Ordering our outrage

It has been difficult to avoid succumbing to the atmosphere of anger and despair that has developed in the wake of the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda, internationally known as Typhoon Haiyan, especially when, by most accounts, relief and rescue operations led by the present administration have been and continue to be slow while thousands of people starve, sicken, suffer, and die in the devastated areas of Visayas. The frustration and resentment have been particularly pronounced among users of social media, who, prior to the current crisis, had already been up in arms for weeks on end over the Priority Assistance Development Fund (PDAF) scam involving several legislators and its most prominent—thus, most hated—face, businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, and had more recently been in anguish because of the effects of the 7.2–magnitude earthquake that had hit Bohol, Cebu, and their neighboring provinces.

Even after we had heard from our relatives in Kalibo, Aklan, which, though not as badly ravaged as other places, has certainly seen its share of death and destruction, I continue to feel weighed down by elemental helplessness, and it has been tempting to yield to the impulse to contribute to the rapidly rising tide of recriminations that I have observed among my colleagues, friends, and other contacts. There can, after all, be no denying that the response to Yolanda so far signals immense, perhaps criminal, failures on the part of the government, both at the local and national levels, in terms of disaster risk reduction, mitigation, and management, and therefore scrutiny and censure are more than called for. (In line with this, I would particularly like to know whether charges of treason would prosper against local officials who, despite being safe and sound, chose not to reach out to their constituents, but to ensconce themselves in Manila and issue statements to the press.)

The problem with social media, however, is that it can perpetuate a vicious cycle of validation rather than allow for catharsis: when we vent in Twitter, Facebook, or similar platforms, there is a distinct possibility that our fury and despondency may not drain away to create a space for clear, intelligent thought, or convert itself into energy for deliberate, effective action. Instead, it may simply go round and round and round, accumulating intensity and power while destroying our ability to ask ourselves what has so provoked our emotions and to consider if our reactions are still commensurate to the matter at hand. I do not wish to suggest that indignation cannot be productive—a cursory survey of our history as a people would prove otherwise quite easily—but any expression of such ought, I believe, to be accompanied by a strong sense of proportion, of responsibility: the best instances of criticism contain within them not only an invitation to dialogue, but also a commitment to it. Engaging in vituperation helps nothing and no one, as this reduces us to mere cogs in a mindless machine of rage.

If we are to converse on Yolanda and its aftermath in a manner that is meaningful and can lead to vastly improved disaster response in the future, I suggest that we begin with the following considerations:

First: Yolanda was one of the most powerful typhoons in the recorded history of the world—the fourth strongest, in fact, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii. While the Philippines is battered by about 15 to 20 typhoons each year, it does not seem reasonable to suggest that this has given us sufficient experience to face a monstrous weather event like Yolanda, which had one-minute sustained winds of 315 km/h, a speed that would enable one to traverse a traffic-free EDSA from end to end in less than five minutes. Prior to November 8, when it first made landfall in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, it is difficult to imagine any individual or institution being able to extrapolate from available data and set a baseline for preparations that would be good enough. How does one prepare a nation for a natural disaster of this magnitude?

The initial plans that had been made—and it must be acknowledged that plans were in place—were based on assumptions that Yolanda, precisely because it was so unprecedented, easily blasted, ripped apart, and destroyed. The excruciatingly sluggish pace of the response is not necessarily a function of ineptitude, but it is definitely a function of lack of information: how can one plan when one does not know the reality on the ground? And how can one know what is out there when communication lines, roads, bridges, seaports, and airports are out of commission, wrecked, or otherwise unusable owing to safety and security concerns? Such situation has begun to be addressed, but repair and recovery work takes time. Anecdotal information may come in from several sources, but these reports still need to be collated, arranged, and made sense of from a broader perspective to facilitate the conduct of aid that is as efficient as can be, in light of prevailing constraints.

Second: Much of the rage that I have seen (hardly representative, admittedly) appears to be based on the heavily sensationalized—or, to use John Crowley‘s term, “catastrophized“—stories and images of agony that the media, especially parachute journalists like CNN celebrity anchor Anderson Cooper, can capture: as of this writing, various news entities have collectively served up seven days of post-apocalyptic poverty porn for the combination of the 24-hour news cycle and Web 2.0 that has proven so menacing to journalism and so soporific to the general public. The latter was something that cultural critic Neil Postman had warned about as early as 1985, in his book against television, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

In both oral and typographic cultures, information derives its importance from the possibilities of action. Of course, in any communication environment, input (what one is informed about) always exceeds output (the possibilities of action based on information). But the situation created by telegraphy, then exacerbated by later technologies, made the relationship between information and action both abstract and remote. For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency.

Cooper et al. may not be malicious—a contentious point that I will leave on the table for now—but that does not mean they are not guilty of imperial and imperious condescension: a number of commentaries, academic and popular, have underscored the problematic, even racist, rhetoric of Western media when their reporters cover Third World events, as in the case of the 2010 earthquake that struck the Carribean nation of Haiti. Here, for instance, is Rebecca Solnit on the coverage of that specific tragedy:

The belief that people in disaster (particularly poor and nonwhite people) are cattle or animals or just crazy and untrustworthy regularly justifies spending far too much energy and far too many resources on control — the American military calls it “security” — rather than relief. A British-accented voiceover on CNN calls people sprinting to where supplies are being dumped from a helicopter a “stampede” and adds that this delivery “risks sparking chaos.” The chaos already exists, and you can’t blame it on these people desperate for food and water. Or you can, and in doing so help convince your audience that they’re unworthy and untrustworthy.

As well, it may be useful to remember that no less than the United States of America hardly seemed like the global superpower it styles itself to be following Hurricane Katrina, as evidenced by this timeline, or by this clip, in which Cooper interviews Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu:

(None of the foregoing, by the way, should not be understood as a tacit defense of broadcaster Korina Sanchez, who I understand has been pitted against Cooper in many discussions given her reaction to the coverage of CNN. As far as I am concerned, Sanchez, given that she is the wife of Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, should not be associated with any outfit that purports to report news.)

Third: Whenever we are moved to slam the government, we must remind ourselves that “government” is not a faceless, monolithic entity or an arena populated entirely by corrupt, greedy, and incompetent officials who are hell-bent on looking after their interests, preserving their prerogatives, and perpetuating their political careers at the expense of lives.

The government is also made up of the tired, hungry, overworked, and utterly courageous police officers, soldiers, doctors, nurses, drivers, pilots, clerks, technicians, engineers, and aid workers who are contributing to the relief effort. The government is also made made up of people who have lost their possessions, their homes, their relatives, and their friends to Yolanda, and yet they are out there in Eastern Visayas, sifting through the ruins of various cities, towns, and barangays, to save who and what they can. The government is also made up of people who need to know that we completely support what they are doing, and that our appreciation and gratitude for their vital work are boundless.

Finally, the government is also made up of us—we who are, in ways large and small, inextricably bound to and complicit with the system as it exists, and if said system needs to be renovated, refurbished, or razed to the ground so as to establish a better one, then this could be the moment to seize and to shape, not by way of ire-driven status updates, but by sustained, collaborative action beyond the screen, in the real world for which the digital one, for all its attractions, will always be a poor substitute.

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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.

Stephanie Dychiu, James Putzel, and the ethics of reportage

The primary function of language, being a social fact, is communication, and it remains operative throughout whatever other uses language may be put. The communicative function of language takes on additional weight in journalism, because the currency of that particular trade is information, and the objective is the equal distribution of wealth thereof, as it were. Whether “straight” reportage—for lack of a better term—or opinion and editorial writing, the practice of journalism necessarily involves the use of power—the power to influence the way that people look at themselves, their respective societies, and the world at large, the power to help shape values and attitudes, and the power to combat ignorance and enable everyone to “exercise their sovereign human right to decide their destinies” [1].

Bearing the foregoing in mind, I would now like to begin an examination of the series on Hacienda Luisita that was published on the GMANews.TV web site and authored by Stephanie Dychiu. As of this writing, four out of the five parts of the series, which professes to be a thorough investigation of how Senator Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III and the issue of Hacienda Luisita are intimately linked, have been made publicly available.

What I am particularly concerned with here is how Dychiu has used A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines [2], a book written by Professor James Putzel and published in 1992, in her development of the series, specifically in these articles: “Hacienda Luisita’s past haunts Noynoy’s future” [3] and “Cory’s land reform legacy to test Noynoy’s political will” [4], which are the first two parts of the series, as well as “The Garchitorena land scam” [5] and “How the Cojuangcos got majority control of Hacienda Luisita” [6], which are complementary articles to “Cory’s land reform legacy”. I last retrieved all these articles on March 22, 2010, and I have stored copies of these for reference, given the mutable nature of hypertexts.

My choice of focus is, in some respects, arbitrary, but, as I hope to show, not entirely without merit. A Captive Land seeks to present a historical overview of agrarian reform in the Philippines, and while it contains strong criticism of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) that was begun during the administration of the late former President Corazon C. Aquino, it also offers a complex and finely nuanced discussion of agrarian reform.

Allow me to state, in the interest of transparency, that I support the bid of Senator Aquino for president, and that my decision to write this essay is partially motivated by such support. I readily admit that I do not have the necessary background to discuss agrarian reform in general or A Captive Land in particular with any scholarly competence, but that is not the intention here, in any case.

My concerns in this essay, such as they are, do not, in fact, include agrarian reform, Hacienda Luisita, or Senator Aquino and his family per se. Rather, my goal is to critique how Dychiu, herself no agrarian reform expert, as the ostensible writer of—and thus the one ultimately accountable for—the series, used the book in her work, though I do not dismiss her series wholesale.

This critique is animated primarily by the following questions:

  1. Has Dychiu used Putzel, a recognized development expert, responsibly, with due regard and care for what he is actually saying?
  2. Insofar as the Hacienda Luisita series is concerned, can Dychiu be said to have upheld the code of ethics of Philippine journalism that has been formulated by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and the National Press Club (NPC)?

Responsible research?

As previously mentioned, Dychiu cites A Captive Land several times in the series.

In “Hacienda Luisita’s past” [7], she invokes Putzel in discussing the acquisition of Central Azucarera de Tarlac and Hacienda Luisita, as well as the conditions set by the Monetary Board with reference to how the Cojunagco family obtained Central Bank approval for the foreign loan that was secured in order to purchase the hacienda.

In “Cory’s land reform legacy” [8], while going over the stock distribution option (SDO), which is provided for in the CARP law, she quotes Putzel’s comment that the farmers of Hacienda Luisita, who favored the SDO, may not have really understood what it meant, and then refers to him to pinpoint the date for the formation of Hacienda Luisita. Linked to this article are “The Garchitorena land scam” [9] and “How the Cojuangcos got majority control” [10], which finds Dychiu citing Putzel yet again.

It must be conceded that Putzel, as earlier mentioned, is highly critical of how agrarian reform was undertaken during the Aquino administration, especially with regard to the SDO. In fact, Putzel seems to believe strongly in redistributive agrarian reform, and approves of peasant mobilization, saying in his conclusion that it is a key factor in ensuring that agrarian reform will at least remain on the development agenda [11].

Two basic tests that may be applied in order to determine how responsible a researcher has been are as follows: first, how correctly the researcher has quoted or paraphrased his or her source material; and second, how the source material so quoted or paraphrased has been deployed within the researcher’s work. To my mind, Dychiu fails both.

Note that A Captive Land is used as the source in the first article just to establish the bits of historical background for Hacienda Luisita—a version of the background, it must be underscored, that neither Dychiu nor GMANews.TV appears to have asked from Hacienda Luisita itself—while Putzel’s remark is simply repeated in the second article.

The absence of a counterpoint to Putzel, or any of the other authorities she cites, for that matter, in a piece that contrives itself as reportage, rather than opinion, is also curious, especially considering that, in the introduction preceding “After Luisita massacre, more killings linked to protest” [12], the fourth part of the series, the period over which the research for the series was conducted—three months—and the supervision that Dychiu received from GMANews.TV editor-in-chief Howie Severino are emphasized. Putzel himself, though obviously an advocate of a specific set of directions for agrarian reform, bolstered his position precisely by comparing and contrasting it with those of others.

Moreover, it does not seem unfair to say that Dychiu’s use of Putzel’s statements has less to do with the amplification of her points than with decoration: when she is not (merely) echoing his arguments, her use of Putzel is minimal, tokenistic, and, worst of all, distortive. But perhaps my charge against Dychiu is better illustrated with a few examples.

This is Dychiu explaining how the dictator Ferdinand Marcos dealt with Hacienda Luisita in “Hacienda Luisita’s past”, with key sections emphasized:

The Cojuangcos’ disputed hold over Hacienda Luisita had been tolerated by Marcos even at the height of his dictatorship. However, as Ninoy Aquino and his family were leaving for exile in the US, a case was filed on May 7, 1980 by the Marcos government against the Cojuangco company TADECO for the surrender of Hacienda Luisita to the Ministry of Agrarian Reform, so land could be distributed to the farmers at cost, in accordance with the terms of the government loans given in 1957-1958 to the late Jose Cojuangco, Sr., who died in 1976. (Republic of the Philippines vs. TADECO, Civil Case No. 131654, Manila Regional Trial Court, Branch XLIII)

The Marcos government filed this case after written follow-ups sent to the Cojuangcos over a period of eleven years did not result in land distribution. (The Cojuangcos always replied that the loan terms were unenforceable because there were no tenants on the hacienda.) The government’s first follow-up letter was written by Conrado Estrella of the Land Authority on March 2, 1967. Another letter was written by Central Bank Governor Gregorio Licaros on May 5, 1977. Another letter was written by Agrarian Reform Deputy Minister Ernesto Valdez on May 23, 1978.

The government’s lawsuit was portrayed by the anti-Marcos bloc as an act of harassment against Ninoy Aquino’s family. Inside Hacienda Luisita, however, the farmers thought the wheels of justice were finally turning and land distribution was coming.

[…]

The government pursued its case against the Cojuangcos, and by December 2, 1985, the Manila Regional Trial Court ordered TADECO to surrender Hacienda Luisita to the Ministry of Agrarian Reform. According to Putzel, this decision was rendered with unusual speed and was decried by the Cojuangcos as another act of harassment, because Cory Aquino, now a widow after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, was set to run for President against Marcos in the February 7, 1986 snap elections. The Cojuangcos elevated the case to the Court of Appeals (Court of Appeals G.R. 08634).

Cory Aquino officially announced her candidacy on December 3, 1985. Land reform was one of the pillars of her campaign. [13]

This is Putzel’s account in A Captive Land, again with important parts highlighted:

It became clear fairly early on that although Marcos claimed he would break the oligarchy through martial law, he needed the support of landowners and provincial political clans to enforce his rule throughout the country. Marcos’ refusal to challenge the landowners head-on was clear when he restricted reform to rice and corn lands. Even here he allowed phased implementation, which gave landowners time to take evasive measures.

[…]

What is more, Marcos himself was a large landowner and used martial law to increase his own landholdings as well as those of his extended family.

[…]

Thus, Marcos did not attempt to use the state to undermine the oligarchy as a whole, but to strike out at specific powerful opponents. Marcos’s rejection of the ‘Rules and Regulations’ for the implementation of the reform, which were drawn up by the DAR in 1972, left the programme vague and therefore more easily employed as a means to reward supporters and punish opponents.

[…]

[The Cojuangcos] did not hear from the government again until Aquino was about to leave detention for a by-pass operation in the United States in May 1980. The day before he left, the government filed a case. The plaintiffs evidently included the Central Bank (or Monetary Board), the Government Service Insurance System and the Ministry of Agrarian Reform. The case remained in its preliminary stages until August 1983 when Aquino was assassinated. It was only then that the government began to conduct hearings, but there was still no urgency to the case. However, the government’s attitude changed at the time of the snap elections in February 1986, when the Aquino-Cojuangco clan once more emerged as a major threat to Marcos. On 3 December 1985, one day after Cory Aquino filed her candidacy, Judge Pardo of the Regional Trial Court denied the appeal and ruled that the family had to transfer their lands. The judge made his ruling even before summary arguments were presented, suggesting that Marcos had intervened to ask for a quick decision. [14]

One has to wonder how Dychiu was able to say that the attitude of Marcos toward Hacienda Luisita was one of “tolerance”, considering that she does even not point to any persons or materials that could back up her claim—in sharp contrast to Putzel, who scrupulously cites his sources. It is worth noting that Putzel can hardly be said to belong to the “anti-Marcos bloc” that Dychiu claims portrayed the Marcos-initiated lawsuits as “harassment against Ninoy Aquino’s family”, and yet he himself probably agrees with the assessment of that “anti-Marcos bloc”. Why Dychiu appears to disagree is not clear.

Furthermore, based on the dates, Dychiu provides a different—a reversed—sequence of events, saying that Cory Aquino filed her candidacy after the Regional Trial Court had ordered the transfer of Hacienda Luisita, while Putzel states that Cory had done it before.

It must be admitted that Putzel has the date wrong, as Cory did file her candidacy on December 3. The report that follows below, available on TIME.com, is just one of several identifying the date, although, as can be seen, the release of the order was timed to come after the filing.

[Corazon Aquino] also charged the President with “political harassment,” claiming that for years Marcos has tried to confiscate a sugar plantation owned by her family. Aquino revealed that on Dec. 3, the day she announced her candidacy, a regional court ordered the government to seize the property. [15]

Putzel does also say that the order to transfer “was actually dated 2 December 1985, the same day that General Fabian Ver, Marcos’ chief of staff, was cleared of all charges in connection with the assassination of Benigno Aquino” [16]. Could this be the reason for the disparity between the accounts of Dychiu and Putzel?

In “The Garchitorena land scam”, Dychiu refers to Putzel yet again. I have highlighted an interestingly worded sentence, which indicates another disparity:

In his 1992 book A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines, American development studies expert Dr. James Putzel also mentioned that Father Bernas had informed President Aquino about the Garchitorena deal on April 1, 1989. Aquino then met with the DAR and Land Bank heads on April 5, 1989. Then, Sharp petitioned the Supreme Court to enforce the P62.7 million payment. Juico subsequently stopped the payment order, but the scam had already been exposed in Congress. [17]

This is Putzel’s account in A Captive Land, with my emphasis:

The President was informed about the deal on 1 April 1989 by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, and she met with [Land Bank of the Philippines President] Vistan and [Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary] Juico on 5 April. Sharp then had the audacity to petition the Supreme Court to order DAR to pay the P62.7 million for the land. Subsequently, Secretary Juico stopped the payment order and began an investigation of the deal. However, Vistan revealed the overpricing agreemtn to Congress and on 13 May 1989, Rep. Edcel Lagman told a joint House-Senate Committee the details, unleashing a scandal that brought the DAR’s work virtually to a halt. [18]

Observe that Dychiu states the scandal “had already been exposed” even as Juico stopped the payment order, which is very, very different from Putzel’s narration. Where Putzel shows one event following another, Dychiu claims that Putzel points to a confluence. Is this not a misrepresentation of Putzel? Why does Dychiu again change the timing of events—and, in this instance, purport to be simply repeating Putzel?

Let me now move on to how Putzel is used by Dychiu in “Cory’s land reform legacy”. His opinion regarding the SDO is presented toward the middle of the article:

In his 1992 book A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines, American development studies expert James Putzel expressed doubt that the farmers understood the choice that was presented to them. “The outcome of the vote was entirely predictable,” he wrote. “The balance of power in the country favored families like the Cojuangcos. The problem was not really that the farm workers were denied the right to choose . . . it was rather that [they] were denied an environment that would allow them to identify what their choices were.” [19]

He is again cited by Dychiu a few paragraphs later in “Cory’s land reform legacy” this way:

In his book A Captive Land, Putzel also noted that Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI), the company formed by the Cojuangcos to operationalize Luisita’s SDO, was incorporated in August 1988—nine months before the farm workers were first asked to choose between stocks or land in May 1989.

This bred suspicion that the SDO was considered a done deal early on, and the two rounds of voting with the farmers were only organized to give an appearance of transparency. [20]

If the early incorporation of HLI indeed “bred suspicion”, the vague phrasing and the passive voice of Dychiu’s last paragraph in the immediately foregoing quotation should breed suspicion in turn: who were the ones doing the suspecting against the SDO, when the farmers concerned voted overwhelmingly in favor of it? Does this not seem to be a passive-aggressive attack on the Cojuangcos?

Such a sentiment is not expressed by Putzel—opining that “the farmworkers, tenants, and the landless rural poor continued to be denied an environment that would allow them to identify what their choices were” [21] is not the same as insinuating that there was a conspiracy within the Cojuangco family “to give an appearance of transparency”, as Dychiu does. In this regard, Dychiu’s stance actually seems closer to that of Assembliya ng mga Manggagawang Bukid ng Hasyenda Luisita (AMBALUS), the peasant organization whose view on the SDO vote Putzel disagrees with [22].

Incidentally, Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, himself an advocate of land redistribution, wrote that, with reference to the majority vote for the SDO, “It could be presumptuous of me to tell the farmers what is good for them […] It is not easy for a distant observer to question the wishes of the beneficiaries directly involved” [23]. Bernas, unlike Dychiu, maintained a specific position on the matter but acknowledged its complexity, especially with reference to the choice that over 90% of the farmers made.

As a final example, here are two paragraphs from Dychiu’s “How the Cojuangcos got majority control”:

Those who have studied HLI’s books say the non-land assets seem to have been overvalued to increase the Cojuangcos’ share, while the land assets were undervalued to limit the farm workers’ share.

In his 1992 book A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines, American development studies expert Dr. James Putzel showed how the non-land assets were inflated. [24]

Just like the previous example, Dychiu appears to be making a disingenuous move: who, besides Putzel himself, are the parties (“those”) that have independently studied the books of HLI and believe that its non-land assets were inflated? Why are neither these persons nor their studies mentioned by name? Do they exist at all, or is Dychiu making a hasty generalization based on the statement of a single person—an authority, to be sure, but a single person nevertheless?

It could be argued, of course, that Dychiu must use her sources selectively, a fate that befalls any other writer, but, vis-à-vis the aforementioned excerpts, the judiciousness of her selections must be called into question.

Ethical journalism?

It is worth pointing out that, in his introduction to A Captive Land, Putzel acknowledges that there are advantages and disadvantages in writing about CARP so soon after its passage and early stages of implementation—ultimately, Putzel looks at his own book as a contribution to “what must be an on-going process of study about agrarian reform”, believing that it “will need to be amended, or even revised as other information becomes available” (xxiii) [25]. He certainly does not assert that his work is in any way definitive, which is indicative of his integrity as scholar.

A common practice among academicians is to avoid, as much as possible, invisibility—that is, the researcher generally takes it upon himself or herself to reveal his or her his or her interests and investments in a given project so as to establish not only the scope and limitations of the study itself, but also the scope and limitations of the specific subject-position from which the study is shaped. Claims to omniscience or absolute knowledge are recognized as acts of epistemic violence, and ought to be explicitly denounced and avoided.

Such an ethical stance finds equivalents in the realm of Philippine professional journalism. Two provisions from “Journalist’s Code of Ethics“, a code jointly formulated by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and the National Press Club (NPC), seem especially germane: one is, “I shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts or to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis. I recognise the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly”; and the other is, “I shall not let personal motives or interests influence me in the performance of my duties; nor shall I accept or offer any present, gift or other consideration of a nature which may cast doubt on my professional integrity” [26].

As regards these provisions, of course, an admission must be registered: to the extent that journalism requires arranging data in particular ways, at particular times, for particular purposes, under the auspices of particular actors both within and without the profession—editors and publishers on the one hand, for example, and advertisers and readers on the other—and given that facts themselves are inherently value-laden, non-distortion and the elision of personal motives or interests are, at best, nearly impossible tasks.

Nevertheless, the importance of clarity, completeness, and contextualization in the presentation of information cannot be emphasized enough. While the 1987 Philippine Constitution certainly protects the freedoms of expression, of speech, and of the press from abrogation, laws against obscenity, libel, slander, intellectual theft, and sedition, among others, also exist in order to ensure that such freedoms are exercised with responsibility.

The “Journalist’s Code of Ethics” [27] is but an extension of or complement to such laws, and its very existence indicates a recognition within the field of professional journalism that words, because they are capable of material effect, can be dangerous. This is not a newly discovered or recognized property of words.  Even the most cursory examination of history will show that many reputations, relationships, and regimes have been reared and razed by words.  In Christian theology, the world was brought about with words, and later saved by the Word.  And of course, just waiting to be summoned is the platitudinous comparison between the pen and the sword. Therefore, it behooves anyone who uses words to be ever aware of—and to be equal to—the great burden he or she bears—even the most reclusive diarist must realize that he or she is writing for someone else, if only someone other than his or her present self.

On the GMANews.TV web site, the Hacienda Luisita series by Dychiu is classified under “Special Reports”, a section of the site that contains what appear to be specimens of that could be called straight reportage. The “specialness” of the reports collected under this rubric probably derives largely from their sustained length and relative depth. At the level of categorization alone, Dychiu’s series is already problematic. Consider how the first part of the series, “Hacienda Luisita’s past”, opens:

Senator Noynoy Cojuangco Aquino has said he only owns 1% of Hacienda Luisita. Why is he being dragged into the hacienda’s issues?

This is one of the most common questions asked in the 2010 elections.

To find the answer, GMANews.TV traveled to Tarlac and spoke to Luisita’s farm workers and union leaders. A separate interview and review of court documents was then conducted with the lawyers representing the workers’ union in court. GMANews.TV also examined the Cojuangcos’ court defense and past media and legislative records on the Luisita issue.

The investigation yielded illuminating insights into Senator Noynoy Aquino’s involvement in Hacienda Luisita that have not been openly discussed since his presidential bid. Details are gradually explored in this series of special reports.

A background on the troubled history of Hacienda Luisita is essential to understanding why the issue is forever haunting Senator Noynoy Aquino and his family. [28]

The use of phrases such as “being dragged”, “one of the most common”, “troubled history”, and “forever haunting” [29] would seem to be inappropriate and should have been excised from a piece of straight reportage. Not only are they tonally charged, they also pivot on undisclosed assumptions about how Senator Aquino is bound up with and implicated in the issue of Hacienda Luisita.

The announced intention of discovering why Senator Aquino is “being dragged” into the issue, for instance, is, at bottom, predicated on a spurious hyperbole: because the issue is supposed to be “forever haunting” him, though it was previously stated that this same issue is the root of “one of the most common questions asked in the 2010 elections” [30]. The pentapartite series, then, seems to be based on a question for which the author already had a kind of blueprint or outline of answers before even beginning the research process, which may explain why it is seriously flawed, as I have already shown.

What is most significant about the excerpt above, however, is the third paragraph: GMANews.TV pointedly did not interview anyone from the Cojuangco family or any Hacienda Luisita official, preferring instead to consult old court documents, media reports, and legislative records, despite, as earlier mentioned, the fact that three months’ worth of research was supposedly put into the series.

This is a strange decision for at least two reasons: first, farm workers, union leaders, and union lawyers were directly consulted; and second, Dychiu does not make the conventional statement that the Cojuangcos or the officials of Hacienda Luisita refused to be interviewed, which implies that they may have been willing, had they been asked. Did Dychiu, or anyone from the GMANews.TV team, even attempt to interview these people? If so, how did they respond? Why are their responses not noted?

Moreover, after three months of research—research that was conducted under the supervision of Severino, a veteran journalist, to boot—it is unbelievable that Dychiu could only find one scholarly tome on the subject—a tome, I might add, that is nearly two decades old. Equally unbelievable is her seeming lack of initiative or interest to investigate the extensive list of references at the end of A Captive Land, when the list could have pointed her toward resources with which her study could have been deepened and enriched.

What is most difficult to accept about Dychiu’s work is that it presents itself as reportage—a type of journalistic writing that ideally seeks to put forward facts corroborated by reliable primary and secondary sources, as well as a balance of multiple viewpoints—when, upon close examination, it deliberately imparts only one perspective.

That nothing can or should stop Dychiu from taking up and defending a position that is at odds with CARP, with the SDO, with the handling of Hacienda Luisita, or with Senator Aquino and his family should be obvious enough. This, however, does not give her, or GMANews.TV, for that matter, the liberty—at least from a professional, ethical perspective—to declare that her work is reportage when, from the very beginning, it is obvious that she is determined to be one-sided, even at the cost of distorting and misrepresenting her sources, such as Putzel’s book.

What is the purpose behind her insidious insinuations? Why, when she could come clean about her biases instead—a move that would indicate an openness to dialogue, a willingness to be challenged—does Dychiu avoid showing her true face?

While I do not think that this piece will be met with unanimous agreement, I believe that I have given the astute reader enough material such that he or she will at least entertain a healthy skepticism about the work of Dychiu and the standards of GMANews.TV sets for itself as a media organization.

If, as I mentioned earlier, the currency of the trade of journalism is information, dare any critical, ethical reader have faith in and use the information that has Dychiu provided, particularly when she cannot even report the smallest details accurately? How can her larger claims be trusted when she cannot perform the simple act of quotation properly, instead willfully warping data—including data from her chosen expert—to suit her prejudices, which she has conveniently failed to disclose?

I began this essay with two questions, which I will repeat here:

  1. Has Dychiu used Putzel, a recognized development expert, responsibly, with due regard and care for what he is actually saying?
  2. Insofar as the Hacienda Luisita series is concerned, can Dychiu be said to have upheld the code of ethics of Philippine journalism that has been formulated by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and the National Press Club (NPC)?

I am sorry to say that my answer to both questions is a resounding, “No”.

*

Notes

  1. Luis V. Teodoro, ed., “About the Site”, Eye on Ethics, n.d., Center for Media Responsibility and Asia Media Forum, http://www.eyeonethics.org/about, accessed 18 March. 2010.
  2. James Putzel, A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines, Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila U P, 1992.
  3. Stephanie Dychiu, “Hacienda Luisita’s past haunts Noynoy’s future”, GMANews.TV, 18 January 2010, GMA Network, Inc., http://www.gmanews.tv/story/181877/hacienda-luisitas-past-haunts-noynoys-future, accessed 22 March 2010.
  4. Stephanie Dychiu, “Cory’s land reform legacy to test Noynoy’s political will”, GMANews.TV, 22 January 2010, GMA Network, Inc., http://www.gmanews.tv/story/182195/corys-land-reform-legacy-to-test-noynoys-political-will, accessed 22 March 2010.
  5. Stephanie Dychiu, “The Garchitorena land scam”, GMANews.TV 22 January 2010, GMA Network, Inc, http://www.gmanews.tv/story/182211/the-garchitorena-land-scam, accessed 22 March 2010.
  6. Stephanie Dychiu, “How the Cojuangcos got majority control of Hacienda Luisita”, GMANews.TV, 22 January 2010, GMA Network, Inc., http://www.gmanews.tv/story/182212/how-the-cojuangcos-got-majority-control-of-hacienda-luisita-under-carp, accessed 22 March 2010.
  7. Dychiu, “Hacienda Luisita’s past haunts Noynoy’s future”, op. cit.
  8. Dychiu, “Cory’s land reform legacy to test Noynoy’s political will”, op. cit.
  9. Dychiu, “The Garchitorena land scam”, op. cit.
  10. Dychiu, “How the Cojuangcos got majority control of Hacienda Luisita”, op. cit.
  11. Putzel, op. cit., p. 382.
  12. Stephanie Dychiu, “After Luisita massacre, more killings linked to protest”, GMANews.TV, 11 February 2010, GMA Network, Inc., http://www.gmanews.tv/story/183662/after-luisita-massacre-more-killings-linked-to-protest, accessed 22 March 2010.
  13. Dychiu, “Hacienda Luisita’s past haunts Noynoy’s future”, op. cit.
  14. Putzel, op. cit., pp. 146-8.
  15. “World Notes: Jan. 13, 1986”, TIME.com, 21 June 2005, Time Inc., http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1074933,00.html, accessed 18 March 2010.
  16. Putzel, op. cit., p. 148n222.
  17. Dychiu, “The Garchitorena land scam”, op. cit.
  18. Putzel, op. cit., p. 315.
  19. Dychiu, “Cory’s land reform legacy to test Noynoy’s political will”, op. cit.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Putzel, op. cit., p. 335.
  22. Ibid., p. 335n119.
  23. Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ, “More on Hacienda Luisita”, A Living Constitution: The Cory Aquino Presidency, Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2000, pp. 215; 218.
  24. Dychiu, “How the Cojuangcos got majority control of Hacienda Luisita”, op. cit.
  25. Putzel, op. cit., p. xxiii.
  26. Philippine Press Institute and National Press Club, “Journalist’s Code of Ethics”, Eye on Ethics, n.d., Center for Media Responsibility and Asia Media Forum. http://www.eyeonethics.org/journalist-code-of-ethics-in-asia/journalists-code-of-ethics-philippines, accessed 18 March 2010.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Dychiu, “Hacienda Luisita’s past haunts Noynoy’s future”, op. cit.
  29. Ibid., italics original.
  30. Ibid.

Works Cited

Bernas, Joaquin G. “More on Hacienda Luisita”. A Living Constitution: The Cory Aquino Presidency. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2000. 214-9.

Dychiu, Stephanie. “After Luisita massacre, more killings linked to protest”. GMANews.TV. 11 Feb. 2010, GMA Network, Inc. 22 Mar. 2010. <http://www.gmanews.tv/story/183662/after-luisita-massacre-more-killings-linked-to-protest&gt;.

—. “Cory’s land reform legacy to test Noynoy’s political will”. GMANews.TV. 22 Jan. 2010, GMA Network, Inc. 22 Mar. 2010. <http://www.gmanews.tv/story/182195/corys-land-reform-legacy-to-test-noynoys-political-will&gt;.

—. “The Garchitorena land scam”. GMANews.TV. 22 Jan. 2010, GMA Network, Inc. 22 Mar. 2010. <http://www.gmanews.tv/story/182211/the-garchitorena-land-scam&gt;.

—. “Hacienda Luisita’s past haunts Noynoy’s future”. GMANews.TV. 18 Jan. 2010, GMA Network, Inc. 22 Mar. 2010. <http://www.gmanews.tv/story/181877/hacienda-luisitas-past-haunts-noynoys-future&gt;.

—. “How the Cojuangcos got majority control of Hacienda Luisita”. GMANews.TV. 22 Jan. 2010, GMA Network, Inc. 22 Mar. 2010. <http://www.gmanews.tv/story/182212/how-the-cojuangcos-got-majority-control-of-hacienda-luisita-under-carp&gt;.

Philippine Press Institute and National Press Club. “Journalist’s Code of Ethics”. Eye on Ethics. n.d., Center for Media Responsibility and Asia Media Forum. 18 Mar. 2010. <http://www.eyeonethics.org/journalist-code-of-ethics-in-asia/journalists-code-of-ethics-philippines/&gt;.

Putzel, James. “Agrarian Reform in a Captive Land”. Introduction. A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines. By Putzel. xix-xxiv.

—. A Captive Land: The Politics of Agrarian Reform in the Philippines. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila U P, 1992.

Teodoro, Luis V., ed. “About the Site”. Eye on Ethics. n.d., Center for Media Responsibility and Asia Media Forum.  18 Mar. 2010. <http://www.eyeonethics.org/about/&gt;.

“World Notes: Jan. 13, 1986”. TIME.com. 21 Jun. 2005, Time Inc.  18 Mar. 2010. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1074933,00.html&gt;.

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.]

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.)

Interlude

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.

Parsing Villar, self-proclaimed trapo

Doubtless I am fighting a moot, not to mention lonely, semantic battle, but, to my mind, there are few examples that better illustrate the unwieldiness of political bywords than “trapo”. A contraction of “tradpol”, which itself is a contraction of “traditional politician”, it has found its way into popular vocabulary as a term of unequivocal opprobrium. Even the most cursory examination, however, would reveal that “trapo” is underpinned by a problematic assumption. It is reasonable enough to posit that there exists in the political realm a specific set of traditions, which might be tentatively defined as practices that are formalized, usually de facto, for the purpose of ensuring their repetition, and, by such repetition, acquire the sanction of perpetuity—this is, after all, true of any given arena of human activity—but “trapo” implies that these traditions are always already detrimental to the general public.

This is not to deny that there are bad politicians, but configuring the ills of the state along such simplistic lines as “traditional” and “non-traditional” is, in my opinion, ultimately unproductive—consider, as a parallel example, how thoroughly demonized “politics” has become, given how it has been indiscriminately used as a synonym for engagement in symbolic battles over trivialities, or for poorly cloaked self-aggrandizement, as might be sensed in the phrase “politically motivated”.

One might also wish to think about how unfair “trapo” is to the rag, which, if a scrap of cloth, at least has the ability to sop up messes—hardly a description that can be applied to the many venal “honorables” that haunt government offices everywhere in these islands. Is the negative connotation perhaps inadvertently revelatory of a widespread aversion to cleanliness, and, by extension, godliness?

In any case, that “trapo” tends to confuse rather than to clarify is easy enough to demonstrate. Last year, during an interview of presidential candidate Manny Villar by veteran journalist Cheche Lazaro for Probe Profiles, the issue of “traditional politics” was brought up, and his response is worth quoting at length, in all its convolutedness:

But what is traditional? Yun ang gusto ng tao and inihalal ka ng tao demokrasya kasi tayo. And kung nagustuhan ka ng tao, yun yung sistema natin. At yun ang tradition. Di lamang tradition yan. Yun ang sistema natin. So, hindi ko maintindihan yung salitang traditional siya. In fact, ako nagdududa ako pag may nagsabing non-traditional. Baka naman mali yung kampaya niya. Pero ibig ko lang sabihin, yung mga nagsasabi ng ganyan, either di naintindihan yung ating sistema ng gobyerno o nagsisinugaling siya.

…Kung traditional yung pagkampanya, traditional. Pero kung sa objective at nagawa, hindi siguro traditional. Dahil siguro bilang naging Speaker of the House and Senate President, tayo lang naman ang nakagawa niyan post war. And kahit papaano naman, may mga nagawa na tayo ng nakaraan na maipagmamalaki ko naman. Nakatulong sa ating mga kababayan. In that sense, hindi ako traditional. Kaya kung ang kampanya, traditional yan kasi that’s the only way you will win pero du’n sa performance mo, dun na nagkakaiba. Because du’n sa performance mo, may magandang performance, may hindi. May hinahangaan, may hindi. Yung hindi, kung karamihan, mababa ang grade, ika nga, yun ang pangkaraniwan, ikaw ang exceptional.

Villar himself is confusing, of course: if he does not understand or disagrees with the concept of “trapo”, how did the lines “Akala mo trapo/Yun pala katropa mo“, an assertion that he is not traditional, come to find their way into one of his campaign jingles? (An extended discussion of his discomfiting slipperiness may be found in Blog Watch.) Still, the idea that tradition is rooted in what the people generally desire is not without merit—traditions are consensually established, anyway—and thus it can be said that Villar is a trapo in that he believes he can deliver what the people want.

The pertinent question, then, is this: What does Villar think that the people want?

*

Question: Does Villar think that the people want a president with a clear, reliable platform—that is, a set of declared principles that will guide all policy decisions?

Answer: No.

In an interview on The Big Picture with Ricky Carandang, Villar said, “Kasi yung mga plataporma, madaling sabihin ‘yan e. Pagagawa mo lang sa speechwriter mo ang mga plataporma mo, sasabihin mo ‘yan, me-memorize-in mo ‘yan, okay na.” (See 7:01 to 7:10 of the video above.)

This may explain why, despite the so-called “mutual adoption” of platforms that took place between the Nacionalista Party and the leftist Makabayan coalition, the platform is nowhere to be found on the Nacionalista Party web site, or on any of Villar’s official web sites.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that his attendance at public forums has been notoriously spotty. As he said to Carandang, “Nakikita ko na ‘yung mga forums na ‘yan, parang…parang nakakasayang lang ng oras.” (See 8:23 to 8:28 of the video above.)

Question: Does Villar think that the people want a president who tells the truth?

Answer: No.

Asked if it was true that he had benefited from the construction of Daang Hari—a road that was opened in 2004 and links together Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Laguna, and Cavite—because it courses through seven or eight subdivisions that his various real estate companies had built, Villar told ABS-CBN reporter Ted Failon that, “Akala lamang nila, pag-aari po natin, at hindi pa nga ako nababayaran ng gobyerno ng right-of-way nila. Iniimbita ko po kayo, at sasamahan ko po kayo. Papatunayan ko sa inyo na hindi ako nakinabang diyan.” (See 1:53 to 2:03 of the video above.)

Failon took him up on the challenge, and found that Daang Hari passed by a whopping 23 of Villar’s developments in the area. It may be that Villar has yet to be paid by the government for right-of-way, but that is an ancillary issue at best—the point is that he was caught on television telling an outright lie.

Question: Does Villar think that the people want a president who will not spend more than he and his allies can legally and ethically recoup once he is installed in office?

Answer: No.

According to a study by Nielsen Media Research, Villar had already spent about PhP325 million from May 2008 to October 2009 on media alone.

There can be no doubt that he is the biggest spender among the current crop presidential candidates. He told Reuters back in March 2009 that, “If you can’t even raise one billion pesos, why even run?” and so it can be safely assumed that this is the minimum amount he is prepared to spend.

How does a president with an annual salary that does not even reach one million pesos earn one billion back over a six-year term? Is this not a losing proposition for any entrepreneur, especially one with the much-vaunted experience of Villar?

Manolo Quezon asked in his January 21 Philippine Daily Inquirer column, “Does [Villar’s quest for] public office mean that money is merely a means to an end or is it public office that is merely a means to an end?The Philippine Star columnist Billy Esposo, on the other hand, has warned that “the biggest campaign spender can also be the worst possible plunderer“.

Villar also had this to say to Reuters: “With me, what you see is what you get. With some candidates, you’ll have to ask, who’s behind you? They say there is one golden rule, he who has the gold rules.”

Was that an admission that he will buy his way into the highest office in the land?

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To recapitulate: Villar, a self-proclaimed trapo, thinks that he can give the people what they want. If his statements are any indication, however, he obviously believes that people do not want a president who (a) has a platform, (b) tells the truth, or (c) spends within reasonable limits.

In view of the foregoing, there can only be one possible answer to a Villar presidency.

NO.

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]