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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.

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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.

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[This opinion-article was published in the GMA News Online on June 3, 2012]

The Senate, acting as an impeachment tribunal, voted 20-3 in favor of the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. It was a comfortable margin over the super-majority vote of 16 required for conviction. Politically, the outcome solidified the standing of President Aquino and his administration, both among the political elite and among the people themselves.

There was the view at the start and the middle of the impeachment process that the voting would be a close race, or even a bit in favor of CJ Corona. This was glaringly evident in the important 13-10 vote in favor of recognizing and following the Supreme Court’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the opening of CJ Corona’s dollar accounts.

The main political reasons given then were 1) the relative independence of the Senate vis-à-vis the President; 2) the presidential contest of 2016 will divide the ruling coalition this early and affect the impeachment vote; and 3) the efforts of the camp of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to influence the impeachment vote.

The latter was most effective in playing up the possible scenario of the ouster of CJ Corona leading to the favorable ruling for Mar Roxas in his protest against Vice-President Jojo Binay.

Insofar as these factors are operative throughout the proceedings, they constituted a continuing pressure for acquittal. However, there were countervailing factors which—in the end—proved stronger and more compelling towards a verdict of conviction.

First, there is the factor of evidence. The evidence for Article 2 showed that CJ Corona admitted owning properties, bank accounts and other assets amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos, and that he admitted he wilfully did not enter these in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

The prosecutor made the case that there is a substantive betrayal of public trust sufficient to remove him as a Chief Justice and justice of the Supreme Court. In addition, it stressed that CJ Corona lied and acted well below the standards set for members of the judiciary, much more as justice and chief justice of the Supreme Court. The body of evidence made it easier for the senator-judges to support a judgment of conviction and made it harder for those who want to vote for acquittal.

It is also contributory that CJ Corona himself admitted both the facts of his huge dollar and peso deposits and that he reportedly insisted on getting Ombudsman and former associate justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as a “hostile” witness. Without the benefit of advice from his legal team,he also reportedly wrote and delivered his disastrous opening statement, and reportedly staged his own surprise walkout.

He thus dug his own impeachment grave. Even the last-minute concession of an unconditional waiver for a look into his bank accounts and the seeming reconciliation of his wife’s family and clan were not enough to turn the tide.

Second, the strong public opinion against CJ Corona—as manifested in the March SWS survey of 73% who judged him guilty—provided an incentive to senators who have a political stake in the 2013 elections to vote against him.

Third, the impeachment was initiated and publicly supported by a very popular president Aquino and the ruling Liberal Party, with the acquiescence from most of the ruling coalition in the House of Representatives. This provided the necessary political and logistical framework to the impeachment campaign.

At the end, only three senator-judges (Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Senator Joker Arroyo, and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago) voted for acquittal. They all based themselves on the legal interpretation of the Constitution and pertinent laws provided by the defense and on their own opinion that the quantum of evidence did not support the verdict of impeachment. They would even accept the defense accusation of a persecution of CJ Corona by the Aquino administration.

As such, their position basically is a political position. While Senators Arroyo and Defensor-Santiago are at the end of their respective political careers, Senator Marcos runs the risk of a backlash in his own young political career.

The vote for impeachment, though a touch-and-go affair for a major part of the process, rapidly solidified into a decisive one after the CJ Corona walkout. He never recovered after.

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The Senate of the Philippines, acting as an impeachment tribunal, found Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty, by a vote of 20-3, of committing “culpable violations of the Constitution and/or betrayed the public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth as required under Section 17, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution.” It therefore accepted Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment as valid.

We thus ended a historic full impeachment process and an impeachable official of the Republic was removed from his post. Only the official ceremonies remain.

The Corona impeachment is a big boost to the Aquino administration’s campaign against grand corruption and for transparency and accountability in government.

First, all of us, including particularly the government officials, realized the power of the SALN–they cannot anymore hide their wealth from the people. It also brightens the prospect of passing the Freedom of Information bill.

Second, the prospect is clear for cleaning up the judiciary of decades-old problems of corruption, influence-peddling, and syndicated justice . This, in itself, will be a lasting achievement of the Aquino administration.

Third, the road is now more open to pursuance of the cases against the key officials and cronies of the previous Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The impeachment will have a chilling effect on those who are guilty of various crimes in the past administration.

Fourth, the voters are now given a clear criteria of “truthful declaration of SALN” for voting into office people of integrity and an effective instrument for accountability of all public officials.

The total effect of the Corona impeachment is a solid vote of the people and their representatives for democratic good governance. The wheels for a stronger Philippine democracy is now turning more rapidly.

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Since the Corona defense team announced that Chief Justice Corona might or will take the witness stand (depending on how you interpret the various contrary pronouncements), there have been speculations if it will come to pass. My own guess (not a solid one, I might add) is he will do so.

He would have read the tell-tale signs by now. Key senators such as Senator Jinggoy Estrada have insisted he needs to take the witness stand. The surveys  all point to public skepticism on the defense explanations so far and also insistent on his direct testimony, particularly regarding his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

There is also the perception that the defense is stalling, with lesser quality witnesses and peripheral issues. This is obvious, since there was the whispers of almost frenetic activities behind the scene to influence the outcome, one way or the other.

The impeachment process has reached a point that senator-judges are almost ready to make their conclusions and vote. And until now, nobody can say with certainty what the vote will be: will it be an acquittal by an absolute majority, acquittal through a vote of more than a third for Corona, or at least a two-thirds majority vote for conviction? These three possibilities bring with them three different scenarios.

A crucial consideration for the defense–beyond the political arguments–is a credible refutation of the facts and arguments of the prosecution, including those that have been presented to the public outside of the formal processes of the impeachment court. Among these are Corona’s dollar accounts, his involvement in the Basa-Guidote corporate and family conflicts, and his internal and administrative actuation within the Supreme Court.

Senator-judges who will vote for Corona obviously need to satisfy themselves and make sure that the public accepts  the defense explanations. Only Corona’s own testimony can possibly make this happen.

In a sense, CJ Corona’s appearance is a desperate move to turn back the tide of public opinion. He and his supporters have everything to lose now; after all, he had rejected all calls for resignation.

Will he or won’t he?

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