Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: November 2018
Thursday, 15 November 2018 14:43

The work of a congressman

A SENIOR living National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil Jose, still writing at 90, recently remarked that “the character of the leaders eventually defined the people and the nation they led.” He laments as we now do the decline of Filipino intellectuals, and if we may add, morals, of leaders in the corridors of power, content with its trappings but neglecting the one work they should prioritize: eradicate poverty. The under-performance of our representatives is indicative of a serious character malaise that afflicts those who are unqualified and lacking the skills yet still coveted the position.

What should our representatives do in Congress? In general, members are tasked to do legislative work that consists primarily of enactment of laws that govern relationships of individuals and the state (civil laws, criminal laws, taxation and political laws etc.) Authorization, appropriation, committee discussions, floor debates, division of the house are part and parcel of the legislative process. All government spending are likewise passed by Congress through budget appropriations which are a complex process in itself. Aside from these, congressmen amend laws, initiate impeachment process, affirm treaties, grant amnesties, confirm appointments or serve as legislative oversight. Congress represents their constituents. The House of Representatives (HOR) where the laws of the land originate is presently home to 297 congressmen that include 59 party-list nominees. It is the Lower Chamber of the Bicameral Congress, the other being the Senate or Upper Chamber. Congress is the legislative or lawmaking branch of government, a co-equal of the Executive and the Judiciary, each having the ability to check on the other to make sure that power is balanced among them. Without these powers, government will be dysfunctional and unable to meet the present-day demands and needs of the people. In the legislature, these needs are expressed through resolutions or bills, which are proposals for new laws and may exemplify the particular aspirations of their citizens coming off as platforms of political parties or through public hearings and sectoral representations.

In the House of Representatives where most bills are introduced, deliberated and passed, the more intrepid and eloquent members take the floor regularly debating their bills and/or interpellating fellow lawmakers. They lobby, hobnob with fellow committee members or even engage in horse trading just to pass their priority bills. The more idealistic ones project themselves as “influencers” with overarching concern over the greater good as much as they are forwarding the interests of their constituents. Yet, despite coaching and technical assistance of their respective congressional staff, many nominal congressmen (afraid of debates or gutless?) choose the tranquil path of relative obscurity breaking their muted deportment only through shouts of “ayes” or “nays” when voting starts. No privilege speeches. No grandstanding. Nothing.

This is where we start to oppugn the performance of our representatives in Congress. Are they always present and participating in the deliberations? Have they introduced bills that concern their districts and were these able to make the lives of their constituents better? Was their presence worth their pay? How many laws were passed with them as authors or co-authors? Have they served in committees? At the very least, we’re entitled to know what their committees have accomplished. Having submitted bills is, of course, different from having enacted them as laws. A review of the achievements of Cagayan de Oro’s representatives would show that since 1984 when then Assemblyman Aquilino Pimentel Jr. won a seat in the now defunct Batasang Pambansa and up until the tenure of Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (District 2, 2007-2016) and Rep. Maxie Rodriguez (Abamin Party list) only a handful of bills were submitted and laws passed. Most of them just wait out for their automatic appropriations, filed non-essential bills and/or join uneventful committee works until their terms were up.

Records in Congress disclose that among the city’s representatives, Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez made perfect attendance, enabling him to introduce the most number of bills and legislations authored or co-authored, that eventually became laws. In the 14th Congress, he filed 31 House bills, 449 in the 15thand 563 in the 16th Congress. Cong. Rufus helped pass RA 10667 or the Philippine Competition Act in 2015 after languishing in Congress for more than 20 years. The law protects the well-being of consumers and preserves the efficiency of competition in the marketplace to attract investors and enhance job-creation opportunities in the country. He likewise authored RA 9519 converting Mindanao Polytechnic State College into Mindanao University of Science and Technology (Must), the forerunners of what is now the University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP) made possible through the passage of RA 10919. A succession of bills and legislations followed which paved the way for improvements in the delivery of basic services and vital infrastructures such as the construction of roads, drainage, pathways, pedestrian overpasses and the now much utilized Cagayan de Oro Coastal Bypass Road which greatly helped facilitate the flow of traffic from Gusa to Opol, Misamis Oriental. He vowed to get more funds for unfinished projects especially for the coastal bypass and JR Borja Extension roads and other essential needs of the city once he gets elected. Clearly, with competence and experience, the work of Congress is cut out for him.

Will Kagayanons experiment instead with newbie representatives who will be groping in the dark while trying to learn the ropes of lawmaking? Or entrust them to someone like Congressman Rufus B. Rodriguez who knows the legislature like the back of his hand having served in the House of Representatives for nine straight years.

Lawmakers are imposed upon us to represent and speak for their constituents. According to Plato, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” So, how do we call congressmen who don’t utter a word at all?

(Renato Gica Tibon is a fellow of the Fellowship of the 300, an elite organization under Centrist Democracy Political Institute  [CDPI] with focus on political technocracy. He  holds both position as political action officer and program manager of the Institute. He is the former regional chairman for Region 10 and vice president for Mindanao of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines [CDP].)

Published in Fellows Hub
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday rejected allegations that the arrest of National Democratic Front consultant Vic Ladlad was aimed to derail the peace talks between the government and communist rebels.

The statement came after Ladlad’s wife, Fides Lim, claimed that the arrest was intended to derail the possible resumption of peace talks.

Ladlad was arrested for illegal possession of firearms last week. His wife also claimed that government troops planted evidence to get him arrested.

“Mrs. Ladlad says that the arrest of her husband was done to derail the peace process. She is wrong. The arrest of Mr. Vicente Ladlad was a legitimate law enforcement operation conducted by the proper authorities who recovered high-powered firearms and explosives in his possession. How can the peace process be derailed when it has been suspended, if not stopped last June by the President?,” Lorenzana said in a statement.

“As for Mr. Ladlad’s arrest, anyone found violating Philippine laws will be dealt with accordingly. This is now best left to the courts. Mrs. Ladlad should trust in the fairness of our justice system,” he said.

He also cited the gains of the government’s localized peace efforts through the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) of the Task Force Balik Loob, which assists communists rebels who want to go back to their normal lives.

The peace negotiations collapsed last year with government claiming that communist rebels have continued their  attacks on state forces. President Rodrigo Duterte then declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist groups.
Published in News
Wednesday, 14 November 2018 16:01

Creeping militarization – better than RevGov

IN a statement that contradicted the newly appointed Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, a former general, and the pronouncements of his talking head, Salvador Panelo, the President unequivocally declared: “I will not sit as President and let you render me inutile as you continue with your corruption there in Customs right in front of me. You sons of bitches. Now you have a problem. They say its militarization of the government, correct,” he added. On Sunday (Oct. 28, 2018), he ordered the military to ‘take over the BoC’. (The Manila Times, Nov 3, 2018)

The cat is now out of the bag! While the President’s sycophants have been trying to muddle the issue with their double-speak, we have the Deegong on record on his actions and motivations — feeding his detractors with arguments to lay before the Supreme Court. The question of the constitutionality of his acts has been snatched from public discourse and now elevated to the 12 men and women of the highest court, four-fifths of whom are ingratiated and friendly to him. But the conversation on the ground is more interesting. What are the implications of the presidential declarations?

For one, the President has clearly shown that his civilian bureaucracy is not up to the job of running government efficiently. It’s quite clear now what the motives are behind his appointment of former military personnel to positions in his cabinet and sensitive bureaus and departments. This creeping militarization is nothing more than an acceptance that the President may have given up on the nuances of the republican principle of the pre-eminence of the civilian over the military. This could be presumably why martial law in Mindanao is being revisited and may be extended — perhaps indefinitely.

It is easy to speculate at this point that the Deegong is tired and has given up on the democratic ways of governance and is leaning towards a despotic pat, but this time in a slow dance macabre towards one-man rule. This could be a substitute for a declaration of a revolutionary government (revgov). Whereas the latter will involve “shock and awe,” which could be violent, the former is simply a soft “coup d’état by substitution”; in some way accomplishing what he has been signaling from the very start of his regime.

And since this takeover by the military is not accompanied by blood, perhaps most Filipinos will go for it.

So, why not also a “takeover” of the BIR? What the hell! It’s one of the corrupt agencies. And while we’re at it, why not lieutenants, captains and colonels for bureau chiefs, Asecs and Usecs of DoTC and DPWH. These are still headed by civilians and perceived to be graft-ridden and inept too.

And this could be the real “pagbabago” promised by DU30 and awaited by the long-suffering Filipinos. In the first two years of his term, DU30 never did have a chance to push his agenda successfully, except for some political crumbs allowed by the movers and shakers of this country that suit also their own interests. And these people have been at this long before the Deegong even thought of running for president. DU30 set out to eliminate the drug menace but after the death of thousands of minor souls and damage to our human rights record internationally, not one big fish was caught in his net.

He proposed a drastic change in the system of governance through political restructuring and development of a liberal economy by doing away with restrictive measures curtailing foreign direct investments. All these by revising the 1987 elitist-driven Constitution. He is failing here due to the recalcitrance and even direct opposition by the elected class, particularly the Senate; and the midterm election circus has come into play and distracts us all from the systemic restructuring. This election could result in the Deegong becoming a “lame-duck” president.

The discombobulated electoral process, the ultimate system that protects and sustains the perversion of democracy has always been the bastion of those who will not allow real change — pagbabago. The Deegong under the current democratic process must play this game. But will he? Not by the rules of those that have been calling the shots in this country for so long — the traditional politicians, the political dynasties in cahoots with the oligarchic class. This could be the reason why the President declared that he too is building his own political dynasty in Davao because as he said, “he is forced to” do it. We can only speculate what is in the mind of the Deegong.

He has always been a maverick and allowing cosmetic changes in the political environment may be his way of lulling the real enemies of the state — the oligarchy and their elected minions. Proceed with the elections as a referendum of his government and his persona; perhaps the reason why he is hell bent in projecting only one man as his avatar — Bong Go in the Senate.

He has his allies too, like the Marcoses, but this family is burdened by its own issues and an agenda of its own. In future, to regain the power behind their name, they may clash with the emerging progeny of the Deegong. Truly in politics there are only permanent interests.

These mid-term elections therefore are crucial to the country and the program of the President. If the Senate wins enough seats for those against Charter change and federalism, then all bets are off.

Despite this scenario, changes can still be achieved but at what cost now? The Deegong may not allow the sidelining of his election promises; the elimination of illegal drugs which has already produced thousands of collateral damage; the eradication of corruption in the bureaucracy which has forced him to reach out to the military; and the structural changes through Charter revisions. These are what propelled him to power and I’m afraid to pursue this to its rightful conclusion; he may have to start a war with the oligarchy and vested interest. He is counting on the 70 percent of the people behind him.

Looking from this perspective, it could explain why the president has been working along the lines he has pursued so far: putting in place former military personnel in key cabinet posts and sensitive bureaucracies, and now the takeover of the Bureau of Customs. The Deegong has always been unorthodox in his methods.

No uncouth application of a revgov, instead a more genteel use of a creeping militarization.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 14 November 2018 15:50

Duterte creates task force on federalism

President Rodrigo Duterte has created an inter-agency task force on federalism (IATF).

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, by the authority of the President, signed Memorandum Circular No. 52 on October 31 but the paper was released only to the media on Monday.

In his memorandum, Duterte said, “The conduct of a public information drive and advocacy campaign at the grassroots level is necessary to raise public awareness on Federalism and constitutional reform as well as to ensure widest public participation in the ongoing initiatives to amend or revise the fundamental law of the land.”

He added that “constant consultations with all sectors of society is essential in every stage of the process of constitutional reform so that all such efforts towards reform will embody the sovereign will and reflect the ideals and aspirations of our people.”

The Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) will be the chairperson of the task force while the Justice secretary will serve as the vice-chair.

The members of the task force include representatives from the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, Presidential Management Staff, Presidential Communications and Operations Office, Office of the Presidential Spokesperson, Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, Office of the Political Adviser, Commission on Higher Education, Development Academy of the Philippines, and University of the Philippines Law Center.

The President ordered the task force to perform the following mandate:

  • Develop strategies and implement such activities necessary and proper to raise public awareness on Federalism and constitutional reform;
  • Prepare an Information Dissemination and Public Communication Plan to ensure an effective, efficient and uniform undertaking of advocacy activities;
  • Undertake consultations with the former members of the Consultative Commit.. government agencies, the private sector, and the public in general concerning Federalism and constitutional reform;
  • Liaise with Congress to initiate the process of and address the roadblocks to constitutional reform; and
  • Perform such other functions as the President may direct.
Duterte said IATF “shall submit quarterly leports on its activities and accomplishments to the President.”

“The budgetary requirements for the operations of the IATF shall be sourced from appropriate funding sources that the Department of Budget and Management may identify, subject to relevant law, rules and regulations. Funding for succeeding years shall be incorporated in the budget proposal of the DILG,” he said.
Published in News
Wednesday, 07 November 2018 11:17

It doesn’t compute

IN the wake of the shabu controversy at the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the promotion of Commissioner Lapeña to cabinet rank and the military takeover of the BoC, I can’t help but do a cursory review of the Deegong’s responses on similar cases these past two years — within Customs and other agencies of government.

In August last year, during the watch of Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, broker/fixer Mark Taguba testified at the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the entry of P6.4 billion worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, from China. Taguba linked the Deegong’s son, Paulo “Polong,” son-in-law, Mans Carpio and the then Manila International Port district collector Vincent Philip Maronilla to the smuggling, accusing the latter of being among officials of the bureau taking bribes to facilitate such transactions.

Faeldon was subsequently “taken out” of Customs and appointed deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD). Maronilla was later appointed assistant commissioner at the BoC. I don’t know the whereabouts or the status of Taguba or that of Deegong’s family members. Regarding the latest shabu controversy, there is an ongoing investigation by the NBI, Senate and the House of Representatives and could reveal the extent of the culpability of the former BOC Commissioner Lapeña.

I don’t question the prerogative of the President to promote Lapeña to cabinet rank and to appoint Faeldon and Maronilla to other posts in the bureaucracy. I just don’t think this computes.

Jose Gabriel “Pompei” La Vina was not reappointed as SSS commissioner because of some unexplained anomaly. There was no investigation. After an interval of a few days, he was appointed undersecretary of tourism. La Vina was DU30’s social media consultant when he was a candidate for the presidency. This does not compute.

In May of last year, Duterte fired Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chairman Benjamin Reyes for supposedly contradicting the government’s official data on drug addicts in the country.

In April, 2017, he sacked Cabinet undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Reina Valdez for overruling National Food Authority Administrator Jason Aquino’s decision to suspend rice importation as it was still harvest season in the Philippines. Valdez denied the allegations.

The President also fired Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) chief Anna Rosario Paner for hiring consultants who earn as much as P200,000 monthly.

These selected cases illustrate the varied responses of the President. And there are many more examples where the President acted oftentimes seemingly contradictory to the facts presented. And these are arbitrary — not deserving of a president whom 70 percent of the citizenry support.

Central to the legitimacy of government is the consistency of policies that are applied to the body politic. These policies have to be thought out carefully and must reflect the values of civilized behavior. And the leadership must adhere to these with at least a minimum of fairness with justice overarching these decisions. The President above all, must be the exemplar, subordinating his biases, always with an eye for the greater good.

Thus, his declared policy at the start of his rule needs to be revisited. The cases of former Interior Secretary Ismael ‘Mike’ Sueno and Peter Laviña, head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), are a milestone in this regime as these cases were the prime examples of the Duterte Doctrine of the “whiff of corruption.” It states simply that DU30 will “…not tolerate any corruption in his administration and he will dismiss from office any of his men (women) who are tainted even by a ‘whiff of corruption’; and he is ready to sack any public officials even on a basis of false allegations of corruption.” (Inquirer.net, March 30, 2017)

After the Cabinet meeting, PRRD fired DILG Ismael Sueno on the spot due to “loss of trust and confidence”. This dismissal was precipitated by a joint report of his 3 Undersecretaries through a letter sent to the President alleging among other things the anomalous purchase of fire trucks from Austria. (The Manila Times, April 27, 2017)

The irony of it all is that the transaction was found later to be aboveboard and the trucks were eventually purchased and delivered. But the reputation of Sueno was irreparably damaged.

Peter Laviña’s sacking as NIA head was precipitated by a report personally given to the President by NIA directors on February 23, which claimed that Laviña had ” …allegedly called them and pointed out projects the regional office had and told them, ‘Kayo nang bahala sa akin’.” (Rappler).

The President sealed Laviña’s fate and left his reputation shattered with PRRD’s statement: “When I said there will be no corruption, there will be no corruption…even a whiff of corruption, talagang tatangalin kita (I will fire you) …”. No investigation was ever conducted.

The handling of these cases by the President is a reflection not of the justice system of this country but of his very subjective and capricious ways. This too is not a deficiency of the libertarian ideals of our government but the failure in the structure of the office of the presidency and therefore of the President to discriminate between what is good for the public against his personal interests.

I will rephrase what I wrote years ago: “There is no question that the President has the power to terminate from government bureaucracy anyone who fails to serve at his pleasure. But the President must be subject to the minimums of fairness and the etiquette of dismissal, for no apparent reason than that the process is widely regarded as civilized behaviour. But more importantly, there is a greater overarching principle that covers the conduct of the mighty, the powerful and the humble — the rule of law.

In a democracy under which we claim we practice, prudent laws are the foundation and the glue that must bind a civilized society. It is imperative that the laws laid down by government must be followed by all its citizens. The simplicity of the concept of the rule of law is oftentimes made complicated by those authorized to uphold it.”

President Duterte is not exempt from civilized behavior. What endeared him to people compared to other presidents before him was his penchant to tell it like it is, and in a manner that projects decisiveness. It was refreshing at first, but repetition has blunted the sharp edges – “If you will destroy my country, I will kill you!” And what passes for the application of political will in this fashion becomes merely an inelegant display of bravado.

True, the heavy load of governance and the welfare of the Filipinos rest on the President. But the presidency as an institution is fully armed with mechanisms to lighten the burden and share the same with his alter egos and departments which are constitutionally mandated. He is not therefore expected to arrogate upon himself the full burden of solely carrying out this responsibility.

And he needs to listen very carefully and discern the voice of his constituency, not only that of those who voted him to power.

Published in LML Polettiques