Binay

The Binays and Dasmagate

This is about character. I’ve been told many times over that how one treats those lesser— maybe less money— maybe less in intellect or literacy— maybe less in position— shows the true character of a person.

The story in question was the night the Binay siblings were headed out of Dasmarinas Village in the City of Makati. Dasmarinas is a gated community where many of the affluent, and powerful live. The Binay convoy were to exit a gate that for the longest time was closed by 10PM at night. To add, a rule that was long held and known to any who live there, or have long visited the village. Captains of industry, ambassadors, politicians, and of similar important stripe call Dasma, home. You can imagine the egos that need to be managed.

Am sure, amidst all this, *hoopla*, the Binays are flabbergasted, and have moved to dismiss the matter as trivial, and settled. Am sure in the vast intellect that courses through the brains of Junjun, Nancy, and Jejomar Binay, they are once more the victims of the story. The slighted heroes and heroine that deserve respect and recognition. The story, as Rappler quotes the Binay PR that the Philippine Daily Inquirer story as malicious. So it is, as Nancy Binay points out, “No amount of explanation would satisfy those who have never-ending dislike for our family.”

Contrary to how the Binays frame the incident, this isn’t about hate, or dislike. It is about what’s proper, and what’s true.

The Closed Circuit Television video that captured the night in question showed a startlingly different story from the Binay explanation. Even the guard company’s explanation doesn’t simply jibe with what clearly was happening on the video.

This is the 15 minute raw video:

This is the edited, and zoomed, 5 minute version of the original, where clearly, at one point, a guard, in the guard house was pulled forcibly enough for him to lose his cap:

In the footage, the convoy was neither surrounded nor could possibly be overpowered by the Dasma guards. At one point, Mayor Junjun Binay stepped out of his vehicle. One would imagine if the Major’s life or that of his sister’s were at all threatened, their security detail would push them back or switch to an exit that was open. That exit was a mere 150m. One would also imagine that they could also have rammed the gate to exit had the mayor’s life been threatened. They could also have retreated to where they came from to await assistance from the police. Instead the entire convoy sat there, for 15 minutes.

This is Kara David of GMA 7 giving her unbiased reporting of the entire matter:

The story has been repeated, and reveal many times in the past few days. Journalists of every stripe have had their chance. Commentators of every shape, color and affiliation have rendered a moment of their vast time to give their two cents. Anthony Taberna focused on the Security agency apologizing to the Binays. Winnie Monsod said, “the Guards were correct, the Binays were wrong.

On Facebook, and on Twitter, massive outpouring of disgust, and disdain have flooded the Interwebs. This is a screenshot of the amount of tweets that shot up on the term, “Binay”:

Screenshot 2013-12-21 10.37.44

This doesn’t count the other discussions going on with that talked about the incident, but not the term.

Marocharim correctly points out, “Rightly or wrongly, the political success of the Binay family lies on those nuances, and on nuanced opinions like “Di bale nang tawaging epal basta tumutulong.” It’s us-against-them: something so elementary, something so base, something that comes as a consequence of keeping people on this level through realities like poverty, a lack of education, or good old-fashioned stick-it-in-the-gut drama. In Nancy Binay’s own words, there will be “haters.” Cringeworthy – what works for JAMICH will work for the politicians – but real and true to those pairs of eyes. Theirs, and the millions who gave them the vote.”

Should the electorate be convinced to promote Jejomar Binay to president, or his spawn continue to be in positions of power what then? These Interwebs have long been argued do not reach the masses who vote for the likes of the Binays. It does not preclude a show of a little humility, especially from a family where much has already been given. Especially one, poised to be the next rulers of this small chain of islands, in the Pacific.

People in power have everything going for themselves. A little humility goes a long way, don’t you think? We could all use a bit of humility.

PaleBlueDot

Carl Sagan once spoke of the Pale Blue Dot we call the Earth. He was looking at a photo of our world taken by the Voyager probe that NASA sent.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena,” Carl Sagan said. “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

This is the Pale Blue Dot video:

Vice President Binay said he saw nothing wrong in what his son did. “My son deserve some courtesy,” The Vice President said. The Police Chief of Makati said the guards failed to show some respect to the Mayor of Makati— Junjun Binay. All this posturing; All this delusion— challenged by a Closed Circuit Television video showed the imagined self-importance of the Binay siblings—one a mayor, one a senator, and in defense of his children, so too, the Vice President of this tiny island nation of brown skinned Pinoys in the Pacific that is little more than a pixel in the pale light of a vast cosmos.

Is Aquino Just A Popular Version of Arroyo?

In an excellent piece for the Guardian newspaper, Slavoj Žižek makes reference to the work of philosopher Jean-Claude Milner who he says

proposed the notion of the “stabilising class”: not the old ruling class, but all who are committed to the stability and continuity of the existing social, economic and political order – the class of those who, even when they call for a change, do so to ensure that nothing really will change (emphasis mine).

Žižek asserts that the key to electoral success in 2012 was in a party’s ability to win over this class, which is what President Obama did by pitting his stable leadership against the radical changes proposed by the “Republican market and religious fundamentalists”.  Even now, Mitt Romney proves just how disconnected he is when he characterised as providing “gifts” to minorities the policies that Obama took to the electorate.  As for President Obama’s first term, Žižek goes on to say that

(m)any disappointed by his presidency held against him precisely the fact that the core of his much-publicised “hope” proved to be that the system can survive with modest changes (emphasis mine).

The same can be said of President Noynoy Aquino’s election in 2010. As the “hope and change” candidate of that electoral cycle, the people that elected him were merely seeking to restore the Philippines to the state his mother had left it in back in 1992. The purpose of his candidacy was to pull the country back from the brink of destruction and restore dignity and faith in the political system.

The very thesis of Corazon Aquino’s presidency was to prove that the pre-Martial Law, landed gentry could govern with self-restraint. For as long as the ruling class could manage to do so, the system of governance that she put in place would be able to accommodate the demands of the masses. For as long as there remained some modicum of decency (what Filipinos call delicadeza) from elites, any radical overhaul of the system could be avoided.

This is perhaps why President Aquino has so far shied away from pursuing any structural change in his campaign against corruption. This could be why he put off proposing any new revenue measures like the indexation of sin taxes until now. It could also be why despite promising to support reproductive health reforms he initially backed away from supporting it once in office. And it could also be why he signed into law the anti-cybercrime bill that many have derided for restricting freedom of expression, and why he is against tinkering with the constitution.

Instead of introducing change through these measures, Mr Aquino’s administration cranked up the programs and policies pursued by his predecessor, namely the conditional cash transfers program, universal kindergarten education, PhilHealth expansion, the anti-tax cheat program called RATE, business process outsourcing and tourism promotion and the euphemistic “fiscal consolidation” program. These were all begun by Mrs Arroyo whose popularity never seemed to benefit from them.

So, to mimic Žižek who rhetorically asked whether Obama was just “Bush with a human face”, can we also pose the question, “Is PNoy simply a popular version of PGMA?”

In the case of Obama, Žižek gives us reason to disagree with the assertion that he is merely Bush with a human face in that

(a)lthough his healthcare reforms were mired in so many compromises they amounted to almost nothing, the debate triggered was of huge importance. A great art of politics is to insist on a particular demand that, while thoroughly realist, feasible and legitimate, disturbs the core of the hegemonic ideology. The healthcare reforms were a step in this direction – how else to explain the panic and fury they triggered in the Republican camp?

In a previous post on this topic, I likened the debate America was having on healthcare with the one the Philippines is currently engaged in with respect to the reproductive health reform measure in Congress. Both touch on a nerve that is fundamental to the psyche of each nation with respect to the choice being considered and challenge each country’s default position with regard to the role of the state in each case.

Unlike Obama however who chose the issue of healthcare as the transformative one that would define his first term in office, despite the fact that the budget and economy were looming large as potential roadblocks to his re-election, President Aquino hasn’t really staked his presidency on any signature issue, save for impeaching Mr Corona and jailing Mrs Arroyo.

In the case of Mr Aquino, the victories over the former chief justice and ex-president respectively start to ring hollow among his supporters who don’t necessarily see the anti-corruption campaign continuing in the future under Mr Aquino’s likely successors. For them, a set of insurance policies to mitigate against any potential backsliding is required but does not seem to be forthcoming from Mr Aquino’s current leadership (or lack thereof) when it comes to the Freedom of Information bill and other similar measures.

As they see the potential dominance of the Binays, Estradas and Pacquiaos in our national political landscape for years and years to come, many are also beginning to call for the fulfilment of the anti-dynasty provisions in the constitution. Again, it does not seem as though the president will be leading on this issue. For the “will of the people” to be fulfilled, no restriction ought to be placed on their choices, he would probably say.

That so called choice presupposes however that people are indeed free to decide on their own. The framers of our present constitution perhaps knew intuitively that for this to be so, people would need to have a certain level of economic freedom and independence. Until such was achieved, they must have felt certain restrictions needed to be in place. What Milner describes as the stabilising force is nothing but a healthy middle class.

Unlike President Obama who broke with economic orthodoxy by bailing out the auto-industry and giving subsidies to clean tech companies in the hope of saving and creating jobs with living wages, President Aquino and his team feel no need to intervene in the appreciation of the peso to support our manufacturing base which is needed to grow the middle class.

For Mr Aquino, the fact that he can demonstrate the ability of the ruling class to govern with a level of integrity ought to be enough to ensure that things never go back to the way they were under Mrs Arroyo. For his fellow dynasts who supported his candidacy and form part of his ruling coalition, however, the fact that Mr Aquino thinks this way guarantees that things will indeed go back to “business as usual” when they get their turn in the driver’s seat.

Untrustworthy

That seems to be the label which the instigators of ‘memogate’ want to attach to the Vice President Jejomar Binay.

As the 2013 race for the senate heats up, members of the rival faction within the Palace opposing Jojo Binay have leaked a confidential memo he wrote to the president concerning a case involving corruption in the military. The advice contained in the memo was for the government to enter into a plea bargain deal with the former AFP comptroller General Carlos Garcia.

This mirrored the views of the office of the Ombudsman which at the time was held by Merceditas Gutierrez, Mrs Arroyo’s former justice secretary, who subsequently resigned as an impeachment case loomed against her in the Senate which was filed by palace supporters in the House incensed over her acceptance of the deal.

The tactic of the leakers is quite clear: make the public doubt Binay’s anti-Arroyo credentials, and by doing so, shed light on the fact that he too may have skeletons hidden in his closet. This follows news that the coalition headed by Binay and former president Joseph Estrada announced that it might field Arroyo allies not implicated in cases filed against her in their senatorial ticket come 2013.

Concerns over the integrity of the former mayor were conveniently swept under the rug during the heady days of the anti-Arroyo protest movement. Makati became a bastion of opposition in those days when most local government officials were allied with the administration of Mrs Arroyo. When the remains of former president Corazon Aquino were moved from La Salle Greenhills to Manila Cathedral, the cortege snaked through the streets of the central business district in recognition of the critical role it played as a staging ground for massive rallies.

What memogate reveals is the intention of loyalists associated with his political rival within the administration Secretary Mar Roxas to counter the vice president’s popularity by painting him with the same brush that tarnished Mrs Arroyo’s reputation by exposing his willingness to compromise with her on matters of principle that they deem sacrosanct. These insiders may have wanted the case against Garcia to proceed despite the weak and inadmissible evidence because of Mrs Arroyo’s alleged involvement in the “golden parachute” scheme involving large sums of money in exchange for military support for her government that the case had the potential to expose.

Reacting to an article about the incident reported on Rappler, which speculated on his potential motives for supporting the Ombudsman’s position (according to the report his wife had a pending case before her at the time), Binay called the media organization “reckless, irresponsible and malicious”.

Rappler for its part conceded that Binay got it right. The plea bargain was approved by the Sandiganbayan for lack of strong solid evidence. Although, the president and his allies in the house went to great lengths to reverse both the Ombudsman’s and the Sandiganbayan’s decisions, the general was only pinned down by the AFP for holding a green card to the US while in active service. He is currently serving a two year jail sentence for this infraction.

For his part, the vice president alleges that by making such sensitive deliberations ‘fair game’, the palace insiders have caused harm to the government. This is the fallout of such a propaganda war. By elevating narrow partisan interests above the national interest, these insiders have forgotten their role as custodians of the affairs of state.

On the other hand, such cannot be said of his ally Ernesto Maceda, a prospective senatorial candidate, who in a televised interview connected the case to remove Chief Justice Renato Corona from office with the electoral protest filed by Sec Roxas questioning the vice presidential election results of 2010. “With friends like these, who needs enemies,” the vice president must be saying to himself.

It appears this early that battle lines are already being drawn. The “knights of the round table” in Camelot are laying claim to the mantle of good governance and are intending to lump Binay along with the opposition that was comprised up to this point of Arroyo supporters. Binay on the other hand portrays them as saboteurs out to wreck the president’s effective governance of the nation.

The president for his part is not willing to make a split with his vice president an ‘inevitable’ proposition. He will after all need the support of his deputy in corralling votes in the senate for his proposals if indeed the vice president’s allies control a majority of the upper chamber as polling indicates they will.

The question now is whether the president can and would be able to control the machinations of those that serve in his team to prevent a dysfunction from setting in, if it hasn’t already.

Identity Matters

How the principle of “shared destiny” shapes the way voters behave.

image courtesy of hiphopwired.com

In the West, identity politics is often equated with minority interests. Barack Obama in 2008 won the presidential contest by refusing to campaign as a black candidate the way the Rev Jesse Jackson had attempted before him. Hillary Rodham Clinton on the other hand came close to shattering “that highest, hardest glass ceiling” but succeeded only in giving it “eighteen million cracks”.

Identity politics can also be used to wedge voters on social issues. Witness how Rick Santorum used it to stake out his claim over social conservatives in the Republican primaries this year. The problem with this strategy is that it often relegates a candidate to a non-mainstream status unable to appeal to a general electorate. But what should happen if the minority or disenfranchised group becomes the majority or mainstream the way the masa or lower income voter has become in the Philippines?

It was Joseph Ejercito Estrada who first harnessed this vote based on his cinematic role as a working class hero when he ran for and won a seat in the Senate back in 1988. Since then, he demonstrated just how potent it can be. One of the reasons identity is such a formidable force is due to the notion of having a “shared fate”. To forge this sense, symbolism, images and myth-making plays an important role. This is why rituals are so important for religious groups in forging a shared social identity.

It was not too long ago, 2009 to be exact, when the love affair between the Aquinos and the masses was reignited. Popular and religious ceremony following the death of Corazon Aquino created a shared sense of community. Not just that, but a line of succession from Noynoy to his vice presidential ticket mate Mar Roxas was established when the two shot to the top of the surveys in their respective candidacies.

Mayor Jejomar Binay entered the vice presidential race as a dark horse with former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada occupying “top billing” in their ticket. “Erap” elected in 1998 as president had been ejected from office in 2001 by an angry bourgeoisie mob who were now endorsing the Aquino-Roxas tandem. His continued popularity with the poor helped chisel away Manny Villar’s edge over Aquino with these target voters. Villar’s chances collapsed once it was revealed that his claims of humble origins were not credible.

It is quite puzzling, but in an election year dominated by the protest vote, why was it that Estrada continued to garner such wide popular support despite his previous conviction for plunder which was the same accusation made against Gloria Arroyo?

Simply put, for the poor, the word corruption has different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. In the context of Arroyo’s presidency, corruption was all about her stealing the office of the president from “Erap” through people power forged by the bourgeoisie and subsequently from Fernando Poe, Jr. through electoral fraud. Enriching her family while in office was the sole motivation in their minds for doing such dastardly deeds.

In the context of Estrada’s presidency, the poor did not see corruption in quite the same terms. They did not equate his presidency with corruption the way the more affluent middle and upper classes did. Mr Estrada’s concern for the poor was seen as his overriding motive. If he stole at all, it was not from the public coffers, and he only did so in order to help the poor even more. As his former budget secretary maintains to this day, his administration was decidedly pro-poor in its allocation of resources.

In short, Erap was used as a scapegoat by the elite for their own moral failings, while Gloria never could share that sense of shared destiny with the poor the way he had.

For this reason, Erap could not fathom a coalition with the middle forces knowing what their mental frame was. Binay himself often confronted these same interest groups as the mayor of Makati, the country’s premier business district. They had wanted him out for years and campaigned against him in several electoral cycles.

Despite allegations made by Makati’s elite of Mr Binay’s dodgy practices, the city he managed consistently topped the nation in terms of literacy and health. He demonstrated through the years his sense of shared fate with the poor who have benefited from his administration. This unique selling point and the relentless campaign that he ran allowed him to win the vice presidential derby with a razor thin margin.

At the national level, Mrs Arroyo had contended with these same business groups who had wanted her out for betraying the mandate they had bestowed on her to institute “good governance”. She who had once been quite popular with the masses would never be forgiven for knifing not one but two of their champions in the persons of “Pareng Erap” and FPJ in the back.

Having stumbled down the slippery slope of transactional politics in a bid to win back the masses, Mrs Arroyo found neither favour with them nor with her bourgeoisie patrons, the Aquinos being chief among them. The schism that erupted between their two houses threatened to disable her government. She then resorted to nearly despotic rule to complete her term of office.

Having suffered a backlash for turning against Mrs Arroyo and joining the Estrada/FPJ camp, the Aquinos once again endeared themselves to the masses whose sympathy was translated into an electoral avalanche. They who represented the best virtues of their class through their altruistic sacrifice once again rode a wave of euphoria into office.

Although the vice presidential contest was a mere sideshow to the main spectacle, its outcome has turned out to be significant. Instead of concentrating power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, the masses chose to hedge their bets, and rightly so.

Split identities

While President Aquino has remained wedded to the same neoliberal economic principles of low taxes, less government and less spending, which his mother had adhered to to please the bond market, Mr Binay does not appear to hold the same attachment.

Take the case of mass housing for instance. The vice president has called on the government to tap into the foreign currency stock that the country has amassed largely owing to the OFW or overseas Filipino worker phenomenon to fund a mass housing construction boom. This would seem logical and fair given that one of the first things OFWs invest in is housing for their families.

Tapping our foreign reserves, as I have said many times would stem the rise of the peso because much of the spending would leak externally through imported materials for construction, at least initially. This would give our manufacturing sector and dollar earning OFWs some space to breathe instead of giving the bourgeoisie license to go on overseas trips and purchase luxury goods from abroad.

In the medium term, local manufacturers of cement, iron and steel could expand their productive capacity to replace imports leading to an investment boom. This method of pump priming the economy, however, is contrary to the method applied by PNoy’s economic managers who in their first year and a half applied “Aquinomics” by contracting fiscal spending to “crowd-in” private investment. The formula did not work and is partly to blame for the “noynoying” tag assigned to the administration (the IMF outlook sees the Philippines once again lagging behind in ASEAN for the next two years).

In the case of rolling back the value added tax rate on petrol, the vice president has said that he differs with PNoy in that he is in favour of it. Binay is demonstrating through these nuanced approaches that unlike the president’s fervent adherence to economic rationalism, he only wants to find pragmatic solutions for the country’s poor.

Recall that in the latter part of Corazon Aquino’s term of office, when the power crisis raged in Luzon, the public had grown weary of her inability to govern the market. The same could be happening today. The president’s mantra that the power sector has to be liberalized and privatized in order to be stabilized will lead to higher rates and cost his allies votes in Mindanao.

The politically savvy Binay has sought to capitalize on this by having a “united Mindanao” represented by Miguel Zubiri and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel in his senatorial line-up. With Pulse Asia showing Binay’s endorsement being the most potent among political backers, he believes that he can lock-in the Mindanao vote by uniting these warring camps. The island will be crucial in winning the 2016 election.

PNoy on the other hand has doused speculation fed by his own deputy spokesperson that a split with the vice president is “inevitable”. Just like his mother before him, PNoy has chosen to remain “above the fray” and not endorse the nominee of the party of which he is titular head as Roxas intimated he no longer wants to seek the presidency but will be at the disposal of his party. He seems to have lost the will to fight.

Binay in turn will have Sen Jinggoy Estrada as his vice president and “people’s champ” Rep Manny Pacquiao who is expected to run for governor in 2013 in his senatorial line-up in 2016. This in turn will make an Estrada-Pacquiao tandem likely in 2022 followed by a Pacquiao-Binay, Jr ticket in 2028. The pattern set by Estrada, Sr will it seems be replicated by them.

The triumph of the parties that are closely aligned with the masses means that the ruling Liberal Party and its bourgeoisie/elite constituency could be on the periphery of power for years and years to come. The affair with the masses seems well and truly over.

So what should the Liberal Party do?

If I were in their shoes, I would work doubly hard to recruit members of the electorate that comprise the masses to join their party. Identifying genuine champions of the poor with solid track records and attracting them should be their number one priority at this point. It might be an NGO leader who works in the rural or urban poor community or a highly successful social entrepreneur whose innovations have changed lives. By assembling such a collection of individuals, the LP could change the nature of the game and translate their present weakness into their strength.

They have nothing to lose. If they apply a normal, traditional political strategy, they will fail anyway. At least if they go with something new and daring, they will win a major victory in terms of institutional renewal. Even if their candidates come within striking distance of the winner’s circle, that would still be seen as a victory for new, non-traditional politics at the national level.

By redefining their identity, they will also redefine the identity of the Binay led UNA coalition. This strategy is admittedly quite bold and risky, but that is the whole point. It would take the nation by surprise. The fact that it would be attempted by a major political party let alone the ruling party would be completely unheard of and might force voters for the first time to assess candidates based on their platform rather than popularity.

But in order for the LP to execute this strategy, it will have to get to work straight away by conducting a thorough search for prospective candidates, building up their public profile and supporting their campaigns. Only after the party has built a sense of shared destiny with the broad masses of the population will it be able to mount a serious challenge to the mammoth support enjoyed by the opposing mob.

Their ultimate goal is not only to shape the identity of their party but that of the voters, too. If voters are given a non-choice of picking candidates cut from the same cloth, then they will choose to clothe themselves with the ones that offer “winning appeal”. That shapes the identity of the voter as someone who merely follows the herd. If on the other hand they are offered a genuine alternative, they may just surprise us on election day.