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Sep 24

The Long View: A peculiar chicken

The Long View
A peculiar chicken
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:23:00 09/24/2009

Anding Roces’ famous short story involves his brother’s peculiar chicken, which exhibited every outward sign of being a rooster – until it laid an egg one day. This brings up the question of the President’s peculiar chicken, which her ruling party has been holding up as an example of remarkable political plumage, in the hope that this will dazzle the electorate enough to prevent Gilbert Teodoro Jr. from laying an electoral egg in 2010.

The problem is that the President’s own secretary of foreign affairs announced his intention to back a different bird altogether, so to speak.

Alberto Romulo has told reporters he’s always been for the Aquinos, conveniently forgetting that he has been standing by the President all these years. Which brings up the inconvenient question of why he backed the President when it mattered but won’t back her anointed successor when he has far less to bring to the campaign. Or is that the reason he is suddenly born again as a true believer in the Aquinos?

His son, Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo, tried to downplay his father’s announcement by saying he’s going to stand by the President’s Anointed One. But this brings up another inconvenient question: Can the elder Romulo afford to recover his political values at the sunset of his public life while his son puts pragmatism ahead of idealism at the dawn of his political career.

But then that only goes to show the nature of the ruling coalition, and by extension the true color of its candidate. Compared to the sunshiny yellow of the leading candidate, Noynoy Aquino, the administration has dipped its peculiar chicken in olive drab. If, in a sense, Aquino has been wrapped in the flag – the red, white, and blue of honesty, integrity, and good governance with the yellow rays of optimism shining through – the administration has presented itself as a kind of armored fighting vehicle, cocooning its peculiar chicken in the armor of “where is your evidence, bring it to the proper forum,” knowing all the forums are government-controlled.

By all accounts the peculiar chicken of the ruling coalition is a rootin’ tootin’ rooster, ready to crow and anxious to show he has pretty sharp spurs for fighting. But these are spurs earned and honed in an arena where the very things that make the leading candidate formidable – he would not collaborate, he would not consent, he wouldn’t turn a blind eye to the very things that have made the ruling coalition an example of power maintained with an undemocratic contempt for the electorate – have been rendered inconsequential.

The problem is that these things matter; in fact, they have always mattered except that they have been rendered ineffective for a limited time only. And that limited time is just about over, much as the ruling coalition had done its damnedest to postpone or even cancel the day of democratic reckoning. The administration is entering the presidential contest not out of its own free will, but rather, because it ultimately failed to be the master of events. It survived, but it failed to abolish its constitutional expiration date.

Roman Romulo gamely tried to promote the administration’s peculiar chicken by indirectly indicting the ruling coalition. During his period in the defense department, the younger Romulo argued, no scandal involving corruption affected Teodoro.

But this only reinforces the view that when it comes to honesty, integrity, and good governance, the administration doesn’t have a fighting chance. If any other Cabinet member had ventured an opinion similar to Alberto Romulo’s, you wonder if it would have unleashed Lorelei Fajardo. The reason anyone cares about what Romulo said is his unique reputation among the members of the Cabinet. He has remained pretty much a gentleman, his personal honesty and integrity intact, and the most our diplomats can say about the governance of his department is that he is so prudent as to be practically powerless.

So when the elder Romulo says he will return to first principles, it’s the contrast between this elder gentleman showing that even if he strayed away, he isn’t beyond redemption (but only to a point; he could have gone all the way and resigned), and the younger politician trying to prove he’s a trooper when it comes to a despised ruling coalition, that stands out. Which is why Fajardo had to come out and make heavy hints that if the foreign secretary doesn’t pipe down, the President might consider firing him. In the end, this remains the administration’s most effective weapon in tempering the idealism of its officials: Don’t forget on which side your bread is buttered, thank you very much, or do you want to be a true has-been like the Lakas “originals”?

The elder Romulo said he will vote for Noynoy out of loyalty to the Aquinos, which may be an act of personal repentance and restitution but ignores why the Aquinos parted ways with the Romulos: on points of principle. So in the end, the only thing the elder Romulo can do is say that he will go to his precinct and cast his vote for Aquino, while his son will vote for Teodoro, canceling out daddy’s vote while retaining the Romulo political infrastructure in Pasig City as part of the administration machine. Which makes his father’s expression of intent an exercise in political futility.

That is the administration’s game. It has never conceded that it has so decisively lost in the court of public opinion, having determined that so long as it retains control of the instruments of state – the institutions that determine official culpability and accountability – the country can writhe in outrage for all that anyone in the ruling coalition cares.

Their peculiar chicken can crow all he wants, he can strut around proclaiming platforms and political positions all he wants, he can make all the “right” noises because he stands for a coalition that has clung to power and become bloated from doing all the wrong things, without any real consequences for its members.

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  1. SoP

    Liberal Party? They should rename it Labor Party.

  2. Carl

    He! He! Excuse the skepticism, Abe. Experience has taught us that political parties seldom, if ever, live up to their manifesto. When push comes to shove, they resort to what is most politically expedient.

    I want to be proven wrong, but even Lakas-NUCD had its own guidelines and “ideology” which, in practice, became a travesty. Talk is cheap, Abe. The test of the pudding is in the eating. Let’s see how the LP creed holds up in the heat of political realities. :-)

    It’s easy to talk principles when you’re a small, almost insignificant, party. Reality will set in when, all of a sudden, the party is thrust into the limelight and, almost out of the blue, becomes the ruling party.

    There are thousands of remoras just waiting to attach themselves to the potential President’s party. As the news tells us, a not-so-silent switch is already happening in both houses of congress. I am sure it is occurring at the local level as well. Suddenly, the LP will be weighed down by its own success.

    Even Communist Party of the Philippines, which has upheld its ideology most consistently, has often been forced to deviate, despite the rigid discipline it imposes.

  3. The Cusp

    In mature democracies, party leaders of presidential contenders, when they propose alternate policies or programs have to show how much they will cost, how will they fund them. They have to back it up by independent verification by a Congressional Budget Office. For example, McCain and Obama presented alternate health care proposals for scrutiny in this manner.

    Running after the Marcoses? Finishing land reform? More spending on education? health? justics? How much will it cost and how are they going to fund it? The most basic question of course is, how are they going to prevent the swelling of public debt which is looming as a renewed threat once again.

    Sadly, the only individuals who have the capacity for tackling such hard policy questions in this manner (the Joey Salcedas and Ralph Rectos) have not been very sellable to the public. I would like to see more of this kind of thing in the debates though. Enough with motherhood statements and talk of political will, etc.

  4. Abe N. Margallo

    Cusp, if you have read too the Democratic Party and Republican Party platforms, you would also note that they are likewise largely motherhood statements (there are even unnecessary bickerings in both).

    But with the way you require how party platform should look like, you seem to be asking for implementing rules and regulations. I’m not sure there’s such a detailed discussion on “public option” for instance in the Democratic party platform itself.

    There is one sure way to curb corruption, lock up the bad guys (and gals).

    Noynoy has provided certain exemptions in the bill. We should expect Noynoy to realize of course that the measure, radical as it may seem, would be subject to intense competition. One thing you could tell from that measure I believe is that Noynoy is not simply a Jeffersionian democrat Ninoy was (or anthropocentric Cory was). He is his own man.

    I also didn’t like the way Mar opposed the MOA-AD. But you vote for a candidate as a package deal.

    Carl, even Weber expected his charismatic leader to be routinized. But you can’t if you have a mission larger than you.

  5. mlq3

    It is a red flag and will be a test of the kind of leadership he’s set out to provide. Noynoy has to sort things out with his version of the Magsaysay Credo, to lay out the thread that can and should unite the candidate and his followers. Otherwise it will be a Big Bloat in expectation of more of the same.

  6. mlq3

    there is risk taking and there is risk taking; there is addressing genuine issues that arise from the voters or issues presented by the administration for its own purposes. discerning between the two is something the public will notice and take into consideration.

  7. mlq3

    d0d0ng interesting if it happens. but gibo is the president’s manok. and the ruling coalition are all capons gone fat and sleek under the president’s care. they’re cackling to prove independence but when pichay was teased by some media colleagues that the decision to anoint gibo had been made, he also strutted a bit but in the end had to meekly admit that yes, madame made the decision for them.

  8. SoP

    We’re all wasting keyboard taps discussing platforms. A few months into office, Noynoy will borrow money, be it from the Chinese or IMF or issuing government bonds, to pay the debt and pay for centrist government programs.

  9. The Cusp

    I think we are confusing platforms with manifestos here. A platform can be fairly constant, but a manifesto is a laundry list of promises that you take to the voters in an election, which changes each time. You were referring to LP’s platform as proof of concrete policies. I was looking for something like the latter.

    Anyway, for a proposed policy or program posed while in opposition to be credible, it has to be costed, otherwise it is just pure politicking. The specifics of a policy can be worked out later (such as a provision for public option in health care reform), but the advocate has to calculate roughly the impact on the public purse.

    In order to fund new programs without raising new taxes, candidates will have to make hard choices, such as 1) reforming the NFA and other poorly targeted social spending, 2) banning new provincial polytechnics, 3)rationalising fiscal incentives in freeports, 4)indexing sin taxes to inflation, and lastly 6) eliminate or reduce pork barrel spending.

    I am sure the Congressmen and local officials who now say they favour Noy will love to hear all that!

  10. Abe N. Margallo

    Cusp, my understanding is party platforms are political manifestos. They are basically intended to appeal to voters to vote for the party’s candidates and therefore are not crafted to look like bills for instance ready for enactment as public policy.

    Anyway, you don’t expect run-of the mill voters to weigh the scenarios you cited before casting their votes, do you?

    Doesn’t the reality run like this: if I win because of the perception that I have the credibility, sincerity and ability to make things happen, I will just hire you later to make those things happen?

    Now -just to make some funny situations to emphasize a point – supposing you were lucky to make the cut, it won’t be necessary for you, I guess, to cost the prosecution of a former president for example such that if the business case does not support it, you would recommend to breach an election promise; otherwise it could be perceived more as politicking than when you just proceed with the prosecution at whatever cost? Same thing, I suppose, if one of your campaign promises is to revise the pledge of allegiance, you won’t go through rough estimation either, right?

  11. The Cusp

    Actually that is why I said this happens in “mature democracies” particularly in parliamentary democracies. If Noy-Mar want to prove they represent new politics, then they should prove it somehow since according to SoP, they will simply be doing more of the same centrist programs, but then why is the public dissatisfaction with PGMA so high.

    If change is what they want, then it what form? Good governance? But again how? Will they boost the funds for the Ombudsman, Sandigan Bayan, and PAGC, or increase salaries of govt workers?

    I did hear them say instead of doing 10 things all at once, they wanted to prioritise two or three. So that’s a start. I am curious to hear what those priorities might be.

  12. ramrod

    Cusp, my understanding is party platforms are political manifestos. They are basically intended to appeal to voters to vote for the party’s candidates and therefore are not crafted to look like bills for instance ready for enactment as public policy.

    Anyway, you don’t expect run-of the mill voters to weigh the scenarios you cited before casting their votes, do you?

    Doesn’t the reality run like this: if I win because of the perception that I have the credibility, sincerity and ability to make things happen, I will just hire you later to make those things happen?
    —————————————–

    Hard reality feels like a dousing of ice cold water.
    So its basically a selling contest then? He or the campaign/sales/marketing team who can best sell their candidate wins? Hmmm, billboards,
    tv ads, hand gestures, jingles, tag lines, puppy dog eyes, later singing/dancing (boogy) on stages…indecent amounts of money poured into campaign sorties…battling for top-of-mind? or appealing to emotion? Then there’s the precinct level low-intensity-conflicts…
    …I really hope these guys have a product that delivers not just so much hype…

  13. The Cusp

    Ramrod, unfortunately even the parliamentary politics in the UK and Australia are veering towards presidential type campaigns with all their fanfare and media, “spin” hype.

    But at least when they hold debates it is mature because they present budget estimates vetted by third parties. I hope we can move away from policy developed on free rider/free lunch mentality.

    Even Noy’s proposed productivity bonus system would require an enforcement mechanism, meaning more manpower for DOLE. Accountants and lawyers to troll through financial statements to determine whether bonuses should be paid. The NLRC would have its dockets filled with cases to hear.

    If every senator and congressman developed laws like these… er, well, actually that is kinda what’s been happening and why we have a ballooning deficit!!!! It seems Noy is no different in his policy development process than his counterparts in Congress. A ha! An epiphany if ever there was one!

  14. Carl

    Yes, Cusp, I expect that dealing with the deficits and streamlining the bureaucracy will be among the most unpalatable issues the next administration would have to confront. If these involve raising taxes and prioritizing spending programs so that some of the fat gets cut off, they’d have to be ready with their flak jackets.

    They can still go around those, by not taking the bull by the horns and simply dithering and buying time. But it will be a test of their resolve and whether they can, as Abe puts it, break away from the traditional way of doing things.

  15. karl garcia

    In mature democracies, party leaders of presidential contenders, when they propose alternate policies or programs have to show how much they will cost, how will they fund them. They have to back it up by independent verification by a Congressional Budget Office. For example, McCain and Obama presented alternate health care proposals for scrutiny in this manner.

    with an estimated public debt of 14 trillion usd for 2010, I surmise they are only in the cost part.
    for funding, the usual suspects:
    the whole world.

  16. Abe N. Margallo

    I did hear them say instead of doing 10 things all at once, they wanted to prioritise two or three. So that’s a start. I am curious to hear what those priorities might be. – Cusp

    Cusp, I too want to hear those priorities. But if I have the opportunity of “projecting too much of our (my) wishes” onto the candidates, my own priorities if limited to three are: 1) how they will tackle the national debt differently than it is done now; 2) what’s their plan on how to persuade our wealth holders to bring assets parked somewhere back into active in-country investment; and 3) on which side they are on the federalization debate (with Mindanao peace process as a logical corollary issue).

    I’m sure you are not suggesting that the campaign should be a budget session for number crunchers. I don’t think US mature voters went for Dubya (over Al Gore) because of his skills on that department.

    Anyway, you’re right that unless ours is parliamentary in form or we have an effective recall system, we really don’t have an inter-election reckoning for breach of campaign promises, not to mention that the presidential tenure is constitutionally fixed at a single six-year term without re-election. So, if the SC, for instance, interprets that breach of political platform constitutes an impeachable offense of betrayal of public trust, the only other option could be impeachment or otherwise, if the breach is grave, resort to old-fashioned direct democracy that we seem to have a better handle on.

    If Noynoy/Mar tandem is given the chance, I look at the first term as being more focused on housecleaning, building the foundation for a “mature democracy,” and possibly economic takeoff, and the second term (Mar’s term) to sustain the takeoff. I’d like to see guys like you to be on board the LP team to crunch those numbers.

  17. SoP

    “I’d like to see guys like you to be on board the LP team to crunch those numbers.”

    Ever had a huge mortgage on a termite infested house? Car repayments on a car that got total-wrecked? And a minimum wage job while living on the most expensive city on earth? Then you my friend, are a living, breathing metaphor for the Philippines.

    How do you crunch a number on a thing like that? You can’t. You just have to work 20 hours a day five days a week while devoting your weekends to rebuilding your house and your car, while living in the simplest manner possible (no, absolutely no luxuries, while buying the cheapest necessities).

    Oh, and as a clincher, there’s an Ondoy sized rain coming to your city in a year. You have to prepare for that too. Hopefully, politicians in this country will get in to the mindset that the Philippines is like a financially-fucked individual who has to work really, really hard for many years to get his life back on track.

  18. SoP

    Oh and I forgot, you just got diagnosed with tuberculosis. And you have a wife. With eight children.

  19. anthony scalia

    the only “liberal” in the Liberal Party is the name

    ang kakampi ng Kampi ay sila sila lang

    Lakas is weak

    the only “united” in United Opposition is the name

    political platform? ano yan?

  20. taxj

    “I am simply taken aback by the villification of people like Romulo. It sounds too much like the Inquisition to me.” – Cusp

    The elite just can’t seem to do anything wrong. For them returning a favor is an honorable act. For us, the lesser endowed ones, it’s an illegal commerce for which we are ridiculed and condemned no end. Utang na loob!

    What’s the difference between a kilo of rice and a sensitive position in government? More so if it deteriorates under your watch!

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