  5. At the end of an election (general or otherwise), political alignments will either be with or against the incumbent administration.  There is no rule prohibiting those who styled themselves as opposition candidates and won to join the pro-administration coalition after the elections.  The move is explained as a way to ensure funds for district projects, the idea being the President is more inclined to approve projects if they were proposed by political allies rather by political opponents.  Sometimes, it does not work in such a neat way. Presidents may court the critical votes of opposition politicians by providing pork barrel allocations and other forms of patronage.
  6. The discussion above highlights the difference between candidate-centered vs. party-centered electoral systems.  In party-centred polities, political parties choose their candidates through primaries, party conventions and caucuses.  In these polities, party discipline prevails; party members follow the party (voting) line in legislative bodies.  It is unthinkable for politicians to switch parties like butterflies flitting from a flower to another.  In sum, what is important is the political party as a ‘brand’.  It stands for something–an ideology, a political program–and its leaders and members are secondary.  Votes are cast for a politician because he is strongly associated with a party ‘brand’.  In contrast, parties are not strong ‘brands’ in candidate-centered systems.  Candidates are the ‘brands’ and political parties are just extraneous packaging or wrappings that may be changed in the next election.  The candidate does not need an ideology or a political program.  Rather, he must have a reputation of performance–of providing divisible favors to constituents,  supporters, and financiers such as hand-outs, jobs, infrastructure projects, and preferential treatment by government such as exemptions and special credits.  He then claims that these ‘public goods’ were made possible by his ‘private performance’.  Thus, the ubiquitous presence of ‘Epal[1] tarps’ in all corners of archipelago make sense.

    Example of epal tarp

    Example of epal tarp

  7. In candidate-centered polities like the Philippines, the differences between legislators and local chief executives are blurred.  Voters and politicians alike do not consider legislation as the primary work of legislators.  If a legislator behaved as a pure legislator and concentrated on making laws, he will most likely not be re-elected.  Voters will see him as a useless politician since he did not ‘bring home the bacon’.  The legislator must behave like local chief executives (LCEs),  as provincial governors, city and town mayors, and even barangay captains,  who must deliver divisible goods.  For this reason, among others, legislators and  LCEs had seen it fit to play a game of electoral musical chairs especially since the enactment of the Local Government Code (LGC) in 1991.  Through the 1991 LGC,  funds available to LCEs of some local government units (LGUs) became more substantial than those of congressional district representatives.  However, a better explanation for this behavior is the term-limit rule.  Representatives and LCEs can only serve for three consecutive terms of three years each.   The ability to run for other electoral posts helps politicians with expiring terms to maintain their hold on political power. 
  8. The other way around term-limits is to field relatives (wife, husband, son, daughter, etc.) for the soon-to-be vacated post(s).  This could just be a bench-warming strategy; the relative keeps the post for a three-year term until the principal is eligible once more to run for the post.  However, it could also be an expansionist strategy.  The ‘bench-warmer’ had gained valuable experience and exposure; these assets could be parlayed into another electoral post.  These circumstances can explain the origins of political dynasties in the Philippines.  Let’s recall the case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  Arroyo hunkered into a survival strategy after her electoral mandate was put
    Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

    Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

    into serious question after the 2005 ‘Hello Garci’ scandal.  The strategy apparently covered the post-presidency period and Arroyo ran for a congressional seat in her home province to acquire a modicum of immunity.  During her incumbency as President, that same seat was occupied by one of her sons.  To accommodate her, the son did not contest the same seat but chose to run for another post instead.  The filial ties between mother and son were key to this unprecedented post-presidential survival strategy. 

  9. The Philippine Constitution explicitly prohibits political dynasties.  However, the same constitutional provision is not self-executory and requires that an enabling law must be passed.  However, all attempts to pass such a law have failed so far, and understandably so since most legislators are members of what could be rightly called political dynasties.  The current by-elections can lead to the consolidation of several political dynasties associated with the biggest and brightest names in Philippine politics–Aquino, Angara, Enrile, Cojuangco, Escudero, Binay,  etc.  The political dynasty issue is rather a complicated one.  Proponents of banning or controlling political dynasties argue that it will strengthen Philippine democracy by broadening choice of candidates and removing the undue advantages of dynasties (wealth, experience, exposure, and name recall, among others).  Those who would advise caution think an anti-dynasty law is actually an unconstitutional provision.  It violates the equal treatment clause of the Constitution.  Why should a son or daughter or a brother or a grandson or an uncle be prohibited from contesting an electoral post because a relative is in power?  What would justify discriminatory treatment?
  10. One thing that political dynasties have going for them is that they are better able to handle the ever-rising costs of elections.  Key considerations are population growth–the growth of the voting population–and the rather fixed length of the electoral campaign period.  In the past, candidates (especially those for national posts) thought it was adequate to rely on hand-shaking, posters, flyers, city-hopping, and miting-de-avance to win.  However, the increased number of voters and the fixed
    TV spot for Pnoy during 2010 election campaign

    TV spot for Pnoy during 2010 election campaign

    campaign period forced candidates to use television and radio as the primary campaign tools.  Not that the mass media corporations are complaining.  They are in fact so happy since a previous ban on electronic campaigning was lifted.  The increased prominence of electronic media in Philippine elections raises serious questions regarding election campaign finance and electronic campaigning.  If TV and radio presence is a function of a candidate’s money, if TV and radio presence enhances a candidate’s name recall and chances of winning, what rules are being implemented regarding these activities?  Are they adequate?  What reforms are needed?

    TV spot for 2010 presidential candidate Gibo Teodoro

    TV spot for 2010 presidential candidate Gibo Teodoro

      

  This is not an exhaustive list; it could be expanded to 50 things about Philippine elections.  Perhaps we can end with the question: is it more fun with Philippine elections?  The response will be mixed.  We do not a have a porn star-member of the Italian parliament who delivers her speeches with a breast exposed.  We do not have brawling

Brawling Taiwanese legislators

Brawling Taiwanese legislators

parliamentarians as in Taiwan and South Korea.  On the other hand, our elections are fun!  We love our elections!  Elections are fiestas, extravaganzas, spectator sports, boxing bouts, and cockfights all rolled into one.  There are movie stars, starlets, stand-up comics, and dance troupes galore.  And there’s food and drink. And cash gifts!    Reportage on elections reflect these metaphors.   Now you know why a lot of Filipinos want elections to happen annually rather than every three years.

Miting de avance

Miting de avance


[1] ‘Epal‘ is a play on and is derived from the Filipino word ‘mapapel‘.  Roughly translated into English, it means ‘credit grabbing’ or ‘attention grabbing’.  It is obviously a pejorative; the politician is admonished for trumpeting what he is duty-bound to do.  Epal also creates two related discourses: the public should be grateful to the politician and that, perhaps, the politician is spending his personal money for the public’s benefit.  The tarp (short for tarpaulins) became the medium of choice with the advent of appropriate software and large printers.

In November this year, incumbent US president Barack Obama of the Democratic Party will face off versus the standard-bearer of the Republican Party after the latter goes through its primaries.

Obama (always) on the stump

The front-running Republicans include former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former senator from

Mitt Romney

Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.  A distant third is Newt Gingrinch, former Speaker of the House and representative from Georgia.

Obama is running for a second and last term while the Republicans, who have control over Congress, seeks control over the White House.

My students at the University of the Philippines have started asking me how the US elections could possibly affect the Philippines.  I recall being a speaker in a symposium organized to study the impact of the unprecedented election of Obama to the White House in 2008.

My answer then was there will no major changes in US policy vis-a-vis the Philippines  notwithstanding Obama’s election.  For the 2012 elections, my answer is the same.

Democrats and Republicans may have significant differences over domestic policy and this is quite evident as the US tries to recover

Rick Santorum

from the Great Recession.  Republicans insist on cuts in government spending plus cut on taxes on upper income groups.  Democrats may compromise on spending cuts but will not give in on tax cuts for the rich.

However, there is a bipartisan consensus regarding US foreign policy.  And that is to protect American interests and stand by core American allies (such as the North Atlantic Organization) and to prevent the strengthening of rival powers.

John Mearsheimer, an international security expert, argued that no state can attain global hegemon status in the post-Cold War period.  At best, it can be a regional hegemon.  And it could frustrate hegemonic ambitions of another state in another region.  As the US is already hegemonic in the Western hemisphere and its allies are hegemonic in Europe, the most apparent area of contention is Asia and the hegemon to be frustrated is China.  

In this sense, the US has shifted (at the moment) from a war on terror-centered doctrine to an older competition with states doctrine. 

Here, the US has to deal with problems it did not have before.  The Great Recession has reduced the resources available for the US government to achieve its foreign policy and military objectives in the Asia Pacific region.  In addition, it also has to deal with the unique problem of being heavily indebted to its perceived number 1 rival.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

How does the Philippines figure in all these?  President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo must have been perceived as a not-too-reliable an ally by the US.  First, she withdrew a token Philippine force in Iraq in 2004 for politically expedient reasons at the home front.  Second, she played heavy footsie with the Chinese–entering into many economic and investment agreements and entertaining visits from Chinese military officials.  Her government even entered into joint seismic survey arrangements with China and Vietnam within the disputed Spratly Islands group.

That now seems to be water under the bridge.  If Arroyo tilted towards the Chinese, President Noynoy Aquino is clearly sympathetic to the American cause.  

President Noynoy Aquino

The current cause of worry for the Philippines is the adverse impact of the economic slowdown in the US and Europe on the country’s electronic exports.  Economic experts are of the opinion that our exports will recover to previous levels only if the Western economies.  Others believe that our electronic exports may not the ones needed abroad–like tablet screens?

Officials of the country’s business process outsourcing (BPO) industry pooh-poohed fears raised over proposed  US legislation that will discourage outsourcing and create jobs within the US.  They believed that US multinationals will oppose the proposal since outsourcing is a cost-cutting measure. 

Wells Fargo

Their optimism is justified by the decision of Wells Fargo, the 2nd largest bank in the US, to set up a BPO center in Taguig City.

To sum up, I don’t think the coming US elections will have any significant impact on the Philippines.


I did not comment on the on-going impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona except for the blog-entry on the G-word [see <https://bongmendoza.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/four-letter-words/>].

My reasons: I did not have anything new to say or a novel spin on the developments even if the impeachment was the news of the day for three months running.  At many instances, I got bored with the proceedings when most of the business of the day was marking of exhibits and as the defense resorted to technicalities that a non-lawyer like me cannot follow.  Of course, I also had work to do.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago

This reminds me of the Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s admonitions against non-lawyers making commentaries on the impeachment proceedings.  At one point, she argued that the law is a body of technicalities.  For these reasons, it requires one to go through four years of law school and a year to prepare for and pass the bar examinations.  So there!

However, to our amusement and consternation, both the prosecution and defense panels resorted to several schemes which could be best considered as fool-hardy.

We Filipinos have a sensible warning: Do not pick up a huge stone only to fumble and the stone drops on your foot.

Gambits are risky and can go both ways. They could pay off big time or could land people hard on their back-sides.

Let’s consider the prosecution.  At the heart of its Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment is the charge that Chief Justice Corona under-declared his assets (particularly peso bank deposits) in his sworn statements of assets and liabilities and net worth (SALNs).  If the prosecutors alleged this misdeclaration, it meant that they had prior access to Corona’s bank records even before they were able to prepare the Articles of Impeachment.  During the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada, the House prosecution was allowed by the Senate to issue universal subpoenas for banks to submit bank records of Estrada and his alias–Jose Velarde.

Lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.

 This time, the Senate allowed the issuance of subpoenas only pertaining to specific peso bank deposits of Corona.  The prosecutors complied by specifying the account numbers.  However, they found they needed to explain how they were able to obtain such information.  They needed some defense against the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ doctrine; that if the evidence was obtained illegally, then it would be inadmissible in court.

Rep. Rey Umali

Rep. Rey Umali (Oriental Mindoro) tried to convince the senators he got an envelop containing the bank documents from a “small lady” within the premises of the Senate.  However, footage from the building’s CCTV cameras did not support Umali’s story.  So it was Rep. Bolet Banal’s turn to make his best shot.  Banal claimed he found the documents left at his house’s gate.  One senator (I cannot remember who) asked him if there were CCTV cameras outside his house.  I could claim he sorrowfully said there were none.

Rep. Bolet Banal

As things stand,  the prosecution’s gambits paid off.  The Senate ruled (with three not voting) to accept the evidence submitted regarding Corona’s peso deposits.  

Serafin Cuevas

 The defense panel, headed by former Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, had their share of gambles.  The first was relatively minor: a charge that lead prosecutor Tupas was himself building a P50 million mansion in Quezon City.  It did not gain traction since it was Corona who was on trial.  Representatives are not impeached; they must win elections otherwise they cease to be representatives.

Then, in the middle of February, the defense panel clad in red shirts (but with Cuevas absent) gave a week-end press 

conference and accused Malakanyang of offering P100 million for each senator to defy the Supreme Court’s order to keep Corona’s dollar deposits secret.

The defense took a calculated risk.  The senators were predictably incensed and several took the defense to task for making the accusation and was asked to name names–a usual demand in Philippine politics.  Atty. Roy of the defense apologized profusely and explained that it was not their intention to tarnish the reputation of the honorable senators but only to warn of the Palace’s intentions.

It also appears that the defense’s gambit paid off.  During that same Monday, the Senate voted to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling on Corona’s dollar deposits.  The apparent subtext is: if you voted against the Supreme Court, then you were reached by the Palace!

Other ploys of the defense did not meet as much success.  It wanted anti-Corona senators such as Senators Franklin Drilon and Kiko Pangilinan to inhibit themselves from the impeachment proceedings.  Suntok sa buwan ito!  It is clear that President Noynoy Aquino wants Corona impeached and as loyal members of the ruling Liberal Party, Drilon and Pangilinan are expected to support the President.  Even if that involves assisting a clearly-ill prepared prosecution panel.  

Senator Franklin Drilon

The defense could have gained greater credibility if they also asked for the inhibition of clearly pro-Corona Senators such as Defensor-Santiago.  That is, they want an impartial court.  In contrast, the prosecution panel (save for the Vitaliano Aguirre incident) takes Santiago’s tongue-lashing and tirades in stride.

In the past days, Corona himself went on a media blitz and implicated two senators in a seeming plot to unseat him as Supreme Court Chief Justice.

First, he claimed Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, also of the Liberal Party, asked him to share his term as chief justice with Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the man believed to be acceptable to President Noynoy. Guingona dutifully denied Corona’s story and insisted they only met for dinner with other people.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III

Then Corona said that a male senator approached him and asked him to resign as chief justice.  He declined to name the said senator because supposedly it will make the latter ‘angrier’.  He added that senator knew that Corona was referring to him and that he will name him in due time. Feeling alluded to, Drilon denied Corona’s allegations and challenged the former to name the so-called senator immediately.

What is Corona’s game?  Why is he riling some senators who will judge him?  

I believe he is guided by the number of senators required to convict him.  At present, there are only 23 senators because the vacancy created by the election of Noynoy Aquino as President was not filled.  Be that as it may, 16 senators must vote in favor of his conviction.  If only 15 senators do so, he is acquitted and remains Supreme Court Chief Justice.  Put in another way, if 8 senators vote against his conviction, he is acquitted.

If indeed he (and his defense panel) is riling  Drilon, Pangilinan, and Guingona, he probably believes that the former will vote against him no matter what.  And the purpose of the propaganda offensive is to convince the public that the three will vote against him simply upon the bidding of the Palace.  One must remember that his chief battle cry is to maintain the judiciary’s independence.

The defense will present its case tomorrow.  The arguments of the defense will be the subject of future blog entries.

 

 


Thursday night last week, as parts of the country were still reeling from the strong winds and rains unleashed by the tropical storm Kabayan, President Noynoy Aquino left the country and flew unannounced to Japan to meet with Murad Ebrahim, chair of of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in a hotel near the Narita airport.

President Aquino meet with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim in a hotel near Narita Airport (courtesy of Philippine Daily Inquirer)

The MILF is one of two armed organizations of the Bangsa Moro people in southern Philippines.  The other one, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), has concluded its final peace agreement (FPA) with the Philippine government in 1996.  Irritants continue to sour relations and both government and MNLF are negotiating an implementing accord of the 1996 FPA.

MILF fighters

Meanwhile, the government and the MILF got a fresh start after the 2008 debacle where the Philippine Supreme Court adjudged the framework agreement as unconstitutional.

Teresita Quintos-Deles, the presidential peace adviser who was with Noynoy in Tokyo, said Murad and Aquino discussed ways to push the peace process forward.

An official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the meeting was meant to give the peace talks “a shot in the arm” and show support from the “highest level.”

It appears that President Aquino had sought the meeting, which have been in the works since late June since he wanted to fast-track the peace negotiations and the implementation of peace agreements with the Muslim insurgencies.

Was it necessary and proper for the President to meet with MILF chair Murad Ebrahim?

One of the President’s closest allies, Senator Francis Escudero, opined that the President may be ill-advised to meet personally with Murad.  It would have been sufficient for Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles to talk to Murad.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman curiously observed that President Noynoy’s secret trip to Japan was a violation of the promise of full transparency.

I tend to agree with those who believe that the wisdom of the President’s move cannot be fully determined just yet.

If it will help lead to a durable peace between the government and the MILF, then his Narita gamble will have paid off.


Yesterday at the UP College of Law, former Supreme Court Chief Justice and now member of the UP Board of Regents Reynato Puno opined that now is the best time to amend the country’s constitution.

Former SCCJ Reynato Puno

Puno made the declaration after President Noynoy Aquino announced that Charter change (Cha-Cha) was not among his administration’s top priorities.  In a straightforward manner, he said that the current charter had spawned a frail state–crippled  by a weak electoral system, social inequalities, and most importantly, by a politically vulnerable judiciary.

I agree with the former chief justice that changes to the basic law of the land must be done now.  I will also add that it should be initiated by President Noynoy and he must nurture the process to a satisfactory conclusion.

The time is now when the political capital of Noynoy is at its peak.   Especially after he declared that he will not seek any other post after his term ends in 2016–unlike some people we know.

Puno in fact remarked that now is the time to talk about Cha-cha when the President has “pristine intentions.”

In my opinion, the exact nature of Noynoy’s intentions may not be that important since we do not have any way of ascertaining what they are.  However, what is crucial is the perception of such intentions and to the extent that he currently enjoys high trust ratings, one can conclude that he is widely perceived to be indeed pristine.

President Noynoy with Tita Cory's portrait behind him

Previous attempts to amend the charter have been rebuffed since the chief executive proposing it was perceived to be doing so for self-serving purposes.  Now is the only time since 1987 that the President is seen to have different intentions.  For this reason, if Noynoy pushes for charter change, then it could get greater traction this time around.

My unsolicited opinion: President Noynoy should not think that championing charter change will be a betrayal of his mother’s legacy.  I forward the opinion that Tita Cory opposed Cha-cha in the past because she knew–in fact, felt it instinctively in her guts–that the previous proponents were motivated by less-than-noble intentions.

Tita Cory, I believe, will not opposed a Cha-cha pushed by President Noynoy.

I ask President Noynoy to open the process for charter change.

Why? That will be the subject of my next blog entries.




Smartmatic/TIM PCOS machines: Will they work to contract specifications today?

The Philippine Star reports today that “foreign investors have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, putting on hold or temporarily withdrawing their investments in the Philippines due to jitters over today’s elections, according to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo.

Gunigundo is quoted saying: “We continue to see inflows from the external markets. Perhaps if there will be – we don’t have the numbers yet – it is because of election jitters”.

He also pointed out that foreign investors could have adopted a wait-and-see attitude because of the uncertainties brought about by the May 10 elections.

Guinigundo said the jitters could have forced investors in the financial and equities markets to temporarily pull out their investments in the Philippines.

What Gunigundo had observed are signs of the political-business cycle in the Philippines, a phenomenon identified years earlier by UP School of Economics dean Noel de Dios.  Post-1987, the cycle theoretically repeats every six years, that is, every time a new president is elected.  Since the Philippine president is restricted to a single term, investors apparently adopt a wait-and-see stance in the early months of the term of the new president to discern his (or her) general policy preferences and programme.  Then as the policy landscape firms up, investments (including portfolio) will come back in.

Investors may also opt to exit before the presidential elections so they may not be forcibly locked in during the early term of the incoming national chief executive.  This is insurance in case the new president adopts policies unfriendly to capital.

It is an empirical matter whether the cycle was observed since the year 2000.  If we may recall, President Estrada’s grip on power started slipping when his erstwhile ally, Gov. Chavit Singson, started singing about jueteng payolas in late 2000.  Then it was almost a fast break to his derailed impeachment and his eventual ouster in January 2001.  I surmise that capital left the country in late 2000 and adopted a cautious attitude through the first three quarters 2001 as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had to consolidate her grip on power in the light of the challenge of the poor people uprising of April-May 2001.

I also hypothesize that capital adopted the same wary stance prior to the May 2004 presidential elections.  It would be curious to find out how capital behaved in response to the 2003 Oakwood mutiny , the ‘Hello Garci’ revelations and the political crisis generated in the middle of 2005 and the attempted coup of February 2006.  May I call on Noel de Dios to do the appropriate study.

If today’s elections will be concluded successfully, investors will have no cause for alarm because a presidency either by Noynoy Aquino or Manny Villar will mean the adoption of orthodox or centrist business policy.  Investors may be quite wary of a new Estrada presidency given the latter’s demonstrated propensity to give preference to his midnight cronies.

To be fair, investors may also be cautious about allegations regarding Villar’s use of governmental powers in favor of his own business interests.  If Villar wins the presidency, he will have to assigned his assets to a blind trust or to divest completely and convincingly to avoid tremendous conflict-of-interests issues.

Of course, if elected president, Noynoy must likewise disclose his assets, assign them to a blind trust or divest, and assure the electorate that he will not use or will not be used so his clan’s control over Hacienda Luisita will continue or that the Supreme Court will rule on the long-standing temporary restraining order against the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council’s ruling for distribution of Luisita land to its farm workers.

The last time we heard news about Hacienda Luisita is that it is heavily indebted.  Thus, we have to be assured by Noynoy that if he gets elected president, the estate will not get preferential credit especially from government financial institutions.

What exercises investors’ worries more than who will be the successor in the presidential palace are grave concerns regarding the automated electoral system adopted for the first time (without any piloting) amid all these news regarding malfunctioning PCOS machines, undelivered and untested flash cards, non-independently-verified machine source codes and the like.

The worry list is quite long.

Hence the prudential behavior of capital.