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Oct 26

Notes

At the forum I attended, I presented the following analysis of the situation:

I. The collapse of Philippine Institutions
In 1998, an electoral revolt against the established sectors resulted in the elite unleashing a period of reaction that began in 2000 and is culminating now. There is also a generational shift evident in many sectors.
1. Church: Reflects the global crisis in nondescript or inferior prelates put in place by previous pontificate. Unable, unwilling, incapable of matching previous historic (martial law) role; returning to reactionary traditions of previous centuries. Inability of Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines to consistently engage does provide an opportunity to build a genuinely secular society.
2. Civil Society: discredited and disreputable because of closeness to President, and refusal to engage in any meaningful mea culpa. There is a division between the discredited Civil Society leaders who engineered collaboration with the President, and then left her, and the successor generation that has decided either to simply work with the President, or pursue a different and more government-independent strategy. Civil Society contributed to current deadlock by agonizing over succession issue, only now being resolved, four months after crisis began. This reflects a fundamental distrust of society that is being rewarded, in spades, by society greeting Civil Society moves with skepticism and derision.
3. Political Class: has given up any pretenses to statesmanship and is unabashedly struggling for survival. The political class is operating in a political landscape which it is unequipped to cope with, particularly with reference to media, the national economy (kept afloat not by government efforts, but by default due to remittances, which makes economy resilient and resistant to government tinkering, and for whose buoyancy government cannot take credit), and the electorate (which it can only successfully handle in purely local, and not national, terms).
4. Bureaucracy: Disgruntled but also increasingly incompetent. No successor generation being trained and the vestiges of the last properly equipped generation from the 1960s fading from the scene.
5. Military: Divided horizontally, not vertically. Stuck with the same lack of imagination as the rest of the political players. Dangerously susceptible to utopian delusions.
6. Middle/Professional Classes: Opportunities elsewhere has led to a decision to abandon the country, and an open and frank contempt for any prospects of change. There is no incentive to invest either time or money in changing things when energies can be harnessed to build a better life abroad.
II. The President’s options
1. 2006: The Ramos plan, which remains the only thought-out and viable option for the political class.
2. 2007: Plan B for political class, to establish gains in elections; the President’s minimum graceful exit option.
3. 2010: President’s preference, provided she can receive certain guarantees such as immunity.
4. President for Life: her ultimate fall-back position if opponents remain intransigent.
5. The foil of military intervention: increasingly attractive, and dangerously so, to various groups in order to achieve 2, fend off 3, and ultimately prevent, 4.
III. A hardening of positions
1. Preemptive, calibrated, response: so far, despites occasional snafus, handled effectively and adeptly.
2. Executive Order prohibiting testimony by bureaucracy and military: part of a strategy of pushing the envelope. Has not met with enough resistance.
3. Demolition of opposition: Successful, so far, in no large part due to inherent weakness of opposition, particularly Estrada and Lacson. Less successful with Mrs. Aquino.
4. Cases against opponents:
5. Take-over of industries: To keep businessmen (oligarchs) in line. Provides prospects of increased government attention and incentives for cooperative businessmen. Government has been less confrontational with business than previous administration and has been more prudent in the rackets it pursues for itself.
6. Emergency Rule: Not to be discounted as an option that seems poised for success if current trends continue.
7. President tapping provinces as antidote to unrest in capital: Successfully reaping rewards from cultivating provinces from Day One of administration.
IV. Transactional foreign policy:
1. Weakness vis-à-vis USA due to Iraq blunder, has resulted in the promise of an anti-terrorism law patterned after Singapore and Malaysia
2. “China card” played by administration: China’s regional focus on business to build goodwill portrays USA as having been transformed from a conservative, consensus-building power, to a destabilizing, renegade entity in the region.
3. Australia and Visiting Forces Agreement: Australia as surrogate for USA points to only US interest in the Philippines at present, which is security-related (not to discount USAID achievements in Mindanao, but the perception remains that American policy is uneven and unreliable)
4. Japan: questions on ODA due to government incapacity to provide matching funds
V. Charter change
Parliamentary government is being pushed forward on the basis of a crafty calculation that the increasing irrelevance of politics will ultimately justify, in effect, disenfranchising the population.
1. Uncooperative Senate: main obstacle to charter change; the upper house remains the only major government institution displaying independence.
2. Public unsure: Uncertainty fostered by President’s tactics such as Consultative Commission; issues such as parliamentary versus presidential government are quite alien to majority, and not even clearly understood by those claiming to support it; questions about real motives of proponents (e.g. Speaker of the House) add to skepticism, as does the question of whether public will accept new Constitution as a means to achieve a graceful exit.
3. Federalism popular, but misunderstood: Weakening of gubernatorial support will pit them against provincial supporters; question of how it will benefit poor provinces unresolved.
4. Parliamentary insistence of political class: Their desire for survival through parliamentary government leaves others, even reformers who genuinely prefer parliamentary model, cold. No consensus on what kind of parliamentary government, particularly on the question of unicameralism.
5. Only Germans involved in party-building: And at least one German observer has pointed out the futility of a parliamentary experiment without strong parties.
VI. US Policy challenges:
1. Historical burdens (e.g. WW2 vets claims) remain
2. Democratization is clearly not a primary US agenda
3. Mindanao suffering from uneven US focus
4. Anti-insurgency versus Maoists not receiving enough attention: insurgency, not terrorism, is the clear and present danger to the Philippines
5. Failure to realize Filipinos better at manipulating US than US is at manipulating Filipinos
6. Great opportunities lie ahead in education programs and entrepreneurship assistance

From those present (one-on-one, informally: what was discussed at the round table itself was “off the record), which included scholars and diplomats who have studied the country and are involved in projects affecting the country, no one disagreed with my analysis. I also received the following feedback:

1. The Philippines is stuck. It is not yet a failed state, but is acting like one.
2. The issues at hand –parliamentary versus presidential, etc.- are the same that have been debated for forty years. Inability of sectors to resolve the various debates indicates how poorly they serve the country.
3. Federalism is demand of MILF for peace. If true that FVR et al. are skeptical about Federalism, then prospects for peace are slim. Were peace to be declared in Mindanao, it would be awash in money. Donors are poised to pump in funds, but only if peace is achieved. There are questions, though, if Mindanao can properly absorb the funds earmarked for it.
4. The “brain drain” is the most serious problem facing the country. “The brain drain is killing the Philippines.” Common assumption: increasingly desperate elite fighting for crumbs among each other, and there is no longer a “center” with clout.
5. Reforms targeted at eliminating patronage ignores that patronage is the lifeblood of politics. The question is not eliminating patronage, but ensuring such funds reaches the population and is not diverted along the way, and eliminating cronyism, the vast appointing powers of the President of the Philippines (bringing it back to at least the pre-martial law level and not the bloated Marcosian levels that have been retained), and the tendency of Philippine business to intervene in politics to ensure favorable concessions (“rent-seeking”).
6. Politics increasingly irrelevant to Philippine life. Party-building must be done first, otherwise all other institutional changes will be cosmetic at best. Indonesia studied Philippine multi-party system as example to avoid at all costs, hence decision to go for more expensive (in the sort term) but more efficient (as it guarantees clear mandates and hence, stability) run-off elections system. Most skeptical about parliamentary government in the Philippines.
7. Anti-Terror law
8. While generally admiring of the “richness” of NGO life in the Philippines, overwhelming sense that Civil Society is morally bankrupt and discredited.
9. Consensus that way out of impasse begins with holding a clean election.
10. First priority equally divided on finally finishing land reform (Asian view) or delivering impartial justice (American view).

12 comments

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  1. joselu

    Manolo, I have my doubts if the Senate being independent is anything to appreciate.What kind of independence investigates their own e-vat law they themselves crafted.
    Is not Statemanship a much higher value then independence that could also be identified w/ arrogance.
    I don’t remember a Senate that has gone as low as this present Senate.
    A Drilon move tainted w/ ambition is not independence.
    I think a right person knows when to bend, because insisting on ones independence is just like trying to be in a better negotiating position w/c boils down to personal gains & as always national interest takes a forever back sit.

  2. rgcruz

    Hi Manolo.
    I agree with joselu that its doubtful the senate is independent…that is, its independence stems not so much from principles but from political interests.

    It’s also hilarious to think that the Filipinos have successfully manipulated the Americans to suit our own designs. whether we did that wittingly or not is of course at this point immaterial.

    But Manolo, Im curious, what do those folks out there really think of the Philippines now? Reading the reactions to your presentation, it seems that the Philippines now appears to be this really sick, stupid, hormonal teenager who is a victim twice over of his own self.
    That’s depressing.
    We just have a very bad political system thats driving everything else crazy. It’s no longer just Gloria.

    What could be done when the system itself is the one that needs changing? Of course one can argue that there are still good polticians out there. problem is they are not popular enough to be in power.

    It seems like there’s no way out other than…
    well, literally out of the country.

  3. mlq3

    Hi Rg -good you passed by. I’ve been meaning to find a way to tell you to turn on commenting in your blog: it’s frustrating to read your entries when one can’t react.

    Political interests are what provide the fuel, the motive, so to speak, to espouse principles. Nothing, for example, makes a person love liberty than being subjected to tyrrany. Only then do you realize that principles count, and then you harness everything within your means to defend that principle. The unprincipled politician needs principles, if only tactically, and the statesman is the politician who realizes that defending a principle is satisfying in and of itself.

    A good example is how people distrust ambition, when I would fundamentally distrust a politician without ambition: if you don’t want to be great, then you have no business trying to convince people to waste their votes on you.

    The view that we are better at using the Americans than the Americans have been at using us is not new, there is even a book about, “Illusions of Influence,” which makes for a great read. Filipinos just like to think they’re victims because it’s reassuring and gives a way out from the responsibility the public likes to place on its leaders. As the Spanish saying goes, as the people, so is the government. Our Leftist friends, for one, want to keep the people pure and clean and blame everything on the leaders -but the leaders were placed there by the people, and reflect the values of the people at any given time.

    The impression I got was pretty depressing -so much potential, so little of it being realized, they basically say, and add to that their almost inflexible conviction that we’re stuck in a rut. Some pretty basic tweaks to the system would get it out of the rut: but they don’t see anyone in a position to take this more strategic view.

    Their views reflect some of what I hear people here at home saying: fix the justice system, it’s the root of all our evils. And have a credible election: if Indonesia could learn from our mistakes, so can we.

  4. kulas

    mlq3, with all my due respect, i think that the present generation of civil servants are more “properly equipped” than those who are “fading away from the scene”. i think for the past 30 years or so, government institutions have invested so much in human resource development. in addition to this, we have received innumerable grants for research, trainings and seminars for a wide spectrum of fields of specializations in governance from almost all, if not all, developed countries. but I do agree that there is still so much incompetence in the bureaucracy. the incompetence can come from “properly equipped” but disgruntled civil servants.

  5. joselu

    Manolo, i guess you are a super lover of democracy, but honestly, your line of loving liberty then being subjected to tyrany makes me wounder if that is a line out of a book or is a real thing.
    My question really is, how come other countries practice politics too & have ambitious politician too.How come they prosper & we don’t?
    It seems to me that we insted have over politized anything & everything.So much so that today we are is such deep shit that it’s dificult to diferentiate things already.
    I think befor we “play politics” we must first be responsible human beings.We have to be humane and understand right from wrong.
    It seems to me that we are pretending so much.But the tragic part of all is that as a nation we have very shallow.

  6. Carl

    Re Federalism, it’s not only the MILF that wants it. Christians in Mindanao would very much want their own self-determination, too. Mindanao can indeed become very prosperous if only it were as detached from the Philippines as much as possible.

    Re business intervention in politics, it is often a defensive move on the part of established businesses. In a country where the sanctity of contracts is not honored, businesses can be subjected to harassment from politicians. Even regulatory agencies can be used to harass business by subjecting all requirements to harsh scrutiny. To avoid this, businesses often have to take a proactive stance, which is to finance certain candidates. who will in turn protect them. Of course, there are “crony” businesses that totally depend on political patronage. These include those involving government franchises or services. Garbage hauling, security services and public works contracting are the most common examples.

  7. rgcruz

    BUt dont you think that here in the Philippines,
    politcians are driven by very personal interests, like their pockets and personal ambitions?

    Just asking.

    because I think that’s the case.

  8. rgcruz

    but don’t you think that here, polticians’ personal interest are driven just by their pockets and ambitions and lust for power?

  9. joselu

    cont. lang, was interupted at work.anyway,it’s because we have very shallow roots, our educational system is wanting.we as pinoys come from so many backgrounds but surely the majority who has been locked-up in an island life w/ lil or no exposure at all of a wider world.add to that selfish, reckless politician and what do you get!!!!
    I really think we must POLITICS ASIDE!!!!!
    Our culture of politics is based of selfishness and above all exploiting peoples ignorance!!!!
    Our culture is turning into a culture of animals where anything goes.where the means justifies the end!
    The garci tapes are the best exsample of WHATEVER MEANS TO UNCERTAIN ENDS!!!!!!!!!!
    Manolo, I have worked in media & I have been bribed by politicians.I have never felt so insulted in my life in those times!!!!I have principles & material security but I know so many don’t!!
    Ambitiuous politicians ruin people & I know that for a fact!!!

  10. PopsJ

    The young congressmen who endorsed the impeachment are a different lot. To me, i look at them as beacons of hope for our native p.i. Joselu, i disagree with you that we should set politics aside. If one wants to be selfish, yes one can do that. What we have now, is what we deserved. But to have regrets. Sorry, not me. I just think of what better things I can do for myself, my family and my country. One’s analysis is never perfect. Even MLQIII’s.

    Dr. Stephen R. Covey said ‘Seek first to understand then to be understood’.

  11. joselu

    PopsJ, I like your quote.
    Yes we must understand first & it’s not easy.
    In politics there is no right & wrong.They say it’s the art of the impossible.Politis is what kept our electric bill very low for a long time because it was politicaly better to keep the people satisfied.Until Napocors bills went so high that now through taxes we are forced to pay it & gone are the days of chip electricity.
    The garci tapes where the deadliest political ploy ever in our history.A political prosedure in the form of impeachment was used.Impeachment, being a political tool & not completely a Court presedure showed that politics decided that there where not enough bases to impeach the president.
    I agree that the young congresman who endorsed the impeachment where a different lot.They endoresed a complaint based on an illegal source of information that is completely partisan.In every oppurtunity they spoke & repeated countless times PGMA being a lier a chit & a thief like trying to condition the peoples mind.The bottom line is after all their dramatics.They where not able to convince anybody that counted.It’s all about politics that tries to get max media coverage.
    Are these the people to look up too?
    All they really did was spouce a popular cause.Do u really think their charges will stand in a court of law?
    Politics is not about balck & white.Politics is about gray areas or whatever is convient for a politicain.convient does not mean the right thing to do.
    For decades this is how the country has been runed.Today we are seeing the consequences of so many political accomodations.
    maybe you forget that normaly human nature is weak, it’s selfish, it does not think of the good of the others.Sadly in our country it’s 3 times more selfish.
    PopJ, maybe it’s better if we first agree on what we think politics should be & compare it w/ what we see & ask ourself why does our country not prosper when other societies prosper?
    Do you remember when fuel was subsidized & it was popular during marcos times but it hurt our economy.It added to our national debt that is burdening us to this day.That too was a political move to apeace the people.Do you agree that staff like that be done?
    I think insted of TO MUCH POLITICS that we practice w/ obsesion & makes us act irrationaly.We must be more concerned w/ getting our minds & energies together to help each other and not use the poor always as an excuse to justify selfish ends.
    Do you agree that the senators act “independently” in the processes creating a gridlock that drugs the country down?Do you really think their not protecting something else & the good of the country comes in second only?
    yes it’s true if you really understand than you will know why politics is bringing all of us down.Question is,Is that what you really want?

  12. MitaMS

    I think our real problem is our national insecurity which results in our lack of respect for instituions, our government and our responsibilities to the country. Deep-down, Filipinos do not believe in themselves and our nation. Anything “foreign” is better. When we find ourselves in foreign lands we become the epitome of decorum and diligence. The truth is, we invest in our families or our baluarte but woefully neglect our responsibilities as citizens of our own country. A responsible citizenry would not have allowed Martial Law and a Marcos dictatorshop. We still have to take responsibility for that as a citizenry.

    Think how this extends to every aspect of life. Like in politics…we have no strong parties because the politicians cannot stick to parties they themselves started. There’s no faith, no trust, no loyalty to the country anymore.

    My 75-year old mother told me long ago how “urbanidad” has been disintegrating in society since WW2. She attributed it to the difficulties people experienced during those times. But Martial Law, she said, was the worst for Philipiine society because most individuals leaned towards the “dog eat dog” mentality.

    Our state of affairs is sad but I am still hopeful it’s not all lost. First of all, we have to build the ranks of the middle class and that’s why it’s so important to value and educate the masa and not marginalize them. The masa today is tomorrow’s middle class.

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