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.
…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.