Mar 20

The Explainer: What impeachment is and isn’t

What impeachment is and isn’t

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Mar 20 2017 09:23 PM | Updated as of Mar 21 2017 12:42 PM

WikiCommons image of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “The Death of Caesar,” (circa 1859-1867)

March 15 is known as the Ides of March. On that day, people fed up with the dictatorship of Julius Caesar ganged up and solved the problem of a power-hungry dictator the old-fashioned way. They assassinated him.

Of course it also led to a Civil War, and Julius Caesar the dictator ended up succeeded by Augustus Caesar who made himself emperor, turning a dictator-for-life into a hereditary dictatorship.

Which is why history is a list of assassinations and that other method for replacing leaders, revolutions, complete with spectacular executions such as that of Louis XVI of France.

When Americans were figuring out what sort of government to set up, Benjamin Franklin brought up this –even then—ancient history and asked, what do you do, when a ruler proves so obnoxious, the whole system feels it has no choice but to get rid of him?

Assassination, Franklin said, was the old-fashioned solution. He suggested impeachment was a better idea.

Alexander Hamilton, was a thinker and a politician before he was a Broadway sensation. He published a series of essays –think of them as überlong Facebook posts, explaining why the American Constitution was a good thing. In one of the Federalist papers, he defined impeachment as “a method of National Inquest into the conduct of public men.”

So what’s our takeaway from these two?

The first is that politics is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. The sovereign people in their wisdom can make a mistake. They can think they’re electing a statesman but end up with a traitor, a crook, a psychopath or all three. Then what do you do? There are times when the only thing to do is kick that person out of office. Richard Nixon knew his time was up, when both his allies in the House and his friends in the Senate told him he would not only be impeached, but convicted in an impeachment trial. So he resigned.

The second is that if you are going to kick someone out of office, there has to be an orderly procedure, yes; which is why the rules of court are used, to keep things systematic.

But you also need a procedure that is in the hands of democratically elected people, and not unelected judges. After all, the person you want to kick out has a rare and powerful thing: a mandate from the people or from the institutions established by the people. Therefore, the kicking out has to be done by representatives elected by the people.

And the third is that even if you are a traitor, a crook, a psychopath or all three, there are three things you cannot be deprived of without a slow, careful, and non-political proceeding in a court of law that assumes you are innocent until you are proven guilty. These are: life, liberty, and property. On the other hand, to lose public office does not risk your life, your liberty in the sense of rights all humans have, and it isn’t property. Only two things can happen to you if you’re impeached and then convicted in an impeachment trial: you lose your office, and you can be banned from holding office in the future.

So these are the things an impeachment is not, and the things it is:

Impeachment is not a criminal trial. It is about the abuse or violation of, public trust.

Impeachment is not about punishment. You do not have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt., the standard used in criminal trials. It is about whether you continue to be fit, in eyes and minds of our duly-elected representatives, to continue to hold public office. That is all.

Let me explain why. Impeachment is about this question: is injury being done to society itself, requiring the removal of this official?

In other words, is this person–president, vice-president, member of the Supreme Court or constitutional commission—so bad, in terms of his policies or the way in which the official conducts himself in office, that the country would be better off kicking that person out before the end of his or her term?

This is a question of policy, of the national interest, and oftentimes, this is an emergency question because only extremely grave abuses of power can lead to impeachment, which suggests that if things have gotten bad enough to result in an impeachment, it had better be solved as soon as possible.

Just because impeachment is a political process, it is not about letting loose a lynch mob. It does not mean, as superficial commentators sometimes say, that this is merely a numbers game. This is because while it is a political process, it is not just about the politicians. The public is expected to watch, understand, and form an opinion. Ideally, this means the public can see if the House and Senate are acting in the public interest or purely out of politically self-serving motives.

It’s a question best addressed by people who themselves hold a mandate equal to the one being impeached. In our case, only senators have a national constituency just like the president or vice president, for example. This is why both in the systems from which we borrowed it, and in our own system, impeachment is a political process and not a judicial one.

But, just to play safe, even if impeachment ends up a purely partisan exercise, the person impeached cannot lose life, liberty, or property because of impeachment –you will still have to go to trial in a proper court, to lose any of those things.

But let me close with a warning made by the late Senator Soc Rodrigo, who was one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution. He had misgivings about one thing that sets apart our impeachment process from most others. Only a small portion of the House –
one-third —is required to impeach someone. We put in this minority rule, because of how Ferdinand Marcos used his overwhelming majority in the Batasang Pambansa, to kill impeachment attempts.

But, Rodrigo warned, impeachment by design in the past, required very high numbers, because it was meant to be a safety valve in cases where there was an overwhelming clamor to evict a leader. Rodrigo said he was worried that in a multiparty-system, it might be easy for an organized minority to keep harassing the national leadership not out of the national, but purely selfish, interests.

The tyranny of the minority is as bad as the tyranny of the majority. With impeachment becoming not just a minority, but majority, activity, perhaps Rodrigo was being prophetic in putting his misgivings on the record thirty years ago.

That’s it, pancit!

Mar 15

The Long View: Parity’s unintended consequences (1)


Parity’s unintended consequences (1)

The anniversary of the ratification of the Parity Amendment 70 years ago (1947) came and went without comment last March 11. On that date, 40 percent of the electorate voted, a majority of which approved the constitutional amendment giving Americans equal economic rights to exploit our natural resources. The circumstances surrounding that plebiscite provide an instructive tale in unintended consequences.

Filipinos had relied on a pledge from Franklin D. Roosevelt at the outbreak of the war that war damages would be recompensed. Among the last visitors FDR met at Warm Springs, GA where he died was President Sergio Osmeña. In fact, the last press conference Roosevelt held, on April 5, 1945, where he discussed reconstruction funds for the Philippines, was with Osmeña.

But his successor, Harry S. Truman, found himself faced with a resurgence of isolationism. American public and political opinion was sick of war, sick of the world, and tired of paying for everything. In 1945 there was a meat and sugar shortage in America and the papers complained about allies getting scarce resources.

 Peter Clarke in “The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of the Pax Americana,” describes how, on V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, President Harry S. Truman promptly signed an order cutting back Lend-Lease to Britain and the USSR—at a time when the civilian populations of those countries needed American supplies as much as at any other time during the war. V-J Day (Victory in Japan) triggered another decision by Washington, to stop sending supplies to all allies within 18 months.

The time frame would turn out to be much shorter because of domestic politics. The historian Susan L. Carruthers recently pointed out that the only thing on the mind of US troops was to go home, and with the end of the war came a near-total collapse in morale and discipline among soldiers eager to go home. The GIs were voters.

The US secretary of War in early December 1945 had announced demobilization would be slower than originally promised. In Manila, on Christmas Day, American GIs mutinied. On Jan. 5, 1946, GIs from all over started converging in Manila and held a demonstration the next day and the day after—their number reaching 2,500—protesting their not being sent home and expressing indignation over being ordered to disarm the Hukbalahap. Other demonstrations were held in Yokohama, Le Havre, Guam and even in Maryland.

This all meant official Washington was in no mood to consider its allies. In the Philippines, for example, the fiscal situation in 1946 was desperate. Infrastructure throughout the country was wrecked. The first budget submitted by Manuel Roxas in June 1946 (for the fiscal year July 1-Oct. 22, 1946) was P250,000,000—with revenues of P40 million. American war damage payments were vital. But Washington was in no mood to be generous. Even the negotiations on US bases faced limits because of penny-pinching by Washington.

On April 30, 1946 the US Congress enacted the Bell Trade Act providing for favorable tariffs and war damage payments, and the Philippine Congress accepted its term on July 2, two days before independence. But the price of the bill was high—involving amendment of the Philippine constitution. Twice before (in 1937 and 1945), Filipino and American businessmen proposed the postponement of Philippine independence on economic grounds. Now they had a chance to insist on full economic participation despite constitutional limits on foreign ownership.

A comparison with the experience of another close American ally, Britain is instructive. The Bell Trade Act made available $620 million in war-damage payments. Around the same time (in 1945) the British also had their backs to the wall, moving heaven and earth to secure a $586-million loan and a  $3.7-billion line of credit to keep their economy afloat. John Maynard Keynes was dispatched to America on this mission to save the British economy from collapse, negotiating a loan on stiff terms in 1946 (with payments beginning in 1950) that was only fully paid off in 2006. Concluded next week

Mar 14

SpotPH Commentary: A Portrait of the Ex-Champion as Politician

A Portrait of the Ex-Champion as Politician

Manuel L. Quezon III on how transitioning from uniting sports figure to divisive politician still reveals Manny Pacquiao is Everyman.


Time was when, rich or poor, whether you were urban dweller or barrio folk, the entire country would stop, watch, and be that rare and marvelous thing, a united nation whenever Manny Pacquiao was in the ring. The petty pickpocket and the professional politician—not very different from each other, when you think of it, except perhaps in the boldness and scale of the larceny in their hearts—would join the honest in rooting for the Pacman. To be sure, commentators would have a field day tallying the patriotic junketeers who preened before the cameras in their ringside seats, but as reporters of an older generation might put it, isports lang, chief.

In 2009, for example, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, Vice President Noli de Castro, Speaker Prospero Nograles, with at least 20 fellow representatives and other worthies such as Andal Ampatuan, could be spotted occupying choice seats at PacMan’s Cotto fight; in 2011, 113 representatives would miss sessions to be able to demonstrate their patriotism by jetting off to Vegas for another fight; and even in 2012, when the number had shrunk to 40 (despite of, or maybe because, the session had ended so there was no fun in playing hooky), no one in the political class before, or since, ever really suffered for extravagantly seeking such photo opportunities. At home, far from the purloining official crowd, the cops would crow over the absence of crime during the duration of Pacman’s fights, and no one was unpatriotic enough to wonder if the statistics had something to do with the policemen avidly watching the fights, too.

That was then. The fights are fewer now, and tougher to set up. But even in his prime, Pacman had set his sights on another ring, the political one.

In 2010, in his famous GQ profile of Pacquiao, Andrew Corsello had this to say about The Pacman’s first attempt at political office: “It’s the strangest thing: Pacquiao was routed in his run for public office two years ago in part because voters revered him too much to elect him.” At that point, Pacman had lost a bid for congress in 2007; he was widely expected to again throw his hat into the ring, this time not in South Cotabato but in Sarangani. He had lost as a member of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s KAMPI and won as one of Manny Villar’s Nacionalistas in 2010, then shifting to Aquino’s Liberal Party that same year (after Aquino defeated Villar for the presidency), before switching to Jejomar Binay’s PDP-Laban in time for the 2013 mid-terms. Which he won, while wife Jinkee became Vice-Governor though his brother lost in South Cotabato. In 2016, he ran and won as a senator in the UNA slate of Binay, only to rejoin PDP-Laban when it became the ruling party under President Rodrigo Duterte (after Duterte defeated Binay for the presidency).

There are two lesser-noticed vignettes in the Corsello profile. The first is courtesy of a Manila Bulletin reporter who recounted how, as a back-alley fighter, Pacman would “announce himself as the mayor and speak about his plans for improving things. He would move his arms around like a politician. I could never tell if he was just trying to entertain himself or if he was, you know, practicing.” The second is an observation on Pacman’s adoring fan base by a former congressman: “As Manny has risen through the weight classes, nobody has doubted him more than Filipinos. We expect our public figures to falter. It’s incredible, but for a long time the people who loved Manny Pacquiao the most, his own people, were the ones who least believed in him.”

Which leads you to conclude two old truisms: Politics is our national sport, and our politicians are first and foremost, like every other Filipino, a nation of balimbings, eager to see you fail, wildly supportive when you don’t, twice as vicious when you do. The Filipino, we are told, loves to root for the underdog; precision demands that a qualification be made. We root for the underdog that wins.

As winners soon discover, winning also requires losing money and possessions. To be galante is one of the highest praises we can bestow on the fortunate. That Great Ilocano, Ferdinand Marcos, for example, was magnificently gallant with the people’s money, and at least half of the population remains grateful. Which is why a third observation, courtesy of another talkative Corsello source, seems so wildly off the mark, now.

The source, a reporter, rhetorically asked Corsello, who do you think of, immediately, when you hear the word “Filipino?” Immediately supplying the answer, “Marcos. This is how the world knows us. By our corrupt political clans that have been around for centuries. This is how we know ourselves. And Manny Pacquiao, the most beloved figure in the country, talks of going there? It makes his people fear for him.”

Some might have feared Pacquiao becoming a politician, but what of Pacquiao’s own fears? The only thing such a man has to fear is failure itself. Fear of losing a fight, any fight; fear of losing the means to be generous and thus, beloved. Fear of having arisen from nothing, only to become nothing again.

Thus, to the two things certain in this life—death, and taxes—then, should be added a third and fourth: All fame is fleeting, and success can be temporary. Before Pacquiao, our boxing greats died young. Pancho Villa died in his prime, at the age of 24, of a tooth infection. Flash Elorde died of lung cancer at the age of 49, having gained financial security by pitching San Miguel beer, and leaving his heirs a name they have successfully leveraged into a chain of boxing gyms. For former champion pugilists who live past their boxing prime, this was formerly about the best one could expect to achieve. Even the greatest of all fighters, Muhammad Ali, found himself pitching cockroach traps in self-deprecating ads in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

No fighter may have thought of it before, but other durable sports icons had figured a way forward—politics. If Pacquiao is Everyman, and politics is in everyman’s blood, then everyone wants to be a mayor. Or a congressman. Or a senator, or president. Besides being an athlete, Pacman has been an entertainer—and both have made it big in politics. Ask Jaworski, Webb, or Sotto. Long past their professional prime, they added that third element of success to the fame and fortune they already enjoyed: Power, which is the enabler of all things.

Back in 2014, Forbes magazine estimated Pacman’s career earnings at U.S. $300 million, with the Philippine government under former President Aquino wanting to collect U.S. $75 million in tax payments. By 2014, his estimated career winnings had totaled U.S. $400 million. Last April Pacman was saved by the bell—courtesy of the Supreme Court, which maintained its 2014 freeze on the BIR from collecting a multi-billion-peso cash or surety bond to stop the BIR from immediately collecting taxes it claimed were due. Even his mother faced a tax investigation.

As Jose Avelino, a Liberal stalwart and Senate President in 1949, famously put it, “Why did you have to order an investigation, Honorable Mr. President? If you cannot permit abuses, you must at least tolerate them. What are we in power for? We are not hypocrites. Why should we pretend to be saints when in reality we are not? We are not angels. When we die we will all go to hell. It is better to be in hell because in that place there are no investigations, no secretary of justice, no secretary of the interior to go after us.” What sort of treatment of a member of the ruling coalition was this? And of a national icon, at that? One who, we would do well to remember, never aspired to, or proclaimed himself, a saint.

The best the Liberal President at the time, Elpidio Quirino, could say to Avelino by way of a reply, was the uncomforting, “I am no saint…but when public opinion demands an investigation, we have to go through the formality of ordering one.” It displeased Avelino to the extent that he split the party. But because Pacman is a nice guy—and perfectly innocent, as he and his lawyers will you, the BIR, and the IRS—in 2010 Pacman only bolted the administration Liberals, aligned with Binay’s UNA, and after the elections, returned to the fold of the PDP-Laban which is now the ruling party.

Don’t get mad. Get even. He’s rolled with the punches and paid his dues, mocked in the past for his stand on reproductive health in 2015, deprived of lucrative endorsements for his homophobia in 2016, and now an increasingly divisive, because just another run-of-the-mill partisan figure since he was elected to office. But he matters. He is finally in his political element, giving up on trying to be clever and settling instead for being the bouncer of the ruling coalition.

Which brings us to another figure—a champion, in his own right, in terms of being a political survivor—who stole the limelight in Corsello’s piece: Chavit Singson. More Tony Montana of Scarface fame than the Don Viteo Corleone of Mario Puzo’s imagination, Chavit was, is, and will probably always be, the Godfather in every respect of The Pacman.

In Singson’s hometown of Vigan, there is a museum to himself, which includes a gallery filled with the preserved heads and stuffed corpses of the exotic animals Chavit’s killed. The man always comes out ahead. He fights to win. And he is untouchable. The Pacman likes many things, but big-game hunting doesn’t seem to be one of them. But he has his own gallery of stuffed and mounted (political) kills.

“Mr. President, I move that the chairmanship and members of the committee on justice be declared vacant.” Kapow! Goodbye, Leila de Lima. Hello, Dick Gordon.

“I move that the position of the Senate President Pro-Tempore be declared vacant.” Kablam! Goodbye, Frank Drilon. Hello, Ralph Recto.

“I move that the chairmanship and members of the committee on health be declared vacant.”

“I move that the chairmanship and members of the committee on agriculture be declared vacant.”

“I move that the chairmanship and members of the committee on education be declared vacant.”

Blam, blam, blam! Goodbye Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan, and Bam Aquino. Hello JV Ejercito, Cynthia Villar, and Chiz Escudero.

“Even Jesus Christ was sentenced to death because the government has imposed [the] death penalty.”

“You can dig copper but if you understand the first line [from Deuteronomy] there’s responsible, meaning responsible mining. But there is ‘responsible mining’ meaning I do not destroy the environment. I do not destroy the earth.”

Boom! God is with us. Because God helps those who help themselves.

Pacquiao the rags-to-riches boxer may once have spoken truth to power, achieving fame and fortune through determination and luck; but now he speaks the blunt language of power. In the era of the clenched fist, the national fist has come into his own.

Godfather Chavit, lest we forget, stood by the side of the man who is now president, at that shock-and-awe miting de avance in the Luneta on the eve of the May 2016 elections when the era of the clenched fist was proclaimed. Godfather Chavit and protégé Pacman stand by the side of that president, as he imposes tough love on the Filipino people. All three are the authentic face of the Philippines and its politics, beating its national pretensions to a pulp. It is a face at times hard, at other times smiling, but always tough.

Yet for Pacman, what sets him apart is that he has done with his fists what it took guns for his mentors to do: gain power. In that sense, his is the most authentic face of all. Whatever success or security most obtain or aspire to, they gain only with native cunning, striving, and the cultivation of friends. It does not come at the cost of other people’s lives. The same applies to Pacman: He may beat you, but he will never kill you.

Floating like a political butterfly and stinging like a bee, not just in the ring but in the session hall, is as good as life gets. In six—now going on seven—years after all, the Pacman managed to join and leave five parties, win elections twice as a congressman and once (so far) as a senator, establish a political dynasty (his brother, Pedro Pacquiao, now holds his old congressional seat), all without really having to do much of anything except be his happy self. In 2015, for example, his record for absenteeism surpassed even that of the chronically absent Jules Ledesma—which only goes to show that whether old money or new, provincial barons can end up very much the same: as carefree as a bird. And doing the Lord’s work, besides. With a clear conscience, to boot, as these things go. He hasn’t done more, or less, than anyone else holding a similar position—and he certainly has never gone as far as those who have taken him under their wing.

Truly, he is everyman; for rare is the person who hasn’t wanted to be somebody in this nation of obscurity. As Senator Pacquiao himself might say (in the process beating colleague Senator Allan Peter Cayetano to the punch), quoting Almighty Jesus himself (Matthew 6: 25-34), “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: They neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Amen? Amen, if your Honors please!

Mar 14

The Explainer: Advice and consent

Advice and consent

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Mar 14 2017 01:01 AM

John Hurt as Caligula exercising his creative imagination in making his horse a senator.

In recent days you’ve been watching the proceedings of the Commission on Appointments, where our old and new politics are on display, courtesy of the two legislators you saw at their best –and worst—during the confirmation hearing on Gina Lopez.

Rep. Ronnie Zamora is as old school as it gets: he doesn’t shout, he purrs; he is shrewd, he is smart, he knows the rules, and he is ruthless. He knows public policy and the law backwards and forwards.

For his part, Sen. Manny Pacquiao is the new face of our politics: he is popular, eager, welcomes tutoring and is willing to say what no else will say, precisely because he is popular. And he has a bible quote for every occasion.

Chances, in watching these men and their colleagues, are you belong to one of two camps: those who consider these two gentlemen defenders of competence and professionalism in the public service, or extortionists too chicken to go against public opinion, when what they really want to do is turn Lopez into organic fertilizer.

But whichever side you’re on, there’s actually a principle at work, and it’s best illustrated with a story from the ancient past.

In ancient Rome, the Emperor Caligula so loved his horse, Incitatus, that he provided it with a marble stall, an ivory manger for its food (which included oats mixed with gold flakes), a jeweled collar and even a house. Or so said the historians Suetonius and Cassus Dio. But Caligula also wanted to appoint his horse as a consul of Rome –though not a senator, as most of us might have heard. The only thing that stopped this outrageous appointment was Caligula’s assassination. Historians today aren’t so sure if this was ever true: though some suspect that Caligula, the type of politician we know all too well today, liked to say outrageous things to humiliate the establishment and make himself popular with the people.

So the principle is this: power is liable to abuse and the best way to temper it is by subjecting the powerful to the power of others, however abusive they might be, in turn, as it balances out in the long run in the public interest. We know this principle as the system of checks-and-balances.

Americans rely on the United States Senate, in the language of the US Constitution, to render “advice and consent” to presidential appointments, from members of the cabinet and other agencies, to ambassadors, and appointments to the Supreme Court

Last year, we marked the centennial of the Senate, and when it was established in 1916 all the way to 1935, it alone exercised the power of confirming or rejecting executive appointments, based on American system.

Our view of the Senate as the bulwark of checks-and-balances in terms of the executive, dates from this period. This includes the role the Senate played, as the highest body composed of Filipinos since the chief executive during that time was an American, the Governor-General.

The early to mid 1920s, in particular, featured repeated clashes with Governor-General Leonard Wood, who found his appointments going through fierce confirmation hearings in the Senate.

In 1935, the Senate was abolished and in its place, a unicameral National Assembly was set up. It had a Commission on Appointments composed of 21 members. But the National Assembly was weak, with a Speaker who was only a ceremonial figure, and the president even holding office regularly on its premises, acting as his own floor leader.

In 1938, proposals were made along three lines to amend the constitution. First, to change the term of the president from one six-year term without reelection, to a four-year term with one reelection allowed. Second, to establish a national Commission on Elections. And third, to go back to the bicameral setup for the legislature, with the restoration of the senate, which this time around would be nationally-elected. These amendments came to pass in 1940.

But politics as we know, is the art of the possible. A sweetener was needed, to convince assemblymen to give up their exclusive power to confirm or reject appointments. The sweetener came in the form of a bicameral Commission on Appointments, this time composed of 12 congressmen and 12 senators, with the Senate President as chairman who only voted in case of a tie.

Of course under martial law and the scrapping of the 1935 Constitution, the Commission on Appointments went extinct. In a parliamentary setup, there’s no such thing. Since prime ministers come from the ruling party in the parliament, and select fellow members of parliament to form the cabinet, no limits can be placed by the parliament on itself.

In 1987 the Constitutional Commission decided to go back to the bicameral setup. Oddly enough, it didn’t revisit the reason for having a bicameral Commission on Appointments when it restored the body. This is odd, because the political compromise it represented, dating to 1940, was no longer relevant. Instead, the 1987 Constitution took judicial appointments out of the hands of the Commission on Appointments.

For his part, Constitutional Commissioner and eminent legal thinker Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ has expressed the opinion that in the case of the judiciary, the Commission on Appointments system is still better than the Judicial and Bar Council, the alternative that was created by the present constitution. The reason is that while the old system was and will be highly political, it was more democratic and able to introduce public opinion; on the other hand, restricting the vetting and recommending of judicial appointments to a body dominated by the legal profession can be too clubby for the public good.

The process goes like this. When the President makes an appointment to the cabinet, constitutional commissions, diplomatic postings or the military, the names are submitted to the Commission on Appointments. The Constitution says this is actually an independent commission outside Congress, but composed only of members of the Senate and the House. They have to decide on whether to reject or conform the appointment made, within the session before or during which that appointment was made. To expedite matters, the Commission creates committees which renders a report; if the report is favorable the whole Commission then votes on the nomination.

This sounds straightforward but we are a society that dislikes saying no, so more often than not, if the Commission can’t or won’t say no, it says, let’s wait. This is what being bypassed means. When you’re bypassed, the Commission didn’t exactly reject you, but didn’t approve you, either. Presidents at this point have one of two choices: keep up the fight, and resubmit the name for confirmation, or beat a strategic retreat and decline to renominate that person.

Sometimes, even if the Commission is inclined to say yes, some members for whatever reason –including ego or past grudges– invokes the most fearsome of the Commission on Appointment’s rules: the infamous Section 20. This says any member of the Commission, without having to say why, can force the Commission to suspend consideration of an appointee already approved by one of the Commission’s committees. And here’s the trick –usually this is invoked on the last day of the hearing, which means the nominee ends up stuck in limbo until the next session.

Recently, the Commission has decided to explore something long desired by legislators but never put in practice until now: to institute a three strikes and you’re out rule, to prevent presidents and their allies from just submitting names over and over.

It remains to be seen who, if any, of the current crop of bypassed nominees, will be the first to feel the consequences of that rule before the current Congress expires in 2019.

Mar 08

The Long View: Bury him with the bodies


Bury him with the bodies

It seems to me that sincerity of faith is one of those things one has no choice but to take at face value. At least if you go beyond the “a-bible-verse-for-every-occasion as proof-of-faith approach.” After all, the Good Book itself warns that the devil can quote from scripture. To think otherwise leads you to one of two pointless exercises: building a bonfire in the Senate and proceeding to (literally) roast the witness; or taking turns acting out a scene from the Paris Commune of 1871:

The Tribunal: What is your profession?

The Jesuit: Servant of God.

The Tribunal: Where does he live?

The Jesuit: He is everywhere.

The Tribunal: Take this down. The accused, claiming to be the servant of one God, vagrant.

Let it not be said that the Senate majority is unthinking. Mockery is preferable to creating martyrs. That is why Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III kept the “kamao ng Senado” under a tight leash. Roll with the punches; don’t try to jab at someone with a motion for contempt the moment you’re dissatisfied with his reply.

Instead, confront Arturo Lascañas and even his lawyers, to accomplish two objectives: First, divert the discussion away from the confession and toward a pointless debate about religion-as-motivation for recanting previous testimony. Second, brush the whole thing aside as the latest installment in a tired, old script that formerly victimized the “Holy Trinity” of the ruling coalition composed of honest, outstanding public servants such as Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and that poor, misunderstood reformer, Ferdinand E. Marcos.

This required drawing out the proceedings, something easy to do considering that the political equivalent of the reptilian part of our brain that regulates basic functions is, in elected officials, the irresistible urge to grandstand and restate the obvious. The benefit of unnecessarily long and undisciplined proceedings is that several hours of testimony interrupted by grandstanding is the high probability  that the grandstanding could end up distilled into a 30-second to 5-minute gap covering the whole hearing: all that the evening news will permit to get in the way of show biz coverage.

But success for the ruling coalition also hinged on Monday’s drama being the first and last installment. Lascañas made his confession before his God and the country, and its elected leaders took turns jeering at him without taking the risk of digging into the actual allegations. He can now be buried in forgetting, along with the bodies he claims to have concealed in a quarry.

This is what I mean when I say that the ruling coalition is learning from the past. It ensured reports on the hearing would be 50 percent revelations, and 50 percent religious debate. It denied a continuing platform to corroborate the allegations. And it exercised self-control (and control of Sen. Manny Pacquiao) in verbally, but not procedurally, beating up Lascañas. Then it gaveled the hearings out of existence.

You can be sure that glasses were raised in celebration that night, whether in the majority caucus or in the Palace. Its nemesis Antonio Trillanes III is being gleefully presented in a manner resembling that of a Civil War general who once indignantly told his commander in chief, “I have not been defeated; I have merely failed to achieve victory.”

Yesterday, Sen. Francis Pangilinan tweeted that he wouldn’t hesitate to request the reopening of the investigation if other witnesses turn up. A big IF.

The most troubling about Arturo Lascañas is that he must surely be only one of many hitmen working for many local leaders with many more victims under their belts, applauded on the one hand by their constituents, and enjoying impunity because they are valuable allies for national leaders on the other. Meanwhile, anyone holding a contrary opinion is confronted with the possibility that expressing his mind could have lethal results. It is troubling because it leaves no one, and no institution, no faction, party, or movement, left with clean hands. No one, after last Monday, can ever claim they did not know, they could not imagine, or that they weren’t told.


Mar 07

The Explainer: Presidents and capital punishment

Presidents and capital punishment

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Mar 07 2017 12:26 AM

The execution of Lim Seng, 1973, from an Associated Press newsreel

Today, the House of Representatives will reach its moment of decision on reviving the death penalty. Up for plenary deliberation on Wednesday will be the death penalty bill, which restored capital punishment for violations of the anti-dangerous drugs law.

Last January 29 as part of our Inquirer Briefing, we focused on the three flavors of executions then being proposed, and the background of capital punishment in our country. The information I’m sharing with you as we survey past administrations, came from this page.

During the colonial period, the Spanish preferred the garotte, which broke your neck by means of a screw, for executions. This is how Gomburza were executed. Except, in cases of military court martial in which case firing squads were used: this is how Rizal and suspected Katipuneros were finished off.

Our First Republic debated the separation of Church and State but doesn’t seem to have considered capital punishment as a topic for serious discussion.

The Americans used hanging as the means for execution for people like Macario Sakay. But by the 1920s, the electric chair had been introduced.

When the modern presidency was established in 1935, capital punishment though in existence for much longer, had been in the Penal Code since 1886. It was a given, as just as it was elsewhere in the world, that the state had the right to take lives for those convicted of heinous crimes.

The only president before 1986 who expressed misgivings about the death penalty was Manuel L. Quezon.

In his autobiography, he wrote that the legend of the mother of Rizal climbing the stairs of Malacañan Palace on her knees, to beg for the life of her son, haunted him. He always commuted the death sentence before executions could take place.

An interesting point: every generation seems to have produced a hero who ended up executed or assassinated: Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Jose Abad Santos: all were condemned to death; while Ninoy Aquino had been condemned to death by musketry by the dictatorship then liquidated in an assassination.

But to return to our story, while a president might have stayed the hand of the execution, he did not push for the abolition of the death penalty. In fact, even during the crimes covered by the death penalty increased. In 1941, as war clouds gathered, espionage became a capital crime.

In 1957, subversion became a capital crime as part of a series of laws proposed by Ramon Magsaysay and enacted under Carlos P. Garcia, to toughen legislation against Communism.

During this period, from the end of World War II to Martial Law, the electric chair was the method of execution. Technically, the law provided for the electric chair to be replaced with the gas chamber, but this never seems to have happened.

In contrast to his predecessors who did not question the death penalty, but in many cases exercised executive clemency by commuting sentences and pardoning prisoners, Ferdinand E. Marcos was different.

After Martial Law was imposed, Marcos placed trials against enemies of his regime under the control of military tribunals instead of civilian courts. For this reason, death by musketry –the firing squad—became the preferred method for execution for shock and awe purposes. Lim Seng had been given a life sentence but in a rare act, Marcos increased the sentence to death.

But aside from the public execution of Lim Seng on January 15, 1973 who was convicted of manufacturing and distributing heroin, this hardly took place. Marcos would not commute death sentences but in some cases, such as Ninoy Aquino’s, he would not implement the sentence, dangling it as a potential threat.

For most of our presidents then, since 1935, capital punishment has been a given. Only presidents who were women made a point of advocating its abolition.

Thirty years after subversion was declared a capital crime, under Corazon Aquino, the Constitutional Commission abolished the death penalty –unless otherwise provided by law for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.

Those reasons were put forward by Fidel V. Ramos in 1993. Facing an epidemic of kidnappings and bank robberies, he proposed, and Congress enacted, the restoration of the death penalty.

Three years later, in 1996, Congress replaced the electric chair with lethal injection as the means for execution. The first subjected to lethal injection was Leo Echegaray in February, 1999: the first execution in 23 years. When the second execution, of Eduaro Agbayani, was due in June, 1999, Al Dingwall pointed out in a FaceBook comment that President Estrada supposedly desired to stay the hand of the executioner at the last possible moment. A call from the Palace was made, minutes before the planned execution time. It turns out a fax number had been dialed. By the time the mix-up was cleared up, and the correct number was called, it was too late.

That was last execution of a convict; President Estrada announced a moratorium on executions. Ten years after FVR revived it, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo called for the abolition of the death penalty, which Congress abolished again in 2006.

Since 2015, proponents of the death penalty have been active, and President Rodrigo Duterte made bringing back the death penalty part of his platform of government. He asked Congress to restore capital punishment for drug-related crimes in his first State of the Nation address.

At first, the House excitedly proposed a whole set of crimes that would carry with them the penalty of death: rape, piracy on the high seas, plunder, and so forth. After repeated caucuses the number of applicable crimes was cut, until only drug offenses remained covered. Removing plunder, in particular, caused a lot of head-shaking among the public.

For his part, the President seems okay with that but not okay with removing rape as a capital crime. But the House has decided, and all that remains is to see who among our representatives will dare vote against it. After that, the Senate will deliberate on the proposal –and on public opinion on the question.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.

Mar 01

The Long View: Reality bites


Reality bites

Last Monday the Frankenstein majority in the Senate reorganized itself, tearing off from its ranks the senators who dared show their faces in last Saturday’s Edsa People Power Monument rally. Veteran journalist Chuchay Molina-Fernandez made a tart observation on Facebook: You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, referring to the peculiarity of having senators who were out of place in the majority from the start.

At least now, the new minority is freed from such suspicions, while the new majority can take pride in echoing Thomas “The Boss” B. Reed’s (onetime US House speaker in the early 1900s) famous belief that “The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch.”

Even the grand ruling coalition is coming to realize the difficulties of dog-paddling in the deep end of the pool. Recall Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.’s effort to create a national movement to provide President Duterte with a more stable political organization than the fair-weather parties of provincial barons and business moguls. He got far, but not far enough, it seems. After an initial set of obliging executive issuances, the one that truly matters—providing a budget for the logistics of such a movement—never materialized. No money, no honey, not even for enticing retired or still active leftists with organizing experience to help kickstart the embryo movement.

Instead, the initiative seems to have passed to Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, who previously used the Alsa Masa strategy—in terms of people being the eyes and ears of government (not in terms of killing, he was quick to point out to the Philippine Star last July)—to promote public participation in governance. If Evasco pushed for Kilusang Pagbabago, Sueno has two: the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Committee (MRRD-NECC), which has vowed to “protect” the President, and a sub-organization Mamamayan Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga against drugs; while the Department of the Interior and Local Government is the moving force behind the People’s National Movement for Federalism, which is pushing the Federalist agenda. This three-pronged approach was supposed to produce shock and awe last Saturday.

Sueno’s Feb. 24 memorandum in fact mentioned that MRRD-NECC was going to “hold a vigil with candle lighting in all local government units” aside from the vigil in the Luneta on the Edsa anniversary. This is why, as the memo put it, “Your constituents who are willing to participate in the events may be organized for the purpose.”

Since the purpose of the memo was to encourage “support for the advocacies of the President,” it’s well worth considering that it provided the opportunity to accommodate the advocacy of at least two presidential advisers: a petition, to be formalized in meetings in public plazas throughout the country, for the President to proclaim a revolutionary government. Ideally, this would arm the President with the means to permanently neutralize his critics—as well as any institution agonizing over constitutional checks and balances, by abolishing the existing legal framework of government.

Such a shock-and-awe petition, however, needed a shock-and-awe event. This is what the Grand Rally at the Luneta was supposed to achieve. But the Manila Police District estimated crowd attendance from 3,000 at 4 p.m. to 215,000 at its height, 9-10 p.m. Organizers claimed 400,000 (one prominent Duterte supporter insisted it was 800,000)—in any event, a far cry from the MMDA and PTV4 forecast of 1.5 million (skeptics on Reddit, looking at drone footage, pegged attendance at 20,000; but supporters of the President were delighted that organizers estimated the Edsa rally at 6,000).

Joseph Estrada in 2000 tried a similar gambit. When the first Edsa Shrine rally was held in October, Estrada held a huge rally in the Luneta on Nov. 11 of that year. It produced shock and awe. Two days later, he was impeached in the House. But at least he had produced a truly massive turnout at the Luneta.

Last Saturday the President was left with a much smaller turnout than hoped for and sans a national petition to establish a revolutionary regime.


Feb 28

DeocracyPost: President Duterte’s honeymoon may be ending


President Duterte’s honeymoon may be ending

February 28

Manuel Quezon III is a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper and the host of the political affairs show “The Explainer” on the ABS-CBN TV news channel.

This past weekend, large crowds gathered in Manila and other parts of the Philippines, ostensibly to mark the 31st anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted president Ferdinand Marcos. For once, however, the country’s turbulent present succeeded in overshadowing its past.

It could hardly be otherwise, considering that the commemorations were taking place against the backdrop of current President Rodrigo Duterte’s continuing war on drugs and the related arrest of his leading critic. Duterte and his entourage were clearly aiming to use the weekend’s events to energize their supporters and put their critics on the defensive. But things didn’t quite turn out the way they had planned.

The backdrop of the weekend’s events couldn’t have been more dramatic. On Feb. 23, just as the country was gearing up to commemorate the 1986 revolution, a court issued an order for the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima on drug charges filed by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. The day before, Amnesty International had issued a statement describing the expected arrest as politically motivated. Amnesty noted, among other things, that the Duterte administration decided to prosecute de Lima for her alleged past crimes only after she had openly criticized the president’s anti-drug campaign.

Few in Manila take the charges at face value. De Lima and Duterte have a lot of history. The bad blood between the two of them dates to her 2008-2010 stint as head of the Commission on Human Rights, a position that allowed her to investigate allegations of widespread human rights violations committed in the southern city of Davao when Duterte was serving as its mayor. It was there that the future president first earned a national reputation by staging a ferocious crackdown on drug dealers and other criminals that flouted legal procedures.

A 2007 United Nations investigation into the allegations ultimately bogged down thanks to determined resistance from Davao officials. To Duterte’s fury, however, de Lima decided to look into the issue when she assumed the chairmanship of the commission. She identified 206 death squad killings between 2005 and 2009. Her successor completed the report she began and asked the National Bureau of Investigation (the Philippine equivalent of the FBI) to investigate further.

In 2015, de Lima resigned from the cabinet to run for the Senate in a national campaign that was dominated by Duterte’s presidential bid. A collision between the two was inevitable. Upon assuming office in June 2016, Duterte consistently cursed, mocked and attempted to shame de Lima (including through references to an alleged sex video) while his allies in the House of Representatives held hearings on her conduct. By December, the House had filed an ethics complaint against her in the Senate, preparing the way for her arrest — just in time for the anniversary of the People Power Revolution.

One might have expected the anti-Duterte camp to rise to the occasion, since de Lima’s predicament offers a vivid case study of the president’s campaign to undermine the country’s democratic institutions. On Feb. 25, a loose coalition of civil society groups, educators, millennials and activists staged a rally denouncing the recent political rehabilitation of the Marcoses. Some demanded the revival of peace talks with communist guerrillas. Others proclaimed their opposition to Duterte’s alarming war on drugs, which has claimed 7,000 lives (and counting). Still others expressed their indignation over the president’s recent proposals to revive the death penalty and to lower the age of criminal accountability to a mere 9 years.

And yes, some denounced the fate of de Lima. Yet the senator’s belated admission of an affair with one of her security personnel and even her emotional demeanor during news conferences have taken a toll on her personal acceptability in a still-conservative society.

Attendance at the rally was lower than the last anti-Duterte gathering in November 2016, when emotions were still riding high over the controversial reburial (complete with state funeral) of the late dictator Marcos in the country’s national cemetery. Back then, about 15,000 showed up to protest. On Saturday, only about 6,000 did — roughly the same number as those who showed up to support the president in his home town of Davao.

One might have expected the government to do everything it could to capitalize on the opposition’s weakness — and it did its best. Duterte’s office vowed to use its own commemorative events to show that the president still enjoys widespread support. The Department of the Interior sent a memorandum to all governors, mayors and village officials that blandly stated, “Your constituents who are willing to participate in the events may be organized for the purpose.”

The intent was clear: The administration was expecting local officials to do everything to organize a huge turnout. Presidential adviser Jose Alejandrino had already issued social media statements urging Duterte supporters to gather in public places around the country on Feb. 25 to demand “revolutionary powers” for the president. The government television station confidently tweeted that 1.5 million people were expected to turn up in Manila’s Rizal Park alone.

Yet despite the organizers’ best efforts — including the use of ambulances to ferry people to the site — the police settled on an estimated attendance of 210,000. (A local tech enthusiast who took a photo of the rallywith a drone concluded that the number was closer to 20,000.) Big, to be sure, but not even close to the gigantic turnout that had been predicted. And the nationwide gathering in public plazas to petition for a revolutionary government doesn’t seem to have materialized at all.

In fact, despite the government’s considerable resources and Duterte’s still buoyant approval ratings (83 percent, according to the most recent poll from December), there is a palpable sense in Manila that the political momentum is no longer entirely on the president’s side. For even as de Lima was preparing to face her persecutors, the convoluted tale of the Davao death squads took an extraordinary twist.

Back in September 2016, a self-confessed hit man named Edgardo Matobato had come forward to testify before the Senate Justice Committee, headed by de Lima. He testified that between 1993 and 2014, he participated in at least 12 attacks and murders in which then-Mayor Duterte was implicated. His testimony, however, was hotly disputed by a police officer named Arthur Lascanas. Senatorial allies of the president circled the wagons, evicted de Lima from her committee chairmanship and denounced Matobato as a fraud.

But on Feb. 20, Duterte’s past came back to haunt him yet again, when Lascanas returned to the Senate to recant his previous testimony, this time detailing the hit list and methods of the death squad allegedly acting on direct instructions from Duterte. The president’s senatorial allies were frankly astounded by this turn of events. The administration’s decision to jail de Lima was clearly aimed, in part, at pushing the Lascanas revelations out of the headlines.

Yet will that be enough in the long run? On Feb. 27, the president’s allies moved against senators who attended he anti-government rally by stripping them of their committee chairmanships. Duterte is clearly aiming for greater control of future proceedings — not least so that he can manage the fallout from the Lascanas case. Nonetheless, one key lawmaker, former police general Panfilo Lacson, announced that his committee will allow Lascanas to testify anyway on March 7.

Despite his best efforts, Duterte suddenly finds himself facing a sobering reality. The critics aren’t going away, and his supporters aren’t as easily mobilized as he had hoped. And that, for any government facing allegations of state-sanctioned killings, is a problem.

Feb 27

Answers to Heydarian’s Questions

Responses I gave to a questionnaire from Richard Heydarian:

Q. How does Duterte compare historically with his predecessors? what makes him unique?


Three things set him apart: age, with half a century separating his world-view, language, and thinking from the majority of the current population; purely local experience, which means all things are viewed through the lenses of the mayoralty, a position that allows far more impunity than most other positions; and the uniquely concentrated methods applied during three decades of local strongman rule: the bullet is the means by which the ballot is assured, not in terms of actual intimidation at the polls, but in the policies on which the candidacy has been anchored.

In these, he is very much a representative of traditional expectations of a president. Appearances matter: to be impatient, volcanic, ruthless (with enemies and supporters alike), decisive, bold and confident. As a people, we like that. To be willing to use the full arsenal of presidential power to decide, castigate, discipline, and rule. We expect that.

We also quickly tire of it and look for a new twist. Whether in the days when presidents still ran for reelection or since 1992, when outgoing administrations run proxies, the victory of a candidate is premised on what came immediately before. In 2016, Aquino was Hamlet, agonizing over difficult choices with a morbid frame of mind; Duterte is Richard III presently still at the stage of boasting that the winter of our discontent has been made (his) glorious summer. Hamlet was sincere, and can be exasperating; Richard III succeeded at first, but was ultimately brought down by that old nemesis of patriarchs, hubris.

Al McCoy recently delivered a lecture in UP pointing to a desire for order –and the promise of being able to impose and maintain it—as a defining characteristic of presidencies that have dominated the popular imagination. A quote from the past is useful to illustrate this: “The people care more for good government than they do for self-government… the fear is that the Head of State may either exceed his powers, or abuse them by improprieties. To keep order is his main purpose.” (Manuel L. Quezon, as quoted by Francis Burton Harrison in his diary entry for December, 23 1938.)

Q. Do you see direct threat to democracy under current administration?


I do believe people are responsible for their actions but the system can also create a recipe for crisis.

The democracy restored in 1987 with the new constitution already showed itself as flawed from the start, with a reactive, and not proactive, attitude towards government and its institutions. Its hyper-detailed provisions as a reaction to the dictatorship removed the fundamental requirement of all constitutions –the means to revisit and revise its provisions as time reveals challenges its drafters could not anticipate. Nor was it able to fully flesh out and give teeth to those provisions that were new and boldly reformist.

The result is a paralyzing combination: neither the political class, which, like all political classes is obsessed with holding power, nor the public, which can agree on broad themes (accountability, results, honesty in public service) but disagrees on the particulars that need to be changed, can figure out how to improve the system because the system has proven nearly-impossible to change as far as the constitution is concerned. The political class responds with a hard-headed, repeated, effort to find loopholes which enrages the population. Mercifully, there are enough scheduled electoral confrontations (mid-terms, presidential elections) to periodically let off steam.

One could also add, another unintended consequence of this paralyzing situation: the absence of runoffs in a multiparty presidential race, which results in minority presidencies saddled with all the responsibility but with limited authority because of the absence of a majority mandate. We see this in the traditional realignment of the House after every presidential election, when the old majority becomes the new majority almost instantly, but confronted with a senate that usually, more accurately represents the electoral and factional divisions in the country. Yet the political class’ short-sighted response is to keep insisting on unicameralism and even parliamentarism, which are merely changes for the convenience of the political class and not a quest for a more representative government.

Both the president and an organized subsection of his support base, either hint at, or actively promote, a revolutionary government. In that sense they have a cohesive plan with a clear outcome. Critics of the president do not have either an overarching plan (not even whether he ought to be impeached, neutralized in the mid-term elections, or worse –for our democracy at least—simply ousted). The president is nearly monomaniacal about the war on drugs, but his critics are neither organized enough, nor prepared, to attempt to present a comprehensive set of alternative solutions.

In the meantime, the space for debate has shrunk, and the traditional platforms for discussion are shrinking, too. There has been a continuous threat to democracy for thirty years, ever since the system itself failed to provide for the means to periodically revisit its rules for political engagement. What has accelerated is the decline of civic consciousness. In that sense it can be argued that frustration with the system, which merely jolts from a phase of mild reformism to another phase of irresponsible populism then back again, fuels the acceleration of democratic decline: from all sides, mind you, whether People Power on one side (a decline because it would nullify a democratic election) or revolutionary schemes (which by their nature will destroy more liberties than it can ever hope to foster afterward) on the other.

Q. As a former admin official, how do you understand the seeming popular backlash (or lack of appreciation) for the previous admin?


The quote from Harrison provides the context for addressing this question. The most heavily NGO-oriented government in a generation engaged in a lot of processing, which NGOs love, but its significant reform initiatives proved an abstraction to too many. Programmatic reform, to use NGO-speak is vital, but viewed with suspicion the life-blood of all elected regimes: to undertake tangible improvements not on what is needed, but in the things the public deems important, too. So, essentially a boring six years with few major scandals, but too many appeals for patience as things were being fixed in a painstaking –and painstakingly slow—manner, particularly for things that mattered to the urban middle class.

Another story illustrates my point. Leading up to the mid-term election in 2013, I visited Camiguin and saw a huge amount of public works going on. Yet administration allies were worried they might lose the election, despite the signs of construction all around the island. Why was this the case, I asked. Because, one barangay official said, the President and the administration refuses to put its names and faces on billboards; we aren’t getting credit for what’s going on. But people can’t ignore it’s being done, I replied. Yes, but DPWH is not a candidate, was the response.

Most of all, some policies represented an existential threat to significant factions. PPP was one, threatening the cycle of dependence with all politicians, regardless of affiliation. The China policy was another, to some segments in private business and those in the political class who’d found Chinese support useful for regime survival in 2005. The third was a simple case of demographic inevitability: six more years of the 2010 coalition would permanently close off the prospects for the septugenarians who’d been repudiated back then.

Yet the larger part of the electoral whole, we forget, was focused on the continuation of the broad policies of the 2010 administration, but divided on who was best equipped to pursue it. At first, the then-Vice President flew the populist flag, but this was left tattered by allegations of corruption. It took Mayor Duterte and his GMA-FVR-Marcos coalition to pledge both restoration of the status quo, and to reframe the election as one about confronting the existential threat of drugs.

The result was a repudiation of the administration in May.

 Q. What do you think was the true (good and also points of mistakes/deficit) of Aquino?



Six years of a presidency personally uninterested in self-aggrandizement was a necessary and welcome relief. The record in terms of infrastructure outside Metro Manila was respectable and untainted by corruption. Radically expanding 4Ps, Education reform (K to 12), Reproductive Health, a Competition Commission, synchronizing ARMM with national elections, an independent and trusted Ombudsman, military reform were difficult and historic achievements.


There was an overdose of the Cult of Cory and Ninoy, and overkill on Yellow particularly on the part of older members/organizations of the coalition. The dead therefore became responsible for the living and the living restrictively colored opinion of the dead.

There was a horror of lawsuits and corruption that led to so many restudies of key infrastructure projects in metropolitan areas, that it fostered a belief among businessmen and the middle class that a decisive, even if corrupt, administration would be preferable to an honest one that inconvenienced the public. There was, because of the macro approach to problem solving, a grating dismissal of some public concerns such as traffic, the MRT/LRT (and solutions did not happen in time to change public opinion), and management of the PNP did not match the discipline and professionalism that characterized the handling of the AFP.

“Kayo ang boss ko” was a mistake, and one that grated on the nerves. First, because there were enough spectacularly inept appointments to overshadow everything else, particularly in the last year of the administration, so it made the phrase a hollow one. Second, it went against the grain of public expectations of the presidency, as discussed above.

The administration failed to hold the Center, politically. This should not be confused with what remains an unmatched record, to date, for good public opinion throughout the life of the past administration, and the generally high opinion people retain for the former president. But his time was up, his coalition melted away, proving that the only permanent thing is a desire for change.

Q. In short, how could someone like Duterte win after years of reform under Aquino.


It mustered a more cohesive, ruthless, and adaptable minority that, however, was larger, and more motivated than the other minorities. It reframed the entire election as one about order. It consolidated the factions: Ramos, Arroyo, Marcos/Estrada, the Left, to reverse the verdict of 2010. It pledged non-stop excitement after a dull, NGO-oriented six years.


Feb 27

The Explainer: Double disappointment

Double disappointment

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Feb 27 2017 07:32 PM

Last Saturday, in between a K-Pop concert in Cubao and the Great British Festival in BGC and many other weekend events, two rallies were held.

One was in the Edsa People Power Monument. The other one was at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park.

Both, it seems, were a disappointment to some people.

It wasn’t for lack of hot copy, much to the irritation of both sides. Jim Paredes had a face-off with a group that, when it isn’t shaking hands with Ferdinand Marcos Jr., calls itself the Duterte Youth.

At the Quirino Grandstand, Sandra Cam said it’s good to kill, Senator Cayetano called for a rebranding, then the resumption, of the war on drugs, and Secretary Aguirre revealed his brand of justice when he asked the people who they wanted to see behind bars next.

But lost in these cringe-worthy details are the two problems they represent. Thirty-one years after EDSA, people still have to take to the streets to make their displeasure known, and in the same period governments still have to issue memorandums inviting local government units to attend pro-administration rallies –an offer no LGU can refuse.

So, while some enjoyed the way police estimates changed within the span of an hour, and others rolled their eyes when PTV4 predicted a turnout of 1.5 million.

Officially, it was slightly above half of that. Unofficially, there’s always fake news, courtesy of an impostor ABS-CBN site.

As for those at the Edsa Monument, there weren’t as many as last November, some complained. Since when, in a democracy, did going out and standing up for a cause, not matter? Since when did taking baby steps for different groups to know each other and explore the hard work solidarity requires, become a waste of time? Because it did take effort, with no single group having the means to command attendance by mere memorandum.

What does matter, though, is both represent action and reaction based on the same template, when that template has become problematic. Whenever people get irritated enough to set comfort aside and rally for a cause, governments panic. February 2017 is like November 2000, when Joseph Estrada held a huge Luneta rally to answer an Edsa Shrine one.

I am referring to our love-hate relationship with Edsa, and People Power. We tried it thrice: successfully in 1986, with mixed results in 2001, and as a total flop in 2006. We often hear, and I agree, that we should have moved on to the hard work of accomplishing change through our institutions.

But you know what, we actually did. More or less. We expressed our views at the polls in 1992 and 1998, less successfully in 2004, without a doubt in 2010 and 2016, and in the midterm elections in between.

Personally, I prefer the Marx brothers, but let me quote the more famous, unsmiling, Marx. Referring to an idea by the philosopher Hegel, Karl Marx observed that “personages appear, so to speak, twice,” adding, “He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

He was referring to Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of the original.

He could also be referring to rallies and counter-rallies, because not since 1986 have we had a clear idea of what we wanted, which was to topple the tyrant, and replace his government, whatever the cost.

So turnout isn’t the disappointing thing. It’s that the two colliding points of view are being put forward in ways that are three decades old. Simply put: for many at Edsa, the problem is the president. At the grandstand, the problem according to those making the speeches, is everyone against the president.

Here’s what everyone overlooks: the problem is that behind the grandstand was a plan, and that plan is the proclamation of a revolutionary government. A revolution from the center, if you will, as someone named Ferdinand Marcos once put it. What is problematic about that is people power, love it or hate it, doesn’t matter much in the opening scenarios of such a plan.

To be sure, the first instincts of the administration was a democratic one: to amend the constitution. Here’s the problem with that plan, the same problem other proposals by previous administrations faced: the means to amend the constitution aren’t clear, or, to be precise, will require all sorts of confrontations both in Congress and the courts, that only spark public suspicion as to both means and motive.

In a country that self-confesses to constitutional ignorance, the past 30 years have demonstrated the implications of that ignorance that, sad to say, might extend to those who drafted the constitution. A constitutional democracy is supposed to contain the means to revisit its provisions. Events have proven the near-impossibility of this. Thus, thirty years of increasingly expensive, zero-sum confrontations leading to a deadlock among factions is the result.

So, people have to take to the streets to try to break the deadlock.

Feb 25

SpotPH Commentary: What if Marcos Won?


What if Marcos Won?

And more what-ifs.

( Ferdinand E. Marcos was literally sick and tired during the EDSA Revolution. From start to finish, he believed he could face down his opponents and master the situation. If you read accounts of those fateful days, Marcos may have been at times weak, feverish, and exhausted, but the decisions were his to make; what changed was that fewer and fewer people, as the days unfolded, were willing to implement those decisions until at the very end, the only decision left for him to make was the one to flee the Palace.

We have lived with EDSA stories for so long we tend to fail to pause, and think: “What if?” What if certain things did not unfold as they did? EDSA was the result of snap decisions made by millions of people, as they confronted a chaotic situation. To my mind there were 10 instances when Marcos could have retrieved the situation: three of them prior to February 1986, and seven during the EDSA Revolution itself.

The first was Marcos’ decision to call for a snap election, which he announced—against the advice of his family and closest advisers—on David Brinkley’s show in November 1985. He’d been under siege for three years by an opposition united in the wake of Ninoy Aquino’s murder. He was already suspicious of Fidel V. Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile, the economy had tanked, and he’d been very sick, having had kidney transplants in 1983 and 1984. Yet he had maintained an overwhelming majority in the Batasan elections the previous year, and his term of office was only due to expire on June 30, 1987. So when the Americans suggested in October to Marcos that he hold a snap election, he could have said no; but he said yes.

Marcos had once said Filipinos will “accept any kind of radical reform provided it is constitutional and legal.” A steady stream of decrees, orders, plebiscites, and government reorganizations from 1972 onwards emphasized he was the law and possessed legitimacy. He could brush off criticism as envious nit-picking. Holding a snap election required political maneuverings in the Batasan to allow it, which irritated the more self-respecting among his allies; it also handed his opponents an opportunity for a showdown on a silver platter.

As Guy Sacerdoti once put it, “Desperate to retain the draconian powers he once had, Marcos was forcing the ‘silent majority’ he thought backed him to choose sides. Businessmen, priests, the usually conservative church hierarchy and even the comfortable middle class were slowly realizing that the more radical way was the only way.” After all, Marcos could have given everyone a breather, but here he was, suddenly insisting on a showdown. Anyone hoping Marcos would be too sick, old, or mellow to go past 1987 suddenly had to consider six more years of Marcos if he won.

Forcing people to choose meant people looked beyond their political leadership to determine which side to take. With the Catholic bishops’ proclamation that a government that resorted to fraud had lost its moral legitimacy, Marcos lost what the Chinese call “the mandate of Heaven,” which erased the value of Marcosian legalism. What if Marcos hadn’t called for a snap election? He might have had different options a year down the road. His snap decision to call a snap election also came with what he thought was a snappy response to suggestions he intended to rig the results: “You’re all invited to come,” he told Brinkley’s show, and said the U.S. Congress could send observers, too. This guaranteed that Ronald Reagan’s inclination to support Marcos would be challenged by senators, congressmen, and diplomats.

The second “what if” was the acquittal of Gen. Fabian Ver on December 2, 1985, and reinstating him as AFP Chief of Staff on February 16, 1986, which further polarized the military, including the Vice Chief of Staff, Fidel V. Ramos. Did he have a choice? Probably not, whether in terms of pure loyalty or ruthlessness. Marcos needed Ver; he needed him declared innocent and he needed him back in charge of the AFP. Still, in the end, the comeback of Ver made it easier for Ramos to split away, with Ramos proving the better commander.

The third “what if” is if Cardinal Sin had failed to unite the opposition: Doy Laurel and Eva Estrada Kalaw would have continued their candidacy, possessing the bulk of the opposition machinery. Cory Aquino might have opted to stay in, armed with the 1.5 million signatures collected by Chino Roces. But both she and Cardinal Sin would likely have been weakened, affecting their ability to influence events, not to mention that a continuing split in the opposition might have salvaged the situation for National Democratic Front, validating the communist’s belief that it was better to boycott the snap elections.

The fourth was the decision of the Commission on Elections to recognize the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections, forgetting the experience of its chairman, Jaime Ferrer, in the landslide win of Magsaysay in 1957 which neutralized the government’s machinery at the time. The organization put up a national network that could rival the Commission on Election’s (COMELEC), which alone had called the shots up to that point. Combined with Marcos’s self-confident invitation to election observers from abroad, it made it practically impossible to frame election protests as sour-graping on the part of the opposition, which had been how the COMELEC handled things prior to 1986.

The fifth was the decision to detain the bodyguards of Minister Roberto Ongpin, which tipped off the Reform the Armed Forces Movement that Ver knew something was afoot. Through his son, Col. Irwin Ver, the AFP chief had discovered a coup attempt was scheduled, and they learned the details of the plan. They had an exciting scenario to respond to it: They would allow the attack to proceed, but as Gringo Honasan and friends zoomed up the Pasig River to attack the Palace, Bongbong Marcos would dazzle them with floodlights, and tell them to surrender. Then loyal soldiers hidden in the Palace would pop out and it would be game over for Gringo.

Instead, Ongpin panicked, called Marcos, called Enrile, who called Ramos, and so on. Combined with the ocular inspection Gringo Honasan and friends made around Malacañan (at which point they realized Ver was reinforcing the places that the Reform the Armed Forces Movement [RAM] was planning to use as entry points to the Palace), it destroyed the advantage Gen. Ver had enjoyed up to that point—that of surprise. Catching Honasan in the act of attempting a coup—then rounding up the leaders, would have handed a colossal propaganda victory, which could have rallied the military and police, put the opposition on the defensive, solidified American official opinion, and that of public opinion, too: because the only thing possibly worse than continuing Marcos’s rule would be to transfer power to an even more ruthless junta.

The sixth “what if” was Jaime Cardinal Sin calling on the public to protect the putschists who’d holed up in Camps Aguinaldo and Crame. What if Sin lost his nerve, or people didn’t heed his call? What if Butz Aquino went, and no one followed? What if other bishops lost their nerve or broke ranks? Some accounts have it that the Papal Nuncio conveyed Rome’s opposition to Cardinal Sin weighing in on the unfolding crisis, but was ignored. Marcos loyalists in the hierarchy were intimidated into silence as a result.

If Cardinal Sin hadn’t acted quickly, if he’d dilly-dallied on making his call, the government could have moved in and isolated the two camps. If the Cardinal lost his nerve or failed to convince people, then Cory Aquino’s decision to throw her support behind the trapped coup plotters might not have happened.

The seventh “what if” involves Fabian Ver’s military incompetence in surrounding the Palace with troops so that, when they were ordered to go forth and disperse the people at EDSA, a giant traffic jam resulted, delaying troop movements, with reinforcements arriving adding to the traffic snarl created by troops trying to move out.

The eighth was the disobedience of Gen. Prospero Olivas on February 22, the defection of choppers and the Navy to the rebels, and the unwillingness of the Marines to plow through the people on EDSA on February 24, and Col. Braulio Balbas’ repeated refusal to fire his artillery at Camp Crame despite repeated orders from Gen. Josephus Ramas, and the air force’s refusal to bomb Camp Crame, attacking Malacañan instead.

Marcos himself called Gen. Olivas five times on the 22nd, ordering him to disperse people gathering outside Camp Aguinaldo. After he was disobeyed the first, second, or even third time, he or Ver could have dismissed Olivas and found an obedient general. The foot-dragging resulted in the initiative passing to the rebels as more and more people showed up outside the military camps and one by one, entire units changed sides, crucially including the Air Force and Navy. By February 24, helicopter gunships landed in Aguinaldo to join the rebels instead of attacking them.

And the tenth “what if” was the loss of control over mass media. The first blow had been the rise of the “mosquito press,” which meant people were reading any paper except the crony-owned. The Catholic Church maintaining its own radio station meant control over the airwaves was never total to begin with. The control of TV was lost. Angry that Channel 4 had announced he’d fled the country, Marcos declared a state of emergency and then a curfew nationwide on evening of February 24: but by then, the strongman was reduced to looking impotent, issuing proclamations to a public that neither feared nor obeyed him anymore.

Whether due to being dulled by disease, or simply due to having to deal with too many events unfolding at the same time, Marcos had ordered Radio Veritas taken off the air only on the 23rd, when the crucial call by Cardinal Sin for the public to save the failed putschists had already been made. And even when Veritas was attacked, by the 24th, Radyo Bandido was broadcasting from a building along Magsaysay Boulevard practically overlooking the Palace. Marcos was increasingly off the air, or having to share air time with the Filipino people, who found bravery contagious.

So in the end, abandoned, fearful, and in adult diapers, the Great Dictator tried to bargain his way to Ilocos but instead ended up listening to his wife nervously singing “New York, New York” as they made their flight into exile in Hawaii.

During those feverish hours, he must have replayed, over and over, the moments when things might have gone otherwise for him.

What if, indeed. If Marcos had won in February 1986, there would have been a reckoning. Whether we believe he tried—and failed—to proclaim Martial Law in the closing days of his regime, or that an actual plan to round up and imprison opposition figures in Carballo Island in Manila Bay are true or not, flush with victory, neither Marcos nor his allies would have been kind.

We also often forget that after the fraudulent results of the snap election became known on February 15, 1986, the opposition launched a boycott of crony corporations the next day. The day after that, crony banks were experiencing massive withdrawals of deposits, crony papers were losing advertising, food and beverage product sales plunged (as did the Philippine Peso). The day after that, Ver discovered RAM’s coup plot. By February 20, the United States had announced all foreign aid to the Philippines would cease while Marcos remained president, while 15 foreign ambassadors publicly signaled their country’s attitudes by paying a visit on Cory Aquino. RAM decided it had better go ahead with its coup on February 23.

Even if Marcos had crushed the RAM coup attempt, and there had never been an EDSA, there was still the massive campaign of civil disobedience that had been launched, which is why Cory Aquino was in Cebu when Enrile and Ramos holed up in Camps Crame an Aguinaldo. How that might have unfolded, is another big “what if.”

Feb 22

The Long View: Hitler’s willing executioners


Hitler’s willing executioners

/ 12:28 AM February 22, 2017

That is the title of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s 1996 book where he argued that the Holocaust could only have taken place if a lot more people were involved in it, and not just the SS and the Gestapo of the Third Reich. Goldhagen painfully detailed how the murders required the participation of the German army and police, or other Europeans collaborating with the Nazis.

Reviewing the book, Peter Pulzer seized on the defense later given by soldiers and policemen: They simply obeyed orders. There is a German word for this blind obedience, he said—Kadavergehorsam,” literally, “obedience unto death.” This excuse is now known as the “Nuremberg Defense” because it was invoked during the trial of the Nazi leadership after World War II.

Today, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Article 33) states that obeying orders does not diminish responsibility for crimes unless the person was legally obligated to obey, or if the person didn’t know the order was unlawful, or “was not manifestly unlawful” but in any case, genocide and crimes against humanity must always be considered manifestly unlawful.

This reveals the soldier’s dilemma: Obey, or be court-martialed. But how to make the determination of an illegal in a hurry? Obey, unless it is quite obviously illegal. When in doubt, demand an order in writing.

The Holocaust Denier David Irving has spent years flamboyantly challenging historians to produce written evidence that Hitler ordered the extermination of the Jews. The paper trail, he claims, extended only to Hitler’s henchmen, Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering. (Anyone wanting to know more would do well to watch two films: HBO’s “Conspiracy” about the Wannsee Conference, and the recently-released “Denial,” about Irving’s libel suit against historian Deborah Lipstadt.) Historians counter by pointing out it was in the nature of the dictatorship for Hitler to order verbally what he would not put down on paper; the actions of a government under his total control speak for themselves as to Hitler’s culpability and intent.

Back to Pulzer, his review found Goldhagen’s repeated assertion (that the policies of Hitler were very popular) problematic.

A similar debate pops up from time to time about the Marcos dictatorship. If, for example, the dictator rigged the plebiscites he repeatedly called to validate his rule, then their results suggest neither popularity nor anything other than the suppression of actual public opinion. Given the fact that referendums, news and opinions were all tightly-controlled by a regime that thrived on fear, how could anyone tell popularity apart from propaganda?

In a sense, poring over public opinion survey results on  the national leadership and war on drugs brings up a similar dilemma. The war and its supreme leader are popular; yet the people feel anxiety and fear; then what kind of popularity can there be, built on such foundations?

All these raise the combined question of what happens when a leader, through informal orders, turns the entire state apparatus against a section of the population, relying on the obedience of subordinates to implement the leader’s desire for mass slaughter.

Two recent events reveal two ways to handle such orders. The first was the public confession the other day of Arthur Lascañas, who, against all self-interest (remember, he has admitted to committing perjury and murders that open him up for prosecution): Here, informal orders are fulfilled by people in authority. The second was the public reluctance of the Armed Forces to participate in the war on drugs unless it received explicit orders, and its decision to designate a battalion-strength unit to “support” PDEA in its antidrug operations.

Written orders make the one giving the order (the commander in chief) liable while they act as “insurance”  against liability for the military (the soldiers have to comply); absent that, they will, as they always have, limit their exposure to the methods of the police by supporting operations, but ensuring they hand over any suspects alive. What happens afterwards is the police’s problem and accountability.


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