Posts Tagged ‘Fidel Ramos’


Strong firewall?.


There seems to be a firewall between the Philippine economy and the political sphere such that the economy can still grow (GNP- and GDP-wise) even if the political situation is messy.

This may mean two things: there is a learning process in earnest and that previous key economic reforms have born fruit.

Despite the current non-achieving and blame-duck presidency, despite the thieving GMA and Erap administrations, our economy has grown nonetheless. Of course, OFW remittances played a great role in this spurt.

Nonetheless, pace Lord John Maynard Keynes, so-called ‘animal spirits’ also got into play.

Perceptions become material force. The impression that this non-achieving administration is seriously fighting corruption (Exhibits A–: SC Court Justice Renato Corona, hospital-arrested PGMA, Tanda, Sexy and Pogi) had induced vigorous bourse activity. After all, portfolio managers will not shun any profit possibility.

Note too that this TUWID administration is trigger-happy to clear its own ilk starting with DILG USec R Puno to ExecSec Ochoa to SecDILG and Liberal Party SecGen Joseph Abaya, SecDA Alcala, SecDoE Petilla, and last but not least, SecDBM Butch Abad) of all hints of corruption.

Perhaps this President and his rah-rah boys (Coloma, Lacierda, and Valte) must be reminded of the separation of powers; that the executive is not the judiciary.

Credit must be given to where credit is due. The Ramos-Almonte duo locked the country into difficult and relatively-unpopular economic reforms (at a conjunctural moment) in the 1992-1998 span. Key reforms were the WTO treaty accession and related trade reforms. Another is the decontamination of the new Bangko Sentral from the toxic Central Bank of the Philippines.

The GMA and Pnoy administrations should acknowledge their debts to the Ramos reforms.

Of course, no presidential administration is not without its own achievements, weakness, shortcomings, lapses, etc. Every administration after Ferdinand Marcos is hobbled not only with human weakness, foibles, and imperfections but also by the constitutionally-mandated single term.

For this reason, almost all post-Marcos administrations, save for the Ramos presidency, simply had short-term, rather than strategic, planning horizons.

Legitimacy problems prevented PGMA from making full use of an unprecedented extended term (2001-2010).

I will not say much about the short-lived Erap presidency except to assert that Erap is obviously in his element as LGU chief executive.

The current presidency has yet to step down on June 30, 2016 and it’s too early to come up with a definitive judgment of its true worth. My own words about it now and in the past are at best mere impressions, or, simply my educated personal opinion.

I promise to continue studying this administration in a comparative perspective not only with previous Philippine presidencies (Ferdinand Marcos’ included) but with those of our neighbors in Southeast Asia and East Asia (China specially).

Beyond analysis, I will also essay or propose reforms for our political economy. In this regard, the interests of our people and nation will be held paramount, superior to any political administration, party, group, personality, and vested interest.

These praxiological pieces will find their way into my several outlets (FB, Tweeter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Skype, Mixx, StumbleUpon, my WordPress blogs, speaking engagements and academic interventions, among others).

I will want to hear from you in every which way and you can reach me through ammendozajr@gmail.com


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.

 

 


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?


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.


The term ‘Solid North’ first came up during the quest of one Ferdinand Edralin Marcos for the highest political post of the land–the Presidency.  It was understood to mean that Ilocanos and Ilocano-speaking persons in Northern Luzon will vote as a bloc for Marcos.  Marcos’ election to the Senate and his election and re-election as president in 1965 and 1969, respectively, were cited as proof of the region’s solidity. He lifted martial law in 1981 and new presidential elections were held which he won handily.  Another score for the Solid North.

Map of Northern Luzon

After the ouster and demise of Marcos, talk about ethnic-based voting blocs diminished and the political strength of religious groups was increasingly recognized.  To this date, vote-seeking politicians try to insinuate themselves into the assemblies of these groups.

Eventually, the Solid North got reincarnated as a potent legislative bloc composed mostly of representatives of tobacco-growing districts in Northern Luzon.  This bloc was named the Northern Luzon Alliance (NLA).

Lucio Tan

The Northern Luzon Alliance is specially active every time government tries to reform taxes on sin products like cigarettes and cigars.  Lucio Tan’s cigarette-manufacturing companies are heavy buyers of raw tobacco from the NLA districts.  Tan’s competitors do not manufacture low- and middle-quality cigarettes and do not use local leaf tobacco.  It is thus not surprising that NLA representatives supported Tan’s tax preferences.  President Ramos tried reforming sin taxes twice–in 1993 and in 1996.  In both instances, strong opposition from the Northern Luzon Alliance adulterated the reform effort.  In 1996, Ramos cajoled his fellow Ilocano congressmen, scolding them at times for parochialism, to stop stonewalling against the sin tax reform measure so he could present it as a trophy to the APEC summit in Subic Bay, Zambales.  To get their support, he sponsored a measure providing for an annual P400 million tobacco fund for tobacco-growing provinces to be distributed in accordance to production volumes.  Needless to say, both measures got passed but Ramos did not get the sin tax measure he really wanted.

Since last year, the legislative mill is processing yet another version of a sin tax measure.  However, the context has changed.  Tan’s cigarette company has merged with its competitor forming the Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) in 2010 to capture about 90% of the market.  A newer entrant, British American Tobacco (BAT) which produces such brands as Lucky Strike, Kent and Dunhill, will have to work hard to make a dent on the market.  For this reason, it is interested in the unitary tax on cigarettes as currently proposed by administration legislators.  Of course, Tan wants to preserve a multi-tiered tax structure that makes his brands more competitive.  Under the existing law, cigarette brands introduced after 1996 have to pay a higher excise tax.  Tan’s products were introduced before 1996.

Philip Morris cigarettes

Also, there seems to be cracks within the Northern Luzon Alliance.  In a press conference sponsored by the Department of Health, Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson said he was supporting government’s plan to increase cigarette taxes after decades of blocking higher taxes.  Chavit explained that the monopoly formed by the merger of Fortune Tobacco and Philip Morris depressed prices of tobacco leaf to the detriment of Ilocano tobacco farmers.  And he predicted prices will continue going down since there was only one buyer.  To the extent that this was true, Singson argued that only cigarette manufacturers prospered at the expense of tobacco farmers.

Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson

Singson’s stand is supported by the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) president Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali.  La Union (also part of Northern Luzon) Governor Manuel Ortega claimed Umali did not consult LPP members in making his statement in support of Singson.

Rep. Eric Singson

Also, there is division in the House Singson.  After Singson pere’s press conference, his son Ryan, a member of the House of Representatives, refuted his father and claimed that Ilocos Sur became a first class province primarily due to the additional income earned by farmers from the tobacco sold to cigarette manufacturers.  Another relation, Rep. Eric Singson Jr., also contradicted Chavit’s contentions.

Rep. Ryan Singson


Will Chavit’s arguments affect the ultimate fate of the current sin tax measure?  He reportedly  intends to meet with NLA colleagues about the dangers of allowing PMFTC to continue its monopoly and dictate the prices of raw tobacco.  Perhaps, he can score if he gets firm commitments from BAT that it will also buy locally-grown tobacco.

In addition, he needs to convince his relatives.