As the handy-dandy Oxford American Dictionaries puts it:
noun ( pl. -glios)
an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation : the Watergate imbroglio.
‘ archaic a confused heap.
ORIGIN mid 18th cent.: Italian, from imbrogliare ‘confuse’ ; related to embroil .
As I mentioned last week, the Journal of Democracy has just published an article on the Philippines by Paul D. Hutchcroft, titled “The Arroyo imbroglio in the Philippines.”
Here’s his article:
Which you can also download directly from the journal.
He unfortunately begins his piece with a slight factual error:
With the exception of Ferdinand Marcos, who held power from 1965 to 1986, no one in Philippine history has had a longer tenure in the presidential palace than Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. She first assumed the presidency in January 2001, when a “people power” uprising ousted President Joseph Estrada from Malacañang Palace and elevated her from the vice-presidency to the highest office in the land. After serving out Estrada’s remaining term until 2004, Macapagal-Arroyo was elected for another six years. Term-limit restrictions require her to step down in 2010, after what will be nearly a decade in office.
His assertion is premature. She will reach that point (the second-longest incumbency) on October 6, 2009, when her stay in office exceeds 3,182 days. She has had, undoubtedly, the longest post-Edsa presidency.
Anyway, the article tries to look at what’s happened since 2005.
This is, perhaps, the most concise and correct summary of what’s transpired in that period:
in late July 2005, Macapagal-Arroyo declared that “our political system has degenerated to such an extent that it’s very difficult to live within the system with hands totally untainted.” While this statement was no doubt an effort to emphasize systemic rather than personal accountability, it had become clear to many that Philippine democracy was badly in need of reform. While the crises of 1986 and 2001 had been primarily concerned with the legitimacy of individual leaders, the “Hello, Garci” crisis highlighted the legitimacy deficit not only of an individual leader but also of an entire political system. In her speech, the president urged the country to “start the great debate on charter change” and specifically mentioned (but did not explicitly endorse) the possibility of shifting the country’s political structures from presidential to parliamentary and from unitary to federal. Although the Speaker of the House may have desired more wholehearted support for a shift to parliamentarism, de Venecia nonetheless came to Macapagal-Arroyo’s aid in September by ensuring that an impeachment attempt would not muster the necessary support of one-third of the members of the House of Representatives. This is consistent with historical patterns in Philippine politics: The power of the pork barrel enables presidents to make or break the speaker, who in turn must deliver the loyalty of the overwhelming majority of the House.
In particular, this explanation of why the President survived the crisis:
Other factors also assisted Macapagal-Arroyo in her fight for survival. First, the late 2004 death of Fernando Poe, Jr., her opponent in the elections, deprived the opposition of an obvious figure around whom it could rally. Second, strong public sentiment against the president did not translate into a repeat episode of people power. Demonstrations were called, but they failed to draw large crowds. Many at the time spoke of “people power fatigue,” but there was probably a deeper disillusionment at play. This time around, it was difficult for citizens to nurse hopes that a mere change in leadership would fix the problems of the country. Many seemed tired of being pawns in intraelite squabbles that ultimately brought little change. Third, Macapagal-Arroyo was aided by widespread concerns over the possibility that the vice-president, former newscaster Noli de Castro, might come to power. Although strong in terms of mass appeal, de Castro is not highly respected among those in the upper classes and has allegedly profited from unseemly journalistic practices.10 Finally, the president had done a masterful job of cultivating the loyalty of key generals. Despite significant discontent in the lower ranks, the top brass has up until now remained firmly in her camp.
As I’m convinced the division over the President herself runs so deep, that there’s little point in arguing the merits or demerits of Hutchcroft’s or anyone else’s, reading of the situation, in terms of the President herself, his account of what ails our electoral system lays the basis for proposals for reform:
The Philippine ballot is probably one of the most archaic in the world, as voters are required to fill in, by hand, the names of all candidates for whom they are voting. The vote tally is then compiled, also by hand. With thirty million ballots cast last May, each containing the votes for roughly 25 to 30 positions, election officials faced the gargantuan task of counting almost a billion preferences in all. This laborious process is highly susceptible to fraud: As official election tallies begin their long migration from local precincts throughout the Philippine archipelago to Manila over the course of several weeks, politicians can use a variety of tactics to supplement retail vote purchases with wholesale manipulation of the vote count. In each of the last two elections, the Commission on Elections has demonstrated itself to be fabulously incompetent (and often very corrupt) in performing its three basic tasks of preparing for elections, executing the polling process, and counting the votes. NAMFREL reported that in 2004, due to huge errors in COMELEC’s voter lists, “disenfranchisement may have run as high as two million voters.” …Finally, the long vote count provides ample opportunities for election officials to solicit payoffs not only from trailing candidates wanting to pad their votes, but also from leading candidates needing to protect their votes against the cheating of others.
For example, a case study involving Maguindanao:
After the May 2007 elections, it took almost two months before the twelfth-ranked candidate was proclaimed a victor in the Senate contest. Many of the charges and countercharges focused on Mindanao’s remote province of Maguindanao, the details of which illustrate complex interactions between the administration, COMELEC, and local powerholders. In the run-up to the elections, each region of the country was put under the supervision of a particular COMELEC commissioner. Benjamin Abalos, a political ally of the First Gentleman who had been appointed COMELEC chair in 2002, assumed initial responsibility for the polls in Mindanao and then placed key lieutenants in strategic posts. In Maguindanao, his provincial election supervisor was a wellknown protégé of Garcillano who had merited frequent mention in the “Hello, Garci” tapes and was linked to suspiciously strong pro-Arroyo results in the 2004 election. Without the effective oversight of either COMELEC or election monitors (who were barred from many localities), Macapagal-Arroyo’s political allies in Maguindanao were able to deliver a sweep to her Team Unity senatorial candidates. The key figure in securing this outcome was Governor Andal Ampatuan, who commands a substantial paramilitary force and has a reputation for using violence against his political enemies. “Whatever the president wants, he will follow,” said a family friend to Newsbreak. “12-0 is what Ma’am wants.” Ampatuan is no doubt well-rewarded by the Palace, but seemingly cuts deals for his own benefit as well. Among the Team Unity hopefuls, it is reported that “the ranking of individual candidates depended on how much they would pay up.” Rumor has it that the top senatorial slot in Maguindanao went to a northern Luzon strongman for the sum of 30 million pesos (US$636,000). Aside from money, violence is also a useful tool for gaining political power. According to police statistics, there were 148 election-related killings in 2004, more than double that of the last general elections in 1998. In 2007, there were 121 election-related killings, marginally more than the 111 persons killed in the last midterm elections, in 2001. According to political scientist Joel Rocamora, the high stakes of the political game encourage candidates to use whatever means possible to achieve victory: Elections provide the formal expression of local political contests that have historically been mainly about who controls the resources from the central government, and illegal economic activity. . . . The contest over control of these activities gives a premium to leaders with skills in manipulating illegality and the uses of violence. At the least, one can say that the national police and the Philippine armed forces are unable to safeguard the electoral process; far more disturbing is when their coercive power is deployed in favor of one candidate over another. Another armed force, the communist National People’s Army, has used its coercive capacity for a combination of entrepreneurial and political ends: extorting permit-to-campaign fees in the areas that it controls, occasionally hiring itself out for intraelite political assassinations, and intimidating rival opponents on the left.
This is not crying over spilled milk. After all, with the cheating having been chronicled, the question is, in 2010, if we have elections, which candidate will embrace Ampatuan, and who will dare go against him? And what of the citizenry, will it try to neutralize his potentially harmful effects on the national vote, or turn a blind eye?
So rhe thing that interests me most of all, are his proposals for reforms that could be pursued as people open up to a post-Arroyo scenario:
The Philippines has now had a longer stretch of life after Marcos than life under Marcos. As the post-Marcos era enters its third decade, the high hopes for democracy voiced in the mid-1980s have given way to disillusionment with the country’s low quality of governance.
What are his proposals? First, he argues that public confidence is low:
Philippine democratic institutions are not inspiring faith among the citizenry. In the month prior to the 2007 elections, 69 percent of those surveyed expected vote buying and 53 percent anticipated cheating in the vote count (substantially higher percentages than those registered prior to the 2001 and 2004 elections). In a 2006 survey, COMELEC was among the four agencies that the public rated as “very bad” in terms of “sincerity in fighting corruption.” There have long been problems at COMELEC, but the level of politicization under the Arroyo government is perceived to be particularly grave. Similar stories can be told regarding the decline of other important political institutions, including the House of Representatives (currently subordinated to the Palace even more thoroughly than usual); the judiciary (with the Supreme Court an important and encouraging exception); the Office of the Ombudsman (now headed by the president’s former chief legal counsel); and the military (recall the use of military intelligence for electoral purposes, discussed above). Many believe that the best way to address this disillusionment is to reform democratic institutions.
But if this is the case, what form should reforms take -sweeping or incremental ones? There is no consensus, but the lack of consensus might indicate how it can be achieved:
But those who advocate “political reform” have a range of ideas as to what should be changed and to what extent, as well as how to accomplish the changes. Given current levels of disillusionment, some suggest that whatever political set-up the Philippines presently has should be discarded. If the country is currently under a presidential system, it should shift to parliamentarism. If it is currently unitary, then federalism is the solution. The bigger the change, however, the greater the risk of unintended consequences, leading some to call for well-targeted incremental reforms, instituted with particular goals in mind.
So then, the specifics. First,
A central, overarching goal should be the fostering of stronger and more programmatic political parties… A good starting point would be such modest electoral reforms as preprinted ballots, a consolidated ticket for the election of presidents and vice-presidents, and an option for straight-party voting.
(Readers might recall my own proposals to reconsider bloc voting.)
He goes on to add,
Two somewhat more ambitious electoral reforms, one for the Senate and one for the House, could have much greater impact in promoting stronger parties. The first would be to scrap the current system in which senators are elected from one nationwide district; this leads to intraparty competition and forces each candidate to cut his or her own deals with local powerholders throughout the archipelago. The second change would be to abolish the current party-list system, through which 20 percent of the members of the House are selected. While most standard proportional-representation systems require parties to achieve a certain percentage of the vote in order to have seats in the legislature, the Philippine party-list system is distinguished both by a very low floor (2 percent) and by the presence of a ceiling: Incredibly, no single party is permitted to have more than three seats in the legislature. This entirely undermines the goal of aggregating interests under one party label. Following the example of Japan and South Korea, the Philippines could consider adopting a mixed system involving both single-member-district seats and some element of a more standard proportional-representation system.
(Readers will also recall my proposal to reconsider senatorial districts, too. The nationally-elected senate makes sense only when buttressed by bloc voting, which gives an incentive for candidates and the electorate, to think in term of slates; and also, once lost, the old notions that every senatorial ticket had to be geographically balanced, can’t be restored: the old rule of thumb was scrapped in 1986 both by the Marcos-Tolentino and Aquino-Laurel tandems, which swept away the North-South rule observed since 1935.)
Anyway, he goes on to say,
Another well-targeted reform, more relevant to process than to outcomes, relates to electoral administration. COMELEC should be restructured from top to bottom–from its central office in Manila to its extensive nationwide field structure–in order to develop the capacity to maintain accurate lists of voters and execute an accurate and expeditious vote count. Allegations of election fraud involving politicians and COMELEC officials need to be investigated by independent prosecutors willing and able to press charges for wrongdoing. The perfect opportunity for leadership change comes in early 2008, as COMELEC chair Benjamin Abalos steps down in the wake of bribery charges, and three additional slots on the seven-member national commission will also need to be filled.
In general, his point that more manageable, because smaller, reforms, would do more than more exotic efforts to change the system:
As a practical matter, incremental measures of political reform, rather than a wholesale shift to parliamentarism or federalism, seem to hold greater promise for success. In response to the two late-2007 bribery scandals, the Palace dusted off proposals for charter change in yet another attempt to change the topic to political reform. Such patent political opportunism has turned much of the public against the idea of constitutional revision. After his attempts were spurned in late 2006, even Speaker de Venecia now seeks a moratorium on charter change. Senators continue to oppose the abolition of their chamber, and one can presume that the five senators considering bids for the presidency in 2010 are particularly averse to the parliamentary option. Considering these factors, there is unlikely to be renewed momentum for sweeping constitutional changes until after the 2010 presidential elections.
Unless the public insists on these changes, however, they won’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. The reason being that as pragmatism, and not idealism, has become the national fetish, then no one has an incentive to really reform, since pushing for reform has increasingly been proclaimed a nuisance, a waste of priorities. If job creation is the be-all and end-all of political activity, that is, that it is more important to create jobs rather than defend freedoms, and pursue change (a false distinction: there has to be a way to encourage the creation of jobs without turning people into permanently politically-uninvolved types), then no industry creates more jobs in a short time as an electoral campaign.
Since the past three years have shown that a mastery of logistics trumps all other political considerations, then we can expect that those angling to wield the levers of power currently held by the president, will want to do so, on the terms she’s mastered. Why reinvent the wheel?
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