The Explainer: Winner take all

Winner take all

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Oct 23 2017 03:01 PM


The one thing you have to know about a revolution is that by its nature, it is illegal unless and until it wins. Then the revolution dictates what is legal or not.

When Emilio Aguinaldo established a new government in June 1898, what he set up was a dictatorial government. Our proclamation of independence in fact referred to him as our “egregious dictator,” in the old sense of the word, meaning remarkable or excellent.

A witness to the event, Apolinario Mabini, objected to this. A country’s freedom, he argued, required not just speaking in the name of the people, but getting the people’s involvement as well.

That is why soon after the dictatorial government was set up, it was abolished and replaced with a revolutionary government that lasted until we set up a republic in January 1899.

Mabini, writing after the First Republic was defeated, explained what a revolution is. He said, a revolution requires violent change to three things: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. He clarified that a revolution is only worthy of the name if it is done by the people, in answer to needs they feel, and not by and on behalf, of a smaller group or interest.

The Polish journalist Ryzsard Kapuskinski, in his wonderful book “Shah of Shahs,” writing almost a century later, added something else, based on the world’s 20th Century experiences.

A revolution, according to him, is different from a simple revolt, a coup d’etat, or a palace takeover. In the first place, he argued, it is spontaneous: it cannot be planned. It happens so quickly, that even those who’ve been wanting one, can be surprised by what takes place, including the destruction of the ideals that had motivated the revolution.

So, if soldiers march out of the barracks to depose a president, that is a coup d’etat, not a revolution. Guerrillas in the hills fighting to achieve a change in government are waging a revolt but it’s not a revolution.

The thing is, the idea of revolution is exciting. It is even convenient, since most people have little time or patience for the definitions of lawyers, political scientists or even journalists. Ferdinand Marcos laid down the case for what would be a power grab—but not a revolution—by hiding his plans under the name of a revolution, which he said would be different from the Left or the Right in that it would come from the Center.

But Marcos was a wide reader of history and knew what Mabini argued: violence is the key. Just as a revolution can be stopped by force of arms, force of arms can be used to simulate a revolution.

Again, borrowing Mabini’s definition, we can see Marcos, using the armed forces, neutralized the three branches of government. Anyone in the executive disagreeing with him could be arrested under martial law. He padlocked Congress, neutralizing the legislature. He told the Supreme Court, leave me alone or I will abolish you.

In Latin America, they have a name for what Marcos did, and it’s not revolucion. It’s autogolpe. The dictionary defines an autogolpe as a military coup with a difference: it is initiated by the elected leader, to establish total control of the state.

In 1986, we had a different kind of revolution, peaceful because the military disobeyed Marcos’ orders to fire on Camps Crame and Aguinaldo and to plow, shell, or bomb their way through the crowds on EDSA. With the military having changed allegiance, President Cory Aquino proclaimed a revolutionary government, abolishing the Marcos-era institutions. By 1987, this was replaced by the democracy we now have.

But this democracy is far from being universally loved. Since last year, some supporters of the President have argued that the system is corrupt, dysfunctional, and inefficient. It too easily allows individuals and groups to use the system to slow down or even stop, some of the President’s advocacies.

In response to the defects they see in our system of government, these supporters have argued, publicly, and passionately, for a Revolutionary Government to be proclaimed. This call has been made time and again, in August, September, and December last year, and February and June this year.

These supporters have tried to organize locally and nationally. The idea is to prove that there is a massive demand for a revolution to happen.

These supporters argue that since it’s obvious there is wide public support for the President, then it is time to show these numbers not just online, but in the real world. And not just in Metro Manila, but throughout the country.

Their dream is gatherings of passionate citizens demanding four things. First, to proclaim the 1987 Constitution null and void, and to use the 1973 Constitution that was abolished in 1986 as the basis for a new one. Second, to establish a Federal government suited to local behavior and conditions. Third, to crush corruption in government and in the private sector, including reclaiming all stolen wealth. Fourth, to crush drug syndicates and other criminal gangs. The petition circulated by these advocates envisions a two-year revolutionary government to accomplish these things.

The latest measure of public opinion, for its part, tells us that these objectives, at this point, may be pretty far removed from what people really want government to fix. For example, locally, the top three issues are bad roads, flooding, and drugs.

Nationally speaking, public opinion tells us that controlling inflation, higher salaries, more jobs and fighting corruption are the top concerns. Changing the constitution is at the very bottom, with only two percent of people having the opinion this is a priority.

The challenge for advocates of a revolution is to connect these dots. As early as last June, advocates of revolutionary government online used real world problems to justify why a revolution is needed. Now that the President has said he is willing to consider a revolution as an option, the debate is a serious one, since it essentially involves a saying lawyers love: “When the guns speak, the law falls silent.”

Other supporters of the President are pushing Charter Change through normal channels as an alternative. The President himself has publicly stated he prefers this path. But he is showing signs of impatience and frustration.

The Long View: Unintended consequences


Unintended consequences

 / 05:04 AM October 18, 2017

A two-day holiday for kids in school is a wonderful thing — for the kids. By the time you get to college, it’s still rather nice but by then you’re old enough to worry about what will be done to compensate for lost time. For adults in the real world, an unexpected holiday presents headaches. For school administrators, it requires revisiting the academic calendar, rescheduling exams, and other related headaches. For workers and bosses alike, it raises problems ranging from what kind of compensation is required by law, as well as lost opportunities and income due to diminished productivity.

As soon as the Palace announced it would respond to the PISTON (Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide) jeepney strike by cancelling government work and classes on all levels nationwide last Monday, a business reporter immediately observed that one consequence would be no check clearing and possibly, the shutdown of financial markets for a day. This was in response to a terse statement from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) deputy governor that there would be no Philpass and BSP Treasury operations. Sure enough, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) then announced there would be no trading, nor clearing and settlement at the Securities Clearing Corp. of the Philippines.

As it turned out, Monday did feature the PISTON strike but also news that a whole bunch of jeepney operators did not participate in the strike. Local governments in many places mounted ad hoc transportation services, complete with tarpaulins blaring the goodness of the mayors concerned, to ferry stranded workers. The Department of Transportation (DOTr), for its part, went on the offensive and pointed out that contrary to allegations by PISTON and friends, the planned PUV modernization scheme was not anti-poor due to the alleged high cost in procuring new vehicles.

In the first place, according to DOTr, a major component of the program is a financing scheme available to public utility jeepney (PUJ) operators and drivers who are willing to borrow money to buy new units. DOTr said the financial package for the acquisition of vehicles endorsed by the Department of Finance is actually “generous” with equity as low as 5 percent, a 6-percent interest rate, and a repayment period as long as seven years. It pointed out that bus operators applying for bank loans to acquire new buses currently saddle themselves with 20-30 percent equity, with an interest rate of 7 percent, and a repayment period of three to five years.

And there’s more! DOTr said it would offer a subsidy of up to P80,000 per vehicle to cover equity payment, which actually comes out to a bigger value because of zero or low maintenance costs for the first three years. In turn, this translates to higher earnings for the driver and increased confidence and capacity to repay the loan.

A financial analyst responded to this with a comment on Twitter: “[For] Modern jeepney lowest price P1.2m less 80k subsidy = P1.12m. At 6% p[er] a[nnum], 7 yrs to pay, monthly amort[ization] = P16,360. Is this affordable?” A response to this tweet said: “Poor ROE [return on investment] right? Moreso with traffic.” To which the analyst responded: “Very. Especially for drivers who will probably see a big increase in their daily boundary;” adding further that the cost of the new vehicles exceeded diesel Innovas marketed at P1 million.

The truth is, the present administration is on the horns of a dilemma: Something ought to be done but it’s not possible for government to either nationalize public transport or simply replace obsolete jeeps with something new without jeepney operators having to foot the bill. So only partial solutions are offered, such as offering loans to drivers and operators who are unwilling to take on debt. Not least for unproven vehicles that may or may not work as advertised. (Batteries? In a nation where brownouts happen for all sorts of reasons?)

The best that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board could do in response to the whole thing was to trot out one of its officials to scream that the transport strike was a destabilization plot against the government. Except that, a strike by a minority of operators is nothing new. Why did it result in the shutdown of government nationwide, the cancellation of classes, and a day’s lost opportunities in the markets as well as a paralysis in business because checks couldn’t be cleared (after a weekend at that)? To top it all off, government excitedly decided work and classes would be called off for another day. Despite the suspension, the BSP operated PhilPass, which allowed the stock market to reopen.

Destabilization? As the Great Eagle Father himself likes to say: “He, who is the cause of the cause is the cause of them all.”


The Explainer: A new sun rising

A new sun rising

Manolo Quezon — The Explainer

Posted at Oct 17 2017 03:31 PM


In his book, “China in Ten Words, Yu Hua tells a story about what it was like growing up in China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

This was the era when, to regain control over the Communist Party, Mao unleashed students to go against his enemies, branding them traitors to Communism.

At the heart of the Cultural Revolution was a massive personality cult centering on Mao. The anthem of the time was, “The East is Red, and Mao was called the sun.

Which brings us to Yu Hua’s story. One day, a classmate watched the sunset and remarked, “the sun is setting.” The next day, the classmate was denounced in front of the whole school. By saying the sun is setting, the kid was accused of saying Mao was dying.

The kid was bullied and teachers and students alike tried to force the child to confess that he was a counterrevolutionary. What saved the kid was he got so confused, he gave contradictory answers in between wails and sobs. It convinced enough of the mob that he was innocent.

After Mao died, his widow and allies, called the “Gang of Four,” tried to sieze power but instead lost the power struggle.

After the destruction and killings of the Cultural Revolution, the surviving leaders rallied around Deng Xiaoping, who ushered in reforms, but only up to a limit, as the Tiananmen Massacre proved. That limit was, control had to remain one-hundred percent under the Communist Party.

Deng also pursued a more consultative approach to leadership. No one, after Mao, should again be considered the sun. Leaders would be bland, even grey, but there would be stability and instead of winner-take-all power struggles, members of the party could expect to smoothly move up, then bow out after fixed periods of time.

Ziang Zemin, the successor of Deng, in turn demonstrated this new type of collective leadership. He would have two, five-year terms, and then retire.

His successor, Jiang Zemin, also followed this type. He too would rule for two five-year terms, and the power structure would be such, that everyone would move up and move out.

But Deng belonged to the generation of the revolutionary fathers of China. Ziang and Jiang in turn belonged to the successor generation, who had also risen through the ranks. But when Jiang retired, China’s new leader turned out to be a different kind of Communist altogether.

Xi Jinping is what is called a “princeling,” that is, he is a son of one of the pioneer generation of Communists. A new kind of Communist, a dynastic one. Like many other princelings, he had risen to power in the shadows and with the patronage of elder Communists from the first and second generations.

Now, he is due to embark on the expected: a second five-year term, after which normally he would be expected to bow out. But something is happening that is making China watchers unsure if this will actually be the case.

A brief word on how leadership is decided in China. First, it is almost entirely a decision of the Communist party. Very simply, tomorrow, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party—the first was in Shanghai in 1921, and these days, two congresses are held every decade—will convene in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Let’s use The Atlantic as a guide. A couple of thousand reliable party representatives from all over the country will elect a couple of hundred from among themselves, to form the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In turn, the Central Committee will elect two dozen from among its members, to form the Politburo of the Communist Party. The members of the Politburo will then pick seven from among its members, to constitute the Politburo Standing Committee, and this Committee in turn provides the top leader, the General Secretary of the Party who inevitably becomes President of the People’s Republic of China.

Tomorrow, the ceremonies will be kicked off by Xi Jinping laying out the next five-year plan for the party. People will be listening to see what he says. Then, perhaps by October 25, Xi will make another speech and introduce the party’s new leaders. People again will be watching to see who are announced. Will the Standing Committee, for example, be composed of people perceived to be loyal to Xi? And Will Xi follow tradition, by introducing people who will start to be promoted as Xi’s successors in five years? This is, after all, how Xi himself came to be known—introduced in the People’s Congress in 2007 ahead of his assuming power in the next People’s Congress in 2012.

What makes the coming days exciting—and troubling—is that for some time now, it’s been widely perceived that Xi is preparing to end the post-Mao system. He may actually be preparing for a third, unpredecented, five-year term. News reports have pointed out most recently that two prominent generals have disappeared ahead of the Party Congress. And for the past few years, many leading Communist officials have been purged for various offenses. State Propaganda has taken to referring to Xi as the “Core” leader, itself a term not used since Mao’s time.

Part of the drama is the way the Chinese prefer to conduct political maneuvering—behind the scenes, and in the shadows. All the public sees is a prearranged ritual, designed to convey unity and strength. Whether results meets expectations will determine how the world sees China in the next five years. Will it remain a predictable dictatorship? Or one returning to an older era of personality cults?

The Long View: Racing against the clock


Racing against the clock

 / 05:09 AM October 11, 2017

In politics, the most direct path from point A to point B is a zigzag and not a straight line. To try otherwise is to line up possible opponents all in a row: big business, media, the military, the bureaucracy, the Supreme Court, foreign allies (or those with influence), the Church, and the political class. Creating one collision after another heightens the risk factor in terms of the two variables — public opinion and time — that can get in the way of achieving your objective. In his time, Ferdinand Marcos, who famously said never make a decision when you are angry, hungry, or happy, mastered the management of time and public opinion as he island-hopped his way to dictatorship, isolating or co-opting each possible opponent in turn. Cory Aquino, intent merely on presiding over a constitutional handover of power, was able to weather a collision with the military. Fidel V. Ramos, in attempting Charter change, nearly did it, except memories of Marcos were still too fresh. Joseph Estrada was reckless. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo first played the China card to stay in power, then moderated her aims to finishing her term and laying the foundation by means of midnight appointments, to ride out her successor’s term. Benigno Aquino III alienated big players by taking a level playing field too seriously, anointing a successor perceived as a traitor to his class by his peers, offended the middle class by attempting to confront emotion with reason.

What the President’s — or his coalition’s — objectives lack in detail or focus are more than made up for by ambition. Eliminate direct election by the public of the head of government; unite executive and legislative to assure department control by legislators (securing, in turn, iron-clad fiefdoms for local barons while eliminating national figures as rivals); and reorganize (purge) the bureaucracy, while allowing local business to sell out to foreign ownership. All of this under cover of the very thing the ruling coalition wants to eventually eliminate as a factor in our politics: national opinion, which confers (and takes away) public support on presidents.

The President’s dilemma — as the Plaza Miranda government rally last Sept. 21, and the barely – noticed gatherings at the Quirino Grandstand and Plaza Independencia in Cebu over the weekend showed — is that online fervor and high survey ratings still can’t be translated into warm bodies to publicly show support. At least, this hasn’t been the case since the campaign. Convinced that the best defense is a good offense, the President continues to present a moving target: when it became indisputable that public opinion had turned against the police, the President made a cosmetic announcement yesterday: The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, he said, will now do all the talking on the so-called war on drugs (a smokescreen he’s been belching since January, with statistics handed over last May and repeated trial balloons in August and in September).

He must govern by fear. Big business has been taught to toe the line by avoiding expressing anything other than praise, what with the fate of those businesses that have angered the President or his people. Media remains on the defensive as audiences shrink. The military, under sane and cautious leadership of Delfin Lorenzana and Eduardo Año, is holding the line against political adventurism by civilian leaders (even the recent appointment of Gen. Rolando Bautista as Army Chief does not change this). The bureaucracy is what it is. In the Supreme Court, yesterday’s decision on Senator Leila de Lima suggests the four appointments of the President so far (with at least two more by next year) are fortifying a comfortable majority in important decisions to come. The China card neutralizes all other foreign opinion. The Church is still practicing prudence. This leaves the political class, which has a breather in terms of barangay elections finally being postponed, while depriving the President of the opportunity to appoint OICs. While the Comelec (and one assumes, enterprising politicians) figure out what to do with the 59 million blank ballots already printed, the May 2018 polls presents a problem: All the machines will have to calibrate, not now, but in a year.

This is why Koko Pimentel announced PDP-Laban will stop accepting new members this December. Carpet-baggers from the executive branch can be kept out this way, fortifying those in politics before the current era — and ensuring their relevance even beyond the current dispensation. With dropping ratings comes the imperative to position for a post-administration future. After the budget passes next month, impeachment will eat up congressional time, but Charter change has to be concluded by May next year. Otherwise May 2019 will serve as the prelude to the 2022 presidential derby.


The Explainer: The dangling of Damocles’ sword

The dangling of Damocles’ sword

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Oct 09 2017 07:43 PM | Updated as of Oct 09 2017 09:45 PM

For anyone in politics, each snapshot is also a means to measure how high, or low, Damocles’ sword is dangling. Because for every administration, public opinion as measured by the polls, is like a referendum. More than a taking of the pulse, a survey is an reaffirmation, or a possible rejection, of the mandate that administration got at the start.

But, of course, there are two ways of looking at the same snapshot. You can look at the different responses, and report them individually: broadly speaking, approve, disapprove, and don’t know. Each response is reported separately and you have Gross Numbers. So the chart above, for example, only tells you the gross numbers for satisfaction. But there’s another way and it uses taking approval and subtracting disapproval, and the result is a net number. At a certain point, if the disapproval gets big enough, you start having negative numbers, as you can see in the chart below. It’s simpler and also more exciting for reporters. Note that the lines more or less maintain the same ups and downs.

For now, let’s use Net numbers simply because the media taking its cue from the Social Weather Stations (SWS), which likes to use these figures because they’re easier to report and, I might add, they can be more dramatic Two of the most significant things looked at by SWS are satisfaction and trust. How satisfied are you, with the President in terms of his doing his job? How much do you trust the President?

As you can see from this chart on satisfaction, there’s a rule of thumb: there is no way for any president to go, but down, in public opinion as time passes. Some presidents will recover, lose, recover again, and so on. Others nosedive and hardly recover. As more points get added –more snapshots are taken—all sides look to see if a pattern can be seen.

The other way these snapshots are useful, is to see if there is a picture of health or not, in comparison to previous presidents at the same time in their terms. Presidents Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rose to power not on the regular, June schedule, but earlier; so their timelines are different. President Estrada didn’t have a September survey one and a half years into his term. So the best we can do is to compare the President, now, with two of his predecessors at the same point in time in their terms. At plus 48, he is not doing as well as Fidel V. Ramos (FVR( who had plus 62 and Benigno Simeon Aquino III (BSA) who had plus 56 this time in their terms.

Now before we go on to further zeroing in on his performance results, let’s refresh our memory about two things. The first is geography. That is, where a President can count on people because they delivered votes to help him win. Two places count the most for the President: Metro Manila, and Mindanao. Which is not to say he didn’t do well in other places. But these are the places he did best.

The other thing is, well, the people. What kind of people delivered for the President to help him win? Looking at the exit polls in May 2016, Mahar Mangahas observed the wealthier, the more educated, and the younger you were, the more likely you were to be a supporter of the President, and more males and non-Catholics went for him in comparison to his rivals.

Bearing all of this mind, looking at the surveys since he took office combined, the President can take comfort in Mindanao being steady in its support. He has a problem with the Visayas, which has dropped the most steeply, although National Capital Region (NCR) and Balance Luzon have dropped too.

As far as the President is concerned, urban and rural opinion are practically the same, though he had done better among urban people in the past.

But in terms of his core support, they remain with him, firmly indeed. That’s the green line indicating you, the likely ANC viewer, who belongs to class ABC. In contrast to you is the sharp decline among the poorest of the poor, Class E. And a significant decline in the biggest portion of our population, Class D, as well.

As far as men and women are concerned, the President has faced a steady decline among men, who used to prefer him more. In the recent past, he had enjoyed an increase in female support but he’s lost it, with slightly fewer women approving than do men.

In another core demographic of the President, College Graduates among whom he did well in 2016, he has done the worst. That’s the pink line, which started dropping sharply this year. All other levels have dropped as well except for those with Some College or Vocational education, who are holding the steadiest.

How does it all come together? For this we have to thank JC Punongbayan, who is a doctoral candidate at the School of Economics of UP. Looking at the President’s performance ratings year on year, that is, from two snapshots, September 2016 and September 2017, he’s zeroed in on where the President has gone.

It’s generally negative, across the nation, regions, economic classes, ages, sexes, and educational levels –with the exception of Class ABC–you, the viewer—which is the only place where he is marginally better today than he was in September last year. The President has lost the most satisfaction in Balance Luzon and the Visayas, among rural Filipinos, among Men, and among those ages 35-44 who are young parents, perhaps, followed by millennials 25 to 34 and seniors 55 and above.

Now this brings us to the second question: trust. The President, before he won, had only slightly over half of the public trusting him. When he won, trust went through the roof. It stayed there, in the low eighties, until June this year.

Much has been said and written about how victory crowns our officials with public trust. In a sense, the winner takes all. All the power, and all the trust of nearly all the people. But since June, the latest snapshot tells us something different. Trust has dropped nine percentage points since then.

Last September, that is, a year ago, I looked at the President’s trust numbers and made some observations. It was very early on his term, and the changes were tiny. So tiny, they were statistically not worth mentioning. So, in looking at the numbers then, I put forward a thesis. Either these tiny changes were little hairline fractures that could develop into wider cracks, or they were things that would go away and not matter in a few months or a year.

Just as JC Punongbayan did with the President’s satisfaction ratings, I went back to look at the snapshots from September last year, to see where public trust has gone, in the full year since. I’m grateful to SWS for providing a copy of their detailed findings on trust.

Last year, I noticed that it was in the Visayas that Little Trust in the President grew. As it turned out, year on year, the erosion was slow but sure; and added to this was a drop in trust in NCR which doubled in a year, and in Balance Luzon, though not quite the 6% change that would really matter. Also significant is that the number of people undecided about whether they trust the President has doubled in a year, too.

In terms of urban and rural citizens, last year the President had improved his trust ratings among rural people whose indecision went down and who decided to trust him. But in the year since, the President is down 13 in terms of rural trust although urban trust seems to be holding. Indecision, too, has doubled among rural people while little trust doubled among urban people.

For the ABC classes, satisfaction in performance is matched by trust in the President. But indecision has doubled, taking away some who’d formerly lost trust. In Class D, however, distrust has nearly doubled and trust is down, overall; for Class E. trust has gone down by no less than 16, with indecision and distrust both doubling.

As for men and women, tiny cracks had begun to reveal themselves in September last year among men. As it stands today, in a year the President has gone down 10 and 12 points each among men and women, with more women shifting to indecision, and little trust hitting low double-digits.

As far as educational attainment is concerned, last September, the President was solidly popular among those with a College degree; he’d gained a tiny amount among those with some College education; but little trust back then tripled among those with only some elementary education. In the year since, the President has lost most from those with some College education, down 13 points in trust, with indecision nearly doubling and distrust doubling; he’s down 11 points among College-educated people, indecision has doubled, and distrust has doubled. A similar drop among those with some elementary education.

So, what do these latest numbers tell us? Let’s not forget the big picture. By most measures, seven out of ten to six out of ten Filipinos are satisfied with the President’s performance and trust him, if you look at the gross numbers. The net numbers tell a slightly different story: at +48, the President’s job satisfaction is no longer a majority opinion. Trust in him, net-wise, though, is better, with +60. But in both cases, this is a far cry from where he was just last June, and where he’d been, steadily, from the June before that.

So, in a year and a half, the President has gone from exceptional, to normal or even slightly less than normal, compared to the only measure that matters for someone like him, his predecessors. This comes at a time when the President is gearing up for a lot of big battles, involving politicians who can read the numbers as well as he does. His popularity, still very high, reveals that he is now a victim of his past success: more normal numbers means he is not, at this point, a political superman anymore.

The Long View: Between Bato and a hard place


Between Bato and a hard place

 / 05:08 AM October 04, 2017

For a couple of days now, the PNP Chief has been belching fire at the media, the public, and anyone else critical of the casualties on the “war on drugs.” He blames the media, for example, for highlighting a few (undeniable) liquidations, resulting in doubts being cast over the methods or even validity of the PNP’s efforts. As of this writing, his latest assertion is that critics are ungrateful, considering the blessings of the anti-drug effort. If you’ve been following the news, you’ve been experiencing his outbursts in real time so there is no need to enumerate them in detail.

What his comments do reveal, is that he is caught between his role as PNP Chief and a hard place, which is the increasingly harsh snapshots of public opinion the surveys of Social Weather Stations represent. Three snapshots come to mind, which means a quick review is in order. The first two date to last November, when SWS found 74% nationally believed drug suspects shouldn’t be killed, and December, when SWS found that 78% feared they or a loved one might be killed. Yet the public in both surveys expressed satisfaction with the anti-drug campaign (84% in November) and said there’d been a reduction of drug-dealing in their neighborhoods (88% in December).

From June 23-26 of this year, SWS asked three new questions on the so-called “war on drugs,” which resulted in interesting snapshots of public opinion at the time the questions were asked.

Question 1: Asked “Many of those killed by the police in the anti-drug campaign did not really fight against the police,” 54% agreed (20% strongly agreed, 34% somewhat agreed). Undecided were 25%, while 20% disagreed (8% strongly disagreed, 12% somewhat disagreed).

Bearing in mind that the survey had sampling error margins of ±3% for national percentages, ±6% each for Metro Manila, Balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, the regional results were revealing as well. In Metro Manila, 63% of the population agreed, 18% disagreed, 19% were unsure; for balance Luzon, 56% agreed, 18% disagreed, 25% were unsure; while in the Visayas, 50% agreed, 24% disagreed, and 26% were unsure; and Mindanao, 49% agreed, 22% disagreed, and 28% were unsure. In terms of socio-economic classes, for class E, the poorest of the poor, 58% agreed; for class D, the majority of our population, 54% agreed; while class ABC, the upper and middle classes that have been the strongest base of support for the administration, 40% agreed.

Question 2: Asked “Many of those killed by the police in the anti-drug campaign are not really drug pushers,” 49% agreed (17% strongly, 32% somewhat), 24% disagreed (11% strongly, 13% somewhat), with 27% undecided. SWS observed that “the proportion of Filipino adults who believe that many of those killed are innocent of selling drugs is higher in Metro Manila than the rest of the country. In Metro Manila, 58% agree that many who have been killed were not drug pushers, followed by the Visayas at 52%, the rest of Luzon at 48%, and Mindanao at 45%… Belief in the innocence of those killed by police is lowest among class ABC at 38%, followed by class Eat 45%, then class D at 51%.”

As for Question 3: “Many are lying and pointing to their personal enemies as drug users or pushers in order to give an excuse for these people to be killed by police of vigilantes,” 51% agreed (19% strongly, 32% somewhat), 21% disagreed (10% strongly, 11% somewhat), while 28% were undecided. SWS in its report said there was “a higher rate of agreement in Metro Manila (63%), where most of the killings have occurred, than the rest of the country [where the] level of agreement in Mindanao is 51%; in Visayas, 42%; and in the rest of Luzon, 50%.”

At first blush the numbers tell that in late June this year, in terms of all three questions, those that agreed with them were almost twice as many as those who disagreed. Furthermore, aside from those who agreed, the next-largest percentage represented people undecided on whether they agreed or not –a large percentage overlooked in most commentaries on these results. And that those who on the whole, believe the PNP and that those killed are what the PNP claims they are, is a minority compared to those who hold contrary or uncertain opinions.

But most overlooked –both by PNP Chief de la Rosa and most people encountering these numbers—is that although the SWS report was issued on September 27, they only give us an insight as to where public opinion stood four months ago. In his public rages against the media and the public, de la Rosa seems to think the surveys are the result of reports on the liquidations that took place in Bulacan, Caloocan, and other places in August, because his response to being asked about the survey results was to complain about the attention paid to the case of Kian delos Santos and others. But this isn’t the case.

It’s actually far more troubling for the PNP. Two months before the mass liquidations in August, public opinion had already turned against the PNP. Most commentators (myself included) have assumed all along it was the killing of Kian and others, which finally made the public recoil in horror and outrage. Instead, what the SWS June numbers tell us is that the August liquidations probably confirmed what the public had already been thinking all along. There is a fundamental difference between the two: being jolted awake in August is different from concluding that what you already suspected, is in fact the case.

The difference is in intensity, and suggests the next numbers people will be looking at, should the three questions be asked again: where will the one-third, still undecided last June, be by the time the survey takes place?


The Explainer: Bamboozled by the barangay

Bamboozled by the barangay

Manolo Quezon — The Explainer

Posted at Oct 02 2017 05:35 PM

Even as the Philippine-American War was still raging, the Americans started holding local elections, drawing away power, prestige, and taxes from our First Republic. For all the screaming headlines in Metro Manila, it’s still in local governments that the authentic face of our democracy—or lack of it—can be seen. And the most basic unit of local government is the barangay.

Of course, it used to be known as the barrio, as in Barrio Fiesta, Barrio Captain, or even that modern slur, barriotic. In Spanish times, the Teniente del Barrio was also known as the Cabeza de Barangay, who, in the earliest barrios, were the datus or local leaders who accepted Spanish rule. In exchange, Spain made them permanent, hereditary chiefs exempted from the annual period of labor required by the Spanish crown.

The various cabeza de barangay, in turn, elected the gobernadorcillo who was a kind of combined mayor and judge with a term for two years. When a cabeza de barangay died without heirs, or a new barrio was created, the gobernadorcillo in turn was influential in recommending the appointment of the new cabeza de barangay.

All very cozy indeed, until the Americans came along and made everything elective. But since the gobernadorcillos had been elected in the time of Spain anyway, everyone knew what to do, and that was, to campaign as they had always campaigned: with bands, food, promises, and if necessary, the use of the police. The cabeza de barangay became the barrio captain, the bedrock of political machineries from the turn of the 20th century until 1972.

[[Link: until the Americans came along and made everything elective

Adrian Cristobal once observed something to the effect that what Ferdinand Marcos really wanted to be was the Super Rajah ruling over all the minor datus. So it comes as no surprise what he did from 1972 to 1974: first, in December, 1972, he created Citizens Assemblies to solve the problem of his proposed constitution losing if a proper plebiscite was held. Instead, he created something called “Citizen’s Assemblies.” In January, 1973, he renamed the citizen’s assemblies as barangays. And in 1974, he decreed the abolition of the barrio and its replacement with the barangay.

This was part of a then-fashionable process of making everything native, but as you’ve seen, it also helped erase from memory the democratic system that had existed before. The 1987 Constitution, in turn, preserved the barangay as the basic unit of our government which it is today.

But here’s an interesting thing, courtesy of a scholar named Damon Woods and a provocative piece he wrote titled “The Myth of the Barangay,” which is also the title of a very interesting collection of his essays published by UP Press. Woods basically argues that historians have repeatedly based their belief that the basic pre-hispanic political unit was the barangay, on the basis of a Spanish friar’s report from 1589 on the Tagalogs.

The problem is, the friar, a Franciscan named Juan Plasencia, never used the word barangay.” It was put in by an American historian, Frederick W. Morrison, when he translated the report for Blair and Robertson in 1903. Every scholar since, Woods says, just carried over this invention and made up increasingly elaborate theories about the barangays that never existed. Instead, Wood argues the Spaniards invented the idea of a barangay—that is why they established the position of cabeza de barangay to replace the title of datu. They had to invent the concept and title because they did not fully understand the societies they were conquering and how they were really organized. Instead they roughly tried to match their own society with its kings, dukes, barons and knights, to what they encountered here.

There’s a lot more in the article, such as, the word bayan being more accurate as far as how people then actually viewed where they lived and their relationship to each other, and how the word bayan, in turn, evolved into our present use of it to mean country while still meaning our localities as in ancient days. But all this is to suggest a basic reality about our barrios turned barangays: whatever style of government is on the surface, the ancient pulse of our society—hierarchical, dynastic, violent—beats in every barangay.

Here then is how the ancient collides with the modern. Here’s a modern-day legal fiction. The barangay is supposed to be non-political. Yet barangay officials are the local leaders on which all other leaders depend. So the result is a typically Filipino exercise in hypocrisy. All politicians claim the barangay is democratic, and nonpolitical, and they all conspire to keep the barangay political and undemocratic, because officially and unofficially, the barangay is the basic building block for all power blocs.

Last week, the Senate finally passed the bill postponing barangay elections. The House had been pushing for such a postponement for some time, after Congress already postponed the elections from October last year to October this year. The House wanted it postponed all the way to 2020. The compromise is to postpone it to 2018.

Now here is where the hypocrisy comes in. You know we have presidential elections every six years, and legislative and local elections every three years. So we had presidential, national, and local elections in May 2016, and are due to have national and local elections again in May 2019, also known as the mid-terms. Notice, however, the barangay elections don’t adhere to this schedule. Technically, they’re supposed to take place after national polls, in October. But they hardly ever do. This administration is not unique in postponing barangay polls. Its predecessor rescheduled them. And so on.

Ask yourself why. To be non-political, of course! How noble. Except the practical reason is, any candidate from mayor on up, needs the barangay to form the basis of their political machine. How can you rely on your machine, if its component parts are busy competing in an election? Solution: hold barangay elections on a different date –and you wonder why local leaders keep winning? And you’re surprised that these grateful leaders, in turn, make sure to keep extending the term of the barangay officials that helped them win?

Here’s another example. Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections used to be held on a separate date for a similar reason. Out of sight means out of mind, and ARMM could provide a bonanza for national candidates in trouble in an election. But if you synchronized ARMM and national elections, ARMM leaders would be busy fighting their own campaigns to help needy national candidates. So they kindly desynchronized the elections. Finally, in 2013 they got synchronized. Whether this has killed the old use and abuse of ARMM votes still remains to be seen.

Back to the barangay. You might remember the President had proposed that instead of extending the terms of current barangay officials, he should have the power to appoint Officers-in-Charge (OICs) when current terms expire until new elections are held. Knowing on which side their bread is buttered, Congress rejected this. This disappointment might help explain something curious. Despite Congress finally passing a barangay election postponement, the President seems to be taking his time to sign it into law. In the meantime, the barangay election gun ban for this whole month began last Sunday. In the absence of a signed law, the Comelec has to proceed according to schedule.

As Emil Marañon III has calculated, as of June 20, 2017, there are 56,737,237 barangay election voters, and a subset of 20,920,968 Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) election voters. This is because Congress recently amended the SK election law expanding the vote for SK to include everyone between the ages of 15 to 30 who will in fact, receive two ballots on election day on October 23. That’s a lot of happy candidates competing to make barangay voters happy, too. What’s at stake? Budgets. Take two barangays at random. Barangay San Bartolome, Quezon City in 2013 had a budget of 29.8 million pesos. Barangay Bel-Air in Makati City in 2016 had a budget of 167.5 million pesos.

Except you can imagine that the President now asking, what’s in it for me? All the local and national leaders will have what they want, while he doesn’t get what he wanted, which was to break the local machines and build one independent of them. Instead, all postponement does is it makes all the other politicians stronger and the presidency dependent on them.

Presidents, Congresses, even constitutions, come and go—but the datus remain the same. Just call them Mr. Chairman. That’s why all politics, as they say, is local.

The Long View: Go, grow and Glo


Go, grow and Glo

 / 05:06 AM September 27, 2017

The congressional photo-finish in which the House of Representatives adopted the Senate bill — which itself adopted the House bill — postponing the barangay polls from October this year to May next year, means the bill can go straight to President Duterte for his signature. Congress has handed the President a capon disguised as a victory. He gets a second postponement of barangay polls, but with the presidential proposal to appoint OICs for the barangays excised from it.

Senator Foghorn Gordon, who’s committee report had originally backed the President’s scheme to appoint replacement barangay chairmen on the basis of the President’s purported drug matrix, ended up outvoted. But these allies can see the President at tonight’s scheduled Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council meeting and still hand him a bill to sign and crow about.

A year and a half have passed, but the administration’s extravagant agenda of achieving permanent control has so far, proven a dud. The plan had been to proceed along three, interrelated fronts. The first was to pass a law to reorganize the entire executive department. The second was to create an independent political movement to rid the President of dependence on the temporary loyalty of fellow local leaders and their mercenary political machines. The third was to mobilize the bureaucracy and this new movement — and coopt the political establishment—by abolishing national, direct elections of the chief executive, fuse the legislature and Cabinet, and neutralize the nationally-elected senate (an irritating foil to executive overreach) by means of a unicameral parliament with some sort of Federalist decoration.

As I’ve been tracking in this column, the effort to create an independent movement has failed. The President’s (rejected) proposal to appoint barangay OICs was thus a last-ditch effort to displace uncooperative local machines, something that was supposed to happen in tandem with the formation of an alternative national movement to push his agenda independent of local barons.

This failure has consequences as far as the jockeying for influence within the Palace is concerned. On Sept. 15, the President signed Executive Order No. 40, which restored to Special Assistant to the President and PMS head Bong Go’s control, offices (Public Concerns Office, Cabinet Support Office, Directives Monitoring Office) that had been taken away from him and awarded to Secretary of the Cabinet Leoncio Evasco Jr. early in the President’s term. While the order reiterates that the Secretary of the Cabinet will still enjoy support from the PMS, it reduces Evasco to a clerk who prepares agendas but is dependent on resources coming from Go, and staffwork by offices now under Go’s authority. Changes in departments — like social welfare and development, and agrarian reform — formerly headed by people similarly-minded to Evasco, means their new heads will likely be more dependent on Go than Evasco to get access to the President. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea also remains the weakest in living memory.

Why do these intramurals matter? As Amang Rodriguez famously observed, “politics is addition.” What is being added to is the ranks of those opposed to the present dispensation—even the hitherto pliable Senate had senators crossing factional lines yesterday, with 16 signing a resolution calling for an investigation into the killing of children, and only seven senators holding the administration line.

Without a movement, the administration will also be hard-pressed to mobilize in terms of its remaining schemes: to purge the executive through a reorganization law and some sort of constitutional change, both still in play. Not only has a lot of time been lost, but warm bodies will have to be mobilized sooner or later, either to reassure congressmen that Charter change remains viable, and to obtain a victory in a plebiscite.

Over the past year and a half, the numbers of administration supporters prepared to go out and stand up to show support is relatively small. This explains what seems a mystery: The polls consistently provide snapshots of overwhelming public support, but that support is nowhere to be seen aside from the internet. But of course. Having campaigned on a rejection of People Power, it derived its mandate from a plurality that believes the presidency is a one-man show, which means he sinks or swims on his own.

If the constitution remains unamended by the 2019 mid-terms, then the political class and the public will start being drawn, inexorably, to planning and speculating about the 2022 presidential derby. To continue raising the possibility of martial law or revolutionary governments at that point will only aid, not hinder, the President’s slide toward lame-duck status. At best, he could still produce a parliamentary system — for which Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is uniquely poised to be the best – equipped as the first prime minister.


The Explainer: Manna from Marcos

Manna from Marcos

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Sep 26 2017 05:03 PM


In 1960, Richard Attenborough went to the new Hebrides, now known as Vanuatu. This was one of those beautiful Pacific islands whose peace had been shattered during World War II when they were turned into busy air bases for the Allies. The sight of cargo planes unloading the riches of the West—from Spam to tents tractors—impressed the natives of Tanna island who enjoyed the bounty of GI goods. Then, when the war ended, the Americans left and suddenly the cargo was gone. The islanders turned the experience into the basis of a political and religious movement, which has come to be known as a Cargo Cult.

The Cargo Cult members Attenborough interviewed built red crosses, had a mystical radio that had no wires but which transmitted mysterious signals to a lady in a trance, its members carried bamboo rifles, and painted “USA” in red on their chests. They threw away their money, and cleared landing strips in the forests, expecting a savior named John Frumm to come back and bring cargo in a plane to make them all happy and rich. There have been new variations on this mythology. When Prince Philip visited in 1974, there arose a Prince Philip Cult, for example.

The scientist Richard Dawkins, after viewing Attenborough’s program, says Cargo Cults can be said to operate on the Science Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law, which is, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In the face of such magic, Dawkins said Cargo Cults prove four things:

1. Cults can spring up with amazing speed;

2. The origination process quickly covers up its tracks, meaning the explainable disappears into the unexplainable belief;

3. Similar cults can spring up independently, which suggests the tendency of people to want to believe;

4. Cargo cults have similarities not just to each other, but to older religions, which undergo their own kind of evolution for the religions that survive.

Fast forward to 2017 and a kind of Cargo Cult of our own, which grabbed our attention when, over the weekend, thousands appeared in UP Los Baños, seemingly out of nowhere. These people had paid thirty pesos each to ensure a monthly income of ten thousand pesos for four months, representing their share of the Marcos gold. This was promised by an organization calling itself One Social Family Credit Cooperative, which sold a pamphlet copyrighted 2016 by something called Bullion Buyers Limited, or BBL.

BBL is said to have been founded in 2011 by Emmanuel Destura and Felicisima Cantos. Destura claimed his father, a former Bicol mayor, had been entrusted by Ferdinand Marcos with gold in Switzerland. Charged with estafa, they went into hiding in 2013, only for Destura to reemerge in UPLB last weekend, speaking for One Social Family which was using the materials of the now-banned BBL.

We know all this because luckily for the public, Joel Ariate Jr., a university researcher at UP’s Third World Studies Center, has been on the trail of this group ever since his mother encountered one of its recruitment drives in Bicol in December, last year. It’s your standard networking, or pyramiding, scheme. You pay two thousand to recruit, in turn, other members who pay thirty pesos each, who then get that forty thousand pesos in four months promise. But as a leader, your two thousand pesos gets you a promise of one million pesos, to be followed thirty days later by one million dollars. Yes, dollars.

But here’s the rub, according to Ariate. The Marcos booklet singing the praises of the late dictator dates back only to 2016, and if you’ve been following the news, a month ago what hogged the headlines was the spectacular announcement that the Marcoses were willing to deal with the government to return gold the President claimed the Marcoses said they had hidden to protect it for future generations of Filipinos.

Cause and effect. Gold glitters in the news starting in August, and pyramiding gains a new lease on life in September—armed with a brochure as propaganda for the rehabilitation of the Marcoses. The pamphlet issued in 2016 originated in 2004 and part of its contents made it into Solicitor-General Jose Calida’s submission to the Supreme Court defending the burial of the late dictator in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had to disassociate his clan from the scammers in UPLB, but the propaganda had been spread. Manna from Marcos had proven itself a powerful motivator of faith and greed.

Imelda Marcos of deuterium fame had known this all along. Gold as the foundation of their fortune was a tale told by Marcos even before martial law. It continues to be the bedrock of their claims to a legitimate fortune. There are two flavors to this story. The first is that the young Ferdinand as a humble lawyer started trading in gold.

The second, more exciting one, was chronicled by Sterling Seagrave who wrote “The Marcos Dynasty” among many other books. It’s a kind of Dan Brown conspiracy theory except it claimed to be non-fiction.

In Reader’s Digest condensed form, it’s basically this: General Tomoyuki Yamashita and friends hid the confiscated treasure of the Imperial Japanese Army all over the Philippines, because it could no longer be brought back to Japan. Ferdinand and friends found it, others like a man named Rogelio Roxas claimed Marcos took it from those who found it, and that’s how he got rich.

In Hawaiian exile, Marcos dazzled old friends with visions of gold deposit certificates, and used it as bait to try to get people to help him swing a deal to come back home.

So, Doy Laurel said Marcos was willing to give half back to come back; tycoon Enrique Zobel said the same thing, too, and said Marcos had shown him piles of gold certificates.

But, as Buddy Gomez, former executive assistant of Zobel who was in Hawaii at the time as our consul-general, recently recounted, Marcos was trying to get a 250-million-peso loan from Zobel, who declined. But he was nice enough to pass on Marcos’ message.

Today, the number tossed around is that the Marcos gold amounts to 7 thousand tons of gold. A financial analyst I recently talked to observed that amounts to close to fifteen trillion pesos or a year’s worth of GDP. Working backwards, in 1965-86 average values for gold, back then it would have been worth 74 billion dollars or twice the Philippines’ GDP in 1986. You cannot stockpile more than the entire country is worth. Nor keep it hidden since it’s almost twice what the US government keeps under guard in Fort Knox.

But without even touching the kooky topic of gold, enough has been researched to suggest a far more logical source for the Marcos billions. He made his fortune the old-fashioned way, he skimmed it.

As a congressman and then a senator, Marcos mastered the prime sources of graft in those days in the 40s, 50s, and 60s: import and dollar licenses, when the economy was heavily regulated by the government, and Chinese immigration quotas.

As The Guardian summarized, and we’ve mentioned this before, from his second term onwards, he went from skimming to plundering. It’s just that the numbers, by any measure, are staggering and the corporate raiding that took place was so intricate it fulfills Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law. Put it another way, any sufficiently advanced system of plunder is indistinguishable from magically manufacturing gold bars.

The Long View: Crucible of solidarity


Crucible of solidarity

 / 05:22 AM September 20, 2017

When the Makabayan bloc bolted the ruling coalition in the House of Representatives, the drama of their decision was tempered by a continuing reality: their comrades in the National Anti-Poverty Commission, Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, as well as the under- and assistant secretaries and consultants in the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment, and Department of Agrarian Reform remain firmly ensconced in the same executive branch their House colleagues now take turns condemning. One of their own even joined the executive, the announcement of Luz Ilagan’s appointment by President Duterte being announced that same day.

But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as the old saying goes. The Liberal Party (LP), for its part, also remains half-in and half-out. In the beginning, it chose to be part of the ruling coalition both in the House and the Senate. Just as it took the President to wink and nudge some of his more prominent radical appointees out of their offices (thanks to the Commission on Appointments and the twin innovations of the three strikes and you’re out, and secret voting when it comes to presidential appointments), it took the administration’s eviction of LP senators from their committee chairmanships to make them stand up against the administration as a bloc. So far, the Liberals haven’t been forced to do likewise, and so they remain part of the ruling House coalition. In that sense, Makabayan congressmen demonstrated a swifter recovery of their convictions.

From the start, the ruling House coalition managed to create both an overwhelming majority but also, a pliable official minority in the manner that Marcos, once upon a time, had his “Marcos Liberals” even as he was already president of the Nacionalista Party (NP). Every administration, bar none, enjoys a majority in the House on the convenient but strange belief that the winning president possesses a near-total mandate from the people — and who are representatives to buck what the people have decided? What is rather unique, though, is the creation of a kind of company union which is what the official minority is.

Then again, as Thomas “The Boss” B. Reed — one-time Speaker of the US House in the early 1900s — once put it: “The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch.” Whatever one thinks of the compromised nature of both the LP and the Reds, the fact that their choices have caused irritation with their supporters and allies suggests their continued relevance. No one, for example, is wasting time or breath figuring where groups like Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, NP, Lakas, Kampi, National Unity Party, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, Nationalist People’s Coalition etc., stand because their stand is at once immovable and eternal: they are the components of the Coalition of the Willing of whoever happens to be in the Palace.

What they have are convergent interests, as shown by proposals in both the Palace and the House, aimed at bringing this coalition closer to its collective dream of a unicameral parliament free of messy national elections because the public possessing a direct vote to choose a chief executive who then fills Cabinet posts congressmen would love to have for themselves. Why, they’ll even gladly extend the President’s term to 2025 (last week’s Palace-sponsored proposal by Lito Lorenzana) or dissolve themselves and hand him legislative powers for a time (as laid out in the draft constitution filed by Reps. Aurelio Dong Gonzales Jr. and Eugene Michael De Vera in early August), to make this possible.

The problem of blocs like Makabayan and the Liberals and other, smaller parties such as Akbayan — however pragmatic they wanted to be — is that on one hand, both the Palace and its majorities in the House and Senate have been too crude for comfort, and the party leaders belong to coalitions of their own in which public opinion matters. So they are increasingly under pressure to show some spine.

Tomorrow’s many activities, ranging from a Mass in the UP chapel, the unveiling of a monument to Jose W. Diokno at the Commission on Human Rights and a concert, to the main event which is the rally at the Luneta — under the auspices of different coalitions of varying political colors and those insistent they have no color — is demonstration of this bubbling up of public opinion. An increasingly prominent and crucial part of these efforts to come together are being led by millennials. I wouldn’t say they’re color-blind, but rather, they’re agnostic when it comes to political colors. It is causing discomfort to their elders. But it is also inspiring hope. It is forcing an accounting of past behavior and assumptions on all sides. What it is, is a challenge. Pick your event, whether it’s of Tindig Pilipinas or Movement Against Tyranny, or something else. But first things first: Take a stand.


The Explainer: The big lie

The big lie

Manolo Quezon — The Explainer

Posted at Sep 18 2017 09:07 PM

Memory is a tricky thing.

Marcos, clever man that he was, left behind a smokescreen to confuse future generations. He once told a convention of historians that he actually signed the martial law proclamation on September 17. But he was lying to the historians. How do we know this? We know it from Marcos himself.

A bit of background. He first floated the idea of martial law in 1969, in a speech at the Philippine Military Academy. In his own diaries, he started mentioning the need for martial law in 1970, and started detailed planning for it, by his own reckoning, in 1971.

Marcos gave the military a pep talk on September 14 to fill them in on what the senior generals already knew, since they had helped in the planning of martial law. By September 17, Marcos had sent his children abroad for safety. Marcos claimed in his diary, plans were finalized on September 18. On September 20, he complained he couldn’t sign the necessary papers because they had to be re-typed. He also mentioned he asked Executive Secretary Alejandro Melchor to submit a report on his views on the plans for martial law.

Then came September 21. What happened on that day? Not martial law. Four things prove this.

First, Congress remained open, and in fac, opposition Senator Ninoy Aquino gave a speech in the Senate—his last—warning that martial law was coming within 48 hours.

Second, a big rally was held in Plaza Miranda. It was organized by the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties.

Third, in his diary, Marcos recounted that he met with the Northern bloc of congressmen worried about Ninoy’s speech. He told them what he intended to do. Fourth, Marcos then met the US Ambassador to confirm his plans for martial law. All the US Ambassador said was he hoped it could be postponed until after the US presidential elections in November.

So there was no martial law on September 21. It was, instead, the last day of freedom when people could say they went about their business normally.

To be sure, Marcos had planned to impose martial law on September 21, 1972. But something had gotten in the way. Congress was that thing. It was scheduled to go on recess on that date. This was important because Marcos wanted to make sure Congress was on vacation to reduce the risk senators and congressmen might try to oppose martial law.

But Congress didn’t go on recess on September 21. A joint committee of the House and Senate wasn’t finished arguing over the Tariff and Customs Code. Congressional leaders told Marcos they expected to adjourn on the 23rd, if the joint committee finished its work on the night of the 22nd.

This left Marcos in a bind and it explains what happened after midnight as September 22 gave way to September 23. Having gotten so far in planning martial law, but having had to delay it, Marcos and his generals feared they’d lose the initiative and more details would leak out since Ninoy apparently had sources of information. Marcos quickly had to find an excuse to impose it. That excuse was the supposed assassination attempt on Juan Ponce Enrile in the Wack-Wack subdivision, around eight o’clock in the evening of September 22.

Things moved quickly after that. Shortly before, or shortly after midnight, the joint committee on the customs tariff was interrupted when soldiers arrived to arrest Ninoy. Five trucks of soldiers had been sent to do the job. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, PLDT, the airport, were shut down in the early hours of September 23. Media, political, and other personalities and activists were rounded up also in the early morning hours.

This is why martial law was announced with silence: people woke up to discover that TV and radio stations were off the air. Later in the day, some stations started playing easy listening music and some stations aired cartoons. But Marcos’ speechwriters were slow, then the teleprompter broke down, and the speech had to be hand-written on kartolina. So it wasn’t until dinnertime that Marcos finally appeared on TV and the country found out martial law was in place.

So, why do so many people who actually lived through martial law, misremember when it was proclaimed?

Marcos once said that the people would accept anything so long as it was legal. Marcos said he’d imposed martial law on September 21. We know this wasn’t true, because the document itself was co-signed, not by Alejandro Melchor, his executive secretary, but by a presidential assistant. This was because Melchor had left for abroad before Marcos actually signed the martial law proclamation sometime between the evening and early morning of September 22 to 23.

Marcos went further to wipe the public’s memory clean. He later proclaimed September 21 as Thanksgiving Day. And in every speech, every documentary, every poster, September 21 was the date enshrined as the birth of the New Society. So much so that the public forgot what it had actually lived through. This is the power of propaganda. By altering the date, Marcos helped erase not only September 21 as the last day of freedom, but also how that freedom was lost between September 22 and 23. His lawyerly piece of paper, his Proclamation 1081, became the ultimate instrument for national amnesia.

So, remember September 21 by all means. Not as the fake news date Marcos wanted you to remember, but for the things he wanted you to forget: a still-independent Senate, freedom of assembly, and a free press. But remember what he wanted you to forget: that it was on September 23 that the nation woke up to discover all these things were suddenly gone. And that the next day, the last institution standing, the Supreme Court, received the warning: play ball, or be abolished. They played ball.

The Long View: If your honors please


If your honors please

 / 05:07 AM September 13, 2017

Senator Richard Gordon is the Foghorn Leghorn of our public life. Every session day is made vivid by his presence, why if he were living out a Looney Tunes cartoon, his committee hearings might go like this.

Foghorn Leghorn: “What’s the big… I say, what’s the big idea chasin’ my worm? You’re a cat, son. Cats don’t eat worms. You’re takin’ the food right outta my mouth! I don’t go around chasin’ mice!” [knocks the cat down]

Foghorn Leghorn: “Stand up boy, you’re trippin’ over your own feet. Now you stay away from worms and I’ll stay away from mice. That’s fair and square, and if you’d stop all your arguin’ and jawin’, you’d see my side of it!” [pushes the cat up a ladder]

Foghorn Leghorn: “Yap-yap-yap, keep that mouth flappin’ and do no listenin’.” [the cat falls off the ladder]

Foghorn Leghorn: “There’s nothin’ worse than a blabbermouth cat!”

The above being as good a summation of a well-balanced debate as far as Dick is concerned.

Now this here Dick crows with pleasure whenever the President stomps around and cackles in anger every time Trillanes does his own stomping in the Senate, but now he’s an Angry Bird who wants his colleague to be punished for (borrowing the style of Foghorn Leghorn for a moment, “Demeanin’, I say, this here noooble institution of the Seh-nut. Demeanin’ I say, son, with this his puffery and I his jiggery-pokery, son!” (“puffery” referring to the seriousness of his complaint as being no mere paper-wrapped pile of pique; but an odd choice: The word means “exaggerated or false praise,” while “jiggery-pokery,” meaning “deceitful or dishonest behavior,” is a pious insistence that the Senate is not a forum for grandstanding by mere oppositionists).

To be sure, the President and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV both have about as much polish and decorum as two bull elephants in heat. That is why their trumpeting and headbutting is so much fun to watch. But some senators are better than others, and woe to anyone who thinks Dick can get the Duterte treatment—never mind if Dick is delighted when Duterte gives a thorough dousing to others. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, I say—Ralph Waldo Emerson said that, son.

But, in all seriousness, even this here Dick can have a point. Wide latitude is given legislators to say practically anything they please, on the sound principle that as representatives of the people — and senators, nationally-elected, are representatives of all the people to an extent only the president of the Philippines can equally claim — they should be able to freely express opinions and ask questions in the public’s interest and for the common good. But they owe their colleagues courtesy because they’re all ostensibly in the same institution to achieve the same thing, and if they argue, it should be on the basis of principles and not personalities.

So is anything wrong with what Gordon wants, setting aside double standards?

Gordon’s press release ended with five examples of legislators suspended by either the House or Senate. None of the examples seems particularly supportive of what Gordon wants. Of the five mentioned, Jose Alejandrino was suspended from the Senate in 1924 for assaulting a fellow member, resulting in a case that established the internal rules and discipline of the legislature as a political institution beyond intervention by the Supreme Court. Jose Avelino was suspended from the Senate and ousted from the senate presidency in 1949 because — as Russell Fifield pointed out in a paper at the time — “he participated in the sale of United States Army surplus beer contrary to the prohibition of a member of the government engaging in such activity,” among other things. Sergio Osmeña Jr. was suspended by the House in 1960 for delivering a privilege speech against President Garcia — despite there being then, as now, a constitutional guarantee of immunity for speeches made on the floor or in committees. Juan Ponce Enrile’s suspension from the Senate in 2014 was upon orders of the Sandiganbayan, although he’d been censured (reminded and exhorted, as the ethics committee said at the time, to be more careful in the future) by the Senate in 1988, a slap on the wrist after he withdrew and apologized for remarks against Paul Aquino. Heherson Alvarez, for his part, was also censured in 1996 for writing a letter clearing a police official even as the Senate was investigating the policeman for possible complicity in a pyramid scam.

The only examples that seems relevant are Osmeña’s case — a political lynching if there ever was one — and Enrile’s slap on the wrist. Dick’s lip flappin’ suggests he isn’t bruisin’ for a mere slappin’. So yes, what’s wrong is that he wants Trillanes lynched.