Six fat and six lean months

In Baguio, where I spent the holidays, I noticed something different about the Mansion House, the presidential residence there. In previous years, the President’s setting up camp was accompanied by little more than sycophantic banners in the Country Club and the obvious presence of officials in the city. This year, the President seems to have taken a large chunk of the armed forces with her.

For all I know, the same number of troops accompanied her in the past, but they were quite obvious this time around, particularly at the back of the Mansion House property, where APC’s lurked behind the trees and the roadside featured clusters of soldiers in full battle gear posted at regular intervals, complete with tents. Baguio during the holidays is a pretty laid back place, but there was nothing laid back about these security precautions.

I had three conversations during the holidays worth reporting here. The first was a very brief one with an acquaintance who works for a computer college. I asked how enrollments were. He replied last year (2006) they’d bucked the trend, and had maintained an increase. What trend, I asked. He said that every election year marked the beginning of a cycle, with increased enrollments, which would then begin to peter off midway and end the cycle with decreased enrollments until the next election year, when enrollments would again increase. I asked him why this was so, and he bluntly replied that politicians would hand out scholarships come election time, but that funding peters out as the next election cycle begins.

Another conversation was with an entrepreneur I respect highly. I asked him what he thought about economic prospects for 2007. In broad strokes, he said it would be six months of plenty followed by six months of wait-and-see for businessmen. An election year always results in lavish spending, he pointed out, which puts money in everyone’s pockets, but after the elections in May, there would be a corresponding belt-tightening all around. The way Thailand has “imploded,” in economic and security terms, as he put it, would divert some foreign money to the Philippines and lead to some opportunities in the first half of the year (the stock market, the Peso, etc.), and consumer-based companies would do well since lots of money will be handed out by the politicians.

The problem will come after May, he said. We have to see to what extent the government is willing to throw caution to the winds in order to win enough seats in the House and Senate to keep control of Congress. He was, for example, unhappy with news that Finance Secretary Teves will relinquish his cabinet portfolio and run for the Senate, since he’s doing a good job (in the view of the entrepreneur, Teves is a much-needed antidote to individuals like Andaya). So the coming resignations from the cabinet will reveal just how intent the President is on playing politics to the detriment of the economy. Next will come the fallout from the elections: if credible, then things just might improve; if lacking credibility, then obviously, political uncertainty will haunt the economy. Also, if the opposition does well, an impeachment, he said, will be assumed by businessmen who will then wait and see what the results of that exercise will be. The only thing that will keep things from deteriorating quickly, he pointed out, is that the last half of the year also brings in remittances from overseas, which might cancel out the effects of local mismanagement of the economy or political uncertainty.

The third conversation was with a senior advertising executive who belongs to the group I like to call the perennially-frustrated supporters of the President. That is, he thinks the President has what it takes to lead the country, but wonders why the President keeps screwing up. He believes, for all her defects, that she remains the only one qualified to lead at present and who has the courage to defend her position against all comers, though he’s very frustrated over her waffling at every point that she begins to enjoy the upper hand (thus losing it, and keeping the political situation in limbo). To his mind, if the President did two things, first, deliver on infrastructure, and second, actually do something tangible for OFW families (instead of glad-hand them during the holidays, which he sniffed insulted everyone’s intelligence) then the public, which would never cease grumbling, would at least grudgingly admire her.

He gave as examples exercising political will -even flouting the law, if necessary- to open NAIA3, which he says is a perennial reminder to Filipinos and foreigners alike how incompetent government can be, or finally doing something with the planned railways. He advocates some sort of grand pronouncement to set up an OFW bank or establish scholarships for the children of OFWs as something that would have a positive impact on public perception (the entrepreneur I talked to also mentioned the need to exercise political will to put a stop to the growth of bureaucracies like the POEA, with its tendency to exact useless fees and the corruption-laden monopolies its establishes for deployment contracts).

He found Charter Change a complete waste of time and ultimately, harmful to the president (needless to say we vigorously debated her motivations for this and other pet projects of the administration). Since it’s his business as an advertising man to get the public pulse, he says the only way to pitch it is to chop up the issue into discrete parts, but each segment that it’s pitched to would ask, “what’s in it for me?” And there’s precious little in it, however you spin it, he said, that offers anything beneficial to anyone who is not a professional politician.

What I found most interesting though, were his observations about neighboring cultures. He said he was amused by the “rantings” of his fellow citizens about our politics, considering how much more advanced we are in both appreciating and practicing democracy; that our defects are not unique but part and parcel of our being Asians: dynasties, celebrity-addiction, name-recall, he said, are all characteristics of Asian culture. The Congress Party in India, he pointed out, is nothing without the Gandhis; Pakistan was Bhutto country for a time; before Arroyo there was Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of a president, and Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia are filled with dynastic politicians who are intimately connected with big business. The saving grace of the Filipino, for all our national defects, he said, is that we firmly adhere to periodic elections which offer up the chance of a change in policy without the need for a coup or a bloodbath: and when when we find that option frustrated, that is the only time we begin to to toy around with more extreme methods for regime change.

Now unless you want to entrust the future to astrologers, this new year’s prospects entirely depends on what we will make of it (although, having started out the New Year with a cold, and with the irritating slowdown in the Internet showing no signs of going away, I can say that the early signs aren’t too peach keen). It begins, as Big Mango set out to do, with asking questions (the entrepreneur also said the time has come to challenge some fundamental assumptions about policy, including land reform; and for that reason, Rational Choice‘s entry on Negros Occidental sugar lands is very interesting). It also begins, I’d like to propose, with stating your assumptions so that they can be examined and challenged by others, which is what I’ve tried to do with my first column for the year, Palace none the wiser.

Overseas, the first entry of the year by History Unfolding provides much food for thought:

The Iraqis have shown they are fiercely nationalistic and I don’t see why the Sunni insurgent leaders would want an alien state within their state. Al Queda, meanwhile, has apparently established a new nuclear-protected safe haven in Pakistan anyway. But Al Queda, although capable of terrorist acts against the US, was never the major issue in this war. The war was designed spectacularly to reverse the decline of American influence in the Middle East–and instead, as I have pointed out, spectacularly accelerated it. The region desperately needs a halt to the Shi’ite-Sunni fighting before it spreads. The only way Americans could help bring that about is to advocate peaceful partition of Iraq. Meanwhile, a real political and constitutional crisis looms in the United States, as the President prepares entirely to disregard the opinions the voters expressed in the last election.

My first Arab News column for the year focused on the question of accountability for tyrants, even as the Inquirer editorial marked a particular tyrant’s passing.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

24 thoughts on “Six fat and six lean months

  1. i believe that whoever is the president right now will do their best to make sure our country would achieve progress. the problem with gma is that she is not the duly elected president. i don’t care if she is the best person right now to handle the job, if she is illegitimate then we cannot justify that it is okay for her to run this country. i am looking forward for the coming election this May. in this way, we will know if our fellow Filipinos accept her or not. if the majority administration candidates would win in a clean and honest election, then i will go with the decision of the majority and will start supporting this administration until we achieve genuine progress.

  2. by the way, i hope our military could get courage from what 1st lieutenant Ehren Watada did. 1st lieutenant Watada still refuses to be deployed in Irag and believes that the Iraq war is illegal. 1st Lt. Watada said “the oath we take as soldiers swears allegiance not to one man but to a document of principles and laws designed to protect the people.”

  3. mlq3, Happy New Year! Your Arab News column gives a fascinating history of the post WWII war crimes trials. I did not know that the International Criminal Court can directly trace its lineage back to Joseph Stalin. Knowing that historical background somehow makes it doubly appealing to have Palparan and company finally tried in the Hague.

  4. The problem with the advertising executive’s analysis is he leaves out morality, a vital element of political leadership without which a politican is nothing but a mere demagogue or thief.

  5. mb, for one thing, the video footage showed that Saddam had the courage to calmly face his death.

  6. They say Saddam has for the first time seriously studied the Koran while in prison. He found God, which probably explains his calm. He knows God will be more merciful to him than the Iraqi court.

  7. just really wondering how wimpish Bush would have conducted himself under those trying final moments for his crime against humanity … i mean for Bush’ war of choice that have caused the lives, limbs and continued sufferings of millions of human beings whether americans, iraqis and those he spoofed to join him in his criminal misadventure

  8. My prediction for the year was different from that of the astrologer.

    My prediction last 2005 happened except for two.

    I am going to return my certification of being a psychic if it does not happen.
    One of the predictions I made is already in the news yesterday.

    Happy New Year.

  9. Greetings

    God is Great, God is Great, Allahu Akbar !!!

    There is finally a new “Jefferson” in Iraq, Moqtada Al Sadr.

    After doing away with the old tyrant a new one emerges under the principles of American democracy, Majority rules. Death to the Sunnis!!!!! The Americans went in to Iraq to encourage Jeffersonian democratic ideals and principles but they forgot that the ideas and ideals could be a universe apart.

    Hail Moqtadar. Another blood thirsty ruler. His black shirt militias have raised brutality to a new level. All in the name of democracy. This kind of instability is really a sure sign of stability in the Middle East.

    The New Way Forward Rocks.

    Clearly the privilege and obligations of empire falls on the U.S. The Philippines should not complain as clearly being a vassal state under empire is economically advantageous to the few as always.

    Now even the Philippine military might possibly gain overseas employment with the U.S. military and a road to a green card might be in the offing for those who wish to join the war effort in the Middle East and elsewhere.

    As all empires go vassal states will be asked to provide the warm bodies to put “boots on the ground” to fight and flush out insurgencies and un friendlies. This time the rules of engagement are shoot first(pre-emption)men, women and children included as they could be human bombs.

    The British had their men from Wales, Ireland and Scotland and then Punjab, Nepal (Gurkha’s) and Madras (Sepoys).

    Today you can outsource everything including combat. To all Filipinos out there there is a strong probability of gaining U.S. residency and citizenship as the U.S. under a voluntary army will have to look offshore for soldiers.

    Make no mistake the empire will never move out of the Middle East as they are there to stay for the long long haul..

    The only thing keeping the world economy from collapsing is the dollarization of the world outside Euro Land and the empire’s military might. The vassal states will provide the warm bodies in the future.

    As Jack Nicholson said in “A Few Good Men” – “Who will stand sentry guarding the walls so everyone can sleep at night?”

    Joseph Stiglitz the economist projected the cost of the Iraq expedition to reach $2 trillion dollars if one were to count the cost to the dead, wounded and maimed Americans and their families.

    Expansion of empire require guards to stand sentry on foreign posts – Outsourcing is the only way forward.

    The de-facto internationl government sits in Washington for most of developing countries. The Ethiopians supported by Empire in the recent invasion of Somalia is one such example. Black Hawk Down returns to Mogadishu.

    It will take some 50 to 100 years to find economically feasible alternatives to fossil fuels. The gas station of the planet is situated in Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. Dollars are priced in oil. Otherwise the Empire would fall.

    Suggestion to the Philippine military. Start taking lessons in Arabic, Pashtu or Farsi. Lots of job opportunities could open up.

    The new year will see a lot of Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness”. In the Philippines it is known as ‘Bunye’s press briefings’

    Also in this new year the rise of the new global ruling class. Massive global finance capital is driving equity markets in massive consolidation of corporations in both developed and developing economies.

    “I fear for the future. How will the cosmopolitan class behave as their role in the world economy continues to strengthen? How unfeeling will they come to be about the people who share their neighborhoods? Most importantly, if resentment by the locals emerges, what political consequences will result?” Robert Shiller

    Yes people there is a ruling class emerging for planet earth.. Just ask Carmen Pedrosa –

  10. the more hated and evil you are, the larger your security cordon. GMA brought an entire batallion to baguio with noisy and dirty 4×4 vehicles and apcs further adding to the pollution.

  11. mb… the happenings in Iraq nowadays — anarchy — shows what can happen when you depose a sitting president without an adequate game-plan on what to do when a power-vacuum ensues.

  12. I agree with Kaiser. The peaceful partitions of Iraq may be the only solution. GWB still listens to what he claims “God’s voice”. This is what happens when you enthrone a religious fanatic into the presidency.

  13. UPn student, to be more precise, the present anarchy in Iraq is a direct result of substituting raw power over genuine deliberation. The Americans, confident in their ability to shock and awe, railroaded their game plan in Iraq against the advice world opinion and their own experts. Two well known mistakes were the disbanding of the Iraqi armed forces and leaving behind a small occupying force that could not keep order. Then it turns out that the new Iraqi army that the Americans have been training is none other than Moqtada Sadr’s militia.

    Of course, there are other roads to anarchy. Here in the Philippines, it is the culture of impunity that is being practiced by the current illegitimate administration that is contributing to the deterioration of our institutions. Legitimacy is a key source of stability, which is why we have to bring it back into our system.

  14. cvj… the happenings in Iraq nowadays — anarchy — shows what can happen when you depose a sitting president without an adequate game-plan on what to do when a power-vacuum ensues. The new batch of religion-oriented goons like Sadr (and the “normal” goons who do kidnappings-for-profit and the like) remain the minority in Iraq, but the majority is the sum of minorities (students who’d rather go to to school, or party, than carry AK-47’s; plumbers and teachers and small-store owners who would rather tend to their affairs than worry about the car-bomb that may be headed their way, civil servants, now looking for exit visas so they can migrate to Jordan or Australia). A disorganized (and peaceful) majority, out-organized by goons, lose. Bato-bato sa langit is a poor answer to the question — so we do People Power, then what?

  15. UPn Student, honest elections (preferably with a run-off).

    I understand that you’re trying to relate the power vacuum in Iraq with a potential one over here, but our situation is different. Iraq prior to the invasion in 2003 was ruled by a dictator for 24 years (since 1979) so order was centered around a personality rather than institutions. The United States’ aim of building democratic institutions after the invasion was unworkable because of their naïve, insular approach, poor logistics as well as the simple fact that they were seen by many Iraqis as invaders, rather than liberators.

    Over here, as i mentioned above, the sources of potential and actual anarchy are different in that it stems from Arroyo’s illegitimate assumption of the office of the presidency. If one of these days, some military adventurer decides to launch a coup against her, on what basis can she be defended? She knows that the people won’t come out and defend her which is why she is increasingly reliant on her accomplices in the military. The longer she hangs on to power, the more damage is done to our democratic institutions and eventually, we will finally reach a point when your Saddam analogy becomes appropriate.

  16. All who want GMA to leave Malacanang should do it with impeachment. Do remember that there are a lot of Filipinos who look at GMA as their rightful president. These Filipinos may not rush to protect Malacanang in the next Edsa, but these Filipinos will want the Philippine Military to uphold their duties.
    Any putsch will be unconstitutional. Remember that the people-movement mentioned in the constitution is not “manning the barricades” or “marching shoulder to shoulder”. Mentioned is “people initiative” and the stipulation that changes proposed by “people initiative” will remain invalid if they are not acted on by all the Filipinos via plebiscite.
    Any putsch will be unconstitutional because GMA is the sitting President and that she was judged winner in the past elections and sworn in according to the processes described in the constitution. It also helps that she received majority vote when she won her Vice-Presidential seat, and that she was sworn in according to the constitution processes when she took over the presidency from Estrada.
    Many people have reasons here or there to want GMA out of Malacanang. Coalesce, then, and impeach. Do remember that there are a lot of Filipinos who look at GMA as their rightful president. These Filipinos may not rush to protect Malacanang in the next Edsa, but these Filipinos will want the Philippine Military to uphold their duties. Any putsch will be unconstitutional.

  17. UPn student, i am also against coups (a-la Thailand), but i don’t think Gloria has a legitimate defense if one was to be launched against her. As i said before, you cannot use the fact that she was judged winner as an argument for her legitimacy because that would be a form of circular reasoning. In a previous response to another commenter (Titanium), i told him that you cannot argue that Arroyo is ‘legitimate’ because she has been proclaimed by the ‘constitutional legitimizers’ when what is at issue in the first place is the validity of that proclamation in light of information that has subsequently been revealed. The instrumentalities of State are there to uphold the choice of the people, not to override it. After all, we are not yet under a unicameral parliamentary system. Gloria is not Jacob and the Congress in not Isaac.

    The number of votes GMA got as VP is irrelevant and her swearing in, which you describe as being done according to the constitution is itself a product of a People Power event.

  18. cvj… [You did vote for GMA, didn’t you? And your vote was counted with many others and GMA was proclaimed president.] On that day of the ceremonies that declared GMA duly-elected President, only a few were left to disagree with the statement that “GMA is legitimate President-in-sitting”.
    So the Garci-tapes (and a few other items) have come to light you now say “GMA-illegitimate”. Unfortunately for you, a few more events have to happen (as detailed by the constitution) before your feelings become public policy.[Side-note: retraction of your old vote is not allowed… only your next vote will count.] Per the constitution, GMA is President unless she resigns or is declared illegitimate via the impeachment process. It is the Philippine Congress that is tasked with making a determination on GMA-impeachment, and what is happening within the Philippine Congress is public knowledge. In addition, the Philippine Supreme Court has not made any pronouncements about GMA-legitimacy. Likewise, the Philippine military establishment has not made any pronouncements.
    cvj… I am not asking you to change your opinions about how to value the “Garci-tapes” (or the abominable law-and-order situation) in regards GMA-legitimacy. Just be cognizant that there are many Filipinos who believe that GMA is as legitimate now as the day she was sworn in as President. While they may not rush to protect Malacanang should there be a new EDSA, these Filipinos will want the Philippine Military to uphold the Constitution.

  19. UPn Student, yes i voted for GMA and believed at the time of proclamation that she was the duly elected President. That belief was reversed when the Garci tapes came out. However, that is not the same as asserting that GMA’s legitimacy depends on my feelings, or yours, or Congress or the Supreme Court or anyone else’s. Gloria’s legitimacy depends on the objective existence of the tapes and its contents, and those are as real as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. Feelings are not relevant at this point. If it was, i would have remained a Gloria supporter.

    Of course, for various reasons, there are a lot of people who would want to maintain the status quo and convince themselves that the emperor is still wearing clothes, but they are only fooling themselves. Unfortunately for them, mass self-hypnosis is no substitute for reality. Just like you, i prefer the Constitutional process of impeachment because that provides the most orderly route to resolve this matter. However, believing in the constitutional process does not preclude the use of People Power as both can complement each other as our own history has shown.

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