Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: December 2022

THESE are serious accusations. And it is a measure of the inadequacy of our justice system that it has taken a foreign country to indict one of the Philippines' most powerful personalities, described as a shrewd businessman, an influential radio and TV station owner, a feared political kingmaker and to top it all, head of a religious sect who styles himself as the "appointed son of God" (ASOG).

Mincing no words, the United States Department of Treasury said it was acting "...to promote accountability for human rights abusers and corrupt actors across the world. For more than a decade, Apollo Carreon Quiboloy engaged in serious human rights abuse, including a pattern of systemic and pervasive rape of girls as young as 11 years old, as well as other physical abuse. Quiboloy also subjected pastorals and other KOJC members to other forms of physical abuse... Quiboloy was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted list for sex trafficking, fraud and coercion, bulk cash smuggling, and more."

America is seizing Quiboloy's assets in places where they can. (Jean Mangaluz, Inquirer.net, Dec. 10, 2022.) In short, America has gone beyond its shores to go after miscreants, those who broke its laws establishing the preeminence of the secular over the spiritual, the temporal over religion; and in the process risking the fury of the "appointed son of God." For isn't it a "divine revelation" when Quiboloy is claimed by Quiboloy himself to be the blessed one? And he has declared that those who mocked him as the Sanhedrin and the high priests did 2,000 years ago will face the rage of his father? Did he not stop the earthquake in the Philippines three years ago? America, beware!


Quiboloy's profession is televangelism or the use of media to communicate his brand of religious belief. There is nothing wrong with this per se. In the 1930s, Fr. Fulton Sheen, an American Jesuit priest, practically pioneered broadcast preaching, spreading God's gospel on his program, "The Catholic Hour," on radio. With the advent of television, he was the first Catholic religious personality to use this medium in his syndicated TV presentations, "Life is Worth Living." Later consecrated a bishop, he was on his way to being beatified by Pope Benedict 16th in 2012.

Upon the deregulation of media in America, access and ownership of TV networks and cable TV became open for anyone who could afford it. And with a large Christian Protestant population, American churches of several denominations started using this media. These spawned all types of ministries from regular pastors of local churches to charismatic religious personalities with their own places of worship — now called megachurches or TV studios — from whence their broadcast emanated.

Christianity started sending missionaries from the third century to many lands to save souls; and from the early Middle Ages, to conquer the natives using religion and the sword as tools for colonization.

First considered complementary to missionaries sent abroad in the 19th century, radio and TV enabled the Christian West to reach large numbers at relatively low cost even in those countries where preaching and missionaries were banned — Asia and the Middle East.

Early legitimate televangelists were backed by big churches. Fulton Sheen by the large Catholic community; Oral Roberts of the Pentecostal Holiness and the Methodists churches; Pat Robertson of the Baptist Church; and the internationally famous Southern Baptist minister, Billy Graham, perhaps "...among the most influential Christian leaders of the 20th century." Graham, who repudiated racial segregation, famously invited Martin Luther King jr. to preach jointly in New York.

Capitalism and religion

But in the true fashion of capitalism, its values began to permeate the practice of religion itself, resulting in the proliferation of all sorts of Christian religious denominations, sects and cults competing against each other not necessarily for the conversion of souls but for lucre.

Overarched by America's convoluted tax system, these televangelists became masters at milking their congregations, perverting religious broadcasting using laws and rules exempting churches from taxes. Religion became a lucrative business!

The likes of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker who headed the "Praise the Lord (PTL) Club" under their Trinity Broadcasting Network gained notoriety accumulating millions of unaudited funds diverting amounts to themselves, even building a Christian themed park, Heritage USA, which eventually went bankrupt. Jim was convicted of several crimes and sentenced to 45 years in prison (serving only 5 years).

One of the most notorious was Jimmy Swaggart, a Pentecostal pastor ordained by the Assemblies of God; he founded a small church, the Family Worship Center and parlayed this into a multi-million megachurch. He lost his church eventually when he was embroiled in a sex scandal with a prostitute.

Gaya-gaya in da Pilipins

The perversion of religion through mass media became apparent with the popularity of American televangelists. We have our own televangelists in the Philippines who may have accumulated riches too. But whether they are legitimate or not is for our justice system to prove.

The US' formal accusation specifically declared that, among other things, the "Appointed Son of God" is a rapist. These are fighting words. Former Justice secretary Menardo "Boy" Guevarra, the current solicitor general, issued a response that is at best a lame one. "If the evidence further shows that some acts other than those covered by the US indictment have been committed here, then that's a cue to conduct a separate domestic investigation."

The Justice department has admitted that a complaint of rape, child abuse and human trafficking was filed against Quiboloy in Davao City last year, but that this was dismissed. He noted that the dismissal is "now on appeal with the DoJ."

Justice Secretary Crispin "Boying" Remulla has no response nor started any initiative to do any investigation except to aver that the extradition of televangelist Apollo Quiboloy, if requested by the United States government, may take time.

Treating Quiboloy with kid gloves is understandable as in the city where his cult sprouted, he is virtually untouchable, having been the spiritual adviser of his co-Davaoeño, former president Duterte. And herein lies the greatest abnormality — not so much ASOG's amassing of wealth but his accumulation of political clout at its rawest, controlling a sizable amount of command votes.

This fact is significant as over the years he has managed to project an image of a political kingmaker. And this symbiosis between the traditional politicians and the sect leader — charlatans all — have taken a life of its own. True or not, it doesn't matter, as every election time those who seek the highest office must first seek the blessing of the appointed one. So, they form a bee-line to his heavenly abode in Barrio Tamayong for the ASOG to lay his holy hands upon their heads. All of them — winners and losers. And this feeds on itself. This in essence is political power. How he manages to pick the winner is perhaps a mystery.

Quiboloy deserves his day in court — but not in his heavenly domain. This is now in the hands of BBM. Will he risk the wrath of the "appointed son of God"? Or will he let justice run its course?


Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 22 December 2022 12:09

Enrile pushes scrapping of 1987 Constitution

CHIEF Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday, September 21, said he favors the scrapping of the 1987 Constitution and charter change at this time, but only through a constitutional assembly.

"Let's change the Constitution, but let's do it through a constitutional assembly," said Enrile during the continuation of the hybrid hearing of the Senate Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes chaired by Sen. Robinhood "Robin" Padilla on the Review and Study of the 1987 Constitution.

"Charter change is imperative, it's needed now. But we do not need a Con-con (Constitutional Commission), that would only cost a lot of money. Congress can do it. Why do we have to hold an election and pay the salaries of people who may not necessarily understand the problems of the nation because they have not experienced these problems," he explained.

While acknowledging that constitutional experts should be consulted, Enrile said he prefers to have public officials elected by the people, "who have to live with the present Constitution and already have an intimate grasp of problems facing the nation" to amend the fundamental law.

He said that he personally favors maintaining the presidential form of government, but giving the elected President of the Republic a longer term of office that is to be determined by a constitutional assembly.

"We need to amend the Charter because it is a source of our problems as a nation, and it retards our progress. As long as we have the present Constitution we will remain where we are," he stressed.

Asked as to how Charter change could help curb corruption, Enrile replied: "You cannot change the character of the Filipino through Charter change, but you can open up the country to development. The problem of corruption is a question of law enforcement. If you jail the corrupt and seize their ill-gotten wealth, the problem will stop."

According to Enrile, some of the provisions of the 1987 Constitution hinder the nation's progress. The Constitution actually favors only the rich. It allows them to invest as much as 60 percent in mining, agriculture, transportation, and so on. The rich make lots of money here, but they bring the profits elsewhere.

"We should have an investment policy that will protect not only the rich but also the poor. We can control the foreigners but not the rich Filipinos who control our politics, the judiciary, the executive branch, and even the police and the military. While the present setup works to their advantage, the nation suffers," Enrile added.

Told that in every administration, there's a call for Charter change, Enrile said: "There's a need for it. Many oppose it for their own personal interests, not the national or public interest. The 1987 Constitution should be amended so that we can have unity in our society. There's too much debate."

Published in News
Wednesday, 21 December 2022 08:57

Harvard Bureaucrats Ball

LAST December 15, the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Association of the Philippines (HKSAAP) celebrated its 33 years in the country with a gala event, the Bureaucrats Ball, a tradition started at the Harvard Cambridge campus and replicated in the Philippines only for the second time. The gathering is a Harvard family affair where in the words of its hardworking executive director Jose Buenaflor Jimenez 3rd, "Although divided in political convictions and affiliations, its members stand united in the pursuit of better living, [through] exemplary leadership, honor, and always with utmost integrity."

Harvard University over the years has had many of its graduates recruited to various Philippine administrations. In the best tradition of academic and professional excellence, the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) has had its share of these men and women occupying the political spectrum. The classic "clash of ideas, the thesis and antithesis resulting in a synthesis" has been the hallmark of the philosophy behind the institution's founding. The Harvard-Kennedy community is diverse as the citizenry it serves.

At the ball, Migrant Workers Secretary Susan V. Ople (MC/MPA '99) was the guest of honor. She recounted in her talk, "Tale of Optimism Over Adversity," her life at Harvard with classmates Arlene Donaire, Amina Rasul Bernardo, Corina Unson and Jesse Robredo (†). Arlene, an artist/photographer, encapsulated her message with a quote to remember: "To be effective as a leader, you need to be as authentic and as free as you can be."

The affair was also an occasion by the outgoing Harvard alumni board headed by the indefatigable Raffy Alunan 3rd (MC/MPA '97) to award the Veritas Medal recognizing the successful run of our Harvard colleagues in government, led by current BCDA Chairman Delfin Lorenzana, UP President Angelo Jimenez, Batangas Vice Gov. Mark Leviste, and various undersecretaries: Gloria Jumamil-Mercado of DepEd, Anneli Lontoc and Cesar Chaves of DoTr, Maria Antholette Allones of DMW, and those working at attached agencies. Of note was the recognition of the founding fathers of the association and its subsequent permutations: from the original '89 KSGALPHA to the 1997 KSGAAP Foundation to the 2012 HKSAAP. The Veritas Medal was our chest-thumping way of conveying to our own that we are proud of their services to the government and the Filipino. (Full list of awardees in our FB and Viber group.)


In Jimenez's briefing paper, the Harvard KSG was the latest of the 10 graduate and professional schools, founded only in 1936, with the oldest, Harvard College itself established 300 years earlier in 1636. The first Filipino graduate on record was Angel Nakpil (MPA '41). A prominent grad who had a stint in the cabinet was Onofre Corpuz (MPA '53) who served in various capacities as the secretary and minister of education, president of the University of the Philippines, and first chairman of the Career Executive Service Board in the late 1960s. Not until the 1980s were the Kennedy School graduates recognized in government.

"It was in 1989 when the association would begin to take a more formal structure. After completing the Mid-Career, Master in Public Administration program in 1989, Lito Monico Lorenzana, with classmates Primo Arambulo, Alejandro Flores Jr. and Christopher Gomez, initiated the creation of the alumni community," wrote John Jimenez.

An illustrious finishing school

In his welcome remarks at the Bureaucrats Ball, Lito Monico Lorenzana (MC/MPA '89), with a tinge of nostalgia spiced with humor (excerpts reprinted here), said the idea of organizing the alumni of the KSG in the Philippines was not at first coated with an aura of gravity — in the genre of Harvard alums "changing the world":

"We were mulling the idea of broadcasting the bragging rights we earned with our Harvard diplomas (but tastefully and nonchalantly), hinting that we have gone successfully through a year of (with tongue in cheek) the world's renowned finishing school. Harvard has also been arrogantly proclaiming that the institution imparted a fine patina of excellence on their graduates — Harvard men and women (and gays, to be politically correct). That there's just us! Babes Flores and I took the opposite view. We believe we were already distinguished and excellent, ahead of the curve even before we passed through the gates of Harvard. In fact, we made Harvard great!

"Thus, this HKS group's original purpose as envisioned by the four '89 Mason Fellows of the Kennedy School was nothing grand or formal or earth-shaking as changing the world, making it a better place, making a big difference ... etc... etc.'

"BTW, don't get me wrong — all of these are noteworthy and good. But more importantly, we needed a vehicle back in the Philippines to show off our elegant Burberry double-breasted Blue Blazers bought at a huge discount at Filene's Basement in Boston." (Full text of the speech by this columnist in our FB and Viber group.)

Role of Harvard graduates

As in any dynamic organization, the KSG reinvents itself from time to time. Thus, in 1997 it transformed itself into a foundation establishing a global network with Chato Calderon's (MC/MPA '88) group of multilateral consultants and cabinet members at the forefront. Its stated mission was elevated to a more grandiose declaration coated appropriately in bureaucratese "...to promote the ideals of public service, leadership, honor and integrity, inculcated by the experience and education of the school, to organize and provide assistance for research studies, conferences, and dialogues, relating to the development of policy issues, and alternatives, with special focus on public policy issues, in the context of Philippine development."

The intervening years saw the organization stamp its mark mostly on government with members recruited to the cabinet and sub-cabinet levels, the military and the bureaucracy of six administrations.

In another metamorphosis occurring in 2012, one of these Cabinet members, Raffy Alunan with Tony Abad, registered with SEC perhaps the final version of the Harvard-Kennedy School Alumni Association of the Philippines — HKSAAP. But for a quirk of the pandemic years, the board extended its term that ended appropriately with the election of the incoming one at the Bureaucrats Ball. The association's efforts over the years are "always work in progress," and its success or failure is a mostly subjective gauge on ideas and policies emanating from the collective minds of the members harnessed effectively well by its leadership; injected into the government mainstream, applied for the country's benefit. The challenge now for the incoming board is to do better than the last.

With a revolving door between the HKSAAP and government, there is a danger that the principles behind which the former was founded may be overlooked. Its leadership and ultimately its membership may have to remind themselves that they must at all times adhere to the "Veritas" of its existence — nothing more than the delivery of good governance to its clientele — the Filipino.

To remind us all, I reiterate my counsel years back when I assumed the first presidency of the KSG: "You are good, if you can uplift the Filipino from their current condition. But you are greater, if you bring them to a condition beyond where they need not be uplifted."

That is the role the HKSAAP must carve for itself.

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 14 December 2022 14:56

Maharlika: Consolidating 'kurakot' into one fund

SO, what's the fuss over this Maharlika Sovereign Wealth Fund that people who know nothing about investments are bitching about? As staunch apologist Secretary Ben Diokno declared: Maraming ... nagko-comment na hindi pa nababasa ata 'yung bill eh, so out of ignorance ..." In short, read the bill before you whine!

Dismiss the detail that the fund is named after Maharlika, the ostensible guerrilla group led by war hero Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. that the US Army has debunked, and the National Historical Commission has said was "fraught with myths, factual inconsistencies and lies"!

Sen. Risa Hontiveros had to remind everyone: "I get heebie-jeebies whenever I hear the word 'maharlika.' It's part of the legacy of the martial law dictatorship, the mythmaking, to really milk it." Although it is a non sequitur, she could be right, considering this bill is proposed in Congress by Sandro and Martin, son and cousin, respectively, of BBM.

After six months in the political doldrums, and after the "kapalpakan" of his ex-executive secretary and accusations of a lazy president causing countless unfilled positions in the Cabinet and the bureaucracy, reportedly awaiting a vetting committee of one; he has caused them to file "... a bill seeking to create the fund — one of his administration's boldest economic plans to date." Bold! My eye!

Opposition to the fund has since swollen with some critics warning it could wind up as the motherload of all "kurakot schemes" eclipsing the NBN-ZTE broadband, the Napoles pork-barrel kickback scam, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the Pharmally pandemic scams — combined. Admittedly, stretching a little bit too far with this comparison, one can't blame the Filipino for being so jaded on new initiatives from any administration involving congressmen and money — an oxymoron! But first, let's put things in proper perspective.

Sovereign wealth fund

This is a state-owned fund that is used to invest mostly globally in a variety of asset classes such as stocks, bonds, real estate, private equity or even in exotics as in metals, objets d'art, hedge funds, bitcoins, etc. Its main characteristic is using excess funds for maximizing long-term returns and thus not funds used by governments or their central banks for short-term "currency stabilization" and liquidity management. More importantly, in our case, these investments are intended to enhance the wealth of all Filipinos, particularly for the next generations.

There are also funds which are privately run with even bigger assets under management (AUM) than the whole GDP of the Philippines. The Blackstone Group has $881 billion in AUM.

The International Monetary Fund monitoring the 100 or so SWFs has listed some of those successful ones. Temasek, headquartered in Singapore, is the savings or generational investment fund that has the future of Singapore and its people in mind. Its long-term sustainable returns have been phenomenal since its establishment in 1974, running at 14 percent compounded annually.

One SWF of note is Norway's ($1.136 trillion) established in 1969 after the country discovered oil in the North Sea. Safeguarding the country's economic future with its excess funds, it has investments in 9,300 companies globally. Yet its investment lost $174 billion in the first half of 2022, principally due to inflation, the war in Ukraine and the fear of global recessions. But with enormous assets, this loss is just a mosquito bite.

Notorious SWF

But there are also SWFs that lost big not so much because of the exigencies of the world economy but because of the corruption of those that ran the funds. Foremost of these is the 1 Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) of Malaysia, described as one of the world's greatest financial scandals involving corruption, bribery and money laundering conspiracy in which the fund was systematically embezzled, with assets diverted globally by the perpetrators of the scheme. Reportedly Malaysia's then-prime minister Najib Razak had channeled over RM2.67 billion (approximately $700 million) into his personal bank accounts.

Another horror story closer to home is the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA). "This SWF was to accumulate savings for future generations, as energy resources are considered depleting assets that shrink to zero over time" (1MDB brochure). Founded in 1983 ($71 billion), the BIA was run by Prince Jefri, finance minister and chairman of the fund from 1986 to 1997. After an external audit, he was found to have embezzled $14.8 billion. The prince was exiled for a certain period from Brunei by his brother Sultan Bolkiah for losses/anomalies and the dissipation of BIA's assets.


At present the Philippines already has investment funds — not strictly sovereign — as "sovereign" has a special global connotation. What is controversial in the shaping of the law is the diversion of assets of the GSIS and the SSS to the Maharlika. Congress in creating the Maharlika will siphon off P125 billion from GSIS and P50 billion from SSS (a total of roughly $3 billion).

These are contributions and savings of government and private sector employees, respectively — with counterparts from their employers. These institutions have for years been run by their own boards with their funds invested and returns accruing to the members. SWF is just a duplication. But as in anything that government handles, there are critical flaws.

Years ago, then GSIS president Winston Garcia filed plunder charges against four GSIS officials before the Office of the Ombudsman for their alleged involvement in a housing loan scam that defrauded the GSIS of P413 million. This was part of a large real estate investment portfolio of GSIS invested locally. Such funds "... has apparently stirred up a hornet's nest of racketeers who want to exploit the GSIS as their milking cow for as long as possible." One can't blame Hontiveros therefore for being scared, declaring in a television interview "... and speaking of plunder... they are saying that the money of the members of SSS, GSIS, Pag-IBIG will be mobilized for this sovereign wealth fund."

Transparency and safeguards

Strictly speaking, the Philippines doesn't really have excess funds to create our own SWF, in the manner of Brunei and Norway which set up theirs from their oil/gas windfall and surpluses. The Philippines' track record in running pension funds leaves much to be desired, let alone a global SWF.

In the Philippines, when you have Congress and administration allies painstakingly concocting ways to source funds for another dubious venture — which Maharlika is — cuidado! This is another monumental scam in the making! I'd rather listen to the better Marcos, Imee, expressing fears that the proposed Philippine sovereign wealth fund might suffer the same fate as Malaysia's 1MDB, which was hounded by corruption issues.

With graft and corruption so endemic in our country, ask any Filipino in the street if he really is assured of the pronouncements of our political leaders like Zubiri and Gatchalian declaring "... the need for full transparency and efficient utilization of taxpayers' money should the government push for its (Maharlika's) creation... corruption can be addressed by safeguards. An oversight committee in the Senate can also be created to ensure that the funds invested are properly monitored."

Once you have an oversight committee over the application of funds, the Philippine experience shows that over time, this becomes highly politicized and their dirty little fingers groping all over the place.

Maharlika is another scheme in consolidating 'kurakot' into one fund.

And God/Allah help us!


Published in LML Polettiques

MANIA, Philippines — A local governance think-tank urges the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to heed the request of the local government units (LGUs) to move the implementation of full devolution to 2027, instead of 2024, the target period set by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

Full devolution, or the transfer of key national government functions to the LGUs, is in compliance with the Mandanas-Garcia ruling of the Supreme Court, which gave bigger budgets to provinces and cities, but at the same time stipulated that the task of implementing programs and projects otherwise done by agencies of the national government be transferred to mayors and governors.

The high tribunal in 2018 granted the petitions of Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas and the late former Bataan Gov. Enrique Garcia Jr. that the LGUs’ internal revenue allotment or IRA (now called the national tax allotment or NTA) should come from 40 percent of “all” national taxes — not only from the collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue which had been appropriated in the past but also from the Bureau of Customs’ collections of import duties and other taxes.

Under the 2023 budget, for instance, ₱820.3-billion in NTA is allocated together with ₱28.9 billion under the Local Government Support Fund (LGSF) to empower LGUs in delivering the devolved services. In 2021, this amounted to only ₱695.49 billion.

Duterte signed Executive Order No. 138 in June 2021 directing the national government to “devolve” or transfer to LGUs the implementation of formerly national government functions and give LGUs a three-year transition period until 2024.

The order cited Section 17 of Republic Act No. 7160, or the Local Government Code of 1991, allowing the transfer to LGUs of local infrastructure (for education, irrigation, and trade), agriculture and natural resource management, environmental services, telecommunications, peace and order, social welfare, transportation, tourism, and housing services functions.

‘Risk of a failure’
However, the Local Government Development Institute (LGDI) agreed with LGUs and other experts on the need to extend the transition period under EO 138 to six years, or to 2027, for a more gradual transfer of programs.

“Based on our interactions with LGUs across the country, many are clearly not ready for full devolution. The risk of a failure is high. We should learn from our experience in the ’90s during the first phase of the devolution which was very challenging. Therefore, the appropriate interventions have to be given to the LGUs,” Jonathan Malaya, executive director of LGDI and former undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), said in a statement.

“It is critical that LGUs are actually prepared technically and financially to take on the additional functions that come with full devolution. If the LGUs are not ready to deliver the services given before by the national government, it may result in delayed or deficient implementation which is to the detriment of public service,” he warned.

Malaya called on the national government to fast-track the implementation of capacity development programs to prepare all LGUs for the devolution transition.

He said the DILG’s Local Government Academy (LGA) could take the lead in capacity development interventions for the local governments and introduce the appropriate mechanisms to ensure efficient use of government resources.

Given the many capacity development interventions by the Department of Budget and Management, the National Economic and Development Authority, the Department of Finance, the Development Academy of the Philippines, and third-party service providers for the LGUs, the LGA should harmonize all these efforts, Malaya said.

All LGUs and the national government agencies concerned should also prepare their respective devolution transition plans to ensure the smooth implementation of full devolution.

Fund misalignment
According to Malaya, the government should seriously consider an earlier call by House Assistant Majority Leader Richard Gomez for a one-to-one correspondence between the increased NTA to the cost of devolved programs to LGUs.

The Leyte lawmaker had even urged the President to repeal EO 138, citing the lack of a clear plan and the misalignment in the source of funding.

“I am appealing to President Marcos to nullify EO 138 as Congress and the Executive thresh out the various issues that have cropped up related to the implementation of the full devolution of services,” he said, adding: “Let’s put everything in order first before discussing full devolution again.”

“Most glaring of these issues is the fact there is simply no peso-for-peso correspondence between the added NTA and the added funds required to finance full devolution. In many cases, the added funds required to finance fully devolved programs [are] more than the additional NTA.

This misalignment in sources and uses of funds at the LGU level emanates from a systemic issue that can be traced from how NTAs are derived per LGU as mandated by RA 7160,” he noted.

The House committee on local government has initiated an inquiry stemming from Gomez’s House Resolution 599, which maintained that the calculation of the NTA of local governments were not aligned with the costing of devolved functions under the Local Government Code of the Philippines and EO 138.

Not all LGUs capable
In the Senate, Sen. JV Ejercito on Sunday agreed that many LGUs might not be able to take on the devolved functions from the national government within the three-year transition period.

“I would highly recommend [an] extension of the transition period,” the chair of the Senate local government committee told the INQUIRER.
“Cities and first-class municipalities will probably have the capacity, but second to fifth-class municipalities might not have the capacity yet to implement some of the devolved functions like health, education, and agricultural programs,” the senator said.

He said he had discussed with Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos and Valenzuela City Rep. Rex Gatchalian, Ejercito’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, the creation of a technical working group to look into the effect of the Supreme Court’s Mandanas ruling.

Published in News
Monday, 12 December 2022 10:17

BBM-Xi Jinping-Trump

TWO occurrences in China and America within the last quarter of 2022 could impact on world political events. This column's concerns revolve around how the new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reacts to them. The first is the anointing of President Xi Jinping as China's virtual dictator. China has removed the two-term limit on the presidency, effectively allowing Xi to rule beyond his original term that should have ended in 2027. There have only been two people in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) prior to Xi who have been similarly privileged — Mao Zedong, the founder of modern socialist and communist China, and Deng Xiaoping, the political reformer who guided China with baby steps toward a market economy.

But China today is undergoing an upheaval of sorts and the country's profile is changing drastically. With tight controls by the Communist Party on its people and the press, we seldom have the unvarnished truth coming out from China. But with the internet defying the airwaves, snippets filter out that Xi Jinping's harsh 2022 pandemic zero-Covid lockdown policy has resulted in defiant public protests in major cities, from Shanghai to Sichuan to Nanjing and even Beijing.

Protests in China

People kept locked in their homes for months on end have started to get out to the streets to protest these insufferable conditions. The trigger to these protests was a fire in an apartment building in the city of Urumqi in the northwest where 10 people died. They couldn't escape because of the lockdown, local officials had sealed the doors of the apartments from the outside.

But the tenor of these protests has dangerously gone beyond the harsh lockdown conditions and has interjected a host of other social and political grievances — including mutterings against Xi Jinping's personal leadership. Since the Tiananmen Square upheaval in 1989, the government has learned to develop the technology to counter these mass gatherings, quelling mostly localized protests. With the Tiananmen protests, however, the elite-driven movement of Beijing-centered university-based students and intellectuals did not exactly resonate with the wider citizens.

It's different this time. The demonstrations have simultaneously and spontaneously erupted in many places, and the demands threaten to spill over beyond Covid toward the legitimacy of the new regime itself; a dangerous development as the dictatorship's response will be shaped by the dominant issues. So far, options are available to simply relax zero-Covid restrictions as a relief valve, assuaging public demonstrations of defiance. But then again, this could be misconstrued as a sign of weakness.

With the instruments of state repression at his command, it is unlikely that these developments will weaken Xi's hold on the levers of power, but it will embarrass him no end in the international stage, adding to the world's political volatility.

US Republican Party

The second event was last month's midterm US election that flipped the lower house to the Republicans. They were predicting a "red wave" at the polls that did not materialize. This was purportedly the worst GOP midterm election performance and all because of a political anchor that drags the party down — Donald Trump. Those that the former president supported in the GOP primaries lost miserably in the general elections. They could have won a bigger majority in the House and recaptured the Senate.

But a threat looms on the horizon. Trump has declared his intention to run again in 2024 putting the GOP into a quandary as to either continue to align with this polarizing still influential former president or to look for new blood within their leadership. Trump can throw the 2023 Republican primaries into a paroxysm of political realignments. There is the Florida governor DeSantis, a Harvard and Yale-educated lawyer whose star is on the ascendant. Former vice president Mike Pence will have a hard time shedding his image as Trump's stooge. Others mentioned are the maverick Liz Cheney who voted to impeach Trump and turned pariah by her party, Trump's former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and a host of GOP wannabees. But these potential rivals never had the charisma nor the tenacious loyalty of almost a third of the fringe Republicans that Hillary Clinton once described as a "basket of deplorables." These are the 2020 election deniers continuing to propagate the lie that Biden didn't win the presidency. They could push the Donald over the lackluster GOP rivals precipitating a rematch in 2024.

US Democratic Party

On the other hand, the Democrats are likewise in a predicament as Biden, now seen as a politically weak and physically spent force, seeks re-election. So far, no strong Democratic candidate is in sight to contest Biden in the primaries. Kamala Harris as a substitute is a remote possibility — a Black woman acceptable for the vice presidency perhaps as a token but not for the presidency — from a still racist American electorate.

There are scenarios and there are scenarios but considering the state of the US' convoluted politics, the intriguing one is the return of Trump to the US presidency and its implications for the world, particularly for Southeast Asia and the Philippines.

Is BBM his own man?

A corollary to the two events described above are the implications for the Philippines with new helmsman, BBM. President Duterte went out of the political stage in style — sent off by the Filipinos with the highest popularity and trust rating ever. No doubt his foreign policy initiatives gained traction. His pivot away from America toward China has warmed the cockles of Xi Jinping, even announcing earlier in his presidency in 2018, "I simply love Xi Jinping. He understands my problem and is willing to help, so I would say thank you China." This amid the polemics surrounding the arbitral tribunal ruling on the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), rejecting China's nine-dash line. Such bromance and declaration of endearment were to provide dividends from China with Xi's promises to fund his Build, Build, Build program. But on examination once the Deegong left office, it turned out to be all just that, promises — mostly unfulfilled. We've been had!

And now, it's BBM's turn, armed with an exceedingly high popularity and trust rating as he enters office. With a possible return of Trump, and the ascendancy of Xi Jinping, we are confronted with an eerie sense of déjà vu. It was during Trump's watch that Xi caused territorial disputes involving conflicting island and maritime claims.

Trump's inability to confront Chinese aggression during his term has impacted even our country's foreign policy which started with Duterte's pivot away from America to a neutrality that really favored China. And now BBM is mouthing a similar mantra with his foreign policy of "friends to all, enemies to none," an asinine, childish declaration descriptive of our inutility; while advocating that "...international rules-based order and the rule of law ... in the maritime sector;" and unable to do anything while Chinese coast guards drive away Filipino fisherfolk from our traditional fishing grounds.

But we are concerned with the here and now. Duterte is out, and now Junior is on the hot seat. Can he hack it?


Published in LML Polettiques

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives has resurrected moves to change the 1987 Constitution, proposing to do so through the formation of a constitutional convention.

House Joint Resolution No. 12, introduced by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, cited the need to revisit the economic provisions of the Constitution “so that the Philippines may become globally competitive and attuned with the changing times.”

“Such constitutional reform has been identified by reputable business and economic groups as one of the key policy instruments that needs to (be) implemented, and is now long overdue,” Rodriguez said, adding that “political reforms may now be required to be incorporated in our Constitution.”

The resolution was referred to the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments.

Previous attempts to alter the Constitution failed to progress following allegations that these were actually intended to prolong the stay of incumbent politicians in their posts.

In a bid to avoid such opposition to charter change, Rodriguez said “the assumption of the new government counteracts any suspicion that the clamor for constitutional reform promotes vested interests and the personal ambitions of elective officials in the guise of constitutional amendments.”

The proposed House joint resolution also noted that “calling for a constitutional convention to propose amendments to the Constitution to be composed of elected delegates from all regions of the country would be the most democratic and least divisive among the three modes of amending the Constitution.”

Election in 2023

Should the joint resolution be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives with a vote of two-thirds of their members, the election of delegates from each legislative district to the constitutional convention would be set in October 2023, or simultaneously with the rescheduled barangay polls.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair would be tasked to initially take charge of all arrangements for convening the constitutional convention, which would meet at the session hall of the House of Representatives on Jan. 8, 2024, to be presided jointly by the Senate President and the House Speaker until a presiding officer is elected among the delegates.

Delegates will have a term of office of six months, or until June 30, 2024, and the constitutional convention will be mandated to submit its report to the president, Congress, and Comelec within 30 days from the completion of the consolidated charter amendments or revisions.

Recent attempt

“The amendments to, or revision of, the Constitution proposed by the convention shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite which shall be held not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days after the submission of the convention reports,” according to the proposed resolution.

The most recent attempt of the House to amend the 1987 Constitution was in early 2021, but this was rejected by several senators, saying the revisions sought by the purported “economic Charter change” were already being addressed by several proposed legislation.

Several senators also questioned the propriety of discussing amendments to the Constitution while the country remained gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Published in News
Thursday, 01 December 2022 09:49

Kusog Mindanaw, BARMM and federalism

Last of 2 parts

FOR the past three decades, Kusog Mindanaw (Kusog) was the premier platform for its various stakeholders to air their concerns, gripes and aspirations. The strategy was to achieve whatever consensus is to be arrived at in view of the diversity of cultures within one nation whose collective personality has been forged by the ascendency of two Western civilizations — Spanish and American — blended into a mongrelized pastiche, embodied in the centralized government lodged in Manila, the symbolic imperial seat. The task therefore was an ambitious undertaking encapsulated in a catch-all phrase encompassing our hopes — peace and development and unity in diversity through federalism.

Kusog has provided modest but critical contributions to the conception of both the defunct ARMM and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanaw (BARMM). Quite a few of their leadership were once active in these conferences. The adversaries MNLF and MILF met unofficially with the GOP (Government of the Philippines) peace panelists, seeking advantage by deducing each other's negotiating postures. The genesis of ARMM/BARMM may be traced to these political conversations shaped further in the fringes of intermittent internecine clashes against central authority.

From the second half of this century, this wretched land touted by the good people in Luzon as the land of promise indeed fulfilled its potential not for what our political patriarchs envisaged but by bloodletting. Starting with fierce fighting, land evictions and issues of who owns what were reduced to the question of redress of ancient grievances and the rectification of old injustices. But for whom and by whom has blurred and gone beyond semantics (see The Manila Times, Nov. 16, 2022, "Kusog Mindanaw" Part 1). All sides were right, and all sides were wrong. Guns and violence substituted for civilized behavior, senseless arbiters of disputes.

Cognizant of the diverse faiths of the protagonists, the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) religious leaders provided spiritual guidance. The GOP side: the Confederation of Mindanao Governors, City Mayors, and Municipal Mayors and the Mindanao Legislators Association composed of congressmen and senators from Mindanao offered tutorials in governance. The Mindanaw business councils and local entrepreneurs propounded trade and markets. But the bulk, whose aspirations were to be served were the NGOs and POs, the academe, the cooperatives, the Mindanaw women and the Mindanaw media; and the mostly disenfranchised Lumads. They are the Kusog

BARMM a panacea?

The Mindanao Muslims' yearning for a "bangsa" of their own was the impetus for the BARMM, becoming a reality only as the culmination of intermittent countless wars, peace talks, peace failures and attempts at reconstructions and restructuring. But the sine qua non was that the BARMM was to exist within the ambit of the Filipino nation.

Thus, the concept of local autonomy and federalism copied from various countries around the world with different histories and values was put in place. The BARMM was indeed a truly local concept adapted after both sides — the Bangsamoro and the Philippine government — had exacted so much blood and had no other recourse.

Thus, an experiment on self-governance ensued stating in no uncertain terms its mission and vision: "The Bangsamoro that is united, enlightened, self-governing, peaceful, just, morally upright, and progressive. Guided by moral governance and in pursuit of genuine and meaningful autonomy, the Bangsamoro Government ensures the necessary conditions for enduring peace and sustained socioeconomic development suitable to the systems of life, needs, and aspirations of its people by providing services to communities, ensuring multi-stakeholder participation, and facilitating appropriate partnerships."

Beautiful words but one critical concept of this preamble is the final negation of what was once a primordial cry — independence and a separate nation. It is supplanted by a more logical genuine autonomy — planting the seeds of federalism. This too is Kusog's raison d'etre.

Kusog and BARMM

In the Kusog conference in November this year, the flavor of the dissertations and the discourse had changed. There were no longer clashes of ideas — thesis versus antithesis producing synthesis. Participants had become ambivalent. But having proudly contributed to the creation of the BARMM, Kusog must now move on to expand the concepts embodied by BARMM and agitate for other "bangsa in Mindanaw" for similar "pursuit of genuine and meaningful autonomy!"

Kusog needs to reinvent itself from solely a three-decade venue for discourse and debate to a more active participant in the development of BARMM as therein lies in its initial success, the fundamental restructuring of a unitary system of government. BARMM's uniqueness as a parliamentary government existing within a unitary Philippines could be the template for the next phase — the proliferation of BARMM clones — this time in the other Christian dominated regions in Mindanao and eventually the whole country. Let Mindanaw be first to move towards a truly Federal State.

What's good for Bangsa Moro is good for Bangsa Bisaya, Bangsa Ilokano, Bangsa Tagalog, Bangsa Bikolano and the other Bangsa making a total of 8 to 13 Bangsa of the Federal Republic of the Philippines. A new cry BARMM today! Pederal Mindanaw tomorrow! and Pederal Philippines beyond!

We Mindanaw-nons (this writer included) are under no illusion that many in the center of political power in the Philippine government would rather hold on to the monopoly of central authority and would not mind BARMM failing. But its failure or success depends to a large extent on how it governs itself.

Dark cloud looming

Two events happened just recently that may have a negative impact on BARMM's governance. Earlier this month reports filtered out that the 101st Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army clashed with Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF) in the town of Ungkaya Pukan in Basilan province. Basilan is now part of BARMM, and a decommissioning process of its armed forces is in the closing phase. Questions begin to surface: Was there a decommissioning of forces in the BARMM per agreements in the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro (CAB)? Reports also came out that these were young men presumably recruited after the BARMM came into existence. Was the demobilization, unvalidated by both sides, a "moro-moro"? This was by no means isolated as earlier on Sept. 15, 2022, three government soldiers were ambushed in the MILF stronghold of Al-Barka town, in Lamitan.

The second event was even more ominous. During the 22nd annual general assembly of the MILF's committee on da'wah and masajid affairs. BARMM Chief Minister Ahod B. Ebrahim stated unequivocally in that meeting with the theme, "Islam is a religion and state," "...that revolutionaries and mujahideen worked hand in hand to strengthen Islamization fighting for the right to self-determination ... fixing the system, but the mujahideen will further work on injecting Islamic principles in the system."

Many in the central government interpret this statement as the inevitable Islamization of the area, with all the irrational fears, imagined or real, contrary to the principles agreed to in the formation of BARMM.

Birthing pains

From many Mindanaw-nons opting for real peace and development for Mindanaw and a template for eventual federalization — these are birth pains that can be alleviated. All births are preceded by blood. We Mindanaw-nons hope it is the blood of a successful birth not that of a stillborn.

Published in LML Polettiques