Archive for the ‘President Benigno Aquino III’ Category


Travails of democratization and political liberalization in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar[1]

Amado M. Mendoza, Jr., Ph.D.

University of the Philippines

Part I: Introduction

Notwithstanding differences in the political and social development of Southeast Asian states, it is noteworthy that a ‘politics of hatred, revenge and political obstruction’ characterizes contemporary Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and the Philippines. In Indonesia, unrepentant vestiges of the Order Baru era seeks to derail the new presidency of the popular reformist Joko Widodo, who is further hobbled by his ‘allies’ in the ruling coalition. Thailand meanwhile is gripped by the seemingly intractable enmity between pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin forces. In the Philippines, the out-going Aquino administration is scrambling to field a friendly successor to avoid a fate it ruthlessly imposed on the preceding president. While liberalizing and on the road to democracy and internal reconciliation, the Buddhist-dominated regime in Myanmar is currently engaged in an apparent genocide against Muslim Rohingyas, now the new ‘boat people’ that even Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are unwilling to accommodate.

Pnoy Aquino

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III

It can be argued that democracy does not have room for a peculiar ‘politics of hatred, revenge and obstruction’ that has characterized the contemporary polities of four key Southeast Asian states: two relatively established democracies—Thailand and the Philippines; a new democracy, Indonesia; and a liberalizing polity—Myanmar—supposedly on a democratic road map. Democracy is a political order ideally based on civil dialogue and compromise and political differences are to be resolved mainly through the electoral process and other political institutions. The hallmark of democracy is thus to resolve conflicts and differences in a rule-based, peaceful or non-violent, and inclusive manner. In fact, democratic theorists argue that the quality of a democracy is largely determined by its capacity to respect the rights and legitimate interests of minorities even as it recognizes that majorities rule. While consensus is not required for a polity to qualify as a democracy, the legitimate interests of any minority as well as their human rights should be respected and must not be summarily dismissed simply because ‘they do not have numbers’. This desideratum is of great importance especially to a polity that is supposedly democratizing like Myanmar.

Myanmar opposition leader Daw Aung Suu Kyi

Myanmar opposition leader Daw Aung Suu Kyi

Incumbent governments in democracies gain their right to rule, or their legitimacy, through the electoral process that must be perceived by political actors and stakeholders to be fair and clean. Electoral legitimacy can be eroded through the life of a government if it fails to deliver a decent modicum of desired public goods to a critical majority of its constituents. If electoral legitimacy is buttressed by performance, a government that seeks re-election will most likely (ceteris paribus) succeed in obtaining a new electoral mandate.

Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia

Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia

Nonetheless, such mandates are not permanent since democracies, as rule, prescribe time-bound terms of incumbency. Alternation of incumbents is thus an institutional feature of democracies. Even if the same political party or coalition is returned to power through elections, the political leaders of government need not be same. For this reason, how the ‘outs’ are treated by those in power (or the ‘ins’) is another important indicator of a democratic polity’s quality. In the same manner, how ex-incumbents deal with a sitting government will also matter. In the main, ex-incumbents may either choose to cooperate with the incumbents even while maintaining an oppositionist stance. This stance of being the ‘loyal opposition’ is acceptable in a democracy which does not require unanimity and accepts and tolerates political differences. The qualifier ‘loyal’ is important as ex-incumbents are required to respect the electoral will of a state’s citizens. Ex-incumbents, even in if the opposition, are required to limit such opposition to legal means and avenues. They may ‘plot’, plan, organize and mobilize to regain incumbency but only within electoral and institutional parameters. Should they seek to regain incumbency through non-institutional and violent ways such as revolution, coups, and the like, they undermine and weaken their polities’ democracies and impede democratic consolidation.

Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra gestures as he speaks to journalists outside his home in Dubai, after Puea Thai Party's Yingluck Shinawatra announced her coalition in Bangkok July 4, 2011. Exiled former Thai prime minister Thaksin said on Monday he had no wish to become prime minister again in the wake of a landslide election victory for his sister's opposition party. Thaksin, a billionaire twice elected premier, was ousted in a 2006 coup. (REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh)

Thailand’s former premier Thaksin Shinawatra

Cleavages other than electoral fortune such as religion, ethnicity, wealth and income, among others, may also create majorities and minorities. In the same manner, how these non-electoral majorities relate with or treat non-electoral minorities is another important index of a polity’s democratic bona fides. If these non-electoral minorities are discriminated against, oppressed, or persecuted systematically by the majority, the discontent can lead to political disorder and instability and could inspire armed secessionist movements.

Thus, the health of a democracy, the prospects of a democratizing polity can be measured through two variable relationships: between majorities and minorities and between the ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’.

__________________________

Presented at the 9th APISA Annual Conference, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (September 11-12, 2015). Not for citation; comments are welcome and could be sent to ammendoza@up.edu.ph or ammendozajr@gmail.com.)

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Strong firewall?.


President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA

President Benigno Aquino III delivering his SONA

Today is 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 President Benigno S. Aquino III, his plans for the remaining years of his term.

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

Second, it became a game of up-onemanship, a swell pissing contest. A president will list his accomplishments and declare he did more than his predecessors or all other previous administrations combined. What should he do that? He is not eligible to run for re-election anyway. 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.

After President Fidel V. Ramos, all chief executives have been put on the defensive sometime during their presidency and it has limited their effectivity.

President Joseph “Erap” Estrada faced accusations of grand corruption and tried to parry his political opponents by launching a war against the MILF in Mindanao. Eventually, he was impeached and removed by another people power insurrection.

Following the revelation of her taped conversations with a top COMELEC official suggesting that the count be tampered in her favor, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was put on the so-called “survival mode”.

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. He chose to go on an offensive short of calling the Supreme Court as the obstruction to his progressive reforms. 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 today’s SONA, will the President continue to be defensive or defiant even? Or will he now, among others invite the nation, including the opposition, to support plans and programs in key areas such completing the peace process with the MILF, the rehabilitation of victims of the horrendous calamities that visited our country in recent years and the reconstruction of their habitat, and preparing the country for ASEAN Integration 2015?

Will he president of all Filipinos or will he remain narrowly partisan? Will he dig in behind his defensive moat or will he reach out to build unity of purpose?


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.

Philippine military armor in Mindanao alongside civilians on a horse

While required, signing a peace agreement does not automatically keep the peace among combatants.  In truth, two agreements—the 1976 Tripoli Agreement (under President Ferdinand Marcos) and the 1987 Jeddah Accord (under President Corazon Aquino)—led nowhere.  True, there were occasional skirmishes and dissatisfaction amongst some MNLF fighters.  In addition, a key provision of the 1996 FPA, that the MNLF’s right of representation in the national government and in all organs of state—was never implemented.  Nonetheless, the 1996 FPA could be deemed a success.  Among the key indicators of success are the absence of large-scale warfare between the MNLF and government troops, the co-optation of the MNLF leadership into a pre-existing autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu islands, the integration of many MNLF combatants into the government’s security services, and the release of local and foreign funds for the region’s development.

Nur Misuari

However, the Asian financial crisis adversely affected the Philippine government’s capacity to provide funds and led to discontent within MNLF ranks.  To be fair to the Philippine government, MNLF leader Nur Misuari was not blameless with his profligate and biased spending.  He was continuously travelling within the country and abroad with a huge entourage and concentrated resources for his fellow-Tausogs. Ultimately, the MNLF leadership may be successful rebels but were poor administrators.

The power asymmetry against the MNLF is the bottom-line reason for the success of the peace agreement. Militarily, the MNLF had reached its peak in the 1970s and lost its fierce fighting edge.  It remained a stubborn and enduring military force (Vitug and Gloria 2000).  The MNLF cannot credibly commit to renege on the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and return to full-scale warfare since it was weakened by splits, casualties, desertions, tribal differences, etc.  Its foreign supporters and backers are not keen to support a military effort (Iribani 2006; Vitug and Gloria 2000).  In that sense, it did not have trump cards.

Even the remaining MNLF fighters were not threats credible enough for the Philippine government to offer concessions.  These combatants tried a mini-rebellion in November 2001 after Misuari lost his positions in the autonomous regional body but it was nipped in the bud.  Misuari escaped to Malaysia but was handed back to Philippine authorities by Kuala Lumpur.  Upon his return to the Philippines, he was incarcerated. In 2008, he was allowed to post bail and talks to finalize implementation of the 1996 FPA were resumed by the Arroyo and Aquino governments.

Another imbalance characterizes the relationship between the MNLF and the Philippine government.  The MNLF’s constituency expects it to produce the deliverables promised in the 1996 FPA.  If it fails to do so, the MNLF loses its political luster and its followers may gravitate to its rivals, specially the MILF.  The Philippine government is not in the same predicament.  It has already delivered a clear good–cessation of hostilities—save for a few skirmishes here and there.  That appears to be what matters most to ordinary Filipinos.  As long as hostilities do not resume, ordinary Filipinos will not normally care if the Philippine government kept its side of the bargain in the 1996 FPA.  In effect, there is greater political pressure on the MNLF than on the Philippine government.

Since 1986, both sides observed a ceasefire agreement.  So both MNLF and Philippine government troops have not fought each other for a decade before a final agreement was reached.  Agreeing to a ceasefire before a comprehensive agreement can be interpreted by the other side as a sign of weakness.

Prior to the assumption of talks to finalize implementation of the 1996 FPA, the MNLF also lost traction vis-à-vis the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) largely due to Misuari’s plummeting fortunes and splits within the organization.  With two ascendant interlocutors, Misuari’s faction played the role of heckler and spoiler.  At times, it raised bids to unify with the MILF and repair splits within the MNLF.  Heckling and spoiling are tactics of a party that feels it was being neglected by another notwithstanding an outstanding agreement.  Unification bids are attempts to enlarge the pie that will eventually be shared by Bangsamoro people.  They also used to communicate to government that it is negotiating with a stronger force.  These tactics did not help the MNLF one bit and like a chastened schoolboy, Misuari returned to talks with government.

In hindsight, it can be said that there was diminished urgency on the part of the Philippine government to fully implement the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) after it was signed in September 1996.  A good part of the MNLF leadership and fighters were incorporated into the Muslim regional bodies and government security forces.  The Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s compelled government to husband its resources carefully.  As long as Misuari and his commanders were comfortably ensconced in their offices, the MNLF will not rebel again.

President Joseph Estrada

Attention will soon be directed elsewhere–to the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF), a split from the MNLF.  In 2000, President Joseph Estrada launched several attacks on MILF camps to shore up his sagging political fortunes in Manila.  While government troops succeeded in capturing some MILF camps, Estrada was unable to win a decisive military victory over the MILF.  Furthermore, he also enraged not a few Muslims for insensitively eating pork with government troops within the ruins of a mosque.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

The all-out war tack of Estrada was changed by the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  With Misuari was in prison and the MNLF weaken by further splits, Arroyo endeavored to have the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) controlled by warlords who could deliver votes in her favor (Lara 2010).  Arroyo concentrated in delivering a peace agreement with the MILF—the so-called MOA-AD.  When the MOA-AD was rejected by the Supreme Court, Arroyo’s government released Misuari from detention and started talks to for the final implementation of the 1996 final peace agreement (FPA).  These talks are being continued by the government of President Benigno Aquino III through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), headed by Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles.


De Lima accepts CJ nomination

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima just did the sour-graping gig.  She was excluded from the shortlist of candidates for the post of Supreme Court Chief Justice to replace impeached CJ Renato Corona.

The shortlist was submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council assigned by the Constitution for such a task.  The JBC did not cast a single vote for De Lima believing she was disqualified by three on-going disbarment cases against her being heard by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

De Lima’s response?  A bald assertion that the SC, JBC, and IBP were ganging up on her.  That she was being singled out by the three institutions.

 

 

Ganged up on her?  De Lima herself is an ex-officio JBC member but since she accepted the nomination as chief justice, she had to be replaced by Justice Department undersecretary Michael Musngi.  De Lima is Musngi’s boss but the latter did not vote for her as chief justice.  Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr., chief prosecutor against impeached chief justice Renato Corona and a key personality in the ruling Liberal Party also did not do so.  Thus, if there was any ganging up, her supposed allies participated in the ‘conspiracy’.

De Lima reacts to her disqualification

 

At best, De Lima cannot seem to understand that the choice of SC Chief Justice is bound by rules.  I guess she started believing the Palace’s spin that she was the strongest candidate.

She should realize that the main reason why President Noynoy is pushing her candidacy is a demonstrated readiness to obey the Palace’s bidding even at the expense of the law.  As a cabinet member, there is nothing wrong in doing the President’s bidding.  As a cabinet member, that is your job description.  It goes without saying that when following the President’s orders, one has to follow the law.  Or suffer the consequences.

 

 

 

Surely, you remember her defiance of Supreme Court-issued temporary restraining orders that could have allowed the departure of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for medical consultation abroad.

Former president Arroyo barred from leaving the country in late 2011

 

De Lima’s reason? Arroyo was a high flight risk.

Arroyo’s trip abroad last year was aborted.

At the time, de Lima may have believed that she was caught between a rock and a hard place.  And she decided to stop Arroyo’s departure in defiance of the Supreme Court.

However, the chickens have now come home to roost.  One cannot hope to be the chief  interpreter and enforcer of the law after defying it repeatedly.

What was Leila thinking?

But no; we know that Leila’s bid is at the behest of Pinoy.

President Noynoy and the embattled de Lima

What was he thinking?


That was the query propounded by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago yesterday while she was asking questions of Rep. Tobias “Toby” Tiangco (Navotas).

Rep. Tobias Tiangco

 Continuing his testimony that begun last Monday, Tiangco said the majority in the House of Representatives was called to a caucus in January 2012 by House speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte with an unclear agenda–though rumors were swirling in the winds that the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was the caucus’ main item.

Tiangco testified Belmonte opened the meeting with a declaration that Corona is major obstacle to President Noynoy’s anti-corruption program.  Ergo, he must be impeached.  

And then the game changer followed as far as Tiangco was concerned.  Belmonte reportedly told the assembly that no questions on the matter will be entertained.   And at this point, things became trickier.  Asked about physical copies of the Articles of Impeachment, Belmonte reportedly told the assembly that each can pick up their copies (after the caucus?) since they are still being reproduced.  It is also unclear if Tiangco testified that Belmonte directly threatened the majority to sign the complaint or suffer dire consequences.

What followed according to Tiangco, was a Powerpoint presentation by Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.–apparently a summary of the impeachment complaint.

Tiangco also did not make it clear if he read the impeachment complaint.  As far as he was concerned, Tupas’ presentation and Belmonte’s unwelcoming stance regarding questions were enough to convince him there was no probable cause against Corona.

Tiangco also revealed last Monday that he experienced delays in the release of his pork barrel funds when he refused to sign the impeachment complaint against former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.  

Heel?

If you were a member of the majority, you are expected to vote according to the preferences of the leaders of the majority.  In the Philippines, the leader of the majority is the President of the Philippines and among his chief lieutenants is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.   It will never happen that the majority in the House will be ranged against the President.  After all, the President is the chief dispenser of public largesse (through his alter ego) notwithstanding the constitutional provision that Congress has the power of the purse.

President Noynoy Aquino (r) and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte (l)

If one belongs to the majority and defies the wishes of the President and the House Speaker, what does he expect?  

To be handed the keys to a 7-star hotel penthouse suite?

Or to be sent post-haste to the dog house?

As his testimony progressed, Tiangco admitted that he eventually received all of his pork barrel allocation for 2011.

Hero?

Tiangco may not have informed us about anything we do not generally know regarding Palace-Congress relations specially on how Malakanyang can persuade congressmen to accede to the former’s preferences through a carrot-and-stick approach.  However, a direct testimony on the matter is still useful and refreshing.

Tiangco also got himself in a collision course against 188 colleagues (already organized as Movement of 188) who signed the impeachment complaint.  That takes guts since Tiangco will be dealing with these same members of the House until the end of their terms in 2013.  Crossing one’s legislator-colleagues can affect legislative proposals and funding requests.  Tiangco also suffers the risk of alienation and being snubbed by fellow legislators.

In short, testifying at the Senate entailed great risks and costs.

And yet Tiangco testified.

And his testimony came to naught.  

The Senate impeachment court ruled his account was immaterial since it pertained to the preparation of the impeachment complaint.  Senators believed their job was to try the impeached official.  They thought they had no business in the sovereign business of a co-equal legislative chamber.  They will hear the impeachment complaint–warts and all.

Hero or heel?

The categories may not be mutually exclusive.