Posts Tagged ‘GMA’


Strong firewall?.


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?


Dr. Yuko Kasuya

Dr. Yuko Kasuya

 

The single-term limit for the Philippine President in the 1987 Constitution has apparently spawned several unintended consequences. While drafted by the members of the Constitutional Commission as a check on abuse of the chief executive’s power (ala Marcos), the provision had the opposite effects. First, it induces efforts on the part of incumbents to propose self-serving charter-change proposals. Second, it stimulates faster-paced rent-seeking and plunder of state resources. And third (as pointed out by the Japanese political scientist Yuko Kasuya), it weakens an already-fragile political party system. Since the incumbent president can no longer stand for re-election, she cannot maintain party discipline in the next electoral cycle. Disgruntled members can form new parties should they fail to win the incumbent party’s endorsement for their presidential bids.

To date, GMA has been president for nine years, second only to Marcos in length of ‘service’. Not a few are fully convinced that she will step down from power in June 2010, if only because she and her ruling faction both fear prosecution for their misdeeds and abhor the loss of perks of power. If her strategists continue and succeed in their machinations to maintain her on top through whatever formula, then the country will be in for a new round of great political instability.

Elite factions now currently out of power or not entirely close to the Palace’s occupant will not countenance a continuing post-June 2010 GMA leadership. The GMA faction has amassed so much wealth and powers that it is feared to be able to rule indefinitely. Consequently, out-of-power and out-of-favor elites will be expected to use any political means to frustrate the GMA faction’s plans. We will not expect them to confine themselves to constitutionally-sanctioned strategies.

The restoration of democratic processes in February 1986 was read by all elite factions as a return to the pre-martial law modality (that prevailed from 1946 to 1972) that electoral defeat did not threaten already existing elite property rights. The single-term limit was a new rule that accords to the incumbents the right to capture all the rents during their stint in power.

Combined with the above-mentioned unintended consequences of the single-term limit, the greater integration of the Philippines into the global economy made larger and larger rents available to incumbents than ever before. Such riches have enabled them to consolidate their positions and emboldened them to find ways to perpetuate themselves in power.

As I reflect on this question, I am reminded of the insights of realist international relations (IR) theory regarding the prospects of cooperation between sovereign nation-states in an anarchic (meaning the absence of over-arching authority above the states) global environment. Realists are supposedly not optimistic that states will cooperate with each other even if such cooperation will result in mutual benefits due to a concern with relative gain. Such states ask not “who gains?” but “who gains more and at whose expense?” The states in a realist world are afraid that cooperation with others will allow the latter to gain more and be more powerful in the future.

Given the relative weaknesses of the Philippine state, one can construe our elite factions as sovereign nation-states similarly unwilling to ‘cooperate’ with each other. During Tita Cory’s term, rents were supposedly monopolized by Kamag-anak, Inc. Such monopolization was tolerated to the extent that Cory did not attempt to stay in power after June 1992. FVR tried to tinker with presidential term limits but was rebuffed by all other elite factions (including Tita Cory’s). Erap’s faction was unable to drink its full fill. GMA’s nine-year rule is unprecedented but more than that is unacceptable.


For our elites, the key decision is to what extent greed can be moderated so property rights (even over plundered assets) by outgoing factions will be respected by incoming ones.


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.


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.