In the news, Malacañang circles the wagons on ‘Garci’ (see Newsbreak on The President’s Ad Hoc Style) even as Senators split on wiretap inquiry (the Inquirer editorial says an investigation’s in order). Political recycling continues: Arroyo security adviser to head legislative liaison office (so Gabby Claudio’s out; and Joaquin Llagonera?) On the Mindanao front, Sacked officer confirms aircraft were recalled.
This is interesting: More RP firms join race to set up stake in Vietnam.
This may become politically significant: Couples admits ‘divorce’ over Gawad Kalinga and Split rocks CfC; Meloto quits Gawad Kalinga. The debate seems as much about a more secular orientation for GK as it was an effort to maintain the exclusively Catholic orientation, perhaps even vaguely socialist orientation of the movement (a story like this, for example, goes to the heart of the leadership split: Call center training for Gawad Kalinga residents mulled). Anyway, end result: Split in Couples for Christ May Hurt GK Housing Projects.
Overseas, some nifty readings, indeed. Let’s begin with Thailand’s referendum: The long march back to the barracks, which takes a highly critical view of the country’s latest effort at constitution-writing (In Thailand: After the Constitutional Referendum takes a less obviously critical, but extremely cautious, look). A Thai newspaper op-ed piece points to A recirculation of elites in Thai politics (a necessary thing, and when the process is thwarted, it causes even more problems).
In the Philippines another usurper, Ferdinand Marcos, demonstrated a similar response to Suharto’s with respect to the possibilities of godfather relationships. After winning two presidential terms in (distinctly dirty) elections, Marcos circumvented his country’s two-term presidential limit by declaring martial law in 1972. Like Suharto, he also looked beyond the established godfather elite — in the Philippines, traditional Spanish and Chinese mestizo families — to find some of his key business proxies. The archetype was Lucio Tan, a first-generation immigrant and one-time janitor who became, under Marcos’ patronage, the Philippines’ leading tobacco vendor, as well as having interests in everything from banking to real estate.
It is probable that — as with Liem Sioe Liong, who knew Suharto from the latter’s military postings in central Java — Tan and Marcos knew each other from Ilocos, the president’s home region where Tan had his first, small cigarette factory. Both Suharto and Marcos signalled regime change by promoting new, non-indigenous outsiders to godfather roles. Tan was a clear break in the ethnically more mixed and integrated Philippines because he represented the so-called ‘one-syllable Chinese’ — those who had not assimilated and adopted local surnames.
The promotion of new outsiders achieved two useful things for the dictators: it provided ultra-dependent, ultra-loyal sources of future finance for them and their families; and it served as a warning to the established, more integrated economic elite that it was not indispensable.
In the pre-Marcos Philippines, businessmen of every ethnic make-up had been increasingly successful in overrunning and manipulating a weak parliamentary system and thereby obviating the need to make deals with ultimate political power. Ferdy reversed this trend, though it remains a latent tendency in both the Philippines and Thailand whenever central leadership is weakened.
The second is, what those godfathers focus on: Core cash flow:
In the Philippines a tradition of political allocation of state offices and government largesse built up from the 1920s, under American colonial rule, until it reached its logical conclusion under Ferdinand Marcos. There were trading monopolies for major foodstuff imports, and marketing monopolies for the key local crops — sugar and coconuts.
Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco was one of the leading Marcos monopolists. (It is a reminder of the small and elitist world in which money and power resides in Southeast Asia that Danding is from the same landed family as Cory Aquino, whose ‘people power’ movement overthrew Marcos in 1986.) Danding, a Marcos favorite, benefited from a new levy on coconut production that funded the development of United Coconut Planters Bank. He was made president of the bank, which in turn bought up most of the Philippines’ coconut milling facilities. Danding’s coconut cash flows were strong enough to buy up much more besides. He became known as Mr Pacman, after the video game character that eats everything in its path.
Marcos monopolies set new standards in the powers they conferred. Lucio Tan’s Fortune Tobacco Co., which was given tax, customs, financing and regulatory breaks that were tantamount to a domestic monopoly on cigarette making, wrote a new cigarette tax code that Marcos signed into law. In the same period Tan is alleged to have printed his own internal revenue stamps to paste on cigarette packets. The cash flow from tobacco propelled him into chemicals, farming, textiles, brewing, real estate, hotels and banking. After Marcos fled to Hawaii in 1986, Tan wrote an open letter to new president Cory Aquino in which he asserted: ‘We can proudly say that we have never depended on dole-outs, government assistance or monopoly protection throughout our history.’
…The crudeness of the monopolies handed out by Marcos and Suharto tends to obscure the almost universal presence of monopolies, cartels and controlled Asian markets in Southeast Asia.
Of course these things aren’t new to Filipinos; but what will be new to Filipino readers is how similar things are in neighboring countries.
Elsewhere, relevant reading in terms of ongoing debates on the the Japan-RP free trade agreement: Indonesia-Japan EPA: Who’s getting the best deal? And In South Korea: “This is What Democracy Looks Like!”. In Foreign Affairs, Elizabeth C. Economy looks at China and asks if in environmental terms, it isn’t taking a harmful “Great Leap Backward”. The Economist asks whether President Putin isn’t building a “neo-KGB state” in Russia. In Australia, an ongoing debate on the nature of Federalism; one issue involves hospitals: Hospital plan puts focus back on ‘new federalism’. By the way,
Australian government caught editing Wikipedia.
The Magnificent Seven looks at American soldiers who’ve published an op-ed piece criticizing their government’s conduct of the war in Iraq; Sir, Can I Publish This, Sir! clarifies the circumstances under which soldiers can criticize their government. Ah, and The Credit Crunch in Financial Markets Remains Severe, says Roubini.
On a lighter note, Vanity Fair on how Ralph Lauren captured the public imagination.
Amando Doronila’s column today, is somewhat related to the above, in terms of the role coercion plays in politics (and by extension, business).
In his column, Dan Mariano discusses Roberto Verzola’s suggestions for a more productive approach to election automation.
In the blogosphere… I remember that the President’s famous “I. Am. Sorry.” speech had people divided between those for whom it was far from being enough, and others who felt it was a breathtaking act of contrition. The clincher, of course, was that for some it was too little, too late, for others, more than enough. The same applies as news has begun to circulate Society columnist quits over OFW bashing (see also Manila Standard columnist quits after getting OFWs’ ire). For details on the actual letter of apology itself, see Ang Kape Ni LaTtEX. In Piercing Pens, there is more information, including People Asia saying it will publish the letter of apology in lieu of Malu Fernandez’s next column.
As An OFW Living in Hong Kong points out, this was a demonstration of political muscle by OFWs and their families. I am not convinced it was totally an achievement of the blogosphere: it’s still a small circle compared to the online media Filipinos congregate in, in truly significant numbers, and that’s e-groups (and e-mail: the magazine article was scanned, then circulated by e-mail, some time before it finally started being commented on in blogdom). The impact of a statement by press associations, such as the one issued by the Filipino Press Club in Dubai, is also the sort of thing media practitioners from the older generation get impressed.
So my observation is that the blogosphere has become fully integrated into established fora and information-opinion networks of Filipinos, at home and abroad; and that, furthermore, the blogosphere along with other online media now creates its own news and yes, it can rock the older media to its foundations, whether print, television, or radio; and it has become to serve as an effective check-and-balance, not only to the media, but to itself (see Nasty Me and Superblessed, and Tanuki Tales, who is glad it’s all at an end). Everyone got thoroughly scrutinized on this one, not just in blogs but in e-mail discussion groups. It’s not as if it hasn’t always been there, but Class Struggle suddenly got validated (or one step closer, anyway, see Ajay’s Writings on the Wall, which incidentally has the best Malu photo caption ever), and as with all revolutionary notions, it isn’t a picnic as Mao said.
Nonetheless, I think the combined letter of apology and resignation from the paper and magazine, were the proper form of atonement and Malu Fernandez deserves credit for it. An apology is never easy, resignation even harder, and both, combined, is an unusual yet potent combination -and an example of accountability (on her part, to be sure; and even People Asia’s, if and when it publishes her letter; the newspaper dodged a bullet without saying anything). But there will be those who will be watching with keen suspicion, for some time to come (see Taragis na Buhay to, for example).
blog@AWBHoldings.com takes a look at the overall implications of the issue for bloggers (a pyrrhic victory, he says). For thorough look on our changing demographics, see Jove Francisco’s tribute to OFWs.