Posts Tagged ‘Cory Aquino’

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.



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.

I know, I know, I know. This blog should have been written and posted four days ago. And I should be blogging on more recent events. But I need to get this particular blog done and ‘out of the way’.

The obvious high point of the fantastic week was Tita Cory’s death, wake, and funeral. I believe I wrote the blog on property rights before my wife Rosalie and I tried to line up at the La Salle Greenhills gymnasium to view her remains. We failed to do so. Monday was the transfer of her remains to the Manila Cathedral. I wanted to join the march but also wanted to attend the second lecture of John Nye at the UP School of Economics. Since I cannot be in two places at the same time, I had to be content with monitoring the march through radio, TV and text messages.

I had classes Tuesday so I couldn’t go the Cathedral. Rosalie couldn’t wait for me so she went with my niece and her friend. They were able to see Tita Cory’s remains at about 4:30am Wednesday morning after lining up for about five hours. While in the queue, those who were filing out of the church warned them that the viewing might be stopped at 4:00 am but could not give any reason why this would be so. They still decided to stay on the line. Soon after, they will learn that the public viewing was temporarily stopped to accommodate GMA.

Wednesday was the internment of her remains so I had to make my move. I drove over to Laloma, left my car at my-in-laws’ place (where Rosalie was monitoring the proceedings at the Cathedral on ABS-CBN), and proceeded to install myself among so many in front of the Manila Hotel at about 10:00 am. I got to see Tita Cory’s remains around 1:00 pm together with the by-now famous honor guard. Noynoy spoke for a few minutes while Mayor Lim and his men tried to instill some order amidst the predominantly celebratory (as in fiesta) atmosphere. The crowd started following the flat-bed truck carrying her remains and I decided to join them. I didn’t know at the time how far I can walk since the last time I joined a march was in 1987—another funeral march for the student leader Lean Alejandro—22 years ago.

The crowd’s energy, together with the wailing of countless fire trucks’ sirens and a huge ocean-going ship’s horn, invigorated me and everybody else to march on. However, the spirit may be willing but the body was not quite up to it. I joined the march from Manila Hotel through Quirino Avenue up to Taft Avenue. My umbrella was broken by the strong winds and my shirt was wet from sweat, rain, and sea spray. I had a meal at about 3 pm at a nearby fast-food joint and proceeded by jeepney back to Laloma where we watched the solemn burial of Tita Cory amidst full military honors.

If the week started and was highlighted by a death and burial of Tita Cory, it ended with another death, this time of a less famous person but still a beloved one. In the afternoon of August, I started receiving a stream of text messages announcing the death of my fraternity brod and comrade Arnel (aka Batman) de Guzman. Arnel is a fascinating character and a compleat human being, obviously not without faults but a beautiful person just the same. He was activist, professor, consultant, writer, and fraternal brother all rolled into one. His activism was broad ranged: from human rights to migrant worker concerns.  Remembering his impishly mischievous grin, we who he left behind chose to celebrate his full life instead of just grieving.  Just like what we did with Tita Cory’s demise.

In between these deaths are the two world class lectures of John Nye of the George Mason University and currently visiting professor at the UP School of Economics. John was supposed to deliver three lectures; the first one was done on July 20 and the second was supposed to have been delivered on July 27. However, John got sick allegedly due to dust in the UP Main Library and the July 27 lecture was delivered on August 3—the day Tita Cory’s remains were transferred to the Manila Cathedral. The third lecture was done on August 7, a day before Arnel’s death.

John’s lectures were on ‘the new institutional economics’ (NIE). I had been reading on the literature ever since I got hooked on the work of Douglass North (on economic performance and time) while on a fellowship in Finland in 1997. However, I cannot claim expertise on the subject. John’s lecture (especially the first and second) gave an extremely useful overview of NIE, which included his own work. John worked with North at the Washington University at St. Louis, Missouri for some 20 years before he transferred to George Mason.

His third lecture was actually a presentation of two new papers. One resurrects the debate between the monetarists and the Keynesians regarding the relative efficacy of monetary easing over fiscal spending to stimulate growth and get economies out of crisis. While arguing for the monetarist case, John criticized the Obama administration’s avowedly Keynesian economic stimulus program for not being Keynesian enough.

His other paper is an exercise in what he calls ‘freak-economics’: an examination of the so-called dragon effect. In the Chinese lunar calendar, the dragon is considered the luckiest animal. Surveying demographic data, John noticed a demographic spike in several countries that adhere to the lunar calendar (Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, and Singapore) during the dragon years of 1976, 1988 and 2000. For these countries, birth rates were going down but upticks were observed during the dragon years. Which means that couples, or at the most, mothers, were purposely ‘timing’ pregnancies so their babies will be dragon babies? In John’s book, that means a lot of sacrifice.

Now he wants to know if the sacrifice was worth it. Wouldn’t it be counter-productive to have your baby born in a dragon year? More babies will be born in the same year and they will all be competing for resources, the most important of which would be the best schools. Without boring you with methodological details, John compared Asian and non-Asian immigrants in the United States (those who believed in the dragon effect and those who didn’t). With respect to the 1976 cohort, he found that dragon children had on average had a year’s edge in college education over non-dragon children on top of the fact that Asians were better educated than non-Asians (mostly Latinos).

John fielded questions about the mother effect since he also found that mothers of dragon children were generally older, better educated and richer than non-Asian mothers of children born in the same dragon year. In a typical economist fashion, he said that the best way to eliminate the mother effect is to study at least two siblings—a dragon and a non-dragon and compare their relative performance say in school. John said a study in Vietnam did just that and came up with similar findings. In the end, John jokingly said he will be gainfully employed in the years to come even if he concentrates only on studying the dragon effect.

All in all, the week that was is one of the most memorable and productive weeks I have gone through so far. And I have only begun to scratch the surface. I will soon blog on the visit of the Marcos children at Tita Cory’s wake and relate it to property rights squabbles of Philippine elites. In that blog, I will use the insights of neorealist international relations (IR) theory to help shed light on the possible resolution of such contests.

Over the past few weeks, Filipinos from all walks of life have been praying or offering masses for former President Corazon C. Aquino (affectionately known as Tita Cory).  Tita Cory is battling colon cancer and has reportedly checked into a hospital for her inability to eat.

She may still be alive but Tita Cory had long passed into the pages of our country’s history.Though flat and unspectacular, she drew a wide following and led the nation in the end-game against the Marcos dictatorship from August 1983 to February 1986.  She reluctantly assumed that role after the assassination of her husband, former Senator Ninoy Aquino.  Mocked by Imelda as a ‘mere housewife’ who lacked the bombast and the experience of traditional ‘strong-men’ Filipino politicians, she challenged the wily dictator in a one-on-one contest in the 1986 snap presidential elections.

Cory admitted that she indeed was a mere housewife (even if no ordinary housewife) and she didn’t know a lot of things.  For instance, she did not know how to engage in the record corruption that was associated with the Marcoses, their relatives and cronies.

That she was able to respond to Marcos’ riposte with sarcasm indicated political sophistication. Sophistication that was not apparent to an adversary consumed by hubris.

At her term’s end, Tita Cory reported to the nation that she has accomplished a self-imposed task—that of presiding over the troubled transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.  One can validly complain over the quality of our democracy.  However, given the choice between flawed democracy and Marcosian rule, my preference is clear.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) recently reported a 60% trust rating for Tita Cory, the highest figure so far for former presidents.  I believe Cory continues to enjoy popular support not only because of the clear positions she has taken on current political controversies.  I think her moral ascendancy is quite apparent; that she is atypically transparent.

Of course, I did not agree with all that she had done during her presidency.  The influence of Catholic Church on her was excessive.  I squirmed everytime she appeared on TV to call on the nation to pray especially when Malacanang was beset by various coup attempts.  Obviously, it was not an ecumenical appeal.  At the time, she tends to forget that not all Filipinos were Catholics.

She appeared silly when she showed journalists her proverbial ‘no-space-under’ bed to dispel rumors that she cowered under that same bed during one of the more serious coup attempts against her government.

She got humiliated when the Senate ignored a personal appeal to extend the Military Bases Agreement with the United States.

However, I understand why she did not repudiate our $26 billion foreign debt or decree a land reform program before the adoption of the 1987 Constitution when she practically enjoyed dictatorial powers as head of a revolutionary government.  I will not attribute it only to her upper class origins.  I think she knew that unilateral decisions on such major issues will divide us and seriously threaten the transition from authoritarianism.

In my book, the quiet and boring ex-housewife, will get full credit for recognizing this crucial truth.

Tita Cory