Even as Cardinal says Lozada’s forgiven , my column for today is The interdiction of a witness, which took its cue from yesterday’s Inquirer editorial, A nation of lost sheep. For additional background, see the Sun Star Cebu article, Cardinal explains ‘secret meeting’. What’s the worth of a Mass, anyway? I Believe 101 offers up a reflection. Meanwhile, Philippine Commentary reacts to my column and says it’s an exercise in futility. On a related note, see Red’s Herring and smoke.
Today’s Inquirer editorial, Easter settlement, praises the Sumilao farmers and San Miguel Corporation for what it hopes will be a successful settlement of the farmers’ case; and along the way praises Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales for brokering the deal.
The Malaya editorial, Abuse of executive privilege is the issue, alerts the public to the expected handing down, tomorrow, of a decision on the Neri executive privilege case, by the Supreme Court. I’ve written about this case in A color of constitutionality and It’s how you play the game; the scuttlebutt, for a time, was that the Palace was confident it would get its way, and so the President was prepared to hold off appointing a new justice; but then she made the appointment anyway, which was taken by some to be an indication she wanted to improve her administration’s odds. As it is, New SC justice’s first test of independence: Neri case.
There’s an interesting article in the Philippine Star, Palace has yet to submit Melo appointment papers, on how Congress claims it shouldn’t be criticized for not confirming Justice Melo as Comelec Chairman, when the President hasn’t submitted his appointment for confirmation. What’s noteworthy (and praiseworthy) is that Melo’s refused to occupy the position until he is confirmed.
Even as Pacquiao saddened by doubts on WBC win , I’d like to point out an interesting comparison made by John Neri between the President and PacMan. See Manny Pacquiao’s lesson in legitimacy :
Can Philippine politics learn anything from Pacquiao’s legitimacy issue?
…I thought each fighter won six rounds, with Pacquiao edging Marquez only because of the additional point from the third-round knockdown. In other words, it could have gone either way, but by the rules of the game it went in Pacquiao’s direction. No, it wasn’t a convincing win. It certainly did not put paid to the two boxers’ “unfinished business.” And it did nothing to improve Pacquiao’s pound-for-pound rankings. But do all these make his victory illegitimate? Our answers tell us more about ourselves, and about what we think of the fighters, than about the fight.
As for Pacquiao’s political patron: The President’s continuing crisis of legitimacy stemmed from her felt need to post a convincing victory in 2004. Her troubles started when she became unwilling to risk a close decision.
And then, there’s this analysis of the damned if you do and damned if you don’t nature of corruption case prosecution, courtesy of Steven Rood, in In the Philippines: Just Another Week of Anti-Corruption (hat tip, The Daily PCIJ):
The Sandiganbayan has penalized almost 1,200 public officials for administrative and disciplinary offenses from 2004 to 2006, she added.
Other measurements of corruption have indeed shown progress throughout the years. The price of textbooks in the Department of Education has been reduced, as has the price of medicines procured by cities where The Asia Foundation works to improve governance in cooperation with the city governments themselves, as well as local chambers of commerce and NGOs. Other data come from regular Social Weather Stations surveys of businessmen, which had the percentage of businessmen reporting the payment of bribes for local government permits declining from 55% in 2000 to 40% in 2007. Similarly, the percentage who reported having to pay bribes in the payment of income taxes declined from 52% in 2000 to 33% in 2007. We can say that those percentages (40% for local permits, 33% for paying taxes) is still too high, but we cannot deny that progress has been made.
And yet the PERC, based on a survey of expatriates thoughout Asia in early 2008, arrived at its gloomy judgment. This leads us beyond the realm of technical progress into that of political controversy, which can drive perceptions.
The PERC report summarizes:
“The Philippines is a sad case when it comes to corruption. The actual magnitude of the problem is bad, but it is probably no worse than in places like Indonesia and Thailand. However, it has been politicized as an issue more than in either of these countries, used by political rivals to undercut each other.”
And, this is all well-publicized since “… the media, even more than the courts, is the forum in which all sides try to wage their battles of defamation.”
All the statistics about progress against bureaucratic corruption — no matter how beneficial that progress is for the citizens of the Philippines — tend not to be perceived in the middle of political turmoil, which is beginning to seem (at least in the media) to be a permanent feature of the Philippines (the WBI’s “political stability” index has plunged precipitously in recent years).
This politicization of anti-corruption activities in the Philippines has long been a problem. More than a decade ago, PCAGC (Presidential Commission Against Graft and Corruption) Chairman Eufemio C. Domingo stated that every corruption complaint forwarded to his office was politically motivated. When such charges are used as part of the struggle for political advantage, the public can become cynical, believing that all officials are alike and nothing will change.
To fight this cynicism, people want to see the conviction of a “big fish” to demonstrate progress against corruption. While we might have hoped that the “plunder” conviction of President Estrada would count as such an achievement, the fact that he was pardoned and has since vigorously protested that he is innocent means that this goal was not really achieved. Anti-corruption civil society organizations often have a list of particular cases in which they are interested and for which they track the progress. They focus on those cases as a means of demonstrating that prosecution reinforces other tactics — preventing corruption and promoting a graft-intolerant culture — so that a holistic approach against corruption can be effective. Frustratingly for the Ombudsman, the fact that charges have been filed against Undersecretaries, Deputy Commissioners, or provincial governors does not seem to count as “catching big fish” in the public eye.
And, when the Ombudsman’s office did move on the most publicized recent case, the so-called ZTE-NBN scandal about allegations of an overpriced computer network subject to bribes that involved (again, allegedly) the Chair of the Commission on Elections and the President’s husband, the effort was attacked as “grandstanding” or as part of a cover-up.
In the atmosphere of a vigorous media in which charges of corruption are always highlighted, anti-corruption agencies are in a very difficult position. If agencies like the Ombudsman are not in the media, are not visibly taking action, they can be accused of doing nothing. On the other hand, if they do take action and publicly move forward on a particular case, they are immediately attacked as part of the “battles of defamation.” This is a classic case of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
So, the glass is definitely half full — the Philippines is at the 57th percentile of comparator nations. International agencies issue conflicting assessments of the state of corruption in the Philippines. The Ombudsman and others point to measurable progress against corruption as they undertake efforts to ensure the glass doesn’t become any emptier. Absent “big fish” sitting in jail, opposition reactions range from disappointment to skepticism to outright disbelief.
Overseas, historian David Kaiser in his blog History Unfolding, looks at Barak Obama’s recent speech on race, and says it marks a turning point in American political history:
When I read, and then watched, his speech last Tuesday, I thought it was the most effective speech of the last 45 years or so, an extraordinarily honest attempt both to define the racial crisis (in large part, a crisis of beliefs and opinions, as I have tried to show) in the United States, and to try to move beyond it. When Obama referred to the bigoted remarks of his white grandmother, I also smiled to myself because of the kinship that I (as the product of a religiously mixed marriage) felt with him. We half-breeds, I said to myself, can’t be trusted – we have no allegiance to anything but principles and we’ll rat out anybody. (Our existence, too, is a living rebuke to bigotry. Take it from me, no one can hate bigotry more than those of us who know that if everyone were a bigot, we would never have been born.) But I admit that when I actually watched Reverend Wright’s now-notorious clips yesterday, I was shaken, both with respect to Obama’s judgment and with respect to my own ability to be consistent. Would I, I asked myself, be willing to accept as reasonable the candidacy of a Republican who for many years had attended a church whose pastor railed against godless feminists and homosexuals?
I would be most unlikely to vote for such a person, of course, simply because he or she was a Republican – but eventually something else occurred to me. If that candidate (let’s call him John Smith) were to make a speech repudiating those views, specifically likening them to extreme views on the other side of the political fence, and arguing that the United States has to reject such views to move forward as a nation, I would certainly respect him. And as I write those views another thought occurs to me. Such a candidate could never be nominated by the Republican Party in 2008. That was why Mitt Romney could not simply claim a right to be a Mormon, but had to add the standard Republican nonsense about the eternal place of religion in the American public square. The Democratic Party remains the more tolerant party, and Obama simply extended its tolerance to the expression of views like Reverend Wright’s, which, as he said himself, are unfortunately common among blacks. Obama genuinely offered a way out of the box we have been living in for forty years. His opponents have not.
The Asia Sentinel looks at the two Chinas in Taiwan’s Kuomintang Return to Power and The Tibet Riots: Hu Jintao is the Biggest Loser. An article in Foreign Affairs, The Rise of China and the Future of the West, says the West can come to terms with a resurgent China; and note to self, this book looks intriguing: The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistable Shift of Global Power to the East.
In economics-related news, another article, Life Gets Tough for Asia’s Sovereign Wealth Funds , makes for interesting reading. On a related note, Slate provides Recession Literature, a reading list. On a domestic note, Is RP doing well? Jury is still out, says think tank.