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Archive for the ‘Philippine Development’ Category

[This is the second article in my column, Catalyst]

Yesterday, President Aquino delivered his one-year milestone speech. Among the memorable quotations there, let me quote the following: “Ako man po ay nangangarap na bukas makalawa ay magising tayong may solusyon na sa bawat problemang minana natin. Ngunit alam ko pong mulat din kayo na wala ring maitutulong ang mabilisan, ngunit walang bisang solusyon. Kailangan ang maingat na paglalatag ng reporma, ang pagsigurong epektibo ang ating mga programa, at ang pangmatagalang mga tugon na hindi na magpapamana ng problema sa susunod na salinlahi.”

Rhetoric sometimes coincides with reality. However, many times it hides the opposite reality. Or to say it in another sense, rhetoric substitutes for the reality.

Let me cite a presidential action yesterday, coinciding with the speech. Malacañang published Executive Order No. 47 dated June 23, 2011 reorganizing, renaming and transferring the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) and its attached agencies to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). However, three days before, the president appointed Mr. Oliver Chato as CICT commissioner. Poor Mr. Chato only has a few weeks to enjoy his stint.

Executive Order 47 effectively divided the ICT policy formulation, policy recommendation and interconnectivity matters from the ICT industry supervision, regulation, and development. Much of the latter is still with DOTC while the former is now transferred to DOST. This will perpetuate, nay worsen, the current unwieldy and divided handling of ICT.

This is also completely opposed to the legislative proposal to establish a Department of Information and Communications Technology that will unify ICT governance. The proposed new department targets to rationalize a fast-rising and vital industry and ensure its continuing growth and contribution to the economy.

The way EO 47 was foisted on the stakeholders—without so much as a public or industry consultation—speaks of haste and lack of deep study. It thus opens to the suspicion that the dynamics that led to the issuance of EO 47 were not so much the dynamics of technical/administrative studies but the dynamics of internal power plays within the President’s own Cabinet.

Evidently, the left hand of the President does not know what his right hand is doing.

However, the problem does not stop there. EO 47 abolished the posts of CICT Chairman and of the commissioners but did not indicate if their functions are being transferred elsewhere. The CICT itself became the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) and is being placed under the policy, technical and administrative supervision of DOST. The ICTO is headed by an Executive Director, with the rank of an Undersecretary, who reports directly to the DOST Secretary.

Now—assuming it is still there—who inherits the functions of the CICT Chair: the DOST Secretary or the ICTO executive director?

Of interest to election watchdogs, who will chair the Comelec Advisory Council on Election Automation, specifically mandated by RA 9369—the Election Automation Law—to be the CICT Chairman? This is of immediate importance because the Comelec has not yet asked the Advisory Council to recommend the technology for the 2013 national and local elections. According to the original Comelec timetable, this should have been done last December 2010 yet.

“Kailangan ang maingat na paglalatag ng reporma, ang pagsigurong epektibo ang ating mga programa.” Executive Order 47 should be rescinded and, along with other proposals such as the DICT, be reviewed again, together with the stakeholders. Simple lang po Mr. President, di ba?

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The Davao demolition involving Mayor Sara Duterte needs to be seen within the context of the court case (if the judgment to vacate the private lot is final and executory), the observance of proper legal procedures and of the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA), and of the human rights of the informal settlers concerned. If there are violations here, these should have been threshed out before the demolition was carried out.

Barring any new fact, the demolition was evidently approved by Mayor Duterte when she allowed the city police to aid the sheriff, provided security to demolition personnel, and otherwise conducted a dialogue and reached an agreement for a two-hour reprieve. If there are violations in the demolition, Mayor Duterte is as much liable as the court and its sheriff.

However, the demolition is not the issue at hand. The issue against Mayor Duterte consists of mauling a fellow person in authority and preventing him from doing his duty. In human rights terms, she is is being accused of abuse of her authority.

Her immediate reaction of boxing the court sheriff–at least insofar as we can discern from the videos–can be understood within the context of the demolition which coincided with ongoing flood crisis. If true, her request for a two-hour reprieve is reasonable and can easily be agreed to by the sheriff–to which in fact he agreed to. However, when the period was up, the sheriff did not wait anymore for the mayor and proceeded with the demolition. The demolition was resisted by the informal settlers and there was a scuffle.

At that point, Mayor Duterte arrived and, evidently incensed, proceeded to berate and maul the sheriff. Not content with this, she had her bodyguards chase the sheriff, handcuff him, and also maul him. Her defenders would later point to the 2-hour agreement, the sheriff’s decision not to consult with the mayor anymore,  and the consequent breakdown in peace and order as justifications for mauling.

Mayor Sara Duterte’s acts constitute a human rights violation and provide a basis for filing an administrative case and even a criminal case against her. Hers was not a case of defending the poor and their human rights but rather of an abusive public official who thinks she is the law in Davao City. Her defenders among the Davaoeños and elsewhere should reflect on their misplaced acclamation.

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[This is my column which should have appeared already in the maiden issue of Good Morning Philippines, a new broadsheet.]

A year before today, we were all looking forward to the new political regime in the Philippines—that of Benigno Simeon Aquino III. It was a signal relief for many who thought Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stayed too long in power and who accumulated crisis after crisis. At the end, hounded by a huge popularity deficit and still hoping for a political comeback, she left the stage, albeit for a smaller one at the House of Representatives.

However, the story today is about President Noynoy Aquino—his own record of a year in office. Starting off with one, if not the highest, approval rating in presidential history, he enjoyed also a long political honeymoon with the people. Only now is this honeymoon ending as a sobered people also realize the human frailties of an unprepared president.

How did he and his administration fare in the first year of a six-year term? Expectedly, different analysts and political players posited their own differing opinions—as varied as the lenses they used. Most of these assessments can stem from two opposing viewpoints, describing the one year of Aquino administration as either a glass half-empty or a glass half-full.

Those who see a half-empty glass tend to emphasize the amateurish mistakes, the confusing senior management set-up, the immature plan of governance, the reactive leadership in various economic or governance crises, and the constant infighting of the new power managers. Those who see a half-full glass tend to emphasize the gains in the priority anti-corruption and anti-poverty campaigns, the continued popularity of the administration, the clean-up of stay-behind GMA troops in various governmental bodies, the consolidation of power in both executive and legislative branches, and the continued hope among the people for a better life.

I think both viewpoints are correct. In full, these describe an administration still struggling for its vision and mission—and gradually succeeding. In this sense, I join those who think this administration is a glass that is half-full.

The Aquino administration inherited a government heavily in debt, presiding over a tottering, tattered economy, laden with a corrupt bureaucracy and public officials, tolerating impunity of powerful warlords and criminal gangs in the military and police, and bereft of the sense of public service and public ethics. In addition, the Macapagal-Arroyo administration—sensing the strong public sentiment towards making it pay for its nine-year predation of democracy and the nation’s coffers—put up a series of roadblocks against the new government.

These roadblocks consisted of late and midnight appointments, laws and executive orders limiting the presidential prerogative, and even attempts to maintain its dominant influence in Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives, and among the local executives.

To no avail. It can be said now that the Aquino government succeeded in consolidating the power required for his six-year term. If it can maintain its majorities in Congress and the popular support of the people, it may be in a position to even undertake the difficult reforms that previous presidents failed to undertake or complete.

However, there is a long road still to be travelled. It has to face the challenges of governance, as well as solve the internal squabbles in its own house. Above all, it has to demonstrate its own adherence to the “straight road” and its recognition of the people as the “boss.”

People knew that Noynoy Aquino would have a steep and long learning curve after his victory. The one-year long political honeymoon they gave him speaks of their trust and soaring expectations. Now they await the fruits of their trust and the fulfilment of their expectation. For them, the glass is still half-full.

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Malacañang has to get its way. In the Senate, judicious horse-trading produced the lopsided 13-7 vote for the postponement of the August 2011 ARMM elections to May 2013. The reconciliation of the House and Senate versions is a foregone conclusion. At the same time, the expected challenge before the Supreme Court may face more difficulties.

With the postponement, ARMM will enter uncharted and possibly more dangerous waters. It will have a long-term impact on the issue of the Moro right to self-determination and on the democratic discourse among the Moro people as well as among the non-Moro Mindanaoans.

All now hinge on the promised reforms in the coming 22 months. This hodgepodge of political and governance reforms promises to prepare the ground for “truly fair and free” 2013 ARMM elections. These consist–as presented by the Aquino administration–of cleansing the voter list, neutralizing if not eradicating warlordism, audit of ARMM funds, and delivery of government services across the board.

Cleansing the voter list–despite all the hype of biometrics–will require a new general registration. This is true for the national list, but even truer for the ARMM list.

Warlordism is a bit more ambitious but there is an outside chance for success if the administration exercises real political will and will negotiate, cajole, threaten, or order the dismantling of the warlord armies. Otherwise, it should  be prepared to use state power to throw the book at the recalcitrant ones. The main factor however is to mitigate, if not remove the factors for the growth of warlordism–by achieving a just and lasting peace with the Moro rebellion, effectively addressing Moro poverty, assuring Moro-non-Moro peaceful and productive relations, and empowering Moro grassroots-based democracy.

Audit should only be the start of wide-ranging reforms in the ARMM administration, bureaucracy, and governance. ARMM and the local governments in the area should be retooled to ensure transparency, accountability and pro-people orientation of the ARMM government.

The delivery of government services such as education, health, job creation, and peace and order should be immediately done, maintained, and continuously improved.

The big IFs are two. Can this be done within the time frame of 22 months? Can these enumerated reforms produce the “fair and free 2013 elections?”  However, there is also the bigger question: Are these enough?

After the postponement, we should all heal the wounds of the division and strive to bring about the promised reforms. This, despite all the misgivings.

Ironically, upon the “failed” ARMM rests the success of the administration’s venture. The Moro electorate in the 2013 ARMM elections will decide whether this experiment on “managed non-autonomous democracy” will advance the cause of Moro autonomy and democracy. Or, in another way of saying it, whether there is a lost and found ARMM opportunity.

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This early, there are already signs of jockeying for strategic points and advantageous heights for the presidential contest in 2016. There are also signs of preparations for an alternative possible scenario of the premature end to the Noynoy Aquino administration before then.

While there is a certain level of consolidation on his hold on power, the Aquino administration certainly cannot take comfort from it. There are at least three factors that influence against further development in this direction. One, the performance of this administration in addressing felt problems of the people is not registering on the ground. Two, there are several active inimical campaigns against the administration–most of which are bent on destabilizing, if not actually preempting its term. Three, the 2016 presidential electoral contest increasingly becomes an immediate consideration for key forces and allies of the president, undermining party and ruling coalition unity and cohesion.

Of the three, the last one is completely unnecessary but assumes life on its own because of the failure (so far) of the president to bind all his men (and women) to a single vision, a single strategy and a unified plan for his term in power. He has given a long leash to key cabinet and other officials without clarifying first his own set of priorities. It therefore led to a situation where ambitions and interests of those close to him dictate more often than not specific policies.

The 2016 presidential electoral contest has already spawned this early at least three contenders, with several others trying to position themselves as presidentiables. If the president does not nip this in the bud, it can undermine his administration and open the possibility of a weakened administration under attack after two years in office.

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