Posts Tagged ‘Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’


Strong firewall?.

Advertisements

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?


 

 

 

Supreme Court on DAP (photo from Philstar)

Supreme Court on DAP (photo from Philstar)

 

In a near-unanimous decision, the Supreme Court declared yesterday certain acts under the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional.

 

The court resolution states that DAP acts violate Section 25(5), Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers of the executive and legislative branches.  Under the Constitution, while the executive proposes an annual budget, no public monies can be allocated and spent unless covered by a general appropriations act enacted by Congress and passed into law by the President.

 

The high court declared the following acts and practices under the DAP as unconstitutional:

  • the withdrawal of the unobligated allotments from implementing agencies and the declaration of the withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings prior to the end of the fiscal year and without complying with the statutory definition of savings contained in the General Appropriations Act;
  • the cross border transfers of the savings of the executive to augment the appropriations of other offices outside the executive; and
  • the funding of projects, activities, and programs that were not covered by any appropriation in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The DAP is considered by many as the “president’s pork barrel”.  Earlier, the Supreme Court also ruled that congressional pork barrel, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) as unconstitutional.

 

Senator Jinggoy Estrada aka Sexy (photo from Philstar)

Senator Jinggoy Estrada aka Sexy (photo from Philstar)

The DAP earlier hit the headlines when Senator Jinggoy Estrada bared that several senators received some P50 million to P100 million supposedly in exchange for voting to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Estrada had questioned the “persecution” he has received for allegedly diverting his pork barrel, the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), to bogus nongovernment organizations.

 

The President and his fighting slogan

The President and his fighting slogan

The Palace as well as House speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. sought to pooh-pooh the SC decision on the DAP by saying the President Aquino has since stopped the program.

 

from suertres.forumotion.com

photo from suertres.forumotion.com

Later, he declared that President Aquino could not be impeached over the DAP because he acted in “good faith”.

 Haven’t the good speaker heard that many roads to hell since time immemorial–from Caligula to Hitler to Ferdinand Marcoswere paved with good intentions?

 

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. (photo from Inquirer)

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. (photo from Inquirer)

Good faith, good intentions are never a valid defense against harmful deeds, against unconstitutional acts.

Such reasoning will not wash; if a series of unconstitutional acts were committed in the past, stopping does not cure them of their unconstitutional nature.

Qua unconstitutional acts, they constitute impeachable acts as culpable violations of the Constitution.

 Impeaching the President will first have to be done in the House of Representatives which should approve by a minimum 1/3 vote the articles of impeachment so they could be transmitted to the Senate.

Since a ruling coalition headed by the President’s Liberal Party controls the House, it remains to be seen if the House will impeach the president.

The onus is on House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., currently vice chairman of the ruling Liberal Party.  Belmonte is a proven political butterfly having been a long-time member of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD under then President Fidel Ramos in1992 up to 2009 under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo where he last held the position of senior vice president for external affairs.

Can Belmonte afford not to do anything as the DAP has already been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?

Would he want to be seen as somebody condoning the wrong-doings of the President?  Wouldn’t his instincts tell him to save himself first instead of going down with the President?

The President faces a broad coalition of political enemies who would be interested in impeaching him.  This coalition includes Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the Estradas, the Revillas, and the camp of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  As it is, the Sandiganbayan simultaneously suspended Arroyo as representative of Pampanga.  Rumor is likewise rife that Erap Estrada will be unseated as mayor of Manila due to residence issues.

At the sub-national level, it includes the Jalosjos political clan of  Zamboanga which was practically shut out in the 2013 elections.

Vice President Jojo Binay need not do anything overt. If the president is impeached, he will succeed Aquino as president.

If ever, this will be the second time that a sitting president will be impeached.

 As always, I think we will make history.


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.


As in her previous State of Nation Addresses (SONAs), President GMA reported on her administration’s many accomplishments and claimed that the ‘state of the nation is a strong economy’.

She disappointed those who expected her, including her many critics, to make a categorical statement that it was to be her last SONA, that presidential elections will be held in May 2010, and that she will definitely step down from power on June 30, 2010. The closest statement she made to that effect was a declaration that she never aspired for extending her term beyond 2010.

But those who expected such categorical statements are bound to be disappointed. Why should GMA make such a statement? For one, GMA has not honored a Rizal Day 2002 declaration that she will not seek the presidential office in the May 2004 polls. When she did run, it was the first time that an incumbent run for office (under the terms of the 1987 Constitution) and predictably took advantage of vast government resources for her candidacy. Since the Garci tape revelations in mid-2005, her trust ratings had been consistently down. So if she said that she will step down in June 2010, will we believe her? Knowing we won’t believe her, why should she oblige us?

In her SONA, GMA scored some brownie points against Erap and FVR, both of which were pushing for Charter Change (Cha-Cha) during their terms but who are now opposing the same efforts pushed by the current administration. She also reminded the nation of the profligate lifestyle of Erap, claiming that somebody who had been jailed (and who should have been still in jail) should be the last one to carp about corruption and governance.

GMA conveniently forgets that she pardoned Erap. Therefore, she should not ‘complain’ that he is out free and running about as an aspiring presidential candidate (constitutional issues notwithstanding). Furthermore, every citizen (including ex-presidents deposed by ‘people power’) retains the right to criticize any sitting government of the Republic. GMA does not enjoy the privilege of lese majeste of the Thai monarch. Or perhaps, she wishes she does.

GMA failed to follow Tita Cory’s example in the latter’s July 1991 SONA when she thanked everybody and said farewell to the nation. GMA also forgets to mention that Tita Cory herself is against Cha-Cha and all other schemes to circumvent terms limits for the presidency.

No constitution is sacred and is thus amenable to change. However, any Cha-Cha initiative of an incumbent president (especially one with consistently low or negative net trust ratings) will be perceived (rightly or wrongly) as an attempt to stay in power after her term’s expiration. It is best that a Cha-Cha initiative be launched during the early part of an incumbent’s term, preferably within her first year. It is likewise pro forma that the incumbent should not benefit from the new provisions of the charter.

Interviewed by Ted Failon, my retired colleague Prof. Felipe Miranda believed that GMA did not make a categorical statement regarding her political future since she was probably thinking there may still be ways to stay in office after June 2010. I agree with him and note that we have a whole year between now and June 2010. Other commentators have noted that her confidence is so absolute that she may be faulted for a lack of self-reflection.

What we have here is an extremely confident politician who believes it is to her best interest to keep everybody (foes and friends alike) guessing about her intentions. Whether she will emerge as a ‘winner’ in the end remains to be seen. A greater concern however is whether the nation also ‘wins’ with her.