The Long View
A necessary provocation
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:46:00 09/07/2009
Much as Luis “Chavit” Singson is in the news, it’s doubtful whether it will have any effect on his prominence in the Frankenstein coalition of the administration. Since June, he’s had the glittering title of Region 1 chair of the Partido Lakas Kampi, or PaLaKa. Among his confreres as regional chairmen is Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). As Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr. once told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), “Ampatuan is no different from (Luis) Chavit Singson,” referring to the warlord reputation of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, who delivered landslide victories for the President in 2004 and for Team Unity in 2007.
Since a warlord reputation is no obstacle to high office in the Frankenstein coalition, what, then, can one make of one of PaLaka’s vice chairmen, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, and his ongoing campaign to collect unlicensed firearms? Or the designation of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), headed by Chairman Bayani Fernando, who is PaLaKa’s vice president for NCR, as a reserve unit of the Philippine Army, complete with pre-military training to make it useful in times of “emergency,” whether natural or man-made?
The answer lies in two things.
First, the President’s enunciation of party policy, and its implementation as the policy of the state, considering how entrenched PaLaKa is in local governments.
Second, the people and institutions tasked with implementing this party-and-state policy range from members of the Cabinet like Secretary Puno and others who either earned their spurs during martial law, or who’ve benefited from the President’s practice of supporting local fiefdoms – including warlords – in exchange for maintaining herself in office (Raissa Robles in her blog, for example, pointed out that Hermogenes Esperon Jr., during the Marcos years, conducted surveillance on opposition figures in the United States on behalf of Gen. Fabian Ver).
When Kampi was officially grafted onto Lakas to form the Frankenstein coalition, the President gave a speech at the Manila Hotel on May 28. She said, “Let us also make the alliance between the local government units and the Armed Forces of the Philippines a major campaign plank, especially in the local elections.” A dangerous policy when elections call for a scrupulously non-partisan military.
She said she expected “administration candidates to take this up as a key governance thrust, and openly support those who pledge to push peace and development, and oppose collaborators of those who seek to use violence to overthrow government and to impose their obsolete ideology on the people.”
The President did her part by proclaiming an amnesty for owners of illegal firearms – the 11th such presidential proclamation since 1991, according to Miriam Coronel Ferrer; this expires on Oct. 31 – accompanied by fire-breathing statements from Puno, saying they’d engage in a massive nationwide operation called the National Gun Control Program, to confiscate over a million illegal firearms, with 5,726 in the hands of criminal elements, and 15,676 supposedly held by “threat groups.”
These groups include the New People’s Army (NPA), whose warlordism the President has vowed to crush (election time is extortion time, for “permits to campaign” in NPA bailiwicks) and rebel and bandit groups in Mindanao. In Jolo alone, officials estimate 100,000 illegal firearms.
In and of themselves, a gun control program and a campaign to confiscate illegal weapons are uncontroversial. What makes them controversial is the timing. To be sure, a yearlong amnesty expired last year, and its failure led to the latest amnesty; but the present campaign will go into high gear just as campaign season begins, and with the peace situation in Mindanao being brittle once more.
With many of the officials tasked with implementing the campaign being high officials of PaLaKa, and with other high party officials already having the reputation of being entrenched warlords, and with the campaign presenting a throwing down of the gauntlet, so to speak, at Moros and their warrior culture, and the administration vowing an all-out confrontation with the NPA, you have the worst sort of combination, politically. An otherwise objectively praiseworthy scheme being ill-timed, and which will be implemented by officials known more for their partisanship than their even-handed implementation of laws and regulations.
Therefore, when the 7th General Assembly of the League of Provinces of the Philippines – steadfastly loyal to the President – recently met at the Discovery Suites to endorse Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro as the standard-bearer of PaLaKa going into the 2010 campaign, what they were endorsing was not just an individual, but a beliefâ€”in public opinion being trumped by machine politics supported by military might.
This is the only means the ruling Frankenstein coalition can hold, by reminding everyone concerned that it plays for high stakes. There is no higher stake than political survival. An administration that thrives on brinkmanship won’t shrink from provocations guaranteed to expand its list of options. And it is provocative, indeed, to go into a campaign with warlord allies while preaching a firearms confiscation campaign, not in pursuit of real peace and order, but rather, to ensure a monopoly of coercion for the administration.
What cannot be bought by money, then, can be extracted at the point of a gun. A national election puts the burden on law enforcers to apply the law and enforce order on all sides; but instead, what the President’s policy implies is that in 2010, neither the police nor the army will be non-partisan. Aside from complicated failure-of-election scenarios, what this means is putting whoever is the next president at the mercy of an organized and entrenched PaLaKa.