The devil you know

In his weekly column for the Inquirer, Prof Cielito Habito highlights the opening salvo of the former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as a member of the opposition in the House of Representatives. As it turns out, Mrs Arroyo has chosen the Conditional Cash Transfers scheme (or CCT) that she introduced during her term as president which is now being expanded rapidly by PNoy her successor as the issue with which to mount a critique on the priorities being set by the present administration.

Using her expertise as a former Social Welfare and Development Secretary, Mrs Arroyo claims that the cart is being put before the horse. In this case, that the capacity of the DSWD to double the scale of its CCT operations is questionable. She criticizes the sequence of spending priorities. First expand the schools and healthcare facilities or at least expand them at the same pace that you expand cash transfers to the poor conditional on their accessing these services she claims or the money will be wasted.

Mr Habito on the other hand defends the position of the current president to adopt and even expand a program begun by his predecessor

By doing so, President Benigno Aquino III and his Cabinet have departed from the familiar habit of traditional political leaders of setting aside every initiative of their predecessor, for the sake of making their own mark. It takes magnanimity and statesmanship to do that—and humility too.

This article however is not about the merits of the CCT scheme. It is about the role of a responsible opposition in a functioning democracy. By opting to confront the PNoy administration on detailed policy matters such as this, Mrs Arroyo has taken to her new role in the opposition seriously in an appropriate manner.

I know. I know. We are all so used to Arroyo bashing by now that any attempt by her to exercise prerogative in her current capacity will be brandished as a form of political opportunism and partisanship. Not so, I believe in this case (put down those clubs and pitchforks for a moment, please!). Although as Habito points out, there are reasons to downplay Mrs Arroyo’s concerns, she does raise valid policy questions as to the timing and appropriateness of the massive build-up of the program.

This is what a responsible opposition ought to do.

Despite what her critics say about her intentions for seeking a seat in the lower house, Mrs Arroyo who has been silent so far regarding so many issues during PNoy’s first 100 days that other grandstanding politicians have readily exploited, and despite the antagonism she has faced with the formation of a Truth Commission to look into allegations of corruption by her, has demonstrated restraint and a respect for the office she formerly held for nearly a decade.

Contrast that with the intelligence reports concerning renewed destabilization efforts by one anti-Aquino group called the Solidarity for Sovereignty (S4) which took out a full-page ad on Tuesday in the Inquirer declaring all elective seats in the current government vacant due to the unconstitutionality of the 2010 elections and calling on the armed forces to perform its duty under the constitution to supposedly withdraw its support to the current administration.

This group which is said to be composed of former contenders in the presidential race as well as some allies of Mrs Arroyo is seeking to sew doubts about the legitimacy of the current administration under PNoy through such means as highlighted above. These moves are basically an unwelcome throwback to the past and have to be regarded with disdain for their unwarranted accusations and baseless claims. The conduct of the elections, though seen to be faulty in some respects, was given legal and constitutional cover by several branches of government and recognized by the international community as being fair and reflective of the will of the people.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander you might say. The move is being lifted from the playbook of the groups behind efforts to unseat Mrs Arroyo during her last five years in office. But, if the country is to move forward in developing sound institutions of democracy it has to get passed this habit of destabilization in the pursuit of power. The opposition has to act responsibly. No matter what the critics say about Mrs Arroyo, she is at least demonstrating some maturity in her new diminished role as a representative of the 2nd district of her province.

Of course, the more devious minds out there will speculate that this is all for show. That overtly, she is projecting this image of an honorable lady of the house, while covertly funding the conduct of such shady and questionable activities. I leave it to you, dear reader, to form your own opinion on that.

Image credit: Bulatlat.com

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • jose dennis flores

    playing devil’s advocate is better than playing god.

    i agree that arroyo should do her part as an opposition member. the last time i checked, the RP is a democracy or demo-crazy.i hope we will not forget that she too had so many shady deals that needs to be brought out in the open to set the records straight. i also hope that this new admin will really try to learn the lessons of the past (including the time of cory) so that mistakes will not be repeated.

  • Bert

    “There was a very strong emphasis on the Light v Darkness narrative during the campaign. Those who claim to be of the Light need to be assessed on a much higher standard I believe, based on their claims.”-The Cusp

    I totally agree with The Cusp on that. But..but..is there still room for raising our standard of assessment to that of the Darkness?

  • UP nn grad, the problem with your assertion is that you are relying on a relative yardstick comparing the PNoy administration to the previous one of PGMA. That might be setting the bar too low perhaps in terms of honesty and transparency.

    There was a very strong emphasis on the Light v Darkness narrative during the campaign. Those who claim to be of the Light need to be assessed on a much higher standard I believe, based on their claims.

  • Cusp,

    you make a good point regarding the importance of debate. But there are opposing “good values” that ought to anchor dissent, not manipulation and deceit. It is one thing to argue for centralized or decentralized power (democrat vs republican), or this regulation and that, for what its economic effect might be. It is quite another thing to argue for things that are self-serving and not in the public interest, like pork or stocking the government with cronies, or saving one’s criminal skin.

  • UP nn grad

    Philippine Daily Inquirer 10/23/2010 BALANGA CITY, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima recommended the relief of officials manning the Bataan provincial jail on Friday when she interviewed the 900 inmates facing charges for supposedly staging a riot there on Oct. 16.

    Rommel Tamondong, 38, an inmate, showed De Lima his bruised lower limbs. He claimed the bruises were made by jailers who gripped him while he was allegedly being electrocuted. “I don’t understand why the guards had to inflict injuries. Wala naman palang riot (It turned out there was no riot),” Justice de Lima said.
    – – – – – –
    The Justice Secretary concluded after a lengthy investigation that the officials manning the Bataan provincial jail are guilty. When she returns to Manila, she will instruct the NBI, the prosecution team and the courts to follow the proper investigation and prosecution procedures so that there is no doubt left that the officials of the Bataan provincial jail were guilty.

  • UP nn grad

    Maybe Manuel Buencamino has an insight into this thing after all when Manuel B clamors for balance. What galls many of the pro-Noynoy is that some folks, when they exclaim “Anak naman ng jueteng!!!” at the incompetence or cronyism or other weaknesses of the current administration, they do not balance the picture by mentioning the accomplishments of the Noynoy administration. Or at least they should also mention NTN/broadband or Macapagal highway or LeCirque. There should be a law about how people should express their thoughts… Or maybe use the personality of the Presidency and declare an Executive Order if Noynoy believes it is inimical to the greater good if he expends his time trying to coax Congress to pass laws.

  • I am probably a dissenting voice among the contributors to this space in my regard for the former president Mrs Arroyo. I do believe she must be held accountable at some point for her many questionable actions while in office. But I also believe she deserves due process. Innocent before proven guilty.

    Now going back to the main issue re: her role in Congress. It would have been easy for her to just sit back and be quiet if all her intentions were to avoid criminal prosecution. The fact that she is participating in the policy making process shows that she actually wants to make a contribution to the debate and not just avoid arrest.

    Our judicial processes need some repair as well. The Truth Commission as another thoughtful dissenting voice in the Senate in the person of Ed Angara has said suffers an identity crisis. His arguments against forming another independent commission because we don’t trust the appropriate body the Ombudsman I believe are sound. Our democracy and justice system need to operate independently of personalities and be centred more on policies and principles.

  • UP nn grad

    And ManuelB… I do commend Noynoy for one of his greatest accomplishments to-date. Because of him and Yellow Army, nobody among ChinoF, Trillanes, ilda, Anna deBrux, BongBong Marcos, bongV and especially Ping Lacson can deny that Noynoy has made reality the “GMA Talsik Diyan!” clamor now that GMA is not president anymore.

    Now to more mundane things like reproductive-health, Truth Commission, Ampatuan/Maguidanao trials, poverty-reduction, Freedom-of-Information and a couple of nuclear-power-plant-deals for Pilipinas.

  • UP nn grad

    Well, ManuelB, then you should rest content that the Yellow Army remains intact and each and all are content as to the integrity, competence, loyalty and professionalism of the Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino inner-circle.

    With the Trillanes-amnesty, there may even be a surge in Yellow-Army membership to include maybe Ellen Tordesillas and others who were pro-Villar or pro-Jamby or pro-Teodoro.

  • manuelbuencamino

    UPnn,

    Cocoy means well. When he criticizes it is only to make something good even better. And therein lies the gap between Cocoy and someone who simply won’t accept what happened last May.

  • UP nn grad

    Manuel B: you need a chat with your BFF’s who want to rest now Noynoy receiving the Millenium Challenge grant and the past week of how Pinas weathered Juan. Talk to Cocoy! Cocoy shares your thoughts about “Juan”, but beware his thinking about Puno, BFF’s, IIRC (and action-items for Noynoy about Reproductive Health and Freedom of Information Act).

  • manuelbuencamino

    UPNN,

    I think PNoy did a fantastic job with the last typhoon. Relief and rescue were in place and operations were well coordinated. It was far, very far, better than what’s her name did in Ondoy and to think she had eight and a half years of typhoons before that.

    Anyway, let’s keep on bringing up Luneta and ignore the great job, the demonstration of executive ability, and all that because what are we out of power for?

  • UP nn grad

    Walden Bello’s name and his verbosity during past 100 days is memorable.

    PLUS: there were those who called attention to themselves (and did not issue any critique of GMA- or Noynoy-policies) DURING the Quirino grandstand day that ended in murder of several people.

  • Oh there were a number of cases. The most opportunistic was after the Luneta grandstand incident (no pun intended).

  • GabbyD

    “Despite what her critics say about her intentions for seeking a seat in the lower house, Mrs Arroyo who has been silent so far regarding so many issues during PNoy’s first 100 days that other grandstanding politicians have readily exploited”

    i’m having difficulty remembering… which politician grandstanded during pnoy’s first 100 days? as in, not fielded a policy critique?

  • GabbyD

    @the cusp

    who said GMA shouldnt be heard, other than MB?

  • mario taporco

    @Doy,

    What if, and let me kindly inject my perspective on this, regarding Arroyo if I may do so. It has been in the past that The Philippine government, and its entity always squabble on its agendas.

    Filipino politics, as it has been in the past decade or specially these days of present time, explicit arguments in favor of fascism and the ideology of unlimited state power are, how shall I put this, ineffective at convincing the masses.

    Although Filipino people still adore the fascist ideology of the boundless power of our administration(s) and its fusion of public and private business, this is only so long as it is not given its proper name. These days, filipinos prefer their fascism to be cloaked in disingenuous and deceptive language that disguises its true nature.

    The same goes for those old slogans about the suppression of the individual to the collective are so…, far better to have your leaders pay lip service to “freedom” and “human rights” as they coercively mold [us]you into a docile little manikin fit for their desired bureaucratic utopia.

    NOTE: “this implications are to be molded into our senses; but ‘am I…,?”

    All I can say is, please keep an open mind, and your appreciation to precept. Thanks Doy, for the arguments.

  • UP nn grad

    “Even the saintliest government needs an adversary to play the devil’s advocate otherwise it can go astray for the simple reason that power corrupts.” — The Cusp

    Even the saintliest government needs adversaries and citizens to play the devil’s advocate to harangue against incompetence, like cocoy’s various postings against Noynoy doing the old GMA trick (executive privilege) about IIRC and governance failures related to the Quirino grandstand murders.

  • Look, all I am saying is that a democracy is an adversarial system, meaning you always need at least two sides that advocate their contrasting positions. Even the saintliest government needs an adversary to play the devil’s advocate otherwise it can go astray for the simple reason that power corrupts. That’s all. And in this instance, the one playing that role is Mrs Arroyo. She deserves to be heard. After all she probably knows a lot more than most congressmen combined about the topic.

  • Bert

    and Doy Santos saying the Devil’s rant is good for indigestion, ahaaayhehehe.

  • UP nn grad

    A muckraker (who like Manuel B, had written publicly about a drunkard inside Malacanang) has these words about expanded CCT:
    ——
    By Ramon Tulfo
    Philippine Daily Inquirer 10/20/2010

    MANILA, Philippines—There’s talk going around Congress about a Cabinet member who recently had a meeting with some members of the opposition. During the meeting, the secretary was asked about his take on the controversial Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) …
    Would his department’s P12 billion budget be enough for the projected 500,000 new elementary-school pupils under the CCT program?

    The good secretary allegedly replied that the P12 billion was enough to build the classrooms needed for the CCT program.

    But .. money for books, computers, etc…. the P12 billion budget … would not be enough to meet the needs of 500,000 new pupils and the backlog of classrooms.


    http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/metro/view/20101020-298843/Tourist-police-chief-doesnt-respect-mayor

  • Bert

    and benignO behind the Devil clapping his hands, :).

  • Bert

    To make an analogy of this bordering on the extreme, it’s like the Devil telling God to manage Heaven properly, :).

  • manuelbuencamino

    Okay Doy. She can speak all she wants when she starts wearing an orange jumpsuit

  • hi MB, actually quite a number of studies have been published regarding the 4P’s the predecessor of the CCT which attest to its effectiveness with some caveats regarding some leakage issues. The ones who commissioned them of course are now serving in PNoy’s cabinet. That should inspire confidence that the findings have been studied and put to good use.

    Yes a certain amount of gamesmanship is involved in Mrs Arroyo’s dissent over a program that her administration began. That’s what you would expect. And that’s what ought to happen.

    I was one of the first in this space to support the expansion of the CCT, see here: http://propinoy.net/2010/09/09/missing-the-point/ and also here: http://propinoy.net/2010/08/28/an-education-budget/

    I was even derided as one of PNoy’s “spin doctors” for it. But a reasoned debate on policy matters is perfectly acceptable under a truly democratic system. I almost feel as if many in PNoy’s camp still feel they are in the opposition. They are like the US Democrats in that regard in that even when they are in power, they still act like underdogs.

    The fact is they’ve won and they now control the house, so my point is what harm could a diminutive lady pose to them at this point? It’s a little irregular since she used to hold the highest post, but so what? She no longer holds the reins of power in Malacanang. Let her speak her mind. We might even get our money’s worth as taxpayers in the process.

  • manuelbuencamino

    Doy,

    We have a new president. He just presented his first budget. It should be approved as presented. Next year, when he goes back with another budget, Congress should make him account for it. But to do it now, before he has been given a chance to prove his capablility, is nothing but politics and obstructionism. Cut the guy some slack or give him enough rope to hang himself, as the case may be.

    Our disagreement is over timing. There are no facts to argue over yet. There is nothing yet for us to discuss and assess except PNoy’s goals and Gloria’s fears. So, at this point, it is valid to ask what motivates Arroyo to incrementalize a program that needs to be bold, why is she behaving negatively when the pudding still has to be tasted?

    There is a tradition that a previous president refrains from criticizing an immediate successor, specially not within a few months of the new president’s assumption. And it is a sound tradition because whatever negative comes out from the previous president’s mouth will be suspect.

    Now for the sake of argument, let’s grant that Gloria’s apprehensions are valid. I would still insist that she still made a stupid move because her personality, as previous president, overshadowed the points she was trying to make.

    People like me who support PNoy and can’t stand Arroyo will easily deflect the argument away from the issue and make HER the issue. So it was a dumb move on her part. Made even dumber because it was obvious she could not restrain herself from attacking a member of Hyatt 10 through PNoy’s pro-poor program.

  • manuelbuencamino

    Benigno,

    first of all I am honored that the one who inspired Eleanor Roosevelt to make that comment responded to my talkback.

    Now what was it that Arroyo put on the table, that she didn’t think it would work because she been there done that? It’s like her telling Shaq you won’t grow because I didn’t grow. Arroyo’s shortcomings can never serve as basis to conclude that no one else can top her.

  • GabbyD

    @Doy

    ah, yes, some of that i’m not familiar with, nor do i now how large or significant this is. for example: infras program? every admin builds infra. whats so special with the infra program she had?

    the feeding program was a good idea. it was recently cancelled, and there were allegations of procurement corruption.

    in this case, it is program was criticized for substantial policy reasons. THIS IS NORMAL.

    we shouldnt pat GMA for a job well done here.

  • I find myself tending to lean towards benign0’s point of view on this issue (for once!). Regardless of her motivations or ulterior motives (or behind the scenes operations), the points Mrs Arroyo raised are valid ones.

    With regard to grand programs, Mrs Arroyo had several didn’t she? Her infrastructure plan, the rice importation scheme, and of course the CCT which then was done in tandem with a number of initiatives like Food for School and Gatas ng VAT.

    Now whenever governments attempt a rapid deployment of funds, personnel and resources to new projects, it always runs the risk of wastage and unintended consequences. The question is whether the defects spotted in the CCT have been sufficiently addressed and whether the agencies will have the absorptive capacity to handle the growth?

  • my point is arroyo is not playing a honest devil’s advocate. she wants to torpedo the program but pretends she’s for it.

    I’m all for discourse on policy issues but if it’s honest and not a disguise for an obstructionist political agenda.

    Plain speculation. Why debate about one’s hidden intentions when one can debate on what is in the public domain for all to see.

    It would be more productive to debate the merits of what is on the table rather than what remains hidden in private agendas.

    As the esteemed Eleanor Roosevelt was said to have said:

    Small minds discuss people
    Average minds discuss events
    Great minds discuss ideas.

    – 😀

  • manuelbuencamino

    Doy,

    my point is arroyo is not playing a honest devil’s advocate. she wants to torpedo the program but pretends she’s for it.

    I’m all for discourse on policy issues but if it’s honest and not a disguise for an obstructionist political agenda.

  • GabbyD

    @cusp

    ” By opting to confront the PNoy administration on detailed policy matters such as this, Mrs Arroyo has taken to her new role in the opposition seriously in an appropriate manner.”

    has the opposition NEVER criticized the sitting admin on “detailed policy matters”?

    i cant remember a situation where the opposition never criticized a sitting admin on wonky policy matters.

    in fact, whenever sucha policy is proposed, it is USUALLY criticized on such grounds.

    so i dont know why you find GMA’s actions here any different from what usually happens.

    what i do know that usually happens is that the previous president usually keeps QUIET during the term of the suceeding president. so when GMA talks, everyone listens — if only to see how bitter she might be. when she turns out a reasonable person, everyone is impressed.

    i say, huh? this sort of behavior ISNT abnornal at all.

    perhaps the only reason this is “notable” is that its RARE for the sitting president to actually have bold policies. the only one i can remember now is FVRs plan to solve the power crisis. for GMA, it was charter change.

    in both instances, the opposition DID confront the issues with substantial arguments.

    so whats new?

    When is the last time a large initiative was launched by govt? something like CCT? or K+12? or Zero-based budgeting?

    maybe the ONLY reason this is notable is that there’s only a few times that a president actually comes up with a bold, complex policy?

    complex policy is easy to criticize using reasonable questions — coz by its very nature, its complex!

  • UP nn grad

    The point is correct —- without a tight control system, then a government-program that hands out cash is an invitation to fraud. Evidence — USA’s administration of the Hurricane Katrina emergency fund.

    http://www.sunherald.com/2010/10/13/2553557/two-more-sentenced-in-721k-katrina.html

  • The administration has nothing to fear from Mrs Arroyo’s interpellation. They have the numbers in the lower house. In the end, they will get from Congress the budget they are requesting for the CCT expansion more or less intact.

    The value I see in Mrs Arroyo’s playing devil’s advocate is that such forms of discourse on policy issues helps craft better legislation in the end. It also creates a healthy debate. Implicit in the title is that it is better to deal with the devil you know (Mrs Arroyo) than the one you don’t know like some shadowy group (S4).

  • manuelbuencamino

    Doy,

    Sure every legislator is duty-bound to ask questions so that tax money does not go to waste. But Arroyo was measuring the chances of success of the expanded CCT against her CCT and we don’t really know if she did that right or not.

    The mere fact that she made a comparison implies she believes her CCT is the gold standard. Is it? Because if it is not, then she had no business criticizing the expanded CCT even before it got off the ground.

    The point of her interpellation was to show that the admin was too ambitious, too not ready to implement the expanded CCT. She was not asking questions to get informed, she was asking questions to make the expanded CCT look bad, not doable.

    The new CCT is not a carbon copy of the old one. She would have been more constructive if she talked about what went well with her CCT and what went wrong. In that way, the new admin would have a model of what to do and what to watch out for.

    Is there anybody who does not believe that the CCT is needed at the moment? So the responsible legislator who has the best interests of the country at heart will help the new admin make a big success out of it, not to trip it up.

    The truth is the expanded CCT is not big enough to meet the needs of all those who need it now. So why insist on keeping it small? Why push incrementalism when big bold steps are what’s called for?

    Remember one big complaint of the poor against the previous admin was they never felt the prosperity. This new admin is reaching out to them, why not help them do it right? Because any success of PNoy is bad for the new outs?

    Now I would be very surprised if Arroyo is not involved in S4S. It’s her anting anting against the orange jumpsuit waiting for her.

  • Funny how things turn out. For me no one “Opposition” of whatever administration in the last couple of decades has never differentiated itself from its predecessor. The only thing that characterised them was their year-in-year-out sameness, the same kind of sameness that is usually reserved for deriding incumbent administrations and regimes.

    At the core of this sameness is a focus on personality rather than policies and issues. Perhaps we might be seeing a different “Opposition” during Noynoy’s term — one that is focused on the right things and the relevant points. 😀