The Long View: Mimicry as survival mechanism

THE LONG VIEW

Mimicry as survival mechanism

 / 05:05 AM April 03, 2019

 

As strong as, and in many instances, even stronger than, the formal rules, are the informal ones that govern behavior. This applies to politics as much as any other human activity. It’s been said practically forever that if there’s one thing Filipinos won’t give up, it’s elections. Not out of any particular love for democracy, but because of the commercial and increasingly mercenary prospects elections guarantee every few years.

A few years from now, you’ll find that a few academic journal articles will have actually probed this, but quietly, ensuring no real danger to their authors who will be quoted by fellow academics but otherwise unnoticed by the public and the politicians.

For now, we have what we have, which is the noise pollution to prove that jingle-writing, recording and playing are reasonably good income generators; so is poster-printing and that analog foundation for computerized tabulations, the printing of sample ballots. The up-and-coming industry, however, as anyone traversing the Ortigas-Edsa corner will know, is that of LCD billboards which, so far, have proven beyond the comprehension (or clutches) of the Commission on Elections. And the truly big money, it will someday be revealed, has stampeded away from the TV networks and radio stations to YouTube, even as Facebook has scuttled the big administration network which, technologically speaking, was getting a bit long in the tooth, anyway.

The past three years has traumatized most normal (meaning, nonpolitically obsessed) people, who are more likely to share their thoughts with friends and family not on Facebook, but in instant messenger applications less likely to be susceptible to organized infiltration (though the Facebook of today is Instagram and “influencers” on the take).

But just as 2016 marked the end of anyone even trying to go through the motions of putting forward a platform, 2019 marks the end of parties as a national phenomenon. They are what some would say they’ve been all along for some time: personal, at most regional, vehicles. This is demonstrated not by the opposition but the administration, which has a nominal national party shell, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which has been so gutted and disregarded as to be relevant only to the extent they provided a vehicle for the President’s pet candidates (Caligula’s horse, Bong Go, mainly). Everyone knows, however, that the influence and action are in the regional jumble of an alliance known as Hugpong ng Pagbabago, which is carting around its own bloated slate—bigger than the official administration one, and more interested in doing the opening act of the trial balloon candidacy of the President’s daughter.

It’s become such a charade that a Magic Otso administration slate has materialized, riding on the public’s familiarity with the Otso Diretso slate of the opposition. Which basically tells you the opposition has succeeded — the concept of “Voting Straight Eight” is one people are aware of, though the same can’t be said of the actual names of the candidates. But the administration is hobbled by the fact that it has three slates: the President’s own pets, the coalition of regional barons known as Hugpong, and the passé, formerly formal ruling coalition known as PDP-Laban. All sides seem to concede that the President’s pets plus one or two big-name incumbents are in, and everyone is left scrambling for the remaining eight slots.

But ironically, this tells you that much as all sides seem to have given up on even pretending national parties exist, their current problems reveal how at this point, at least, cobbling together ad hoc coalitions of local kingpins can’t quite cut it. The President is using his national office, and the nationwide network that office commands, to simulate what a party ought to do, he himself being only capable of supporting a couple of names at most.

The opposition, starved and terrorized as it is, can reasonably count on at least two, possibly three, winners. The big incumbents are known enough to be confident of winning. But the end result? More of the same, which isn’t necessarily in the President’s favor — or that of his daughter’s embryonic presidential run. The only possible surprises are possible opposition wins, against the odds.

Who else, on the other hand, aside from Caligula’s horse, can claim either Caligula or his daughter made their victory possible? Powerful incumbents aping the opposition shows they’ve reached the conclusion that it’s every candidate for himself or herself.

 

The Long View: The Mahatma of Malacañang

THE LONG VIEW

The Mahatma of Malacañang

 / 05:04 AM March 27, 2019

 

A Great Soul — a Mahatma — is what Gandhi was once called. But as you, dear reader, will see, we have a Great Soul of our own who doesn’t waste any time on peace-loving foolishness. Consider the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.”

“Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood,” you, gentle reader (and Emerson’s interlocutor at the time), might say. To which Ralph Waldo (Emerson, that is) had this to say: “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

And is not the President great? Not for nothing has he been called the Great Eagle Father. A Mahatma in full flight. See him soar.

But former deputy director for administration of the Philippine National Police Drug Enforcement Group (DEG) Eduardo Acierto has dared to accuse the President, as well as former PNP chief and administration senatorial candidate Ronald dela Rosa, of having dismissed an intelligence report he submitted on Michael Yang and a Chinese, Allan Lim, allegedly being involved in drugs.

For critics of the President, Acierto’s statement is nothing less than one of the biggest connect-the-dots exposés ever, at least since those of Arturo Lascañas and Edgardo Matobato. But to those for whom the President is the Great Eagle Father, the exposé is nothing but character assassination by a disgraced crook. Acierto was ordered dismissed by the Ombudsman in 2015, not over drugs but over a deal between the PNP Firearms and Explosive Office, to which he belonged at the time, and a courier company called Werfast. (He was reinstated after an appeal, but dismissed again in 2018 over firearms that were licensed but later found with the New People’s Army.)

For them, being the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful Chief Executive — in other words, the Mahatma or Great Soul of Malacañang — means the President, even when he is wrong, is right, because by being wrong, he rights other wrongs. Confused? Let us stipulate that as one name for the liquidation scheme (Oplan Double Barrel) suggests, the so-called war on drugs takes a shotgun approach. There will be, as the President has told us frankly, collateral damage.

Let us also stipulate what the President has also said, that he was shocked — shocked! Dismayed! — to discover that some policemen were liquidating people without regard to his own carefully crafted rules of engagement. Two years ago, the President even shifted antidrug operations from the police to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) because of this.

Third, the President himself has pointed to various government agencies as the sources of information for his lists, saying he trusts them. This means that the escape clause in such statements is that it is entirely possible that officials will, from time to time, turn out to have abused the President’s trust.

With all of the above, he is right when he publicizes lists, and right when he says other lists, or even his own list, are wrong. And so, witness the Great Eagle Father in full Mahatma mode. Mike Rama appeared on a list, then the President raised his hand on Feb. 24, in an apparent act of endorsement for the May midterms (Rama is running for vice mayor, in what a SunStar item said was due to “the cloud of doubt raised by Mr. Duterte’s list”).

When the President says he speaks from personal knowledge, he is a lot more categorical, because he is right about others being wrong. Recall last October, when the President was asked about his supposed adviser, Michael Yang, being suspected of involvement in the drug trade. The President reacted by releasing a dossier on law enforcers suspected of being crooks. Reports were chock-full of photos of the intrepid Yang with the President, and his having reportedly attended the baptism of Nicanor Faeldon’s child.

While there is a growing number of officials accused of either coddling or turning a blind eye to, or being hapless in the face of, the smuggling of drugs, consider Isidro Lapeña or Nicanor Faeldon. The President, too, has, from time to time, intervened to clear them of any possible wrongdoing. It all makes sense—ask Emerson (Margate or Rosales, both of them directors in PDEA, that is).

 

The Long View: Go Diokno go

THE LONG VIEW

Go Diokno go

 / 05:06 AM March 20, 2019

 

Back in 2010, the Manila Standard’s Laylo surveys revealed that when voters were asked the most helpful means in deciding whom to vote for, they responded by saying, the news — specifically, on TV (83 percent; less than 10 percent said radio, only 2 percent said the papers). Asked about their top trusted sources of news, two out of three replied “TV Patrol,” and its rival, “24 Oras.” The third top trusted source of news: “Wowowee.” Similarly on radio, Bombo Radyo and dzRH appeared together with Love Radio on FM; for the papers, it was the Inquirer and Manila Bulletin, with the tabloid Bulgar.

So we have the boost to former and perhaps future senator Lito Lapid, courtesy of his cameos in “Ang Probinsyano.” But the biggest news — and proof, perhaps, of that old saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity — is the fate of two other polar opposites in the ongoing senatorial race: Bong Go (“The horse Caligula wants to make a senator,” one wag from an older generation put it) and Chel Diokno (whose quip on who he will give the last life vest to — Gloria Macapagal Arroyo or President Duterte—on a sinking ship, spoke truth to power by saying he might as well be the one to take it).

The desiccated coconut known as the presidential spokesperson was asked what accounted for Go’s going up in the polls, and he ventured a guess: He’s always seen with the President, so that helps. But lots of aides have been seen with presidents, yet the public does not have any idea who those people are, which was precisely Go’s case at the start of the buzz over the coming campaign. Go enjoyed hardly any awareness at the time.

There are tales aplenty as to how Go went to solve this problem, essentially revolving around tried-and-tested activities: going everywhere, and practically every politically involved person has some sort of Go story to tell, whether it’s his appearing in obscure barrio events (appearing at the crowning of the local beauty queen, and making an impromptu song-and-dance-featured pitch for an hour and a half), or plastering the country from top to bottom with posters and handing out collaterals. The message being, money is no object and that the President’s ambitions are limited to ensuring Go is in, and everyone else can, to varying degrees, go to hell, as far as he’s concerned. (Still, from time to time he emerges from seclusion not only to give proofs of life, but to heckle particular opposition senatorial candidates who are making his coalition lose sleep.)

It may just be that the recent epidemic of reporting on Governor Gollum’s appointment to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas ironically aided his opposite in every noteworthy respect, Chel Diokno. If Ben Diokno is the price we have to pay for this fortunate phenomenon, so be it. And while Go’s going, growing and glowing in the surveys is not only remarkable but seemingly unstoppable, Diokno’s going up owes more to a genuine go, go, go attitude than a to-be-expected result of flooding the country with money and visits facilitated by fear of the Palace.

The President, of course, will be able to derive satisfaction from how his horse did in the race; he is no exception to the presidential compulsion to prove one’s self through the success of anointed candidates. What may be a future cause of concern is how his daughter fares as the heir presumptive to his position. Her Honor the Mayor of Davao essentially became campaign manager of the Hugpong ng Pagbabago coalition, except she’s been bedeviled by two things. The first is increasing concern that their loyalists might end up so loyal as to vote 13 or 14 candidates for the Senate (depending on how updated, or not, they are), which could cause complications in the counting. The other is, she makes good copy when she engages in verbal brawls but it can be counterproductive: After she snapped that honesty doesn’t matter, she had to backpedal, saying dear old mom told her off.

The moral of the tale is that in her first real foray into this whole succession scheme business, she’s proven less skilled than dear old dad, and was found wanting by the political class sniffing around to see if she really has what it takes to be a national candidate. Too much exposure, too soon, seems to be the verdict for now.

 

The Long View: Water and wealth

THE LONG VIEW

Water and wealth

 / 05:07 AM March 13, 2019

 

On Monday, Maynilad Water Services tried to reassure its customers by tweeting, “We source our raw water directly from Angat Dam, which is currently at a normal level, so Maynilad customers are not experiencing any water shortage at present.” Yesterday, it announced: “We are sharing our supply with Manila Water,” that company having shared its supply with Maynilad in 2010’s and 2015’s El Niño seasons.

Manila Water, in a press conference yesterday, said that even if it got an increased water allocation from Angat Dam, its systems would not be able to accommodate the supply. Things still have to be done, including the opening of a fourth tunnel to be completed by next year. (Raf Madrigal, who tweets on water and climate change content, helpfully tweeted a schematic of the water supply in Metro Manila, pointing out that “60% of Water Supply goes to Maynilad (West) while 40% goes to Manila Water (East).”)

Manila Water said infrastructure necessary to keep up with increasing demand has been delayed in the past. For example, Manila Water began trying, in March 2017, to get approval for a water treatment plant in Laguna de Bay which would have had a capacity of 250 million liters per day (MLD), but ran into objections from the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), which said its less expensive Kaliwa Dam project could treat 600 MLD. At the time the spat was reported in the papers, Manila Water warned that a water shortage would result in Metro Manila in 2021.

Even ongoing quick fixes, such as drilling deep wells, still takes time (hopefully “30 MLD by April and 80 MLD by July”). To complicate things further, the question has become, why is the water level at La Mesa Dam Raf Madrigal at critical levels, when Pagasa opined that it shouldn’t be at critical levels because there’s been plenty of rain? MWSS chimed in and said El Niño isn’t to blame either.

Manila Water, in its press conference yesterday, added a curious note: “People outside affected areas saved water, resulting in unusual demand.” The usual measures have been announced: the dispatch of water tankers to communities, and appeals to local government units to coordinate with the company.

The only thing missing, because it would be really bad PR, probably, was to appeal to everyone in its franchise area to pray an Oratio Imperata for rain.

An interesting—and alarming—complaint being registered by some consumers online concerns whether Manila Water is treating its customers fairly. This started when, on March 9, Manila Water had to make announcements that while it couldn’t provide a definite time on when water interruptions would end, it hoped they would end the next day, March 10. The thing is, it also announced that consumers would have to expect pressure reduction and no water hours for the rest of the summer.

The response was skepticism and hostility from quite a few people online. Among the observations made by these consumers is that water schedules are not being observed in places such as Pasig and Mandaluyong. Worse, when Manila Water pledged it was seeking to react to the shortage by making water distribution more equitable, it became apparent that there is the belief that Manila Water cuts off water supplies only in areas that aren’t developments of the Ayala Corp. and its subsidiaries, or villages in which the wealthy live (places like Barangay Forbes Park and Barangay Bel-Air, went one observation, aren’t included in the list of shortage-affected areas).

Such sentiments immediately invalidate whatever goodwill the company hoped to generate from its corporate social responsibility schemes like its “Tubig Para Sa Barangay” program, which benefits 1.6 million urban poor. Press conferences might eventually clarify the circumstances that led to the ongoing shortage, but the signs of the times are an eagle-eyed sensitivity among the public to any signs that some are enjoying uninterrupted water supplies, while everyone else goes waterless for extended periods of time.

Manila Water can start by giving more lead time to communities in announcing water interruptions. The other is to purge its announcements of industry jargon: One irritated consumer pointed out that “peak demand hours” aren’t defined for consumers.

The other is the observation that commercial establishments have water while residential areas have their supplies cut off: As one person put it, the sight of mall maintenance personnel watering their grounds is proof of this.

In the meantime, it’s every home for itself.

 

The Long View: Governor Gollum

THE LONG VIEW

Governor Gollum

 / 05:06 AM March 06, 2019

 

The new Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor, whom the care and worry of public service has aged so that he charmingly resembles Sméagol (in his Gollum phase), looked not only pleased, but relieved, he’s been kicked upstairs. The President, too, looked bemused and happy as he shook Governor Gollum’s hand at the end of Monday’s Cabinet meeting.

The Great Eagle Father looking bemused possibly stems from Benjamin Diokno’s relief at being relieved of the Department of Budget and Management portfolio without it looking like a defeat. He’s been a whipped man since the time he and the rest of the President’s economic team were summoned to the Batasan to be lectured by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to the continuing konfrontasi between Arroyo’s deputy speakers about the budget.

The happy part likely stems from Gollum now having supervision of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). Gadflies like Antonio Trillanes IV buzz too much about bank accounts; no one can doubt the AMLC won’t be leaking in any way, shape, or form, under the new governorship.

The bluntest comment came from an emerging-market currency trader at Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Tokyo, Masakatsu Fukaya: “It is seen negative in view of the central bank’s independence as the new governor was selected from the government side,” he told Bloomberg.

Native observers contacted by Bloomberg for comment were, of course, cautiously optimistic. It does no one, domestically, to burn bridges on the first day of a new regime. The most one would go was when Jonathan Ravelas (chief market strategist at BDO Unibank Inc. in Manila) suggested, “The challenge he faces is assure investors that the central bank will stay independent and faithful to its critical role that it is the glue holding the economy together.”

Although he “is leaving the Department of Budget and Management at a time with somewhat of an uncertain outlook for spending,” the reason for the cautious optimism came from Christian de Guzman (vice president at Moody’s Investors Service in Singapore): the Monetary Board is there. “BSP’s monetary decisions are not reflective of one single person. Monetary policy is dictated by the board and as far as we know the broad membership remains intact apart from the change in the governor,” he told Bloomberg.

Governor Gollum himself texted his words of quiet triumph to the press: “Price stability is one goal of BSP. Financial stability is the other one. But it’s more than that,” texted he, savoring the opportunity to pull his new rank on his former naysayers: “BSP’s role is to ensure steady, strong growth. In order to achieve this, monetary policy has to be in sync with fiscal policy.” This of course sends the first policy signal to the Monetary Board, the analysts and reporters.

HSBC economist Noelan Arbis has blandly summarized this statement of intent as a “progrowth bias,” adding, “It seems Secretary Diokno is going to be focusing a little more on growth.” This suggests, Arbis added, “he could cut the reserve ratio requirement for banks within the year.” So, if the BSP had concentrated on tightening supply to soak up money and slow inflation, the Gollum-led BSP would now (depending on whether the Monetary Board agrees and reins him in or not) decide to make easy money the name of the game.

As summarized by Bloomberg, Manny Cruz (head of research at Papa Securities Corp. in Manila) disagrees that cutting reserve requirements is in the cards. “Diokno has consistently communicated as budget secretary that his primary aim is to boost economic growth, keep the Philippines on higher growth path and that high inflation is tolerable as long as the economy is growing correspondingly.” A direct quote: “We have a governor who is probably more aggressive than the other contenders when it comes to cutting interest rates. His presence raises the possibility of interest-rate cuts, particularly if inflation slows to below 3 percent,” explaining to Bloomberg that a rate reduction will have a quicker effect in boosting economic growth.

Our famously laissez-faire (about anything other than liquidations) Chief Executive, knows what matters. The AMLC is in good hands. Well into the next term.

The Long View: A lack of succession

 

THE LONG VIEW

A lack of succession

 / 05:03 AM February 27, 2019

 

On Edsa day, Mark Thompson appeared on ANC and expressed the opinion that Edsa failed to create strong institutions and an efficient political system. What struck me about his interview was not his observation about the actual formal institutions per se, but other ones, specifically what passes for political parties in our neck of the woods.

This was because of an opinion piece about former vice president Joe Biden’s prospects for 2020, and how Barack Obama, according to insiders, regrets having anointed Hillary Clinton as his successor. In retrospect, Obama apparently feels he should have allowed Clinton, Biden and Bernie Sanders to really duke it out in the Democratic Party’s primaries, instead of convincing Biden not to throw his hat in the ring.

Back in 2010, I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable with Mark Thompson in Berlin where he suggested there is a division, or cleavage, of political movements and attitudes along two lines: populism and reformism. To quickly sketch things out in terms of personalities, Marcos and Estrada were populists; Ramos and the Aquinos were reformists. This aligns with my belief that, since martial law, there have really been only two coalitions competing for votes, and the result in presidential years owes its outcomes to which coalition fragments less than the other.

In 1992, the Edsa coalition broke up five ways, based on the candidates. The opponents of Edsa divided along two candidacies. In the noise and excitement over Miriam Defensor Santiago’s accusations against Fidel Ramos, people overlooked a disturbing reality: The combined votes of Danding Cojuangco and Imelda Marcos (18.7 percent and 10.32 percent respectively, or 29 percent give or take in total) would have defeated the strongest candidate of the Edsa forces, Ramos, who obtained 23.58 percent. A Marcos machine restoration, just six years after Edsa, was only narrowly averted.

The Marcos loyalist forces in many ways overlap with the fan base of the winner in the next presidential election, Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 1998. The non-Edsa forces combined more effectively than the Edsa groups, which continued to splinter. Estrada’s mandate of 39.86 percent was basically equivalent to the next top three candidates (Jose de Venecia Jr.’s 15.87 percent, Raul Roco’s 13.83 percent and Emilio Osmeña’s 12.44 percent). My colleague John Nery has pointed out that the single politician who might have put up not only a good fight but also quite possibly defeated him was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who opted to take a less risky route to the presidency, running successfully for vice president.

The 2004 elections could have been convincingly won in turn by Arroyo if the Edsa Dos forces hadn’t split: Roco shaved off 6.45 percent and Eddie Villanueva 6.16 percent, when the official winning margin ended up a razor-thin 4 percent or so. Put another way, Fernando Poe Jr. might have made it if Lacson had not split the opposition, shaving off 10.88 percent.

In 2010, in many respects, large portions of the old Edsa coalition and of Edsa Dos combined in the candidacy of Benigno Aquino III (the vote was split only in terms of the vice presidency, between Roxas and Binay), while the parts that split off from them backed Villar. But Estrada, it could be argued, split the populist vote.

If 1992 was the first post-Edsa presidential race of the post-Edsa era, then 2016 can be considered the last.

And here comes the great failure, where the official rules — a multiparty system, in our case, with no run-off elections —combine with the behavior of those competing under the rules. In 1992, the first post-Edsa national contest, what went undetected was how resilient the Marcos machine proved to be, only losing because it was split. When it combined, it was unbeatable: Estrada obtained, in 1998, a plurality unmatched until Aquino III in 2010. And Aquino proved, in turn, the strength of the Edsa coalition (1986 and 2001 branches); his 42-percent plurality remains unbeaten. But, in turn, when the 2010 coalition split, it proved its vulnerability to the recombined Marcos-Estrada-Arroyo coalition.

The Edsa era began and ended on the failure of its different groups to figure out an orderly, democratic, nontop-heavy way to resolve leadership questions. In 1992, Ramon Mitra won the right to run for president by every standard political measure: experience and party leadership ratified in a convention. Ramos, for his part, bolted the convention, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin of party politics as a group and not just factional activity.

By 2010, the Aquino administration had no means to mobilize and enforce a consensus as to who could lead its coalition. It could not solve the basic question of who could compete for group allegiance, splintering instead on a factional basis. The same dilemma will face the current leadership, which is why the failure is systemic.

 

 

The Long View: The grand bargain

THE LONG VIEW

The grand bargain

 / 05:07 AM February 20, 2019

 

There was a brief spasm of soul-searching in the wake of the behavior of some nurses at Tuburan District Hospital. The behavior of the nurses — “shocking indifference to and deliberate neglect of” a man riddled with bullets from a supposed shoot-out with cops, as yesterday’s Inquirer editorial put it — was at least acted upon by the authorities, leading to the nurses being fired. If the behavior of the nurses was appalling, then at least what seemed to be widespread outrage over their behavior is somewhat reassuring. We haven’t fully lost our communal (and individual) ability to be shocked.

The soul-searching (along the lines of what kind of a society is this, that has its own health workers unmoved by suffering and seemingly disinclined to live up to the Hippocratic Oath) involved mulling over the long-term consequences of the President’s so-called “war on drugs.” An incident that happened the day before the shooting in Cebu reinforces my belief that there is a simple trade-off that’s taken place, one I’ve described previously but which bears repeating. The trade-off is that the President gets to place himself above the law, by taking upon himself total responsibility for acts he has ordered his subordinates to undertake.

I leave it to academics to elaborate on the philosophical and other underpinnings of this development (start with “Führerprinzip,” Weber and charismatic leadership, and Ian Kershaw’s “Working Towards the Führer”). But, in practical terms, what we have at work in this simple, stark, all-encompassing arrogation unto himself of all responsibility—legal, spiritual, moral—for any and all effects of his policies, such as the “war on drugs,” is combining our society’s age-old passivity in the face of assertions of power with our version of the social compact—that obedience is premised on results, the most fundamental being instilling order.

From people who have conducted fieldwork among different sectors, a common observation seems to be that the President’s policy of liquidations comes as no surprise, since the use of force to deadly effect is a common enough reality in local governments. The difference is that, instead of simply being for partisan or personal gain, here, in the national liquidation scheme, it is ostensibly being done for the public good—and there are surveys aplenty to underscore that it is a fact that the public accepts this basic assertion, though tempered by the fear that it may turn out otherwise, after all. Hence a public that applauds the policy of liquidation, while confessing fear over how those chosen for liquidation may not be rigorously vetted at all.

But again, it’s the simple trade-off that upholds the President as not only supreme law enforcer, but also supreme in that one-word expression of that innermost desire of the population for order to come out of chaos: “Will,” more often than not prefaced with “political,” which whitewashes a desire for ruthlessness with a layer of democratic legitimacy, as to be political assumes it is done with consent.

It is significant that the day before the gruesome video was filmed in that provincial hospital, the President was reported to have thundered and shrilled yet again, saying he’d told officers in a command conference, “Tapusin na natin ito sa panahon ko, while I’m still here ready to assume singly. I will assume full legal responsibility for whatever it is. And they can hang me if they want. No problem.”

The offer he made to the police still doesn’t seem to have many takers among the military. And while the military shows signs of having made its own uneasy alliance with the President—by means of his not just nullifying but reversing his previous policy of collaboration with the communists, and replacing their slots in the administration with retired officers—it apparently continues to balk at being drafted into liquidating neighborhood individuals.

It may simply be a cold calculus of accountability at work here on the part of the military. The President himself has complained that his clear formula for evading legal repercussions from liquidations was flouted by incompetent or corrupt cops, or both; a professional soldier, faced with this (to them) typical Philippine National Police mess, wouldn’t want to be associated with it in any way. On the other hand, the lines of authority, the room for maneuver, the rules of engagement, for liquidating the New People’s Army or those suspected of enabling them—here, the Armed Forces of the Philippines can say it knows its business.

 

The Long View: All roads lead to the status quo

THE LONG VIEW

All roads lead to the status quo

 / 05:05 AM February 13, 2019

 

At a dinner on Monday night, I asked a veteran former senator (not affiliated with the opposition) why the President seemed unconcerned with backing a full slate, and he responded with a shrug. He observed that “in 2016 he didn’t lift a finger for his Senate slate then,” adding that “the President only seems to be concerned with the candidacies of Bong Go and Bato dela Rosa. And maybe Tolentino.”

I asked the former senator if the candidacy of Go was a case of being kicked upstairs, meaning he’s lost favor, as some have suggested, or whether it has the full backing of the President. He answered in this manner: “No, Go wants it. Anyway, he will continue to hold office in the Palace; there’s no way he will spend much time in the Senate.” The former lawmaker believes Go has spent time and effort to knock out administration bets, supposedly on the premise that removing them will raise his rankings in the polls (two administration or friendly-to-the-administration bets are expected to be disqualified by the Comelec: Osmeña and Pimentel).

One could add, based on the President’s plugging them in recent speeches, that the President’s Senate slate extends to endorsing Freddie Aguilar and Imee Marcos besides the three mentioned by the veteran lawmaker. As recently as the Christmas holidays, though, it kept being floated that the President would announce a full slate then; but the holidays have come and gone, and the campaign season is upon us, without the President doing so. His personal list, which is the one that matters, remains five. For what it’s worth, his own list are mainly Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban): Go, Dela Rosa and Tolentino, while Aguilar was formerly PDP-Laban but is running as an independent; Marcos is Nacionalista Party (NP).

The five are part of the coalition of local barons known as Hugpong ng Pagbabago’s slate, to be sure. But that slate carries with it a blithe disregard for the possibility the overly obedient will take it literally. In Pampanga, yesterday, Gov. Lilia Pineda enthusiastically endorsed Hugpong’s list of 13 (five PDP-Laban; three NP; one Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino; one Nationalist People’s Coalition; one Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino; one Lakas–Christian Muslim Democrats; one independent) senatorial candidates, and aside from Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo chiming in to also endorse the bloated ticket, it’s the President’s daughter, the mayor of Davao City, who was front and center in the news, ensuring Hugpong, and not the supposed administration party, PDP-Laban, that got everyone’s attention. Conspicuously absent from Hugpong’s list are candidates who have been loudly, fiercely devoted to the President, like Raffy Alunan who ended up, at least while his candidacy lasted, in the outer fringes of presidential forgetfulness like Harry Roque.

Of course, the President’s seeming indifference can be attributed to a pragmatic reading of the possible results, which puts, at most, two slots in the column of the opposition, meaning the administration will retain its big, tame coalition in the Senate, regardless of how the various administration slates actually do. Enough to keep the administration comfortable to 2020 at least, before the realignments in anticipation of 2022 get in earnest by 2021.

While the field’s upper echelons are crowded with incumbent senators and former senators making a bid to return to the Senate (a natural enough advantage for such candidates), the opposition pushing a Straight Eight slate may have been disappointed to see slender improvements for most of its candidates. It would do well to double-check if such a campaign can gain the individual candidates the recognition they require. Repeating the slate’s handle imprints it in people’s minds, but there is no circle to shade with that name; while swiftly listing their names afterward might be counterproductive, though eight, as studies apparently show, is the maximum people can generally memorize, list-wise. Perhaps name them first and then mention they’re a slate last?

As it stands, the phenomenal growth in Go’s numbers only validates the crude strategy that throwing enough money at a candidacy can make the improbable possible, while Marcos and Dela Rosa’s dip in numbers (combined with what became an online sport in gleefully posting photos of empty showings of his biopic) suggests public opinion can still change as well.

 

The Long View: Chronicle of a city’s agony

THE LONG VIEW

Chronicle of a city’s agony

 / 05:05 AM February 06, 2019

 

In 1995, a Great Remembering began. That year marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Manila, and survivors who had spent decades focused on living began sharing their memories of the destruction of the capital.

That remembering continued — and continues — so that, as those who lived through that tragedy prepare for the 75th anniversary next year, those who weren’t around then have been able to learn a lot more over the past quarter-century than was the case in the immediate half-century that preceded the start of that process of sharing, and unburdening, of the horrific memories of a city’s desolation.

That Great Remembering, in articles, interviews and memoirs, have provided the raw material for books that serve to consolidate, and thus transmit, for future generations, the experiences of those who witnessed so much death and devastation that they couldn’t bear to recall it for decades.

Three British military historians, Richard Connaughton, John Pimlott and Duncan Anderson, did the first draft, so to speak, with the publication of their Battle of Manila in 1995. It was a grand tour d’horizon of the circumstances that combined to result in the street-by-street fighting for the capital.

Alfonso J. Aluit, for his part, in “By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, 3 February-3 March 1945,” told the story from the point of view of the civilians systematically exterminated by Japanese troops as survivors were caught in the crossfire. Six years later, in 2006, Jose Ma. Escoda would undertake a similar grisly compendium of first-person accounts in “Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila.”

On Feb. 12, at 4:30 p.m., another book, “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila” by an American, James M. Scott, will be launched at the Ayala Museum under the auspices of the Filipinas Heritage Library (repository of the Roderick Hall Collection on World War II in the Philippines) and National Bookstore, distributor of the book. This book is different from the books that have come before, in the author’s fusing of interviews of survivors still living with the affidavits and testimonies in war crimes trial proceedings, and those of other survivors soon after the events took place, together with a quite astounding survey of eyewitness accounts and observations in diaries of individuals as diverse as an anonymous Japanese soldier recording their daily catalog of killings, and the renowned novelist John Dos Passos, who was a war correspondent covering American military operations.

The newspapers of the time were consulted, too, providing a contrast between the glowing accounts in the press and the private thoughts of the soldiers, civilians and journalists actually in the field.

What sets this book apart is its sense of place and not just time. Though the mania for renaming streets means that many specific street names might not ring a bell with present-day Filipino readers, there are places aplenty that still stand or existed recently enough for readers to grasp not only what was going on, but where — and how the day-by-day, hour-by-hour stories of events flow into each other. I have read the books mentioned above, but this volume tells the story best of all, because not only the what, who and where but the why is laid out, in a manner that assures you that the author didn’t just do the due diligence of poring over the contents of archives and the transcriptions of interviews, but also went and saw, and walked around, the city himself.

It may well be that this will be the last time a writer will be able to combine the records of the past with consultations with still-living witnesses to these events. Thus, its publication comes not a moment too soon — but also, as a fitting commemoration in anticipation of the last milestone commemoration. The Great Remembering is coming to an end; in this book, the various threads of Filipino, American and Japanese, of friends and foes, have been tied together, creating a tapestry that proves the pain of reliving memories was worth it. They did not die in vain, if there are those who will remember long after those who survived are themselves long gone.

 

The Long View: Is eight enough?

THE LONG VIEW

Is eight enough?

 / 05:06 AM January 30, 2019

 

In a curious coincidence, both the opposition and the President have eight candidates for the Senate. The opposition put its slate (Alejano, Aquino, Diokno, Gutoc, Hilbay, Macalintal, Roxas, Tañada) together first, while the President’s list (Aguilar, Angara, Cayetano, Go, Marcos, De la Rosa, Tolentino, Villar) is a constantly evolving work in progress, perhaps meant to titillate and tantalize the press and the public and keep the political class angling for an endorsement (while enjoying the effects of pointedly excluding hopefuls like “Hairy” Roque in public).

There is more to this coincidental list of eight than meets the eye, however, beyond the obvious contrast in resources: The opposition hasn’t the means or the scope to scrape together more than eight candidates; the President has an abundance of choices, but chooses to operate according to his own inner political clock.

Time and again, surveys have asked the public how many candidates they have in their own electoral sample ballot, and invariably the answer is eight. This suggests to me that when you had people who actually understood government and the necessity for practical rules to guide its operations (the framers of our 1935 Constitution or, specifically, the 1940 amendments that restored the Senate), rules will match public behavior, making electoral exercises more conducive to producing results that function smoothly.

Before martial law, except in rare occasions such as when there were unscheduled vacancies, people elected senators eight at a time. This in turn enabled the Senate, uniquely in the legislature, to be a continuing body, since even during election years when the entire House was up for election, there would be 16 sitting senators. (Thus, it would be the Senate president in the premartial law system and, again, after the tradition was revived in 2016, who would certify the election of the President and Vice President at the start of inaugural ceremonies.)

This changed under the 1987 Constitution, for no better reason than enough premartial law losers of elections were in a position to affect the Constitution’s provisions, to mandate that 12 senators at a time would be elected: giving hope to four more senatorial hopefuls and, in yet another of the many cases of post-Edsa unintended consequences, giving an incentive for cheating involving the crucial last four senatorial slots. An interesting insight into this is that those last four slots have often been decided by relatively razor-thin margins, again acting as an incentive for winning by hook or by crook—a case of pure political selfishness that set aside both the reality of the Senate being a continuing body (12 is not enough to elect a new leadership), and imposed a burden on the electorate and parties to scrounge around for 12-person slates when eight is the number that has been proven to work.

This brings us to where the opposition and the President (so far) have both let down the electorate. The forthcoming vacancies to be filled in the Senate numbers 12, not eight. At this point, both sides are asking the public to undertake a dereliction of duty by only voting for eight, though here the opposition is arguably the one which has let down the public more, because it immediately concedes four slots to the administration’s many factions who, among themselves, have a surplus of candidates. Supporters of the administration, then, will have an easier time using the President’s list as a starting point, stuffing the rest with others who loudly support the President even if he declines to notice them.

Then again, there is an opportunity here for the opposition to appeal for such voters to consider at least four opposition bets, on the basis of a pragmatic desire to balance the Senate and not pack it with too many Palace cheerleaders.

But the citizen opposed to the President and all his works only has the opposition eight as a starting point, while running the risk of actually lowering the chances of the opposition by immediately conceding four slots to the administration, which has more big proven vote-getters actually in its ranks or in collaborationist orbit around the President.

 

Readings for LSPCON 2018 Attendees

Here are ten readings and five books for you. You might recall that I mentioned some of these during our time together.

Readings: 

1. Freedom of the editor, by Teodoro M. Locsin, Philippines Free Press, April 10, 1965:

What is freedom—of the editor or of anyone?

It is freedom to be intelligent and informed. Freedom to be ignorant is not freedom, for what is freedom? Is it not liberation? And what is ignorance but a prison?

One should be prepared to die for freedom—and how silly it would be to die for one’s ignorance!

Freedom is responsibility and the affluent as well as the slave hate it.

Freedom is a dirty word to those who do not believe in freedom but merely preach it. It is Luce talk, a loose expression, and can be made to mean anything. Freedom is slavery in George Orwell’s 1984. Freedom is freedom to be fired—in the usual democracy.

What is freedom? What is the freedom of an editor? It is freedom—

To study. (And having to go over so much in order to turn out a respectable paper—a paper one can respect—makes study almost impossible.)

To think. (And how can one think in a hurry?)

To express oneself. Freedom not to say the opposite of what one thinks.

See also The Masks of Filipinos, by Teodoro M. Locsin, Philippines Free Press, June 17, 1961:

To cultivate the virtues of honesty, industry and justice, to learn how to love, is to be human. To be a Filipino, in the best sense of the word. Whether as Spaniard or American or Japanese, or as Nationalist, the Filipino must reckon with himself at last. He has no excuse for what he does; he should blame nobody but himself for what he is. If he has courage, he is brave; if he is honest, he is true; if he loves justice, he is decent, and if he loves rather than hates, he is at ease. The rest is merely economics, politics and the movies.

2. Velvet Revolution: The Prospects by Timothy Garton Ash in The New York Times Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 19 · December 3, 2009:

1789 in France, 1917 in Russia, 1949 in China—all were at some point professedly utopian; all promised a heaven on earth. [Velvet Rervolution or VR] is typically anti-utopian, or at the very least non-utopian. In a given place, it aspires to create political and legal institutions, and social and economic arrangements, that already exist elsewhere (for example, in established liberal democracies) and/or that are claimed (often wrongly, or with much retrospective idealization) to have existed in the same place at an earlier time. François Furet, the historiographer of the French Revolution, doubted if the velvet revolutions of 1989 should properly be called “revolutions” at all, since they produced “not a single new idea.” In this sense, they were closer to an earlier, pre-1789 version of revolution, the one that gave the thing its name: a revolution, a revolving, a turning of the wheel back to a real or imagined better past.

Hannah Arendt quotes, as a perfect encapsulation of this idea of revolution-as-restoration, the inscription on the 1651 great seal of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, at the height of the English Revolution: “freedom by God’s blessing restored.” Poland in 1989 could have put those very same words on its seal, had it had one. “The return to Europe,” one of the great mottoes of Central Europe’s 1989, is also a version of the revolution-restoration theme. Most of the subsequent claimants to the title of VR display some such mixture of an idealized national past and a better present located elsewhere. While these movements manifest some unrealistic, idealistic expectations, none of them are decisively shaped by a utopian ideology, a vision of a new heaven on earth. The “new idea” is the form of revolutionary change itself, not the content of its ideological aspirations.

To say that the 1789–1917–1949 revolutions were class-based is of course a gross historical oversimplification, and even misrepresentation. As we know, the Bolshevik Revolution was not actually a heroic mass action of the working class. But it is fair to say that revolutionary leaders such as Lenin and Mao often claimed to be acting in the name of a class or classes—”workers and peasants,“ and so on. In VR, the appeals are typically to a whole society, the nation, the people. Nationalism (or patriotism, according to circumstance and interpretation) is often a driving force of these, as it can be of more violent movements. In practice, the strategic key to mass mobilization—to getting those inestimable peaceful crowds out on the streets, to generating “people power”—often lies precisely in building the broadest possible coalitions between classes, sections of society, and interest groups that do not normally cooperate, and among which nondemocratic powerholders had previously been able to “divide and rule.”

In old-style revolution, the angry masses on the street are stirred up by extremist revolutionary leaders—Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Mao—to support radicalization, including violence and terror, in the name of utopia. Bring on the red guards! In new-style revolution, the masses on the street are there to bring the powerholders to the negotiating table. The moment of maximum mass mobilization is the moment of turn to negotiation; that is, to compromise. Or in some cases, to violent repression—at least for the time being. For also characteristic of VR is that it often takes a long time to succeed, after many failed attempts, in the course of which opposition organizers, but also some of those in power, learn from their own mistakes and failures—as, for example, in Poland, Serbia, and Ukraine. Protesters “fail again, fail better,” to adopt Samuel Beckett’s memorable phrasing. Both sides do it differently next time. Eventually, the moment comes when there are two to tango.

So another name for the genus is “negotiated revolution.” Exit prospects for the ruling elites are critical. Instead of losing their heads on the guillotine, or ending up hanging from lampposts, transition-ready members of an ancien régime, from a president such as F.W. de Klerk all the way down to local apparatchiks and secret policemen, see a bearable, even a rosier future for themselves under a new dispensation. Not merely will they get away with their lives; not only will they remain at liberty; they will also get to retain some of their social position and wealth, or to convert their former political power into economic power (the “privatization of the nomenklatura”), which sometimes helps them to make startling returns to political power under more democratic rules (as, for example, have post-communists all over post- communist Europe). In VR, it is not just the Abbé Sieyès who survives. Louis XVI gets to keep a nice little palace in Versailles, and Marie Antoinette starts a successful line in upmarket lingerie.

These uneasy and even morally distasteful compromises with members of the ancien régime are an intrinsic, unavoidable part of velvet revolution. They are, as Ernest Gellner once memorably put it, the price of velvet. They produce, however, their own kinds of postrevolutionary pathology. As the years go by, there is a sense of a missing revolutionary catharsis; suspicious talk of tawdry deals concluded between old and new elites behind closed doors; and, among many, a feeling of profound historical injustice. Here I am, a middle-aged shipyard worker in Gdan´sk, left unemployed as a result of a painful neoliberal transition to capitalism, while over there, in their high-walled new villas, with their swimming pools full of half-naked girls quaffing champagne, the former communist spokesman and the former secret policeman are whooping it up as millionaires. And their first million came from ripping off the state in the period of negotiated revolution.

There is no perfect answer to this problem, but I will suggest two partial ones. First, absent both the catharsis of revolutionary purging (that orgiastic moment as the king’s severed head is held aloft) and retroactive sanctions of criminal justice, it becomes all the more important to make a public, symbolic, honest reckoning with your country’s difficult past. This alone can establish a bright line between bad past and better future. That is why I have argued that the essential complement to a velvet revolution is a truth commission. Second, establishing the rule of law as fast as possible is vital to lasting success, and corruption is deeply corrosive of it. “Speed is more important than accuracy,” the famous motto of the no-holds-barred Czech privatizer and free marketeer Václav Klaus, sacrifices the long-term prospects to the short.

One other feature of some velvet revolutions needs to be mentioned. Traditionally, we would think of a revolution as diametrically counterposed to an election: here, the violent overthrow of a dictatorship; there, the peaceful transfer of power in a democracy. But many examples of VR over the last decade, from Serbia to Ukraine to Iran, had an election as the catalytic moment of the new-style revolution.

In hybrid, semiauthoritarian regimes, the holding of an election—albeit not under fully free conditions, with a key distortion being regime control of television—provides the occasion for an initial mobilization behind an opposition candidate, whether Voji-slav Ko tunica in Serbia, Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine, or Mir Hussein Moussavi in Iran. Real or alleged rigging of the election by incumbent powerholders is then the spark for a wider social mobilization, with burgeoning demands for change not merely in but of the system. The color symbolic of the opposition candidate—orange in Ukraine, green in Iran—becomes, or at least is now claimed to be, the color of the whole cheated nation, the color of the “color revolution.” So yet another name for this phenomenon, or a large subset of it, is “electoral revolution.”

Looking at the recent history of electoral revolutions, a prudent authoritarian ruler might reasonably draw this conclusion: Don’t risk holding any elections at all! But it is striking how few of them actually do draw this conclusion. Formal democracy, in the sense of holding public ceremonies called elections from time to time, has become established as one of the most widespread international norms. Elections are not just, so to speak, the tribute vice pays to virtue; they also seem to be part of the accepted panoply of legitimation for any self-respecting dictator. And nine times out of ten, authoritarian rulers can emerge victorious from these elections, or “elections,” with some combination of genuine popular support, tribal loyalties, media control, propaganda, bribery, intimidation, and outright vote-rigging. In the case of Serbia, for example, Slobodan Miloevic´ did win a series of at least semifree, even three-quarters-free elections, with only some vote-rigging, before losing power in an electoral revolution in 2000. Hubris, based on past successes, helpfully nudges such rulers down the road to nemesis.

See also This tale of two revolutions and two anniversaries may yet have a twist, by Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, May 8, 2008.

3. Two samples of Randy David’s thinking. The first is the summary of a speech he delivered, the second, a quote from one of his columns. How do you boil down the crisis that seems to be perpetual? David has.

4. Where the drug war began, by Patricia Evangelista, Rapper. This will be a modern classic.

5. A two part series. The blueprint for the ‘War on Drugs’ and Lies, damned lies, and drug statistics. For bsckground, see: My answers to questions on the War on Drugs.

6. Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism, by Jaron Lanier, Edge, May 29, 2006. You can also watch his recent April 2018 TED Talk, How we need to remake the Internet. He has done much to study, and explain why the net is the way it is and why we act as we do, when online.

7. The groundbreaking three-part report by Rappler on social media and elections: see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

8. The $10bn question: what happened to the Marcos millions? by Nick Davies in The Guardian, May 7, 2016. You should do your part to widely share this article. It spares no one, and goes a long way to explain the enduring power of the Marcoses.

9. My own article, Ferdinand Marcos and Us, in SPOT.ph. Includes links to additional readings.

10. This isn’t a reading, but i’ts someone who’s written powerful books and put together powerful documentaries. In this 2012 Maastricht University lecture, Laurence Reese tries to explain why otherwise decent people fall under the spell of monstrous leaders.

Books:

  1. The Emperor and Shah of Shahs, by Ryszard Kapu?ci?ski. A fellow writer who’d also served in government once told me, we are all students of power, and these two books to my mind are some of the most engrossing and truth-filled explorations of power, the powerful, and the powerless ever written.

2. The Philippine Revolution, by Apolinario Mabini (translated by Leon Ma. Guerrero). A slim book but massive in terms of what it has to teach the reader.

3. State and Society in the Philippines (Second edition), by Patricio N. Abinales and Donna J. Amoroso. One of those books that renders all that came before it (it’s meant to be a textbook) obsolete. If you want a crash course in how our country came to be, the developments and trends that made –and make– it what it is, this is the book to trust.

4. Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897 by Jim Richardson. Another book that marks the before and after, in terms of our understanding of the topic it covers. The essays and other documents that form the book are also freely available online in his website, Katipunan: Documents and Studies.

5. Five e-pubs: Put together by my team, 2010-2016 and hopefully, of practical and informative use to you.

a. Philippine Electoral Almanac Revised And Expanded

b. Historical Atlas Of The Republic

c. Heroism, Heritage And Nationhood

d. Official Calendar Of The Republic

e. Style Guide for the Government (Gabay sa Estilo para sa Gobyerno)

And of course, don’t forget the book that could dramatically improve your academic prospects — Researching Philippine Realities: A Guide to Qualitative, Quantitative, and Humanities Research by Jose Eos Trinidad.

 

The Long View: The waiting game

THE LONG VIEW

The waiting game

 / 05:06 AM November 15, 2017

The waiting now begins to see if President Duterte and his people will resume their campaign to proclaim a revolutionary government.

My colleague, John Nery, has made a convincing case that the President has wanted to do so all along, even prior to assuming the presidency. An additional case has to be made: There are far too many people up and down the line who need the assurance of the present regime’s continuity, but who lack confidence that a viable successor — who can continue to provide them the protection they currently enjoy — exists.

Not every police station, for example, can go the way of the most controversial one in the country (Caloocan) that went up in flames the other day. You cannot, at this point, suddenly have Camp Crame go up in smoke, destroying all records. Since there is an expiration date for the President’s pledge to mobilize his powers to protect cooperative policemen, which is sooner rather than later given that trial balloons to extend his term as part of Charter change have not sparked popular enthusiasm, something has to give: a nationally-elected leadership.

But what can the President give in return? The thing that makes the world go round.

When Enrique Razon told Asean businessmen that dictatorships were better for infrastructure, he was speaking not only with the power of his billions but the bloc he maintained in the House of Representatives. His National Unity Party (20 seats) is the second-largest among the corporate blocs in the House, the others being Cojuangco-Ang’s Nationalist People’s Coalition (33 seats), itself a breakaway from the Villars’ Nacionalista Party (19 seats).

The combined 72-seat House corporate bloc (with four seats in the Senate), cannot, in and of itself, achieve things such as impeachment, which requires 97 votes at the current membership. But it can make it much easier—or difficult, if it comes to that—to enact legislation to the extent that the corporate bloc bosses cannot be ignored. When a bloc boss says dictatorship is a good idea, he does so as the spokesman of 72 districts: Presumably, the 123 districts under Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan will likewise fall in line.

Not least because quietly, but significantly, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo some weeks back took her oath as a member of that party. Unlike Antonio Floirendo Jr., or more recently, Dionisio Santiago, she knows — having been president — that you could have been a powerful patron of a future president yesterday, but the moment your protege becomes chief executive, the relationship changes and you had better never forget it. As Floirendo and Santiago found out, the moment you start being uppity, the instinct of all presidents is to punish the fool who thinks they can treat the president the way they treated him or her before they assumed office. So she has done what is allowed, and which matters: boost the party line, and be helpful in maintaining the coalition. Her reward has been to be not only taken into the fold in a subordinate position to the current Speaker she once fired from her Cabinet, but also to be trotted out in Asean events, overshadowing every potential successor to the President, including the Speaker and the current secretary of foreign affairs. The signal to anyone who cares to notice is we have a future prime minister-in-waiting.

Everyone who is anyone in the current dispensation can live with that. The signal of the business blocs is that they can live with that. It is a sure thing compared to taking a gamble on either Ferdinand Marcos Jr. or Alan Peter Cayetano, neither of whom are certain to win a national election, or can fully be trusted to have both the skill and the resolve to protect everyone. Arroyo would be the first to point out that a repeat of 2010 in 2022 must be avoided at all costs.