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, following the path of pagbabago conservatively through the rule of law, and another through a call for revolutionary government – all taken in the name of the Deegong.

In the midst of all these, it is obvious that the Deegong needs a surrogate that stands out from among the dregs of the parties now populating his supermajority; one with a similar charisma possessing qualities acquired uniquely by those who have attained the pinnacle of power and grasped the parameters of its flaws and possibilities.

We have such a one. Today, Gloria stands at the cusp of a chaotic political tableau, poised on the side, awaiting the call. She is no doubt a quintessential traditional politician, steeped in the arcana of Philippine politics, knowledgeable about the flaws and strengths of the system.

It is perhaps also the height of irony that such a politician—who has sunk to the nadir of power but once enjoyed its zenith, and descended to the depths of despair—is exactly what is needed to play a crucial role as handmaiden to DU30 on effecting the restructuring of Philippine society no less. PRRD’s initiative today is a coherent sequence that GMA seriously started during her watch, but was aborted by the maneuverings of the oligarchy in alliance with the same “yellow army.” In this, both are eerily confronted by the same adversary; both share a common vision.

Having “been there, done that,” she has nothing to lose. She has already lost—almost everything, except perhaps the ability to reinvent herself. As the political consort of DU30, she will; hopefully for the good of the country and for both their legacies.
Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 15 March 2018 11:49

Game of thrones

THE HBO original series presented an interesting study of the political nature of our species, keeping the audience totally engrossed for the past seven seasons. Power, the use and misuse of power and even the non-use of power have been woven through plots and sublots, keeping the millions of viewers emotionally invested all these years. And the clever use of deus ex machina, the fire-breathing dragons, White Walkers, injected in the narrative and repairing the weak points in the storytelling, has driven the popularity of the series beyond measure. We don’t want the series to end.

We too have a miniature version of the GOT in our local politics.

The Deegong’s character imbued in his agenda has been so domineering and intimidating, effectively castrating his enemies that his own allies have to assume the role of his “frenemies.”

Duterte’s major themes
The DU30 agenda can be broken into three major themes: first, the elimination of the “illegal drugs” menace but has provoked questions of human rights violations. We are not discussing this here as “tokhang” and its implications have been referred to the International Criminal Court and are “subjudice.”

The two other themes are the drastic restructuring of Philippine society through the revision of the 1987 Constitution, and the President breaking ranks with an oligarchy, the moneyed elite and its politician allies that have sucked the lifeblood of the country almost dry for almost a century. This will be his lasting legacy.

Duterte’s rise to power is a classic case study of near-total dominance by his persona over his three colorless opponents and the election cycle. Starting off as a minority president with a third of the votes cast, his subalterns captured both houses of Congress even before he was sworn into office, abetted by a dysfunctional party system. It was the distrust for and lack of credibility of the outgoing Aquino government that brought about the obliteration of his Liberal Party, with other political groupings migrating to the winning brand, the PDP Laban.

But since the party system is personality-oriented, steeped in traditional political practices, cracks opened in the President’s party machinery, exposing the pathetic bonds within the leadership. While the President was himself engulfed in problems of his own making in his drive against illegal drugs that resulted in thousands of unsolved deaths, the internecine feud simmered underneath.

One faction is led by Senate President Koko Pimentel who himself is struggling to hold on to a fragile Senate leadership and maintain the last vestiges of “ideological purity” of the PDP Laban. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’sbloc in Congress, unconcerned about “ideology,” is casting its net wider to capture whatever remnants there are of the tradpols, scraping the bottom of the political barrel, enticing marginal politicians, to his own clique within the supermajority.

Alvarez’s other maneuvers have been less than elegant: a petty and uncalled-for quarrel with an agricultural oligarch as a result of a catfight between their girlfriends; a puerile squabble with the daughter-mayor of his principal, ending in his “surrender”; and the snubbing of the “original PDP Laban purists.” This evoked severe responses within the contentious alliance, portents of a battle royale in Davao del Norte politics.

But deadlier is the inevitable settling of scores by Duterte’s praetorians. So far, both are acting nonchalant, but their swords are drawn, belying a surface calm.

Presidential vs parliamentary
The unwitting (or is it?) choice of the constitutional commission or committee (Con-com) for the status quo, could play into the hands of these dramatis personae, the arena upon which these political gladiators will perform their danse macabre. DU30, with his bizarre stance to keep his hands off, may perhaps tacitly anoint the survivor as the keeper of the Deegong legacy.

Koko certainly will give it a try, grudgingly pleased that the PDP Laban’s hybrid-parliamentary stand did not get the Con-com’s nod—what with his venerable father carrying the torch for a scheme that could vicariously give him the satisfaction of the presidency he let slip through his fingers.

Alvarez certainly will not be shy going for it but the batting average for a House Speaker reaching the top post has been dismal; witness Ramon Mitra in 1992 and Joe De V in 1998.

Sarah Duterte while assuming the role of a “denial queen” could be salivating for a stab at the top post, which could explain her image remake as a female Deegong and forming her regional vehicle, Hugpong Pagbabago.

And the same old same old political dynasts whose tattered reputations have been rehabilitated, like Bongbong Marcos, fighting tooth and nail to unseat Robredo, or any of the tired old names in the political firmament—Erap, the pardoned convicted plunderer and the once-reliable FVR, who couldn’t stop being president.

The hybrid parliamentary/presidential government, could be the suitable model for the current crop of traditional PDP Laban politicians sitting at the head table relishing its supermajority status. Parliamentary government is party government and PDP Laban’s numerical advantage could assure it continued power. This model allows for a strong universally elected president, as head of state, sharing power with the head of government, the prime minister.

Post-Duterte scenario
This dual leadership could result in gridlocks and clashes of personalities. And the election of president at large makes the presidency vulnerable to the oligarchy and the moneyed few (see my Manila Times column www.manilatimes.net/can-con-com-con-ass-speak-for-us/384750)and may even enshroud him with such gravitas establishing his status as primus inter pares.

In a presidential/parliamentary model, Koko as president and Alvarez as prime minister is the PDP Laban’s desired post-Duterte scenario; both sharing power; with the whole citizenry hoping that good will come out of this system.

But the odd man out here is Speaker Alvarez. According to the PDP Laban originals and purists, he is the epitome of everything that is wrong with the political party system in the country. In fact, rumors are rife that the factions arrayed against the Speaker are now gearing to make him a one-time representative of the second district of Davao del Norte, effectively toppling him from his perch. And these are where things could unravel and the fissures in the ruling party widen beyond repair. And by any measure, today the party drifts toward self-immolation.

And this early in the game, we don’t know the moves and intentions of the oligarchy, which has been biding its time and licking its wounds caused by DU30’s appearance. And in traditional politics, under a presidential system, they will attempt to call the shots, after the DU30 hiatus. Or, heaven forbid, the Deegong exits the scene before his time and the VP assumes power. In which case, all bets are off.

And here awaits one astute politician who may have calculated these permutations and may now be positioned for any eventuality.

Next week: GOT 2
Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 08 March 2018 11:33

Can Con-com, Con-ass speak for us?

THE executive order creating the 25-man Consultative Commission or Committee (Con-com) to advise President Duterte on the revisions of the 1987 Constitution has been inordinately delayed. Signed on December 7, 2016, it took the President 14 months to constitute its membership. This delay is a fatal flaw as it would result in unforced errors by the Con-com with serious implications on the revisions of the 1987 Constitution. Under the EO 10, its mandate is to“…study, conduct consultations and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution including, but not limited to, the provisions on the structure and powers of the government, local governance and economic policies.” Its findings and recommendations are meant to be adopted by the President when dealing with Congress, that has the sole constitutional mandate to revise the 1987 Constitution. In this sense, Con-com advises the President who in turn advises Congress.

Con-com’s initial critical work was to gauge the people’s pulse before crafting a draft constitution. Its members, selected for their expertise needed to consult other outside experts, notably the public. The beneficiary needs to imbue its soul into the document. Debates and public hearings are tools essential for this endeavor. They have six months to do this.

But on the evening of February 27, the chair, CJ Puno called for a vote on the structure for the Federal Philippine Republic. The first alternative was a semi-presidential/parliamentary federal form of government advanced by PDP Laban; a second was a simple parliamentary-federal system advocated by the CDPI/CDP/LAKAS/2005 called the “The Centrist Proposals”; and the third was for the status quo. As it turns out, the Con-com opted to retain the presidential system, the status quo.

The rush to demarcate the structures with minimal or no public hearings reversed the consultative process. Eleven members decided instead to flesh out the particulars of the presidential model, conveniently eliminating the parliamentary prototypes advocated by the PDP-Laban and the Centrist proposals. And conceivably present the finished product either to the President for an imprimatur and/or to the public in a fait accompli for acquiescence and confirmation; with the public, none the wiser. This was the first unforced error.

The President’s 14-month equivocation likewise precipitated a guessing game and attempts among his allies to parse his vague musings on federalism. These resulted instead in a babel of interpretations proffering archetypes backed by fringe adherents oftentimes contradicting each other.

This was further exacerbated by the patently puerile take of the president’s acolytes (DDS and fist pumpers) splattered all over media, simply reflecting blindly the President’s ruminations. An example is the Deegong’s bias towards a strongman chief executive encapsulated in his desire for a “French model.” France isn’t even federal. Such intimations have in fact convoluted the political discourse, a fault laid at the door of the presidency purveying the suspicion that DU30 has dropped the ball on his federalism advocacy.

Perhaps, in hopes of imposing a certain scholarly discipline and conduct to move their internal dialogue at a much faster pace, Con-com snubbed the inchoate popularity of the parliamentary systems argued and chatted upon articulately in social media.

Lost in all of these are the of defects of the status quo now espoused by CJ Puno and his colleagues. I will just cite two inherent ones evident over the decades of practice: universal presidential election, and the lethal consequences of a single leader with tremendous concentrated powers.

Empirical data shows billions of pesos are spent to propel a single person to the presidency. The tremendous amount of logistics raised for such a campaign leaves the winner vulnerable to the moneyed few that provide the same. The heated competition for the top post among four or five driven alpha personalities over ponderous and costly campaign periods opens an aperture for the oligarchy and the moneyed elite to inject their agenda into the political exercise; resulting in these donors exacting their pounds of flesh upon the winners, and the latter conceding to rent-seeking practices and oftentimes granting outright regulatory capture. It is a well-known dictum that one who controls political power controls economic power.

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 the 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. Our politicians have perfected a system of patronage where government coffers and benefits for the citizenry are dispensed through a political structure down to the lowest construct of government, controlled by them. This system, relic of a feudal and colonial past, has now been elevated to perfection in modern Philippine politics.

Let me quote Chief Justice Renato Puno:

“I like to stress the failure of our electoral system to excise the virus of the politics of patronage that has infected our so-called elections…xxx…This vicious politics of patronage has allowed few oligarchs and bosses to rule us from colonial times to post-colonial times and their rule has brought us nothing but a facade of democracy, its mirage but not its miracle.”

These are deep and beautiful words—and true. The Con-com chair voted for the status quo – the presidential form of government.

In his speech delivered during the consultative committee en banc on February 27 on the vote for political system, Edmund Tayao said:

“The presidential system is a zero-sum system. This is the finding of studies of so many scholars of comparative politics, political system and democracy and democratization.

In a presidential system regardless of how many candidates and competing parties, only one can win and the significance of coalition building is dependent significantly on the winning candidate, that is, after the elections shall have already passed.”

And I might add too: The winner is the new “patron”; the loser again is us.

Today, with half-measures and reticence from DU30, a gap in the people’s understanding of federalism is widening. Congress has filled in this void, unfortunately injecting their selfish entitlements. Having captured the public discourse, it is now shaping the debate. This has given tremendous boost to their allies among the guardians of the status quo, martialing their forces and defending the bastion of their values and prerogatives – the 1987 Constitution.

And therein lies the conundrum. To whom will the people defer for the documents articulating “pagbabago”? The consultative assembly (Con-ass), the same institution that for 32 years has refused to pass a law against self-interest on the prohibition of political dynasties? The ConComm, one that has abrogated its gift to articulate the people’s voice in its capitulation vote “for the familiar”?

The level of frustration has gone up several notches and if one listens to the rumblings in the streets, the dangerous whispers of revgov as an opening aria to dictatorship are beginning to gain traction. God help us!
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 07 March 2018 10:52

Why Sara slayed the Speaker

In politics there’s no such thing as being too big to fail. Ruling coalitions become ruling parties, at which point being bloated often results in a party split, as factions lose out in the jockeying and sense an opportunity to strike out — and strike back — by forming rival coalitions to contest the next election. In regional terms, the Visayas (Cebu in particular, with Pusyon Bisaya) and Mindanao (with the Mindanao Alliance) have their own tradition of regional parties standing up to Marcos’ KBL: even PDP-Laban traces its origins to that era. Regional barons don’t take well to being bossed around, and if a boss gets too big for his britches, a revolt is inevitable. This is why everyone seems to be expecting Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to fall, the beneficiary of his toppling being Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but the cause being widely attributed to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s sharp-tongued confrontation with him.

The clash between the mayor of Davao and the representative from the first district of Davao del Norte has been framed as a battle royale between the Speaker’s machinery and everyone else, under the umbrella of the President’s daughter. The Speaker’s take-no-prisoners approach most famously took on the President’s former patron, Antonio Floirendo Jr., with the President weighing in on the Speaker’s side after Floirendo supposedly was too uppity in response to the President’s efforts to smooth things over. But if it was necessary to teach Floirendo a lesson, it seems the time has come to teach Alvarez one, too, not least because a Floirendo-led effort to defeat the Speaker in 2019 is widely expected to succeed. But it is bigger than that as the presence of Sen. JV Ejercito at the launching of Duterte-Carpio’s regional party demonstrated. The Estrada home turf of San Juan has been rocked by a confrontation between the Zamoras and Mayor Guia Gomez, yet PDP-Laban took in the Zamoras despite JV Ejercito’s support for the President. What sort of treatment is that? And so, for every ally denied the blessings of the ruling party, there now glitters the opportunity to be associated with Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

In the meantime, aside from publicly being humiliated by Duterte-Carpio, the Speaker came under attack within his own party from members unhappy with his recruitment methods and for supposedly giving the cold shoulder to party veterans. Creating the impression of a civil war within a party is a tried-and-tested method for taking down party bigwigs a peg or two, and what matters most here is the hands-off announcement from the Palace when it comes to party matters. Those with sensitive political antennae will take it as the absence of a ringing endorsement for the Speaker, at a time when he has been accused by no less than the President’s fiercely outspoken daughter for being disloyal and disruptive.

PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago trying to outdo each other in being more “Dutertista” than the other only increases the chances of keeping the overall ruling coalition intact, and tying all factions to the Palace’s apron strings. It’s also a pointed reminder to the Speaker, even if he survives, not to be too piggish in the company of piglets. It does not do well for a runt to act too convinced that he’s an undefeatable wild boar. While he leads a big chunk of last-term congressmen, he has been too pushy with his no-election-in-2019 agenda, leaving no room for those looking forward to replacing last-termers, and bruising the feelings of so many players — and the public, too, which otherwise might give the President’s Charter change scheme the benefit of the doubt if only it weren’t so obviously stacking the odds in favor of people like Alvarez. Now the Speaker’s scheme is running out of steam, just when the President’s collection of consultative commission mummies are showing signs of life.

Still, all the factions could reunite by the State of the Nation Address in July, where the President could make a pitch for a plebiscite on a new constitution by October — the deadline for filing candidacies for the 2019 midterms. It will be the
balancing act of a lifetime.
Published in Fellows Hub
Wednesday, 07 March 2018 10:42

Federalism is not heaven

I’m told that in public gatherings assembled by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and local government units, audiences are practically being promised heaven under a federal form of government, with hardly any serious effort to explain how or why. In a firsthand account from one who was in one such forum, the speaker asked the audience: “How many meals do you eat in a day?” Hearing answers saying they only have one or two, the speaker declared, “Once we have a federal form of government, all of you will be able to eat three meals a day or more!” It’s a real stretch, but certainly an effective way to win support for federalism among the uninformed, undiscriminating and uneducated among us.

Sad to say, it’s quite likely that there are enough out there for whom that reasoning is enough, and who can swing the referendum vote for federalism if and when we get to that point. Like it or not, those who would care to study the pros and cons of the federalism debate are grossly outnumbered by those who wouldn’t. It is thus incumbent on those who would to help those who wouldn’t, so the latter may know, think about, and evaluate the issues enough to make a reasoned judgment, whichever way one eventually goes. The important thing is that people are able to make an informed choice on something with such a profound effect on our nation’s future.

Sadly, the government cannot be relied upon to play this important role, as it’s already in the mode of campaigning for federalism, rather than informing the public fully and objectively regarding both sides of the debate. Acting Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has been quoted as saying, “The DILG through the Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform … [will] lead the nationwide campaign to inform and educate the public about the merits of federalism.” Nothing about demerits or options? The DILG website describes its role as “the focal organization for field level machinery for the awareness, acceptance, conversion and action of qualified voters to support a new constitution and a federal system of government.” One hopes that the Commission on Higher Education, which will reportedly mobilize its network of state colleges and universities nationwide, properly sees its job as to inform and consult, rather than to campaign for a foregone conclusion.

Many issues must indeed be considered for a reasoned judgment on a matter wherein the devil lies in the details. I recently listened to detailed presentations on institutional and fiscal issues on federalism by two scholarly experts (one from the University of the Philippines, and one from the government think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies or PIDS). They explained important points, two of which I share below, which merit much wider exposure as Filipinos decide whether or not to support a shift from our current unitary system to a federal one.
The first point is that federalism does not equate to greater decentralization. There are federalized governments that are less decentralized than unitary ones, and prime examples lie right next to us. Malaysia is described to have a centralized federal system where the constituent states play relatively limited roles in relation to the center. On the other hand, Indonesia has achieved highly decentralized governance under its unitary presidential system. Federal systems range from highly centralized (as in Venezuela) to highly decentralized (United States), just as unitary systems range from highly centralized (Singapore) to highly decentralized (Norway). If stronger decentralization is the goal, federalism need not be the answer.

The second point concerns the huge incremental cost that a shift to a federal system will entail, just by the sheer number of new legislators, officials and staff it will create. PIDS puts the additional cost in the range of P44-72
billion, not even counting changes in the judiciary. New legislators alone, let alone their staff, will number anywhere between 821 and 2,380, based on existing federalism proposals.

Won’t we simply be creating a government by politicians, of politicians, and for politicians? I shudder at the thought.

Published in Fellows Hub
Friday, 02 March 2018 10:29

EDSA, Nene, the Deegong, Concom, atbp.

NOW that the 25-man Consultative Commission (Concom) is constituted, the serious task of crafting the federal constitution is off to an auspicious start. Although the body is still six commissioners short, I hear from the grapevine that the Deegong may still add more women and some from the indigenous communities.

We have a blend of a disparate assembly of brains, experience and committed adherents who could do justice to the task at hand. I refer particularly to three octogenarian appointees whom I have been acquainted with over the decades. Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the Concom chair was also the chair of the board of advisers of the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI) which I co-founded with Peter Koeppinger in 2009. Reuben Canoy, a political giant of Misamis Oriental and Mindanao, and a federalism true believer who founded the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM) and was a presidential hopeful in the late 1970s.

And one I consider my guru and a good friend since the late 1970s, President Cory Aquino’s local governments minister, Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel. It was my privilege then as deputy minister in the department to help Minister Pimentel work out the intricacies of appointments of several thousands of OICs, from governors to board members to mayors to councilors—the result of President Cory’s termination from government service of all Marcos regime appointees and elective hold-overs after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

At the start of her administration, President Cory deferred to us Mindanawnons the task of restructuring the political leadership in our respective areas, particularly those areas in Mindanao where the PDP- Laban was first established. Thus, we involved OIC governors Dodo Cagas, in Davao del Sur, Polding Lopez in Davao Oriental, Balt Satur in Davao del Norte, Jun Paredes, in Agusan del Sur, Cha Diaz of North Cotabato, Mike Sueno of South Cotabato, Boy Tabios in Bukidnon, Donkoy Emano of Misamis Oriental, Tony Gallardo in Camiguin and Said Pangarungan of Lanao del Sur. They were all PDP-Laban stalwarts.

But Minister Pimentel was particularly concerned with Davao City, as it was the so-called “laboratory of communism” and the headquarters of the “sparrow units,” trained assassins of the CPP-NPA. Through the leadership of the industrialist Jesus “Chito” Ayala, we hammered out a working configuration. Zafiro Respicio a young and impetuous but astute PDP-Laban original was to be installed as OIC mayor. Nanay Soling Duterte, the doyenne of Davao society, with a sterling reputation as a civic leader, and the widow of a former respected Davao governor, was our choice for vicemayor—a complementing counterpoint as the perfect confrère to Zaf Respicio. Both were also acceptable to the Left. I presented the scheme to Minister Nene and to President Coy for confirmation.

At the last minute, however, Nanay Soling declined the post and suggested her son. That was the first time I heard of the Deegong, who was then a prosecutor. Thus, his substitute appointment to vicemayor and the beginning of his political ascendancy. Karma or destiny couldn’t be defined in any other way.

Federalism was not an innovative idea of DU30, although our original PDP, partly founded in Davao with Sammy Occena, Pimentel’s 1971 Con-con colleague, Rey Teves, Cris Lanorias, Zaf Respicio, Cesar Ledesma, etc. were in the forefront of defining federalism.

We have today two separate draft documents and timelines for a federal system, both being considered by the Concom; the PDP-Laban model and Centrist Democracy proposals. The former proposes a so-called hybrid presidential/parliamentary federal model while our latter proposal is a simple parliamentary-federal set-up.

The Concom may have to parse the implications of the two models well as the former wants to put in place a federal system during the incumbency of President Duterte (2022) while the Centrist goes for the establishment of a parliamentary government first (2022) and a gradual shift to a federal system (2022-2028) long after the tenure of President Duterte.

The Concom must hurdle two obstacles; the imprimatur of DU30 who is fixated in a “strong-French model-universally elected president”; and the two houses of Congress, the final arbiter as they are constitutionally mandated to revise the 1987 constitution.

The current fear of the populace now that it can almost taste the texture of the coming change—pagbabago—is that Congress is not exactly trusted to embed into the new constitution their hopes and aspirations; but instead entrench further their prerogatives. Witness their refusal to enact the 1987 Constitution’s prohibition of political dynasties.

Offhand there is no agreement between the Senate and the House of Representatives to break the impasse on the constitutional revision process—of “voting separately or jointly.” The tyranny of the “yellow” minority in Senate threatens to prolong this conflict to a point where events will overtake the constitutional revision process. This minority can and will exhaust the patience of the Deegong, the HoR and the Cha-cha/fed adherents, bringing into centerstage the possibility of a revolutionary government and destabilization.

So finally, our Centrist proposal for a constitutional convention (Con-con) could be the better alternative over the two other modes of constitutional revisions—peoples’ initiative (PI) and constituent assembly (Con-ass)—provided a combination of elected delegates be balanced with the appointed chosen delegates of the President. Most of those running as elected delegates would be the moneyed few, members of political dynasties whose clans and family interest take precedence. The chosen appointed constitutional experts even from the marginalized sectors – who could never afford and win an electoral campaign can counter and balance these dynasties – and give the presidential agenda a chance to be debated and pondered upon well. We propose 40 percent to 50 percent of the latter to compose the Con-con delegates. Congress needs to enact this law.

Those who oppose constitutional reforms can bide their time; we, the proponents cannot. We waited for decades for the chance to reach this point— the possibility of a systemic reboot that will extinguish the underlying multitude of problems that have been haunting the Filipino— stark poverty, injustice and corruption in all levels of governance. We understand too that we have a flawed leader in President Rodrigo Duterte—a petulant, irascible political outsider who intimidates even his allies. But it is a given too that no leader in the past 100 years has emerged with the chutzpah to seriously challenge the oligarchy and the custodians of the status quo.

He is the leader who can escort us to where we should go. Or we all burn!
Published in LML Polettiques