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Oct 13

Defanged

Alice Poon pens an essay on the Anatomy of Greed, which closes with:

Perhaps what we really need in this age of unrestrained greed is to somehow find a way to rebuilding the moral foundation in our societies, even if it means, in part, putting in place more stringent, preventive regulations. While I keep an open mind on free-market principles, I do tend to agree with Eichengreen’s point that you cannot eliminate greed as it is human nature. The answer to this problem may lie in the saying of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”

Last week in The hidden agenda, I proposed that the ruling coalition is interested in taking amending the Constitution as far as it will take them, and that furthermore, they have begun to pay off the political debts of 2007 and started investing in whatever 2010 brings, by passing a 2008 budget even more bloated by patronage than the 2007 budget was; and they are well on their way to passing the 2009 budget which will be a campaign budget, too. In They’ve never had it so good, I’d pointed to Manuel Buencamino’s satirical column which contains a basic truth: surrounding the President is a large coalition which has it good and wants to keep it that way.

My column today is Declawed but still impressive. Ellen Tordesillas in an SMS disputes my assertion that Hairy Roque jumped the gun and by so doing, tipped off the Palace:

Harry did not leak the impeachment story. Besides, there was no need or agreement to keep the plan to file a secret. Ito ang nangyari. Joey de Venecia had his own media contacts. Apparently they were told abt it. Harry and I were together whole morning friday in the court martial hearing of lt raymundo, the officer who is being detained for sharing wd other officers erap and 2004 fraud dvds.

I learned abt the impeachment when gil cabacungan and anthony taberna called harry abt it. I think they learned abt it fr joey’s camp. When I learned abt it, I called up na rin our office…

This may be so and to be sure, it’s also quite possible that Joey de Venecia did his own leaking to the press (to create his own drama). It’s equally likely that both sides did their leaking. But if you look at how the story broke -see Impeach raps set vs Arroyo, again: Complaint to be filed Saturday, Sunday, Monday– it was Hairy Roque who went on the record. So at the very least he tried to beat JDV3 to capturing prime time. To my mind the operating principle ought to have been, don’t do the Palace any favors. Even if they obviously knew when the deadline was, no sense in telegraphing moves. Keeping a discreet silence opens up opportunities for them to do something dumb.

As it was, it seems Oliver Lozano tried to mail in an impeachment complaint, but even a normally accomodating House couldn’t let that through as a way to beat the complainants to the starting line.

As it is, the House will have to go through the motions of killing the complaint, and that can open up opportunities for mischief on the part of the President’s ruling coalition. If the Palace and the House leadership can kill it quickly, it has time on its side. The energies of both the opposition and the administration are focused on passing the budget, and with it, being able to fund a campaign for amending the Constitution.

Passing the budget means the House and Senate will then be embarking on vacations due to the November holidays and then soon enough, it will be Christmas, another long break. This leaves little time or room for anything else except ensuring the Supreme Court adopts the House’s argument that the Senate has to vote jointly with it on proposed amendments -which then triggers a plebiscite next year, defusing, too, the momentum for the presidential campaign for 2010.

The game plan was there for all to see: pretending to engage the Senate in friendly talks on amendments in May; floating “consultations” and posturing over the need to “bite the bullet” in August; floating the President might get a new lease on political life in September while asserting the the effort, boosted by “consultations,” was economics-oriented and moving forward, etc., etc.

And the game plan remains, its three-pronged approach remaining the same, too:

1. Get the Supreme Court to authorize the House swamping the Senate by means of everyone from both chambers voting together;

2. Possibly sweeten the deal by having the President step down, somehow, prior to 2010 so as to avoid being too obvious a beneficiary and boost the chances of a plebiscite win;

3. If all else fails, and foreign governments are too distracted and the armed forces, no longer having the generally-respected and professional current Chief of Staff in charge (he was one of the few generals who returned the President’s proferred cash gifts), remain easy to command, then emergency rule.

The only imponderable here is whether the President’s allies consider it a safer bet to keep the President at the helm or try something riskier in these economically uncertain times. Sniffing around leads them to impeachment, of course, as the best means to change the dynamics of the game without totally wrecking the system.

Here’s where the impeachment charges could have helped but now, because of what they contain, won’t help.

You can find a summary of the charges in Ralph Guzman and Tonyo Cruz. Here is the impeachment complaint against the President of the Philippines:

Let me say that I consider the charges meritorious as they stand. However, since impeachment is primarily a political, and not a judicial, process, the impeachment complaint lacks the two charges that would have given it a fighting chance in the House.

First, taking the President to task over her handling of the BJE-MOA, although the lawyers seem to think it would be hard to do so. But charging her with irresponsibility and deceit, and in a sense, the political and diplomatic equivalent of reckless endangerment, would certainly have sparked interest with a public generally offended and alarmed by the deal. It would have put the deal’s critics in the House on the spot, including members of her coalition. The President certainly showed an awareness of how combustile things had become, at the height of public panic over the BJE-MOA.

The problem is that while public opinion was -and remains- hostile to the deal, the deal itself, in its particulars and objectives, enjoys the support of Bayan and Akbayan. So neither party, out of loyalty to their party programs, would support BJE-MOA-based charges. A large chunk of Civil Society feels the same way, that the deal itself has merit and should remain a fundamental basis for peace in Mindanao.

Adel Tamano, for his part, agrees with my point on the BJE-MOA but insists on a distinction about the President’s use of her pardoning power:

great article toay esp on the point of the moa advocates. just a slight correction though, i have been interviewed on the teehankee pardon and i have categorically condemned it. some may disagree but the pardon power was properly used in the erap case and utterly misused with teehankee.

Which brings me to what I believe should have been the second main charge in the impeachment complaint, charging the President with betraying the public trust by the manner in which she has exercised her pardoning power. Both the Warrior Lawyer and The Philippine Experience make the case for this charge.

Stripped of these two charges, the impeachment complaint remains sound but unexciting. Not in terms of people not thinking the charges are without merit, but rather, their knowing the charges don’t have a ghost of a chance in the House.

And yet from unexpected quarters comes support for the current incarnation of the charges.

Christian Monsod (skeptics will say perhaps having had a “conversion experience” of his own due to Meralco’s recent bruising battle with the government) issues an appeal not to give up on impeachment, and I must say I’m glad he said what he did.

His point of view is motivated by a desire to avoid People Power, speaking to, and for, a constituency that has begrudgingly tolerated the President not out of support for her, but fear over the institutional damage People Power might cause; but along the way he brings up some intriguing possibilities:

“For me, it’s not necessarily true that impeachment is impossible because during the time of President Estrada, all the numbers were in his favor but he was still impeached because many congressmen had a conversion experience and they voted for impeachment,” Monsod said in a radio dzMM interview.

He said that another option would be if a majority of Cabinet members would declare that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of her office, which would then allow the vice-president to take over the presidency.

Under Article VII, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, the vice-president could take over the presidency if the two houses of Congress, voting separately, would affirm the Cabinet’s declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of her position.

Monsod, however, said this option would be much harder than impeachment, which requires only a third of the votes in the lower house.

The former COMELEC chairman rejected calls to oust the President through another bloodless revolt, which he said could weaken the democratic institutions in the country.

“For me, we must work within the framework of the Constitution. Otherwise, it will lose its effectivity. As I said, democracy is about institution-building of the right kind of institution, but if we keep removing our presidents, and this would be the third if we do it, I believe it weakens our democracy. It does not strengthen it,” he said.

He suggests the President try feeding her husband to the dogs. Hope springs eternal.

I do happen to think that Monsod reads public opinion correctly, in that dismay over the results (not the actual removals, though) of Presidents Marcos and Estrada has cooled the ardor of many for People Power; and that the public has, for various reasons depending on the sector one belongs to, adopted a more institutional approach to things. But Monsod obviously thinks the public mood is turning sour and that sourness will once more make some sort of direct action against the President and her people a tempting option.

The cause for the curdling of public opinion? The economy, stupid.

The President loved taking credit for the economy even if some of the problems she took credit for fixing were of her own making, or some of the thing considered positive (like BPO) was more due to serendipity and entrepreneurial success than her actual leadership. But that being said, I’m skeptical of those who are already suggesting she is going to face problems if the global economic situation starts confronting us with the situation we’d all dearly never wanted to see: Filipinos overseas having to go home, and our overseas umbilical cord pumping in less financial nutrients into the body politic.

The reason can be seen in the surveys, which showed a slight improvement in the President’s unpopularity. Keeping things pretty quiet has a way of taking the edge off a not very nice present.

This craving for calm, or at least, more of the usual instead of adding to life’s uncertainties, will, for a time, actually strengthen the President’s position. The middle class, disenchanted with People Power, won’t want a taste of what’s been happening in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The upper class will start thanking God for an armed forces and police in the President’s pocket if it starts hearing rumors of an increase in violent crimes and starving, desperate people running amok. The poor will happy, and for good reason, for anything from anyone that helps put food on the table and keep the more predatory among their peers in check. Everyone with the smallest bit of property to protect will batten down the hatches and think dark thoughts of marauding gangs of their fellow citizens.

And of course the more nakedly ambitious will want a maximum of opportunity to take the current leadership to task while minimizing the chances that they will have to -prematurely- take over the reins of government. In Demolition derby I did suggest that the clearest and most present danger to the President isn’t in terms of the opposition per se, but disgruntled former and ambitious current allies.

But as I pointed out in my column today, the bull run, so to speak, the President enjoyed in terms of e-VAT funding her patronage (remember the observations of the now laid-off, as it turns out, Bear Sterns analyst I quoted three years ago?) is over. She’d previously avoided Marcos’s cardinal error of muscling in on private enterprise; but in the end neither she nor the coalition that supports her could avoid it. Today utilities, tomorrow the world!

Even if the President’s ambitions have been limited to stepping down in 2010, proving her critics wrong, and then staying out of jail to avoid going down in history on par with Marcos and Estrada (dear old dad’s and her own nemeses, respectively), keeping things together until then requires lots of cash. And the sources of that cash show signs of drying up. But the cupidity isn’t decreasing in official circles, as the Inquirer editorial Predatory budgeting recently pointed out.

So you must muscle in and what provides your muscle is a combination of thuggery and financial wizardry: you create a Department of Energy police on one hand and start floating combining the investment funds of the GSIS and SSS on the other. This is potentially, a political bonanza while troubling to the more responsible and sober in the government (if it’s true the BIR Commissioner was ultimately eliminated because of the Finance Secretary’s ire, then DOF sends query to GFIs bodes ill for both Romulo Neri Jr. and Winston Garcia: it will be another intramural the President will have to referee; not to mention others like the DBP, said to have an exposure of $100 million to Lehman Bros. collapse).

And you hope that you can continue to wing it.

Meanwhile, see Salve Duplito’s Money Smarts blog for how OFWs are coping with the global economic crisis.

Overseas:

As the world waits to see what happens today in stock markets and the banks (so far, markets pulled back from the brink, cheered by the British and European government’s bank support plans), here’s what Nouriel Roubini had to say over the weekend:

The New Yorker publishes an eloquent editorial endorsing Obama. Meanwhile, see Chris Weigant who does the electoral math and proposes the possibility of an Obama landslide. This Electoral College graph and the Real Clear Politics electoral vote map are handy, too.

Let me close with this magnificent special commentary by the great Kieth Olbermann:

65 comments

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  1. supremo

    nash,

    Mali pa rin si GMA. Sino ang nagbigay sa kanya ng karapatan na mag-press release para sa WB at IMF?

  2. supremo

    Let’s just say the Philippines is stuck with the manual voting because of the cost of automating the whole thing. Procedures can be modified to speed up the process of counting the votes for national positions by splitting the paper ballot. National part of the ballot in one ballot box and the local part in another. Send the ballot box for national directly to provincial after tallying the votes at precint level for further tallying. Garci types will now have to manufacture thousands of precint level returns just to affect the results.

  3. vic

    cjv, our election must be the ideal mix of Manual and Automation. so many things still done the same old way, including the stuffing of ballots in the cardboard boxes, retrieving of them later and feeding them into counting machines and the results are flash all over the screens while they’re being counted, so I think it will be very hard for the Garcis and the Abaloses or even a Bedol to do their tricks with the Media all over the places..yes the media alone is enough.

    They could try, but just one complaint to the commissioner ( the office has the responsibility of overseeing the enforcement of election law, under the Chief) the Garcis, or the Bedols or even the Chief would just be bundled up by any patrolman and dealt later if not sooner than the announcement of the results..thankfully, we have no Abalos, Garci or Bedols as of yet, during the old pure manual and the system in place today.

  4. Bert

    The old operators (abalos, garci, bedol) maybe out for the moment but new tech savvy abalos’, garcis’, and bedols are there waiting in the wings, their skills waiting to be tapped.

    The Philippines has no shortage of scheming and heartless politicians, their greed spawned by this present administration to the hilt.

    No immediate solution to the problem, it’s the culture, stupid.

  5. mindanaoan

    cvj, i think you are just raising theoretical issues to highlight your mistrust of the administration, rather than this as a purely a technological discussion. consider your last statement. electronic counting doesn’t mean no paper ballots, and audit trails can be in a digital form. in fact, audit control is much faster and more reliable in digital form!

    one thing against manual count is the vulnerability to ballot snatching. transmission of ballots are usually done in the morning of the day after election. but by then, trends can already be established (as early as 1 am), and decisions which precincts to target already made. electronic counting in a central location eliminates that.

    your belief that the comelec is out to defraud us is just paranoia.

  6. mindanaoan

    supremo, correct idea to overwhelm the “operators”. but do you have any idea how long it takes to tally thousands of precincts at the provincial level?

  7. supremo

    mindanaoan,

    ‘do you have any idea how long it takes to tally thousands of precincts at the provincial level?’

    No. That’s where you put technology to work.

  8. supremo

    mindanaoan,

    There should be a precinct tally form for national candidates similar to the one use for taking lottery numbers. Name of the candidate on the left and numbers 1 to whatever is the possible maximum votes per precinct on the right. Shade the number of votes on the right for each candidate then scan the form at the provincial level.

  9. vic

    mindanaoan, in our municipal elections (our elections are never synchronized, Federal, provincial, and Municipal, which is partyless are all independent with each other) where there are dozens of candidates vying for mayor, select one, sometimes 30 or more for council member representative, also select one and a few for school trustee, voter’s choice, public or catholic, the tally is counted as soon as the voter’s ballot is drop into the ballot box, a counting machine and if rejected the voter may review the ballot if he missed connecting the lines of the candidates of his or her choice and may do it again…the ballot, thus still retained for safekeeping just in case the courts order a Manual recount during the resolution of a protest..the ballot is keep in safe place known only to the person responsible Plus One other witness. When all is clear the ballots are shredded.

  10. mindanaoan

    supremo, i’m sorry. i was being facetious. i just took up your “let’s just say, manual voting” scenario and was amused by the thought of tallying 1 million ballots. 2 million for cebu. whew!

    but even if it’s automated, it has to be at the municipal level. people want to follow how the counting is going on, and you will rob them of the excitement if you deprive them of the chance to watch.

  11. mindanaoan

    vic, that’s a good system which can give results right at the end of the voting period. but i doubt if we can afford that. it will need one machine per precinct, more than 200,000 machines. how much is one machine, again?

  12. mindanaoan

    vic, it seems we need a lot more that 200,000. the law says, there shall be a booth for every 20 voters in the precinct. the average voter per precinct is around 200. so, we need 2,000,000!

  13. supremo

    mindanaoan,

    It doesn’t matter. You did not understand anyway. The national votes will still be counted at the precinct level. The lotto type of tally form will go straight to provincial level instead of municipal and scanned by maybe 50 machines.

  14. vic

    mindanaoan, I don’t really know the cost of the machines, but if you think that there is a loto machine in just about every convenient store, every little mom and pop store and dozens in every mall, then I believe it is affordable. and the loto machine they have now is so efficient that it can just scan the tickets to check for the winning numbers and even tell you the amount of winnings.

    anyways in a precinct we only have maybe two or three “booth” and usually one machine to drop the ballot. we just hand it the clerk and let her do it. usually a teenager worker. but this only for Municipal elections, for provincial and federal, no machines until the ballots are gathered together for one district and counted altogether (that is why after about 10% of the ballots were tallied the trend or the leading candidate usually end up the winner), that the daring do t.v. and radio stations start declaring the winners even halfway of countdowns.

  15. nash

    Early voting has opened in Florida.

    I hope y’all go out there and support McCain-Palin! Go, go, go.

    Don’t let that sissy Democrat win and tax your above $250k/yr earnings!

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