Tag Archives: Merceditas Gutierrez

Going legit

cross-roads

How Philippine politics needs to move on from its shady past.

In 2016, the Philippines will be commemorating the 30th anniversary of the EDSA people power revolt that toppled Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country for twenty years. These three decades will be book-ended by two Aquino presidencies: the first representing a transition from dictatorship to democracy, and the second which was billed a transition from impunity to legitimacy.

For many, the period in between the two Aquinos demonstrates the fragility of our democratic institutions under conditions less than ideal. The fragility is owed in large part to the concentration of power in the hands of the ruling elites whose dynastic families pre-date the Martial Law period.

By declaring martial law in 1972, Marcos claimed he wanted to uproot the old order (that these landed elites represented), only to replace them later on with his own cronies and acolytes. Under the first Aquino presidency, many elements of the ancien régime were restored. New and old dynasties were rehabilitated although greater democratic “space” was afforded the media and cause oriented groups to engage in dissent.

This so-called space has not always been free and open. Forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings have been committed with impunity, undeterred by the existence of a Commission on Human Rights whose investigative powers are weak.

Fraud and corruption at a grand scale have persisted, making life difficult for those dependent on government services. The completion of land reform, the centerpiece program of the first Aquino president has still not been achieved, and remains a promise under the second Aquino. Communist insurgents and Muslim separatists have survived despite intermittent efforts to wage an all out war and negotiate a permanent peace settlement. Poverty and unemployment rates refuse to fall substantially despite the country’s new-found economic wings.

Three years ago, the second coming of the Aquinos enamored the country, but with three years remaining in its “second term” of office, many are saying that time is insufficient to finish the job. Indeed, many are seeing this term of office as a brief respite before the same old system of patrimonial plunder and corruption pervades.

The persistence of pork barrel as a vehicle for self-aggrandizement under the nose of the present administration and the long process for prosecuting cases against the senators, congressmen and other people involved in the PDAF scam uncovered by the Commission on Audit and exposed by whistleblowers puts into doubt the durability of changes initiated by it.

The Aquinos have always sought to restore the Philippine house in order after a long period of serious erosion. They have always tried to reinforce it by proving that the Philippine brand of democracy could work, if managed with integrity. They represent the best and most noble elements of the political elite, a throwback to an era which, as sociology professor Randy David suggests, was governed by a gentleman’s code consisting of “moral restraints (e.g., delicadeza and sense of honor) that used to bind rulers.”

To a certain extent the administration has succeeded in returning us to that imagined mythical chivalrous era, which is why the Aquino brand still defies gravity. Unfortunately, by virtue of this conservative inclination, President Aquino has resisted the urge to weaken the structural foundations of cacique democracy and construct a new modern political architecture.

Earlier in his term, he tried creating a Truth Commission to go after his predecessor Mrs Arroyo, only to have it struck down by the Supreme Court. He then proceeded to go after Ombudsman Gutierrez and Chief Justice Corona using all the powers of influence over congress which eventually caused the former to abdicate and the latter to be removed from office.

His appointees to the Commission on Audit and Office of the Ombudsman have helped to uncover anomalous transactions, which have sparked outrage among the urban chattering classes and led to widespread protests. It is becoming quite clear that the moral restraints that Prof David spoke of have long since ceased to bind the behavior of our “honorable” representatives. And yet as David states we are still stuck with a “ a premodern political system that is basically unchecked by the rule of law.”

So far the Aquino government has focused on improving the managerial aspects of governance–by instituting operational reforms in the way public works, public finance and administration is conducted. He has done so while working within the current framework, which suffers from serious legal and statutory constraints.

He has so far shied away from substantive reforms to the legal and political architecture which would mean adopting executive and congressional compensation programs that address the incentive problem in elected and senior public officials (past reforms have focused on raising the pay of rank and file public employees creating pay compression with that of middle to senior level officers). It would include strengthening the power of agencies whose job it is to police public officials and guarantee transparency and accountability, and would mean enacting safeguards to the freedom of information and providing protection to whistleblowers.

President Aquino has found himself at the helm of this giant enterprise known as the national government, wielding the levers of power that dispense political patronage. He has sought to show us what it would look like to have an honest person pulling on these levers. By lifting the veil on the inner workings of the state, the public who delight in receiving gifts from pandering politicians, now stand aghast as they view the actual process behind the facade. They now see just how messy and dirty it is, and want it fixed.

The problem now confounding our political operators is just how much of their demands to take on board. Just like a family crime syndicate that has prospered so much that it can now opt to turn a new leaf and become legit, the nation now finds itself at a crossroads. It has to decide where to go. Channeling state funds to political parties to support a new breed of politicians and professionally run national campaigns, with strong mechanisms to enforce limits on political spending and restrictions on sources of campaign donations is the way modern political systems work. The old way is to use patronage and plunder to amass resources to retain high office.

The choice could not be clearer. We either stick with the old ways and try to make the best of it by harking back to a chivalrous code, that no longer binds people’s behavior, or we adopt new ways of doing things based on a new legal framework and policy settings that promote a culture of meritocracy in our public and political institutions.

This limbo that the Philippines finds itself in, stuck in between a feudal past and a modern future is nowhere to be for a country with the skills, talents and resources that it has. It is now time for the second Aquino to complete the process of going legit, which is now nearly thirty years in the making.

Schedule of 2011 PDAF releases to Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco

Navotas Rep. Toby Tiangco, acting as a defense witness at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, claimed yesterday that the release of the Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF)—more commonly referred to as “pork barrel funds”—allocated for his district was delayed as a result of his opposition to the impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. He testified that he received the first tranche of the PDAF on August 1, 2011.

Navotas (Lone District) Rep. Toby Tiangco
Courtesy of the Toby Tiangco page on Facebook (www.facebook.com/pages/Toby-Tiangco/185633641527060)

In the interest of discussion, we are publishing the schedule of the pork releases in 2011 to Rep. Tiangco as recorded in the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) web site.

2011 PDAF – Tiangco, Tobias Reynald M.

The National Development Project, part 3: Renovating the Bureaucracy

This is the third of a three-part series on the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016.

We have looked at the PNoy government’s development strategy in Part 1 in which infrastructure was seen as the problem to unlock investment and that better governance of projects would work a treat. In Part 2, Re-defining Good Governance, we scanned three possible models for good governance. We concluded that the best approach, the East Asian model, was difficult to emulate but not insurmountable.

In this third part, we investigate specific ways of renovating the bureaucracy along East Asian lines. In part 2, the work of Peter Evans* on the lessons of political institutions and development illuminated much of the discussion. It will also help inform this one.

The task at hand

Finding a recipe for good governance is something that every nation has to figure out on its own as the East Asian experience has demonstrated. There is no ‘one size fits all’ policy. While Evans attests to the importance of establishing minimum levels of probity, he also does not recommend that we attempt this renovation with the bureaucracy universally.

The main focus of capacity building in East Asia has been the economic bureaucracy. The role and scope of this project covers tax and subsidy policy, industry, trade and investment policy, planning and development as well as regulatory policy. In the Philippines, we have to include some enforcement mechanisms as well.

When he announced his presidential bid, PNoy talked about his recipe for countering the calculus of corruption. The two basic ingredients include both carrot and stick. The president has yet to outline basic reforms to put that in action. It is towards informing that agenda, that the following policy recommendations are submitted.

Policy Recommendations

1. Corporatization of Revenue Agencies.

So far the government has been emphasizing the ‘stick’ component of the recipe through schemes aimed at enforcing the law against tax cheats, smugglers and the colluding elements within the bureaus of internal revenue and customs.

Though it has produced some modest returns, it is time to put the next element, namely the ‘carrot’ in place to address long-term improvements in the professionalism of our revenue agencies. This implies tweaking the career and compensation systems working within them.

Corporatization is the way by which the government has been able to pay its agents salaries commensurate to, if not exceeding that of, their private counterparts. Singapore achieved this for its entire bureaucracy, but it is the sole Confucian state to do so. The others achieved it through a combination of salaries, allowances and benefits.

The newly minted GOCC law now provides greater safeguards against abuse done by non-performing companies. It will govern the corporatization of the BIR and BoC. In exchange for the higher compensation, transition into the new agencies must be based on merit and not guaranteed for old bureau officials.

The boards of the new revenue agencies should be allowed to appoint people from among the ‘best and brightest’. Tougher qualifying exams, educational attainments, and past performance should all be part of the selection process. Where posts cannot be filled with existing staff, recruiting externally should be the resort.

2. Economic bureaucracy renovation.

To complement the corporatization of revenue agencies, key elements of the economic bureaucracy have to be beefed up. The Department of Finance, parts of the Department of Trade and Industry, those relating to industry and trade policy and the National Economic Development Agency need to be covered.

The idea is to strengthen and coordinate its policy making capacity. I will have more to say on this below under number 6, but what I would like to pay attention to here is again the recruitment, compensation and performance package.

For the independence of our economic bureaucracy to be secured, requirements for hiring have to be made more stringent. Salaries for managers and executives which might be 2/3 that of their private sector equivalent need to be augmented with benefits and allowances that could cover a more attractive retirement and health package, housing, transport, childcare and education, and communications.

What will they be expected to do that would merit such an upgrade in their compensation and why just target these agencies? Well, under the good governance model of East Asia, the economic bureaucracy is responsible for increasing the flow of investments into and from within the country.

To do that, they need to be adept at wielding both the carrot and the stick to investors. They will also need to be coherent in pursuing a development agenda and in orchestrating it using taxes and subsidies. To make them immune to outside influence whilst engaging with the business community, their rewards including both monetary and non-monetary have to be upgraded.

3. Limitations to presidential appointments.

When the controversy surrounding LTO Chief Virginia Torres a presidential appointee and shooting range pal first showed up, I took the opportunity to advocate for more serious limits to the president’s appointive powers.

I was met with skepticism at first by a fellow contributor to this space, but in the end some kind of consensus was formed. The issue then was cleansing the roster of the past president’s appointees.

Now that the GOCC law has in effect dealt with that, it is now high time to revisit the larger issue. From several thousands, I believe the presidential appointments need to be scaled down to several hundreds. That might be hard given the number of boards and government authorities that abound.

I believe the GOCC Commission needs to act like the Civil Service Commission in screening appointments to government boards and heads of GOCCs, just as I believe the CSC should do the same for the line agencies and the NAPOLCOM for the police. Either by convention or by law the president’s appointments should be restricted to his Cabinet and a few cabinet subalterns.

4. Outsourcing much of the Commission on Audit’s role.

Another thing I have been advocating here since the scams involving corruption in the military was uncovered was for the COA to outsource much of its functions to private auditing firms.

This has been the practice in Australia already where the Attorney General’s department merely sets policy and standards with regards to government audits. The actual audits must be done not by ‘in-house’ government auditors who are very susceptible to influence, but by external firms who must be rotated in accordance with the Code of Good Governance adopted by the SEC.

In fact the scope of audits should not be restricted to financial management alone, but to management of risk and occupational health and safety. Private auditing firms already have the capacity for performing this function. They are already subject to professional standards of excellence which if broken lead to the cancellation of their professional licenses.

5. Incentives for Prosecutors of Big Cases.

Catching and prosecuting the ‘big fish’ has been made a priority by this government. Yet, no real sets of incentives have been put on the table for addressing the task at hand.

When hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pesos are involved, the government needs to ensure that its prosecution team have a stake in winning the case. In the private sector that involves sharing in a portion of the damages.

The settlement by the previous Ombudsman in the case of Carlos Garcia demonstrates how difficult it would be to provide a similar incentive structure for the public sector.

If a reward based on a percentage of recovered ill-gotten wealth is instituted, that would have meant rewards to the past Ombudsman for settling the case. Perhaps the reward ought only to apply when cases are prosecuted and not settled out of court.

The Ombudsman and the Office of the Solicitor General (essential generals in the fight) which are given the task of prosecuting graft cases before the Sandiganbayan and Supreme Court respectively need to have more than a kind of altruistic motivation for performing their duties. The need to have protection and financial security.

Paying them higher salaries alone might not be enough to motivate them to exert maximum effort even in very winnable cases. Some sort of sharing in the spoils which would go both to their office and to chief prosecutors and their staff needs to be put on the table.

I know that some will argue that this is the people’s money and that any recovered ill-gotten or plundered wealth needs to be returned 100% to the coffers to fund social programs. This assumes that we are working with incorruptible Confucian super bureaucrats. That is not the case here. We need to live in the real world, not in some ideal fantasy land.

6. Creation of a Productivity Commission.

The importance of having a lead agency within the economic bureaucracy is one lesson learnt from the East Asian experience. This lead agency role was performed by MITI in Japan, the Economic Planning Board of Korea, the Industry Development Boards of Taiwan, the Economic Development Board of Singapore, and the Productivity Commission of Australia.

In the Philippines, I am proposing the creation of a Productivity Commission similar to Australia’s to be under the Department of Finance with direct access to the President. Elements of DoF, the government think tank PIDS, Tariff Commission, National Income Tax Research Center, and DTI need to be brought into this agency or at least made accessible to it.

Its role will be to advice the president on matters relating to government red-tape, taxes and subsidies (including to agriculture), telco, port and aviation policy and industry policy more broadly. A secondary focus could be in housing or economic development and climate change policy.

The commission in navigating the post-WTO environment should do so without engaging in what Evans calls ‘anticipatory acquiescence’ on the one hand by pushing the envelope a la China on protectionist policies when it suits our development goals, but use our external commitments as a shield against regressive private interests on the other hand (for example on sin taxes).

As part of the economic bureaucracy, it should have the same high recruitment and compensation standards as the rest of the economic bureaucracy. This will enable its agents to be immune from lobbying and rent-seeking by private agents.

7. Limitations to the scope of rent-seeking.

As highlighted by Evans, rent-seeking did continue to a surprisingly large extent in East Asia even as their economic bureaucracies forged ahead with many productivity enhancing measures.

Traditionally the agriculture or construction departments were used by reformist governments to engage in clientelism with their constituents usually ex-military men, party mates or in the case of Taiwan, former residents of the mainland.

This makes the task of emulating them within reach for countries like the Philippines where the practice of paternalism is embedded in our culture. This means that while the areas of rent-seeking are limited on the one hand, it will continue nonetheless and will be an essential part of governing.

The purists will argue against pork barreling and the dispensing of largesse through the PCSO, PAGCOR, DPWH, DOA and so on, but we must remember that a certain amount of populist clientelism is necessary. We have to take a balanced view of things. If it helps the executive push for more substantial reforms, then the area of rent-seeking will gradually diminish.

Conclusion

The long road to economic development has many twists and turns. Perhaps what PNoy’s government has to acknowledge is that sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line. An understanding of the lessons of good governance in East Asia is essential for appreciating this fact.

Without the ability to withstand rent-seeking on the part of private agents in the sphere of economic policy, the national development project never advances very far. The need for a solid economic bureaucracy is the first step in emulating the ‘fast-paced growth’ these nations experienced.

The ‘carrot and stick’ approach articulated by PNoy at his presidential bid announcement needs to be further developed into meaningful policies. So far the Philippine Development Plan only covers very generic non-targeted approaches. Zeroing in on the economic bureaucracy and some key enforcement agencies is needed.

The road ahead is fraught with risk. Our country did not start off with the auspicious initial conditions of an egalitarian society that our East Asian brothers had. Regardless, a path is laid out before us that makes it attainable despite initial infirmities. If we have faith and confidence in our abilities and not succumb to fatalism, we may at least further the project of nation-building along the way in the years ahead.

* Evans, Peter (1998). Transferrable Lessons? Re-examining Institutional Pre-requisites of East Asian Economic Policies, Journal of Development Studies 34 (6), p.21.

Resignation Letter of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez

Republic of the Philippines
OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN
Agham Road, Diliman, Quezon City

STATEMENT OF OMBUDSMAN MERCEDITAS N. GUTIERREZ
April 29, 2011

Good Afternoon.

This morning at 10:30 a.m. I personally went to Malacanang to meet with our President, His Excellency Benigno Aquino III, to tender my resignation. I thank the President for graciously accommodating me on very short notice, and for all the kind words he said to me. In almost four decades of devoting my life to government service, I have always been guided by the precepts that the public and moral responsibilities of public officials transcend all other considerations. It is in accordance with these principles that I have strived and persevered to build and maintain an
unblemished record in public service. For me, this is the greatest and lasting legacy that I can leave my family, my children and my children’s children. Since September of last year, I have been subjected to impeachment proceedings, which seek my removal as the Ombudsman. I have been charged with allegedly betraying the public trust which was vested in me when I assumed office in December of 2005 – this because I allegedly slept and failed to act promptly on cases of national concern.

Because of my strong belief in the falsity of the charges leveled against me, I was firm and resolute that I shall participate in the impeachment trial before the Senate and prove to the Filipino people that the allegations against me are untrue, as they are groundless. I felt that I owed it to the people and the Office of the Ombudsman to vindicate and protect the integrity and independence of the institution. I also believed that in the Senate, I shall receive a verdict that would come only after the presentation of credible witnesses and evidence, unswayed by any kind of pressure, whether open or subtle, in proceedings that are devoid of histrionics that might detract from its basic aim to ferret out the truth and decreed by the cold neutrality of Senator-jurors.

In the past weeks, it has become evident to me that the vilification thrown at me by my detractors will go on as it has, since September of last year. I have withstood all these with the hope that I can assuage myself with the balm of a clear conscience and a verdict of not guilty by the Senate.

I wanted to face my accusers whatever the personal agony it would have involved.

But the interests of my family, my Office, and more importantly the nation, must always come before any personal considerations.

I have not shirked in the face of pressure, have never been cowed into submission, have never been influenced other than by truth and justice. To leave before the end of my term in December 2012 is abhorrent to me. But as a
government official, I must place first and foremost the interests of the Nation, the interest of my Office, and as a mother and wife, my family. The problems besetting our country demand a full-time Ombudsman and a full time
Congress, both Senate and the House of Representatives. To fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would, as it is, almost absorb my time, and attention.

The impeachment proceedings have consumed not only the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, but the Chief Executive of the land as well.

At a time when the present administration is in its infancy and beset with more urgent problems, the last thing that the nation needs is for the House and the Senate to be embroiled in a long drawn-out impeachment proceeding against a single public official. The President needs an Ombudsman in whom he has complete trust and confidence. To carry on my battle to cleanse my name before the Senate would detract from the time which could otherwise be devoted to legislative work, which would address the needs of millions of Filipino people.

By tendering my resignation effective May 6, 2011, I hope we can now all focus on the impelling problems of our people rather than expending so much time, effort and resources to remove me from public office.

I will also be turning over immediately the day to day affairs to the Overall Deputy Ombudsman, and pray that we all give him our full support.

As I leave the Office of the Ombudsman, however, it is my fervent hope that the misconception bred that having been appointed to public office by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, I owed my allegiance to her and am accountable only to her, and not to the Filipino people and the Constitution be discarded and laid to rest. While I acknowledge with deep gratitude the opportunity given me by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, my undivided loyalty always was, is, and will forever remain, to the Constitution and the Filipino people. In the words of the late Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court, judicial officers like me have no constituency,
serve no majority or minority but serve only the public interest as they see it in accordance with their oath of office, guided only by the Constitution and, their conscience and honor.

To those who have stood with during these difficult months, to my family, my friends, to many others who joined in supporting my cause because they believed I was innocent, I will be eternally grateful.

And to my detractors, I bear them no rancor because I have learned to make myself believe that we all love our country and our people no matter how our judgments might differ.

I shall leave this Office with regret at not completing my term, but with gratitude for the privilege of serving as Ombudsman for the past five years. I thank my colleagues at the Office of the Ombudsman whose continuous and selfless but unpublished efforts have made the Office of the Ombudsman what it is today.

Not many know that for many years, the Office of the Ombudsman has consistently been voted the most trusted institution in the Philippines. That is all your stellar achievement. I stand proud of having worked with you through these years. And while our detractors will always find cause to criticize and charge delay in what we do, it is because we deem it better to accord due process to our own public officials whose lives we affect when we decide on their cases.

God bless the Philippines and our people.

Photo credit: Malacanang Photo Bureau

Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez resigns; PNoy accepts

Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez has resigned. Anthony Taberna of radio station DZMM said that a 1 page resignation letter was submitted to President Aquino, and it will take effect on 6 May. The President has accepted the resignation of Merceditas Gutierrez.

This news comes as the Ombudsman was set to be tried in the Senate for breach of the public trust.

Black and White movement has issued a statement regarding this development. Here is a snippet:

“The threat of justice must have been too much for Merceditas Gutierrez to bear. Although a conviction through an impeachment trial was a desired outcome, the Black and White Movement joins our country in welcoming her resignation.”

Senators welcomed the news positively. Senator Escudero commends the Ombudsman’s statemanship. Senate President Enrile says that Impeachment Trial may not push through, but warns that resignation does not absolve the Ombudsman of any liability.

GMANews tweeted a senior palace official revealed that President Aquino has accepted the resignation, but refused to comment until official announcement is made.

On twitter, many are welcoming this development.

@ellobofilipino tweeted, “Merci’s resignation would be a news event I would want to know more about later than the Royal Wedding. #philippines #news #impeachment”

@FlowGalindez writes, “Merceditas Gutierrez nag-resign na! (sa wakas)”

@deantastic wrote “LOLOL uhh Merci? a bit too late to think about national interest, I think.”

@PhauraReinz went, “so gutierrez resigned… ???? oomg.. omg!!!!”

@nerveending says, “Now that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has resigned, the overall deputy is the Acting Ombudsman until President Aquino appoints a new Ombudsman from a list from the Judicial and Bar Council.”

Photo credit: Malacanang Photo Bureau

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P-Noy’s “Penance” for the RH Bill

Heading into the Easter break, the president makes a pitch for his own version of the reproductive health bill. Could this be his way of making penance with the pro-RH cause for the sin of omitting their bill from his legislative priorities?

With his poll numbers slipping, the president has sought to present himself as being more pro-active in leading from the front rather than taking a hands-off approach on a number of issues. With respect to the impeachment trial of the ombudsman, we have seen him make pronouncements regarding the need to convict Ms Merceditas Gutierrez an appointee of and proxy for the former president Gloria Arroyo whose following in the house of representatives, President Aquino sees as a stumbling block for his social reform policies. These policies involve the winding down of the grains subsidy program and the scaling up of the conditional cash transfers (CCT) program.

Mrs Arroyo challenged the president’s priorities and questioned the government’s capacity to absorb the growth of the CCT a while back. Was she speaking from experience? When her government increased the budgets for agricultural inputs and micro-lending via the now derided fertilizer fund and the now financially troubled Quedancor, such questions were not raised by her. It is for failing to prevent such catastrophic policy blunders that the current president wants the ombudsman to run after officials of the former one.

Regarding the CCT program expansion itself, two things can be said:

  • First, when it comes to dispensing money as opposed to physical goods like fertilizer to farmers and grains to needy groups or acting like a financial intermediary in assessing loan worthiness of hog raisers, the infrastructure required and scope for possible leakage is much smaller. So scaling up the CCT is less prone to problems of corruption and wastage as the fertilizer and rice subsidy or micro-lending and swine programs were,
  • Second, when it comes to deciding what to spend on for poverty alleviation, the poor households through the women folk are best placed to make these decisions rather than any government bureaucrat. So giving cash directly to households through the existing banking infrastructure proves to be much more effective and efficient in terms of producing the kind of outcomes needed.

Now coming to the ultimate social reform policy (I say ultimate since it affects much of the MDG targets either directly or indirectly), the president choosing his audience wisely made an impassioned plea before graduating scholars of the country’s premier state university to be heard amid the ongoing rancorous debate over the RH Bill. His own proposal the RP Bill (responsible parenthood bill) differs from the former in that it envisions separate government run health centers to provide natural family planning counseling services as distinct from modern ones. At present the current RH Bill would have all the different forms of family planning services provided under one roof.

This he says was his way of making concessions to the Catholic clergy who suspended talks with him after the RH Bill got introduced into the plenary debate in Congress. The question is, does the amendment proposed by the president help secure more votes for the bill or not? Judging from the comments made on both sides of the debate, the answer is probably no. Many on the pro-RH side would see it as just a waste of funds. What would be the advantage of separating the providers of service? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have provision consolidated?, would be their main points against it. Those on the anti-RH side would still find objectionable the fact that the government will be promoting other forms of family planning that they deem immoral.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak

So what benefit would introducing this new version of the bill bring? For those who have been advocating and waiting for it, this belated proposal would only threaten the passage of the current one making its way through the legislative grind. Such a proposal would be useful as a possible revision after the bill is enacted into law, if and only if it was found that consolidation produced unwanted and unforeseen consequences. Perhaps the only benefit is for the president himself, i.e. to justify his reasons for not prioritizing the RH Bill on the one hand, while claiming to be in principle behind it on the other. Splitting hairs, one might say, or quibbling over the details.

This hardly makes for decisive leadership. On the other hand, at least the president is saying he is with the RH cause in principle. Or in the spirit of the season, he would be saying that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And that in essence is what this whole debate may be all about.

Senators side with Aquino on firing of Deputy Ombudsman

Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez III was fired by the President for his inaction during the August 2010 hostage taking, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer is reporting that the Office of the Ombudsman is defying that order by the Office of the President.  The Senate President and the Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., Chair of the House committee on Justice likewise agreed with the position of the President.

The Inquirer article goes,

“While the Ombudsman is a constitutional body independent of the executive department, Mr. Aquino exercises supervision and control of this office and its employees, the Senate president said.

“They have to study their position … He has the power to hire and fire; the power to appoint and remove except when the Constitution establishes a different norm of removal, in which case the manner of removal must be followed,” Enrile said.

Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., chair of the House committee on justice, also said Gutierrez had no choice but to follow the President’s decision.

Under the Ombudsman Act, the President has disciplinary authority over the deputies and the special prosecutor, Tupas said.”

Exactly.  The administration is applying pressure on the Ombudsman.  This is the just next in a series of offensives, and will go on until the Ombudsman quits, or is removed from office.

Senate: No more Merci Trial

By Meredith San Julian

Malacañang early this morning said that President Aquino and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile agreed, during a closed-door meeting late last night, that the impeachment trial of the embattled Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez scheduled on May 9 will no longer take place.

In a joint press briefing, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that “Sparing Ombudsman Gutierrez a lengthy trial is but humane and aligned with the President’s promise to the Filipino people of responding to their needs” and Sen. Enrile emphatically declared that “in light of the execution of our 3 kababayans in China, an impeachment trial is the last thing we need.  Rather the Filipino nation needs to unite more than ever.”

Lacierda emphasized that Aquino worked closely with the members of his Cabinet in identifying arguments needed to convince the Senate that a Merci impeachment trial is unnecessary and doesn’t serve the public’s interest.

Lacierda and Enrile concluded the briefing on a happy note by holding hands and singing the lively Filipino folk song, Katakataka. Enrile even broke into a little jig at the end of the song.

In an interview with state-run radio dzRB, Aquino justified the decision as a part of his avowal to work harder in upholding his promise of change.

This more hard-hitting stance of the President is a response to the latest Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations surveys which indicated that there is a significant drop in Aquino’s public trust and approval ratings. The President said “to show the public that I am not entirely preoccupied with my second hand Porsche, which by the way I can’t drive for security reasons and bought with my own money, I will adopt a micro-management style of leadership which I learned from my Ateneo days.”

Photo credit: via pnoynews

DISCLAIMER: April Fools contributed to this report.   This was published for ProPinoy’s April Fool’s edition.

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About the author

Meredith San Julian – Merry, is an engaged 31 year old Filipina of Spanish and Arabian descent. She has a degree in linguistics from Erasmus University. She speaks 8 languages including Latin, German, Korean, Ilocano, Ket and Chimpanzee fluently. She regularly speaks at Harvard University-organized conferences all over the world. She is the keynote speaker of the HPAIR 2011 Asia Conference on August 19-23 at Yonsei University, Korea. Though engaged, she is open to explore intimate relationships with both genders.

Nuke 'em

“Making plutonium and fission products just to boil water (which is what a nuclear reactor does) is not a prudent approach to electricity generation.” – Arjun Makhijani, nuclear scientist

    (While I’m waiting for the trial of Ombudsgirl Merceditas Gutierrez)

    ME: Are you for switching on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant?

    SEN. MIRIAM SANTIAGO: It is alarmist to say we cannot have a nuclear power plant because look at what happened in Japan. We have to wait for what will be the effect of the partial meltdown in Fukushima before we make any comments with respect to the pending bill*.

    ME: So you want to start up the BNPP.

    SANTIAGO: The bill that I have filed only asks for public officials concerned to validate the operability of the BNPP. In other words, we are asking experts in our government to tell us if we can still operate Bataan, check for operability with respect to mechanical, electronic, and structural*.

    ME: Ah, so you only want to study it. In that case may I give you my expert opinion?

    SANTIAGO: Sure.

    ME: Nuclear power plants are very safe, as long as nothing goes wrong. Radioactive wastes can be stored safely, as long as nothing goes wrong.

    SEN. SERGIO OSMENA III: There is no such thing as absolute safety. If you always want absolute safety, we will never even develop the airline industry because there is always an element of an accident. It’s just the level of safety commensurate to the level of public acceptance*.

    ME: Who is talking about absolute safety? I’m talking about relative safety. A plane crash is different from a nuclear accident.

    OSMENA: Obviously.

    ME: But you brushed off the difference. You said, “It’s just the level of safety commensurate to the level of public acceptance.”

    OSMENA: At day’s end it’s the people that will decide whether they want nuclear power or not.

    ME: So it’s more about public relations than safety. Anyway, what happens when a plane crashes?

    OSMENA: People die.

    ME: What happens when a nuclear plant’s fail-safe back-up safety mechanisms malfunction?

    OSMENA: People also die.

    ME: That’s right. And furthermore, you mark out a radioactive fallout zone around the plant, like the 80 km. radius evacuation zone that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) drew around Fukushima. Now visualize that same fallout zone around the BNPP. Can you see that the evacuation zone will include practically all of Bataan and Pampanga and parts of Zambales, Tarlac, Bulacan, Metro Manila, Cavite, and Batangas?

    OSMENA: I know that.

    ME: Then I’ll ask you something you don’t know. Can a plane crash ever impact an area as large as a fallout zone?

    OSMENA: Of course not!

    ME: Of course yes when a plane dives into a nuclear power plant.

    OSMENA: Don’t be silly; nuclear power is safe.

    ME: Then why not build one right in the heart of Metro Manila? You can cut power transmission costs by half if you do that.

    SEN. ALAN PETER CAYETANO: I also want to know why some are insisting that we use the Bataan site. Is it really just cheaper or more advantageous*?

    ME: I think your concern over location misses the point. The problem is with the method not with location.

    CAYETANO: Huh?

    ME: Like the man said, “Making plutonium and fission products just to boil water (which is what a nuclear reactor does) is not a prudent approach to electricity generation.”

    CAYETANO: But nuclear power produces clean energy.

    ME: That’s true only if you ignore the fact that nuclear energy production is a process that begins with mining uranium and ends with hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive wastes that no one knows how to store or reprocess safely

    CAYETANO: Radioactive waste storage facilities can withstand practically any destructive human or natural force.

    ME: For at least 24,000 years?

    CAYETANO: What?

    ME: That’s the amount of time it takes for plutonium-239 to decay. At any rate, what do we do with the BNPP?

    ALL THREE SENATORS: That’s what we’re still trying to figure.

    ME: I have a solution.

    ALL THREE SENATORS: Let’s hear it.

    ME: Let’s just convert the BNPP into a prison for all those who will be charged with plunder after Ombudsgirl Merceditas Gutierrez vacates her office.

*lifted verbatim from newspaper reports

Pacquiao: Putting the 'twit' in Twitter?

The nominally honorable Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, officially elected Representative of the sole district of Sarangani, was conspicuously absent from the House proceedings on the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who has been charged with betrayal of public trust. (The House, as reported elsewhere on this site, eventually voted in favor of impeachment by an overwhelming majority.) The world-renowned boxer, however, was apparently monitoring the action on television, as he announced via his official Twitter account (@CongMP) that he was “watching the impeachment trial” and thought that it was a “very interesting topic”.

'Twitter _ Emmanuel D_ Pacquiao_ I'm watching impeachment t ___' - twitter_com_CongMP_status_49851426041626624

When he was asked by a couple of citizens to explain why he was not at the session, Pacquiao resorted to what might be magnanimously referred to as attempts at wit.

'Twitter _ Emmanuel D_ Pacquiao_ @RAndRat e di mag reklamo ___' - twitter_com_CongMP_status_49857233164574720

'Twitter _ Emmanuel D_ Pacquiao_ @momblogger e di mag rekla ___' - twitter_com_CongMP_status_49856708150968320

Pacquiao later took a stand on the impeachment issue, declaring, “I vote NO! and I can give my explanation thanks“.

'Twitter _ Emmanuel D_ Pacquiao_ I vote NO! and I can give ___' - twitter_com_CongMP_status_49864893465243648

In all likelihood surprised by the flood of criticism he received for his unbecoming online behavior, Pacquiao then bid Twitter good-bye, an act that, according to Cocoy, only befits a wuss. (The account is still active as of this writing, and the post pictured below has been removed.)

'Twitter _ Emmanuel D_ Pacquiao_ Sorry everyone but hanggan ___' - twitter_com_CongMP_status_49869490770558977

Precisely why he had refused to perform his sworn duty of representing his constituents and giving them a say on an issue of national importance is unclear—not to mention moot and academic. It may well be that he was training in Baguio, but Baguio is merely six to eight hours away from Metro Manila by land. What is certain is this: Pacquiao’s absence from the impeachment proceedings is utterly irresponsible, a fact that his inappropriately flippant—even scornful—tweets serve only to underscore, and which does not augur well for the rest of his political career. If the pugilist conceives of Twitter as an informal forum intended for casual banter, then, at the very least, he should consider restricting his updates to inconsequential banalities, instead of setting the stage for being remembered as a laughingstock of a solon.

Meanwhile, Pacquiao ought to be condemned not only by the people of Sarangani or civil society as a whole, but also by his colleagues, for surely his disdainful disregard of parliamentary procedure, to the point of voting via a micro-blogging service, besmirches the House of Representatives as well.