Explanation required, Mr. President

My position regarding what has become Republic Act No. 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, has not changed since I first went over the Senate version (Senate Bill No. 2796) several months ago: I maintain that it is a deeply flawed law that will not be able to properly address the problems it was ostensibly designed for, including, but not limited to, libel, cyber-bullying, and cyber-prostitution. Of course, back in February, I was content merely to air my anxiety, because I was fairly optimistic that the ill-conceived bill would not prosper, such optimism—or maybe I should say, with the benefit of hindsight, naïveté—being largely rooted in my reluctance to entertain the notion that the denizens of officialdom would act, to use a time-honored phrase, like a bunch of drooling incompetents.

It seems opportune to raise yet again the important question of whether our leaders understand what goes on in cyberspace, even as they attempt to engage the wired middle and upper classes—certainly not the general public, in view of extant data on the level of Internet penetration, not to mention access to electricity, in the country—by establishing and using all sorts of online properties, such as web sites, blogs, and social media accounts.

The massive outcry against the anti-cybercrime law, which, as of this writing, includes four separate petitions filed with the Supreme Court by various groups, has found the apparatchiks of this administration scrambling to defend the decision of President Benigno S. Aquino III to sign it into law. For instance, at a press briefing yesterday, September 27, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, urging critics to wait for the pertinent Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), said that “freedom of expression is not absolute”, and that the law “[attaches] responsibilities in cyberspace”—pronouncements that are not without merit and would be difficult to disagree with, but tend to come across as incongruous at the very least, considering that Lacierda, along with other Palace functionaries, has been known to happily heckle political opponents—transport strike organizers and participants, say, or former Chief Justice Renato Corona—using his Twitter account, and could more convincingly serve as an exemplar of irresponsible online behavior than the opposite, especially because, by virtue of his position, he is supposed to speak with the voice of the Chief Executive.

Similarly irresponsible, as well as disingenuous, are the arguments advanced by Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III, who, in response to blogger Jon Limjap’s tweet that the law, presumably on account of its provisions on libel, could be used “to silence political critics online“, replied that Limjap’s “sweeping” statement “ignores the [C]onstitution and its guarantees“, adding that the Act contained nothing that “any columnist hasn’t had to live with since time immemorial“. I would have thought that the following patently obvious things need not be said: first, the Constitution will not prevent—and in fact allows—the litigious from threatening to file or actually filing lawsuits, as Quezon himself knows from experience, whatever the courts eventually decide; second, the majority of people online are not columnists and have had no journalistic training, though pretenders do proliferate; and third, just because a particular state of affairs has persisted “since time immemorial” is not a reason to maintain said state.

None of the foregoing is to advocate that a kind of exceptionalism be observed with reference to cyberspace and the various activities that go on it it, as The Philippine Star columnist Federico J. Pascual seems to believe, rather strangely, of those against the anti-cybercrime law. I do think that there is much that deserves to be regulated online, although that requires a separate discussion. The process of law-making, however, ought to be undertaken with intelligence, sensitivity, and no small amount of caution. Given the disturbing implications of the Act in its current form, a severe shortage of precisely the aforementioned qualities may well be afflicting Congress and Malacañang, and now time, energy, and taxpayer money must be spent, if not squandered, in the fight against a law that, as Cocoy Dayao has pointed out, could have been crafted “far, far better“, and would therefore have been a more efficient use of national resources.

It is interesting to note that, according to a recent report, Aquino did not exercise his veto power over the Act because the office of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr. prepared a legal memorandum recommending the law for signing. Perhaps Ochoa or Aquino might be prevailed upon to release the contents of this memorandum to the public,  in order that the rationale behind the approval of the Act by a President who has repeatedly asserted his commitment to freedom and transparency might be understood by the people it will affect—the so-called bosses in whose interests he claims to work, and to whom he now owes a clear explanation.

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Sifting through the wreck: Should Carandang take the blame?

Political commentator William M. Esposo, who is not known to mince words, took up his metaphorical chair of rage in order to wreck it against Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ricky Carandang in the September 7 edition of his The Philippine Star column, tagging Carandang as “terribly wanting” and ultimately liable for the “substandard flow of communications during and after the hostage crisis”. Did the facts justify the energy and space involved in the destruction of (imaginary) furniture?

Esposo ticked off a list of issues that he believed Carandang had mishandled, which follows verbatim below:

  1. The “Where was P-Noy?” issue was raised on the day after the hostage incident and Carandang failed to immediately quash this mistaken notion. It took a full week for Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda to disclose on ANC Talkback what P-Noy was doing during the crisis. That time gap is unacceptable. This issue could have been easily dispelled on the day when it surfaced by narrating the president’s hour by hour activities during the crisis.
  2. The issue of Hong Kong Administrator Donald Tsang’s call to P-Noy was not properly addressed and it made the president look like he was not in charge. Carandang did not even cite that the call to P-Noy was a violation of protocol and therefore we have nothing to be defensive about for not taking it.
  3. The issue of draping the flag on the casket of the hostage taker was not immediately and properly addressed—thereby adding to the bad impression which reflected on the president. The Messaging Secretary should have immediately clarified that this was neither inspired nor committed by the government and that people here freely place the flag on the caskets of those who have been public servants.
  4. Again, the issue which was raised by the Journalist Association of Hong Kong that P-Noy should not blame the media for the bungled rescue was not immediately and properly addressed. Clearly, P-Noy merely cited media for having added to the problems but never did he attempt to put the blame solely on media. Carandang should have taken the Hong Kong journalists to task for raising a falsely premised issue.

Esposo then went on to say that, in spite of the toll that the mismanaged hostage crisis took on the “prestige and public confidence” of the Aquino administration, it nevertheless represented an opportunity for the President to surround himself solely with faithful appointees and rid himself of the company and the service of “stray dogs”, a rhetorical maneuver that conflates incompetence with disloyalty,  and insinuates that Carandang, among other people, is guilty of both. Unless Esposo knows more than he is telling, and can back it up with proof—in which case, he ought to be more explicit, for the sake of the citizenry—the conflation appears to be illogical and unfair.

There can be no denying that great lapses in communication occurred during and after the crisis, and those accountable for such lapses should be dealt with accordingly. A pertinent question, however, would seem to be this: Among the issues that Esposo raised against Carandang, which actually fall under the jurisdiction of the latter as Secretary of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO)?

According to Executive Order No. 4, which took effect on July 30, 2010, the functions of the PCDSPO are as follows:

a. Coordinate the crafting, formulation, development and enhancement of the messaging system under the Office of the President;
b. Design and recommend responses to issues that arise on a daily basis.
c. Ensure consistency in the messages issued by the Executive Department;
d. Assist in the formulation and implementation of new media strategies for the Office of the President;
e. Assist in research and development of new media instruments;
f. Liaise with the Malacañang Records Office;
g. Control and supervise the conduct of market research, monitoring public opinion, and gathering, use and analysis of other relevant data as may be necessary;
h. Formulate editorial guidelines and policies for state media;
i. Ensure consistency in the implementation of the corporate identity of the Executive Department;
j. Act as custodian of the institutional memory of the Office of the President, which includes the supervision and control of the Presidential Museum and Library, and liaison with the Malacañang Records Office;
k. Perform editorial functions for the Official Gazette; and
l. Perform such other functions as may be directed by the President.

These, on the other hand, are the functions of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), which is headed by Secretary Herminio “Sonny” Coloma:

a. Develop and implement necessary guidelines and mechanisms pertaining to the delivery and dissemination of information relating to the policies, programs, official activities and achievements of the President and the Executive Branch;
b. Develop, manage and operate viable government-owned or controlled information dissemination structure / facilities to provide the Office of the President in particular, and the Executive Branch in general, access to the people as an alternative to the private mass media entities;
c. Set up and maintain local and international field offices, where necessary, to ensure that accurate information from the President and the Executive Branch is promptly and efficiently relayed, delivered and disseminated to intended target audiences;
d. Manage, control or supervise, as may be necessary, the various government agencies and offices involved in information gathering and dissemination;
e. Coordinate and cultivate relations with private media;
f. Manage and administer the OP Website and the Web Development Office; and
g. Perform such other functions as the President may assign from time to time.

In view of the language of the Executive Order, the two communications offices, their different responsibilities notwithstanding, are intimately, even inextricably, bound up with one another, as the PCDSPO crafts the material that the PCOO circulates. At the risk of oversimplification, one might put it this way: Carandang creates the message, after which Coloma sends the message.

How, then, can Esposo assign blame wholly to Carandang, while avowing that Coloma was the “least accountable” for any communication problems that arose during the crisis?

A source with the presidential communications group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity owing to lack of authority to comment on the matter, had a different story for The Pro Pinoy Project, saying that the PCDSPO had fulfilled its role and prepared the necessary messages, but the PCOO, which is specifically tasked with media relations, had been unable to disseminate such.

The Pro Pinoy Project was only able to make preliminary contact with Coloma via e-mail and text message, and he has not made any statement as of posting time.

It is worth noting that the elevation of Carandang to his current post had previously prompted Esposo to write a piece questioning the former broadcast journalist’s fitness for the rank—a scathing article that exceeded, both in tone and in apparent intent, other publicly expressed apprehensions about the viability of the presidential communications group: Amando Dornila’s invocation of the image of the Lernaean Hydra, for instance, could be interpreted as a compliment, albeit a rather backhanded one, attesting to the efficacy of people involved in the group, as the hydra is, if nothing else, a powerful creature.

Why, one is moved to ask, is there no love lost between Esposo and Carandang? What motivates all this chair-wrecking? How much of it is driven by national concerns, and how much by parochial ones? Is the fact that Esposo’s column saw print on the same day that Carandang took his oath of office merely a coincidence?

It is no secret, after all, that Esposo is, at the very least, associated with one of two contending factions within the Aquino camp that have been at war since the presidential campaign kicked off last year—the so-called “Samar” faction that reportedly includes Maria Montelibano, a cousin of the President who handled media relations during his campaign, not to mention Coloma himself.

Of course, these factions no longer officially exist, and ought to stop existing unofficially too, as is proper, because infighting only wastes time and resources that could be used productively elsewhere.

[This also appears in The Pro Pinoy Project.]

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.

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?

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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.]

Truth and lice

Whatever else can be said about the adoption of Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (Makabayan) senatorial candidates Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza by the Nacionalista Party (NP), it is definitely nothing less than an event for the history books. After all, Ocampo and Maza are militant leftists, while the NP is a party headed by real estate mogul and presidential candidate Manny Villar, and also includes Bongbong Marcos, the son and namesake of dictator Ferdinand, in its line-up for the Senate.

If I understand the official statements on the alliance correctly, Ocampo and Maza, as well as the members of Makabayan, view it as a significant opportunity to shift their revolutionary struggle onto the center of the national stage and into the limelight of public affairs. It may be useful to frame the situation in classical terms: Ocampo and Maza constitute the Trojan Horse of the Left, with which the walled city of Philippine politics, sitting high on its dung heap of graft and corruption, and gleaming with impunity, will be infiltrated, conquered, and rebuilt anew. Of course, one must admit that such an explanation is not quite adequate: to resort to it is to elide the fact that Ocampo and Maza were already mainstream politicians to begin with, as both have been serving in the Lower House of Congress as party-list representatives since 2001.

In any case, already the horse has begun to roll forward, as the NP agreed to integrate the Makabayan platform into its own, leading to the production and release of the document entitled, “In Response to the People’s Concerns“—a document strangely unavailable on the official NP web site as of this writing.

Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond “Mong” Palatino, in “Misunderestimating the Philippine Left“, one of the more recent commentaries on the issue, put it this way: “Villar’s brave decision to openly embrace a platform-based unity with the left has smashed the taboo in Philippine politics. From now on, the participation of the left will be expected in future electoral contests for top political posts.”

That a taboo exists at all, as may be inferred from the assertions Palatino makes in the essay, has to do with how (orthodox?) leftists have been spoken of by various “academics and commentators”, “liberal right-wingers”, and “apostates”: demonized all and sundry as destabilizers and terrorists, leftists suffer from “not [being] recognized as legitimate political players who can use valid political practices in the electoral arena”. This is a claim not without merit: surely it cannot be just to refuse the left a seat at the table of democracy on the basis of what Palatino refers to as its “past mistakes”—ones, he adds, that the extreme left has apologized for. To reduce the left to its history of bloody violence is itself an act of violence—such an act condemns the left always and forever to irrelevance, death, or both, and denies the transformative possibilities of ideological difference.

That said, I have to take exception to how Palatino read the motives of those attacking the NP-Makabayan alliance: “The anti-left gang is mad not because the left endorsed a presidential candidate. They are mad because the left has refused to endorse Noynoy Aquino.”

Tonyo Cruz has said in his Asian Correspondent blog that, “It is a matter of public record that Noynoy Aquino shut the door on Ocampo and Maza, despite the Makabayan coalition’s earnest overtures.Manila Standard Today columnist Jojo Robles, who recounted how Ocampo described his meeting with Aquino, thought it was “unfortunate that Noynoy Aquino and his traditionally bourgeois collection of yellow-clad supporters may have missed out on this major political development.” How, then, can Palatino’s statement make sense? If (a) Aquino and the Liberal Party rejected the left, and (b) the anti-left “gang”—whatever that might be, as I am not convinced it even exists—supports Aquino, how does one arrive at the conclusion that (c) the anti-left “gang” is angry at the left for not endorsing Aquino?

Furthermore, anti-left sentiments are hardly exclusive to any one political group: BANTAY Party-list, to cite one example, was founded precisely on such sentiments, and its leader, Jovito S. Palparan, is running as an independent candidate for senator.

It may well be accurate to say that I am guilty of nitpicking, but one would be wise to bear this in mind: where there are nits, there are lice—which is to say that more than simple logic is at stake.

If, as Palatino says, the left is treated unfairly when it is conceived of as a monolithic, hence totally reprehensible, entity, is he not doing the same thing by speaking of an anti-left “gang”, which he then uncritically equates with the Aquino camp? Does not the lack of self-reflexivity in his argument—the same lack that he decries as the “pathological narcissism” of the anti-left—register as disingenuous, as an instance of victimage?

For the members of any given minority to strive to overturn the regime that tyrannizes them is perhaps understandable, and yet what is gained if and when they accomplish exactly that? To succeed in turning over structures of oppression is certainly to redistribute power, so that what once was reviled becomes revered, but by no means does the oppression dissipate—rather, the instruments of torture simply change hands. To seek a reversal of terms is merely to honor, reinforce, and perpetuate such terms. Therefore, when a political project remains trapped in old categories, how can it claim to be truly revolutionary?

[This also appears in Filipino Voices.]

An open letter to Senator Dick Gordon

Dear Senator Gordon,

May this letter find you in good health. Forgive my presumptuousness in communicating with you in this manner, but the Internet is one of the few ways that an ordinary citizen and voter such as myself can attempt to reach you.

Upon learning that you had entered the presidential race, I took it upon myself to study the contents of your campaign web site, and what I have found has made for interesting reading. That you are seeking to create meaningful changes in the country, as stated in your manifesto, resonates strongly with me—like many Filipinos, I look forward to the May 2010 polls as an important turning point for our nation, after nearly a decade under the present administration—and there is no doubt in my mind that, should you succeed in your bid, you will be able to accomplish most, if not all, of the goals that you will set for yourself. Although I cannot say that I will cast my vote for you, I do not see why you would not be able to make real your vision for a better Philippines. If there is something that even your harshest critics must say about you, it is that you do not lack the will or the fervor to see your plans through to the last detail—one need only check your long and distinguished public service record. You and your running mate, Mr. Bayani Fernando, are definitely capable of transformational leadership. For that, I respect your candidacy, as I will respect your presidency, should the electorate install you in Malacañan Palace.

The reason that I am writing to you is to express my concerns regarding Mr. Paul Farol, one of the bloggers for Asian Correspondent. I do not know if you are still connected with him professionally, but he claims in his Blogger profile to be one of your interns. Certainly, he is one of your most enthusiastic and most prominent online supporters. He has been wanting you to run for president since 2006, even setting up the Team Gordon 2010 blog out of his own volition, and was moved to the point of tears when he learned that you had filed your certificate of candidacy with the Commission on Elections last December 1. Such passion would warm the cockles of anyone’s heart, and I am sure that you are touched to have someone with the zeal of Mr. Farol on your side.

What I find disturbing—and I believe you should be similarly disturbed—is that Mr. Farol seems to have a personal vendetta against one of your opponents for the presidency, Senator Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III, and has no qualms whatsoever in making a display of it, as evidenced by many of his online postings. For example, one of the updates in his Twitter account—his third, as the others were previously suspended—states that, “I caused the downfall of the Yellow Messiah… Now to find a tree to nail him to.” The use of such a violent image implies a depth of ill feeling—ill feeling that, in the absence of actual justification, would appear to be rooted solely in spite. Consider, for instance, how he responded to a comment on one of his blog entries: “Picking on Noynoy is just a hobby which I am not being paid for and would refuse to get paid for because IT IS SOOOO MUCH FUN.” As though that were not enough, Mr. Farol has also been trying to enlist others in his campaign of irrational hate, presumably with the end view of scoring political points on your behalf.

While I am not one to begrudge anyone his or her freedom of expression, I think you will agree with me when I say that Mr. Farol’s wanton exhibition of malice runs counter—strikingly so—to your vision of Bagumbayan, your expressed belief in the need to “do things, believe things, and think in new ways”. Mr. Farol’s vitriolic outpourings, then, are ultimately harmful to your campaign, positioned as it is precisely against traditional politics, one index of which is the very mudslinging that Mr. Farol is doing.

You yourself have said on your web site that, “What this country needs is not just a change OF men, but a change IN men.” As far as I am concerned, one of the best ways to demonstrate this change is to elevate the level of political discourse from senseless vituperation to civil, rational, merit-based, mature discussion. Therefore, I would like to suggest that you or one of your advisers get in touch with Mr. Farol, and remind him of the progressive values that you uphold, in order that he may support you more effectively and in better faith than he has thus far shown.

Granted, you have also exhorted Filipinos to “[not] let anyone tell you what that change is going to be”, but I am sure that you can convince the public of your worthiness to be president on the basis of your principles and achievements, and not at the expense of your rivals, as Mr. Farol seems to believe.

I trust that you will give this matter serious consideration, and that any steps you take will be decisive ones, steps toward the transformation that all Filipinos, regardless of their alliances, have come to expect of you.

Thank you for your time, and God bless your campaign.

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(Added December 18, 2009: Paul Farol has informed me that he is not working for Senator Gordon, and that the Blogger profile to which I have linked is not his.)