If you can’t beat ’em, confuse ’em


The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has issued its ritual calls for clean elections. The President immediately embraced the bishops, a tactic she’s perfected since 2005. The problem is that prelates thrive on nuance, which is anathema to politics. So, the bishops look like fools while the Palace goes full speed ahead with confidence-eroding activities like Ebdane’s appointment to Defense. As the Inquirer editorial puts it,

Nothing recommends ex-police General Hermogenes Ebdane for the position of defense chief – except his unquestioned loyalty to the President. In our view, that is not an asset but a liability. We need a secretary of national defense who is faithful not only to the President but to the military’s deepest, longest-term interests. Ebdane, emphatically, is not that man.

In past entries, I suggested Ebdane bucked the conventional wisdom that the military would never accept the indignity of being presided over by a cop; and so I thought his candidacy was a forlorn attempt at self-promotion. Other political observers I’ve talked to, however, thought that Ebdane was exacting the price of his loyalty and that the President would calculate Ebdane is more valuable than the opinions of the generals, who have weeded out the disgruntled from among their ranks and so made themselves redundant. I’ve heard it said the chief of staff was vehemently opposed to Ebdane; so now we know whose opinion counts for more, with the commander-in-chief. Cops win, but we all knew this since the President’s troubles began: in her mind, her ultimate insurance is the police, not the military.

In the senatorial race, the Liberal Party announces its slate, and there are indications the LP-NP coalition is being formalized (the idea of such a coalition, incidentally, was first suggested for the 1957 elections, or half a century ago). (Full disclosure, I’m not a member of the Liberal Party but I do sit on the board of the National Institute for Policy Studies, the LP think tank).

If the two parties have decided to form a slate it will most likely look like this:

1. Francis Pangilinan LP
2. Benigno Aquino III LP
3. Florencio Abad LP
4. Nereus Acosta LP
5. Lorenzo Tañada III LP
6. Rufino Biazon LP
7. Manuel Villar, Jr., NP
8. Ralph Recto, NP
9. Allan Peter Cayetano, NP
10. Joker Arroyo, PDP-Laban (“guest” NP candidate)
11. Edgardo Angara, LDP (“guest” NP candidate)
12. Koko Pimentel PDP-Laban (“guest” NP candidate)

Of these, though, perhaps Abad and Acosta will be expendable to form a 4-4-2-2 or 4-4-4 slate.

The Palace’s latest recruits bluntly state why they’ve pitched their tents in the president’s camp. But so far, so good for the Palace: they have the opposition trying to explain things, and when you explain, in politics, you lose.

In the punditocracy, former national treasurer Liling Briones brings up the perils of using “economic growth” as a justification for supporting the administration:

It is very easy to come to the conclusion that responsible voters should vote for administration candidates and do everything in their power to prevent such a “catastrophic” event!

People in the business and finance community who are making these public statements truly believe that a shift in the current balance of power will surely derail the country’s inevitable march to progress. As they make their PowerPoint presentations, chat in cocktails parties, give interviews and pose in the society pages, they wonder why other sectors don’t agree with them…

In other words, the “virtuous spirals” are benefiting only certain sectors of the economy while the majority struggle grimly for survival. Is it any wonder they look for relief in elections?

…Like it or not, however, elections remain as the last peaceful mechanism for democratic reform. For many Filipinos, other alternatives are too dreadful to contemplate. To hint that the present administration must be supported in the coming elections is to lay to rest questions about its doubtful legitimacy, tolerate blatant human rights violations, participate in, and abet corruption, and ignore demands for public accountability.

One cannot assume that the present administration must be supported because: (a) it is responsible for the present economic growth, limited as it is; and (b) this growth will collapse if administration candidates lose. One can easily answer “not true” to both arguments.

The truth is, and this is something I’ve been trying to digest ever since I read “The Shield of Achilles” (Philip Bobbitt), is that a citizen confronted with the political issues raised in an election, is in direct competition with forces that are rendering the nation-state and its issues, obsolete. Bobbit states his thesis, thus (from the thesis introducing Part III):

The end of the Long War has been quickly followed by the emergence of a new constitutional order. This new form is the market-state. Whereas the nation-state, with its mass free public education, universal franchise, and social security policies, promised to guarantee the welfare of the nation, the market-state promises instead to maximize the opportunity of the people and thus tends to privatize many state activities and to make voting and representative government less influential and more responsive to the market.

Briones’ column brings this emerging system into sharp contrast. It matters less to a president whether her own people support her, or view her as legitimate and matter more that Bear Sterns, or Citibank, unelected, non-governmental but international, bodies, like her and believe her. If they do, then they have the power to coddle the economy; if they dislike her, are skeptical, or dislike those who oppose her, they can choose to punish her or those who might otherwise be poised to gain power. Their punishment and rewards come in the form of ratings: and their opinions end up trumping public opinion in any particular country.

Bong Austero, I’m pleased to note, validates another thesis, one I presented in this March, 2006 column:

…I don’t think that being rabidly anti-Estrada automatically translates into being pro-Arroyo.

But at least there are moments with this current President when people can actually still bask in some deflected glimmer of pride of being a Filipino, such as when one reads about her performance at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. That does not erase many grievous mistakes, but it does account for something.

In contrast, what have the Estradas done for this country aside from trying to project themselves as the symbol of the suffering Filipino masses and as their last mythical hope for redemption?

Anyway, since the Bong Austeros represent (the way I look at it, anyway) a quarter of the voters, when you read things like Jarius Bondoc’s column, it becomes clear why the Palace strategy is to confuse the issues. It begins by pretending to criticize the Palace’s moves, but only as a means of underlining that old Palace propaganda line, “they’re all the same anyway” (which works to keep people like Bong Austero if not within the Palace camp, then closer to it in sentiment than to the opposition, which is just as useful):

Kiko, Noynoy’s LP-mate, is hesitant due to pleas from friends in civil society and because UNO has not invited reelectionist pal Joker Arroyo. If he joins UNO, he must face the question: was he in 2000 ever sincere in denouncing Estrada’s blundering, plundering Presidency? For a former street activist like Kiko, this is very different from rallying to protect “class enemies” Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos from Marcos in 1986.

The confusion? Not even UNO is saying the NP-LP coalition should drop its identity; there is a difference between joining a group, and an alliance of groups, and Bondoc’s being intellectually dishonest in blurring over that distinction. But then, as with the President, so with Bondoc: the Big Lie is all that matters. Compare and contrast Bondoc’s column with Randy David’s which came out yesterday.

Gail Ilagan has an engrossing analysis of the Philippine Marines: that they’ve hyped themselves up:

I’ve been sifting through the newspapers in the last three months and the findings from my content analysis of stories from Sulu is enough to make this suggestion that the Marines are the only force to be reckoned with down there. We know that is not true. Why the skewed sampling then?

To my view, the other units still observe strict security of information and disclose to the public on the standard need to know basis through official channels. The Marines on the other hand seem to be for some time now romancing the media who, for certain obvious reasons, have very little choices in terms of credible sources of information down in Sulu. When one is desperate, he doesn’t ask questions. He’s just so happy for the lifeline you throw his way.

What is happening to the Marines? In my mind I still see Col. Ariel Querubin mouthing “It’s over” to his friends in the media. Gee, and this was just a few minutes after BGen. Allaga testily told off the press that “I am speaking for the Marines. Ariel is not talking” or something to that effect.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

33 thoughts on “If you can’t beat ’em, confuse ’em

  1. It matters less to a president whether her own people support her, or view her as legitimate and matter more that Bear Sterns, or Citibank, unelected, non-governmental but international, bodies, like her and believe her.

    I came across something similar in Dryzek:

    It is markets, especially financial ones, which are the sounding boards for public policy, not public opinion or parliament. And if policies are constricted, then so is democracy, for policies that contradict the fundamental interests of business must be vetoed, no matter how popular” [Source: Deliberative Democracy and Beyond, John Dryzek]

    This is so because of the hegemony of capital as described by Hardt and Negri:

    We should recognize from the outset the extent of capital’s domain. Capital no longer rules merely over limited sites in society. As the impersonal rule of capital extends throughout society well beyond the factory walls and geographically throughout the globe, capitalist command tends to become a ‘non-place’ or, really, an every place.” [Source: Multitude, by Hardt and Negri]

    Notwithstanding the above, ignoring the voice of the poor in favor of the international rating agencies is ultimately counterproductive because as Hardt and Negri explains (in the same book):

    If [the poor] were simply excluded from the circuits of global production, they would be no great threat. If they were merely passive victims of injustice, oppression, and exploitation, they would not be so dangerous. They are dangerous rather because not only the immaterial and the industrial workers but also the agricultural workers and even the poor and the migrants are included as active subjects of biopolitical production.

    In other words, it is our people who are the real engine of the nation’s wealth. The ratings agencies, by comparison, are mere observers.

    Gloria Arroyo and her PowerPoint wielding businessmen supporters are engaging in nothing more than confidence games. Sooner or later, the truth behind the statistics will emerge, and if we do not address the needs and concerns of the real producers of our nation’s wealth, then reality will eventually catch up with a vengeance just as it did back in the early 80’s.

  2. The economy, or the structures of government will not change or affected by the change of administration. A stable and good government structures are run by competent public servants, the bureaucrats, and in most cases, the political leaders are just figureheads, and in specific cases are just guidance councillors. In some society, political leaders are just spokesperson.

    That is one reason why in our case, we don’t even require any talents or educational qualifications of our Political Leaders. They are guided in their decisions by the platform of their respective parties and the corteges of specialize advisers and the permanent, competent public servant to do the legwork..

  3. vic… if only it were so… that “…the economy or the structures of government will not change or affected by the change of administration.” You must already have forgotten Pierre Trudeau. You can also just look south (from where you are). Even with the USA’s competent civil service, Dubya Bush leadership still dramatically reoriented the US economy and its government’s standing in the world. You also can think back to Deng, or Margaret Thatcher, or Marcos.
    /.. Even in a country like the Philippines where several generations of voters, over decades, repeated choose one lousy set of leaders and administrators, one can still see the difference between Erap and Marcos. [Or maybe the Filipino voters actually choose reasonably-okay candidates, except that a curse strikes and the elected soon-enough betray the interests of the country. Can the religious out there explain how the Great Hand of God has molded Philippine history?]
    /.. It does matter which next set of senators and congressmen to elect (and then in 2010, the next president) the Filipino voters choose. This means that no matter how much an optimist (or a fatalist) you are, it is probably wise to remind oneself that “… things can still get worse — be vigilant, work your tail off!!!”

  4. Prof. Frank Dwyer said that the problem with “competent public servants” is they can turn into “little Eichmans”.

    He explained, “Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. The point here (here and everywhere) is that no institutions in a democracy are safe if the party that holds power is ruthlessly determined to corrupt and subvert those institutions to keep that power, especially when the rest of us are too disorganized or demoralized or lazy or stupid or afraid to stop them. (Frank Dwyer)

    We need Political Leaders to show these public servants the right path and not only the path to follow.

  5. the problem with “competent public servants” is they can turn into “little Eichmans”. – manuelbuencamino

    As what has happened in the early 80’s when Marcos’ technocrats led by Prime Minister Cesar Virata and Central Bank Governor Jobo Fernandez sacrificed the real economy to please the international creditors.

  6. England, says the great outsider, Peter Drucker, has nothing but timber and yet it rose to become the home of the world’s leading financial companies. Internal Management, he opines, is the key. The influx of foreign investments and loans may help but there is nothing more important than proper governance to the point that external aid may not be needed if the State manages its resources very well.

    Window-dressing is GMA’s economic strategy. Despite Drucker’s opinion, this could also be good. The sitting president, who does not intend to dismantle the structure of corruption because its principal players are her supporters, may also be looking out for the poor’s welfare after all by aiming for intense economic activity. In a hyperactive economy, there will be so much money going around that the poor will enjoy competitive compensation while corruption in high places need not stop. Japan, Italy and Hong Kong are said to be three of the most corrupt States but the citizenry in those places do not suffer because these countries’ economies are bustling with activity.

    Objectively, if GMA’s grand plan is intense economic activity, there is some reason to rejoice in her achievements. It may be a surrender to the futility of fighting corruption, but she is finding a way around it to help the poor. The problem however is when the praises for the GMA successes are based on her supposed superiority over Erap’s economic program. To begin with, the two have different ideals. The sitting president is more of an international player (since her DTI days actually) and the one in Tanay is more of the nationalist/protectionist type (since his Ateneo days, some would say). That international lenders and contractors never praised Erap and GMA is their darling may be correct, but it sounds more like a palace spin. It belittles Erap’s achievements which are closer to the Drucker paradigm. Basically, Erap was the international rent-seeker killer. None of these vampires, naturally, will want to praise him. Surprisingly still, cause oriented groups that are supposedly against more foreign debt and IMPSA contracts, joined EDSA Dos. I hope Erap and Binay do not include these destabilizers in the UNO lineup. Anyway, they already have enough commies like Morales in their ranks. 🙂

  7. bogchimash… that detail — that a nation can progress despite corruption — plus the old saying, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” may be a sophistication that purists do not think to give the class-D and class-E voters.

  8. UPn,
    That is why I work hard for my party, which I believe on my own has a better platforms and programmes of government than the others. So as it leads the government, who ever the leader is, can keep the continuity of the old administration and do only what is in line for overhaul in accordance with the party programmes and promises made during the campaign.

    Foreign Policy wise one party lead government may be obviously apparent from the others, but internally, the programmes and policies already in place have the life of their own and allowed in continuity, unless so obviously destructive, no matter which administrations proposed or installed those programmes and policies.

    Or again maybe we can not detect the changes and effects, because as the structures of our Federal Systems here, where most day to day affairs are handle by the Provincial Governments, as we keep changing our provincial Administration like a yo-yo. I don’t know about the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, who for decades now stick to their New Democrats (socialists) Governments.

  9. that a nation can progress despite corruption – UPn student

    That’s an excuse those in power would like to tell themselves. Of course, it’s more effective if some apologist makes that statement on their behalf.

  10. cvj… it’s amusing to watch how limited your power of deduction can be when romance fills your eyes is amusing. Can you name one country or even one city from any era without corruption?
    /… But don’t stop.

  11. The problem is that prelates thrive on nuance, which is anathema to politics.

    thrive on nuance. hindi naman sila ganyan dati eh.

  12. Im impressed by the LP line up. Definitely I will vote for Nereus Acosta, Lorenzo Tanada, Florencio Abad, Noynoy Aquino and of course Joker Arroyo

  13. I am definitey anxious to see how the voter will accept the Koko Pimentel, Rufino Biazon and Alan Peter Cayetano. They seems to have an edge on name recall….

  14. Why can’t Bong Austero just accept what is obvious: he’s a rabid pro-Gloria fanatic? It’s easier than dressing up his arguments to deodorize his stink: “oh yeah, she’s bad but ain’t she wonderful.”

  15. UPn Student, imho, it is cynicism that makes a person (and a people) myopic. Even here in Singapore, they also have their share of corruption scandals mainly having to do with charitable organizations. However, one major difference is the people’s tolerance for such corruption. Over here, it’s still a big deal. At least it hasn’t reached the point where they have started making excuses or allowances for the actions of their leaders.

  16. Why can’t Bong Austero just accept what is obvious…?

    It’s a psychological exit strategy.

  17. the administration has always put their “economic performance” as the reason why they’ve not been removed from office. it is an excellent spin/strategy, and it is the one thing they’ve not change since the beginning of their reign.

    i’d like to think (it may be a romantic notion) the reason why people prefer an election over extra-constitutional means is that the latter will create more problems than it will solve. by no means is it a validation of legitimacy or approval of the reigning administration. extra-constitutional— people power or a military takeover will only destroy what little confidence we have with our democracy and political uncertainty which is the bane of business will disrupt commerce. on one hand elections, will do just the opposite: strengthen our democracy and maintain a sense of certainty any businessman big or small can appreciate.

    you may be right about the market-state being an influence, because more and more we’re seeing the possibilities of what wealth can create: it liberates people to reach their potential and it is replacing the role of the state because individually we can empower ourselves to get better education, do more, be more creative, to think better. i guess thats the benefit of capitalism. my question… how do we make it happen… deliver this “emancipation” for the people out there in the boondocks? wouldn’t that be the ultimate proof of philippine economic progress? and that i think is what our leaders are missing the point of.

  18. bakit ba naman kasi anag hilig hilig nyong mag label ng tao o kaya grupo ng tao? Does it help your cause?

  19. how do we make it happen… deliver this “emancipation” for the people out there in the boondocks? wouldn’t that be the ultimate proof of philippine economic progress? – Cocoy

    The wealth of a country can be measured as the sum of its stock of natural, produced and intangible capital residual with the last category taking the largest share (in our case, almost 80 percent). According to a study by the World Bank, “three factors – average years of schooling per capita, rule of law and remittances received – [largely explain] the total variation in [Intangible Capital] residual across countries

    It goes on to explain that, “on average, for all countries [in the study] a 1 percent increase in rule of law“, as measured by the rule of law index, “pays large dividends, boosting intangible capital by 0.83 percent;” In comparison, “one percent increases in the stock of schooling or remittances per capital will increase intangible capital by 0.53 percent and 0.12 percent, respectively.
    [Source: Where is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century, The World Bank, 2006]

    The above gives us a clue on where government should focus its efforts i.e. rule of law and education. This is more useful than its free riding on the backs of OFW’s (among others) and taking credit for variables it cannot control.

  20. Rego, to the extent that it helps clarify matters, yes it helps the cause. On the question of whether it makes me a better person or better person, of course not, that was never the intent. Of course, i can’t help it if you or Bong raise that red herring.

  21. cvj,

    Isn’t the record high incidence of hunger “the truth behind the statistics” and proves that “the needs and concerns of the real producers of our nation’s wealth” are not addressed and that “the reality (that) will eventually catch up with a vengeance” is already upon our people — hunger — for being passive and apathetic?

  22. jm, yes it is but for some reason, that fact is not getting enough attention under Arroyonomics. For now, people are more focused on the stock market and their own bullish sentiments. Under Arroyo’s smoke and mirrors style, the real world productive sector is secondary.

    The situation today is similar to the 70’s under Marcos
    where the Philippines experienced historically fast (by Philippine standards) economic growth side by side with increasing debt, increasing corruption and violence, and most significantly, increasing misery among the poor. Today’s middle class is repeating the mistakes of the previous generation.

  23. But I think we have to factor in the population growth when we talk about hunger. There is no way for the Philippines to feed all his hungry if the economic growth rate is beyond 8 or 9 percent. That is the reason why I choose economy as the main issue of the country. And that is why I dont like anything that stunt or retard economy, particularly most of the actions being hatched by the opposition. If keeping Gloria is what it takes to achieved that much needed growth, the personally I would say so be it. But of course I dont believe that Gloria can do that. It must be somebody who have enough backbone to defy the catholic curch and implement a very real population control policies.

  24. CVJ,

    But I think divisiveness that result from that labelling offsets the perceieved gain. Then if it doesn’t make anyone better so there’s no need to resort to it.

  25. Rego, in the case of Bong, the underlying division is due to substance. It is there with or without the labels. In terms of propping up the Arroyo regime, he serves the same purpose as an overt Arroyo supporter. Pare-pareho lang sila.

  26. But I think we have to factor in the population growth when we talk about hunger. – Rego

    Your statement would be valid if hunger were increasing only in terms of absolute numbers of people, but decreasing (or remaining constant) as a proportion of the total population. However, the SWS reveals that the incidence of hunger is increasing as a percentage of households. This is happening side by side with the increase in GDP per capita (i.e. income per person). That raises the question, why is it that there are more people who are going hungry today when income per person is supposed to be higher as compared to past years?

    It is disingenuous for Arroyo (or her supporters) to take credit for per capita GDP growth, which in reality is largely due to factors beyond her control, while disavowing responsibility for hunger, an issue which she can do something about.

  27. [quote]The question is does it help your cause or makes you a better person or Filipino? [/quote]

    i just call it as i see it. maybe bong is not “pro-arroyo” as he claims(although i doubt it), but he certainly was very aggressive in defending arroyo on the garci issue.

    So i think it’s accurate to say that he’s an arroyo defender.

    just like connie. and that’s why i don’t find them credible anymore. no wonder they were picked up by enrique razon’s paper. tsk tsk…

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