Gloria’s game

“Foul whisperings are abroad. Unnatural deeds
Do breed unnatural troubles.”

—William Shakespeare, Macbeth

At around the time that the hardworking and prayerful Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was due to deliver her ninth—and presumably last—State of the Nation Address, as well as for several days after, the phrase “lame duck” was predictably bandied about to refer to her. It would probably be more accurate, however, to say that, in the face of the overwhelming nationwide antipathy that has dogged her through nearly a decade in power, the President has consistently comported herself like a lame duck. That is, she has acted in ways that show a flagrant disregard for the consequences other than her own political survival—and, of course, the occasional “simple dinner“.

It is for this reason that all the perfumes of Arabia—or the boisterous bleats of her bovine boosters, anyway—will not sweeten either her rule or her legacy. It is also for this reason that she and her allies have been doing their utmost to damn the mandate of Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III, her apparent successor, with spots—ones that are calculated to be difficult to wash off or rub out, ensuring that the next administration will be so completely preoccupied with and weakened by setting the house of the state in order, it will be unable to live up to even the simplest and most basic expectations of an electorate that has invested so much in the hope that a new leader with a clear, legitimate mandate can and will usher in positive, meaningful change.

Dashing such a hope, as Macapagal-Arroyo surely knows from experience, can only be advantageous to her. After all, it seems to me that her betrayal of the spirit of EDSA by reneging on her promise not to run once she had sat through the term of her ousted predecessor, and then rigging the polls in her favor to boot (allegedly, because, per her lackeys, the evidence has yet to presented at the proper forum), did not so much spark a massive uprising as it did drain the public of the vigor for vigilance and cause widespread resignation—a situation to which the perceived weaknesses of those who could have conceivably replaced her (action star Fernando Poe, Jr. during the 2004 elections, and Vice President Noli de Castro in 2005 following the explosion of the Hello Garci scandal) also contributed. Once the people were sufficiently alienated from and cynical about the political realm, Macapagal-Arroyo gained a far freer hand to do as she pleased, and the results have been appalling beyond belief, as the annus horribilis that was 2009 alone shows: the deeds of her regime ranged from the imposition of duties on imported books—a blatant violation of the Constitution and the Florence Agreement that, per anecdotal reports, is still being implemented—to the torture and execution of 57 people in the Ampatuan Massacre—a crime that represents the very nadir of impunity, and which the hour of justice would seem to be approaching at roughly the pace of a paralyzed snail.

Considering her victorious campaign to represent the second district of Pampanga in the Lower House, and the number of land mines that she has laid to maim and mutilate the mandate of Aquino—the appointment of the publicity hound Renato Corona to the position of Chief Justice by way of a convoluted Supreme Court interpretation of the Constitution is but the most prominent—it would appear entirely plausible to posit that the name of Macapagal-Arroyo’s game is to ensure that, once Aquino takes the helm, the ship of state flounders so badly that she can credibly bring impeachment to bear against him (perhaps on the basis of betrayal of public trust, an offense that she is particularly adept at committing). Her recent smarm offensive regarding the dubious accomplishments of her administration dovetails with this goal: should the nation succumb to disillusionment and despair-induced docility, as is doubtless her wish, “Buti pa noong panahon ni Gloria” might wind up resounding in the public consciousness sooner than one might care to think. Worse, as many a political observer has warned, she could somehow pull together a large enough coalition to instigate the process of charter change, which she has consistently pushed for, paving the way for her return to power, this time as Prime Minister—or, for all we know, as queen regnant.

The recently concluded national and local elections, therefore, are only the end of the beginning—the hurlyburly is not yet done. We, the people, have scorched the snake, not killed it, and we remain in danger of her fangs. In truth, I hope that this assessment will turn out to be an ultimately alarmist one, but for the moment it seems a touch of paranoia is warranted. As Peter Wallace has remarked, the Philippines, especially under the present dispensation, is a magical place, one that has been bent and warped ad majorem Gloria gloriam.

A consensus in the making

Even if the case that Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon has filed against survey firms Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) is, in the words of SWS President and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Mahar Mangahas, “ridiculously sloppy“, one of the more disturbingly resonant assertions that Gordon has advanced in his various tirades against surveys—when is he not working himself up into a histrionic fit over some other topic—is that these tend to condition the minds of voters.

It must be conceded, of course, that such a contention cannot be discarded out of hand—it would be foolish to insist that surveys have no impact whatsoever. Consider, by way of anecdotal data, the faith that not a few people have developed in the findings put out by the relatively unknown The Campaigns & Image Group (CIG), which professes to be an independent polling outfit catering to multinational companies and foreign investors. When journalist Ellen Tordesillas published the results of a CIG survey conducted from April 1 to April 5 in her blog, an astute commenter observed that CIG had been overefficient—after all, Tordesillas said she had received the findings from CIG on April 4. Unless CIG has managed to invent a time machine—in which case CIG owner Aniceto “Abbey” Canturias should be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Physics posthaste—there are only two ways it could have produced its results one whole day before the survey period ended, neither of which helps the credibility of the company: the first is extrapolation, and the second is etchos.

There is also empirical evidence showing that opinion polls do affect the electorate, but the much-deplored bandwagon effect is only one of several effects that have been identified. There are studies indicating an underdog effect, which involves people adopting the minority view, while others suggest that there is a projection effect, which means that individuals project their intended vote onto their expectations regarding the outcome of the elections. None of these effects, each of which arises from the interaction of several factors, are necessarily mutually exclusive of the rest. In addition, as political scientists Richard Nadeau, Edouard Cloutier, and J.-H. Guay aver in their study on the bandwagon effect in Quebec, “Measuring a phenomenon is only a first step towards understanding it.”

In claiming that survey results somehow bamboozle voters into casting their ballots for the leading candidate, Gordon displays condescension toward, if not outright contempt of, the very people that he seeks to lead, including those who presently support him. To conceive of voters as essentially vassals to—and victims of—pre-election polls is to ignore their capacity for discernment and to deny them agency, reducing them from human beings to automatons. To think of the Filipino people as irredeemably stupid is to be irredeemably undeserving of the power to represent them.

Resorting to the most simplistic of arguments is not an especially surprising move from a senator who believes that the problems of Philippine basic education can be solved by giving every student an Amazon Kindle, as if academic excellence could somehow be caught, like a virus, from exposure to reading materials. One has to wonder, however, what happened to the man who was considerably more sober about unfavorable news in the 2007 elections. Whereas administration senatorial candidate Prospero Pichay accused major media organizations of trending in their reportage of unofficial quick counts, Gordon attributed the strong opposition showing to “widespread dissatisfaction”, saying, “Obviously there is resentment against this administration. The people are not satisfied. They are impatient, they want change…” It is precisely this long unsatisfied desire for meaningful change that makes the 2010 national and local elections so important.

One of the few true statements that the hardworking and prayerful Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has made over the course of a presidency distinguished by the widespread distrust it has elicited was this, from (what would seem to be) her last State of the Nation Address back in July: “There is much to do as head of state to the very last day.” What she has done since then has been to engage the country in a version of Spite and Malice, a form of competitive solitaire in which a player secures victory by discarding all of his or her cards—that is, whoever is left with nothing wins. Macapagal-Arroyo, however, follows a slightly different set of rules: in her last-ditch efforts to lay waste to the institutional system of the nation, she hopes to ensure that whoever wins in the contest to succeed her will be left with nothing.

These elections, then, do not merely constitute a routine exercise in citizenship, but as a referendum against one of the worst and most repressive regimes that the Philippines has seen in its short history, and the results of pre-election surveys, which have shown remarkable consistency and durability across several reputable polling firms and periods, ought to be understood not as a grand conspiracy to give one candidate an advantage over the rest, but as the manifestation of a broad consensus among individuals who, to borrow a phrase from the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, can “think feelings and feel thoughtfully”, and are capable of choosing for themselves the person who can be best trusted to serve and to lead the country well.

Against a non-partisan People Power

Speaking at the ceremony commemorating the 24th anniversary of the People Power Revolution, our hardworking and prayerful President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, bemoaned the “partisanship” that the notion of “people power” has acquired through the years, and arrogated unto herself the authority to define it: “It is not about whose politics one supports. It’s about the heroism of the many who held strongly to their faith in the Filipino and who have sought a new Philippines that stands proudly beside any free nation in the world.” She further claimed that one of the goals that she had set for her administration was to heal the wounds that the revolution had opened, a goal at which she had partially succeeded.

This is the same tune Macapagal-Arroyo has been singing almost all throughout her scandal-plagued and controversy-ridden regime—a regime made possible by the spirit of the same revolution she has since disgraced—and yet constant repetition has not robbed it of its deadly and deadening allure. In many respects, it is a siren song, rendering the listener mad with desire—the desire, in this instance, for the cessation of conflicts, deployed in the interminable themes of “moving on” or “moving forward”. The cessation of conflicts, however, is not the same as their resolution: the latter requires attending to the tensions and contradictions with which the arduous process of change is engendered, while the former forecloses the possibilities for just such a process, instead promoting paralysis, petrification, and putrefaction. To choose the former path is to be non-partisan, which is to say, finally, non-human.

If every nation is to be understood, in Benedict Anderson’s famous phrase, as an “imagined community”, then memory can only play a central role in the formation of any given nation, for imagination draws its energy not only from lived experience but also from the wellsprings of memory. A relatively wide, shared understanding of the past and what it means is necessary in order to establish bonds of affection, to generate duties and responsibilities, to construct and reinforce a sense of self.

The place of memory, however, is not upon a candlelit pedestal and behind glass, as though it were a santo in a viriña, protected from the ebb and flow of history, but within the minds and hearts of human beings who exist in and encounter a world that is ever in flux, a world that is contested at all times and in all places. Therefore, the act of remembering is always already political. For a nation, memory is both an adhesive and a solvent, prone to uses that are, on the one hand, ancillary, adventitious, and indifferent, and on the other, vital, vigorous, and transformational. Consider: what is the point of the “greatness” of Filipinos that Macapagal-Arroyo extols when such greatness is confined to an elegiac enclave, never to be thrust into the light of the present, and restored to life and warmth?

The difficult realities with which our lives are fraught and wrought oblige us to take on the burdens of intervention—of doing something about the world. We cannot disavow accountability or remain above the fray: each of us must decide where his or her values lie, and be ready to take up and defend the position that resonates with those values. To do otherwise—in the name, perhaps, of that oft-abused term , “public interest”—is to betray a mindset that sees the world as natural, as neutral—and thus, ultimately, amoral. In other words, each of us must be partisan: as human beings, as agents of history, as catalysts of change, as people with the power of revolution.

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]

To the Comelec: Shut down The Manila Times

Promulgated last February 4, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution No. 8758, which sets down the implementing rules and regulations of the long-dormant Republic Act No. 9006, also known as the Fair Election Act, has triggered a veritable firestorm of protests, primarily because of Section 36, which is quoted in full below:

Any mass media columnist, commentator, announcer, reporter, on-air correspondent, or personality who is a candidate for any elective public office, or is a campaign volunteer for or employed or retained in any capacity by any candidate, political party, or party-list group, or organization, and/or coalition thereof, shall be deemed resigned, if so required by their employer, or shall take a leave of absence from his/her work as such during the campaign period; Provided, that after he has filed his certificate of candidacy but before the campaign period, it shall be his obligation not to use his media work for premature election campaign or partisan political activity: Provided, finally, that any media practitioner who is an official of a political party or a member of the campaign staff of a candidate, political party, or party-list group, organization, and/or coalition thereof, shall not use his/her time or space to favor any candidate, political party, or party-list group, organization, and/or coalition thereof;

As sociologist Randy David pointed out in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column, the law, whatever its merits, is highly ambiguous, as “it is trying to cover in one paragraph a broad range of individuals and activities that are qualitatively different from one another“. How, for instance, is “campaign volunteer” to be defined? What about “mass media personality”? Does the law apply both to talents and to regular employees (the position taken by GMA-7), or just regular employees (the interpretation favored by ABS-CBN)? (More details on the reactions of the TV networks and individual celebrities may be found here.)

Compounding the confusion is the lack of consensus among the Comelec commissioners themselves, as revealed in the Philippine Star: Rene Sarmiento said that the law generally applies to politicians who are themselves involved in showbiz, Gregorio Larrazabal claimed that a close examination of the law would show that media personalities are not actually required to take a leave, and Nicodemo Ferrer declared that the poll body would come up with (additional?) rules for the purpose of clarification.

Amid this morass of conflicting opinions, it is of interest to note that, among the various political camps, the ruling party, Lakas-Kampi CMD, is alone in its approval of the Comelec resolution. Prospero Pichay, the campaign manager for the senatorial candidates of the administration, stated that the playing field would now be level as far as television was concerned, while Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Ronaldo Puno took it one step further, saying that such a leveling would favor Gilbert Teodoro, who has been faring miserably in the presidential race, if the periodic surveys of the electorate are any indication.

It is undeniable that Teodoro has few celebrity endorsers—a consequence of the copyright infringement brouhaha involving former Rivermaya front-man Rico Blanco, perhaps?—but Pichay, Puno, and their ilk would do well to remember that their candidate enjoys the signal privilege of being practically endorsed by a nationally distributed broadsheet, The Manila Times, in its editorials. This means that the administration candidate is not supported merely by a columnist or two, which is the case for other candidates, but by an entire publication that reaches hundreds of thousands of readers daily.

As early as October of last year, in the wake of Ondoy, the Times hailed Teodoro, then secretary of the Department of National Defense (DND) and head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), for “an excellent job coordinating the rescue and relief efforts”, describing the disaster as a test that Teodoro passed “with grace and humility”. (I have shown elsewhere—and, to my mind, very convincingly—how preposterous such claims are.)

In December, the newspaper once more sung the praises of Teodoro:

Teodoro is a welcome presence in the political arena. Humble and self effacing, he speaks in measured and moderate tones. Foregoing bombast and oratory, he delivers well-organized, well-reasoned thoughts and statements on the issues. He refuses to stoop to personalities and mudslinging, preferring to speak on the issues, policies and the nitty-gritty of good governance.

If we read his mind, Teodoro could become the first bipartisan president in Philippine history. He could walk across the aisles to enlist the best minds in the opposition to join his government. He will cast a wider net to recruit nonparty members who share his core values and passion for public service.

Teodoro could also reach out to promising young men, women, ethnic leaders and reformed communists to join his government. He might make history by appointing naturalized Filipinos as key Palace aides. A Cabinet, after all, must be a mirror of the nation. It should include the principal members of the national family.

A government under President Teodoro could seek -peace with the communists and put an end to the New People’s Army insurgency. The next Malacañang resident could exert efforts to sign a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. President Teodoro will pursue a dialogue with all restive members of society—the rightists, the left-of-center and Church activists—in the name of reconciliation. But he will draw the line on terrorism and the Abu Sayyaf predators.

To give a final example, just last month, the Times seized upon a pastoral statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and turned it into an opportunity to fawn over Teodoro yet again:

Gilbert Teodoro is “winnable” even if current surveys do not indicate so. His ratings have risen in recent weeks and should pick up as the campaign formally starts and as more Filipinos get to know more about his integrity, character and competitive edge over his opponents.

Our fate is not in the stars or in the surveys but in ourselves—this is the message of the CBCP pastoral letter. By voting wisely, we get the President we deserve, the leader we need.

That the Times has all but explicitly announced that it backs Teodoro should be no surprise, of course, as it is owned by Dante A. Ang, formerly personal publicist to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and currently a member of Cabinet, serving as the chairman of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

Notwithstanding the bewilderment and outrage that Resolution No. 8758 has caused, the Comelec seems determined to enforce it immediately and to the letter, considering that legal division chief Ferdinand Rafanan has threatened to file criminal cases against celebrities who endorse any candidate during the official campaign period but fail to take a leave of absence or resign from their jobs. If the Comelec wishes to demonstrate that it is serious about the implementation of the resolution, however shaky the legal grounds, then it could do no better than order The Manila Times to shut down. Should it fail to do so, but insist on cracking down on other entities and individuals, the Comelec will only reinforce the already prevalent perception that it is not, in fact, an independent body, but merely one of the many playthings at the disposal of our hardworking and prayerful iconoclast of a president.

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]

Live blog of Youth 2010: Bumoto Para sa Pagbabago

Note (Added 02 February 2010): It has come to my attention that portions of this post are being cited as though they were verbatim statements from the candidates. Let me emphasize that this is a live blog, not a transcript. The contents of this post only reflect my understanding of the candidates’ statements while they were being broadcast, and I can therefore make no claims to accuracy or exactitude, even as I have striven to act in good faith.


Presidential Youth Forum
De La Salle University-Manila
29 January 2010, 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM
As broadcast on ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC)

2:10 PM

On the Scene with Twink Macaraig is currently ongoing. An inset video shows the Teresa Yuchengco Auditorium of DLSU-M. Former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) candidate Vetallano Acosta appear to be absent.

Part 1

2:17 PM

Ted Failon formally opens the youth presidential forum.

Noynoy Aquino, JC de los Reyes, Dick Gordon, Jamby Madrigal, Nick Perlas, Gibo Teodoro, Eddie Villanueva, and Manny Villar are introduced in turn.

Estrada is absent, as he has a prior commitment. No mention of Acosta is made.

Mechanics: Representatives of each candidate drew lots for the issues that will be discussed. Selected students will then pose the questions, and each candidate has two minutes to respond.

Question: What is good governance, and how will you implement it if you become president?

Villanueva: Good governance consists of moral leadership. Honesty, transparency, and accountability should be implemented. The budget should be properly spent. According to the World Bank, 40% of the budget goes to corruption, this should be stopped at all costs. Good governance means leadership by example, starting with the president of the Philippines. Good governance involves preparing the youth for the future, in enabling them to transform the country and make it great again.

Question: What was your most noteworthy achievement as Olongapo councilor as regards women empowerment and gender inequality?

De Los Reyes: I fought the reproductive health code, because I believe that the premise is wrong. We are not overpopulated. The code contemplates contraceptives, which are bad for women. Men should respect women. Condoms promote infidelity and promiscuity. Maternal health is being used as a reason to forward depopulation activities. Let us fight graft and corruption so that all Filipinos can have fullness of life.

Question: As former NDCC chairman, what steps do you think the government should take to improve its readiness regarding disaster response?

Teodoro: The first step is to enact the Disaster Risk Management Bill. The Philippines is a victim of climate change. Resources, education, and information must be available. Economic fundamentals must be in place. We must be strict in terms of land zoning and adhere to geohazard mapping. We should also focus on mitigation. Strictly implement the Solid Waste Management Act, the Clean Air Act, and other laws. It boils down to two things: government leadership and citizen participation.

Question: What is your opinion re economy’s dependence on the call center industry?

Perlas: The call center industry is not enough. Wealth is not being distributed equitably. We need to focus on employment-intensive sectors, especially agriculture. 35% of all people employed are in agriculture. 70% of the poor are connected to agriculture and live in the rural areas. If we transform our methods of agriculture away from chemical-intensive (and capital-intensive) farming, we can raise the employment rate. We can also improve eco-tourism, we have a very beautiful country.

Question: Should we extend elementary or high school by one more year?

Gordon: We need to have good teachers. We need to increase their salaries. I want a salary of PhP40,000.00 per month for teachers—they presently earn Php12,000.00 to PhP15,000.00. The entire curriculum of the school can be put on Amazon Kindles. In order to make this possible, we can generate funds from responsible mining, or charging a tax on text messages, say PhP0.50 per message. We should also clamp down on corruption and smuggling. It’s just a matter of deciding if we really want to improve the educational system.

Question: What can you do to help our SMEs to make them more globally competitive?

Madrigal: I was watching Obama’s State of the Union address. Like him, I want to fight big interests, such as MNCs and neoliberal policies that oppress the people. The income of the top 20 corporations is equal to the income of 10 million Filipino families. The main thrust of my administration would be to provide more capital for businesses. We must fight corruption, big corporations, cartels, smugglers, cowards, and liars.

Question: Do you agree with the Reproductive Health Bill? How will you explain and implement this bill to the people, given that your family is known to be very religious?

Aquino: One of my fellow presidentiables said earlier that we don’t have a population problem, but we should also recognize that we lack the capacity to meet everyone’s needs at present. We can’t even set up enough classrooms. We advocate responsible parenthood. Parents should realize they have to be responsible for feeding, clothing, and educating their children. Church and state are separate. We call on the church to participate in the values formation of everyone. The government cannot dictate how big families should be, but it has a duty to remind parents to manage their families properly. I am not a co-author of the RH Bill, and there are provisions there that I cannot support. But I do agree that there are serious issues that need to be addressed.

Question: Would you sign the RH Bill into law? If not, what will you propose in its place?

Villar: I am against the RH Bill, and I doubt it will be passed in the time we have left in the Senate. The government shouldn’t dictate what people should do with their families. The problem isn’t the population, it’s the management of the economy. Past administrations have been unable to make the economy strong, so population control is a stop-gap measure. I don’t believe the RH Bill should be signed into law. It’s high time that we use leadership competence as a standard by which we elect a President. We have been managed in a very incompetent manner for the past 15 years. Our nation can be great, 92 million people can make it great.

Part 2

2:51 PM

Mechanics: A panel of students from DLSU-M will ask two questions of each candidate, who has one minute per question to respond.

Question: What is your opinion on divorce?

De Los Reyes: I would veto any attempt to legislate divorce. This is a violation of the Constitution, the Family Code, the institution of marriage.

Question: What do you think about teaching sex education in schools?

De Los Reyes: I don’t think this is appropriate. Parents should be the ones handling sex education. Teaching anatomy and physiology is all right, but I am against the discussion of sexual acts and contraceptives

Failon: Where should students go to get sex education, if not the schools?

De Los Reyes: I think a young person has intrinsic knowledge of what happens. It’s dangerous for teachers to handle this. The Department of Education modules on sex are derived from foreign materials, not indigenous ones.

Question: Was it coincidental that you resigned your post as Defense Secretary days before the Ampatuan massacre? How were the Ampatuans able to arm themselves during your watch?

Teodoro: I would’ve resigned earlier, except that Ondoy happened. The Ampatuans did not get their arms during my time. It’s impossible to stockpile that amount of weaponry in just two years.

Failon: How are you sure?

Teodoro: Only 10% of the Ampatuan bullets came from the government arsenal. I have been lobbying the AFP to investigate the matter.

Question: You must have disagreed with a few of Arroyo’s policies while you were a Cabinet member. If you become President, which of Arroyo’s programs will you reverse or otherwise discontinue?

Teodoro: I cannot make any disclosures due to national security concerns. But let me say that I don’t favor giving an area autonomy if it is not ready. We need to establish accountability.

Question: What do you think of using the Filipino language in schools?

Perlas: We are a multi-linguistic country. In the early stages of childhood, the native language of the region should be taught. As the child grows, he should be taught Filipino and English. We need to communicate with each other, and with the world. But it’s important that the child speaks the language of his region. My philosophy is child-centered education. We should adjust our methodology depending on the capacity of the child.

Question: What is your opinion on the OFW phenomenon?

Perlas: Filipinos leave the country simply because there are no jobs locally. We need to set up a massive employment program in agriculture, tourism, and other industries. We should be able to show the world that we can generate enough jobs and provide a dignified livelihood for everyone. We are entrepreneurial and creative, and I think it can be done.

Question: How will you address the issue of contractual employment?

Aquino: My platform emphasizes education. We need to improve the capabilities of our countrymen. I would prefer to do away with contractualization, but at the same time, I cannot just do that because so many businesses have already left the country as it is. Extreme positions are unproductive, we need to find a happy compromise.

Question: You claimed that you would not steal. What have you done as a legislator to ensure that government employees are penalized for stealing or being corrupt?

Aquino: I was at all the impeachment proceedings. I have made a point of scrutinizing the budget carefully. I invite you to look at my record.

Question: Do you agree that there should be a bill controlling campaign expenses?

Villar: We now have a law for that. With regard to limiting campaign expenses, we should not limit candidates without famous relatives from trying to make themselves known. No matter how many advertisements I air, I don’t think I can match the stature of a pedigreed candidate.

Failon: What about candidates without money?

Villar: If you are in business and you have no money, perhaps that says you’re not a good manager. All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t prevent candidates from reaching out to the people.

Question: You said you would protect the poor. What can the rich and the middle class expect from your leadership?

Villar: The only way to help the poor is to improve the economy. Our ambition is to have “high tide”. If the bottom 20% of the population improves their lot in life, everyone will be lifted up as well.

Question: The idea of discipline is often compared to dictatorship. What can you say about this? Are Filipinos ready for a disciplinarian president?

Gordon: Filipinos are not ready for dictatorship. They are ready for Dick Gordon. What we need is firm and fair leadership. Strong leadership that will fight corruption and level the playing field. A leader should lift the standard of values in the country. Animo La Salle, animo Ateneo, animo UP, animo Philippines! I want the Filipino to be proud, to be able to show what he’s got.

Question: How will you decongest Metro Manila?

Gordon: We need to develop good infrastructures for Subic, Clark, and Manila. We need to provide incentives for people to go to the countryside. Infrastructures and national development go hand-in-hand, and you can do that anywhere and everywhere in the country. All you need is a good leader.

Question: If you become President and had to choose between what the constitution says and what the church says, what would you choose?

Villanueva: If secular and religious laws contradict each other, I will follow religious law. To paraphrase President Manuel L. Quezon, my loyalty to my family and friends ends where my loyalty to my God and my country begins.

Failon: Couldn’t you be impeached for doing that?

Villanueva: The preamble of the Constitution invokes God. We have corruption, deterioration, and immorality because we have forgotten God. Moral bankruptcy is the biggest problem today.

Question: To what extent should the church influence government policy?

Villanueva: The Constitutional provision on the separation of Church and state is there only to prevent the establishment of a state religion.

Question: Why do you think you are a strong candidate for President?

Madrigal: Filipinos are looking for change. Corruption changed when Erap was thrown out and Gloria came in. My platform is very specific. A major concern is sovereignty. We should protect ourselves first before catering to foreign interests.

Failon: What made you think you are a strong candidate?

Madrigal: I’m not just for reform, but reform that generates capital and opportunities for Filipinos.

Failon: Do you believe in surveys?

Madrigal: I don’t. Surveys are influenced by the wealthy.

Question: How would you address job discrimination against those who graduated from schools that are not well-known?

Madrigal: We must level the playing field by giving everyone quality education. I agree with Gordon that all students should be given books.

Failon: Students, how do you find the answers of the candidates so far?

(An awkward silence pervades the room. Failon repeats the question, to no effect.)


3:29 PM

ANC cuts away to Twink Macaraig and Leloy Claudio, a noted debater and a lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University. Claudio believes that the format is problematic, and that the candidates’ answers are not as specific as they could be. Macaraig adds that there were many broadsides.

Both Claudio and Macaraig agree that the stand of De Los Reyes on sex education is questionable.

Part 3

3:36 PM

Mechanics: All the candidates will answer just one question. Each has one minute to respond, and follow-up questions or rebuttals may be made by other candidates.

Failon: Has Arroyo done anything she should answer for after her term? If yes, what should she be held accountable for and how?

Villar: Members of the Nacionalista Party have undertaken investigations on the various issues surrounding the present administration. I will not lift a finger to help her if she is charged. We have a system in place to handle any proceedings that must be undertaken. But I will not lift a finger to help her. I will not lift a finger to help President Arroyo answer any charges made against her.

Aquino: Yes. I pledge to resolve all the issues. To ignore them is to say that we are not changing the current order of things. She has destroyed so many institutions. That said, her rights should still be protected. My father always said that protecting the rights of one’s enemies is the true test of democracy.

De Los Reyes: Yes. The NBN-ZTE controvery, the fertilizer fund scam, the extra-judicial killings, and other issues all occurred during Arroyo’s term. These should be investigated. Due process should be observed.

Perlas: Arroyo had a hand in so many problems. If I am elected, then yes, I will have her investigated. What are the geopolitical imperatives behind her actions, especially those involving China? These need to be clarified. I will create a commission involving civil society groups. We need to activate a different kind of people’s power.

Teodoro: I am a party-mate of Arroyo. It’s not right for me to answer this question. If I participate in any charges against her, I will be suspect. Anyone can charge her. Let justice be done. I can try to be popular and say I will investigate her. But whichever way I answer, I have no credibility.

Madrigal: A resounding yes. Yes, for plunder. She stole the mandate of the people and participated in so many scandals and human-rights violations. If the Ampatuan massacre had happened during my watch, I would’ve fired my Secretary of Defense, my Secretary of Interior. I am the only Senator to be water-cannoned by Gloria’s people. By what means? We need to have a fair Secretary of Justice, not a Secretary of Injustice. We need an Ombudsman who cannot be bought.

Villanueva: The collective wisdom of the people is clear. I want to emphasize her gross misgovernance. Instead of allocating funds for education, health, and social services. We need to overhaul the justice system. The rule of law shall prevail. Absolute transparency should be ensured. Within my first 100 days or my first year, all the scandals will be brought to light.

Gordon: Of course there should be accountability. If there is a need to charge her, then she should be charged. But I have bigger fish to fry—the country has so many problems that a leader should focus on. Within six months or one year, all cases should be investigated, and let the axe fall where it may.

Failon: Any challenges to Teodoro?

Gordon: I don’t think we should editorialize. I just want to be careful. It’s hard to pander to popular opinion. We should show all the issues so that the people can come to the proper conclusions.

Villanueva: It’s important that we give our countrymen justice. Let the truth come out. We should have absolute transparency and accountability.

Madrigal: One question for Secretary Teodoro: who has a larger claim on you, the people or Arroyo?

Teodoro: Kindness should be repaid with kindness. Utang na loob does not extend to evil deeds. Justice should prevail above all.

Part 4

4:14 PM

Failon reads out some comments from Twitter and the ANC chat room.

Each candidate has one minute to make a closing statement.

Aquino: A leader should have a clear, consistent stand on all issues. There are so many things wrong with this administration, for example, and it important to know who has constantly opposed its actions. We need to recognize those who are truly in favor of reform.

De Los Reyes: There is a need for us to review our history and have a fresh start. The computer of the Philippines already has so many viruses, so to speak. Jesus was radical, we need a radical approach.

Gordon: In the 1950s, we were prominent in Asia. Corruption kills. It is time to fight corruption in order to elevate the people. We need people to eradicate corruption and create jobs, like in Subic.

Madrigal: I believe I have proven my sincerity. Country first before personal gain. People have said so many things against me because I fight corruption. I will endure all brickbats just to make sure that justice is served. I challenge all my fellow Senators to publish on their web sites the insertions that they benefited from.

Perlas: Our country is in danger. Traditional politicians have brought us down. We cannot achieve change if we elect traditional politicians. If the same old thoughts, habits, and connections remain in office, nothing will change. We need to think the impossible, which is just the future waiting to happen.

Teodoro: Our country faces both danger and opportunity. The Philippines is one of the richest in the world in terms of natural resources and people. We need unity and progressive policies. On another note, I am glad we have forums like these. Citizen participation is needed to ensure that democracy is successful.

Villanueva: Education is one of our biggest problems. (Assorted quotations from the Bible, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Edmund Burke follow.)

Villar: I pledge before you and God, I have stolen nothing from the government. I have only aspired to make things better. If you want to know more, visit my web site. Everything I have needed to answer, I have already answered. We must also bear in mind that, when choosing a President, he must have the proven ability to get things done.

Youth 2010: Bumoto Para sa Pagbabago ends. The candidates begin to interact and pose for photographs.

On forgiveness

Toward the end of the third chapter of Noli Me Tangere, Crisostomo Ibarra barely avoids a quarrel with a combative Padre Damaso, and manages to make a hasty exit from the dinner party of Capitan Tiago. As he begins to wander the streets of Manila in the next chapter, he is accosted by an old lieutenant, Señor Guevara, who warns the young man to learn from the example of his deceased father, Don Rafael.  Upon realizing that Crisostomo does not even know that his father died in prison, Guevara endeavors to tell him the details. Among other things, Don Rafael had somehow earned the ire of Padre Damaso: the Franciscan friar accused his former friend of failing to go to confession. Such an accusation meant that the soul of Don Rafael continued to bear the burden of his wrongdoings—that he existed in a state of disgrace, that he had not been forgiven.

Forgiveness tends to be a recurring theme during the holidays, because, whatever else can be said for the shrill décor and the manufactured cheer of the season, family and friends do come together, and in so gathering, each of us is given cause to consider the quality of his or her life in the context of his or her relationships with others, as well as with time. Where interpersonal fractures and burns exist, these intensify, become more deeply felt, and, when coupled with a renewed awareness of mortality—especially keen when one is in the presence of children—may well produce the urge to grant or seek forgiveness, to promote a general healing of divisions, to infuse the word “reunion” with fresh energy and significance.

Guevara then recounts to Crisostomo what Don Rafael once said on the issue of confession: “‘Take this example: if I have killed the father of a family, if I have made of a woman a sorrowing widow and destitute orphans of some happy children, have I satisfied eternal Justice by letting myself be hanged, or by entrusting my secret to one who is obliged to guard it for me, or by giving alms to priests who are least in need of them, or by buying indulgences and lamenting night and day? What of the widow and the orphans? My conscience tells me that I should try to take the place of him whom I killed, that I should dedicate my whole life to the welfare of the family whose misfortunes I caused. But even so, who can replace the love of a husband and a father?'”*

This is not as unorthodox as it may seem at the outset. The Roman Catholic Church itself teaches that while confession leads to absolution, it is penance that satisfies divine justice. Thus, what Don Rafael proposes after his hypothetical murder is that he must undergo penance, albeit in a manner different from what a priest might usually prescribe.

Forgiveness, then, results only in the cessation of hostilities, the repudiation of acrimony, and the restoration of peace between the wrongdoer and the wronged. It does not exempt the offender from responsibility for his or her actions. Rather, forgiveness opens up a space within which the true penitent, liberated from the anger, hate, and bitterness of those who have been wounded, is obligated to mitigate, if not undo, the harm caused, and to ensure, as much as possible, that he or she will no longer inflict harm in any way, shape, or form. Penance, in Catholic theology, functions both as an act of reparation, and as an act of preservation—it is supposed to help prevent the further commission of sins.

Nor does forgiveness excuse the victim from vigilance. Although conventional (un-)wisdom has always posited that forgiving should be followed by forgetting, granting forgiveness does not—should not—mean that one automatically forfeits the right to require meaningful change, when it has yet to take place, or the right to demand justice, when it has yet to be served.

Letting go and moving on from an instance of abuse without a sustained call for restitution or reform is to tread down the path of self-destruction. This kind of uncritical, empty-headed forgiveness rewards the transgressor for his or her evil deeds—in the absence of consequences, he or she can be expected to commit exponentially worse acts. Consider, for instance, how far our ever hardworking and prayerful president has come: from breaking a promise not to run in the 2004 elections, all the way to the unconstitutional imposition of martial law against a monster that she herself created.

In her Christmas message, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo exhorted the country to “remember the lessons that we learned this year”. As we enter a new year, if there is one lesson that we must take with us from the annus horribilis that was 2009, it is this: to forgive is not to forget—not when there is still so much that the current regime has left unaddressed, not when there are still so many wrongs that it has left unredressed.

*This quotation is taken from the Charles Derbyshire translation of Noli Me Tangere, which is entitled The Social Cancer.

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]

To vanquish a hydra

On December 1, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo formalized her 2010 bid to represent the second district of Pampanga in the Lower House, Fr. Roland Moraleja, who delivered the homily at a special concelebrated mass, made the now-(in)famous comment likening Macapagal-Arroyo to Jesus. Although Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David called the comparison blasphemous, it was again invoked, albeit in a more subdued fashion, by Press Secretary Cerge Remonde in a Malacañang press conference last Sunday, nearly two days after the hardworking and prayerful President issued Proclamation No. 1959, which declared a state of martial law and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in most of Maguindanao.

Asked for a reaction regarding the outcry against the proclamation, Remonde said that Macapagal-Arroyo was “ready to be crucified” by public opinion on the matter, and would let nothing stop her from doing what she needs to do, as she has the best interests of Maguindanao at heart. (Due to a clerical error that Raissa Robles has already discussed, it seemed for a while that the best interests of Maguindanao were mysteriously linked to the establishment of a village school in Zamboanga del Sur.)

The vacuity and spuriousness of the comparison of the President to Christ notwithstanding, I am willing to concede that it can be upheld on one point. Consider this excerpt from the speech she delivered on December 30, 2002, the 106th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jose Rizal:

However, we also know that we will soon enter the political period leading up to the elections in 2004. My reading on the political winds tells me that the 2004 election may well go down in history as among our most bitterly contested elections ever. This is because of the deep social and political division that we now have.

If this is true, then sincere efforts to launch programs will run the risk of being derailed by political fighting leading up to the elections.

The government in place after 2004 may merely end up inheriting a country as deeply divided as ever. Consequently, we may end up stalling national growth for a few years more as a result of lost momentum.

In view of all these factors, I have decided not to run for President during the election of 2004.

When she reneged on this last statement by entering the race, and emerged victorious, she reinforced, even exacerbated, the very divisions that she had initially claimed to be wary of, especially after she was beset by allegations of having cheated her way into power, sparking a controversy that still smolders, unresolved. This brings to mind what Jesus said in Luke 12:51-53:

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

As a holiday bonus to Macapagal-Arroyo, I am further willing to concede that, just like Christ in his time, she is widely distrusted, if not downright reviled.

Where the analogy ultimately fails is the idea of resurrection. Macapagal-Arroyo, despite being the “luckiest bitch around“, despite the performance of self-serving “miracles”, has yet to prove that she is capable of rising from the dead, although her ability to avoid (political) death is certainly nothing to scoff at. Anyway, in the name of authenticity, she would first have to be willing to be whipped, crowned with thorns, nailed to a cross, force-fed vinegar, jabbed with spears, and generally jeered at until she expires.

What I find to be the most useful image with which to make sense of the present dispensation comes out of Greek mythology: the Lernaean Hydra. A fearsome, serpent-like beast that dwelt in the swamp of Lerna, the hydra was known for preying upon cattle and terrorizing nearby villages, and was extremely difficult to kill. It possessed nine heads, eight mortal and one immortal, and once a mortal head was cut off, two more would grow in its place.

Apollodorus tells us that Herakles himself, though blessed with superhuman strength, would not have been able to slay the hydra without assistance from his young nephew: “…[Herakles] called for help on Iolaus who, by setting fire to a piece of the neighboring wood and burning the roots of the heads with the brands, prevented them from sprouting. Having thus got the better of the sprouting heads, he chopped off the immortal head, and buried it, and put a heavy rock on it, beside the road that leads through Lerna to Elaeus.”

My point here is that the administration of Macapagal-Arroyo has displayed a talent—if talent it can indeed be called—not for solving problems but for multiplying them. By consistently framing national affairs in the language of war, by cultivating an environment of apparently ceaseless chaos, the regime renders the formation of a broad, durable opposition almost impossible—worse, it induces in the majority a sense of utter helplessness, which lends itself so easily, as seen in the wake of the Hello Garci scandal, to willful myopia, to cynicism, to the belief that it is more enlightened to forgive and forget. Never mind that all moral responsibility is relinquished, that the grievous wounds to the body politic continue to fester and putrefy beneath the Band-Aid of “moving on”, that the hydra is allowed to grow in strength and impunity.

With Proclamation No. 1959, the ridiculous, error-riddled report that purports to justify it, and the pathetic performance of Macapagal-Arroyo’s cabinet officials at the joint session of Congress, the price of moving on should be crystal-clear: moving on allows evil to become ordinary. Every time the public fails to muster the strength to be outraged, it becomes complicit in the commission of ever more outrageous deeds. Every time the public agrees with the Palace mouthpieces—experts at victimage and little else—that the President is attacked no matter what she does, it gives her license to do whatever she wants—and this is a President who seems determined to try everything, including the creation of the very same monster that she now claims to want to destroy: her erstwhile allies and still-good friends, the mass-murdering members of the Ampatuan clan.

Last July, in her State of the Nation Address, Macapagal-Arroyo challenged her detractors, saying, “Do not tell us what we all know, that democracy can be threatened. Tell us what you will do when it is attacked.” In the face of this state-sponsored attack on democracy, how shall we, the people, act?