Posts Tagged ‘Tita Cory’

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.

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