Archive for the ‘President Joseph Estrada’ Category

Strong firewall?.

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.



Inside Malacanang Presidential Palace


Policymaking in a democracy by definition involves several actors and in presidential systems, the interactions between the president and the legislature play a leading role in the policymaking process. The key question concerns the ability of a sitting president to pass his legislative agenda through Congress.  In the Philippines, the control by a pro-government party or coalition of the legislature is not sufficient to ensure the enactment of the president’s legislative preferences. The weakness of parties and party discipline is behind this political fact.

While the constitution provides for equality between the three branches of government—the executive, legislative and the judiciary—the president actually enjoys first-among-unequals status.  He plays a pre-eminent role in setting the policy agenda and formulating policy proposals.   Since he is elected by the entire nation constituted as an electoral district, theoretically he enjoys greater distance from particularistic interests and will have a more encompassing (e.g., national rather than local) compared to legislators, especially members of the House.

Furthermore, he is usually held by voters and other interlocutors to be primarily responsible for the country’s conditions and therefore faces incentives to push for public-regarding policy as opposed to private-regarding ones.  On the other hand, legislators are more likely to favor private-regarding policy to satisfy specific constituents, political supporters and other narrow interests.

Since the Philippines has a bicameral legislature, will it be correct to say that senators and representatives alike will most likely favor private-regarding policy?

Some observers believe that existing electoral rules tend to make senators more public-regarding compared to

Seal of the Senate of the Philippines

representatives (Eaton 2002).  Senators are similarly elected by the nation at large and are therefore similarly distanced as the President from narrowly-defined sets of constituents and favor-seekers.  Furthermore, senators are a few steps away from the presidency and will therefore have more interest in more encompassing policy than representatives.

However, electoral rules and incentives also lead one to qualify these propositions about senators.  Since senatorial candidates are elected by the entire nation, even those who belong to the same party or coalition slate actually compete with each other since only 12 with the most number of votes will make it.  This increases pressure for incumbent senators and senatorial candidates to establish personal reputations to get elected or re-elected.

In this sense, the pressure may be stronger at the senatorial level than at the level of representatives since it is rare for a party to field more than one candidate in a congressional district.  Since senators compete in a national electoral arena, they need to establish alliances with local politicians to deliver votes in their favor.  For this reason, they similarly try to provide pork barrel and other patronage resources to sub-national politicians.  Thus, senators are not necessarily prone to avoid private-regarding policies.

Senatorial rivalry persists inside the Senate especially among those aspiring for the presidency.  Those eligible for re-election will behave similarly.  For all these reasons, the Senate is bound to be fractionalized and the transactions costs of legislation will increase.  To the extent that a Senate fraction provides the swing vote, it is a veto player that could demand side payments.

The Philippine president enjoys a vast array of powers that enables him to influence the policymaking process.  Even as head of the executive department, the president has law-making powers, both of the pro-active and reactive kind.  Pro-active powers allow the president to establish, or attempt to establish, a new legislative order.

The best example of pro-active power is the power to issue decrees that have the force of law.  Reactive powers allow the president to defend the status quo against legislative attempts to change it.  The most familiar reactive power is the president’s veto power.  The Philippine president’s veto power is enhanced by a relatively strict override proviso—two thirds of all members of each house compared to the US provision of two thirds of a legislative quorum.  To date, no presidential veto had been reversed by congressional action.

Given the President’s control over the executive branch of government and its relatively vast resources, he has agenda setting power with respect to legislation. The executive departments have technical superiority over many policy matters relative to the legislature and are usually tasked to draft proposed legislation, which are then sponsored or introduced in Congress by pro-administration solons.  The president cannot veto a law passed by Congress if it was previously certified as urgent.

House of Representatives in plenary session

In the Philippine context, the more relevant power that the President has that affects lawmaking is his power over the sources of legislators’ patronage, which is especially important given the candidate-centeredness of Philippine electoral politics.  The president controls the release of legislators’ pork barrel funds and can therefore ‘buy’ legislative support for preferred legislation or punish recalcitrant or unsupportive legislators.

In addition to pork barrel funds, other sources of patronage such as the president’s power of appointments and influence over policy implementation and law enforcement can also help influence legislative behavior.  The president’s control over patronage resources is especially important to a legislator seeking re-election.  For this reason, policy deliberations during periods close to elections enhance presidential bargaining power vis-à-vis the legislature.



However, the legislator seeking re-election will also be the target for ‘bribery’ by special interests to shape policy in their favor in exchange for campaign finance and other considerations.


President Fidel Ramos



During the Ramos presidency (1992-1998), the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) was formed by law to facilitate executive-legislative relations and strengthened legislative support for the President’s legislative agenda.  The Council is composed of 20 members (including the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, seven Cabinet members, three Senators, three Representatives, the president of the League of Provinces, and a representative each of the private business and youth sectors) with the President as chair.

After its initial formation, the Council expanded its membership by inviting all cabinet members and selected legislators from both congressional chambers to attend its weekly meetings.  The frequent LEDAC meeting during the Ramos presidency and the establishment of a coalition between the President’s party and the party which controlled the Senate resulted in the passage of key economic reform measures.

The LEDAC meetings also facilitated the management of crisis situations such as when the Supreme Court declared the first version of the Oil Deregulation Law (Republic Act No. 8180) as unconstitutional.  The Council was immediately convened and the key technical staff of both legislative chambers was able to immediately draft a new version in response to the Court’s observations.  In record time, a new version was approved and passed into law.



President Joseph Estrada



In the subsequent administrations, this formal mechanism was used sparingly.  President Estrada hated chairing meetings and the LEDAC rarely met during his presidency.  President Arroyo preferred the services of House Speaker Jose de Venecia and her political adviser, Gabriel Claudio, whose office supervised the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), to facilitate her government’s relations with Congress.  Following the political crisis in July 2005 amidst strong allegations of fraud during the 2004 presidential elections, her relations with the Senate soured as key allies such as Senate President Franklin Drilon deserted her camp and called for her immediate resignation.  As a result, the Senate came under the control of opposition senators and had thwarted the passage of budget bills for two years.


President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo


From then on, GMA consolidated control of the House after JDV broke ranks with her over the NBN-ZTE broadband scandal and also obtained an ally in  Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who assumed the Senate presidency after a coup unseated Senator Manuel Villar.