Posts Tagged ‘peace’

[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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[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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[My third article in the Catalyst column]

One of the interesting things that came out of the Duterte mauling episode was Vice-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s allusion to a feudal set-up obtaining here in the Philippines. He was referring to the patronage culture and system abounding in almost all places in the country. The political component of this system lies in the politician-leader protection of his constituency in return for their votes and loyalty.

It is within this framework that he (and many others) justified the mauling by his daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, of the court sheriff who, in turn, was implementing a court order for the informal settlers to vacate a private property. The poor sheriff did not have a chance for defying the Davao mayor when he refused her request for a two-hour reprieve.

The matter of the mauling incident has been discussed exhaustively, and many positions, pro and con, have already been taken. It is now in the lap of the national government—the president, DILG, and the CHR—and we expect results soon.

In the meantime, a massive campaign—including expensive media ads, cyberspace offensives, and rallies—in support of the beleaguered Mayor was launched. Some allied media persons even rationalized the mauling, mostly by citing the “defense of the poor” or the “peace and order” arguments.

A running thread that captured the imagination of the public revolved on the use of power—irrespective of due process and the rule of law—to defend the constituency. The strongmen—in this case the Dutertes—won sympathies by championing the cause of the poor whose homes are about to be demolished, a la Robinhood. Of course, the fact that the city government is involved in the demolition—even providing the police to control the crowd—has been glossed over. The quarrel with the sheriff was on the matter of the latter’s haste and disorderly conduct of the demolition. The subtext is that he should have recognized and conceded to the authority of the Mayor.

Mayor Duterte has not yet apologized to her victim. Her vice-mayor father and councilor brother advised her not to do so. The one who strangely apologized was the mauled sheriff. Even the judge who ordered the demolition blamed the sheriff.

All of the actors have exhibited the behaviour consistent with the “feudal” set-up that Vice-Mayor Duterte spoke of. The lords of the castle have spoken, and the words defined the reality.

The “feudal” set-up is none other than the traditional politics taken to its extreme logical, and ultimately, undemocratic end.

It may not seem similar to the “guns, goons and gold” routine but the substantive handling of power is the same. In the Davao scenario, the identification of the people with the castle lord is strong, particularly because of the economic and security benefits provided by the latter. The Robinhood, champion of the underdog, and “knight in shining armor” images have always resonated and have been a strong cultural influence on the political choices of the masses.

What is disturbing in the Davao scenario is the unbounded expression of power and its personalization. The message that comes across is that the Dutertes are power personified and that they are untouchable by law. It is interesting how the national government will respond, since we have a unified republican state in the Philippines and power is concentrated at the national level.

It is also interesting how this will impact our fragile democracy, with its broken institutions and weak governance. The Dutertes, despite their formal support to Lakas-Kampi candidate Gilbert Teodoro, have admitted their secret support to the present president, Noynoy Aquino. They enjoy widespread support in Davao City, including the far Left groups normally critical of the current state.

Will the Aquino government apply the full force of the law in the mauling case? Or only a light tap of the wrist will do?

Events have conspired in this case to make the handling of the Dutertes a test case of the Aquino government’s human rights policy, its vow to dismantle warlordism and warlord armies, and its “matuwid na daan.

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I am amazed that  some friends and colleagues in the NGO community and even in the human rights community can rationalize and even defend the arrogant acts of Davao local czar  Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte  and his children, Mayor Sara Duterte and Councilor Paul Duterte in relation to the incident of the mauling of a court sheriff. They should reexamine their stand and separate the acts from the other presumed good deeds of the dynastic family.

Mauling is mauling in any language. That it was done by a state official against an unarmed citizen (who happened to be another state official (!)) is enough reason to condemn the act as a human rights violation. It even merits possible criminal and administrative charges. The  good mayor is still unrepentant, egged on by dirty-finger-pointing father and brother.

Citing the demolition being carried out by the court sheriff (incidentally, assisted by the mayor and the Davao police) is beside the point. This has its own issues which may well place the court in a controversial position. However, the issue at hand is: Is it correct or wrong for Mayor Sara Duterte to assault and beat up  the court sheriff and otherwise defy the court authority?

The obvious answer is no. It is in this light that she is being investigated. The reaction of her father and brother–while maybe understandable because of family ties–only strengthened the impression of an arrogant Duterte ruling family in Davao.

The issue that is naturally linked to what happened are the human rights abuses in Davao City that happened and are still happening under the family’s watch. The hundreds of extrajudicial killings by the infamous “Davao Death Squad” are not only tolerated but even defended by the elder Duterte. This has already created an atmosphere of white terror in Davao City, particularly in the poorer quarters.

By and large, many Davaoeños supported Duterte on this because of the illusory “peace and order” that white terror brings with it. They would also credit this “peace and order” as bringing the economic boom of the city.

The “peace and order” is illusory precisely because the DDS vigilantism is itself a violation of the peace and order, the drug trade and other criminal activities still persist, rebel activities continue, and rule of law has been, to a certain extent, replaced by the rule of the strongman.

Economic development and peace and order had always been the catchphrases of the Marcos dictatorship. It is not a wonder that during the early years of martial rule, many, if not the majority, accepted the curtailment of their freedoms in exchange for the “peace and order” and “economic development” promised and actually delivered by Marcos. They would accept the horrendous violations of human rights–the extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, curfews, zonings, forced evacuations, etc.–because of the illusions of economic development and peace and order.

We know the eventual results and legacy of the Marcos dictatorship–economic bankruptcy, continuing rebellion, and warlordism. It effectively set back the country’s development by a few decades.

Of course, it can be argued that Duterte’s Davao is far from the martial rule of Marcos. However, from my point 0f view, the only difference is that we have now a democratic Philippine state and government that can curtail Duterte’s power and bring the rule of law to Davao. A responsibility that, sadly I think, some of my friend and colleagues in the NGO and human rights community are already abdicating.

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The plight of overseas Filipino workers in the Arab and Middle East countries should be attended to and immediately!

A new order is coming into being in these countries–and depending on specific national conditions–Filipino OFWs will have to contend with its implications. The Aquino government should not underestimate these implications, not only to the OFWs themselves but also to our oil supplies, to inflation, local and global job availability, government tax income, Moro situation, great-power rivalry, international terrorism, and our democratic people power legacy.

The loss of possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs in these countries can lead–in the medium term–to a dip in the Philippine GNP growth. In a situation of global recession, this can lead to a “squeeze” effect when foreign jobs gets scarcer even as new graduates enter the labor market and the local job market cannot sufficiently expand to accommodate the slack.

Oil supplies may also suffer even as the oil prices shoot through the ceiling. This is also a “squeeze” situation where scarcer but pricier oil and gas products drive up inflation even as foreign reserves scramble to cover higher-priced oil importation.

The government basically and indirectly taxes the OFWs through their remittance spending (consumer goods in malls, land and housing acquisitions, tourism, and other family-based spending). This will slow down and marginal business may collapse. Government income may thus take a hit.

As instability engulf the Arab world and the Middle East, big powers will increasingly compete for scarce resources–not only in these countries but throughout the world including southeast Asia. We are already well within the ambit of this hidden “resource war,” as a possible major resource for oil, gas, and other minerals.

Politically, we are also vulnerable to the events in the Arab world and in the Middle East because of our own Moro Muslims–who have living ties to the Arabic world. The Al Qaeda network extends into the region and into the Philippines. And to a certain extent, the events there mirror our own 1986 people power.

It is now a question of when–and not if–a major global crisis hits us from the events in the Arab world and the Middle East. The crisis opens both the door to our own crises and our own opportunities. Interesting but dangerous times. Also, dangerous but interesting times.

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Upon the motion of Rep. Rodolfo C. Fariñas (1st district, Ilocos Norte), the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms passed HB 4146 by a vote of 23-4. The bill seeks to postpone the ARMM elections to synchronize with the 2013 national and local elections and for President Noynoy Aquino to appoint officers-in-charge to the ARMM elective posts of governor, vice-governor, and  members of the regional legislative assembly.

The chairman of the House Committee on Muslim Affairs and co-chairman of the Joint Committees, Rep. Tupay T. Loong (1st District, Sulu), walked out along with some members of his committee.  Committee vice-chair Bai Sandra A. Sema (1st District, Maguindanao and Cotabato City) took over and proceeded to call for a vote on the bill, resulting in an 11-0 vote in favor of the postponement.

The voting–marked by the majority participation of non-Muslim representatives from Luzon and Visayas–has the earmarks of a railroading. The request (or motion) of the Muslim oppositors for time to conduct committee consultations with their ARMM constituencies fell on deaf ears. A surprising behavior from the majority…

The worrying effect of the exercise (and in fact, the whole scheme by the Aquino administration) is its setting aside of the current rules of the electoral game in the region and substituting in its place a naked struggle for Malacañang favor. One can argue that that has always been the case in ARMM since its inception–and he or she will be right.

However, there is nothing left upon which the clans (and all other electoral stakeholders) can anchor their claim to participation in democracy and decision-making.

The vote and the manner it was done represent a setback to the struggle for self-determination and democracy of the Moro people. It will have a deleterious impact on the quest for peace in the region and strengthen the argument for rebellion. If not handled delicately, there is a danger of political polarization that may well undermine the very mandate of the Aquino government among the Moro people.

The Aquino administration has not yet learned the lessons of the Moro issue. With the almost unstoppable momentum towards a Malacañang coup in the South, we have entered into an uncharted territory.

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The cat is already out of the bag. The administration of President Noynoy Aquino wants to postpone the ARMM elections and to appoint an officer-in-charge until the elections are synchronized with the national and local elections in 2013. Presumably, it will then let the elections be held in a credible, fair and free manner.

Predictably, those Moro clans who are with the administration jumped with alacrity into the Malacañang 10-wheeler. Predictably, those Moro clans who have benefited from the past Arroyo administration opposed it. Those who are now in power feel threatened and, while agreeing that the elections be postponed, argue for their retention in a “hold-over” capacity. Other groups want to dispense with the ARMM altogether or to hold an immediate referendum to decide whether to go through with the ARMM elections.

The big surprise in the scenario is the passionate advocacy of some non-Moro groups–both Mindanaoans and those in Manila, including those who fashionably termed themselves as democrats, liberals, pro-Moro, and/or anti-imperial Manila freedom fighters–for Malacañang to intervene, for the umpteenth time, in ARMM elections.

The irony here is that they are now arguing for President Aquino to appoint an OIC when they were demanding previously against presidential intervention in internal Moro affairs. For sure, appointing an OIC will be a first in any administration. In itself, it will be a setback to the cause of Moro self-determination and to the cause of Philippine democracy itself.

The disruption of the regularity of elections–without the existence of  extraordinary conditions that justify it–weakens the democratic argument and undermines the rule of law. The synchronization of elections–avowed basis for the OIC appointment–rests on specious and tongue-in-cheek foundations.

Let me cite Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI, in this regard:

“The first argument is to leave the ARMM configuration open to whatever may ensue from the peace process with both the MILF and the MNLF.  The peace process in the Southern Philippines would NOT come to an  ‘end’ in three years or before the elections of 2013.  Even if agreement is signed with the MILF before the 2013 Elections, the said Peace Agreement still has to be legislated by Congress.  Both the negotiation and the consequent legislation are long and tedious work.  It is a wrong and definitely bad policy to hold the ARMM structures and leadership hostage to the vagaries of peace negotiation and legislation by Congress.”

“The second argument is to allow the incumbents to introduce reforms in the ARMM during the two years ‘extension’.  It is good to state at the outset that REFORMING the ARMM, definitely, is a gargantuan task.  The two-year extension even directly guided by the Prophet Muhammad or Jesus himself would hardly make any difference.  Reform should be seen as a continuing task and challenge both for the regional leadership and national leadership that exercises general supervision over the areas of autonomy.”

“The third argument is the flawed elections in the ARMM. If this is the case, the appropriate action is not canceling elections but introducing reforms in the conduct of elections in the ARMM beginning with the book of registered voters.”

The Commission on Elections, through chairman Brillantes himself, has assured the joint House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms and the committee on Muslim affairs that it can hold the ARMM elections in August 2011 as scheduled, that it can be automated with additional safeguards such as the use of fingerprint identification. I also think it can undertake a general registration of ARMM voters before August if needed, as well as all the other measures necessary to ensure a credible, fair and free ARMM elections.

Let me add that president Aquino (and his people power supporters and allies) cannot effectively implement a genuine reform program to strengthen Philippine democracy without practicing democratic principles and methodologies.

Arguments were also advanced that the postponement is necessary and an OIC can ensure that a democratic reform path will be taken in order to break the rule of the warlord clans in the area and ensure ARMM development. This is self-serving at its worst.

So, “managed democracy” is now the name of the game for the current administration? What is the difference with the methods of the past administrations, including that of Marcos? Did not all those previous “managed” arrangements end up with the ARMM far worse than before.

Democracy cannot be built and strengthened without institutionalizing democratic practices. The Aquino administration–with its avowed democratic legacy–will be far better off by making sure democracy works in ARMM, not by presidential fiat but by ensuring the will of the Moro people are respected and affirmed.

For democratic forces, they are far better off in continuing to advocate for electoral reforms and strengthening democracy in the Bangsa Moro homeland–at the moment, the ARMM. For those among them in the halls of power, they are in a position to implement these reforms–by making sure that the ARMM August elections are held as scheduled, in a fair and free manner as possible, and even to campaign for genuine democratic Moro leaders to lead the ARMM.

Eventually, what is necessary is to institute new, democratic political rules whereby Moro political groups, including the tribes and clans, contest on a level playing field. The results then, will be acceptable to all.

If you  want to meddle in the ARMM elections, then do it the democratic way. Power used wisely strengthens the hand of the sovereign people in a democracy. Power used wrongly only strengthens the hand of the ruler and his courtiers.

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