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Jul 19

Cat’s out of the bag

In the news, Lito Atienza new environment head: the public reaction’s been along the lines of Environmentalists shocked over Atienza appointment to DENR. The former DENR chief, Gen. Angie Reyes, not known for his environmentalism, now moves sideways to energy, on which he’s not an expert, either. Note that the portfolio Atienza was widely (and in a political sense, sensibly) assumed to be poised to assume, was that of Secretary of the Interior. Obviously, current DILG chief Ronnie Puno isn’t about to budge, despite attempts to pin the poor showing of the President’s senatorial slate on him. Puno has clearly not outlived his usefulness.

The cherades involving Reyes and Atienza is part of a bunch of cabinet appointments that resulted in Energy Secretary Lotilla either getting his wish to be replaced, or actually being fired (one press account had him reacting to a reporter’s phone call with surprise, not knowing he’d been relieved of his portfolio)

But now she’s hinted she may want to stick around: Arroyo hints at running for Congress in 2010. The cat’s out of the bag:

This is the first time that Arroyo issued a statement on her possible political plans after she steps down in 2010. She has constantly said that she wanted to shy away from politics and would focus on running the economy.

Arroyo will deliver her State of the Nation Address on Monday, her seventh since she took the presidency in 2001.

Even as she slowed down on the push for Charter change because of the May elections, Arroyo had made it clear that she has not abandoned the initiative and stressed that it would be pursued by her administration as a “platform commitment.”

Arroyo’s allies in Congress are expected to make Charter change a priority once sessions open on Monday, which will pave the way for a parliamentary system.

This is the first time she’s been bold enough to even float the idea herself since 2005. Although she has been subliminally floating the idea ever since she talked about the country reaching “First World” status by 2020.

What colleague John Nery calls Arroyo’s insurance policy. What does the President need insurance against? Obviously, ending up like Estrada after her term of office. But the argument goes, whatever her sins, if the economy improves, people will let her retire in 2010.I n the blogosphere, blog@AWBHoldings.com who points out (with a sigh),

And now, as our politicians screw up the mandates given to them, here is where we stand: we do not like Gloria Arroyo, but we cannot agree on what to do about it. Some of us would rather have her and have their stomachs full, despite the fact that some have empty stomachs. We were given all choices, we chose none of them – impeachment, people power, electing an opposition-led Congress (both houses). We wanted more of the same, we wanted comfort, we wanted progress. But at what cost? Changing our values: allowing crooks to win as long as they feed us; allowing liars to move on, as long as they feed us; allowing corrupt officials to run our coffers dry, as long as they feed us. But what if they can no longer feed us?

And the President has gambled on these things helping her, politically: her hand-picked constitutional successor is widely assumed as unfit for the job (the corollary being, while she’s alive, the President can stop worrying about her Veep; and if she dies, then what happens to the country isn’t her problem, anyway); and things like “the stock market is high,” and “the peso is strong,” and “investments are up,” combined with “the deficit’s under control”, means big business, which could finance her ouster, won’t want to rock the boat.

But as I’ve been saying even before the elections, the President’s claims to fame are getting wobbly.

1. News like Gov’t overshoots budget deficit ceiling: January-June gap balloons to P41B. See also, Deficit hits P41B on weak tax take. Still, Unfazed by P41-B deficit, Teves to meet IMF (but I thought we’d graduated from IMF tutelage? So why is an IMF team here? See: IMF visit tied to fiscal woes: Duscussions on Monetary, Fiscal Issues Are Earlier Than Usual.

2. As far as any stock market is concerned, what goes up, must come down. We can’t separate what’s going here at home with developments in the region and elsewhere. John Berthelsen says China Is not the Problem: Extraordinary popular delusions and the US stock market boom. It might be time to seek cover. A meltdown in China, etc. is out of our hands.

3. What happens if the Peso, while psychologically reassuring when strong, is too strong for the economy’s good? And how much of the Peso’s strength is our government’s doing, and not a reflection of the US Dollar’s weakness? See Dollar Near Record Low Against Euro, 26-Year Low Versus Pound and reactions, like A stronger Euro and concerns about excessive real appreciation and competitiveness loss in the Eurozone. See also Won climbs to near 2007 high; baht drops. Then see, Banker cautions gov’t vs. continued rise of peso. However, John Mangun thinks a new dynamic is at work:

In January, a barrel of light crude cost P2,500; in June, the price was P3,150. The reason we are not paying 40 percent is due to the appreciation of the peso.

The same is true for the euro. Without that 10-percent appreciation in the value of the peso against the US dollar, crude oil would now be costing us P3,500.

So what’s the point? World economic patterns change and, unfortunately, too many “experts” do not change with the environment. Previously, a weak dollar would be considered terrible for the world, and the Philippines in particular, because of US-bound exports.

But, like most of the world, we are not dependent on the US export market for our survival. The value of the peso against other currencies has actually depreciated. A weak US dollar has reduced the cost of oil we buy, yet, it also may have helped our export attractiveness to other global markets.

A weak dollar has not derailed the US economy, but might reduce its trade deficit with nations like China. Further, the strong peso-dollar rate has not slowed either dollar-based stock market investments or direct investments in the Philippines.

This is 2007. The Philippine economy is not dependent on either a strong dollar or the US consumer.

4. News like this: Asia’s First Web Casinos Lure Chinese to Philippine Farm Town, and news like this: Now, she’s also Investment Ombudsman, are related, I think:

With Gutierrez at the helm, Favila predicted that prosecuting government officials who give investors illegal headaches will be faster. “Every time I get a complaint, I will just course it directly to her.”

The reactivation of the Office of the Investment Ombudsman was among the initiatives put forward by the public-private National Competitiveness Council to address the problematic government people and processes.

This is a magic wand to make problems with mining investments, for example, go away. Or else. But there’s more. Here’s this bit of scuttlebutt, said to be fresh from within the Palace:

AFter 2010, GMA faces the likely possibility of suits as a result of her ill-governance and ill gotten wealth, if any. Thus, to delay the filing of any criminal case or ensure its denial, Merceditas Gutierrez will not be allowed to finish her term which ends in 2013. Before GMA’s term ends, Gutierrez will be promoted to the Supreme Court and GMA will appoint another “friendly” Ombudsman who will be given a fresh term of 7 years. Effectively therefore, GMA is shielded from suit until 2017.

In other news, Secret ballot for speakership to set bad precedent – JdV. And he’s right (though he’s not right in spooning out the gravy: Congressmen get P1M more for travel). My column for today, Devolution of the House explains why. My Arab News column for this week is The Never-Ending Story of Scams.

2 persons wounded in Tacurong City explosion. Terrorism or extortion? Authorities can’t agree: Ermita: Tacurong blast HSA test; PNP: No, it’s extortion. But oddly enough, the military and rebels seem both inclined to dislike the Anti-Terrorism Law. See Newsbreak’s When Bitter Enemies Talk:

A militant priest says the basic problem is the newly signed anti-terror law – and he recites a litany of its flaws. A general seated at the other end breaks into laughter and declares, “See, we’re on the same side! We are also against this anti-terror law!”

All eyes now turn to the general, who has a reputation for outspokenness. Another lady justice asks: You mean the military is against this law, general? He then cites the law’s several punitive measures against law enforcers, which, he explains, won’t make them effective in the end. “We are surprised that the human rights groups are unhappy with it. Because we ourselves are unhappy with it… everybody seems unhappy with it.”

Meanwhile MILF given one week to surrender ambushers, while 2 ranking Marine officers sacked over Tipo-tipo clash. Also, CHR starts probe into Basilan incident. In his blog, Howie Severino looks into the MILF being armed with weapons and ammo from American aid given to the AFP:

We have been hearing of weapons being sold to the Abu Sayyaf ever since Father Cirilo Nacorda reported seeing boxes of American-made ammunition in his captors’ Basilan camp while he was a hostage in the mid 1990s. The details of those first forays by the Abu Sayyaf are in the excellent book by Joe Torres, Into the Mountain.

While charges of complicity are nothing new, the main difference today is the extra US influence that one presumes comes from a 1,500 percent increase in US military aid since 9/11. The Americans must realize that complicity with an Islamic terrorist/rebel group is a threat to US interests as much as it is to Philippine soldiers and civilians. The Arroyo government is regarded as an important US ally in the fight against terrorism. But if Arroyo’s military officers aid the enemy without ever getting punished, or even seriously probed, one must start to wonder if this is a true ally or simply a weak regime afraid of its own military. If it’s the latter, then Filipino generals will bow down to no one except for their American benefactors…

…The tragic episode in Tipo-Tipo reminded me of another time journalists got caught in the crossfire in Basilan, back in June 2001, at the infamous seige of Lamitan, where newly trained, supposedly elite Army Scout Rangers too were badly outgunned, before the surrounded Abu Sayyaf leadership — Janjalani, Sabaya, and Sulaiman — escaped with most of their hostages, who included the American missionary couple, Gracia and Martin Burnham.

Official probes into that debacle got nowhere, despite investigations in aid of legislation in both house of Congress that pointed to senior military officers having secret transactions with the Abu Sayyaf.

That could easily qualify as among the greatest failures in Philippine military history. Inquirer journalist John Nery did a memorable perspective piece on that incident a couple of years ago that earned him and his newspaper a libel complaint, a piece that has since disappeared from the Inquirer archives. But he has written about it and Gracia’s heroic dignity in his blog.

I cannot help but bring up the Lamitan botched seige again and again because it lies buried under the rug, along with other acts of treason.

When troops fighting and dying in the field cannot be sure of the loyalty of their own superiors, it is no surprise why an army backed by the most powerful nation on earth cannot defeat a bandit group concentrated on a few islands.

In other news, Formalin-laced White Rabbit candy banned; blogger Reyna Elena, who spent a recent trip home eating that candy, asks, “have you been embalmed yet?” Ha! RP coup plot lands ex-Cheney aide with 10 years in jail while Michael Ray Aquino gets lighter 6-year sentence. News like this is always interesting: Competitiveness menu bared, as are the views of a person I very much admire, Federico Macaranas of the AIM: Oligarchs key to breaking into winning circle.

Overseas, freaky news indeed: Explosion rocks Manhattan, revives 9/11 memories. Even as Paddy Ashdown warns, We are failing in Afghanistan and there’s Read It and Weep: Even Bush’s intelligence report says the war in Iraq is making us less safe at home.

Communist Vietnam now has an emerging middle class: Vietnamese people changing their consumption habits: research. On a related note, in Malaysia, Brian Yap: Middle class that’s a force to be reckoned with, while in Indonesia, this opinion piece on Western-style toilets seems full of familiar observations: Sitting up or melting down: Power to the people. My recent enthusiasm for nuclear power brings up this cautionary tale: Japanese nuclear plant may be on quake fault line.

Alex Magno says the National Democrats aren’t interested in peace, period.

Manuel Buencamino on Miguel Zubiri and his “Comelection.”

William Pesek is bothered Imelda Marcos is getting more popular.

In the blogosphere, Smoke on the give-and-take going on in this blog; Manila Bay Watch thinks Davao City Mayor Duterte is a lunatic; Philippine Politics 04 says businessmen have suddenly lost interest in fighting corruption. The Philosophical Bastard on “hermit blogging.”

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78 comments

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  1. rego

    I agree with all the good words and praises given to Manolo and his blog. But i find his bitterness and nit picking of Gloria is really tooooo much and ineffective. And he has this thinking that the opposition is the holiest bunch of people that is the solution to our problems about Gloria. Its really unbelievable and unrealistic, becuase if you reallly look at the faces of the opposition senators, yes all of them, would even be worst than Gloria once any of them become pesident. I believe this is bringing his calibre as an opinion writer little lower and immature than the likes of De Quiros, Doronilla, Monsod, Esposo. Sometimes (not all the time)I even feel that Austero is better than him.

    De Quiros with all his bitter criticism of Gloria still criticize the ineffectiveness of the opposition…

    If only the writings of Manolo would result in new and non trapo faces in the Senate and Lower house and his progressive ideas, like run -off presidential election get implemented and would improve the economic situation of the country only then I would say that he is the most effective Filipino writer. What is all those great ideas and lesson of history if none of them is actually helping the country move forward even in small and snailly pace? (I have the same feeling on the writings of BenignO too,)

    Or maybe its too early to judge Manolo’s
    writings amyve I just have to wait…..

    Meanwhile I have to go with Bencards ideas for now. its more practical, more realistic, and MORE EFFECTIVE!

  2. rego

    and of course bencards comments and rebutalls, is full of good taste, livelier and more entertaining too!

  3. Bencard

    thanks, buencamino, i needed that. i wish was a “child” again. but your one-liners are mostly generalizations and conclusions, aren’ they? i think you can be more articulate if you were not too lazy, or trying to be cute all the time.

  4. realist

    bencard tuwing buksan mo yang bunganga mo nagdaratingan ang langaw! magmumug ka ng katotohanan at baka mapuno ng bulate ang butas diyan sa mukha mo!

  5. Manila Bay Watch

    Well, I’m not surprised that environmentalists are shocked over Atienza appointment to DENR.

    He’s demolition job of some of Manila’s old buildings doesn’t exactly jibe with the job of upgrading the environment.

    (Btw, Mlq3, thanks for the ‘plug’.)

  6. Manila Bay Watch

    Re: MILF given one week to surrender ambushers

    I knew there was a hitch somewhere when Esperon declared immediately after the MILF beheaded the 10 Marines, “We must keep our cool; we must not jeopardize the peace talks with the MILF… yakatiyakyakyak…” Well, his crowning as Datu Tagawa was about to take place!

    Here’s a story that’s going around in military camps:

    Q: What does Esperon do to lose weight?
    A: He runs away from the MILF.

  7. Manila Bay Watch

    Esperon’s law (akin to Murphy’s law):

    There is no limit to how bad things can get.

  8. Manila Bay Watch

    I think Bossi’s release has got something to do with Gloria’s SONA.

    Jove Francisco’s 18 July blog, “Rehearsed”, a day before the release of the priest, gives us an insight – Gloria’s body language; she was “giddy” according to Jove; in other words, I think she was giddy because she knew Bossi was about to be released, i.e., she had moved for a deal to be struck with the MILF for the release of Bossi, something she needs for her SONA.

  9. frombelow

    to all i say “never attribute to malice which can be explained by stupidity.

  10. ay_naku

    This blog is really so upper/upper-middle class. Lotsa technocrats and beureaucrats here. Not so much a critique as an observation.

    We get all worked up over the stock market and the strong peso and deficits etc –and with good reason– but mention that 53% of Filipino families consider themselves poor or that hunger levels remain at record-high 19% (the record-high incidence of household hunger of 19.0% was first set in November 2006, and hunger has been at double-digits since June 2004) and nobody seems to pay attention. Yep, because that sordid reality is really so distant from our lives. The economy about to explode and the benefits will significantly affect all? Haven’t we been hearing that for years? Hasn’t the “trickle-down policy” been discredited by now?

    By the way, figures are at sws.org.ph

  11. Devilsadvc8

    http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view_article.php?article_id=77925

    The US stepped into that quagmire all on their own volition, let them get out of it on their own. In fact, not only did the US willingly opened that pandora’s box, but it did so with the ignorance that what its doing can either be contained or be smothered with too much propaganda. It spectacularly failed at both, and I’m more than happy to welcome its downfall.

    As for this blog entry’s topic, De Quiros’ column “She Won’t Go” hit it right exactly on the head. And that announcement of running for congress instead of fading back into a public life shows you the frame of mind Gloria is in. After reaching the highest position in the land, this woman suddenly opines that she’s willing to settle for being a congressman?

    And you might be interested in Monsod’s column for today abt a Tax Amnesty bill being quietly sneaked into a law. this will be a further blow to the govt’s efforts to lower its budget deficit.

    all signs considered, its still very much important for those who can, to have their exit tickets ready at any moment’s notice, before the joke is sprung on us a year or two ahead than we expect it to be.

  12. inidoro ni emilie

    rego, you sound like a rubber plunger of industrial strength.

    carry on, though, you are entitled to sucker up.

  13. Mike

    Bencard, I’d like to know if you think GMA is practicing good governance, the kind you find (for the most part) in your adopted country and the West in general. Is she stamping out corruption? Is she practicing accountability? Is she surrounding herself with the right kind of people? Is the government becoming more effective at delivering public service and making people feel secure?

    Or is the only thing one can say for her is that she’s better than the opposition? Is the country moving forward because of her, or in spite of her?

  14. Mike

    As much as it offends my EDSA 2 sensibilities, I have to say that Erap did the right thing when he unleashed the military in Mindanao. They did their rightful job when they reclaimed those 40 MILF camps. Now is the time for GMA to show she’s a strong leader by showing these rebels who’s boss. But it seems that the military is now capable of waging war only on unarmed activists!

  15. Devilsadvc8

    Nakakalungkot lang talaga. Nagkumahog ang buong sandatahang lakas para hanapin ang isang dayuhang pari, pero sarili nating kababayan, na anak di pa man ng isa sa mga itinuturing nating bayani, ay di man lang pinagaksayahan ng panahon — ni katiting na daliri walang iniangat ang pamahalaan na ito para sya’y hanapin.

    Dito pa lamang ay makikita na natin ang ugali nating makadayuhan, at ang isip nating sakop pa rin ng mga estrangherong puti. Isinasalarawan nito ang ugaling Pilipinong magtago ng mga mamahaling gamit pambahay na nilalabas lamang kapag may bisitang dumarating, samantalang ang sariling mga kamag-anak, ay pinagtitiis sa mga luma at sira-sirang gamit.

    Sige, ipagmayabang mo yan sa iyong SONA. Na nailigtas mo ang isang dayuhan, samantalang libo sa iyong mga kababayan ay pikit-mata mong pinababayaang mamatay.

  16. Bokyo

    Minsan dapat timbangin talaga natin kung may dapat tayong ikagalit sa isang tao o alamin natin kung minamalasado tayo o hindi.

    Mayroong isang bata noong araw ganito ang ugali: Gusto nya laging nakakalamang at kung kailangang mandaya makuha lang ang gusto ay gagawin niya at pag inayawan at ginalit ng mga kalaro nya gagawin niya mag-iiyak iyakan, magpapaawa kunwari para matanggap muli. Pati sa kaaway kapag natatalo mag iiyak iyakan din pero pag nakalingat ang kalaban at nakakuha ng tiyempo manununtok sabay takbo.

    Ang punto ko lang sana umiral sa atin ang pagiging marangal at pagpapahalaga sa dignidad at pagpapakita na pinahahalagahan natin ang pagiging parehas sa kapwa.

  17. vic

    Mike,

    I’ll grab the opportunity to answer your question if Ms Arroyo is practicing Good Governance, may not like the way in the West, but compares to the neighboring Asia’s Democracies, for example Malaysia, Vietnam (of all places),even the one party state of China, never mind Singapore (she’s already a First World), The answer is Negative.

    One, Gloria is not Governing Alone. The Military is doing more than half of Governing, otherwise she could have gone long, long time ago.

    There are many interest groups holding the strings and once they start pulling them strings, the puppet goes into action, not on her own but by operators behind the curtains.

    And of course, family first…

    The country economy maybe improving, but as ay naku noted where is the trickle down effect?

    There is none, it is only Trickle Up Effect…

  18. Bencard

    mike, as far as i can see, yes, to all your questions and the country is moving forward because of her leadership. I have explained my reasons for this belief in all the preceding threads that i participated in and i’m not about to repeat myself every time someone repeats the question.

    i don’t know if this is covered by any rules in this blog but i thought since you specifically addressed the question to me, it is quite rude for someone to just butt in and “grab” the floor, so to speak, without so much as a superficial “excuse me”. i don’t know about canada, but we usually don’t do that here in the u.s. at any rate his “ansers” do not reflect my own views on the issues you raised and, i think, he was speaking for himself, albeit unsolicited.

  19. Bencard

    erratum: should be “answers”.

  20. vic

    Bencard, I always believe the blog is an open forum, and someone can answer question address to somebody “respectfully” and don’t need any permission from anyone except perhaps from the site owner. As we in our Parliament can do that as long as we address our Mr. Speaker respectfully. But if you compare the Canadians and Americans reputation around the world, I may say that American travelers sometimes don’t even want to show their colours. And also it shows on this blog…

    To mike, sorry for buttin on your question, but i did say I’ll “grab” the Opportunity.

  21. Bencard

    vic, suit yourself, but i don’t like being second-guessed by anyone with opposing world view. i’m not in the mood to debate which is better between u.s. and canada although i’m aware about the traditional ‘dislike’ by canadians towards americans – i really don’t know why. i know that the americans pay no mind to it one bit. i also know that many, if not most, filipinos in canada wants to stay and work in the u.s., if given the chance, but not vice versa.

  22. Mike

    Bencard,

    Don’t worry, it’s not like this was a private conversation, even if I addressed the question directly to you. 🙂

    Anyway, thank you for answering the question. I must say that while investments may be coming in now, my answers to my questions to you would have to be in the negative. GMA may be credited with certain things, like being a very savvy political player who has managed to maintain her hold on power, but in the areas of public accountability and good governance, her record is very poor. This is based on my own observation and my experiences with the institutions of government, corroborated by what is reported by media. Corruption has increased rather than decreased, and the resulting cost of doing business has increased as well. My guess is that, if we had a leader who was not so divisive and who made government truly accountable and responsive to the needs of the people, we would be seeing much greater economic gains than what we are having now.

    Anyway, at least I’m clear now that, on these points, we shall have to agree to disagree. Thanks very much.

  23. vic

    Bemcard, you are right on the point that many filipinos would rather work and stay in the u.s. if given the chance, and most have a better chance, like my sister and her husband who can’t practice their medical profession here and now both are practitioners in N.Y. It is not true that Canadians dislike the Americans, perhaps most Liberals do, but most Conservatives especially in Western Canada are closely identified with the U.S. than Canada. Quebecois for sure dislike Americans, just because of being French. But not me, my two youngest sisters are Americans and so my granddaughter. In reality I am outnumbered. And I’m even planning to retire in Northern California, very nice weather and a sister family down there..thanks and believe me i just love the u.s.a.

  24. Bencard

    you’re welcome, mike. btw, i don’t expect any different answers from you to your own questions.

    question for any one who cares to answer: do you have any comparative statistic as to the number of prosecution/conviction for corruption under all the presidents after marcos? i think this is the area to look at to determine whether gma is more effective at combatting corruption, not the number of unsubstantiated allegations.

  25. watchful eye

    A definition of “lame duck presidency”?

    A “presidency [that]has been so preoccupied with political survival that it no longer performed the more important task of leading the nation toward progress and development,” and where “decision-making and resource management shifted from national issues to concerns of survival of the presidency, which included dealings with members of Congress for loyalties and alliances that will ensure the needed protection of the President.” – by Dr. Segundo Romero, who authored the Tan Report.

  26. baycas

    The Professional Heckler on the Top Ten Things to Observe When President Arroyo Delivers Her 7th State of the Nation Address:

    1: In 2001, the president read a letter written in a “bangkang papel” by three Payatas children. What will she read this time?
    a: A text message from an OFW jailed in Saudi Arabia
    b: A message in a bottle sent by a kidnapped Filipino in Nigeria
    c: A ransom demand by MILF rebels who are keeping five un-retrieved heads of killed marine soldiers

    …
    d: A letter folded into a paper airplane each thrown by Senate President Pimentel (letter from environmentalists) and Speaker of the House Garcia (letter from MayniLA informal settlers along da riles who were relocated only AFTER the election)
    e: A tear-soaked letter from Mrs. Burgos
    f: An epitaph-like letter from Musa (Dimasidsing)

  27. Bencard

    “no gate pass for trillianes at sona”. PDI, 7/21/07.
    good! detainees should be where they belong. in jail, until the court says otherwise.

  28. nashman

    I don’t get this debate.

    GMA called an election official during the counting of votes.

    That phone call alone is unethical. That alone is enough for her to step down.

    In the private sector, if my company CEO did such a thing, I’d call for a resignation. Why should it be different for public officials?

    It’s wrong to absolve her just because the economic indicators appear to be rosy. She’s plainly corrupt. Period.

    So if even if we say 50% of Filipinos love her, I in all humility ask “Are they frigging blind and deaf?”

    It’s very simple. We should take one step at a time by making sure all public officials are held to account.

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