Posts Tagged ‘ARMM’

[My next column in Catalyst]

On its face, the Supreme Court’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the implementation of the law postponing the ARMM elections is a triumph for the principles of autonomy and democracy. The law has been criticized and resisted by many sectors on the basis of the latter principles. However, when viewed within the context of the political developments in the South, the TRO has only confused an already complicated situation. In a word, it has become an unavoidably political decision.

First, most Moro political groups, including many in the opposition, had already accepted the reality of the law’s operations and its consequences. They are in the midst of discussions on the possible reforms that can be done during the 21 months of the transition period until the 2013 ARMM elections. They are also in the midst of applying for, being interviewed, and lobbying for appointments to various positions in the interim ARMM government.

Second, the peace negotiation with the MILF has reached a critical stage, when the two sides have formally submitted to the other side their initial negotiating positions. Each side—expectedly—rejected the other side’s position. The factionalism within the MILF, especially that of the Umbra Kato-led forces, lent urgency to the negotiating process. The Tokyo consensus points are imperilled.

The Supreme Court TRO decision came in at the last minute—when the officers-in-charge are about to be appointed by the President in consonance with the upcoming end of term of current set of ARMM officials on September 30, 2011. Logically, it should have issued the TRO upon the submission last July of the petitioners of their positions to the Supreme Court—in order to let the ARMM elections proceed as planned. The timing alone lends suspicion of a political decision.

The TRO, in effect, prevented Moro autonomy from working in the post-law period. All the consultations with various Moro sectors and groups will come to naught and their enthusiastic participation in the selection process will be set aside. The Supreme Court, ironically, is the culprit this time.

The nature of the issue at hand is very political. The primary branch to deal with it is the legislature. The Supreme Court, by accepting the case and acting on the TRO, is vulnerable to the charge of political legislation. Of course, it does not help that the Aquino government also became vulnerable to Supreme Court intervention due to the weak constitutional and legal bases for its decision to postpone the ARMM elections.

However, the issue now is how to proceed. The courses open to the government are all fraught with peril. One, it can contest the TRO with a motion for reconsideration and accept the real risk that it will be rejected and therefore lose more time in the process. Two, it can wait for September 30 and the President appoints officers-in-charge based on his residual powers to prevent a power vacuum and accept the risk that the Supreme Court may well issue another order preventing these from serving. Three, it may accept the present set of ARMM officials to maintain their offices on a holdover capacity after September 30 (the option seemingly preferred by the SC TRO) and accept the risk of non-implementation of its touted reforms.

The Aquino government has another option—and that is to confront frontally the increasingly political role that a core group of GMA loyalist justices wants the Supreme Court to perform. With a very high approval public trust rating and an aligned Congress, the possibility of impeaching these justices nears the realm of probability. This option has often been argued within the Aquino government as a surgical move—in place of the slow process of retiring justices—in order to prevent these justices from inflicting more political damage and derail court cases of grand corruption and plunder against GMA, her cohorts, and her cronies.

Will PNoy take this drastic move?

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Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri resigned his post as a senator of the Republic. He cited the anguish and pressures on his family due to the accusations of electoral fraud in Maguindanao. Maguindanao in 2007, of course, was the crucial elections that enabled Zubiri to surpass the electoral lead of Aquilino Pimentel III; he was proclaimed the 12th senator.

The Lintang Bedol testimony regarding the 2007 elections was devastating to Zubiri’s senatorial fortunes. The only redeeming feature in the situation is that he was not directly implicated in the Maguindanao electoral fraud. This in fact proved a boon since this left the opening that he exploited today when he resigned.

Zubiri thereby preserved his political options. By resigning with his honor intact, he may opt to run again for public office in future elections.

He however worsened the problem of the Arroyos. Who would have the political clout to undertake the Lintang Bedol operation to meddle with a national election? Thereby hangs a tale.

The plot thickens and events are fast moving.

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[This is my Catalyst column in the aftermath of the second Aquino SONA]

The second Aquino State of the Nation Address (SONA) has come and gone. Its initial hype was coined as a guidepost for “social transformation.” The report was written and delivered entirely in Filipino, affirming its audience as the ordinary Filipino, referred to by President Aquino as his “bosses.” The heavy back-referral to the “Wang-wang” symbolism underlined his value approach to “social transformation.”

In the end, the SONA speech heavily emphasized an anti-corruption solution, from strengthening the anti-corruption institutions, appointing incorruptible people, to appeals for an anti-corruption cultural value change among government people and ordinary citizens. The speech emphasized the responsibilities of those in power as public servants beholden to and serving the people. The crusade against the “Wang-wang” mindset of government leaders throughout the SONA was deliberate in emphasizing this core transformation of leadership and government culture.

The speech fleshed out the Aquino campaign slogan of “No corruption, no poverty.” It thus defined its “Straight road” as basically conducting a good governance exercise, based on the rules of transparency, accountability, and service to the people. Repeatedly, it presented the first year accomplishments as a realization of the “Straight road.”

Well and good. However, it falls far short of the standards for genuine social transformation. The most glaring lack is the dearth of the political reforms that should have formed the backbone of such transformation. It does not speak of transforming the levers of economic and political power in favor of the vast majority of the people and replacing the current traditional politics that rely heavily on the “guns, goons, and gold” of political warlords and political dynasties. Strengthening the democratic institutions such as the political party system, elections and electoral management, judicial system, and the mass media, surprisingly, has been paid niggardly attention in the speech.

The heavy emphasis on value transformation is no different from the countless moral crusades of the past—which all failed because of the refusal to undertake basic reforms of the social system. The message is dangerously close to being a mere sop to the poor and the reform constituency that elected Aquino to power. Even without mention, the sacrificial wolf here is the Arroyo family and its coterie of cronies. It thereby impliedly absolved the other economic and political culprits who have conveniently (and opportunely) transferred their allegiance to the winning Aquino administration.

Certainly, there are reform measures mentioned in the speech, ranging from the oft-cited Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to small reforms in government delivery of social services, rules in business conduct, modernization of the armed forces and the police, to Marcos human right victims compensation. However, again, there is a glaring non-mention of highly-visible reform measures such as those in the areas of reproductive health, freedom of information, political party strengthening, and land use and land reform implementation. The speech was loudly silent on the need for charter change.

If social transformation is to be used as a yardstick for judging the SONA, then it dismally fails the standards for basic reforms, let alone the fundamental ones. It speaks, rather, of palliative reforms, cosmetic reforms, and values reforms. In the end, it speaks to the social and political elite to behave and treat the teeming poor as equals or—in the case of public officials—as their servants. Democracy is guaranteed in the Aquino tradition but it is not the content of the social transformation hyped as the roadmap of the Benigno Aquino III administration.

The people, then, need to realize for themselves the blessings of democracy. Aquino will not do it for them.

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The flurry of political defections from the ranks of erstwhile supporters of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo or people who were under her graces is stunning. The formation of the National Unity Party (NUP) under Cebu representative Pablo Garcia further split the Lakas-Kampi and basically isolated Macapagal-Arroyo within Congress. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) elected new leaders who are not anymore identified with Macapagal-Arroyo. Even Zaldy Ampatuan and Lintang Bedol–of the 2004 and 2007 electoral cheating fame in ARMM have sent overtures to turn against GMA.

What we witness today is the result of the political consolidation done by the Aquino administration during his first year in office. This has resulted in the firm hold on power of the new president and sent notice to all of his capacity to exercise political will. The resounding majorities he got in the impeachment vote against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and on the postponement of the ARMM elections manifested this political will.

Since there is as yet no credible plot against him and having maintained a high trust and satisfaction rating, president Noynoy Aquino is now poised to undertake major, dramatic moves, particularly in the anti-corruption campaign. Fence-sitters, opportunists, and vulnerable oppositionists are among those who took notice and–contemplating the hazards of the next five years of an Aquino presidency–took the expected political steps to distance themselves from the former president.

There is a denouement in the offing. The Arroyo ship is sinking and rats are abandoning it. Who will go down with it? Or are we contemplating another Marcosian chapter of a fleeing president?

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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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