A Government in Waiting

The revolution that swept President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino into power in 2010 is about to engage in fratricide in 2013 with one wing, “the idealists” comprised of the LP/Roxas camp, squaring off with “the pragmatists” comprised of the UNA/Binay camp. Mrs Arroyo and her proxies won’t fit into the equation at all as she faces trial. The winner will be in pole position to capture the presidency in 2016.

Nearly a year away from the 2013 midterm elections, Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay and former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada announced their formation of a coalition and a likely senatorial line-up to contest it.

The formal alliance UNA (United Nationalist Alliance) is a combination of Binay’s PDP-Laban (Philippine Democratic Party) and Estrada’s PMP (Philippine Party of the Masses), but it has also attracted members or former members of other major parties like the Nationalista Party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, and Lakas-Kampi, the party of former president Arroyo.

The rebranding of UNO the united opposition launched at the height of Mrs Arroyo’s regime’s unpopularity into a party of incumbents today comprised of Binay and the re-electionist senators Jinggoy Estrada, et al makes it a formidable contender for seats in Congress and at the local level. Most analysts and commentators see it as the team to beat.

Normally, in a midterm election, politicians would be lining up behind the administration for obvious reasons. This time around, the Liberal Party (LP) of the president seems to be in the unattractive position of having to scrape together a ticket of “unwinnables” or “also rans”. Such a predicament seems rather astounding given the massive support it received in 2010 with the president trouncing the popular action movie star “Erap” Estrada the nearest contender by several million votes.

Although Binay slipped into the vice presidency in a squeaker of a race with LP president Mar Roxas (the latter is still contesting the results), his exposure to a national constituency and his seniority in government now make him seem more like a president-in-waiting. With his proven abilities at organization and mobilization and his public approval ratings among government officials being second to none, he has become a more attractive coalition partner and leader to those seeking to retain or attain higher office.

Meanwhile, the hands of the administration has been tied up with other matters. The impeachment trial of the Chief Justice continues to drag on preventing its legislative agenda from gaining momentum. The public doesn’t seem to understand nor care what the outcome is. They have shifted their focus to other pressing concerns. The energy crisis in Mindanao and the oil price conundrum continue to hug the headlines. Tensions in the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula have also highlighted our vulnerable state amid the power struggles in the region. Continued weakness in our foreign markets both in the US and EU provides a very dire economic outlook.

All this makes for quite a diabolical cocktail, one which would give the nation a severe hangover in its wake. In this context, it is very difficult to see how the administration can address the structural problems that have kept the nation performing below expectations. As the word “noynoying” slips into public consciousness it would seem likely for its public approval rating which has been defying gravity to recede as per the normal cycle of presidential life. This means senatorial candidates won’t be able to count on “yellow magic” to win them votes in 2013.

Of course at the local level is where principle of “the one who holds the purse strings” matters. This is where the Binay family franchise over Makati City and its relations with sister cities comes into play. Malacañang has recently announced that with the election season approaching, it will tighten its grip on the release of countrywide development funds. The intention of this policy is quite unclear. Are they doing this to prevent dubious forms of pork barrelling, as they claim, or are they doing this to force local politicians to shift to their side?

Either way it is sure to irritate not a few local officials who will be crucial in getting members of any national ticket in the winner’s column. This may make them gravitate more towards Mr Binay’s camp, given his more easy-going manner when it comes to these things. As a pragmatist, he is more attuned to the requirements of governing in the Philippine context. Even if the idealists succeed in purging him from PNoy’s cabinet, they will probably be doing him a favor, as their public approval starts to slump. As more and more people become disillusioned with the administration, they will inevitably see in Mr Binay a better alternative.

High-minded aspirations are one thing when you are waging a campaign to unseat an unpopular regime; dealing with the demands of the masses the day after you succeed in toppling it is another. Mr Binay has demonstrated throughout his political and administrative career like no other contemporary leader of his generation how to pivot from performing the role of an agitator to that of a manager. He is following the same template now as he maneuvers himself into the top spot.

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.

  • Manuelbuencamino

    I love this bit of wisdom: “This may make them gravitate more towards Mr Binay’s camp, given his more easy-going manner when it comes to these things. As a pragmatist, he is more attuned to the requirements of governing in the Philippine context.”

    I wonder what “these things” are. And Binay is better because he is “more attuned to the requirements of governing in the Philippine context.” 

    Ekskyus me? The requirements of governing in the Philippine context? Is that the apologia for an easy-going manner on corruption? Is that the justification for allowing unbridled corruption to continue? Do not mess with the kalakaran? There is a tagalized spanish word for your idea of a pragmatist: konsentidor.  Your policy approach is do not mess with the kalakaran if you want to govern smoothly. That is where you and I part ways. 

    You say anti-corruption should not be a priority. That there are ways of moving ahead even if those at the wheel are corrupt. I say addressing corruption should be a priority because a corrupt mind can’t think clearly. A corrupt leader is a drunk at the wheel. You say we can live even prosper despite corruption. I say it will kill us if it has not already done so,

    • Never said anti-corruption should not be a priority. It should. A certain amount of good governance is a pre-requisite to becoming a developmental state. What I have said is that it should be targeted and focused, rather than scattered. It’s a pragmatic, goal driven approach, rather than a dogmatic idealistic one.

      As for the quote above, what I was referring to was the fact that Binay had more leeway to dispense resources through his sister-city agreements. Binay doesn’t control the purse strings related to pork. Only the palace does.

      • Manuelbuencamino

        Every elected official who has a disposable budget dispenses pork. The president of course controls whatever the congress appropriates but the president has to allocate those appropriations to congress, the judiciary, the executive branch including the vice president. They control that money they dispense that as pork. The chief justice dispenses his pork through allowances, bonuses, salary raises etc to the members of the judiciary, the congress dispenses its pork to their local leaders etc. etc….In short Binay etal control the purse strings after Congress appropriates and the president allocates or in other words, they control whatever has been put in their purse.

        • Not quite. Take a look at the GAA, the VP’s office is allotted Php200m for “locally funded projects”, but that too is subject to the same set of restrictions and conditions as the PDAF, which means it has to undergo the same scrutiny first before being approved for release by DBM. I wasn’t alluding to this anyway.

          I return to my original point: what the other officials don’t have is the elbow room that Binay has with the resources of Makati and its relations with other cities and municipalities throughout the country.

      • GabbyD

        “t Binay had more leeway to dispense resources through his sister-city agreements”

        what is this? i’m not familiar with this.

  • GabbyD

    facts on ICAC:

    The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC; Chinese: 廉政公署; and 總督特派廉政專員公署 before 1997) of Hong Kong was established by Governor Murray MacLehoseon 15 February 1974, when Hong Kong was under British rule. Its main aim was to clean up endemic corruption in the many departments of the Hong Kong Government through law enforcement, prevention and community education. The ICAC is headed by the Commissioner.

    Facts on HongKong vs Philippines GDP per capita, constant prices:
    data from USDA’s ERS
    HongKong: 1974: 7,450
    Philippines: 2007: 1,118 

    • The present incarnation of ICAC came about from legislation passed in 1988. Corruption persisted in HK despite the ICAC’s initial birth under British rule. It wasn’t until I suppose it was given real teeth in 88 and the public’s demand for good government grew as they got wealthier that things changed, but I take your point that even if we go back to 1974, HK’s per capita income was still far above ours today.

      • GabbyD

        i think ur confused. 1988 ICAC ur referring to is NOT the HK one, but perhaps australia’s.

        • I stand corrected on that point. Sorry, it happens, when researching on the fly!

  • MB, unlike speakers Mitra and JDV, Binay has a national constituency and is the most popular official in the land. Despite what Esposo thinks, his taking in administration critics from Lakas in his senatorial line-up will not hurt his image because the masses already identify with him. Distributing largesse is just the cherry on top.

    You obviously do not like the branding of the “good governance” camp as idealists because you think they are making headway in improving transparency and accountability in government. Unlike you, I am not convinced that adequate reforms have been instituted that would prevent the same practices from arising when the president steps down.

    All the reforms you talk about under PNoy can all be undone with the stroke of a pen by whoever replaces him. They are not structural in nature. To be structural would require legislation. Why haven’t such measures been taken up? Partly because the impeachment of CJ Corona has gotten in the way. 

    The idealists are still thinking in terms of personality based politics (“Mrs Arroyo is the devil”), rather than thinking as pragmatists who look at a problem and want to attack it at its roots (societal/structural). 

    The idealists want to impose First World institutions on a third world country (borrowing your HK analogy) without first addressing the issue of appropriateness. In the case of HK, they were already rich when they sought better governance through an anti-graft body. They could afford it by then. In other words they became rich despite the presence of corruption. The idealists want to put the cart before the horse when the country still does not yet have the capacity for it.

    In other words, now that we have an honest man leading the country, it would be the ideal time to institute structural reform, yet this hasn’t been attended to. Why? Because the idealists are still so busy chasing after Mrs Arroyo and her ilk (believing that jailing her will do the trick) and have become complacent given Mr Aquino’s integrity in office that they have failed to see the bigger picture.

    • Manuelbuencamino


      ICAC was established 30 years ago.(http://www.icac.org.hk/newsl/issue20eng/button6.htm)

      Singapore was not rich when Lee cracked down on corrupton.

      “The idealists want to impose First World institutions on a third world country (borrowing your HK analogy) without first addressing the issue of appropriateness.”

      When do you think is the appropriate time to address corruption?

      As to structures, they are there. It is just a question of enforcing laws as BIR’s Kim Henares is doing,  as the DBM has done with the new rules on the release of pork.

      Now what sort of structural reform are you talking about that cannot be undone by anybody who wants to go around them?

      • ICAC was created in 1988, 24 years ago. HK’s per capita income was $19,267 back then. You know what ours is today? About $2,000. So there.

        As for the Lee Kwan Yew and your Singapore analogy, did you know that it stands out as the only Mandarin state that paid its public sector employees more than their private sector counterparts? As Warren Buffet has said, “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.”

        Now if you expect us to attain the same kind of governance that HK and Singapore have achieved by simply having good people in place without the sort of structural and economic reforms required, then you are indeed an idealist. When those people are replaced with bad people, you will see just how feeble and whimsical your so-called reforms are.

        • Manuelbuencamino

          What are those structural reforms you are talking about that are bad people/corruption-proof? And when will a sustained anti-corruption campaign become appropriate?

          30 years ago, HK was just beginning to take off. 10 years before that, HK was one of the most corrupt places on earth. Do you think HK’s turn-around re corruption could have happened without a determined and sustained anti-corruption campaign? 

          And those high government wages in Singapore. Did that solve the problem of corruption without Lee taking a no nonsense iron-fist approach to corruption from the moment his republic was established?

          Your philosophy of economic development first before treating the cancer of corruption is a throwback to the philosophy being peddled by Marcos and GMA partisans. It’s the old “don’t impose first world standards on third world countries.” It is neo-Marcosian. 

          That philosophy you advocate is best exemplified by Erap’s quote: “A hungry stomach knows no law.” That is where you and I will never agree because I do not buy the argument that one’s station in life excuses bad behavior.


          • You seem so convinced of the certainty and inevitability of the reforms in our tax collection. You are basing it on what? A year’s worth of data? As for Lee Kwan Yew’s management style, if his iron fisted rule was indeed responsible for its development, then isn’t that more akin to Marcos’ and GMA’s style? Hello?

          • Manuelbuencamino

            No. First, because my sentence reads “a no nonsense iron-fist approach to corruption…” I focused on one specific aspect of Lee. I did not comment on his management style in general I did not want to go off-topic.  

            Two, when are you going to answer my questions: What are those structural reforms you are talking about that are bad people/corruption-proof? And when will a sustained anti-corruption campaign become appropriate?

            Let’s get specific please. 

          • Your premise was faulty and so was your conclusion about Singapore. You try to isolate one variable, yet you haven’t defined it in a way that would lend itself to empirical testing. Your assertions about HK and its ICAC were factually incorrect and your understanding of structural change is obviously flawed. 

            I could list a range of them (and I have already mentioned one), but that is beyond the point. You are trying to shift the burden of proof on me. All I need to do is prove that what you try to pass off as a specimen of structural change is not in fact credible, and I have.

            Just in case you are not convinced, this one year’s worth of data you use (it’s not even a year yet, more like a few months), has been done by past BIR commissioners. There’s nothing new. History has shown that such changes are tentative at best unless accompanied by more robust transformations.

          • Manuelbuencamino

            What are your crook-proof reforms and when is it appropriate to go after crooks?

          • What’s the point of filing cases every week if there is not enough lawyers to prosecute them because you failed to fund the DOJ’s recommendations?

            Go and read the series of articles I posted which have identified targeted but structural reforms, entitled the National Development Project, parts 1-3.

            This is not the place to canvass them.

          • Manuelbuencamino

            Nothing works better than putting crooks in prison.

          • The missing link is the prosecutorial arm, which today is not funded, but which I have included in the scope of necessary reforms.

          • UPnnGrd

             Pilipinas has a statute of limitations on murder, so won’t surprise me if Pilipinas has a statute of limitations on crook-ish-ness.

            And then this —  a poorly-prepared charge-sheet is just an invitation for the “Other-side” to do a CJ-Corona and cry “I am being persecuted because I do not want to be a BFF to make pompyiang-the-KASO-against-GMA”.  Whatever the silliness, a poorly-prepared charge-sheet is an invitation for Gobyerno to lose the case because of ….  ahem…  a poorly-prepared charge sheet.  

          • Manuelbuencamino

            No I don’t seem so convinced. I don’t need convincing when I can see with my own eyes what Kim Henares is accomplishing. And yes I base it on a year’s data because if I go farther than that I will be using data that measures the performance of the BIR under GMA and that wouldn’t be fair to GMA, would it? 

          • UPnnGrd

             Unspoken… but being considered, maybve???

            The Nonoy reforms are likely to fail because… ahem… 2016 is looming.   So PresiNoynoy  should do a repeat, namely  PresiNoynoy hears the Voices-Of-The-People clamoring for him to stop VillARRRROOOYYYOO from staying in power  and that instead he should be Persidente.

  • Manuelbuencamino

    Midterm elections are shaped by the incumbent’s popularity. An unpopular president makes possible opposition slates. A popular president makes running under his ticket more attractive given his coattails plus the advantages of incumbency. 

    The 2013 elections are unique in that there is yet to be a face-off between pro and anti administration slates. UNA does not want to be called anti-administration yet. The tattered GMA Lakas-Kampi coalition has not regrouped. I doubt it can or will. At most, they will slip into UNA posing as independents. I doubt Binay will sign a formal partnership with Kampi. With Lakas maybe, but represented by FVR or Revilla but not by GMA. 

    The president’s party, the LP, has not organized. The same goes for the NP. So the Erap and Binay coalition has the field to themselves. But 2016 is the prize and there are plenty who want it so it remains to be seen whether Binay’s coalition will hold until then.

    What Binay has to contend with, as pointed out by Philippine Star columnist Billy Esposo who supported Binay in 2010, is the danger of the Noybi vote abandoning him if he includes undesirables in his 2013 ticket. Esposo maintains that Binay’s 750K margin over Roxas can be traced directly to the Noybi votes.

    High-minded aspirations is the coin of politicians honest and crooked alike and dealing with the demands of the masses the day after they are elected is the cross all politicians have to bear. It is called the interplay between dreams and practical possibilities.

    As to the president’s popularity. Aquino’s base, around the 40’s, has always stayed with him, from the day he announced his candidacy through the campaign, his election, and now his presidency. GMA has a base in the 20s and that stayed with her from 2001 to 2010. Erap, same thing. Studying the composition of those bases from surveys would give one an indication of their depth and breadth. 

    It hope Binay has learned from the mistake of Mitra and De Venecia. It seems that way because he is wooing mayors instead of congressmen and governors. 

  • Terrific article, especially the itemization of all the things on the President’s plate. I could quibble with the word “revolution” in the first line, as I think nothing was revolted against. I would use “groundswell” looking for honesty and less corruption. Beyond that, how he proceeds depends a lot on the quality of the cabinet secretaries to whom he looks for advice. Is de Lima a hit or a miss for him? (looks wobbly) Rosario looks strong.Mindanao electricity and gas prices: big vulnerability. Pork distribution? Depends on how it is handled.

    I suppose this underscores exactly why presidents enter office looking young and vibrant and leave looking 20 years older, and exhausted. It is not an easy job. 

    • UPnnGrd

       I agree wiith Joe-Am.  There was no revolution in 2010 elections,  but a lot of propaganda,  to include how crooked the BillyyaaRRRR-real-estate dude and how Noynoy will get him jailed once he wins.  Also that small storyline that GMA will hang onto Malakanyang,  we need a super-mabait who is also a child of President to replace her!!! 

      But things are done and PresiNoynoy won with 57% of the votes, so all is well and PresiNoynoy speaks the voices that talk into his ears.

    • Joe, if you read the party documents and pronouncements of the B&W movement and the Liberal Party, 2010 was a moral revolution. The current rift is being played out in the lead up to 2013 as the adherents of this revolution are starting to question or make sense of that event. What was the revolution really about?

      A re-evaluation (revision?) of historic events is unfolding. The winner in 2013 and 2016 will eventually determine the answer to that question.

      • I think a revolution is won when it is over, not when it begins. The morality vote was an idea that has not yet captured the nation, other than in idealistic minds. You have to put people in jail, like all those Customs thieves, for starters. Get illegal loggers out of the trees. Get government thinking kindly of the citizens instead of autocratic. THAT would be a revolution.

        • Your view seems to be similar to the idealists. In their view the revolution is still incomplete because it hasn’t gotten rid of crooks in government. It is a moral revolution. If on the other hand you take the pragmatist view, the revolution required is in poverty reduction and bringing essential services to the needy. The question is whose version or brand will triumph. It goes to the core of what getting rid of Mrs Arroyo’s regime was really all about.

          • Yes, that makes sense. Thanks for the perspective.  I have a feeling that as the graft is winnowed down over, say, the next 10 years (I suspect SALN’s will be more precise NEXT year), we will see more progress in poverty reduction and provision of services to the needy.

          • That’s a big assumption you make there. The former bit about graft being winnowed assumes the idealists triumph. Over the next ten years though it would seem that the pragmatists might have the upper hand, especially if hardly anything is accomplished over the next four years in terms of bringing tangible results to the people, the idealist path could be discredited.

          • Manuelbuencamino


            If I may join your conversation with Joe…

            FVR and JDV formed the Rainbow Coalition, the Honasans were amnestied, Marcoses were allowed to return etc. because they believed possitive and tangible results would follow with reconcilitaion. GMA tried to do the same thing. But that was not pragmatic. That was idealistic, it was born out of a belief that unity without addressing the cause of why services/taxes were not finding their way to the people would nevertheless solve the country’s problems. As you and I know it did not. In fact The corruption, wholesale corruption from the top down, became worse. Corruption became accepted as a fact of life, as part of doing business with government, and a climate of impunity flourished.  

            The pragmatic solution to the disconnect between government and the governed is to address corruption and to do this one has to introduce accountability as an antidote to impunity. That approach you call idealistic?

            I agree it is idealistic to believe that corruption can be eliminated completely. Common sense and human nature tell us that corruption can and never will be totally eliminated. However, common sense, human nature, and experience also tell us that accountability is the best deterrent to corruption. It, at the minimum, creates hesitation. It is that pause that the focus on anti-corruption hopes to enlarge. It is that pause where pragmatists find the opening for establishing national unity based on correct principles. Look at how Hongkong was transformed after the creation of the ICAC, am agency that could have adopted the slogan – sacred cows make the tastiest burgers. 

            Like I said somewhere else, you cannot unite the good, the bad, and the ugly and hope for a unity of vision and purpose. That is idealistic. The pragmatic approach is to make life difficult for the bad and the ugly, to make life good for the good.

          • The way FVR and JDV achieved their rainbow coalition was as you very well know through generous portions of pork barrel. The ultimate aim might have been noble, but the means?…I would hardly call that idealistic. It was pragmatic through and through.

          • Manuelbuencamino

            By idealistic I meant, they thought they could lead the country to progress by uniting the honest and the corrupt under one umbrella. The pragmatic person understands that you cannot achieve progress without treating the cancer of corruption. I was not talking about the means.

            However, compare the jdv/fvr/gma pork shotgun approach versus Pnoy’s targetted approach. They wielded pork to whip politicians in line but without changing their behavior. All they did was to reinforce the traditional manner of conducting business.The new budget guidelines of the Pnoy has the opposition  complaining that they are too strict. They said don’t be so strict, just sue us if we abuse. So there. Pnoy is still using pork but he is changing behavior, he is making all pork recipients jump through hoops of transparency and accountability. Number two whereas before witholding pork punished the enemy and his district as well, the new approach is to bypass the congressman if he is in the opposition and give it directly to local pols. So you hurt the enemy without hurting his district and you empower the local pols in the district so they act as a counterbalance to your enemy. So is Pnoy’s approach not pragmatic?

            And why characterize the anti-corruption advocates as idealists and the consentidors as pragmatists? I think the ICAC of HK and Yew of Singapore have proven that the pragmatist is the one who sees the problem and does something about it and the idealist or the crazy is the one who keeps doing the same thing and expects a different result.

          • Please see my response above.

          • An ideologue is a pragmatist with vision to shoot for.

            MB, check out my latest blog.

          • Joe, it’s the other way around. Pragmatists aren’t wedded to any one particular ideology. They focus on what works.

            Idealists who stick to their beliefs and traditions in the face of contrary evidence are ideologues.

          • Manuelbuencamino

            I just read it. You will be charged with murdering Chicken Little. 🙂