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Sep 07

The Long View: A necessary provocation

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 belief—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.

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  1. sonnt pulgar

    there’s a book by an american author, his name escapes me at the moment, where he said that FM’s agenda was to harness the military with that of the local government units. it was FM, remember, who diced metorpolitan manila into thousands of barangays, and duplicated nationwide. the barrios of yore were rechristenend barangays, and the constiturional autocrat, the BIG DATO.FM borrowed Adolf H blueprint by micromanaging the countryside.coincidentally, GMA micromanaged his 2004 run by calling the barangay officials (tanods,brgy health workers,lupon tagapamayapa) in malacanang in geographic sections.she bypassed the traditional political network of mayors and governors in the distribution of campaign funds.

  2. J_AG

    This country is larger version of Sicily.. More money politics ultimately backed up by guns… The business world making no distinctions between what is legal and not legal.

  3. Carl

    “The business world making no distinctions between what is legal and not legal.”

    ***********************************************

    The business world makes that distinction, and tries to do something about it, when the business environment deteriorates to a point that it hurts them. Case in point was Erap. He was a bull in the china shop, and he had to go.

    Right now, business isn’t too bad. Not only is it bearable, it could have been a lot worse due to the global financial crisis. The economy is still growing, albeit at a much slower pace. And, unlike our far wealthier Asian neighbors, we haven’t officially entered recession and the impact of the downturn hasn’t been severely felt. Remittances are still coming in, surpassing previous years and beyond all expectations, and the Philippine Peso is stable. And look at the billions being made in the stock market. So the stimulus to change horses in midstream isn’t there.

    Having said that, I think the business world has already written off GMA and expects a new President to be elected in May. GMA is a lameduck, even if she won’t admit to that in public. As May approaches, it will become more and more apparent. At the moment, budget allocations and pork barrel funds are the only ties that bind politicians to the administration. But all eyes are already darting about, looking for the exits. Not all politicians can be as self-assured and as financially independent as Louie Villafuerte, who has astutely parted ways with the administration, and is now looking for an opposition party to hook up with. But as soon as the loot is divided, it will be every one for himself. GMA knows that. And guns won’t do the trick. This is politics as usual, not war.

  4. SoP

    Gunpoint power grab? Nah. Trust the all-too-powerful-cheesy-sentimental-kumbaya-my-Lord-Noynoy-slash-yellow-army brigade to neutralize it.

    Body count will rise sure. Maybe more so than previous elections because of escalating gun ownership.

    I won’t count on Gilberto winning the elections though nor GMA perpetrating her admin beyond 2010.

  5. SoP

    He’s unpopular as hell and she’s hated as fuck. GMA’s best bet is with Villar, but he doesn’t need her because Manny has the money and pandak’s a political liability.

    They can do dagdag-bawas, but nothing can justify a Gilberto victory. It’s just too unbelievable for the public.

    If there were more candidates they can spin it, but the presidentiables’ coalescing is bad bad timing and bad luck for GMA.

    GMA better pray for an Erap victory because utang na loob mandates Erap pardon Gloria, but there’s the supreme court hurdle, which I believe won’t be surpassed.

    If I were GMA now, I’ll be seriously considering the martial law angle. But how should I go about it? A bombing or two? The public won’t fall for that anymore. Escalating rebellion a few months before elections? Too obvious.

    How ’bout this: sustained bombing campaigns from now til 2010 elections. A bomb or two every week.

    What is the best prelude to martial law? Something that scares the shit out of the public but has never been done before? Not something out of Macoy’s playbook?

    My prognosis for GMA’s future is not good.

  6. BrianB

    Yeah, like these warlords can’t be neutralized. Besides, the most fundamentally powerful pinoys are all untouchables to these thugs… OFWs.

  7. SoP

    And they’re really not warlords. For want of a better description, we use the warlord label. But the only true warlords as far I’m concerned are the Moro rebel leaders and the communists.

    Because we’re not a fully failed state, the powers of Philippine “warlords” are still heavily tied to government positions. And these are contingent on winning elections and the dispensing of patronage to poor electorates. Squeeze the electorates too much and they could risk being voted out. Which is why our warlords are more benign than true warlords in other totally failed states. Which is why they hold less power, and are not as fully useful to any would be dictator like GMA.

    I guess the only true description is trapo. Trapos are harder to maintain than true warlords. Their loyalty are more fleeting. They’ll stab you in the back once you stop scratching theirs.

  8. BrianB

    Trapos don’t necessarily have an instinct for violence.

  9. Carl

    None of the administration candidates for President has a whiff of a chance in the May elections. GMA knows that. Prospective administration candidates aren’t even close enough for warlords to make a difference. GMA knows that, too. I have serious doubts whether the administration will throw lots of money and resources on its candidate.

    It could be possible, however, for GMA to run for congress in Pampanga. It provides for some kind of immunity, and keeps her in the political game. It also opens up avenues for the speakership of the house, although that is very difficult to achieve without the support of the incoming administration. The Presidency is still powerful enough to persuade politicians of all stripes to come aboard and collaborate. Witness how FVR and Erap, with very few congressmen initially on their side, were able to assemble majorities in congress. And witness how, with Malacanang’s blessings, the mighty JDV was toppled by a longshot like Nograles. No individual’s wealth can compete with the national purse strings which, as we all know, are the only strings that play music to politicians’ ears.

    How persuasive will GMA have to be, to convince the next president to trust her with the speakership? Extremely, to say the least, as it would be political suicide for a fledgling administration to install GMA as speaker. Down the road, perhaps midway through the administration’s term, when memories and emotions have ebbed, it could be possible. We are a forgiving people, prone to emotions but quick to forget.

    So is it all gloom and doom for Malacanang? Well, not exactly. As a matter of fact, history is on Malacanang’s side. There is still much room for backroom negotiations. We have a history of dealing with previous administrations’ wrongdoings with kid gloves. As Tony Abaya recently commented:

    “Cory Aquino refrained from lifting a finger against the Marcoses during her watch . . . 23 years later, not a single Marcos heir has gone to jail for his plunder.”

    Erap, as we all know, was convicted. And pardoned! Now he is as unrepentant as ever, threatening to run once more and regain Malacanang.

    So for the consummate power player that is GMA, there are still quite a few options left for her to continue to be engaged in the political game, even after her term expires. I doubt, however, whether backing an administration candidate, besides a token one, for the presidency is one of the more promising options. Nor, do I believe, is creating havoc, nor using the point of the gun. There are other ways to play the survival game, and ripping up the playbook is too counterproductive. GMA’s been long enough in the game to know that.

  10. SoP

    There’s the Randy David-Among Ed tandem that could block GMA’s hail mary pass to congressional immunity. Vs Mikey and Mommy, the battle will take a national stage and will sway the passions of Filipinos who will plead to their Kapampangan voter compatriots to put an end to the vilified Macapagal dynasty.

    GMA needs some form of insurance. If I were her, I’d hire an assassin to put an end to Randy. Not by gunpoint mind you. Maybe swiping Randy with a 10 wheeler truck on one of his bike rides on our national highways will do the trick. Nobody will ever suspect GMA. Then I’ll follow that up with a national reform to our traffic systems in memory of Randy hihi.

    Among Ed can be let go. He can even be allowed to win. Mikey will be the sacrificial lamb so the mother queen can survive.

  11. taxj

    SoP: “…GMA’s hail mary pass to congressional immunity.”

    I doubt whether GMA herself would even see this as a way out. Would no one file plunder charges against her as soon as she steps down from Malacanang? Are congressmen immune from such a crime?

    Imelda has the luxury GMA can’t avail of: bail. I think she probably could use ERAP’s Tanay resthouse, but not any of the Arrpyo’s houses in the US or elsewhere. Unless…

  12. Carl

    None-news bulletin:
    As expected, despite all the make believe that it wasn’t a done deal, Noynoy Aquino has officially declared this morning that he will run for the Presidency.

    Mar Roxas has been offered the V.P. slot, but he still hasn’t accepted, daw. That’s Make Believe, part 2. Of course, Mar will accept it. That was already agreed upon before Mar gave way to Noynoy.

    At this moment, they are the front-runners for the Presidential derby. “Sa llamado!” “Sa meron!” “Ay singko”, anybody?

  13. sonny pulgar

    noynoy spent a great deal of time talking about political will on judicial reforms. does this portend a prosecutory drift of his administration by sending to jail a hundred “eraps”? the House should now bound over the impeachment complaint versus the sitting Ombudsman or these parasitic congressmen/women lose their chance on the bandwagon!

  14. supremo

    mlq3,

    maybe you should look for a better web hosting company. your blog is sometimes inaccessible.

  15. Norman Sison

    If we don’t stop these people, our country is going to be like Mexico, Myanmar or Somalia. Take your pick.

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