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Posts Tagged ‘cha-cha’

[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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This coming May 2010 has spawned many scenarios–serious or not–that are not germane to the election itself but important within the context of retaining power by incumbent president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

That she and her group in Malacañang wants to stay in power is a given. They have been going this route since day 1 of her term in 2001. The political struggle in the past four years since the Garcillano tape exposé revolved around this attempt to maintain the power beyond 2010.

This, of course, expresses itself most graphically in the various desperate attempts to undertake charter change. As late as in the waning days of this present Congress, the attempts were made. However, all of them failed, defeated by the steadfast opposition of the people, the various democratic institutions such as the Supreme Court and the Comelec, and the political opposition.

As things stand out now, the 2010 elections–with its new automated system–will push through as scheduled. In the same breath, it can be said that the alternative scenarios–whether within or outside the context of the elections–also thrive in the people’s mind as energetically.

First, there is the scenario of the automated cheating. This scenario assumes that the Comelec, the Smartmatic-TIM joint venture company, the PPCRV citizen arm, and the watchers of the political parties are co-conspirators in this grand scheme.This entails the subversion of the source code and improper programming of both the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine and the consolidation servers at various levels.

A variation on this theme is the interception of the election return data and substitution at the lower levels of the process. Again, this will require inside knowledge in both Comelec and Smartmatic-TIM. The brouhaha over alleged jammers is within this scenario.

Another variation is the sabotage of the PCOS machines in certain controlled areas, reversion to the manual system of counting and canvassing, doing the cheating according to the old ways, and inserting the results  into the automated system.

Allegedly, there is the estimate that only 15% or even less of the votes cast need to be compromised in this manner to influence even the presidential election results, especially if it is a tight contest.

In this light, it is important to note the figures cited by Bishop Cruz and the PPCRV concerning the probable number of ghost or multiple registrants. Bishop Cruz cited the figure of 5 million while the PPCRV–based on its extrapolation of the 40,000 Davao multiple registrants–put it at 3.2 million. If true, these numbers can certainly affect the outcome of the presidential elections if not effectively prevented.

Second, there is the scenario of no-election, no-proclamation. The most realistic variant of this scenario is the prevention of voting in 15% or even less of the actual voters come election day. In a tight contest, this can effectively prevent the immediate proclamation of the winner in the presidential contest.

Allegedly, this will happen in the ARMM and other areas controlled by warlords or political dynasts. If stretched to the limit, it may even prevent the proclamation of the new president and vice-president–possibly to include the successors.

The extreme scenario is martial law declaration or even just a declaration of a state of emergency. This requires foisting a breakdown of peace and order on a nationwide scale or of national significance. The object supposedly is to sweep aside the elections and set up a caretaker government beyond June 30, 2010. This is a possible but remote scenario.

All the alternative scenarios may or may not be hatching. However, they offer the challenges to the conduct of a credible, fair and free May 2010 elections.

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The declaration of martial law in the province of Maguindanao have more implications than its own objectives. Ostensibly, the declaration aims to preempt a rebellion from the Ampatuan clan, facilitate the arrest or capture of the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre, and reestablish civilian authority in the province.

The argument has been made that the declaration of martial law can achieve these objectives. Counter-arguments have also been put forward that the same objectives can be achieved by the use of normal means available to state authorities, even the declaration of a state of emergency.

Martial law or not, the key measurement of the appropriateness of the method used is that it achieves the objectives with the least collateral damage and with no additional or subsequent problems. In this, the martial law approach fails miserably.

First, there is as yet no rebellion and therefore no justification for martial law. What is there is a specious argument of a threatening rebellion (expressly incised out by the 1987 constitution from the previous constitutions). There is simply no factual basis for the declaration of martial law.

Second, for the sake of argument, if ever martial law is declared in relation to the Maguindanao massacre, it should have been done immediately after the incident, when the state authorities have actually attempted to arrest the Ampatuans and other perpetrators and their efforts are met with armed resistance. Conceivably, martial law could have been resorted then if the local civilian authorities–including the local officials and police–either belong to the Ampatuan clan or else their supporters and therefore these fail to perform their duties;  the perpetrators are protected by armed means; and the local population is under a state of terror.

Doing this after a period of delay and with no evident escalation of the situation opens to speculations of other objectives, particularly when the conditions for the declaration of martial law are not met.

There is fear that the declaration of martial law may be extended by an Arroyo-influenced joint Congress session to more than the 60 days allowed by the Constitution to possibly include the election day itself and thus possibly influence the outcome of the elections in ARMM and even the national elections. There is also fear that the joint session itself can lead to the resurrection of the Charter change initiative. The worst fear is the possible no-elections because of the breakdown of law and order in ARMM and even on the nationwide scale.

The declaration of martial law will not contribute much to the solution of the Maguindanao massacre. It may even lead to problems of the nation. It is a gambit–which if not opposed vigorously–can well lead to a sharp turn against Philippine democracy. The closest vigilance is therefore called for even as the nation does not let go of the search for justice to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre.

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When Ralph Recto resigned from his NEDA post and declared his openness to a senatorial bid, not necessarily as a Lakas-Kampi-CMD candidate, he started what threatens to be an avalanche. An avalanche of defections from the ruling GMA coalition, that is.

So far, the following allies of the president have declared their intention to realign: Recto and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago (who have said they are open to drafting by Senator Manny Villar for his senatorial ticket); Secretary Luis Villafuerte (who declared his support for Senator Chiz Escudero–as part of the Bicolano block); and National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales’ PDSP (which declared its openness to realignment).

Many more are expected to follow as the ruling GMA coalition disintegrates in the face of the political death of its charter change initiative and the lack of a strong presidential candidate. Its present  number one potential, Vice President Noli de Castro, has so far brushed off all offers to be the Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential candidate. The next one in line, Secretary of Defense Gilbert Teodoro, is hard-pressed to crawl higher from his cellar-dweller position in the surveys.

There is no more time for pondering the options. Either the ruling GMA coalition produce a viable candidate in the next few weeks or it has to accept the fact of its lameduck presidency and its probable disintegration.

The GMA administration is getting desperate. It has been in a very defensive mode since the death and funeral of former president Cory Aquino. The huge national mourning–tantamount to an exhibition of a new people power–has effectively derailed its plans.

The current all-out anti-Abu Sayyaf campaign and the plan to issue a total gun ban should be monitored for their possibilities for escalation of the armed conflict with the Moro rebels. This can be very provocative and led to miscalculations, as Marcos experienced in 1973 when he ordered the same policy.

Even if the Abu Sayyaf is defeated in the battlefield and it reaps the political windfall, this will not be enough to counter the conclusive unpopularity of the GMA administration. It will not be enough to neutralize the “kiss of death” for its chosen presidential candidate.

Short of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo leaving the political scene or her coalition resorting to emergency rule, it is now certain that realignments will continue, not only in the ruling coalition but also in the opposition. The 2010 general elections are now the defining scenario.

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President Arroyo and her team are reeling from the series of misfortunes capped by the death of people power icon Cory Aquino. All their plans are in disarray as the GMA administration irretrievably slid into the morass of a lameduck presidency. Psychologically, they are now in the stage of denial.

With the huge outpouring of public grief and sympathy for Cory and her family, the political crisis has turned into a contrast game between the Arroyo term and that of Cory’s. Unfortunately for Gloria, it is a devastating comparison.

Cory has the outstanding historical achievement of helping topple the Marcos dictatorship, nurturing the still-fragile democracy, and setting an example for a frugal, simple, and clean lifestyle while in office. However, the more relevant thing she did–from the perspective of the current political crisis–was to readily vacate the presidency when her time was up. Her death exposed the considerable inroad she made into the hearts of a grateful people.

Gloria is now being portrayed as the exact opposite. She is being accused of weakening a still fragile democracy, setting an example of a jet-setting and Le Cirque-eating flamboyant lifestyle, and conjuring the ghost of a resurrected strong(wo)man rule. At the heart of the current political crisis is the attempt to change the 1987 constitution by her allies–which most people suspect is a scheme to prolong GMA in power. She also holds the unenviable record of being the most unpopular president the country ever had.

In the aftermath of Cory’s death and the people power it evoked, it is inevitable that the political implications will come to the fore. For one, the charter change initiative(and the emergency rule it requires) is dead, with only the most desperate among them still willing to push it through. With it, the lameduck GMA presidency comes into being. Increasingly, “loyalists” will realign themselves with various candidates for the presidential post.

The only alternative option for the survival of the GMA coalition, ironically, is to replace her as the rallying point of the coalition. This will prevent its disintegration and solve the problem of defending the indefensible, i.e., her unpopularity. It may even pave the way for a viable presidential candidate. However, this means that GMA would have to step down very much earlier than June 2010.

Political damage has already been done to the Arroyo administration. The dike has been breached and the castle is inundated. Damage management is at the magnitude of a surgical intervention.

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The passing away of president Cory Aquino has raised the political bar against any plot to change the constitution in service of an extension of power. The politically relevant act by Cory that reverberates in the current period is her ultimate decision not to run in the 1992 presidential elections and to effect a peaceful transfer of power.

That transition is the subject matter of the 2010 presidential elections. A firm anti-dictatorial provision, the 1987 Cory constitution stipulates that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term of presidential office ends at 12:00 noon on June 30, 2010. The only possible means that this can be set aside is through a charter change or through an overturning of this Constitution by a coup d’etat.

Until the next president has taken his or her oath of office, the grave danger for these to happen will always be there. These two scenarios in fact were suspected to have been unleashed in the past two months as the time approaches for politicians to finalize their respective electoral plans. The latter situation would make it doubly difficult to rationalize a no-election scenario.

A fallback scheme would be to let the electoral process proceed and intervene at an appropriate time, again to realize a no-election scenario. Another possible fallback is to have a co-conspirator run for president and try to manipulate the results.

There is a basis for saying that Cory’s illness and eventual death–helped along by a few other interventions–staved off the conspiracy and used up the precious time it needs to develop. However, there maybe a desperate logic that drives it. The immediate weeks after the burial of Cory Aquino is a time for vigilance.

At any rate, the people power that brought Cory Aquino to presidency has come alive in her death. Its logic for democracy cannot be denied. The transition of power will happen. People power may even anoint the successor president.

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Yellow ribbonWe remember…

Cory Aquino, since that fateful days of February 1986, is secure in the hearts of all Filipinos desirous of freedom from tyranny, aspire to a democratic order, and willing to fight for these ideals. She, in her life since then, ceaselessly tried to protect and nurture the newfound democracy that she helped build.

Yet, this Cory democracy is fragile, and continues to be fragile. Those who were charged to lead after her increasingly wavered and drifted away from the ideals of the 1986 EDSA. Today, we are again faced with the specter of the 1972 Marcos grab for power. When, despite the evidence of the people’s will, dark and ambitious forces still haunt us with the siren song of charter change–and the subliminal threat of martial rule–in order to prolong themselves in power.

The strength of Philippine democracy lies in the credibility of its core process–regular, free and fair elections. The peaceful transfer of power–which Cory exemplified in 1992 when she passed on the reins of presidency to her successor–is the fruit of this core process.

Yet, the credibility of the 2010 elections hangs in balance. There is even doubt that it will be held as is and as scheduled. All because there is no categorical word from the one sitting in the seat vacated by Cory Aquino that  she will stop all these machinations by her allies to undertake charter change and conjure the artificial basis  for emergency powers, that she herself will step down from power, and that she will leave the choice of the next President to the will of the voting citizenry.

Corazon Aquino, in her death, reopened the opportunity for the people to block all attempts to undermine the democratic legacy she leaves behind to future generations of Filipinos. In her, we see the rallying point to check the powers-that-be who wish to violate the democratic covenant forged in the 1986 EDSA.

Cory lives. We pledge.

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