Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: May 2022
THIS week's column introduces the antecedents behind last week's memo to the president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong Marcos Jr. (BBM). To recall, that memo centered on the political restructuring of the Philippine system of governance as seen through the prism of Centrist Democratic (CD) principles and concepts. Our basic premise is that unless systemic changes are applied to correct our dysfunctional concepts of governance, the Philippines will perpetually be condemned to stark poverty, corruption and social injustices. To reiterate, CD advocacies and guiding principles hinge on essential sets of doctrines which we refer to as the four pillars of our dogma, springing forth from our core value of human dignity, to wit: 1) We must strive to create a truly functioning democracy and adherence to the rule of law; 2) we must endeavor to establish a thriving social market economy (SOME), the reliance on free markets imbued with social responsibility; 3) we must work for the adoption and practice of subsidiarity in all structures of government and the principles of decentralization leading toward an eventual Parliamentary-Federal Republic of the Philippines; and 4) we must help build up strong and sustainable political parties.

BBM's strategic campaign thrust

In contrast, during the whole campaign period, BBM's core beliefs, his political and economic agenda, revealed scant specifics except in two strategic areas: vaguely perpetuating his father's legacy hinting of an alternative narrative different from the realities of the martial law regime. His avoidance of public debates save for sloganeering and motherhood statements of "Unity for all" reinforced these speculations.

BBM's safe stance has proven to be an effective counterfoil to the toxic and incompetent campaign strategies of the puerile, destructive and bungling opposition — particularly the vice president's pronouncements that her candidacy was primarily personal against the Marcos family, framing the election as a contest between the entitled Marcos and Aquino clans and nothing much else in between.

The second strategy was simply to entice and hold on to President Duterte's supporters, preferring instead to cloak himself with vague, feel-good platitudes and staying above the fray, earning for himself the title "Teflon candidate," political muck and dirt not sticking to his persona — a posture that gained traction among millions of voters. And with his recruitment of Sara as his vice president, he has exquisitely projected himself as the co-inheritor of the Duterte legacy, perpetuating his predecessor's populist policies and programs promising to adopt and continue his successful Build, Build, Build initiatives, a critically important backbone of the Deegong's economic thrust — investments that will reap rewards in the future.

It may be recalled that Ferdinand Marcos the father had put in place similar initiatives that eerily produced a mixed bag of infrastructure projects, catapulting the country to the ranks of rising economic stars in Asia, creating the impression of progress. But many were likewise constructed as monuments to the Marcos family's proclivities. The press in the 1970s described this as an "edifice complex," referring more to the exploits of the other half of the conjugal dictatorship. The current crop of voters may now only see and appreciate the obvious evidence of the dictatorship: the Cultural Center Complex (1966), the San Juanico Bridge (1969), the Philippine International Convention Center (1974), the Philippine Heart Center (1975). In retrospect, these burnished the country's image abroad — but admittedly also were useful for the citizenry. In the same breath, Marcos also produced the overpriced Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) and countless other "white elephants" funded by foreign loans where billions of US dollars were siphoned off, lining his cronies' pockets — leaving the country holding the bag, paying interest long after Ferdinand and his cronies were gone.

Suggested BBM agenda

But BBM can't simply continue Duterte's legacy. He has to originate his own, selling the specifics and building a consensus for a kind of governance separate from his filial responsibility toward remaking his father's image of the dark days of martial law. To help him see his way through, the CD presents for his review the initiatives of his predecessors and perhaps extract from them valuable lessons.

The overarching policies of each administration run the gamut from Cory's "simply restoring democracy" to the Deegong's elimination of the illegal drug menace averting the country's slide toward a narco-state. The post-Cory government of President Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998) saw the iniquities of the 1987 Constitution surfacing. Perhaps FVR's greatest legacy was his "Philippines 2000 platform" — a set of socioeconomic programs that envisioned the Philippines achieving newly industrialized country status by 2000. He tried to break the monopolies (PAL, PLDT and the energy sector), freeing the economy, hurling the Philippines into the ranks of the emerging Asian Tigers through the privatization of power plants and the construction of new ones. This spurred additional FDIs into Philippine shores. And a peace treaty was signed between the Philippines and insurgent Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) — ending the 30-year Mindanao conflict was gravy.

An interim Marcos wannabe, the superstar actor Joseph "Erap" Estrada who succeeded FVR, touted his populist leanings during his short-lived regime, particularly on his "Angat Pinoy 2004" and vague poverty alleviation measures that reflected mostly his screen fantasy image as the champion of the masses — alienated from the realities of governance. He brought to the Palace his uninhibited appetite for hedonistic life. A Marcos loyalist, he had Ferdinand's charisma but not the brains; a proclivity to steal, but not the elegance of a Robin Hood. Ousted in a coup — misnamed EDSA 2 — he was deposed by the old seething Cory forces.

The penultimate post-EDSA, Cory-bred government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) improved on FVR's economic policy. An economist herself, Arroyo focused on the economy through her 10-point program under a "Strong Republic," producing a high annual economic growth rate of 4.5 percent, more than her three predecessors (Cory's 3.8 percent, FVR's 3.7 percent and Estrada's 3.7 percent). But she was saddled by corruption and a public electoral cheating scandal — the "Hello, Garci tapes." She spent time in hospital jail but was eventually exonerated by the Deegong.

These three post-Cory governments perceived the problems besetting the country as the result of systemic anomalies in governance. Charter change (Cha-cha) through People's Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action (Pirma) was the method chosen by FVR, but his regime was suspected of doing a Marcos, Ramos' cousin, as a veiled attempt to extend his term through parliamentary government. Cardinal Sin and Cory shot down this initiative. FVR's initiative utterly failed.

President Erap's Constitutional Correction for Development (Concord) was a half-baked push to lift the restrictions on foreign ownership of business. This died in vitro.

GMA mounted a more serious attempt to shift from a unitary-presidential to a parliamentary-federal government. She created in 2006 the Consultative Commission (ConCom) and Advocacy Commission (AdCom), with a parallel "Sigaw ng Bayan" employing a people's initiative. In the end, the Supreme Court struck this down.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd prevented any attempt to revise his mother's constitution through his "Daang Matuwid."

It is ironic that President Duterte who was born out of the 1986 EDSA revolution also ended Cory's flawed legacies personified by an incompetent son. Thus, a full circle: the eclipse of a Marcos through a series of interim Cory legacy governments to the rising of the son — a full cycle.

To be continued on June 1, 2022
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 18 May 2022 05:54

Political dynasties and party-lists

ELECTION 2022 has merely affirmed political dynasties as a fact of the nation's life. Long entrenched in the fringes of local politics, it has burst into center stage with the return of the Marcoses and their complete rehabilitation as the premier Philippine family dynasty. This would not have been possible without the enabling role of President Duterte, founder of a newly minted but full-fledged political dynasty himself. But come June 30, he will be reduced to a titulary, passing the torch to a capable daughter, Vice President Sara.

The merger of these political families may have been foreordained given that the Duterte pere was once a Cabinet member of Ferdinand and perhaps to reciprocate, Duterte gave preferential treatment to Ferdinand's cadaver allowing him a state burial although he has of late turned cold to the son. The fruits of this alliance, however, gave credence to the existence of the mythical loyalty of the Solid North as Ferdinand Makoy's legacy; a template for what the Deegong may have been undertaking for the evolving South as his own legacy.

But the success or failure of the union of the two dominant families may be defined further by how their respective progeny accumulate influence and participate in governance. Competition for power between dominant families is inevitable as only one must remain on top of the totem pole, as it were. Offhand, Marcos has the deeper bench in contrast to the Duterte's shallow team — given the differential role of a VP. But I'm afraid, the political dynasties are here to stay for the next generations.

Marcos-Duterte elected officials

As of this writing the Marcos clan has captured several elective posts. The son of the president-elect, Sandro, will sit as congressman for the first district of Ilocos Norte while Senator Imee's son, Matthew Manotoc, has been proclaimed governor of the province. A cousin-in-law, Cecilia Araneta Marcos, is vice governor. The second district of Ilocos Norte is Congressman Barba's, a relative. Michael Marcos Keon is Laoag city mayor.

In the Visayas, BBM's cousins were reelected: Alfred Romualdez as mayor of Tacloban and Martin as congressman of the first district. He is touted to be the incoming House speaker while his wife Yedda may assume a party-list post. These do not include the number of councilors and board members in the provinces and cities in the North.

In Davao City, Vice President Sara's brother, incumbent vice mayor Sebastian "Baste", succeeded her as city mayor. Her older brother, Paolo "Polong", was reelected first district representative.

Marcos-Duterte Senate

The configuration in the Senate could even be more scandalous. Anti-federalist senator Cynthia Villar, the wife of the former House speaker and erstwhile Senate president Manny Villar would be joined by Duterte's former Public Works secretary, Mark, Cynthia's son.

Alan Cayetano, the Deegong's former Foreign Affairs secretary who also served as House speaker, will join his sister Senator Pia, who has already served two Senate terms and one as congressman. They are children of dynasty founder, the late senator Rene Cayetano of Taguig.

Former President Erap's children, half-brothers JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada, may get into the Senate together. Jinggoy, out on bail on a plunder case, is the son of former senator Loi Estrada.

If former vice president Jojo Binay had successfully gotten a seat, he would have joined his daughter Senator Nancy in the chamber.

Cory EDSA forces and 1987 Constitution

The current realities could be the zenith of a trajectory in Philippine politics that began 36 years ago with the expulsion of Ferdinand Marcos and the subsequent adoption of the 1987 Constitution that was meant to be the anti-thesis of the 1973 Marcos Constitution. Cory Aquino, at the head of a revolutionary government, sought to craft a constitution that was precisely constructed to prevent the recurrence of martial law and the conditions which allowed the emergence of a despot.

Her concept of a new politics of inclusivity mirrored the aspirations of the forces that helped her and the country topple the dictatorship. This was an eclectic group that ran the gamut of the political spectrum, from the leftist and communist groups who were fence-sitters during the EDSA uprising biding their time to take on a more substantial role or capture the uprising after the fact; to the rightist militarists who provided the spark for the breakaway led by a component of the Marcos clique opting for a coup d'état.

These two extremes failed simply because they were unable to champion the aspirations of most of the people in the wide middle of the political spectrum; from the left of center civil society and NGOs and people's organizations (POs) to the right of center business groups, the oligarchs and elites who were disgruntled by Marcos replacing them with his own. The Catholic Church hierarchy provided the thread that stitched these disparate groups together providing a semblance of moral underpinnings. They found their voice in the motley rabble which proved to work well with the masses. This was the "parliament of the streets" who for years symbolized their disgust for a regime and vocal enough to protest with their feet proving to be thorns on the conjugal dictatorship's side.

It was these motley groups populist demands that were ensconced in that constitution, producing instead the systemic dysfunctions, including a multi-party system scattering the seeds of political dynasties in all levels of governance. These effectively destroyed the ideological underpinnings of political parties, reducing them to personality-based political groupings.

Parliamentary govt and party-lists

The original intent of the selected elitist framers of the 1987 Constitution was to shift to a parliamentary form of government from a presidential system. Briefly, parliamentary system is also known as party government," as the political parties have ascendancy over personalities and because of the pivotal role of political parties in parliamentary elections, governance, and public administrations.

A parliament therefore is composed of elected members from the parliamentary districts, plus those chosen on the basis of "proportional representation" by the political party according to the votes each party obtained in the preceding elections.

The members chosen by the political parties were to constitute a certain percentage of the total number of members of parliament (MP) — for example, 30 percent. The political parties vying for power shall ensure that in the 30 percent "party list," the labor, peasant, urban poor, veterans, indigenous people communities, women, youth, differently abled, except the religious sector, are properly represented. These were the Cory forces that were to be the beneficiaries of the EDSA revolution.

Parliamentary government required the creation of strong, vibrant and ideologically differentiated political parties. Elections would involve the choice of political platforms instead of focusing on personalities. Political parties would have to select from among themselves the best and brightest to lead their parties and the country.

But the parliamentary government was not approved, and the framers reverted to the presidential system while inadvertently retaining the "party list." The effect was that any group with a legitimate or contrived issue or gripe, or worse, any political family, could vie for elective posts. This opened the floodgates to relatives of elective officials or temporary dumping grounds for election losers.

Thus, political dynasties and party-lists — both perversions.


Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 11 May 2022 10:24

Memo to President-elect BBM

MR. President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr., congratulations on your triumph! Our people have spoken as various surveys predicted. I wish you well. I also take the liberty of putting on paper some unsolicited suggestions, as you promised a unifying presidency. We have never met. You don't know me, and that is fine by me. I have not voted for you, ever, not even as senator. But you are now my president too. I also never met your father, although I voted for him in 1969.

The Centrist Democrats (CD) sent a memo for then President-elect Duterte, which I thought would be taken up at my first audience with him. He sort of hinted he welcomed ideas, especially from a Davaoeño who worked for Charter change in previous administrations. I was of course flattered by this "non-request" and drafted this two-page memo. This was sent to the Malacañang of the South (Davao City) for his review. I never got a reply to that well-constructed memo and that was that! Looking back, it was perhaps the Deegong's way of dismissing an audience scheduled at an ungodly hour nearing dawn.

Although I have not been asked to do so, I am writing a similar memo to you, sir, but this time publicly in my column. The Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) makes no suggestions on how to run your government. This is your mandate, not ours. No doubt you have a plethora of expert advice from your incoming Cabinet.

These concerns, as we see fit, have persisted for decades. Our treatise is that they are consequences of the systemic anomalies perpetuated by the unitary-presidential system and protected through the perversion of the Philippine constitutions. And if they contradict your appreciation of these problems, we hope this will precipitate a clash of ideas which could only redound to the benefit of the Filipinos.

But first, my credentials. I have been anti-Marcos since shortly before your father declared martial law. There were many of us then, but time has decimated our ranks and we are a dying breed. Those whose memories and experiences were defined by your father's despotic regime are now in the minority. Perhaps this is only fitting as your administration should only be defined by your own actuations — nothing more.

The Yellow Peril and 1987 Constitution

I worked with President Cory's government after the EDSA People Power Revolution terminated your father's regime. I am an original supporter of the Yellow color — before her son, President Benigno Aquino 3rd, co-opted and perverted the yellow symbolisms. I never met PNoy himself though I knew of him as a dilettante uninterested in the free tutorials in governance available to him as the unico hijo of a mother-president and heir to a storied political family.

My main tiff with PNoy was never personal but my disillusionment with the son of my former boss, was gradual, from his leadership flaws in the handling of crises that defined his administration: the Luneta hostage fiasco of August 2010; to Typhoon "Yolanda" (Haiyan), the most powerful storm that hit the country in November 2013 devastating swaths of the Visayas region; to his personal motivations behind the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona where senators were bribed P50 million each to have him removed; to the Mamasapano incident in June of 2015 that caused the death of 44 elite SAF troops.

His economic achievements during his term, which could be considered as better than that of his predecessors, failed to mitigate these catastrophes. But the single factor that for me broke the camel's back was his refusal to consider systemic changes that were the curse of good governance, for decades and ensconced by his mother's elite cohorts in her 1987 Constitution with a pompous declaration that "not a comma of the 1987 Constitution will be changed."

As a backgrounder, the late Professor Jose Abueva and I were designated by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as chairmen respectively of the 2005 Consultative Commission (ConCom) and the 2006 Advocacy Commission (AdCom) tasked to recommend revisions to the 1987 Constitution. We sought to shift the Philippines from a unitary-presidential form to a parliamentary-federal system, while striking out the anti-foreign direct investments (FDI) provisions.

Centrist Democrats and the 4 pillars

Let me introduce my group to you, sir. We are adherents of CD ideals, and we situate ourselves within the wide center of the political spectrum with political ideologies spilling toward the center-left and center-right. I am a member of the CDP. Mindanao congressman and Deputy House Speaker Rufus Rodriguez is our party president. My party did not support you. But we supported Vice President Leni Robredo and Vice President-elect Sara Duterte. I infer from your statements that we share common cause with some important advocacies. This is the reason why I am writing you this memo. Unless systemic changes are applied to our current concepts and modes of governance, the Philippines will perpetually be condemned to stark poverty, corruption and social injustices — which you declared you wanted eradicated.

The following are excerpts from our literature.

"Human dignity is the core value of Centrist Democracy. We hold therefore that political, economic, and social order must be logically designed that the dignity of each person is promoted and enriched. Freedom is a prerequisite upon which human dignity is enhanced. Self-determination by each individual, an essential component, is the impetus for collective expression towards the development of a just society; and for society to prosper, it must make available to each individual the needed ingredients for a decent life.

"Complimentary to this, Centrist Democracy therefore embraces these essential sets of doctrines which we call the four pillars that support this core value: 1) We must strive to create a truly functioning democracy and the rule of law; 2) We must endeavor to establish a thriving social market economy (SOME), the reliance on free markets imbued with social responsibility; 3) We must work for the adoption and practice of subsidiarity in all structures of government and the principles of decentralization leading towards an eventual Federal Republic of the Philippines; and 4) We must help build up strong and sustainable political parties."

You ran under your clarion call for unity. By this we assume that you intend to bring us all together after years of polarization, disarray and acrimony. Your message resonated with the Filipino as reflected in the majority votes – unprecedented since you father's terms in 1965 and 1969. We glean from your pronouncements that you are now setting in process your priority programs, foremost of which is to end the vestiges of the pandemic which your predecessor has started to surmount but at a great cost to the country's economy. No doubt the economic team you are forming will find ways to get us through these difficulties setting the path towards recovery and eventual gains, expansion and sustainability.

Meantime we Centrist Democrats continue to fashion our role in a dynamic manner. For a vibrant democracy to flourish, we must remain critical to your government as a legitimate opposition.

For your consideration, sir.

Published in LML Polettiques
WITH a possible 50 to 60 percent of the votes, the Bongbong will have a majority, reprising his father's two terms. Ferdinand got 51.94 percent of the votes against the then incumbent President Diosdado Macapagal's 42.88 percent and Raul Manglapus' 5.17 percent in 1965. In 1969, he won with even bigger margins, 62.24 percent against Sergio Osmeña Jr. with 37.75 percent.

If the current surveys hold, we have a majority president with the next four ranking oppositionists, Snow White and the three stooges with the band of dwarves — the nuisance candidates having been tolerated their 15 minutes of fame in the political stage, sharing the balance. This columnist will not apologize for these mixed metaphors simply because these types of elections have been foreordained by the dysfunctional system we have had in this country. It is the height of irony if the son of a vilified and banished dictator wins with a clear majority — giving a strong signal that a majority of Filipinos are tired of "politics as usual" along with the bungling opposition as a sideshow.

Elections are democracy's way of allowing the citizenry to gift deserving and qualified individuals the privilege to govern. As such, the candidates must be exceptional with superb character traits and compelling personalities, inspiring voters with ideas reflected in their unique platforms. We deserve no less. And central to all these, a clash of diversity is provoked, in opinions and concepts — the better to give the voter a choice. Having gone through a process of discernment from among the array of candidates, the final act is for the voter to anoint the best and brightest. But what has transpired in the 2022 campaign period belies this concept of a sensible process of choice and instead sanctioned the perversion thereof.

Many against one

There was nary a clash of ideas — a thesis-antithesis-synthesis construct that aids the voters in their choices. Debates were contrived and catatonic. Premium was given to made-for-TV bite-size motherhood statements and slogans. What was portrayed was simply a clash of personalities that precipitated an orgy of dirt and muck dominating mainstream and social media — no doubt emanating from partisans — but with tacit license by the candidates themselves.

It was obvious from the beginning that from the five major presidential candidates, four directed their campaign against one man — the Marcos heir — whose father's ghost has hovered over Philippine politics for decades. But the campaign also revealed the dark side of Filipino culture, succinctly described as a "crabs in a barrel" mentality where the opposition were all over themselves pulling each other down. What contributed perhaps to the eventual triumph of Marcos was the inability of the opposition to fashion its message of hope and deliverance against BBM's clarion call for unity; the opposition unable to perform a dichotomy between the son's future trajectory with a father's nebulous past, lumping the two incongruously as one.

The whole electoral process failed to ennoble the candidates, perforce elevate the voters to appreciate the nuances of each candidate short of purely partisan considerations. Which brings to the fore the basic questions.

Selection before election

Who selected these dozen or so politicians and non-politicians in the first place to compete for my vote for the highest elective office in the land? Who made the decision that only these people should be considered by the millions of Filipinos as worthy of their votes? What mechanisms are in place to pre-process and cull out the dregs from among them before being allowed to present themselves and their wares as it were for our scrutiny? Are the provisions of the Constitution the only prerequisite for allowing such people to run for office: a natural-born 40-year-old citizen, a 10-year resident and registered voter, and able to read and write?

Excerpts from my column in 2016 are as relevant today as they were in five prior presidential elections ("What's wrong with Philippine politics 2016," May 5).

"Were people consulted on the process of selection? Was there a vetting process similar to that in politically mature countries — like the preliminaries and caucuses of the United States. These are selection processes sanctioned by their political parties; where only the best of the lot is selected and will be presented to the public as candidates worthy of contending for the highest honors the citizens can gift them? In our case, I don't remember being asked about the criteria I want for these people to possess, prior to their being paraded before the scrutiny of the millions.

"We boast to the world that ours is the first and oldest democracy in Asia. And by definition, the demos, we the people, perhaps through our political parties, should first set the criteria for the aspirants to possess before they are allowed to enter the political arena and engage in partisan combat, winning our hearts and minds through the force of their character, the courage of their convictions, their moral standing and familiarity with the longings and aspirations of their constituencies, and the articulateness of their submissions to the body politic.

"Unfortunately, we don't have this kind of democratic vetting process or preliminaries unlike the mature countries in Europe and the United States. Instead, we have a practice that belies our boast as a democracy."

Distorted selection mechanisms

We don't have real political parties in the Philippines to select from among their membership one who has proven that he can lead the party ably and legitimately and by inference the country. So, the people who run for the presidency are those self-selected who are entitled as if the office were a family bequest. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ran as president following her father President Diosdado Macapagal in 1961; Benigno Aquino 3rd, Cory's only son; Mar Roxas, President Manuel Roxas' grandson; and now BBM, the son of Ferdinand Marcos.

The next category refers to those whose popularity ratings are high in their professions in sports and entertainment — Manny Pacquiao converting his popularity as "pambansang kamao" to a presidential run. They rely simply on 'name recall' and brand placement — a commercially viable product to sell.

A third category are those who have convinced themselves that they alone can make a difference, wide-eyed fantasists — with no money, no organization and no strategy for winning except perhaps that God appeared to them in a dream promising a miracle or a deus ex machina.

Fourth are those who use the campaign period as a financial opportunity to acquire wealth as admitted by one candidate whose previous campaign funds were deposited in private bank accounts. A permutation is a candidate whose withdrawal from the race can spell a difference in votes to an opponent — for a lucrative consideration.

But the most dangerous candidate who often wins in our dysfunctional system of governance is one who is chosen by political patrons, the oligarchy, and their allies, the political dynasties. They vie for power to protect the patrons' interests.

And this is the sad state of traditional politics practiced in this country. This condition will persist until this structural defect is rectified.

Is President BBM up to the task?
Published in LML Polettiques