Impotent reassurances

My column yesterday, Impotent reassurances, was inspired by blogger Uniffors saying PDI gets it wrong, horribly wrong. The blogger was reacting to what would eventually be reported by the paper as No cut in US military aid. the report insists that an earlier ABS-CBN’s report, which said that the State Department had lowered its proposed funding for projects in, and assistance to, the Philippines, was false. Uniffors says the ABS-CBN report was true, and why it’s true.

I found the debate interesting because it seemed to me (and this is what I wrote in my column) is that too much ado was being made about a fairly low-level junket by US congressmen. The result was that the junket suckered reporters on the ground into thinking it was an important thing for Filipinos, when it may have had some importance for American troops, but was at best, negligibly important in terms of Philippine interests.

the US congressman who hammed it up for reporters was Silvestre Reyes, whose website shows him a master of pork barrel politics (that’s a good thing, for a congressman). But even if he was obliging to reporters, a little background check (and Wikipedia, for all its limitations, is pretty handy-dandy and useful as a preliminary step in this direction) would have tipped off reporters that the guy is something of a joke.The other Democrat members of the Congressional party weren’t very much more impressive, either: Gregory Meeks (D) is a lightweight; Charles A. Ruppersberger III (D) seems a solid party man, but one who doesn’t have clout relevant to Philippine interests, even if he sits in the Committee on Appropriations (and he kept discreetly quiet during his Philippine visit); and boy, oh boy, look at the Republicans: Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R), never mind being a good ole dynast, had the dubious distinction of having a ficus plant run against him (a stunt pulled by Michael Moore); and Heather Wilson (R) is under investigation for an inappropriate politically-motivated call to a state attorney (she should have said “I. Am. Sorry.”).

I think a marvelous opportunity was lost to report on the American equivalent of the kind of congressional junkets Filipino reporters like to skewer our own politicians. But seriously, the nature of the beast determines its place in the food chain, no? If most of the junketeers were members of the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (Reyes is the chairman, Meeks, Ruppersberger, Wilson are members), then you know their visit was more about US interests than anything RP-US related: specifically, are American troops getting adequate intelligence, or the means (including equipment) to secure it? If, as Uniffors argues, the group that counts for Philippine interests is the United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, and if its appropriations proposals are already at the conference committee level, then we can conclude a couple of things: 1. Reyes isn’t the go-to guy; 2. matters are already at a stage where Senate, and not House, intervention is what will matter; 3. whatever anyone says, the real issue is that the White House has lowered its intended allocations for Philippine-related programs and the only way that can be countered is through earmarks.

The idea of how Earmarking works goes to the heart of what Uniffors pointed out: just because our political system resembles that of the United States, direct correlations shouldn’t be made. This is particularly crucial when it comes to figuring out where our country stands, in terms of White House priorities, and those of the US Congress.

Three pieces, I think, thoroughly explore why the country keeps returning to the issue of the Garci Tapes.See Hello Garci and Philippine democracy by Randy David; Hello again by Conrado de Quiros; and The continuing skirmishes by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ. the best the Palace can do, is trot out its supreme Lackey (the confrontation over the Attorney General of the Unted States, and the aftermath, see With Gonzales gone, US Congress girds for new battle, is instructive: read All the President’s Flunkies; these Republicans are really something else, take a look at their efforts to replace with the Electoral College with a system that taps into their gerrymandering of districts, all the while passing it off as “reform”. It’s in Deformed Reform).

Anyway, the Senate’s Committee on Rules has voted ‘Hello Garci’ sent to Senate committee of whole (one lawyer’s arguments as to why it can do so, in Newsbreak). Senator Lacson has telegraphed the line of questioning that will most likely be pursued:

Lacson surmised that the Cabinet official whom he did not name most likely had a rift with former Cabinet secretary Michael Defensor, who himself was included among those covered by the wiretapping operation codenamed Project: Lighthouse.

“Who ordered Danga? We should find that out. We can only speculate at this time. I can only speculate the order could have come from somebody at the level of Cabinet member, someone who had access to Danga and is close to the President,” said Lacson.

Lacson said that while “we can zero in on a few people,” Defensor’s inclusion among those to be wiretapped was the key to knowing who the master of the operation was.

“What prompted me to have that kind of speculation is the involvement of Defensor. Who among the Cabinet members had a tiff with Defensor? Did Defensor and (Executive Secretary Eduardo) Ermita get along pretty well during those times? Defensor was the odd man out among the group that was wiretapped,” said Lacson….Ermita and Defensor had several run-ins during the latter’s stay in the Palace because the multi-tasking presidential chief of staff encroached into many territories.

“I don’t know if Danga is already retired. Maybe we could get this information from him. If there’s a lot of compartmentalization in this particular operation, only Danga would know who ordered him to do the wiretap operation,” said Lacson.

Lacson said he also believed that President Macapagal-Arroyo was kept in the dark about the covert operation. “No way (that it could have been the President]. They started in 2003, but it went on.”

In other words, now there’s a chief suspect to zero in on, in terms of the wiretapping itself. I suppose the Palace is betting on the President being unable to throw anyone to the wolves on this new line of questioning.

Do watch Partition – The Day India Burned, also linked to in my Inquirer Current entry for last night.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

127 thoughts on “Impotent reassurances

  1. “Manolo has a wonderful proposal to institutionalize “People Power” along the foregoing line which he thinks is “underutilized and yet profoundly democratic” that needs to be revisited.”

    It will also cure us from the lawyerly hubris that the law can be applied faithfully and automatically. Very few people in this country are even directly affected by the law. Except for EVAT and traffic regulations, most things in this country are governed by unwritten laws, not the written ones.

  2. rego, good news to hear nga.

    read these articles closely:


    and then go to the data that ciel habito put together:

    and his urging our taking a close look at the numbers. let’s hope the numbers are sustained, and withstand scrutiny. growth brings its own problems and let’s also hope our officials get their act together on these:

  3. Bencard, i’m not saying that the law (or the legal system) is outdated, far from it. Rather, the idea that the law is supreme is fundamentalist and outdated (circa St. Thomas More with his famous quote about giving the Devil the benefit of the law). On the economic side, you also have the market fundamentalist who believe that it is the market (aka free competition) that is supreme which is equally wrong. As a system, modern society is now functionally decomposed into multiple systems – political, economic, social, legal etc. with no one being supreme. It’s the interplay within and among these systems that determines order/chaos and progress/stagnation.

  4. abe, why should you be disappointed by a question? is it because you don’t like the inevitable answer? with due respect to mlq3’s apparently sincere proposal, “people power” by a small fraction of the whole nation, isolated in one central area of the country, would not hack it, institutionalized or not. surveys? what a big joke.
    in any event, even if you could muster a majority of all the people to rule by direct action (if its at all feasible) what would you do with the minority? vaporize them to oblivion?

    as it is, the system works. that’s why the likes of satur ocampo and the rest of the so-called “batasan five” are out of detention. that’s why general carlos garcia is in jail; jalosjos is in jail; estrada and trillianes are in detention; eo 1017 and eo 464 have been nullified, wholly or partially.

    no system is perfect. its always a “work in progress”, but in a democracy, we change, alter or discard part of this system only under a rule of law, as ordained by the people through their duly-constituted representatives. it should never be easy to tinker with it lest we would be inaugurating a new system every time there’s a change in the political wind’s direction – possibly every major “survey”.

  5. cvj, you conveniently ignored my question: what is the alternative to “supremacy of the law” in non-fundamentalist environment? other than your homespun verdict, who else says the idea is “outdated”?

  6. Bencard, please read again my comment above where, in answer to your question i said:

    As a system, modern society is now functionally decomposed into multiple systems – political, economic, social, legal etc. with no one being supreme [emphasis added for Bencard’s benefit]. It’s the interplay within and among these systems that determines order/chaos and progress/stagnation.

    Taking refuge in the ‘supremacy’ of the law is foolish because in the face of reality, such belief often becomes moot and academic.

  7. bencard, just a minor correction. if you review my proposal (the methodology, not the objective, with which you would disagree), the idea was precisely to respond to (to a certain extent) valid criticisms from those who insist things have to be nationwide to be valid, and who oppose anything that smacks of extraconstitutionality, etc. my proposal was strictly within constitutional, legal, democratic parameters, and was an effort to take the debate nationwide, where it could be settled not just in manila, but everywhere.

    mind you, i say the criticism of manila-centered people power is to my mind, only valid to a certain extent, because so long as nations have capitals then nations are subject to pressures from a mobilized public: recall “honk to impeach” outside the white house during watergate, the civil rights rallies there, etc., etc.

  8. if you believe that there has to be an ultimate authority in a society to maintain order, who or what would it be? do you want it (the ultimate authority) in the hands of a man/woman, a group of men/women, the military, the clergy, a junta?

    i thought the answer is evident. the 1935 constitution, the 1973 constitution, and the 1987 constitution all say: “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”

    mlq3, as the new hello garci tapes investigation builds into a crescendo, your proposal, which puts the above constitutional provision into action, might come in handy this time. just a bit lengthy, may be you should cut it to just a third of it without losing its ‘beauty.’

  9. cvj, consistent with your devious argumentation technique, you have commingled different kinds of animals and came up with an oxymoron. since when have politics and economics not subject to the rule of law? so why is there a “piatco” case (just to cite one), “enron” convictions in the u.s., etc.? how are election protests adjudicated except by rule of law? qualification of candidates, political advertising, street protests (to name a few), are all political matters that are subject to law, aren’t they?

    mlq3, i’m not questioning the wisdom of your proposal. but its relevance to the context of this discussion (abe’s concerns about “judicial primacy”, and cvj’s claim that supremacy of the law is a fundamentalist concept and, therefore, “outdated’) is way off tangent.

  10. bencard, there’s an interesting point the house committee report raises. it says the house basically could be said to have broken the law when it authorized the playing of the tapes in public session -but then, so had many thousands of filipinos when they downloaded the same. at which point, the committee wondered what happened if the law had been proven so toothless. it proposed the house pass a law granting itself an exception, if it didn’t want to pursue the argument it had amended the law by its actions. i hope you’ll take a look at the report, because i think it makes some sophisticated legal arguments that might be over the heads of the public. with your advocacy of the primacy of the law, your take on the arguments would be invaluable.

  11. mlq3, i’m not privy to the house committee report you cited. i wonder if you can provide me with a link or access to it. you see, i’m semi-computer literate and not too good at internet research. be that as it may, in the light of your description of the issue, all i can say for now is that a law is not rendered “toothless” by its violation or seeming difficulty in meting out penalty for it. conviction is a function of the courts, enforcement of the executive. i believe congress, or the state for that matter, has no power to grant itself privileges and immunities not specifically provided by the Constitution.

  12. Bencard, you don’t have to attribute your own failure to comprehend to ‘devious argumentation technique’ on the part of others. All you need to do is ask for further explanation.

    The political, social, economic and other systems are structurally coupled with the legal system but that does not make the latter ‘supreme’. There is a point, as mlq3 mentioned above in the case of the dowloading of the tapes, that the law is rendered toothless and may have to adjusted. There have been many instances in history where the law had to give way to reality or a change in reality. Even you acknowledged that when in earlier comments, you defended EDSA Dos.

  13. Bencard, in today’s Inquirer online, you can also read about Randy David’s account of Bayani Fernando as enforcer of the law vs. the squatters and other poorer residents of Metro Manila to see what where such ‘supremacy of the law’ takes us.

  14. cvj, your kakamamee postulation is not exactly so profound as to require a genius’ mind to comprehend. what in the world do you mean by “structurally coupled”? if you mean politics and economics are necessarily encompassed by law, what isn’t in this world? everything in life is touched by law – your birth, marriage, education, employment, property ownership, and death, among others, are in one way or another, governed or regulated by law. even the air you breath, the water you drink, the food you eat, your sexual life, your religion are all protected by, and thus subject of, the law.

    btw, randy david, true intellectual that he is, is just another man with opinion. his point of view is as good as anyone’s including yours and mine. but i consider him hardly as an infallible authority to assail the “supremacy of the law” in any human society, including ours.

  15. Bencard, if you want to read more about structural coupling:

    I agree that almost everything in life is touched by law, that’s a no brainer, but what is at question is the belief in the supremacy of the law.

    Unless you are arguing that this concept is something that has supernatural origins, it does not require an infallible authority to assail the supremacy of the law, only sound logical and empirical reasoning.

  16. “sound and empirical reasoning” – that’s what you really need, not esoteric ( i say new-fangled) but irrelevant terms or concepts.

  17. Bencard, as a lawyer, you should be more cautious in criticizing a concept on the basis of being esoteric or irrelevant since that criticism can very well be directed back at the legal system in spades.

  18. then go ahead, do it and expose yourself for what you really are – a pseudo intellectual. you think you can undermine the “supremacy of the law” by criticizing the legal system? what pomposity!

  19. Bencard, there is a difference between criticizing [aspects of] the legal system and undermining its overall supremacy. I don’t intend to do the former but i fully intend to establish the latter. Don’t take it personally, but that’s just the way modern society works. You’re only deluding yourself by proclaiming otherwise and setting your profession up as some sort of secular priesthood. That sort of pomposity exceeds mine.

  20. cvj, my profession, the legal profession, is not the only one that is directly involved with law. the police, the forensic investigators, medico-legals, nbi, accountants, even computer professionals employed by law enforcement units of the government, among others, are “secular” ministers of the law. does your attitude betray jealousy of lawyers? no wonder you seem to have been “trying hard” to put down the legal profession since i first had exchanges with you in this blog. haven’t you?

    don’t preach to me about the ways of modern society. i’m actually living in it and, where i am, it’s not on the same level of the upstart society that you are. so, don’t be cocky about it.

  21. Bencard, even priests have their altar-boys. Speculating at my underlying motivations just sidesteps the relevant issues.

    I don’t dispute that you’re living in modern society, all of us are, but the key is to reflect upon how it works and my impression is that your understanding comes from a different era. Anyway, i suppose that’s the American side of you talking.

  22. the supremacy of the law is ageless. it has been, and will ever be, regardless of you and me, cvj. remember the 10 commandments and the “golden rule”. they are no less relevant now than they were when first handed down. law is indispensable because man, left to his own devices, will not survive – he will extinguish himself. i don’t know your age but i can tell, you have a long way to go before you can really begin to understand the hard realities of life. i tell you what, just because you can say it doesn’t mean you understand it.

  23. Bencard, for some reason, i do get that lecture about the ‘hard realities of life’ from time to time and that advice is always well taken. (From the RM thread, i figure that you’re 67, a few years older than my eldest half-sister and a few years younger than my Mom. FWIW, i’m turning 40 in two months.)

    To clarify, i am not arguing against the indispensability of the law, only its supremacy. First of all, unlike earlier societies, modern society can no longer rely on divine edict (e.g. the 10 commandments) as the basis for the law’s supremacy. Too many contradictions result from this. As can be seen from the case of the Muslim theocracies, the appeal to divine origins as a basis for the law by a self-appointed priesthood is often a source of repression.

    More importantly, modern society has already evolved new sources of order, which depending on the situation, may even prove more important. Even Malu Fernandez, who in her apology said that “Our society is bound together by human chains of kindness and decency.“, [on its face] has come to appreciate the importance of Social Capital which is an attribute of the Social System. The Legal System exists side by side with these other systems where it cannot be considered supreme.

  24. so what does “modern society” do with those who are not “kind” and decent” as malou was referring to in your quote? lynch them? i’ve asked you and ask you again, who or what would be the “highest authority” on earth in such society (since divine intervention is not practically available)? is authority necessary at all, or should it be every man/woman for him/herself? can prevailing social and political theories enforce themselves, or be held sacrosanct no matter how destructive, since they are not subject to the legal system as you insist?

  25. Bencard, I did not claim that ‘they’ are not subject to the legal system. In some instances they are, but on other occassions, it is the legal system that has to adjust. There is no ‘highest authority’.

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