Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: October 2018
Wednesday, 31 October 2018 12:54

The Senate PDAF scammers

IN the unfolding months of 2013, during PNoy’s watch, a scandal broke out on the misuse by members of both houses of Congress of their “pork barrel” funds. This was the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam. These are lump-sum amounts granted to each member of the two houses to spend for their priority projects. These public funds were, through some complicated scheme, funneled through NGOs affiliated with Janet Napoles, a businesswoman with extensive political connections. Many of these projects turned out to be fictitious; but the monies amounting to billions of pesos were diverted and shared principally by the senators and congressmen with Napoles.

Panfilo “Ping” Lacson (current senator) got hold of a list of participants in the scam containing 80 names, a list of a veritable “who’s who” of the highest echelons of the legislative branch — the honorable senators and congressmen of the land. Lacson submitted the list to the Senate blue ribbon committee that included nine 2013 incumbent senators. Those in the list with varying amounts, from a few million pesos to hundreds of millions and even a billion of “pork,” scrambled all over each other denying their participation. Most of those immediately “exonerated” were members of President PNoy’s party.

After an investigation by various agencies of government, the Commission on Audit (CoA) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima filed cases of plunder and malversation of public funds against three senators: Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, and five former members of the House.

In June of the following year, the Office of the Ombudsman indicted the three senators for plunder and multiple counts of graft, along with Napoles as co-accused. Plunder cases are non-bailable.

As the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct. 18, 2018) reported:

“Revilla was accused of plunder and 16 counts of graft after allegedly pocketing P224.5 million in kickbacks, the biggest among the three senators. Estrada was accused of plunder and 11 counts of graft for allegedly accepting P183 million in kickbacks from his PDAF allocations from 2004 to 2010. Enrile was accused of receiving P172.8 million in kickbacks from his PDAF allocations. He also faces 15 counts of graft for the alleged misuse of the PDAF.

After warrants for their arrest were issued, the three senators surrendered and Enrile was detained at the Philippine National Police General Hospital while Estrada and Revilla were detained at the PNP Custodial Center, both in Camp Crame.

Citing his advanced age and poor health, the Supreme Court granted bail to Enrile in August 2015. In April 2017, the Sandiganbayan’s Third Division denied Enrile’s appeal to throw out the charge on the grounds that the allegations did not constitute the elements of a valid plunder case.

Estrada won his bail petition in September 2017, but a separate graft trial denied his motion to dismiss the case. Revilla’s case was the first to go to trial, which began in June 2017. He remains detained at Camp Crame.”

But this is not just a story of the Napoles and the PDAF corruption. Enrile, 90 years old, out on bail, filed his certificate of candidacy (CoC) for senator for the May 2019 elections. So did Jinggoy Estrada, out on bail, accompanied by his convicted plunderer ex-president father, now mayor of Manila, Joseph Estrada. Revilla, while still in prison, filed his CoC through his wife Lani, the mayor of Bacoor, Cavite.

There is the unfolding narrative of these former senators, incarcerated but two out on bail, who are now vying for the same position in the mid-term elections, the same positions from which they were accused of shamelessly stealing money from the people.

And they could win again. With the help of the idiocy of the Filipino voters with their short memories, a forgiving culture and a distorted sense of values; these three branded names could be propelled to the “august halls of the Senate,” once again lawmakers addressed officially as “Honorable.” No wonder the Philippines ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world. But this is the worst type of corruption — that of our moral values.

There are more than 50 serious names in the senatorial list for the midterm elections for only 12 available positions. The rest are the perennial nuisance candidates, crackpots and limelight seekers who get a rush when allotted their 15 minutes of fame. Anecdotal evidence suggests voters will fill up only 5 to 8 names in a ballot. Branded names and incumbents therefore have this built-in advantage, not to mention the support of their political dynasties in their home base and inexhaustible logistics. The hordes of command votes controlled by religious formations, charismatic charlatans and those purported to be God’s own tend to favor these candidates who are familiar with how the political game is played once elected to power. They understand how spoils are shared; and how “…to render unto Cesar, what is Cesar’s, and to God, what is His…” (see The Manila Times, Oct. 24, 2018).

What we need for our country’s benefit is to put in place decent men and women steeped in the rule of the law. We require therefor a discerning voter who has not lost the ability to be disturbed and the passion to be angry. What we have instead are voters that merely go through these tired names and elect the “winnables,” the branded names and the leaders who at best are merely capable of moderating their greed.

Aside from the three senator-miscreants, we have other names identified by Senator Lacson five years ago. And some of them are incumbents or are coming back in as possible winners — in both houses of Congress — with pending cases attached to the PDAF scandal.

I rue the day when we populate the two houses with future felons. In conclusion, I will cite an edited version of my May 18, 2014, blog in the wake of the Napoles scam breaking out.

“And we could be the laughingstock of the world. Just imagine for a moment that the ‘Napolist’ were true: We could have a Senate that could hold a quorum in jail — or for that matter, a whole ward at the Veterans Memorial Hospital. When they call for a Senate hearing ‘in aid of legislation’ will they still be addressed as ‘Honorable’? Can the members of the lower house create committees? Can the upper ward (the Senate) pass on bills to the lower ward (the House)?”

Only in the Philippines!

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 24 October 2018 13:30

Politics, religion and charlatans

THE days of DU30 cursing God, I think, are over. He has been chastised. But the aftershock of his barrage will impact this election cycle. The formidable Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has lingering memories of his blasphemy. You can’t mess with their God! In the past, they have never been reluctant to instruct their priests to use the pulpit to defend the Church and advance its agenda, political or otherwise. This time the President is vulnerable as he must push his Senate slate to sustain his program going forward for the remainder of his term.

Unlike Gloria, who cultivated the Catholic hierarchy during her incumbency, suborning the bishops with new Pajeros and SUVs, the Deegong never went this route. He was confrontational to the point of alienating the hierarchy. True, there is no proven solid Catholic vote despite 80 percent of the populace labeling themselves as nominal Catholics. Past elections, however, show the Catholics fragmented. Other churches fared differently.

The century-old Iglesia ni Kristo that boasts a proven minimum of at least 2 million command votes (claiming up to 4 million), has always been perceived to have supported the winners in several presidential elections. Its track record in putting important candidates over the top has allowed it to insert INK members into every administration even up to cabinet level, placing the sect in positions of influence.

The INK was all out for DU30 in 2016, thus its members were awarded sinecures in the civilian and military bureaucracy. Even the Executive Minister, Eduardo Manalo, carries a DU30 appointment as special envoy for overseas Filipino concerns — whatever this means. Not too bad for a religious sect.

And this week marks the start of key local and national candidates making a beeline for the INK to “kiss the ring” of Eduardo Manalo. No candidate worth his salt will pass over the chance of being seen within the circle of this vicar. Whether the candidate is leading in the polls or at the tail end, everyone pays homage.

The INK has its own polling system, relying heavily on its extensive but secretive cultish membership. Particularly in the senatorial level, incumbents and neophytes must kowtow to Manalo. And the INK blesses those who are apparent winners; branded names showing good numbers and are ahead of the pack, thus the appearance of INK producing the eventual winners. It has perfected the art of anointing those with the highest probability of winning, perforce claiming ownership of victory. Those in the tail end will of course be discarded. There is no appeal. And the smart thing that INK has always done is to announce dramatically at the very last moment its choices to its flock that has proven time and again to vote on command.

Among the charismatic movements attached to the Catholic Church is the “El Shaddai,” in the forefront boasting a command vote of almost 2 million (or so it claims). This one is headed by a multi-millionaire real estate magnate, Brother Mike Velarde who started a small-time prayer radio program in the early 1980s. It currently claims a membership of 8 to 10 million worldwide and has tremendous political influence. It reportedly had a hand in putting Fidel V. Ramos into the presidency. This election will again see the spectacle of candidates praying on stage with Brother Mike with full tri-media coverage.

To a lesser degree is a Protestant denomination Jesus is Lord Church headed by Brother Eddie Villanueva. A rival of brother Mike, it claims a membership of 5 million with an undetermined command vote, but could be impressive as Villanueva’s son, Joel, was elected to the Senate in his first try in 2016, ranking second highest in the polls.

These religious groups are self-sufficient through the tithes and contribution of their members. The founders are all rich proving true the taunt that “religion is a lucrative business.” They are all Jesus-oriented and claim that certain truths have been revealed to their founders. INK, founded in 1913 by Felix Manalo, is now into its third generation of leadership — the Executive Ministers. Its main tenet is that INK is the one true church founded by Jesus but perverted by Christian churches over the centuries. All these churches claim to intercede for the faithful with their God, and therefore, they are the earthly instruments that merely mediate with the heavenly occupants. Except for one.

And this is the “Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name.” The difference between this sect is that the founder Apollo Quiboloy is “The Appointed Son of God.” In a video that went viral in social media, he proclaimed that he is the new Jesus chosen by God, claiming that he is the way, the truth and the life.

He claims ownership of everyone’s soul and the whole world “…ako ang may-ari ng kaluluwa niyo, ako and may-ari ng sanlibutan.” (I own your souls and I own the world). And the clencher, “…no one enter the gates of heaven without his forgiveness and redemption.”

This charismatic preacher came into national prominence when he was revealed to be the spiritual adviser of the then Mayor of Davao and his financial backer for his many mayoral campaigns. And he burst into public consciousness when he stood on the same stage as the presidential candidate during DU30 “miting de avance” when he parlayed his opening prayer into a rambling speech puffing up his role. He regaled the audience with stories of granting free use of his helicopter and plane for the Deegong’s sorties. What was galling was his attempt to overshadow the candidate by revealing that “he had this dream, that the mayor will one day be President” — boasting that he was the first to persuade him to run. And to top it all, he was willing to put in P1 billion or even P2 billion for the presidential campaign. Television audiences all over the country couldn’t help but notice the Deegong squirming in his chair — totally embarrassed by this religious charlatan-billionaire. And his claims of vast wealth could be true as the international Archlight Media estimated his worth at about $160 million (P8.64 billion).

By now, this “appointed son of God” may have been demoted from his lofty perch as the President’s spiritual advisor. The Deegong needs no earthly intercession with heaven. He doesn’t even believe in heaven.

What is required of him is to fulfill what he promised the Filipinos when he ran as a maverick — a real pagbabago! And if he pulls it off, the Deegong will be revered by his countrymen much better than any religious charlatan.

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 17 October 2018 13:58

The last reinvention of Gloria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duterte is not a Marcos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political reforms, then federalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacies, plebiscite and P700-M sinkhole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Published in LML Polettiques