Pacquiao: Putting the ‘twit’ in Twitter?

The nominally honorable Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, officially elected Representative of the sole district of Sarangani, was conspicuously absent from the House proceedings on the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who has been charged with betrayal of public trust. (The House, as reported elsewhere on this site, eventually voted in favor of impeachment by an overwhelming majority.) The world-renowned boxer, however, was apparently monitoring the action on television, as he announced via his official Twitter account (@CongMP) that he was “watching the impeachment trial” and thought that it was a “very interesting topic”.

Twitter / Emmanuel D. Pacquiao

When he was asked by a couple of citizens to explain why he was not at the session, Pacquiao resorted to what might be magnanimously referred to as attempts at wit.

Twitter / Emmanuel D. Pacquiao

Twitter / Emmanuel D. Pacquiao

Pacquiao later took a stand on the impeachment issue, declaring, “I vote NO! and I can give my explanation thanks“.

Twitter / Emmanuel D. Pacquiao

In all likelihood surprised by the flood of criticism he received for his unbecoming online behavior, Pacquiao then bid Twitter good-bye, an act that, according to Cocoy, only befits a wuss. (The account is still active as of this writing, and the post pictured below has been removed.)

Twitter / Emmanuel D. Pacquiao

Precisely why he had refused to perform his sworn duty of representing his constituents and giving them a say on an issue of national importance is unclear—not to mention moot and academic. It may well be that he was training in Baguio, but Baguio is merely six to eight hours away from Metro Manila by land. What is certain is this: Pacquiao’s absence from the impeachment proceedings is utterly irresponsible, a fact that his inappropriately flippant—even scornful—tweets serve only to underscore, and which does not augur well for the rest of his political career. If the pugilist conceives of Twitter as an informal forum intended for casual banter, then, at the very least, he should consider restricting his updates to inconsequential banalities, instead of setting the stage for being remembered as a laughingstock of a solon.

Meanwhile, Pacquiao ought to be condemned not only by the people of Sarangani or civil society as a whole, but also by his colleagues, for surely his disdainful disregard of parliamentary procedure, to the point of voting via a micro-blogging service, besmirches the House of Representatives as well.

[This also appears in The Pro Pinoy Project.]

Redrawing the circle

To entrench oneself in a position diametrically opposite to that occupied by a ideological adversary may well be a significant demonstration of whatever convictions one holds dear. That said, the problem with such a move, however ferociously or passionately undertaken, should be obvious enough: it merely reinforces the area and the circumference of the already existing discursive circle. Moreover, antipodal antagonism confirms, if not intensifies, in the foe the power that one is trying to deny it.

Thus, no matter how many individual skirmishes or battles one claims as triumphs, the war itself cannot be won—the terms of the conflict only ensure the maintenance of the status quo, which is to say endless and unproductive enmity, rather than victory, which is to say any hoped-for change: the expansion or contraction of the circle, or its transformation into a different, more feasible shape.

Within such a scheme of struggle, the question of strategic value is often elided or ignored, because the effect and defect of committing to diametrical distance, to absolute opposition, is the reduction of one’s vision—if vision it can indeed be called—to a narrow set of premises, which in turn lead to action that is limited in scope and efficacy. It should be unsurprising that agitators of this stripe tend toward maneuvers that are predicated less on dignity, respect, or logic than on puerility, sanctimoniousness, or auto-eroticism.

One such agitator is Carlos Celdran, a tour guide and an advocate for the immediate passage of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill—a bill that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is strongly against.

Let us call a spade a spade: Celdran’s recent disruption of an ongoing mass at the Manila Cathedral by holding up a placard emblazoned with “Damaso”, yelling at the assembled bishops, and—according to a report from The Philippine Star—later goading police officers on the scene to arrest him is an act not of subversion in the vein of José Rizal, regardless of Celdran’s attire—or utterly destitute notions of Rizal and heroism—but of perversion.

If with his gimmick Celdran had intended to catch the spotlight of national attention, he has certainly succeeded brilliantly. But now that he has drawn our collective notice, I have to ask: So what? Or, perhaps more crucially: Now what?

Perversion, admittedly, has a long and honorable tradition of being deployed in the name of critical commentary. For example, Diogenes of Sinope, perhaps the most famous of the Cynics, deliberately behaved like a dog in order to foreground the falsehoods of civilization and uphold the virtues of asceticism. To my mind, though, Celdran’s publicity stunt partakes of the same kind of perversion that motivates a child to sneak cookies before dinner, draw on the walls with crayons, or grab the shiny new toys of another: for the primitive pleasure of being able to do something that is conventionally forbidden.

Insofar as Celdran can be described as a cynic, it is in the modern sense of word, because if the manner in which he chose to make his protest is any indication, he seems to believe the only way to forward his cause is to sensationalize it, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, to frame a complex matter in the crudest and most simplistic of ways: by stoking the fires of generic underdog rage. Perhaps the bishops did need “to hear what the Filipinos are saying“, but Celdran’s objective did not appear to be so much clarity as it was blasphemy.

Whatever Celdran thought he was doing—in his own words, he wanted to give the bishops “a dose of their own [medicine]“—I have serious doubts that his stunt has helped matters any, chiefly because he and like-minded ilk missed a very important point: engaging the CBCP on the RH bill is an exercise in futility, because, as an institution of the Roman Catholic Church, it cannot and should not be expected to take a stand that runs counter to official Church teachings or defies the Holy See. For better or for worse, the Church accepts as axiomatic that artificial contraception is evil, and the actions of the CBCP with reference to the RH bill proceed from that same premise. Given this, it must be understood that there is no room for negotiation at all.

Nevertheless, it is exceedingly evident that what the CBCP thinks, says, or does as a body clearly does not have much of an impact on the general populace, considering that several surveys have already shown that a majority of Filipinos—including Catholics—favor the passage of the RH bill. Furthermore, as I have pointed out elsewhere, Catholic doctrine allows for the possibility of dissent if that is what one’s conscience dictates. Going head-to-head with the bishops, therefore, is myopic and wasteful, even gratuitous: one might as well bash one’s head repeatedly against a wall for all the good that arguing with the CBCP will do, even if cracking one’s skull open is “gutsy” and “bad-ass”—oh, and, of course, thoroughly mediagenic.

In the realm of public opinion, church and state are already separate, so why bother to fight the CBCP and accord it more power, more influence, and more exposure than it ought to have, entitled though it may be to a voice in the peanut gallery of our rowdy democracy? Enshrined in the Constitution is the freedom of expression, which necessarily includes the freedom to ignore. The battle for the passage of the RH bill, at this particular juncture at least, is not with the bishops, but with the nominally honorable members of Congress. As blogger iwriteasiwrite has suggested, dialogue with the Catholic Church can—and should—resume after the bill has been passed into law.

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.

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?

Barefaced brazenness

The Philippine Star reports today that Bureau of Customs (BOC) deputy commissioner Alexander Arevalo is puzzled at the public outcry regarding the imposition of duties upon imported books, saying that the BOC merely seeks to follow the law, and that protestors ought to go to Congress or to the Supreme Court. He claimed, furthermore, that, “We are not implementing anything new. The policy has not changed. The book importers know about this. Maybe the readers do not know that they have been paying duties.”

In making such a statement, Arevalo seems to directly contradict Department of Finance (DOF) Undersecretary Estela V. Sales, who, in a telephone interview with Kenneth Yu, said that the duties were allegedly not being implemented, thus prompting the issuance of DOF Department Order 17-09, which contains clarifactory guidelines on the duty-free importation of books, on 24 March 2009. (Manuel L. Quezon III notes that the interview by Yu is the “first time (and so far, the only time)” that the DOF has aired its side of the situation.)

If Arevalo is correct, which duties has the public been paying? Based on the department order, there are only two “legal” rates: 1% and 5%. Arevalo then ought to be able to explain the experiences of these individuals: (1) Jarius Bondoc, who paid Php3,800 in import duties for books worth Php1,350; (2) Roland Benzon, who paid at least 15% of the value of his books; (3) Quezon, who was charged Php3,841, including VAT, from which books are supposed to exempt; (4) Chingbee Cruz, who was quoted differing rates and was finally told that a shipment of books below U.S.$50 would be duty-free; and (5) sumthinblue, who was charged exorbitant fees over books that she had received for free, and harrassed to boot.

If Sales is correct, how did she come to interpret the non-implementation of duties on imported books as a lapse, considering that previous administrations were presumably aware that such non-implementation was one of the provisions of the Florence Agreement? (And while we’re at it, by what authority does she judge novels as “not educational“, when it is supposed to the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports that determines such things? Quezon points out that this opens up the Rizal Law to legal challenge.) That the BOC recently reported a significant deficit for the first quarter of the year (Php5.2 billion, according to the Star, and Php8.2 billion, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer), is surely no coincidence. oxar2001law suggests that Republic Act 9335, which establishes a “a Rewards and Incentives Fund and a Revenue Performance Evaluation Board” for the BOC and the Bureau of Internal Revenue, provides a strong motive for officials to increase revenue collections by all possible means.

Even if it is assumed for the sake of argument that the imposition of duties upon books is legal, why can’t these officials get their stories straight? Unfortunately, such glaring inconsistencies are merely symptomatic of how the bureaucracy operates: with the apparent intent of utterly confusing the public, while making a conspicuous–and disingenuous–display of upholding the law.

It is interesting to juxtapose this mess with another recent development. Jess Diaz of the Star reports that, “The committee on ways and means of the House of Representatives has relegated proposals to increase rates of the so-called sin taxes to the freezer.” The proposals, which are for increasing tax rates on various liquor and tobacco products, as well as soft drinks, have been removed from the agenda of the committee. The chair of the ways and means committee, Representative Exequiel Javier of Antique, claimed that he would prefer not to impose new taxes, for while higher tax collections could mean more money for social programs, he would nevertheless “opt for the direct ways of helping them rather than the indirect way”.

In a nutshell, the government believes that not raising taxes on products that cause ill health is “direct helping”, while not imposing duties on books is illegal. Should this reasoning prevail, the Philippines is doomed to become a nation of smoking, alcoholic, obese illiterates. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!