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[This article came out in the Yahoo! Philippines, where I have my regular blog. I will try to post here relevant blog entries as they are printed there.]

The automation of 2013 national and local elections still runs against heavy headwinds.The latest, of course, was the latest pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). It called for “[the] COMELEC to adequately address the issues and respond, place corrective measures if necessary, to the studies of technical experts to the alleged deficiencies of the present system and technology of automated elections. There can be no transparency in elections if the COMELEC itself is not transparent.”

Except for persistent doubts coming from groups such as those in the Kontra-Daya Coalition and election losers, the 2010 automated election results were overwhelmingly accepted by the people. The most important election contest was the presidential election wherein President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III won on a landslide of almost 45% of the votes in a 10-candidate field. Some of his opponents immediately conceded the very next day on the basis of swift results from the automated system.

Most international and domestic election observers agreed to the credibility of the 2010 election results and many lauded the key role played by the automated election system to achieve this result. The Comelec Advisory Council, in its post-election report concluded as follows:

“The automation of the May 2010 elections was definitely not perfect. Smartmatic/TIM and COMELEC made mistakes throughout the entire process that gave people a reason to distrust the AES. However, the problems that arose were not severe enough to allow interested parties to manipulate the election results. Despite all its shortcomings, the AES was still able to eradicate the most damaging form of electoral fraud—the dagdag-bawas (add-subtract). While the lessons to be learned from this exercise are many, the COMELEC Advisory Council believes that the Philippines is much better off with automated elections and that manual elections are now officially a thing of the past.”

The present brouhaha about the PCOS machine and the automated election system in the 2013 national and local elections should be viewed from this baseline perspective. The Supreme Court, in its second decision regarding the court case brought before it, again allowed the use of the automated election system in the current elections. The Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS) machine and the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) technology it implements are the same as in 2010, with Comelec-authorized enhancements and correction measures added.

The attitude to take, I think, is to let the Comelec do its work without undue interference and delaying, pre-judging tactics that feed on doubts and frustrations of election losers and haters of democratic elections. We should monitor the implementation of the automated election system, yes, but not solely on the basis of opinions of one set of “experts” who have their own agenda. We risk a “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” situation here.

The CBCP pastoral statement, I think, narrowly escaped this perspective.

Anak ng Akbayan

The word war between the Anakbayan party-list group and Akbayan regarding the latter’s qualification to run under the party-list system would have been an ordinary event in the never-ending tirade of the Reaffirmists against other Left groups since the split of the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1991. This time, however, the Reaffirmist-led youth groups Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students (LFS), National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) plus its worker coalition Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) took it a step further. They wrote a formal letter to the Commission on Elections “to investigate AKBAYAN party-list and their nominees and if it is determined by the Commission that they are not qualified as party-list groups and nominees, remove and/or cancel the registration of AKBAYAN and deny due course the certificate of nomination filed by the party-list group.

In so doing, these groups have crossed a political line, presumably with the blessing of the CPP leadership. They presume now that they should have the monopoly of Left parliamentary politics. This is in addition to their false assertions that their group has the monopoly of Left mass politics and that armed struggle is the only way to power. It is a step up from the previous threats of physical elimination of specific Akbayan personalities and leaders.

It is to be recalled that in the 1998 national and local elections, the CPP and its organizations in the legal mass movement boycotted the newly-implemented party-list system, calling it a “reformist” institution. However, an outcry among the leaders and ranks of its legal mass movement to participate forced the party to revise its policy and led to the formation and participation of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Anak ng Bayan, Gabriela Women’s Party, Migrante, and Suara Bangsa Moro in the 2001 party-list elections.

When the party decided to participate in the party-list system, it did so on a grand scale. The strategy of separate sectoral formations was resorted to make use of its wasted votes above the six percent required of the three-seat maximum set by law. Bayan Muna was maintained as both a national political party and a multi-sectoral party-list group, with the objective to make it as the center for their parliamentary work. In the current 2013 party-list elections, more than 10 party-list groups coming from this same political root have applied for party-list accreditation. It does not include Makabayan, which had been reportedly accredited by Comelec as a national political party apart from Bayan Muna.

The current CPP-led attacks against Akbayan are evidently aimed at monopolizing Left parliamentary politics and curtailing its political influence, especially after the latter entered the popular Aquino-led ruling coalition. In the 2013 elections, they ride on the popular call for cleansing of the party-list system of bogus groups, and called for the disqualification of Akbayan. There is a real fear that Akbayan will successfully attain the status of an independent national political party after the elections.

This fear comes from the realization that the CPP-led armed struggle is getting nowhere, without a strong cadre backbone, a broad-based mass base, and effective international support. This is especially acute at this time when there is a real possibility of permanent peace in the Moro rebellion with the signing of a “framework agreement” between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The CPP is faced with the strategic dilemma of continuing a politically dead-end course of a protracted armed struggle or pursue the possibilities of the parliamentary arena. The attacks on Akbayan are evidently aimed at preparing the ground for the latter. The applicable Marxist tactical term here is “directing the main blow against the secondary target.”

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Akbayan, it is now classified in the same league as the Lavaites in the late 1960s–the principal obstacle to be removed so that there is only one Left group standing. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for those in the CPP who opt for the parliamentary struggle, the current state of Philippine democracy allows their meaningful participation.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) Akbayan had already blazed the trail towards meaningful Left participation in the parliamentary struggle. Anak ng Akbayan.

Dynastic politics

The filing of candidacy for the 18,053 seats–from senators to municipal councilors–has ended yesterday. As expected, the majority of key positions will be contested by members, loyalists or affiliates of dominant political clans. The Senate race is heavily affected with the dynastic disease, with almost all candidates of the Liberal Party coalition and the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) tracing their antecedents (and credentials) to political families.

We have the following 18 candidates who are from prominent political families in the two Senate slates: Sen. Francis Escudero, Sen. Loren Legarda, presidential cousin Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, former senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Rep. Maria Milagros Magsaysay, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, vice-presidential daughter Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito, Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr., former senator Ernesto Maceda, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, former senator Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, former senator Richard Gordon, ex-senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, former Tarlac governor Margarita Cojuangco, Rep. Cynthia Villar, and Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.

The three others–former MTRCB Chairperson Grace Poe-Llamanzares, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, and former AKBAYAN representative Ana Theresia Hontiveros–are not known to belong to traditional dynastic clans. Three candidates–Escudero, Legarda, and Poe-Llamanzares–are common candidates of the LP coalition and UNA.

At the local level, political clans and dynasties are all over the political landscape–from the Marcoses in Ilocos Norte to the Dutertes of Davao City. Only a sprinkling of candidates are non-dynasty or non-traditional politician, the most notable of whom are the two Catholic priests on leave who are running for governorship–former Pampanga governor Fr. Eduardo “Among Ed” Panlilio (Pampanga) and Bicol Regional Development Council Co-Chair Fr. Leo Casas (Masbate).

The uncontrolled proliferation of political dynasties betrays the severe weaknesses of the political party system in the country. There simply are no checks and balances in place to curb or even guide the self-serving political agenda–and by extension the carpetbagging economic agenda–of dominant political clans. At worst, these clans turn into warlords with control over territorial fiefs and their power protected by political violence, electoral fraud, and vote-buying.

The weaknesses are starkly manifested in the dearth of original Liberals in the Liberal Party senatorial slate. The three Liberal Party members in the 12-person list are either newly-sworn party members (Madrigal and Aquino) or a turncoat from another party (Magsaysay). In addition, Sen. Pimentel, who is the president of UNA’s member-party, the PDP-Laban, runs under the LP coalition.

In the UNA slate, the situation is much the same with the three leaders (Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and former president Joseph Estrada) reserving seats for their own children (Nancy Binay, Jackie Enrile, and JV Ejercito). Rep. Mitos Magsaysay is from Lakas-Kampi, the erstwhile main opposition party.

The phenomenon of common candidates (Escudero, Legarda, and Poe) can only happen in a situation of  an absence of real opposition. Both the LP coalition and UNA parties are in the ruling coalition headed by President Aquino. The opposition that is the Lakas-CMD-Kampi is a pitiful, dying shadow of its former overpoweringly dominant stature–it cannot even field a single senatorial candidate and its head, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is able only to run for a congressional seat in Pampanga.

All roads now lead to Malacañang and Aquino. Of course, the political configuration will change in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Meanwhile the real–but covert–fight in the 2013 elections are between the would-be presidential aspirants in the 2016 presidential elections. As such, what we are witnessing is a proxy war.

Meanwhile, political dynasts sit comfortably and go with the tide of the president’s electoral wishes even as they profess support to all sides of the presidential contest. They are survival specialists, after all.

Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir is an autobiography of one of the most controversial figures in our contemporary political history, the defense minister and implementor of the Marcos dictatorship, a failed coup d’etat plotter against both the Marcos and Aquino governments, a political lord of the far-north province of Cagayan, a habitue of Congress, both as a congressman and as a senator, and the presiding officer of the impeachment court that convicted and removed from office Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Now almost 89 years old, he can claim a certain place in our nation’s history, having served in high places throughout his political career–on both sides of the political fence. He is a political survivor, missing only the post of presidency in the 1998 elections.

The interesting thing about Juan Ponce Enrile is how he can glibly change his story to fit the political necessity of the moment. Two of the most memorable stories came from him during the 1986 failed coup against Marcos. Holding a hasty press conference in beleaguered Camp Aguinaldo–and desperately calling for help–he admitted to his participation in the conduct of electoral fraud in the 1986 snap elections and in the staging of a fake ambush on his own convoy in Wack Wack Golf and Country Club on September 22, 1972, the night before martial law was publicly proclaimed the next day.

In the book, he made nary a mention of the 1986 snap election fraud and completely changed his story about the fake ambush, asserting the opposite that it was really a genuine ambush by unidentified persons. And to think that this was the last act in the series of staged terror attacks in the three months preceding the declaration of martial law and cited as basis for Proclamation 1081!

My own recollection of the period is that the fake Enrile ambush and its citing as the signal for martial law declaration already circulated among some newsmen at least a month before the event. This is the reason why many student leaders and activists of the period were able to elude the massive dragnet by the military and police forces under Enrile’s administration and supervision in the first hours and days of martial rule.

Of course, it is Enrile’s decision on what to write and say on the history of his times. However, it is also our decision to believe him or not. In many accounts in the book, he provided new glimpses, maybe even truths, on the historical events he participated in. However, in the most important of them, he ended up rewriting and reinforcing old Marcos myths.

The question, therefore, hangs. What for? The nuanced presentation seemingly points to pandering for a Marcos revival while maintaining enough traction as a people power hero. Another myth, but its another story…

Shakespeare here is maybe relevant when he said in The Tempest: “What’s past is prologue.”

The election news lately has been that of surveys claiming to have a list of specific personalities who will win the senatorial elections come 2013 national and local elections. Both the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, as well as lesser-known or even fly-by-night survey outfits, predicted more or less the same names in the winning column.

Of course, all of these do not reflect what eventually will be the voter’s choices in the next year’s senatorial elections. The most obvious reason is that it is still a long way from now to election day–the vast majority of the electorate have not yet made up their mind on their voting preferences except for a few candidates.

The name of the game at this point is name recall. This is defined as naming choices from memory of past, present, and claiming senatorial bets, without the benefit of a serious thought about qualifications, character, public service record, and competence. And, of course, voters do not yet bother about platforms or programs of government at this stage.

This fallacy of interpreting survey results this early to make up the senatorial slate results in decisions of convenience, or in opportunistic calculations. By and large, it perpetuates the political culture of personalistic politics, and of populist imagery. The media, of course, share the blame by portraying these survey results as gospel truth, without qualifying and without delineating the boundaries of their truths.

A case in point is Congressman Erin Tañada.  He is among the leaders of the Liberal Party, comes from an illustrious and respected political family, a House deputy speaker, and considered as one of the few reform-oriented young politicians of the incoming generation. He is a strong advocate for nationalism, democracy, and human rights, and author of the constitutionally-mandated Freedom of Information bill–a key legislation advancing transparency and accountability in government. He is supportive of reviving the coco levy case in favor of the coconut farmers and other asset reforms that directly address the poverty of the masses. In a normal world, there would be no question of his inclusion in the reform-oriented Liberal party senatorial slate.

However, the looming big irony of the Aquino-led administration ticket is that Tañada ( and similarly-placed possible candidates) only has a slim chance of being taken into the Liberal senatorial slate. The surveys place him low enough in the scales that he may not be able to win by himself.

The questions hangs in the air. What about reforms? What about good governance? What about the liberal political philosophy? What about a political party platform and program that must be advanced? Decision based on surveys alone, by and large, throws these overboard and favor the popular, the well-known, even the namesake. And, by and large, it speaks of a judgment of an easily swayed, easily manipulated, and easily bought electorate.

We call it traditional politics.

You ask why we have buffoons, clowns, actors, big egoists, and mediocres in the Senate. The answer lies in the surveys. In the real world, surveys are meant as decision guides, to know the strengths and weaknesses of the subject of the surveys, the current thinking of the populace. From the survey , leaders define the strategy, decide on tactics to enable to undertake an electoral campaign and achieve the victory. These are not meant to be the only basis of slate selection.

The late Secretary Jesse Robredo is a recent example. He languished in the low levels of senatorial surveys. Yet when he died and people come to know his reform record and integrity, he had become the reform standard for candidates.

Tañada, in his own right, stands in the same tsinelas that Robredo wore. Will the Liberal Party leave him out?

 

The Social Weather Stations (SWS), on its August 24-27, 2012 survey, disclosed a major surge in President Aquino’s net satisfaction rating. From +49% in March 2012 and +42% in May 2012, it now reached +67% in August 2012. 77% or nearly four out of five Filipinos are satisfied with him while only 10% or one out of 10 Filipinos are dissatisfied. This is the highest he got during his entire term up to the present. The survey results cut across geographical areas and across ABCDE class boundaries.

This is very good news to the Aquino administration and bad news to his critics and opposition, especially at this time when the 2013 elections near and immediate decisions need to be made on the alignments and strategies of various candidates. The filing of candidacies on October 1-5, 2012 puts an additional pressure on these decisions.

To be sure, the sudden death of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo last August 18, 2012 contributed a lot to the rise of presidential ratings, in terms of the tremendous sympathies it generated. However, it is not all a matter of bereavement and sympathy; it is also a matter of public realization that President Aquino’s reform agenda stands not only as a matter of rhetorics of “matuwid na daan” but is backed up by appointments to his Cabinet and administration of solid reformists such as Sec. Robredo.

The series of bold anti-corruption measures such as the filing of cases and arrest of the big fishes of the former Arroyo administration, the impeachment of former Chief Justice Corona, and the transparency and accountability policies in the bureaucracy has led to the people keeping faith with President Aquino through all the open and veiled attacks against him and his administration in the media and elsewhere.

In this light, the midterm 2013 elections promises to become an Aquino elections. That is, his political endorsement will stand out as a major, if not the decisive factor, in the victory of many candidates. Conversely, his critique of many candidates may well be the death knell of their own candidacies.

The SWS survey reaffirmed the people’s mandate for Noynoy Aquino’s presidency. However, it also reaffirmed the basis for the mandate–his continued trek on the road to reform both the traditional political and economic terms of reference of Philippine society towards democracy.

He has just been reelected.

Free but not free

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was released from detention through a grant of bail by the Pasay City Regional Trial Court. Expectedly, her camp extolled the court decision as a “victory against dictatorship,” presumably the Aquino administration. It was even posited as a big blow to the anti-corruption campaign and the political standing of President Aquino.

I do not think these views are correct. The order for release of Ms. Macapagal-Arroyo does not, in the first place, mean her innocence in the charge against her; it only means that the evidence presented against her by the prosecution is considered weak by the prosecution. The case will continue to be tried on merits and additional evidence.

The political battle last November 2011 revolved around GMA’s attempt to flee the country and possibly escape prosecution. The instant case of electoral sabotage in the 2007 elections served then to prevent her from doing so by virtue of the hold-departure order issued by the Pasay City RTC. Incidentally, this also rendered moot and academic the controversial “watch-list order” issued by DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima. I doubt if GMA’s arrest and detention–which is the subject of the bail decision–was the primary objective during that period.

The political impact of the release on the Aquino administration is minimal. The hold-departure-order is still in place, reinforced by a similar HDO from the Sandigangbayan for a separate plunder case. Other cases are in the pipeline.

The GMA political base has already shrunk dramatically while the Aquino administration has already consolidated the power. If reports of her continued illness are correct, then the release would a correct move–from a political point of view–since it would remove state responsibility.

She’s free but not quite free.

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