The Long View: Devolving nation


Devolving nation

 / 09:05 AM April 24, 2019


Because we started at it a generation or two ahead of our neighbors, the level of political organization we’d achieved prior to World War II was achieved by our neighbors between the 1950s and 1960s. But what would become common—one-party rule in our neighbors—had been fractured by the war in our case, so that the unintended (because an accidental offshoot of the guerrilla versus collaborationist divide in our society) two-party system we had in the ’50s to the ’60s is something our neighbors have only begun to experience since the 1990s.

Where our entire region seemed to converge was in the experiment with dictatorship in the ’70s and ’80s, but with us being the outliers once again. It led, in our case, to the creation of an urban nation within a nation, with Metro Manila and other cities developing civil society while the rest of the country became balkanized, with armed barons controlling provincial fiefdoms. After the dictatorship fell, we rewound things to where they stood in the early ’70s, as far as trying to imagine (and institute) a more liberal-democratic setup, but without understanding the effects of abolishing the old party system and replacing it with a free-for-all, which assured neither stability nor a means for an orderly succession.

On the other hand, our neighbors, not all of whom had competent dictators, had at least managed to crush the Communist threat, while in our case we failed to do so. And so dictatorial incompetence and institutional decay were compounded with a low-intensity conflict that continues to this day.

For 30 years then, our neighbors, with varying degrees of success, have been trying to move forward, while the best we’ve been able to manage is to dog-paddle in place, or get swept backward, for a time, until we can dog-paddle again to try to inch forward against the tide of populism and dictatorial nostalgia. Then in 2016, the dog-paddling came to an end, and we have been swiftly moving backward in a sort of national fit of renouncing any further attempt at trying to cope with the discomfort (and sacrifice) of modernizing our society, politics or economy.

It is the dying gasp of an identity we’d tried to assume since the time of the Propagandists, who’d hoped for a society and government along Western, rational (Enlightenment-inspired) lines. We are thus saying goodbye, not just to the Edsa era (1986-2016), but the much longer one from 1896-2016 that kept on colliding with the precolonial datu mentality of both the leaders and the led.

In the first three years of the new-old era we now live in, we have a President who acts no differently from the calculating rajahs of old who engaged in blood compacts, and in what has been described as the “raiding, trading and feasting” that was the precolonial occupation of those who held power in their locales. Slowly at first, but increasingly swiftly, every vestige of the political and institutional culture built up in the 20th century, when this country came to be as it currently is, is being abandoned. To be sure, much of that culture was already a parody of its former self; but so long as lip service was paid to what once was, there was the slender hope that what was could be, again.

So, these days, the President raises the hands of one faction not belonging to his nominally ruling party, his daughter then raises the hands of the candidates of that supposedly ruling party, though she herself presides over a coalition of local barons that has displaced the ruling party her father had formally associated himself with. In the past, when a president could not fulfill the expected role of arbiter of contending local contests, a “free zone” would be declared, at least calling a spade a spade.

Confucius, to stray away from the West and its habits for a moment, had insisted that the first duty of orderly government was to attach the appropriate names to things. Where we are thoroughly Asian and not Western is the expectation that the primary duty of presidents is to maintain order; yet if there is a guiding principle of the current dispensation, it is to spread disorder: The very essence of premodern living was the unpredictable, and thus highly malleable, condition in which chiefdoms rose and fell. Where, since the reason for things being the way they are was not understood, omens, gestures, whims, plots, raids, superstition, division, cruelty assured tribal loyalty.

There is no discernible design for the whole; there is not even much of an effort, on the part of observers, to try to identify patterns. We watch a parade of headlines, but aren’t being told what the story is. The local is ignored, while the national has lost all meaning.


The Long View: Gerrymandering is alive and well


Gerrymandering is alive and well

 / 09:04 AM April 17, 2019


As soon as the President signed a bill providing for a plebiscite that could possibly split one province into three, the jokes started. We will soon have Palawan, Palatu and Palatri — though they will, of course, be more boringly called Palawan del Norte, Palawan del Sur and Palawan Oriental.

Interestingly, the residents of Puerto Princesa will be prohibited from voting in the referendum. Even more interestingly, the following list started becoming buzz-worthy online, with people claiming it was a list of the four prospective candidates for the governorships of the three new provinces: (1) Jose Chaves Alvarez (governor); (2) Franz Chicoy Alvarez (representative); (3) Antonio Alvarez (former representative); and (4) Pie Alvarez (mayor of San Vicente, Palawan).

Which only serves to underline the wisdom of the late Lorenzo Tañada when he appealed to his supporters in 1951 to oppose the possibility that the then subprovince of Aurora might become separated from Quezon Province. As I pointed out in 2010, back then Tañada argued that dividing the province was not the solution to charting its future or a way to improve the prospects of progress for the whole province, as it would only create what he called a new homegrown principalia interested only in their personal economic advancement.

Our former colleague in the Opinion section, Juan Mercado of Cebu, used to strongly argue that subdividing provinces is a form of gerrymandering — redrawing political lines on the map for the benefit of its proponents. What it fosters is the political dominance of the political class that engineered the creation of the new province.

We’ve gone from 52 provinces in 1951 to 81 provinces in 2019, and from 61 chartered cities in 1996 to 117 by 2004. By way of contrast, Indonesia had 10 provinces when it became independent, and today, 33 (seven of which became provinces since 2000). Since independence, Malaysia has created only two additional states to its original 11. Thailand has reduced its provinces from 83 in 1915 to 76 (provinces were actively merged from 1915 to 1950, and since then, only about 10 new provinces have been created).

Even the President, in a veiled sort of way, seems to refer in nostalgic terms to the old undivided province of Davao, which once comprised what are Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Occidental, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley today.

To be sure, not every instance of winking and backslapping that leads to gerrymandering gets carried out. Efforts to divide Isabela, Cebu and Quezon, for example, failed in their respective plebiscites. By all accounts, the threefold cutting up of Palawan seems to have stirred up strong opposition in the province. But if the public has put on the brakes to some schemes, consolidation, on the other hand, is opposed by the powers-that-be, because it would create either too strong a territory or deprive too many dynasties of their turf.

Consider the obvious need to consolidate the local governments of Metro Manila:

Doing so would, on one hand, eliminate the fiefdoms of too many ruling local barons, while possibly creating an official — say, a governor of Metro Manila — of such potential stature as to give presidents sleepless nights. Perhaps a similar sense of insecurity led the President to immediately dismantle the Negros Island Region established under the previous administration.

The French, when they mounted their revolution and attempted to establish the government along scientific and rational lines in all things (giving us the metric system, for example), immediately set about abolishing all prerevolutionary provincial boundaries and established new departments, which aimed to break up historical regions and create political units that could be governed effectively. Borders were established so that component settlements would be within a day’s ride of the capital of the new department, which would have a name unrelated to old locations, adopting the names of natural features instead.

Not even the various confused (and confusing) federalism schemes dare, however, to take an axe to the cunningly gerrymandered provincial map of the country.


The Long View: Mimicry as survival mechanism


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 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


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


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


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



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 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


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


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?


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.