Mar 31

Asian Sentinel: Impeachment Mania in Manila

Impeachment Mania in Manila

President, Vice President both face charges

For the first time, the Philippines’ two highest officials face the threat of impeachment in the House of Representatives. President Rodrigo Duterte faces an impeachment complaint filed on March 16 by a bemedaled former putschist-turned-congressman, Gary Lejano, while Vice-President Leni Robredo faces one filed on March 20 by a perennial candidate, Marcos loyalist and political gadfly, Oliver Lozano.

Both appear to be impeachment-proof, although Duterte, whose murderous anti-drug campaign continues to resonate positively with a population weary of street crime, is probably more secure than Robredo. The president presides over a political coalition that protects him. The vice president for her part, has little by way of House support. She is ambivalent about her party affiliation which is part of the ruling coalition in the House although it is oppositionist in the Senate.

The thunder and bluster greeting the impeachment effort betray apprehension not about impeachment itself, but what is widely bruited about as the reason for the impeachment: as a prelude to an International Criminal Court proceeding against the president.

What the two complaints have in common is President Duterte’s controversial anti-drug campaign, which was condemned by the Parliament of the European Union on March 16(along with the looming restoration of the death penalty and the detention of Senator Leila de Lima). The impeachment against the president aims to put on record the alleged Davao Death Squad, while the one against Robredo zeroes in on her recent video message to a civil society gathering at the sidelines of a United Nations conference, arguing the drug war is an act of treason based on invented statistics.

The two efforts are similar to past ones in that they are as much about political theater as they are about exacting accountability. Opposition to the president’s methods –and stubborn insistence on those methods—in his anti-drug campaign has faced stubborn resistance both in the Philippines and abroad, which has led not only to an escalation of ferocious language on the part of the president, but by his officials, as well, most recently against the European Union Parliament and the New York Times.

Beyond the dizzying headlines, a more fundamental question needs to be asked. What accounts for impeachment mania in Manila?

Philippine presidents have continued to enjoy vast formal and informal power which persists so long as the incumbent is not seen to be unduly abusive of those powers, too heedless of the needs of the coalition over which they preside, or too contemptuous of public opinion and the expectation that presidents are primarily tasked with keeping order.

These three expectations are matched by three practical limits to presidential power: the nature of the mandate of a president; his or her ability to marshal and maintain the mercenary majority that immediately coalesces around the winning presidential candidate; and public opinion during the slow, but inexorable, downward slide of every president’s popularity during their term.

Since democracy was restored in 1986, all presidents have been plurality presidents, which results in a vastly powerful office bereft of a firm mandate. This saddles new presidents with an inherited majority in Congress because instantaneous shifting of loyalties causes sudden stampedes into the often miniscule party vehicle the candidate ran under. That causes tensions between the original coalition of the new president and their newly-formed but mercenary congressional majority.

Patronage thus becomes the currency of the realm, and a president’s fate is determined by how expertly, or injudiciously, he or she handles dishing it out.

The law of unintended consequences now confronts the ruling coalition in both impeachment cases. It can kill the political prospects of presidential allies, it can make the careers of his critics; it can spin out of control if improperly handled, all because it is a blunt weapon when used by a sitting administration.

Furthermore, as far as the case against President Duterte is specifically concerned, the administration is now in a bind. Like any administration before it, it possesses an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives, which has the sole power to impeach. It also has an obedient majority in the Senate, where impeachments are decided. It can easily dismiss the impeachment complaint on merely procedural grounds; but that risks aiding the larger purpose of the complaint: to prove accountability is impossible under Philippine law and institutions.

The Senate can almost as easily reject the impeachment after going through the motions of hearing the evidence, such as it is, but that entails giving additional exposure to the allegations, and the documents and witnesses that support the case.

That opens up, in turn, the risk –remote, to be sure—of impeachment succeeding and the Senate having to hear the case. A potential impeachment complaint against the Ombudsman, while merely grandstanding at present, could snowball, if only because it would remove her from office early and allow the president to appoint a successor (Solicitor-General Calida, for example, had been endorsed by then-mayor Duterte for the position of Ombudsman in 2011).

The case against the Vice-President is similarly fraught with the possibility of unintended consequences. Solicitor-General Calida and Secretary of Justice Aguirre have both announced their eagerness to help the prosecution –which, if combined with an obliging House vote, would paint a picture of an administration coalition out to get the President’s designated successor with unseemly haste (she faces an electoral protest by Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) and would upset the coalition’s balance of forces.

Duterte’s coalition, composed of his own Mindanao-based supporters, leftists, and former officials of his predecessors Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, together the Marcos family and political machine, has different motives in supporting Duterte beyond the obvious one of getting even with the past administration. Each wants to accomplish the previously impossible –succeed the incumbent.

Removing Robredo would sideline Marcos Jr., who is out of office. It would be preferable for him to be able to maneuver a Supreme Court decision ousting the Vice-President. Other supporters of the president would join the scramble that would ensue from impeachment, as personalities in both houses of Congress lobbied for appointment as the Vice-President’s replacement (when there is a vacancy in the vice-presidency, the president nominates a member of either chamber, for election by Congress as the new veep).

Former president Gloria Macagapal Arroyo for her part, patiently biding her time for constitutional amendments to be passed to shift to a parliamentary system, would find her dreams of becoming premier dashed by jockeying for the vice-presidency in anticipation of a presidential election to come, dimming enthusiasm for a shift in government, and making her assiduous efforts to place allies in economically-vital government positions in expectation of what a shift to a parliament and then election as prime minster would require, all for nought.

It is President Duterte, however, who is in the position of a poker player having his bluff called, and the ante raised. The charges zero in on two issues that cut to the core of his political personality. There are allegations about his personal honesty; and of his presiding over a policy of the mass liquidation of an entire segment of the Philippine population. Impeachment may be a manageable political exercise, but a subsequent proceeding in the International Criminal Court is not. Here, a resolution by the European Parliament (following an earlier one adopted on September 15, 2016) is pregnant with meaning.

Mar 29

The Long View: The controlling urge


The controlling urge

A shrewd observer once pointed out to me that CEOs tend to obsess over specific points of data. They have absorbed so much information that inevitably only a few facts stick. CEOs will often harp on these facts, much to the exasperation of their staff.

President Duterte, the CEO of the country today, is a case in point. Forty percent is a number that has stuck in his head—40 percent of the police are corrupt; 40 percent of barangay heads are involved in drug trade. It doesn’t matter where or how he arrived at that neat, tidy figure. What matters is he’s convinced it’s true, and his actions flow from that belief.

An archeologist, a few years back, described to me the theory he’s been developing about the way ancient polities—a more accurate word than kingdoms—were organized in what we now know as the Philippines. He believed that we shouldn’t think of these polities in terms of places with fixed borders. Instead, we should think of the flow of people—their travels and their trade—and the choke points that provided opportunities for individual leaders to extract toll from people passing through to travel or trade in goods.

A chieftain might control all traffic passing through his bend in the river, and in turn pay tribute to a more powerful chief—power and prestige thus derived from the ability to hold, extract and provide income from these choke points. The same relationship can be said to exist to this day.

Academics call it rent-seeking. Many a businessman has tales of woe involving the fees and taxes creatively arrived at by local leaders, starting from the barangay to the municipality or city, to the province, on to the national government, to ensure every enterprising person has to pay a cut—the old-fashioned, vivid term is “squeeze”—to today’s petty lakans and provincial datus, all the way to the those who sit on the committee on franchises, say, in Congress or in the national bureaucracy, with the super-rajah we know as the president in Manila on top.

So while we’re used to thinking of localities as having a kind of personality—a province or a town, even a barangay, is its own thing—it might be more accurate to think in terms of people, and not places. The definition of a place, after all, is changeable, to suit the convenience of local and national leaders. In 1951 we had 52 provinces; today we have 81; in 1996 we had 61 chartered cities, by 2004 we had 117.

If you go through the history of our provinces since the mid-1930s, their creation has more often than not, been at the instigation of local leaders wanting to create bailiwicks for themselves, or national leaders eager to break up territories to oblige local allies or diminish their clout (Marcos, after an initial attempt to pseudo-federalize the country by creating regions, systematically gerrymander it, particularly in the former Mountain Province and Mindanao, to reward warlords who would help him assert control over those rebellious areas).

The controlling urge of the President is nothing new. As early as 1936, serious proposals were made to make governors appointive officials, a scheme supported by assemblymen who would then become the top elected officials of the provinces. Mayors of chartered cities became appointive officials during that time, a system only dismantled in the first decade of independence. Martial law saw a grand bargain with local officials who were freed of fixed terms on condition they remained loyal—enabling them to weather the purge of local positions that briefly upset the local balance of power after Edsa.

I’ve written of how fundamentally undemocratic our barangay system is, due to two factors: the perpetual rescheduling of barangay elections to reward their leaders who form the basis for all political machines; and the legal fiction (because honored only in the breach) that barangay officials are “non-political,” which helps account for the general futility of party-building in this country, as they’re top-heavy organisms deprived of truly local legs to stand on.

In many ways, what the President proposes—to make barangay officials appointed ward leaders—is, from a purely political point of view, logical.

Mar 28

The Explainer: ASEAN and us

ASEAN and us

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer
Posted at Mar 28 2017 05:23 AM
LIFE photo of Foreign Affairs Secretary Narciso Ramos with President Marcos

When Leticia Ramos-Shahani passed away, a rare thing happened. People from all walks of life and political persuasions paused to express not only loss over her passing, but admiration for a life well and honorably lived. It’s a rare individual who has been able to have two careers –as diplomat and politician—and emerge respected and missed.

While most people remembered her as the sister of former president Fidel V. Ramos, her career as a diplomat was the result of the example provided by another Ramos, her father.

His name was Narciso Ramos. He was a distinguished Pangasinan assemblyman before World War II. When we became independent in 1946, he left politics and become one of the pioneer diplomats of the country, joining the Department of Foreign Affairs when it was organized. He rose to become Secretary of Foreign Affairs during the first Marcos administration.

Narciso Ramos was considered one of the founding fathers of ASEAN, together with the other four foreign ministers who signed the document creating ASEAN on August 8, 1967: Adam Malik of Indonesia, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajatnan of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand.

The idea of an association of Southeast Asian nations was the latest incarnation of an idea as old as our own founding fathers. Before World War II, there was a growing sense of Pan-Malayan solidarity, as Indonesians and Filipinos got to know each other, and expressed moral support for each other’s independence efforts.

During World War II, the Philippines even advocated, for a time, the union of Indonesia and the Philippines. In the end the idea didn’t prosper because the colonial powers objected to it.

In 1945, we became a founding member of the United Nations. The UN had started as the Allies committed to defeating Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II. It then became the global organization committed to maintaining the peace. As a country that had suffered invasion and occupation, from day one our country was attracted to this idea.

But the Cold War also meant that for the Philippines, the focus of our foreign policy in the first decade of independence was our alliance with the West in fighting Communism. SEATO, the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, was established by the Western powers and their allies in 1954, as a kind of NATO for our part of the world.

On the other hand, in 1955, a meeting of Asian countries was held in Bandung, Indonesia to propose a different, non-Western-oriented approach. By the 1960s, an increasing desire to cast off the Western orientation of our international relations in our part of the world, had made the time ripe for a new venture. There was, for example, the broader Non-Aligned Movement, established in 1961, the brainchild of India’s founding Prime Minister, Nehru.

The 1960s was a troubled time for Pan-Malayan solidarity. It broke up on the question of Borneo and the claims of Indonesia and the Philippines on territories the British incorporated into the Federated States of Malaya shortly before they became independent as Malaysia in 1963. Shortly before Malysia become independent, Malaya, the Philippines, and Indonesia established MAPHILINDO, in an effort to express solidarity. But Malaysian independence meant the old quarrels broke out anew, and MAPHILINDO lasted for only one month.

The creation of ASEAN four years later, composed of two countries, Indonesia and the Philippines, opposed to Malaysia, and another, Singapore, created because it was evicted from Malaysia, was truly remarkable in that it proved countries quarreling with each other could unite and find a way forward.

Since then, even as its membership has expanded, ASEAN has been known as a cautious organization, one that worked by means of that very Asian thing, consensus. This meant, though, that to decide on anything, everyone had to agree on it, first. Which meant many things were left alone because unity couldn’t be achieved on those topics.

In recent years, however, as the members of ASEAN have gotten more prosperous and confident, ASEAN has increasingly proven it can make tough decisions on tough questions. A case in point is China. ASEAN members have come to discover there is strength in unity: that what is difficult to achieve –dealing with China, one-on-one—can be more effective when attempted as a bloc. To this realization, we owe the continuing proposal by ASEAN to define a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, and the expression of concern and alarm –combined with a commitment to finding peaceful solutions—to the problem of the Spratleys and other contested areas.

This year, the Philippines is the chairman of ASEAN as it marks its 50th year. It should have been Malaysia, because the chairmanship of ASEAN is done on a rotating basis. Malaysia for its own reasons gave up its turn to be chairman and so the job fell on the shoulders of our country.

Last week, former NEDA Chief Cielito Habito wrote in his Inquirer column that our domestic media loves political firefights but finds diplomatic and economic news boring. He pointed out ASEAN economic ministers had been here two weeks ago but there was hardly any coverage. And yet what those ministers discuss affects all of us. For example, economic integration –Free Trade among ASEAN member countries—is upon us, and little discussion on the topic is taking place.

He has a point. ASEAN represents the fastest-growing region in the world, economically-speaking. Modernity brings with it many challenges: to level up, think smart, and study, so as to be able to compete. ASEAN itself represents the discovery, by the nations of our part of the world, that the past doesn’t have to trap us in perpetually redbaiting the resentments of the past. Rather, we can, and should, move forward, together. Generations of loyal public servants like Narciso Ramos built a diplomatic corps for our country that has served it well. Successor generations exemplified by Leticia Ramos-Shahani proved we can build on the past with professionalism and competence. With her passing, and ASEAN’s 50th, the challenge is now in our generation’s hands, not to drop the ball.

Mar 22

The Long View: Parity’s unintended consequences (2)


Parity’s unintended consequences (2)

In the case of the Philippines, things got worse. By Nov. 6, 1946, the Republicans crushed the Democrats and took control of both houses of Congress. Harry S. Truman’s political standing, however, had been weakening much earlier. The Rescission Act of 1946, which deprived Filipino soldiers and guerrillas of benefits on par with Americans, was a case in point. To his credit, Truman would keep trying to rectify the injustice committed by Congress, but the issue remains a sore spot to this day.

With its back to the wall, our country faced economic collapse or surrender on American terms. The government went to war against itself, securing a vote in Congress only after it had expelled radical representatives and allied senators to secure passage of the Parity Amendment.

On March 6, 1947 — five days before the plebiscite — Manuel Roxas appealed to the public to ratify the amendment, saying: “Yet we do not, in this case, propose to amend the Constitution permanently. We amend the Constitution for 28 years. After 28 years, this amendment will automatically become null and void. It will cease entirely to have force and effect. But if we find sooner than 28 years that we have made a mistake in this amendment, and that it is not working out to our best interests, we can cancel this amendment, on six months’ notice, or on five years’ notice. There is nothing irrevocable about it.”

This turned out to be true: The Laurel-Langley Agreement renegotiated many of the Bell Act’s terms in 1955, to expire in 1974. But Roxas did not live — and point out — to see this. Political will came to be written off as a perpetual national disgrace.

What were the unintended consequences of the Parity Amendment? Three were most consequential.

The first and most unnoticed was, it overturned the careful political design — and intent — of our legislature. In 1940, the Senate had been revived partly to offset what was already being foreseen as the inevitability of increased radical representation. It would serve both as an institution capable of asserting a national perspective in contrast to the purely local point of view of members of the lower house.

It was also intended to be a more conservative institution, meant as a delicate balancing act, a safety valve of sorts. The purge of both the House and the Senate in 1946 eliminated this need as it resulted in the near-total elimination of representation for radical forces for two generations, until the partylist gave a new opportunity for radicals to achieve at least a token representation in the legislature.

It is no coincidence that the Parity campaign was marked with a grenade thrown at Roxas in Plaza Miranda, inaugurating an era that would end with another grenade thrown in Plaza Miranda in 1971, marking the death throes of the Third Republic that Roxas inaugurated in 1946. The democratic space during that entire period had shrunk to the extent of a perpetual life-and-death struggle with every path to integration with the larger body politic closed off. We continue to feel the consequences of this to this day.

The second was the perpetuation of American business as an unhelpful influence in our political life. Anxiety over the expiration of the Parity — particularly in terms of property — contributed to American business’ support for the imposition of martial law in 1972. William Quasha had lost a case over being able to own his Forbes Park house even after the Parity expired; Marcos promised an accommodating approach to foreign capital, and foreign capital applauded martial law.

The third was the infantilization, in a sense, of our perspective of Philippine-American relations. What was a particularly ruthless response to a specific set of circumstances — the limbo in which American allies found themselves from 1945 to 1948, as America shrank back from promises and expectations set during the war — had been blurred with what followed: the expansion of the American military-industrial complex as it finally, fully, engaged in the Cold War. In repeatedly scratching at the scabs of this national humiliation, we were prevented from going beyond feeling sorry for ourselves, instead of learning about similar challenges under similar circumstances faced by other nations — or from fully appreciating that independent nationhood requires realpolitik.

Mar 21

SpotPH Commentary: Impeach your face

How an emergency solution has become old hat

( You’ve probably heard of the Ides of March, of which Julius Caesar was warned to beware, and on which he was stabbed to death by those he’d considered his friends. Such is the way of power politics: If you get too powerful for comfort, someone is likely to want to pull out a knife.

And so it was that some who saw Ferdinand Marcos methodically paving the way for a dictatorship planned to prevent it the old-fashioned way: through assassination. As one of them once told me, they hatched two cunning plans.

The first involved a remote-control model airplane loaded with a grenade, which would dive-bomb Macoy as he played golf: “But the range was limited and chances are he would have noticed an antenna poking out of the shrubbery.” The second involved stuffing a (live, mind you) cow with explosives: “We actually tried it, and it worked—boom, lots of ground round beef. But how to get Marcos to go over and pet a cow that had had TNT shoved up its rectum?” So nothing happened.

When the dictatorship had already been around for several years, some would go on to try to fight fire with fire, attempting urban terrorism against a regime they considered a gangster government, anyway. But others tried the only alternative that exists for a law-abiding society that wants to vomit out its ruler: impeachment.

This happened in August, 1985. The previous year, as a kind of safety-valve, Marcos tolerated an increase in the number of opposition assemblymen in the Batasan Pambansa. This gave the oppositionists an opportunity—and, they felt, a fighting chance. This was because, as Fr. Joaquin Bernas (writing in Veritas on September 22, 1985) pointed out, the 1973 Constitution had reduced the number of assemblymen required to impeach the president to one-fifth of the Batasan’s membership from the required two-thirds of the House of Representatives to impeach under the 1935 Constitution. This reduction in the required number of votes is what heartened to the opposition.

But Bernas discovered that clever Marcos had everything figured out. The Batasan’s rules on impeachment stated that even if you obtained one-fifth of the assembly to approve impeachment, the majority party (Marcos’ very own KBL) could set up a committee which had the power to cancel the decision.

The opposition went ahead with the effort, anyway, inaugurating many of the scenes we’ve become so used to, today: the bold declarations of intent, the grand articulation, on paper, of damning accusations; hooting and jeering in the gallery, as the ruling party mobilized its membership to reject impeachment, accompanied by the lawyers of the president making snide comments about the futility of destabilization. And the outcome everyone expected all along: tossing the impeachment complaint into the trash after a ritual vote or two, followed by a Palace declaration hailing democracy’s latest triumph.

But as Maris Diokno recalled in 1988, one momentous thing came out of the failed Marcos impeachment attempt. An assemblyman with TV experience, Orly Mercado, had put together a video (on Betamax!) showing the splendid Marcos properties abroad. The video circulated widely. According to Diokno, businessmen who saw it “concluded that the problem was indeed political, not financial,” which primed them to be unusually brave come February, 1986.

To be sure both Marcos and the opposition knew that impeachment, then, as now, was as much about public opinion as it was about using and abusing the rules. The difference was that Marcos, as he got sicker and sicker, started thinking in terms of one crisis at a time, while the opposition was finally learning to play a long game. Marcos would continue winning every battle, officially anyway, while the opposition had geared up to win the war. How else to explain Marcos’ conceited solution to the erosion of his public standing, from the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, to the failed impeachment of August-September 1985: to announce, in 1985, that he would call a Snap Election?

From these stories three things are clear, when it comes to impeachment.

First, it is supposed to be the instrument of last resort. It’s not supposed to be taken lightly, but the reason it exists is a very serious one. As Fr. Bernas put it, “But the very fact that the people who ratified the Constitution included an instrument for rescinding the mandate and the compact [meaning: the past election which provides for a fixed term of office] is a clear indication that the people’s judgment made at the polls is never meant to be an irrevocable mistake. The impeachment process is itself the people’s safety device against a mandate and a compact that have been betrayed.”

Second, it is a political process. From start to finish, the outcome of an impeachment is dependent on politicians in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, and not on any court of law. We have to understand the reason for this, and it has to do with the above. It’s an emergency solution to a problem that cannot be allowed to just drag on, because the potential for harm to everyone is simply too great. And all it’s about, at the end of the day, is whether the impeached official should stay in office or not. Its only result is removal from office—and, if necessary, a ban from any other public office for life.

But it isn’t about punishment in the criminal sense, because criminal punishment can only be decided by a court of law. For example, life, liberty and property are such basic rights that only the strictest, most impartial, and non-political process should be followed if you are to be deprived of any of the three. But political office—and losing it—does not deprive you of life, liberty (in terms of human rights) or property. It’s really a policy question that can be left to policymakers who have an electoral mandate to act as the people’s representatives.

This also means that while the arena is first in the House of Representatives which decides whether to impeach a person, then in the Senate, which basically acts as a jury to decide if that person should be removed from office, the whole drama plays out in public, with the public being called upon to decide on how all the officials concerned are behaving.

Third, our own system of impeachments is rather unique. It gives a lot of power to minorities, which goes against the instincts of most democratic institutions to require big majorities for major decisions. Requiring only a fifth of the membership of the House to impeach is supposed to be helpful in terms of exacting accountability. Who knows where these magical numbers come from—why one-fifth instead of, say, one-tenth or one-fourth?—but it is supposed to be small enough to give principled oppositionists a fighting chance but large enough not to turn it into a matter of whimsy.

Or so the framers of our Constitution hoped. The only time the minority rule really kicked in—the impeachment of President Joseph Ejercito Estrada—it still required a procedural trick: to get it past the majority who were prepared with procedural strategies aplenty to block it, Speaker Manuel Villar Jr. transmitted the articles of impeachment directly to the Senate by adding it on to the opening prayer for the day.

In fact, the only other times impeachments have passed since then have involved large majorities in the House. On March 22, 2011, 212 congressmen voted to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez; on December 12, 2011, 188 congressmen voted to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona (only 95 votes were needed in both cases). Which only goes to show that real life doesn’t always work out the way you intended: by all accounts the framers of our Constitution believed a majority impeachment was a practical impossibility. Guess again.

Regardless of how it’s ended up today, front and center ought to be what impeachment is supposed to be, not what it has become. It is supposed to be an antidote to impunity. It’s meant to be an instrument of last resort. It is supposed to provide a means to rescue the Republic from a situation, as Ben Franklin put it to his fellow framers of their constitution, an alternative to assassination when a ruler becomes too “obnoxious” to tolerate one moment longer. It is supposed to be difficult, because it’s supposed to be a serious solution for a serious crisis.

Still: every impeachment in the past—of Estrada, Gutierrez, and Corona—was accepted by the public. This success continues to drive supporters of those impeached officials nuts. Past acceptance, however, is no guarantee of the future. Because each case proceeded, and was judged, on its own terms. The majorities of yesterday that either foiled or approved of past impeachments, should realize this. Just as an impeachment can be defeated and still lead to the eventual defeat of the victors, so can a victory today become a defeat tomorrow.

Mar 20

The Explainer: What impeachment is and isn’t

What impeachment is and isn’t

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Mar 20 2017 09:23 PM | Updated as of Mar 21 2017 12:42 PM

WikiCommons image of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “The Death of Caesar,” (circa 1859-1867)

March 15 is known as the Ides of March. On that day, people fed up with the dictatorship of Julius Caesar ganged up and solved the problem of a power-hungry dictator the old-fashioned way. They assassinated him.

Of course it also led to a Civil War, and Julius Caesar the dictator ended up succeeded by Augustus Caesar who made himself emperor, turning a dictator-for-life into a hereditary dictatorship.

Which is why history is a list of assassinations and that other method for replacing leaders, revolutions, complete with spectacular executions such as that of Louis XVI of France.

When Americans were figuring out what sort of government to set up, Benjamin Franklin brought up this –even then—ancient history and asked, what do you do, when a ruler proves so obnoxious, the whole system feels it has no choice but to get rid of him?

Assassination, Franklin said, was the old-fashioned solution. He suggested impeachment was a better idea.

Alexander Hamilton, was a thinker and a politician before he was a Broadway sensation. He published a series of essays –think of them as überlong Facebook posts, explaining why the American Constitution was a good thing. In one of the Federalist papers, he defined impeachment as “a method of National Inquest into the conduct of public men.”

So what’s our takeaway from these two?

The first is that politics is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. The sovereign people in their wisdom can make a mistake. They can think they’re electing a statesman but end up with a traitor, a crook, a psychopath or all three. Then what do you do? There are times when the only thing to do is kick that person out of office. Richard Nixon knew his time was up, when both his allies in the House and his friends in the Senate told him he would not only be impeached, but convicted in an impeachment trial. So he resigned.

The second is that if you are going to kick someone out of office, there has to be an orderly procedure, yes; which is why the rules of court are used, to keep things systematic.

But you also need a procedure that is in the hands of democratically elected people, and not unelected judges. After all, the person you want to kick out has a rare and powerful thing: a mandate from the people or from the institutions established by the people. Therefore, the kicking out has to be done by representatives elected by the people.

And the third is that even if you are a traitor, a crook, a psychopath or all three, there are three things you cannot be deprived of without a slow, careful, and non-political proceeding in a court of law that assumes you are innocent until you are proven guilty. These are: life, liberty, and property. On the other hand, to lose public office does not risk your life, your liberty in the sense of rights all humans have, and it isn’t property. Only two things can happen to you if you’re impeached and then convicted in an impeachment trial: you lose your office, and you can be banned from holding office in the future.

So these are the things an impeachment is not, and the things it is:

Impeachment is not a criminal trial. It is about the abuse or violation of, public trust.

Impeachment is not about punishment. You do not have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt., the standard used in criminal trials. It is about whether you continue to be fit, in eyes and minds of our duly-elected representatives, to continue to hold public office. That is all.

Let me explain why. Impeachment is about this question: is injury being done to society itself, requiring the removal of this official?

In other words, is this person–president, vice-president, member of the Supreme Court or constitutional commission—so bad, in terms of his policies or the way in which the official conducts himself in office, that the country would be better off kicking that person out before the end of his or her term?

This is a question of policy, of the national interest, and oftentimes, this is an emergency question because only extremely grave abuses of power can lead to impeachment, which suggests that if things have gotten bad enough to result in an impeachment, it had better be solved as soon as possible.

Just because impeachment is a political process, it is not about letting loose a lynch mob. It does not mean, as superficial commentators sometimes say, that this is merely a numbers game. This is because while it is a political process, it is not just about the politicians. The public is expected to watch, understand, and form an opinion. Ideally, this means the public can see if the House and Senate are acting in the public interest or purely out of politically self-serving motives.

It’s a question best addressed by people who themselves hold a mandate equal to the one being impeached. In our case, only senators have a national constituency just like the president or vice president, for example. This is why both in the systems from which we borrowed it, and in our own system, impeachment is a political process and not a judicial one.

But, just to play safe, even if impeachment ends up a purely partisan exercise, the person impeached cannot lose life, liberty, or property because of impeachment –you will still have to go to trial in a proper court, to lose any of those things.

But let me close with a warning made by the late Senator Soc Rodrigo, who was one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution. He had misgivings about one thing that sets apart our impeachment process from most others. Only a small portion of the House –
one-third —is required to impeach someone. We put in this minority rule, because of how Ferdinand Marcos used his overwhelming majority in the Batasang Pambansa, to kill impeachment attempts.

But, Rodrigo warned, impeachment by design in the past, required very high numbers, because it was meant to be a safety valve in cases where there was an overwhelming clamor to evict a leader. Rodrigo said he was worried that in a multiparty-system, it might be easy for an organized minority to keep harassing the national leadership not out of the national, but purely selfish, interests.

The tyranny of the minority is as bad as the tyranny of the majority. With impeachment becoming not just a minority, but majority, activity, perhaps Rodrigo was being prophetic in putting his misgivings on the record thirty years ago.

That’s it, pancit!

Mar 15

The Long View: Parity’s unintended consequences (1)


Parity’s unintended consequences (1)

The anniversary of the ratification of the Parity Amendment 70 years ago (1947) came and went without comment last March 11. On that date, 40 percent of the electorate voted, a majority of which approved the constitutional amendment giving Americans equal economic rights to exploit our natural resources. The circumstances surrounding that plebiscite provide an instructive tale in unintended consequences.

Filipinos had relied on a pledge from Franklin D. Roosevelt at the outbreak of the war that war damages would be recompensed. Among the last visitors FDR met at Warm Springs, GA where he died was President Sergio Osmeña. In fact, the last press conference Roosevelt held, on April 5, 1945, where he discussed reconstruction funds for the Philippines, was with Osmeña.

But his successor, Harry S. Truman, found himself faced with a resurgence of isolationism. American public and political opinion was sick of war, sick of the world, and tired of paying for everything. In 1945 there was a meat and sugar shortage in America and the papers complained about allies getting scarce resources.

 Peter Clarke in “The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of the Pax Americana,” describes how, on V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, President Harry S. Truman promptly signed an order cutting back Lend-Lease to Britain and the USSR—at a time when the civilian populations of those countries needed American supplies as much as at any other time during the war. V-J Day (Victory in Japan) triggered another decision by Washington, to stop sending supplies to all allies within 18 months.

The time frame would turn out to be much shorter because of domestic politics. The historian Susan L. Carruthers recently pointed out that the only thing on the mind of US troops was to go home, and with the end of the war came a near-total collapse in morale and discipline among soldiers eager to go home. The GIs were voters.

The US secretary of War in early December 1945 had announced demobilization would be slower than originally promised. In Manila, on Christmas Day, American GIs mutinied. On Jan. 5, 1946, GIs from all over started converging in Manila and held a demonstration the next day and the day after—their number reaching 2,500—protesting their not being sent home and expressing indignation over being ordered to disarm the Hukbalahap. Other demonstrations were held in Yokohama, Le Havre, Guam and even in Maryland.

This all meant official Washington was in no mood to consider its allies. In the Philippines, for example, the fiscal situation in 1946 was desperate. Infrastructure throughout the country was wrecked. The first budget submitted by Manuel Roxas in June 1946 (for the fiscal year July 1-Oct. 22, 1946) was P250,000,000—with revenues of P40 million. American war damage payments were vital. But Washington was in no mood to be generous. Even the negotiations on US bases faced limits because of penny-pinching by Washington.

On April 30, 1946 the US Congress enacted the Bell Trade Act providing for favorable tariffs and war damage payments, and the Philippine Congress accepted its term on July 2, two days before independence. But the price of the bill was high—involving amendment of the Philippine constitution. Twice before (in 1937 and 1945), Filipino and American businessmen proposed the postponement of Philippine independence on economic grounds. Now they had a chance to insist on full economic participation despite constitutional limits on foreign ownership.

A comparison with the experience of another close American ally, Britain is instructive. The Bell Trade Act made available $620 million in war-damage payments. Around the same time (in 1945) the British also had their backs to the wall, moving heaven and earth to secure a $586-million loan and a  $3.7-billion line of credit to keep their economy afloat. John Maynard Keynes was dispatched to America on this mission to save the British economy from collapse, negotiating a loan on stiff terms in 1946 (with payments beginning in 1950) that was only fully paid off in 2006. Concluded next week

Mar 14

SpotPH Commentary: A Portrait of the Ex-Champion as Politician

A Portrait of the Ex-Champion as Politician

Manuel L. Quezon III on how transitioning from uniting sports figure to divisive politician still reveals Manny Pacquiao is Everyman.


Time was when, rich or poor, whether you were urban dweller or barrio folk, the entire country would stop, watch, and be that rare and marvelous thing, a united nation whenever Manny Pacquiao was in the ring. The petty pickpocket and the professional politician—not very different from each other, when you think of it, except perhaps in the boldness and scale of the larceny in their hearts—would join the honest in rooting for the Pacman. To be sure, commentators would have a field day tallying the patriotic junketeers who preened before the cameras in their ringside seats, but as reporters of an older generation might put it, isports lang, chief.

In 2009, for example, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, Vice President Noli de Castro, Speaker Prospero Nograles, with at least 20 fellow representatives and other worthies such as Andal Ampatuan, could be spotted occupying choice seats at PacMan’s Cotto fight; in 2011, 113 representatives would miss sessions to be able to demonstrate their patriotism by jetting off to Vegas for another fight; and even in 2012, when the number had shrunk to 40 (despite of, or maybe because, the session had ended so there was no fun in playing hooky), no one in the political class before, or since, ever really suffered for extravagantly seeking such photo opportunities. At home, far from the purloining official crowd, the cops would crow over the absence of crime during the duration of Pacman’s fights, and no one was unpatriotic enough to wonder if the statistics had something to do with the policemen avidly watching the fights, too.

That was then. The fights are fewer now, and tougher to set up. But even in his prime, Pacman had set his sights on another ring, the political one.

In 2010, in his famous GQ profile of Pacquiao, Andrew Corsello had this to say about The Pacman’s first attempt at political office: “It’s the strangest thing: Pacquiao was routed in his run for public office two years ago in part because voters revered him too much to elect him.” At that point, Pacman had lost a bid for congress in 2007; he was widely expected to again throw his hat into the ring, this time not in South Cotabato but in Sarangani. He had lost as a member of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s KAMPI and won as one of Manny Villar’s Nacionalistas in 2010, then shifting to Aquino’s Liberal Party that same year (after Aquino defeated Villar for the presidency), before switching to Jejomar Binay’s PDP-Laban in time for the 2013 mid-terms. Which he won, while wife Jinkee became Vice-Governor though his brother lost in South Cotabato. In 2016, he ran and won as a senator in the UNA slate of Binay, only to rejoin PDP-Laban when it became the ruling party under President Rodrigo Duterte (after Duterte defeated Binay for the presidency).

There are two lesser-noticed vignettes in the Corsello profile. The first is courtesy of a Manila Bulletin reporter who recounted how, as a back-alley fighter, Pacman would “announce himself as the mayor and speak about his plans for improving things. He would move his arms around like a politician. I could never tell if he was just trying to entertain himself or if he was, you know, practicing.” The second is an observation on Pacman’s adoring fan base by a former congressman: “As Manny has risen through the weight classes, nobody has doubted him more than Filipinos. We expect our public figures to falter. It’s incredible, but for a long time the people who loved Manny Pacquiao the most, his own people, were the ones who least believed in him.”

Which leads you to conclude two old truisms: Politics is our national sport, and our politicians are first and foremost, like every other Filipino, a nation of balimbings, eager to see you fail, wildly supportive when you don’t, twice as vicious when you do. The Filipino, we are told, loves to root for the underdog; precision demands that a qualification be made. We root for the underdog that wins.

As winners soon discover, winning also requires losing money and possessions. To be galante is one of the highest praises we can bestow on the fortunate. That Great Ilocano, Ferdinand Marcos, for example, was magnificently gallant with the people’s money, and at least half of the population remains grateful. Which is why a third observation, courtesy of another talkative Corsello source, seems so wildly off the mark, now.

The source, a reporter, rhetorically asked Corsello, who do you think of, immediately, when you hear the word “Filipino?” Immediately supplying the answer, “Marcos. This is how the world knows us. By our corrupt political clans that have been around for centuries. This is how we know ourselves. And Manny Pacquiao, the most beloved figure in the country, talks of going there? It makes his people fear for him.”

Some might have feared Pacquiao becoming a politician, but what of Pacquiao’s own fears? The only thing such a man has to fear is failure itself. Fear of losing a fight, any fight; fear of losing the means to be generous and thus, beloved. Fear of having arisen from nothing, only to become nothing again.

Thus, to the two things certain in this life—death, and taxes—then, should be added a third and fourth: All fame is fleeting, and success can be temporary. Before Pacquiao, our boxing greats died young. Pancho Villa died in his prime, at the age of 24, of a tooth infection. Flash Elorde died of lung cancer at the age of 49, having gained financial security by pitching San Miguel beer, and leaving his heirs a name they have successfully leveraged into a chain of boxing gyms. For former champion pugilists who live past their boxing prime, this was formerly about the best one could expect to achieve. Even the greatest of all fighters, Muhammad Ali, found himself pitching cockroach traps in self-deprecating ads in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

No fighter may have thought of it before, but other durable sports icons had figured a way forward—politics. If Pacquiao is Everyman, and politics is in everyman’s blood, then everyone wants to be a mayor. Or a congressman. Or a senator, or president. Besides being an athlete, Pacman has been an entertainer—and both have made it big in politics. Ask Jaworski, Webb, or Sotto. Long past their professional prime, they added that third element of success to the fame and fortune they already enjoyed: Power, which is the enabler of all things.

Back in 2014, Forbes magazine estimated Pacman’s career earnings at U.S. $300 million, with the Philippine government under former President Aquino wanting to collect U.S. $75 million in tax payments. By 2014, his estimated career winnings had totaled U.S. $400 million. Last April Pacman was saved by the bell—courtesy of the Supreme Court, which maintained its 2014 freeze on the BIR from collecting a multi-billion-peso cash or surety bond to stop the BIR from immediately collecting taxes it claimed were due. Even his mother faced a tax investigation.

As Jose Avelino, a Liberal stalwart and Senate President in 1949, famously put it, “Why did you have to order an investigation, Honorable Mr. President? If you cannot permit abuses, you must at least tolerate them. What are we in power for? We are not hypocrites. Why should we pretend to be saints when in reality we are not? We are not angels. When we die we will all go to hell. It is better to be in hell because in that place there are no investigations, no secretary of justice, no secretary of the interior to go after us.” What sort of treatment of a member of the ruling coalition was this? And of a national icon, at that? One who, we would do well to remember, never aspired to, or proclaimed himself, a saint.

The best the Liberal President at the time, Elpidio Quirino, could say to Avelino by way of a reply, was the uncomforting, “I am no saint…but when public opinion demands an investigation, we have to go through the formality of ordering one.” It displeased Avelino to the extent that he split the party. But because Pacman is a nice guy—and perfectly innocent, as he and his lawyers will you, the BIR, and the IRS—in 2010 Pacman only bolted the administration Liberals, aligned with Binay’s UNA, and after the elections, returned to the fold of the PDP-Laban which is now the ruling party.

Don’t get mad. Get even. He’s rolled with the punches and paid his dues, mocked in the past for his stand on reproductive health in 2015, deprived of lucrative endorsements for his homophobia in 2016, and now an increasingly divisive, because just another run-of-the-mill partisan figure since he was elected to office. But he matters. He is finally in his political element, giving up on trying to be clever and settling instead for being the bouncer of the ruling coalition.

Which brings us to another figure—a champion, in his own right, in terms of being a political survivor—who stole the limelight in Corsello’s piece: Chavit Singson. More Tony Montana of Scarface fame than the Don Viteo Corleone of Mario Puzo’s imagination, Chavit was, is, and will probably always be, the Godfather in every respect of The Pacman.

In Singson’s hometown of Vigan, there is a museum to himself, which includes a gallery filled with the preserved heads and stuffed corpses of the exotic animals Chavit’s killed. The man always comes out ahead. He fights to win. And he is untouchable. The Pacman likes many things, but big-game hunting doesn’t seem to be one of them. But he has his own gallery of stuffed and mounted (political) kills.

“Mr. President, I move that the chairmanship and members of the committee on justice be declared vacant.” Kapow! Goodbye, Leila de Lima. Hello, Dick Gordon.

“I move that the position of the Senate President Pro-Tempore be declared vacant.” Kablam! Goodbye, Frank Drilon. Hello, Ralph Recto.

“I move that the chairmanship and members of the committee on health be declared vacant.”

“I move that the chairmanship and members of the committee on agriculture be declared vacant.”

“I move that the chairmanship and members of the committee on education be declared vacant.”

Blam, blam, blam! Goodbye Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, and Bam Aquino. Hello JV Ejercito, Cynthia Villar, and Chiz Escudero.

“Even Jesus Christ was sentenced to death because the government has imposed [the] death penalty.”

“You can dig copper but if you understand the first line [from Deuteronomy] there’s responsible, meaning responsible mining. But there is ‘responsible mining’ meaning I do not destroy the environment. I do not destroy the earth.”

Boom! God is with us. Because God helps those who help themselves.

Pacquiao the rags-to-riches boxer may once have spoken truth to power, achieving fame and fortune through determination and luck; but now he speaks the blunt language of power. In the era of the clenched fist, the national fist has come into his own.

Godfather Chavit, lest we forget, stood by the side of the man who is now president, at that shock-and-awe miting de avance in the Luneta on the eve of the May 2016 elections when the era of the clenched fist was proclaimed. Godfather Chavit and protégé Pacman stand by the side of that president, as he imposes tough love on the Filipino people. All three are the authentic face of the Philippines and its politics, beating its national pretensions to a pulp. It is a face at times hard, at other times smiling, but always tough.

Yet for Pacman, what sets him apart is that he has done with his fists what it took guns for his mentors to do: gain power. In that sense, his is the most authentic face of all. Whatever success or security most obtain or aspire to, they gain only with native cunning, striving, and the cultivation of friends. It does not come at the cost of other people’s lives. The same applies to Pacman: He may beat you, but he will never kill you.

Floating like a political butterfly and stinging like a bee, not just in the ring but in the session hall, is as good as life gets. In six—now going on seven—years after all, the Pacman managed to join and leave five parties, win elections twice as a congressman and once (so far) as a senator, establish a political dynasty (his brother, Pedro Pacquiao, now holds his old congressional seat), all without really having to do much of anything except be his happy self. In 2015, for example, his record for absenteeism surpassed even that of the chronically absent Jules Ledesma—which only goes to show that whether old money or new, provincial barons can end up very much the same: as carefree as a bird. And doing the Lord’s work, besides. With a clear conscience, to boot, as these things go. He hasn’t done more, or less, than anyone else holding a similar position—and he certainly has never gone as far as those who have taken him under their wing.

Truly, he is everyman; for rare is the person who hasn’t wanted to be somebody in this nation of obscurity. As Senator Pacquiao himself might say (in the process beating colleague Senator Allan Peter Cayetano to the punch), quoting Almighty Jesus himself (Matthew 6: 25-34), “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: They neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Amen? Amen, if your Honors please!

Mar 14

The Explainer: Advice and consent

Advice and consent

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Mar 14 2017 01:01 AM

John Hurt as Caligula exercising his creative imagination in making his horse a senator.

In recent days you’ve been watching the proceedings of the Commission on Appointments, where our old and new politics are on display, courtesy of the two legislators you saw at their best –and worst—during the confirmation hearing on Gina Lopez.

Rep. Ronnie Zamora is as old school as it gets: he doesn’t shout, he purrs; he is shrewd, he is smart, he knows the rules, and he is ruthless. He knows public policy and the law backwards and forwards.

For his part, Sen. Manny Pacquiao is the new face of our politics: he is popular, eager, welcomes tutoring and is willing to say what no else will say, precisely because he is popular. And he has a bible quote for every occasion.

Chances, in watching these men and their colleagues, are you belong to one of two camps: those who consider these two gentlemen defenders of competence and professionalism in the public service, or extortionists too chicken to go against public opinion, when what they really want to do is turn Lopez into organic fertilizer.

But whichever side you’re on, there’s actually a principle at work, and it’s best illustrated with a story from the ancient past.

In ancient Rome, the Emperor Caligula so loved his horse, Incitatus, that he provided it with a marble stall, an ivory manger for its food (which included oats mixed with gold flakes), a jeweled collar and even a house. Or so said the historians Suetonius and Cassus Dio. But Caligula also wanted to appoint his horse as a consul of Rome –though not a senator, as most of us might have heard. The only thing that stopped this outrageous appointment was Caligula’s assassination. Historians today aren’t so sure if this was ever true: though some suspect that Caligula, the type of politician we know all too well today, liked to say outrageous things to humiliate the establishment and make himself popular with the people.

So the principle is this: power is liable to abuse and the best way to temper it is by subjecting the powerful to the power of others, however abusive they might be, in turn, as it balances out in the long run in the public interest. We know this principle as the system of checks-and-balances.

Americans rely on the United States Senate, in the language of the US Constitution, to render “advice and consent” to presidential appointments, from members of the cabinet and other agencies, to ambassadors, and appointments to the Supreme Court

Last year, we marked the centennial of the Senate, and when it was established in 1916 all the way to 1935, it alone exercised the power of confirming or rejecting executive appointments, based on American system.

Our view of the Senate as the bulwark of checks-and-balances in terms of the executive, dates from this period. This includes the role the Senate played, as the highest body composed of Filipinos since the chief executive during that time was an American, the Governor-General.

The early to mid 1920s, in particular, featured repeated clashes with Governor-General Leonard Wood, who found his appointments going through fierce confirmation hearings in the Senate.

In 1935, the Senate was abolished and in its place, a unicameral National Assembly was set up. It had a Commission on Appointments composed of 21 members. But the National Assembly was weak, with a Speaker who was only a ceremonial figure, and the president even holding office regularly on its premises, acting as his own floor leader.

In 1938, proposals were made along three lines to amend the constitution. First, to change the term of the president from one six-year term without reelection, to a four-year term with one reelection allowed. Second, to establish a national Commission on Elections. And third, to go back to the bicameral setup for the legislature, with the restoration of the senate, which this time around would be nationally-elected. These amendments came to pass in 1940.

But politics as we know, is the art of the possible. A sweetener was needed, to convince assemblymen to give up their exclusive power to confirm or reject appointments. The sweetener came in the form of a bicameral Commission on Appointments, this time composed of 12 congressmen and 12 senators, with the Senate President as chairman who only voted in case of a tie.

Of course under martial law and the scrapping of the 1935 Constitution, the Commission on Appointments went extinct. In a parliamentary setup, there’s no such thing. Since prime ministers come from the ruling party in the parliament, and select fellow members of parliament to form the cabinet, no limits can be placed by the parliament on itself.

In 1987 the Constitutional Commission decided to go back to the bicameral setup. Oddly enough, it didn’t revisit the reason for having a bicameral Commission on Appointments when it restored the body. This is odd, because the political compromise it represented, dating to 1940, was no longer relevant. Instead, the 1987 Constitution took judicial appointments out of the hands of the Commission on Appointments.

For his part, Constitutional Commissioner and eminent legal thinker Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ has expressed the opinion that in the case of the judiciary, the Commission on Appointments system is still better than the Judicial and Bar Council, the alternative that was created by the present constitution. The reason is that while the old system was and will be highly political, it was more democratic and able to introduce public opinion; on the other hand, restricting the vetting and recommending of judicial appointments to a body dominated by the legal profession can be too clubby for the public good.

The process goes like this. When the President makes an appointment to the cabinet, constitutional commissions, diplomatic postings or the military, the names are submitted to the Commission on Appointments. The Constitution says this is actually an independent commission outside Congress, but composed only of members of the Senate and the House. They have to decide on whether to reject or conform the appointment made, within the session before or during which that appointment was made. To expedite matters, the Commission creates committees which renders a report; if the report is favorable the whole Commission then votes on the nomination.

This sounds straightforward but we are a society that dislikes saying no, so more often than not, if the Commission can’t or won’t say no, it says, let’s wait. This is what being bypassed means. When you’re bypassed, the Commission didn’t exactly reject you, but didn’t approve you, either. Presidents at this point have one of two choices: keep up the fight, and resubmit the name for confirmation, or beat a strategic retreat and decline to renominate that person.

Sometimes, even if the Commission is inclined to say yes, some members for whatever reason –including ego or past grudges– invokes the most fearsome of the Commission on Appointment’s rules: the infamous Section 20. This says any member of the Commission, without having to say why, can force the Commission to suspend consideration of an appointee already approved by one of the Commission’s committees. And here’s the trick –usually this is invoked on the last day of the hearing, which means the nominee ends up stuck in limbo until the next session.

Recently, the Commission has decided to explore something long desired by legislators but never put in practice until now: to institute a three strikes and you’re out rule, to prevent presidents and their allies from just submitting names over and over.

It remains to be seen who, if any, of the current crop of bypassed nominees, will be the first to feel the consequences of that rule before the current Congress expires in 2019.

Mar 08

The Long View: Bury him with the bodies


Bury him with the bodies

It seems to me that sincerity of faith is one of those things one has no choice but to take at face value. At least if you go beyond the “a-bible-verse-for-every-occasion as proof-of-faith approach.” After all, the Good Book itself warns that the devil can quote from scripture. To think otherwise leads you to one of two pointless exercises: building a bonfire in the Senate and proceeding to (literally) roast the witness; or taking turns acting out a scene from the Paris Commune of 1871:

The Tribunal: What is your profession?

The Jesuit: Servant of God.

The Tribunal: Where does he live?

The Jesuit: He is everywhere.

The Tribunal: Take this down. The accused, claiming to be the servant of one God, vagrant.

Let it not be said that the Senate majority is unthinking. Mockery is preferable to creating martyrs. That is why Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III kept the “kamao ng Senado” under a tight leash. Roll with the punches; don’t try to jab at someone with a motion for contempt the moment you’re dissatisfied with his reply.

Instead, confront Arturo Lascañas and even his lawyers, to accomplish two objectives: First, divert the discussion away from the confession and toward a pointless debate about religion-as-motivation for recanting previous testimony. Second, brush the whole thing aside as the latest installment in a tired, old script that formerly victimized the “Holy Trinity” of the ruling coalition composed of honest, outstanding public servants such as Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and that poor, misunderstood reformer, Ferdinand E. Marcos.

This required drawing out the proceedings, something easy to do considering that the political equivalent of the reptilian part of our brain that regulates basic functions is, in elected officials, the irresistible urge to grandstand and restate the obvious. The benefit of unnecessarily long and undisciplined proceedings is that several hours of testimony interrupted by grandstanding is the high probability  that the grandstanding could end up distilled into a 30-second to 5-minute gap covering the whole hearing: all that the evening news will permit to get in the way of show biz coverage.

But success for the ruling coalition also hinged on Monday’s drama being the first and last installment. Lascañas made his confession before his God and the country, and its elected leaders took turns jeering at him without taking the risk of digging into the actual allegations. He can now be buried in forgetting, along with the bodies he claims to have concealed in a quarry.

This is what I mean when I say that the ruling coalition is learning from the past. It ensured reports on the hearing would be 50 percent revelations, and 50 percent religious debate. It denied a continuing platform to corroborate the allegations. And it exercised self-control (and control of Sen. Manny Pacquiao) in verbally, but not procedurally, beating up Lascañas. Then it gaveled the hearings out of existence.

You can be sure that glasses were raised in celebration that night, whether in the majority caucus or in the Palace. Its nemesis Antonio Trillanes III is being gleefully presented in a manner resembling that of a Civil War general who once indignantly told his commander in chief, “I have not been defeated; I have merely failed to achieve victory.”

Yesterday, Sen. Francis Pangilinan tweeted that he wouldn’t hesitate to request the reopening of the investigation if other witnesses turn up. A big IF.

The most troubling about Arturo Lascañas is that he must surely be only one of many hitmen working for many local leaders with many more victims under their belts, applauded on the one hand by their constituents, and enjoying impunity because they are valuable allies for national leaders on the other. Meanwhile, anyone holding a contrary opinion is confronted with the possibility that expressing his mind could have lethal results. It is troubling because it leaves no one, and no institution, no faction, party, or movement, left with clean hands. No one, after last Monday, can ever claim they did not know, they could not imagine, or that they weren’t told.


Mar 07

The Explainer: Presidents and capital punishment

Presidents and capital punishment

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Mar 07 2017 12:26 AM

The execution of Lim Seng, 1973, from an Associated Press newsreel

Today, the House of Representatives will reach its moment of decision on reviving the death penalty. Up for plenary deliberation on Wednesday will be the death penalty bill, which restored capital punishment for violations of the anti-dangerous drugs law.

Last January 29 as part of our Inquirer Briefing, we focused on the three flavors of executions then being proposed, and the background of capital punishment in our country. The information I’m sharing with you as we survey past administrations, came from this page.

During the colonial period, the Spanish preferred the garotte, which broke your neck by means of a screw, for executions. This is how Gomburza were executed. Except, in cases of military court martial in which case firing squads were used: this is how Rizal and suspected Katipuneros were finished off.

Our First Republic debated the separation of Church and State but doesn’t seem to have considered capital punishment as a topic for serious discussion.

The Americans used hanging as the means for execution for people like Macario Sakay. But by the 1920s, the electric chair had been introduced.

When the modern presidency was established in 1935, capital punishment though in existence for much longer, had been in the Penal Code since 1886. It was a given, as just as it was elsewhere in the world, that the state had the right to take lives for those convicted of heinous crimes.

The only president before 1986 who expressed misgivings about the death penalty was Manuel L. Quezon.

In his autobiography, he wrote that the legend of the mother of Rizal climbing the stairs of Malacañan Palace on her knees, to beg for the life of her son, haunted him. He always commuted the death sentence before executions could take place.

An interesting point: every generation seems to have produced a hero who ended up executed or assassinated: Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Jose Abad Santos: all were condemned to death; while Ninoy Aquino had been condemned to death by musketry by the dictatorship then liquidated in an assassination.

But to return to our story, while a president might have stayed the hand of the execution, he did not push for the abolition of the death penalty. In fact, even during the crimes covered by the death penalty increased. In 1941, as war clouds gathered, espionage became a capital crime.

In 1957, subversion became a capital crime as part of a series of laws proposed by Ramon Magsaysay and enacted under Carlos P. Garcia, to toughen legislation against Communism.

During this period, from the end of World War II to Martial Law, the electric chair was the method of execution. Technically, the law provided for the electric chair to be replaced with the gas chamber, but this never seems to have happened.

In contrast to his predecessors who did not question the death penalty, but in many cases exercised executive clemency by commuting sentences and pardoning prisoners, Ferdinand E. Marcos was different.

After Martial Law was imposed, Marcos placed trials against enemies of his regime under the control of military tribunals instead of civilian courts. For this reason, death by musketry –the firing squad—became the preferred method for execution for shock and awe purposes. Lim Seng had been given a life sentence but in a rare act, Marcos increased the sentence to death.

But aside from the public execution of Lim Seng on January 15, 1973 who was convicted of manufacturing and distributing heroin, this hardly took place. Marcos would not commute death sentences but in some cases, such as Ninoy Aquino’s, he would not implement the sentence, dangling it as a potential threat.

For most of our presidents then, since 1935, capital punishment has been a given. Only presidents who were women made a point of advocating its abolition.

Thirty years after subversion was declared a capital crime, under Corazon Aquino, the Constitutional Commission abolished the death penalty –unless otherwise provided by law for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.

Those reasons were put forward by Fidel V. Ramos in 1993. Facing an epidemic of kidnappings and bank robberies, he proposed, and Congress enacted, the restoration of the death penalty.

Three years later, in 1996, Congress replaced the electric chair with lethal injection as the means for execution. The first subjected to lethal injection was Leo Echegaray in February, 1999: the first execution in 23 years. When the second execution, of Eduaro Agbayani, was due in June, 1999, Al Dingwall pointed out in a FaceBook comment that President Estrada supposedly desired to stay the hand of the executioner at the last possible moment. A call from the Palace was made, minutes before the planned execution time. It turns out a fax number had been dialed. By the time the mix-up was cleared up, and the correct number was called, it was too late.

That was last execution of a convict; President Estrada announced a moratorium on executions. Ten years after FVR revived it, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called for the abolition of the death penalty, which Congress abolished again in 2006.

Since 2015, proponents of the death penalty have been active, and President Rodrigo Duterte made bringing back the death penalty part of his platform of government. He asked Congress to restore capital punishment for drug-related crimes in his first State of the Nation address.

At first, the House excitedly proposed a whole set of crimes that would carry with them the penalty of death: rape, piracy on the high seas, plunder, and so forth. After repeated caucuses the number of applicable crimes was cut, until only drug offenses remained covered. Removing plunder, in particular, caused a lot of head-shaking among the public.

For his part, the President seems okay with that but not okay with removing rape as a capital crime. But the House has decided, and all that remains is to see who among our representatives will dare vote against it. After that, the Senate will deliberate on the proposal –and on public opinion on the question.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.

Mar 01

The Long View: Reality bites


Reality bites

Last Monday the Frankenstein majority in the Senate reorganized itself, tearing off from its ranks the senators who dared show their faces in last Saturday’s Edsa People Power Monument rally. Veteran journalist Chuchay Molina-Fernandez made a tart observation on Facebook: You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, referring to the peculiarity of having senators who were out of place in the majority from the start.

At least now, the new minority is freed from such suspicions, while the new majority can take pride in echoing Thomas “The Boss” B. Reed’s (onetime US House speaker in the early 1900s) famous belief that “The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch.”

Even the grand ruling coalition is coming to realize the difficulties of dog-paddling in the deep end of the pool. Recall Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.’s effort to create a national movement to provide President Duterte with a more stable political organization than the fair-weather parties of provincial barons and business moguls. He got far, but not far enough, it seems. After an initial set of obliging executive issuances, the one that truly matters—providing a budget for the logistics of such a movement—never materialized. No money, no honey, not even for enticing retired or still active leftists with organizing experience to help kickstart the embryo movement.

Instead, the initiative seems to have passed to Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, who previously used the Alsa Masa strategy—in terms of people being the eyes and ears of government (not in terms of killing, he was quick to point out to the Philippine Star last July)—to promote public participation in governance. If Evasco pushed for Kilusang Pagbabago, Sueno has two: the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Committee (MRRD-NECC), which has vowed to “protect” the President, and a sub-organization Mamamayan Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga against drugs; while the Department of the Interior and Local Government is the moving force behind the People’s National Movement for Federalism, which is pushing the Federalist agenda. This three-pronged approach was supposed to produce shock and awe last Saturday.

Sueno’s Feb. 24 memorandum in fact mentioned that MRRD-NECC was going to “hold a vigil with candle lighting in all local government units” aside from the vigil in the Luneta on the Edsa anniversary. This is why, as the memo put it, “Your constituents who are willing to participate in the events may be organized for the purpose.”

Since the purpose of the memo was to encourage “support for the advocacies of the President,” it’s well worth considering that it provided the opportunity to accommodate the advocacy of at least two presidential advisers: a petition, to be formalized in meetings in public plazas throughout the country, for the President to proclaim a revolutionary government. Ideally, this would arm the President with the means to permanently neutralize his critics—as well as any institution agonizing over constitutional checks and balances, by abolishing the existing legal framework of government.

Such a shock-and-awe petition, however, needed a shock-and-awe event. This is what the Grand Rally at the Luneta was supposed to achieve. But the Manila Police District estimated crowd attendance from 3,000 at 4 p.m. to 215,000 at its height, 9-10 p.m. Organizers claimed 400,000 (one prominent Duterte supporter insisted it was 800,000)—in any event, a far cry from the MMDA and PTV4 forecast of 1.5 million (skeptics on Reddit, looking at drone footage, pegged attendance at 20,000; but supporters of the President were delighted that organizers estimated the Edsa rally at 6,000).

Joseph Estrada in 2000 tried a similar gambit. When the first Edsa Shrine rally was held in October, Estrada held a huge rally in the Luneta on Nov. 11 of that year. It produced shock and awe. Two days later, he was impeached in the House. But at least he had produced a truly massive turnout at the Luneta.

Last Saturday the President was left with a much smaller turnout than hoped for and sans a national petition to establish a revolutionary regime.


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