Before we get to the blast at the Batasan Pambansa, let’s set the scene, as it was, yesterday, prior to the explosion.
The way Amando Doronila sees it, Political scandals undermining the economy, and foreign observers, too, see it the same way, as shown by this snippet:
Frederic Neumann wrote in a commentary: “We view the recent political scandals as severely undermining the President’s ability to persuade the Congress to pass new policy initiatives to advance structural reforms … The scandals will make it harder for the President to advance a new wave of policy reforms, especially relating to improving the underlying public finance sector finances.”
Neumann noted that the government had made a commitment to wipe out its budget deficits and was closing in on its full-year deficit target of P63 billlion, with the help of privatization proceeds, but its fiscal performance was “less impressive,” suggesting that more reforms were needed.
Doronila seems to have a view that’s very different from the triumphalist tones of the President herself, who seems to be crowing that her economic work is done. In Arroyo shifts focus from economic to political reforms, she is quoted as having said,
Now that we have straightened out the economy, it is time to push for political reforms. Let us reduce conflict, fight corruption, and put the welfare of the ordinary Filipino first,” Arroyo said.
But there’s something ironic in a political animal bellowing about being a beast (though a very well-educated ones with academic credentials) if it was funny-ha-ha to have the Speaker thundering on about a “moral revolution,” isn’t it funny-hee-hee, now that Arroyo blames politics for causing suicide, murder:
Arroyo called on her critics anew to focus on promoting development, this time blaming politics for the deaths of Marianette Amper, the 12-year-old girl who committed suicide in Davao due to poverty, and Alioden Dalaig, the poll official gunned down last Saturday.
“Many Filipinos are experiencing poverty since some of the country’s leaders are preoccupied with their self-interests rather than the welfare of the nation.
“On the other hand, there are politicians and groups who have no heart and conscience and are ready to use violence to attain their ambitions,” she said in a speech at the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) meeting yesterday in Malacañang.
“The preoccupation with politics, past and present, does not promote the stability, policy continuity, security and peace and order that we will need to continue to move our country forward.”
But then of course she knows whereof she speaks, so there’s nothing funny about it, at all. Point is, the President was going on the political offensive, on the premise that (unlike the view of the foreign observers mentioned by Doronila) everything economics-wise, was shipshape. While Marvin A. Tort delves into the merits and demerits of the appreciating peso, the President, long a fetishist of the “strong peso equals a Strong Republic” sort, has no choice but to ponder relief to stave off the worst effects of the appreciating peso (the majority of the two articles above, describe the relief efforts the President’s decreed as a kind of series of emergency measures, which will help the poor but leaves exporters vulnerable still).
The best defense being a good offense, the President knew full well that the opposition had left her self-innoculation devoid of oomph. As the Inquirer editorial today puts it, the President’s reliance on a tactical, and not ethical, approach to questions as to her legitimacy or fitness for office, has reached the end of the road:
This has led to the adoption by the administration of a tactical, instead of ethical, approach to the impeachment process. Yet the kind of people involved — politicians — then and now aren’t very different. Quirino faced vicious infighting within his Liberal Party reminiscent of the intramurals between Kampi and Lakas today, with a relatively small opposition hounding both Presidents.
Indeed the only difference we see is that Quirino genuinely believed in his innocence and trusted the process. Quirino knew, as one of the framers of the 1935 Constitution, what impeachment is: a means by which a nation being governed badly can gain relief. As chief executive he asserted that relief was unnecessary; as a lawyer, he knew his salvation lay in confronting his accusers and opening access to information, and presenting evidence.
In contrast, President Macapagal-Arroyo mistrusts the process and the people in it. Her allies and critics in the House have conspired to approve rules that deny impeachable officials proper vindication not only before the House, but in the court of public opinion. And the Supreme Court, too, has handed down decisions that have mutated impeachment into a race to file weak complaints to stave off genuine ones.
In other words, all three branches of government are stuck in a trap, with each blaming the other for tying its hand, resulting in what we have today. Yet among these institutions, it is the House that still has in its hands the means to pass new rules in keeping with those of 1949. But it won’t, because it prefers the Palace cash buffet. Its members worship at the altar of Mammon instead of the altar of public duty.
Everything else, House-wise, on the part of the majority is bravado on the part of those left holding the bag: House majority rebuffs minority boycott of impeach hearings.
And also, because the best defense is a good offense, this took place: Panlilio, 8 more charged with bribery over Palace handouts. This was something people saw coming: Ateneo official rallies support for embattled Panlilio.
And also, because the best defense is a good offense, just as whistle blowers get the book thrown at them, anyone showing any kind of independence within the ruling coalition gets the Palace pit bills unleashed on them. Manuel Buencamino pens an open letter not for the faint of heart to Juan Ponce Enrile, senior Palace pit bull.
And so, having set the scene, let’s move on to the Batasan blast. I’d just emerged from a dinner conversation with a foreign businessman who was quite worried over the effect the appreciating peso was having on ordinary people and, of course, on the bigger Filipino exporters and other businessmen with whom he did business, and who now had to put plans for expanding or upgrading their equipment on hold (for my part, I traded notes on the true extent of smuggling which is also devastating legitimate businesses). The businessman was particularly puzzled by how the appreciating peso was resulting in an increase in the cost of basic commodities, which then led to a discussion on rice and sugar smuggling, etc.
Ironically, the businessman began our conversation by telling me how he’d first arrived in the Philippines on August 21, 1983, and the pandemonium that had ensued at the Manila International Airport as he arrived shortly before Ninoy Aquino’s flight. Anyway, as I left the meeting, I received a text asking for confirmation of the blast, and so contacted colleagues in the Inquirer who confirmed it; and so it went until midnight, when the President made a brief statement. What struck me most was the quavery voice of Rep. Darlene Custodio.
The initial responses on the blogosphere run the gamut of points of view, and helps provide an insight into the public’s reaction to the news. Whether its Shasha says or Andre’s Journal! a common reaction, on one part, is to be stupefied-and-angry (or relieved to be headed abroad, like Badfish) or simply astounded, like spiderye, or being held hostage by a creeping feeling that there’s an unfolding plot, and of God-knows-what to come, as blue law by anna writes:
Holy shit. They are NOT stopping. People kasi were criticizing them before, eh why the common tao your targeting, during the Glorietta bombing, so now I guess they’re trying to prove a point, that even law-makers, wala, nothing fazes or scares us, we WILL get our point across. What point ba???!!! What do they want? My god, when the Glorietta bombing went off, I felt really bad and angry, but I didn’t feel scared pa rin. I mean, I wasn’t afraid to go malling still or go around public places. But with this Batasan bombing, I’m like, oh my god, I got a really really bad feeling in my stomach, like, of things to come, this is probably not the end of it. Punyeta silang lahat. Nakaraos na yung bayan from our history of violence and unrest tapos ngayon binabalik balik nila.
Inner Sanctum runs through all the conspiracy theories, and correctly points out,
While there’s nothing new about politicians getting murdered, it’s the audacity of the attack that sends jitters to most people, including myself. I don’t recall lawmakers’ domains (in this case, the Batasang Pambansa) ever getting bombed. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time that an attack happened right inside the compound that houses congress.
Piercing Pens tackles other possibilities. Though New Philippine Revolution, a few days back, insisted a pattern of resistance is emerging, I’m still skeptical -coordination has not been a characteristic of the groups opposed to the administration, who more often than not, can barely manage to talk civilly to each other.
As it stands, the initial details are fully covered by the papers, see Bomb rocks Congress; solon among 3 killed and Police recover mobile phone at Congress blast site. And Arroyo creates task force vs political violence.
Even as Akbar dies, Teves in critical condition, and media attention therefore focuses on ‘Akbar, wives controlled Basilan’ (going back even further, see Ellen Tordesillas’ Akbar and the ghost of the Lamitan siege and this profile in the San Francisco Chronicle) that old reliable had to shoot his mouth off yet again: Gonzales: ‘We got the warning two weeks ago’.
You know, Gonzales didn’t help matters during the Glorietta blast, and he isn’t helping matters now. Just as one question -who was the target?- is only beginning to be resolved, Gonzales helps raise even more questions -if the target was Akbar, and government knew, why then, did the assassination (if that’s what it was) take place? The government will announce its suspects soon enough, but that, too, will raise more questions, I’m sure.
Anyway, if Akbar was the target, then it’s no different from the assassinations of other congressmen in Metro Manila right before the May elections. It shows that congressmen aren’t beyond vendetta killings formerly restricted to their home provinces -and a general deterioration in the ability of the authorities to maintain law and order.
The collateral damage, if that’s all it was, right at the House of Representatives, also sends a message that I suspect was the cause of Darlene Custodio’s quavery voice, as she described the scene at the time. They are all in it together, and in the end, enemies of the representatives aren’t interested in separating the sheep from the goats.
for me, what is significant is that it’s unclear who, precisely, dismissed the House security detail in the wake of the bombing. If it was the Speaker, then that’s fine; if it was the Secretary of the Interior, that’s an infringement on the independence of the House. This is no trivial matter, even if justified by the authorities as a question of security. If the Palace, in charge of the police power, cocoons representatives and senators in security, the legislators shouldn’t forget that it was an imposition. So far, that hasn’t happened; the Secretary of the Interior has merely offered additional security to legislators if and when they request it, which is the absolutely right way to approach security concerns.
More on Rep. Akbar in reason is the reason:
The lowdown the wife and I got from Dr. J, who was working at the FEU Hospital near the Batasang Pambansa Complex, was that the bomb had been intended for Congressman Wahab Akbar, the Distinguished Gentleman from Basilan.
An interview I heard on the radio later confirmed that the blast had likely come from a remote-controlled IED, detonated by someone within visual range of Akbar.
Akbar had unfortunately developed a routine that his enemies were quick to use to their advantage — he would have his driver pick him up at the same exit, so conveniently close to the motorcycle parking area where a bomb could easily be transported and hidden.
A quick Google search seems to indicate that Akbar had had it coming. He was alleged to have been in cahoots with the Abu Sayyaf commanders holed up in the Lamitan siege: “a group of army officers, ASG members and local governor Wahab Akbar split ransom money that they received for the ‘escape’ of three hostages in the early stages of the episode.”
In a controversial privilege speech, Akbar also claimed that 80% of Filipino Muslims were sympathetic to the Abu Sayyaf. In the same speech, Akbar made the bold claim “I am Basilan” — which wouldn’t be far from the truth, considering that two of his wives have won the top elective positions in the island province.
There’s a moral to be found here, where a man can claim to personify a violent, backward province one day — and end up riddled with shrapnel the next.
That, indeed, may be all there is to it. Live by the sword, die by the sword. If this is what happened, then the question is, just how firmly the government can clamp down if the suspects prove to be from the military, whether in the service, or AWOL.
As Ricky Carandang points out, it’s business as usual:
What happens next is anyone’s guess, but the House leadership has said that the incident will not prevent them from fulfilling their duty of killing the latest impeachment complaint against President Arroyo.
And indeed, mission accomplished: House committee rejects new impeach rap vs Arroyo.