Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: March 2018
WHEN the Consultative Committee (Con-com) last February 27, voted to uphold the status quo by defending the presidential system, I criticized the move in my Manila Times column (March 8, 2018). I quote:

“But the most glaring defect of the presidential system of government is that this is the embryo upon which patronage politics is nurtured. For almost 100 years the system flourished feeding upon the least desired facet of Filipino culture, the desire for and dependence on a benefactor, from the datu and sultan, heading a clan; to the Spanish patron looking over the indios, to the American “big brother”; morphing into the Philippine President, the “father” of a people…”

The following is partly a reprint of a blog I wrote in October 2014 tracing the roots of patronage politics and ensuing ills from our cultural historical practices.

Dualism, or the state of having a dual nature, pervades cultural practices and beliefs in the Philippines. In our dominant religion, Roman Catholicism, we mix our deep faith in a supreme being with reverence for nature and animistic religious practices that emphasizes supernatural beings inhabiting the forests, rivers and mountains. On the way to church in the barrio where I grew up, we passed by a huge balite tree and reverently announce our presence and seek permission to pass through from the resident kapre.

The belief in “anting-anting,” a charm, jewelry or special object worn around the neck said to protect the wearer from evil and sorcery, has become popular as a scapular. Originally, the scapular is an object worn by devout Roman Catholics to honor a particular saint and emphasizing a pious way of life. I was given mine by the Catholic Women’s League as a blessed object that would“protect me from the evil spirits” lurking in the night – especially from the “aswang and manananggal” and the fearsome “manti-anak” who could castrate me while I slept.

This dualism pervades as well in other facets of our beliefs.

Take democracy, for instance. Introduced by the Americans after 300 years of Spanish colonial influence, it was meant to instill in our political life a novel concept of governance and thus widen the participation of a greater majority of our people towards the path to political maturity.

But what took root instead were traditional practices of our earlier culture perverted by the colonialists for their own purposes and emerged as traditional political patronage. Inevitably, these resulted in the development of weak democratic institutions.

I have not heard DU30 repudiate the concept of political patronage outright but as our city mayor then, he understood perfectly well local political culture, where politicians are seen as “approachable and compassionate”; and must show sympathy or goodwill via monetary contributions or donations. These in turn are translated by the beneficiaries as manifestations of “good governance and good political leadership.” This is of course an erroneous concept of governance; nonetheless he practiced it to the hilt propelling him to rule the city for 22 years.

Marcos elevated patronage politics during the earlier part of his administration and practiced this to perfection during the Martial Law years where “crony capitalism” came into our political lexicon. To hold on to power, “patrons and padrinos” were allowed to dip their dirty fingers into the public coffers and dispense them to the chosen electors. Thus, a new sub-species of the oligarchy was born and another word appeared in the glossary,“kleptocracy.”

Subsequent practitioners of this sordid art of political patronage, chiefly Presidents Erap and Gloria paled in comparison to the masters – the Macos “conjugal dictatorship”– but the two former presidents did a good job as acolytes, honing the practice further.

Today, political patronage has become more pervasive and has fomented corruption. Our electoral processes for instance are the overarching environment upon which political patronage incubates. Paradoxically, democracy can’t exist without elections; except that in our culture, we managed to debauch the same.

Politicians, whether “wannabes” or incumbents spend millions of pesos to gain the support of their constituents. As a result, a major consideration of the elected public servant is to recoup their investments through all sorts of “rent-seeking activities,” leakages in public funds and outright corruption – to the detriment of society’s development and public good.

And in our presidential system, where the president is elected at large, he is expected to provide the wherewithal for an expensive election campaign. This opens an aperture for the oligarchy and the moneyed elite to influence the outcome. And we can only speculate at the quid pro quo.

With the constitutional mandated term limits of elective officials, this deviant model of “public service as a private business” becomes a strong impetus toward the perpetuation of this power base – thus the birth of powerful political dynasties.

The multitude of ills have piled up and as a result one of the important instruments of democracy—political parties—has had a stunted growth. In truly democratic societies, they are meant to aggregate the various and sometimes differing aspirations of the people and mediate between the electorate and the government, translating them into good policies of governance.

Instead, the political dynasties have become substitutes and power and privilege accrue to a few families. The politics of personality sets in; and political patronage then is ingrained in the dynasty’s practices of local governance, ensuring its survival.

One has to understand that the country’s political system has been all about control, power, manipulation and distortion of democratic processes. All these are the elements of patronage politics. There is no panacea against these ills but perhaps the path to its correction could be laid down today.

For one, we are today faced with the possibility of revising the 1987 Constitution, which has protected the system that perpetrated these evils. In contrast to the presidential system, we have an alternative, where studies, written tomes and existing governments of many progressive economies have proven its superiority. The Philippine Centrist Democrats (CDP/CDPI) have been championing the concepts, values and culture of how we can all fight and counter traditional political patronage and its vile handmaiden, political dynasty.

Parliamentary government, the alternative system, was unfortunately rejected outright by the Consultative Committee.
Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 22 March 2018 11:35

Game of thrones (Part 2)

Gloria, in excelsis

Part 2
“And here awaits one astute politician who may have calculated these permutations and may now be positioned for any eventuality.” (“Game of thrones, Part 1, The Manila Times, March 15, 2018)

AFTER Ferdinand Marcos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) is considered the most qualified to assume the presidency. An economist with impeccable academic credentials from elite schools here and abroad, married to old money, she was a daughter of a Philippine President who no doubt inculcated in her a passion for public service; and as in progenies of presidents and the entitled, she possesses the detached demeanor of an heir presumptive.

The country’s longest serving President, GMA started her ascent to power with the ouster of President Joseph Estrada in the so-called EDSA 2. Serving the unfinished portion of Erap’s term from 2001 to 2004, Arroyo was an interloper whose mandate was questioned culminating in the pathetic EDSA 3 “rebellion” aimed at removing her and reinstalling Erap, who remained popular with the masses. Her decisive declaration of a state of rebellion saved the day for her, perhaps giving her a taste of the exhilarating and addictive use of power that would demarcate her future acts.

Two years into her rule, junior officers and enlisted soldiers staged a mutiny in July 2003 to protest all sorts of corruption allegations, including those involving the AFP and Philippine National Police. GMA declared another “state of rebellion.” In less than 24 hours, the mutineers surrendered. But this incident, it is believed, prompted Arroyo to change her mind and go back on a public promise she made in December 30, 2002 that she would not seek the presidency. With this reversal, GMA’s word of honor was put under question, a sad precedent for her future declarations.

GMA was elected in 2004 with allegations of poll fraud, corroborated by recordings of inappropriate conversations between her and a Comelec henchman. The infamous “Hello Garci” tapes triggered massive protests, and the resignation of several of her cabinet secretaries and confidantes, almost toppling her, despite her public “mea culpa” admitting to a “lapse in judgment.” Those who threw her to the dogs were later recruited into the cabinet of the subsequent Noynoy Aquino presidency, the nucleus of the emerging “yellow army.”

Her resolve to stay in power no doubt was also bolstered by her discovery that her preferred and trusted law firm, the CVC Law, headed by her anointed Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, conspired to drive her out of power and install her vice president. (www.thinkingpinoy.net Supreme Court politics: “Sereno will lose, but Carpio will lose more”).

She survived these machinations but her second term from 2004 to 2010 was fraught with allegations of corruption that engulfed even her family, particularly her husband.

On the plus side, Arroyo presided over an economy that expanded comparably faster than the three previous administrations, avoiding even the 2008 global financial crisis. But the growth was not that inclusive making her realize then that the basic restructuring of Philippine society was imperative. Thus, her initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution and shift from a presidential-unitary to a parliamentary-federal system, with the underpinnings of a social-market economy, allowing for badly needed foreign direct investments. This was to be her legacy, despite the purported massive corruption in her government.

Upon leaving office, her many transgressions caught up with her. She was arrested and charged with electoral fraud and corruption but released on bail.

Rearrested by the Aquino government for the alleged misuse of $8.8 million in state lottery funds, Arroyo languished at the Veterans Memorial Hospital. Upon the assumption of power by the Deegong and with his backing, the Supreme Court acquitted her of all charges.

She has suffered for her indiscretions, pummeled and bludgeoned by friend and foe alike – “not enough, the yellows exclaim”. A polarizing leader put to roost. For a leader and a woman inured to the trappings of power, it could be hell exiled to the twilight zone of political irrelevance. In this surrealistic world imposed upon her, she maintained the arrogance of a high-born, welcoming and presiding over a coterie of sycophants, hard-nosed political disciples, her true believers and technocrats, perhaps plotting her comeback—her redemption!

The Philippine political condition today is in a flux. We have a federalism idea, whose time has come, but barely disseminated to the constituents; a Cabinet in disarray with DU30 confessing to being unhappy with its performance, threatening to revamp the cabinet and firing the underperformers. The disorder in the Office of the President may be traced to the absence of a chief of staff, who can help PRRD whip them in line and allocate his precious time. We have a president constantly harassed by an alliance of the “Yellows,” the oligarchy, and the moneyed few, whose tentacles have entangled rent-seeking bureaucrats; a president whose agenda may be derailed by early infighting among his own allies in Congress, impelled by the prospects of the coming elections and the expansion of their political turfs.

True, the Deegong is buoyed up by the 80 percent national approval rating but even these nebulous hordes are themselves torn by a cacophony of contradictory voices, reflected in the social media, the president’s most loyal constituency. One,