Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: October 2018
Wednesday, 17 October 2018 13:58

The last reinvention of Gloria

IN recent years, never has there been a major traditional politician who reinvented herself quite so often as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. A political survivor of the first caliber, “…she has sunk to the nadir of power but once enjoyed its zenith; and descended to depths of despair… (“Games of thrones,” March 22, 2018, The Manila Times). But today, she has resurrected and is perched over the most traditional and distrusted political entity, with power to vanquish those that condemned her to years of personal deprivation within the confines of a hospital prison.

In the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” there is this character that hews close to her image, Jaqen H’ghar, the Faceless Man of Braavos, with the cunning and magical ability to change appearance at will. GMA could very well be the Jaqen H’ghar of Philippine politics. She shapeshifts at will and in this twilight of her political career — this is her last and third term as congresswoman — she is attempting to fashion another role for herself as the political consort and handmaiden to a president. And along with it is the political restructuring of the country; whether this is good for the country is of no moment — if it benefits the Gloria.

And GMA has a superb sense of timing as the Deegong is so occupied with affairs of the state. The economy has been floundering although the economic managers have been all over themselves assuring the citizenry that it is stable and growing. This is belied by the accelerating street protests. Consider the following national concerns, three of which have a direct impact to the poverty alleviation program of government: runaway inflation and rising prices of staple goods; stagnant wages; and the paucity of jobs. These issues could very well make or unmake the administration leading towards the midterm elections. If these are not addressed well by then, we will witness the annihilation of the Deegong’s chosen candidates, making his presidency a lame duck in his term’s second half.

The opposition has been speculating that the bureaucracy and the military have been distracting people from these gut issues by again raising the “communist bugaboo” with the “Red October” plot — that the CPP/NPA is reportedly organizing students and conspiring with the Liberal Party and the Yellow army to ouster the president. As of this writing, we are on the third week of October. The opposition may be right, that the Red October plot is a hoax. On the other hand, the administration and the military can claim victory for having “discovered the plot” and exposed it, preventing its execution.

Parallel developments that reinforce these diversions are the recent moves of the President, effectively co-opting the headlines and the news cycles: the silencing of his critics, Sereno and Trillanes. On the latter, the talk is that the civilian component bungled the amnesty of Trillanes. The military did not look kindly at this which could produce unintended consequences.

On the political front, reports have been persistent that the dominant PDP-Laban is in political limbo with many of its leading lights working out a modus vivendi with Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HP); and news of Imee Marcos, Pia Cayetano and Cynthia Villar revitalizing the Nacionalista (NP), their “mother party,” and abandoning their alliance with the PDP-Laban (Balita, Oct. 8, 2018), impacting negatively the unbranded senatorial line-up of the administration. This election may signal the fragmentation of dominant parties and the regrouping of old ones, led by the same traditional politicians who may have sensed the vulnerability of the president’s own and now circling like vultures over their political carcasses.

While these are going on, GMA managed to get her minions to revive Resolution 9 at the HOR to start the process of amending the Constitution, with or without the cooperation of the Senate. Or, if the Senate were to be involved, both houses will follow the current legislative process with each coming up with their own version and a bicameral conference committee to reconcile the differences.

It proposes a federal system with a presidential government composed of a bicameral body. In a departure from other proposals, the creation of the federal states would now be left solely to Congress. The Centrist Proposals call for negotiations between provinces, municipalities and cities to form federal states based on certain strict criteria.

The whole process of public consultation and constitutional revision will run two years within the term of DU30 still under the overarching provisions of the 1987 Constitution. But the anomalous proposal is a shameless attempt to short-circuit the role of Vice President Robredo, excluding her from the line of succession and putting the Senate President in her instead, should the position of president become vacant during the interim. This supposedly addresses the “…uncertainty in the vice presidency amid the ongoing electoral protest of Bongbong Marcos against the VP…” (PDI, Oct. 10, 2018).

The nuances need to be understood here. Firstly, Gloria as the Deegong’s handmaiden aided by her cohorts in Congress, no doubt with his imprimatur, will have to ram down the constitutional revisions. With Congress’ unconscionable track record, the carving up of the country will be left to political dynasties now populating the chamber. This is unacceptable!

GMA, who now leads these current initiatives, has totally departed from her position articulated by her 50-man Consultative Commission created in 2005 during her presidency, calling for a parliamentary form first before transitioning to a federal system. This is the Centrist Proposals which should have been considered by the committee on constitutional amendments.

These initiatives by Congress have reverberated with dissonance in the Cabinet. The DILG has focused on the three glaring and anomalous positions: “…taking out the vice president from the line of presidential succession; removing term limits for lawmakers during the transition to the proposed federal form of government; and the scrapping of a ‘self-executing anti-political dynasty provision’…” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 12, 2018)

But the Senate made sure that there will be no federalism and Charter revisions before midterm elections next year, before GMA steps down. But it is not too late for Gloria to again reinvent herself and put on her last face. With her traditional influence in Congress and in tandem with DU30, they can together work out the much-needed reforms without touching the 1987 Constitution: passing the political party reform act, now pending in both houses; universal freedom of information bill; and the electoral reforms needed to clean out the dubious election process.

This last reinvention of Gloria may not exculpate her of her past transgressions but could elevate her reputation as The Reformer. That indeed is something she can leave behind as her legacy.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 10 October 2018 12:33

Duterte is not a Marcos

MY readers at the Manila Times, especially those from the provinces, particularly Davao, have been egging me to write in support of a revolutionary government (RevGov). I did write a couple of items over several months, out of frustration at the snail’s pace of change which we expected DU30 to put on stream. But my position against RevGov is unequivocal. It is a more lethal medicine than the disease it seeks to cure.

These snake-oil salesmen have been hawking the concept of “RevGov the Democratic way,” citing the 1986 post-Edsa People Power Revolution as the main example. Aside from these two not being analogous, the contradictions comparing President Cory’s and the current DU30 regime are glaring. For one, President Cory’s was born out of people’s disgust with the Marcos dictatorship generating a revolutionary climate that drove Marcos out. This undercurrent volatility triggered seven coup d’etat attempts on Cory’s government in four years.

There is nothing “democratic” about a declaration and execution of RevGov. If perchance DU30 changes his mind and declares one, then he is simply declaring a coup d’état against his own duly constituted government and an acceptance that he couldn’t hack it through the democratic processes under which he was elected a minority president. I doubt he will succeed. But let us examine the circumstances and their implications.

A most powerful segment of the state, the oligarchy, will not countenance RevGov as this is an encroachment into their business and political prerogatives. They want their own “level playing field,” one they had painstakingly structured for generations, safe for them. And DU30 is a gadfly disrupting the cozy relationship between the political movers and shakers, the captured bureaucracy and the old-time oligarchy. The president has been relentless in gnawing at the edges of the oligarchy and their minions as demonstrated by his confrontations with the Prieto and Rufino families and Marcos’ old cohort, Ongpin.

The officials elected in the 2016 election, many of whom owe their positions to their financial clout, may not look kindly at a RevGov unless DU30 declares a “no election” for the 2019 midterm. This declaration goes beyond the pale of the law, but it may get the support of the LGUs and those whose terms have been extended; but the repercussions are deadly.

On whose side will the military and the police support go? It is doubtful that the armed forces will want to reprise their role as stooges of Marcos. They may have learned their lesson well during the dark years of Martial Law and the post-Marcos military institution may really support the people, the Constitution and not the person of the presidency.

More importantly, DU30 will lose the support of the majority of Filipinos, especially those whose memories go back to the days of the dictator Marcos. And the Marcoses today are so obviously appended to the Deegong brand, that they may prove to be a heavy drag on his persona.

The Deegong may well be advised to look up to his idol Ferdinand Marcos who took decades to plan and execute yet failed in the end as a dictator that set the Filipinos back decades in economic and political advancement.

How did Marcos do it? How did he prepare for capture of absolute power which RevGov is a small version of?

Marcos took years and had the sophistication to lay the groundwork for his regime. Since Marcos became president in 1965, he may have already planned out his term going beyond eight years, either through the surrogacy of wife Imelda or through constitutional fiat. He chose the latter, with his 1973 constitutional revisions of the 1935 Constitution as his gambit.

It took years also to build up a primary pillar of his regime, the men in uniform. It is a well-known fact that the Marcos couple began to develop military personnel as young fresh PMA graduates, nurturing their careers in the AFP, Constabulary and police forces to ranks of colonels, captains, admirals and generals. Those known as the “Rolex 12” whom he entrusted the powers to execute martial law were such men. The pillars of the martial law regime also included two loyalist civilians, Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and oligarch Danding Cojuangco. Jr., chairman of the San Miguel Corp.

Marcos built up a select technocratic class to run his bureaucracy, putting in place structures that allowed him to extract the nation’s wealth through rent-seeking activities. These technocrats eventually headed industries the Marcoses controlled, replacing the old oligarchy with his newly minted ones, some of whom have expanded their wealth, influence and political clout up to this day.

He engineered an elaborate labyrinth of relationships based on loyalty paid for by greed; elevated kleptocracy into an art form; divided the industry headed by cronies protecting their prerogatives by executive orders (EO) and presidential decrees (PD). And this perversion to perpetuate the dictatorship was successful for decades, until the ordinary Filipino emboldened by a small band of soldiers said, “enough is enough.” Thus, the EDSA People Power Revolution.

Today, the Deegong, who is being prodded by his inane and unthinking supporters to declare RevGov, must heed the lessons of history — of Ferdinand and Cory. DU30 did not have the precedents that the once-successful Marcoses did — years of preparations and the willingness to apply his political and iron will. But more importantly, Marcos possessed an evil genius that permeated his band of select technocrats; the best and brightest painstakingly culling out the disloyal from among the business, academe, civic leaders and the men in uniform. These were the Marcos acolytes forming the backbone of his revolutionary government, his dictatorship.

True, people are frustrated at the slow pace of pagbabago and desperate over the continued dominance of the oligarchy, the thieves in Congress and the bureaucracy condemning more than half of Filipinos to stark poverty.

True, some of his loyal former military generals are in place in cabinet and government sinecures. I doubt however that their capability and his relationship with them can equal or parallel that of the Marcos-military cabal.

The Deegong is indeed not a Marcos. And thank God for this! He simply doesn’t have what it takes to mount a successful RevGov. But he is a leader we never had.

He is advancing in age and frail, and he knows his years are numbered. He has his legacy clear before him. He carries the hopes of the despairing multitudes who are convinced this is the last chance at real change. He may not be loved by many people, like those of us in the middle, upper middle and even higher classes. But we are patriots. And so is he. We are compelled to support the Deegong on faith — to do the right thing “the democratic way.”

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 03 October 2018 13:45

Political reforms, then federalism

THE Ateneo Policy Center under the tutelage of Dr. Ronald Mendoza sponsored a recent forum in Davao on federalism. Dr. Alex Brillantes and Prof. Gene Pilapil admirably enriched the discourse. I must however agree although reluctantly with Prof. Gene on his thesis that the institutional designs of the Presidential Consultative Committee (ConCom) and the PDP Laban draft constitution are utterly defective.

I have argued that federalism in the Philippine context is a process that must start first with basic political reforms, then a shift to parliamentary government, and then final conversion to a federal system in due time. The last two require constitutional revisions.

My appreciation of the whole debate are telescoped into three propositions.

1. As currently structured, federalism will not be realized within President Duterte’s watch, as he steps down in 2022;

2. The mode of constitutional revision under the 1987 Constitution is prohibitive unless drastic political and electoral reforms are done under the President’s watch, before he steps down in 2022; and

3. The citizens’ grasp of the intricacies of edferalism itself is not a necessary prior condition to shifting from unitary to federalism.

I will start with the third point. Most Filipinos appear to have very little understanding of the issue of federalism. This is certainly true.

As I wrote in my July 18 column: “…Federalism and Charter change’s rabid opponents have always used as an excuse that this concept is alien to our culture. Accordingly, majority of Filipinos don’t understand federalism and the constitutional revisions it entails. But this was also true then for the 1987 Cory Constitution (written by a chosen elite), 1973 Marcos Constitution (written by shameless politicians) and even the original 1935 Constitution.”

For one, the first Philippine basic law, the Malolos Constitution of 1899 was never implemented across the land. Written by the elite, it was patterned after the Spanish Constitution and heavily borrowed from existing European Constitutions at that time and called for a unicameral assembly, biased more toward parliamentary than presidential form of government. The Filipinos in 1899 I must assume were barely informed then about the Malolos Constitution and the form of government it was endorsing.

Also true of the Kapisanan sa Paglilingkod ng Bagong Pilipinas (KALIBAPI) constitution under the Japanese occupation that was ratified in 1943. I doubt a handful of Filipinos were informed of this constitution.

As a US colony, we were ruled by American organic acts. But the 1935 Constitution was a perverted version of the US federal system with a president elected separately from the vice president and a bicameral Congress with senators elected universally. This enshrined the unitary-presidential system of government. I doubt there were concerted efforts to make the public understand these nuances before a plebiscite was conducted.

Unlike today where advances in information technology have contributed much to the dissemination of ideas. And on the ground several groups, notably from Davao, have been expounding federalism to the grassroots these past few years; the Citizens Movement for a Federal Philippines (CMFP), Lihok Pederal, CDP/CDPI Centrist Groups, Hugpong Federal etc. These commendable initiatives have contributed to a wider appreciation of issues. According to the latest poll, fully 33 percent to 48 percent of Filipinos understand what federalism is about and support constitutional revisions.

And if explained well that federalism allows those in the regions to decide for themselves the course of their lives, more will adhere to Federalism – for this simply is what federalism is: that the lower echelons of governance, the barrios, the municipalities and local governments with their people, are the decision makers of their political lives. Not the people from the centralized authority in Manila.

“What we need to understand about the Filipino is for the past 300 years of colonialism, they trust their patrons and put their faith in their leaders to do the right thing by them. They will take federalism and the Charter change on faith. And you can’t sell them short. They are a magnificently discerning race.” (Manila Times, July 18, 2018)

So enough of this anti-federalist arguments that Filipinos are not informed enough, therefore let’s stick to the status quo, unitary-presidential. This is hogwash!

Back to my first proposition: As structured, federalism will not be realized within President Duterte’s watch, as he steps down in 2022.

Federalism is a process that must entail the revision of the 1987 Constitution. The shift from the perverted unitary-presidential system requires a dismantling of the underlying institutions that reinforced it. This can’t be achieved overnight or even in the remaining three years of Duterte’s term after the midterm elections. The oligarchy and the political elite of this country have over the generations entrenched themselves in the upper echelons of governance from the centralized power based in Malacañang to the governors’ mansions, to the city, municipal and even barrio level. The proliferation of political dynasties backed up by the financial clout of the oligarchy has created a powerful grip on the body politic.

The President still needs to lay the groundwork for these changes. He has not been doing serious work on the dismantling of these influences except for the perpetuation of a meaningless federalism slogan. He is running out of time. And this brings me to the last proposition: The method of constitutional revision under the 1987 Constitution is prohibitive unless drastic political and electoral reforms are done under the President’s watch.

The primary tools for the oligarchy to influence governance and their subsidiary hold on power are through the political parties, the electoral process and the political dynasties. The drastic changes needed to correct these anomalies do not yet entail changing the 1987 Constitution. With the President presumably on top of his game, the party in power at his behest, plus his vaunted political will, he can very well persuade, negotiate and intimidate the senators and congressmen into passing these critical reform measures archived in the two houses of congress these past years: the political party and government subsidy act; electoral reforms; the freedom of information bill; and the ban on political dynasties.

These reforms can change the profile of the elected congress especially that of the Senate that refuses to constitute itself into a constituent assembly.

These four bills need only the concurrence of the two houses of Congress to become law. Then the revision of the Constitution and introduction of the federalism concept can follow. Hopefully these can be achieved towards the end of the Deegong’s term.

Let me conclude by summarizing the Centrist Proposals roadmap in our draft constitution (www.cdpi.asia).

It will take the rest of President Duterte’s remaining administration to put in place the four priority political reforms by 2022. Only then can we start revising the Constitution; after which we transition first to a parliamentary system. The subsequent steps then are for parliament to guide the formation of autonomous territories towards a Federal Republic. This process should continue by 2028 and beyond.
Published in LML Polettiques
Tuesday, 02 October 2018 12:52

Legacies, plebiscite and P700-M sinkhole

A FEW months ago, this column repositioned the two important legacies of PRRD: federalism and the third telco. Today, we add the preparations for the plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), or Republic Act 11054 signed by PRRD last July 26, 2018. With the Comelec scheduling the plebiscite for January 21, 2019, this will be the first test for the Duterte administration going into the midterm of 2019.

The new political entity to be called Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or BARMM, would replace the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) established following a 1996 peace agreement with another rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) headed by Nur Misuari. The charter for the BARMM must first be ratified by the people in the proposed expanded Muslim autonomous region, composed of the core of ARMM (Maguindanao, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan), plus six towns in Lanao del Norte that voted yes in 2001; 39 barangay in North Cotabato that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in 2001; Cotabato City, the present seat of the ARMM; and Isabela City in Basilan, two cities that voted against inclusion in 2001. The law also allows the inclusion of “other contiguous areas” where a resolution of the local government unit or a petition of at least ten percent of the registered voters seeking for inclusion is submitted at least two months prior to the conduct of the ratification.

The plebiscite campaign starts on December 7, 2018 and will last until January 19, 2019, or 45 days, but there is still no budget for the conduct of the plebiscite. The P857 million tab for the plebiscite was not included in the Comelec budget submitted by Malacañang since the law was signed only in July. Three options have been identified on where to source the funds: 1) allow ARMM to use its proposed P10.1 billion infrastructure fund for FY2019; 2) use the Comelec savings from the barangay elections held last May 2018; and 3) secure funding from the Office of the President. A red flag in the preparation for the important yes vote.

Federalism on the other hand, has gone the way of “pepedede;” nobody wanted to touch the advocacy after. Even the cabinet’s economic cluster shot down the Puno-led draft, stressing on the cost and not looking into the benefits of having structural change. There is no lead person in the cabinet on federalism, communication is ad hoc and the Puno draft has been rejected across sectors.

With the economy in a precarious state due to the inflation monster, people are just focused on stomach issues and restructuring at this time has further been sidelined.

This leads us to one of the other legacies of PRRD, the third telco, now known as the new major player or NMP. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has issued Memorandum Circular No. 09-09-2018 on the rules and regulations on the selection process. It used to be that with a congressional franchise, a telco players goes to NTC to secure CPCN and then they roll out their plans without the NTC vetting such plans and use of frequencies.

Under the circular, the congressional franchise is just paper. Two submission packages have been identified: the first submission package refers to all the regulatory documents of the participants, the key point being that it should have a paid-up capital of at least P10 billion in the participants AAFS for the past three years. The second submission package (to be submitted simultaneously) is the filled-up electronic template of Form A (scorecard).

What appears to be the most controversial and totally new is the insertion of a participation security in the amount of P700 million which shall be valid for 180 calendar days from the submission and opening of the selection documents (6.2.j), the non-submission of which will automatically disqualify any participant from the bidding. The duopoly never had this kind of hurdle. With just a congressional franchise, SMART and Globe went to town without any barriers to entry. 

Imagine if there are three bidders, the amount that NTC will be holding will be P2.1 billion for 180 days? Would the amount be deposited in a bank? The Treasury? How can NTC with a budget of P489 million for FY 2018 be a custodian of such a huge amount? Who is the bonded official in the NTC who would be responsible for such an amount? Further, the participation security can be forfeited in favor of government on four grounds: “false information or falsified documents; refusal of the participant to accept its confirmation as a provisional or selected NMP; unjustified withdrawal during the 180-day binding period and when the participants attempt to unduly influence the outcome.” Who earns from the spread? And “unduly influence” is a gag rule to all participants, as if NTC has not been coopted by its process. What does to “unduly influence” mean? So, if PRRD decides to get his way, is NTC saying there is undue influence by a participant?

Let us look into the way SMART and Globe Telecom have controlled the NTC for years with enhanced regulatory capture starting in the early 1990s. And the story of the 18 public telecommunications entities with outstanding SRF tells you a lot about how NTC performs its mandate. The NTC has shown to the public its inability to manage the telcos — from interconnection, to VAS, to dropped calls, to cost of text and per minute calls to VAS to dated promos and very recently, NTC cannot compel the duopoly to deliver the minimum speed of 12 mbps in Internet connectivity that their advertisements guarantee to their subscribers, among others. The same commissioner has been in the seat since Macapagal-Arroyo in 2009, through the Aquino administration, and then got a reappointment in 2016 under Duterte, or a total of nine years and counting.

The legacy of Duterte on the third telco will be on the shoulders of NTC, an agency proven to have been co-opted by the duopoly, hence the delay and the circular itself are barriers to entry. Worse, the roll-out plan comes 90 days after the issuance of a confirmation order (Section 10). And another Humpty Dumpty falls.

Published in News
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines
The Centrist Proposal for the Revision of the 1987 Constitution


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Published in LML Polettiques