Department of Interior and Local Government

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 3

Panderometer

Featuring Koko Pimentel, JV Ejercito and Jack Enrile.

This is the third part in a series on the candidates for the senate in 2013. Just a recap: I am attempting through this series to have a serious discussion of the aspirants and their political platforms (or lack thereof). I have identified nineteen so far that have articulated some kind of policy agenda in running for a seat in the upper house. These are put through what I call the pander-o-meter to determine whether the policy detail they have released so far places them in either the reformist or populist columns. The following table details the range of possible scores a candidate can get and the equivalent meaning of each reading:

Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…

1-2

Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature

3

A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming

4

Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering

5

Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

In part 1, I covered Juan Edgardo Angara, Jr, Benigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano. In part 2, I covered Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.

In this instalment, I will be covering Aquilino Pimentel III,Joseph Victor Ejercito and Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr.

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Aquilino Pimentel III (PDP-Laban-Team PNoy) has served less than half his term as senator since he spent the first half proving that he was the rightful occupant of the 12th slot in the 2007 senate race.  His father was also a victim of cheating, which makes him a strong advocate of clean, honest elections. A good portion of the time he has served as senator though was occupied by the impeachment trial, which left little opportunity for lawmaking. But in that time, Koko as he is fondly called was able to propose one significant measure, which is discussed below.

“Hating Kapatid” of revenues between local and national governments: will increase the share allocated to local government units (LGUs) to 50% from the present 40% and will consider all national revenues in determining this share, not just taxes collected from the internal revenue agency (that means local governments would get 50% of customs, VAT, and other forms of income).

My critique:

It is important to know what problem this proposal seeks to solve. If it is to make local governments fiscally more autonomous, then what the bill will do is make them even more dependent on Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA) from the national treasury. There have been problems identified with the current method of distributing IRA (50% based on population, 25% on land area, and 25% on equal sharing) which does not necessarily match revenues with costs or responsibilities and capacities. This proposal seeks to address the current mismatch by simply throwing more money at the problem by increasing the take of LGUs.

An alternative approach would be to increase the capacity of local governments to raise revenue autonomously from the national government. A discussion paper by the Philippine Institute of Development Studies noted back in 2009 that there was an “emerging consensus” which was “to amend Book II (Local Taxation) of the Local Government Code, which has the common support of the DILG and the various leagues.” The proposed package of reforms could raise revenues of local governments by about a third without increasing their cut from the national government.

As Fitch Ratings agency recently remarked, our government’s tax collections are abnormally low, relative to other countries that receive the same BBB- rating. The challenge therefore is to achieve the policy goal of raising the revenues of LGUs relative to the national treasury not by increasing its IRA but by amending existing laws to enable them to raise revenues on their own. That would be true fiscal autonomy responsive to the needs of local communities.

Overall comments:

When we talk of local government, there are two people that usually spring to mind. They are the former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr, the father of the Local Government Code of 1991, and the late-DILG secretary Jesse Robredo. Kaya Natin, a good governance advocacy group recently endorsed Senator Koko Pimentel, the son of the former, as a champion of the latter’s approach to reform.

Koko Pimentel is clearly seeking to further the reforms begun by his father, which have been credited with improving the quality and development capacity of LGUs nationwide. In principle, the cause of furthering local autonomy is quite laudable because it allows the allocation of resources to be determined by officials who are closer to where the needs are. There are many good examples of local innovations resulting from this practice. There are however a lot more cases in which LGUs have wasted and mismanaged resources transferred to them by the national treasury.

The late Jesse Robredo sought to correct this problem by encouraging LGUs to adopt best practices through a system of block grants and reward payments. Increasing the IRAs of LGUs has in the past limited the funds available to engage in such efforts. What this means is that we clearly have a choice of two philosophies. Senator Koko Pimentel’s approach of “hating kapatid” sounds folksy and politically easier to convey, but the evidence from over two decades of implementing the Local Government Code tends to point towards a different direction. Clearly, it is the one that Jesse Robredo would have favoured.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5

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Joseph Victor Ejercito (PMP-UNA): the former mayor and congressman of San Juan has a thirteen point agenda listed on his website. These thirteen points fall under four priority areas: education, jobs, worker protection and Mindanao. This clearly echoes the priorities of his half-brother, Senator Jinggoy Estrada who has served as chairman of the senate committee on labour and the brand of his father, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada whose popularity in Mindanao is without question. These priorities are covered below:

  1. Education: creating regional hubs for higher education, while increasing the budget for state colleges and universities (SUCs), encouraging youth development and monitoring the K+12 implementation.
  2. Jobs: improving higher education curriculum to match industry requirements, encouraging tourism investment through “innovative incentive packages”, stimulating agriculture investment in new technologies, infrastructure and market access, redesigning the Pantawid Pamilya program by converting it into a disabilities and pension scheme and redirecting it towards LGUs, and supporting LGUs in their livelihood programs.
  3. Worker protection: providing accessible government support services to overseas Filipino workers, improving health and safety measures within the business process outsourcing industry and monitoring the implementation of the Kasambahay Law.
  4. Mindanao: promoting economic development and power generation on the island.

My critique:

The priorities read, unsurprisingly like a list of motherhood statements and vague policy pronouncements. There is nothing in them that tells us what the outcome would look and feel like on the ground or what they would cost. The proposal for creating regional hubs for higher education could for instance mean amalgamating or merging some SUCs or it could mean increasing the number of SUCs. As he notes, the government has already increased spending in this area, so how much would be enough? The answer seems to be more than whatever the budget is. How can you arrive at a realistic outcome, then?

Does he intend to encourage the gerrymandering of SUCs as I have termed it, or does he intend to arrest it? We can’t really tell from his statement. Increasing the SUC budget is one thing, but allowing it to remain inefficient is another. Serious reform is needed in the sector which would improve the quality of the spending first, before significant budget expansion is done in my opinion.

Secondly what does he mean by “innovative incentive packages” to encourage tourism? I am worried especially as he cites the upgrade of hotels and restaurants near tourist spots needing attention. To my mind, these businesses aren’t infrastructure, at least not since the time of Imelda Marcos as Metro Manila governor have they been regarded as such. The same goes for his statement about encouraging investments in productivity improving technology in the agriculture sector. Here he cites hand tractors. What happened to Erap’s Karabao Bill?

Thirdly, the proposal to break up the Pantawid Pamilya and transform it into a disabilities and old age pension scheme would mean the health and educational outcomes noted recently by the World Bank (lower incidence of malnutrition and stunting, which if unchecked become irreversible and cause long-term learning difficulties) would not be maintained. That to my mind is not productivity enhancing.

Finally, just a quick note on the Kasambahay Bill. JV claims to have been one of its “principal authors”, but a search on the website of the House of Representatives shows only one bill sponsored jointly by Diosdado and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It was actually Jinggoy Estrada who sponsored the bill in the Senate. I wonder then what JV’s contribution was to the measure.

Overall comments:

Joseph Victor Estrada is following in the footsteps of his father and half-brother by promoting policies that they have championed and the career path they have taken. The way his policy statements are crafted, it sounds like he has very specific measures in mind. Then again, he might only be posturing. Even with the vagueness of his policy statements though, there are deep reasons to be concerned.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr (NPC-UNA): the congressman of Cagayan is lifting a page from his father’s playbook by using consumer rights and protection issues to anchor his electoral base in his first senate run. His dad used the high cost of electricity as the defining issue of his candidacy in 2004, and Jack as he is fondly called plans to use food security as his platform. He makes use of the slogan, “Murang pagkain, maraming pagkain”(affordable and abundant food) as the catchphrase of his campaign, but what does it actually mean?

The Food for Filipinos First Bill he co-authored with Walden Bello of Akbayan in the lower house seeks to create a national food requirement plan through the Department of Agriculture, re-organise the National Food Authority into a corporation that would ensure sufficient food is secured for domestic consumption, protect agricultural and fishing zones, promote agricultural education, training and credit, and improve the competitiveness of local produce by eliminating subsidies and enforcing anti-dumping and anti-smuggling measures with respect to food products.

My critique:

The package is perhaps one of the most comprehensive set of reforms in the agricultural sector to ever be proposed in the house. Walden Bello who has been a strident anti-globalisation activist and proponent of agro-industrial development has forged an unlikely alliance with Jack Enrile to sponsor this bill (who would have thought we would be mentioning both their names in the same sentence?). If Jack makes it to the senate, he has promised to advance it there.

Overall comments:

The Aquino government is already working towards making the country self-sufficient in rice production and its aim is for us to be a net exporter of rice before its term ends. The proposal of Bello and Enrile would apply the same principle across all agricultural sectors and institutionalise its application. This is a positive step and a long overdue one in my view.

Despite his motto sounding rather pie-in-the-sky-ish (sorry for the pun), Jack has actually done his homework here in determining a legislative priority with strong reform credentials. Much of this, it might be argued, could have been influenced by his co-author, the esteemed scholar, Walden Bello, but that is beside the point. The fact of the matter is, he has made a commitment towards enacting it, and that is what counts.

Pander-o-meter: 1.5 out of 5

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Up next: Gregorio Honasan, Ernesto Maceda and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Aquino alliance rocked by factions, interests (First of three parts)

(Series by VERA Files; first published in The Manila Times)

When Malacañang submits to Congress for confirmation its list of Cabinet appointees, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, who is under fire for supposedly mishandling the August 23 hostage-taking crisis at the Quirino Grandstand, won’t be on it. A list of appointments made by President Benigno Aquino 3rd since he assumed office on June 30 showed that Robredo and two other secretaries—Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz—were named only “acting” secretaries instead of being issued “ad interim” appointments for transmittal to the Commission on Appointments.

“The ad interim appointees enjoy his [President Aquino’s] trust,” a high-ranking Palace official said. “The acting appointees are under probation.”

Robredo, a three-term mayor of Naga City and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee for public service, was appointed on July 9 and was among the last named to Mr. Aquino’s Cabinet.

Individuals close to the President and those who had helped in his presidential campaign told VERA Files that Robredo does not quite enjoy President Aquino’s trust, owing to differences that erupted during the campaign.

The President, they said, was unhappy with the campaign schedules Robredo drew up, which were packed with appointments and events that he had difficulty following.

And while President Aquino has given his Cabinet appointees free rein to select their undersecretaries, Robredo had to settle for working with Undersecretary for Peace and Order Rico Puno, who was appointed on July 2, or one week ahead of the Local Government secretary.

Puno, a close friend of the President and fellow gun enthusiast, was assigned to handle the August 23 incident and reported directly to the President.

Robredo admitted he “was out of the loop” during the 12-hour hostage crisis.

On Friday, 11 days after the hostage-taking incident, President Aquino took responsibility for the debacle, admitting that when he offered the Department of Interior and Local Government top post to Robredo, he told him “to address concerns such as coming up with a comprehensive plan on delivering social services to and relocating informal settlers in coordination with the local governments.”

When Malacañang submits to Congress for confirmation its list of Cabinet appointees, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, who is under fire for supposedly mishandling the August 23 hostage-taking crisis at the Quirino Grandstand, won’t be on it. A list of appointments made by President Benigno Aquino 3rd since he assumed office on June 30 showed that Robredo and two other secretaries—Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz—were named only “acting” secretaries instead of being issued “ad interim” appointments for transmittal to the Commission on Appointments.

“The ad interim appointees enjoy his [President Aquino’s] trust,” a high-ranking Palace official said. “The acting appointees are under probation.”

Robredo, a three-term mayor of Naga City and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee for public service, was appointed on July 9 and was among the last named to Mr. Aquino’s Cabinet.

Individuals close to the President and those who had helped in his presidential campaign told VERA Files that Robredo does not quite enjoy President Aquino’s trust, owing to differences that erupted during the campaign.

The President, they said, was unhappy with the campaign schedules Robredo drew up, which were packed with appointments and events that he had difficulty following.

And while President Aquino has given his Cabinet appointees free rein to select their undersecretaries, Robredo had to settle for working with Undersecretary for Peace and Order Rico Puno, who was appointed on July 2, or one week ahead of the Local Government secretary.

Puno, a close friend of the President and fellow gun enthusiast, was assigned to handle the August 23 incident and reported directly to the President.

Robredo admitted he “was out of the loop” during the 12-hour hostage crisis.

On Friday, 11 days after the hostage-taking incident, President Aquino took responsibility for the debacle, admitting that when he offered the Department of Interior and Local Government top post to Robredo, he told him “to address concerns such as coming up with a comprehensive plan on delivering social services to and relocating informal settlers in coordination with the local governments.”

Aquino alliance rocked by factions, interests (Last of three parts)

(Series by VERA Files; first published in The Manila Times)

Another source also said that President Aquino was reluctant to sign the appointment papers of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo that was causing complications in foreign relations. Although Romulo took his oath of office first week of July, his appointment was signed only on August 10. As a result, Romulo missed the 43rd meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi on July 20, since his lack of an official appointment prevented him from signing official international agreements for the Philippines.

Sources also cited the appointment of Education Secretary Armin Luistro, former president of De La Salle University, as another case of utang na loob [debt of gratitude]. The La Salle brothers had offered their Greenhills campus as the venue for the wake former President Corazon Aquino, who died August last year, when the Ateneo de Manila University and Santo Domingo Church were unavailable.

Luistro was appointed despite his lack of expertise in basic education, according to Aquino supporters, in the process shutting out former Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz who had helped craft President Aquino’s education agenda during the campaign.

In many cases, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. admits, the last word on appointments rests with him and the President. The two enjoy a friendship that dates back to when their fathers were Liberal Party members in the 1960s. Ochoa’s father was former mayor of Pulilan, Bulacan.

Classmates Inc.

In 1998, Ochoa became President Aquino’s legal counsel when the latter was elected to the House of Representatives. President Aquino’s first choice was Eulalio “Galland” Diaz 3rd, his classmate at Ateneo, but Diaz was not available.

Ochoa took pre-law studies at the University of Santo Tomas but enrolled at the Ateneo Law School where he had for classmates those who attended Ateneo undergrad with President Aquino, including Diaz and now Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona Jr.

Many of President Aquino’s classmates who went to the Ateneo Law School belong to Class of 1985 whose class valedictorian was Edward Serapio, who was once former President Joseph Estrada’s lawyer and was jailed along with him on charges of plunder. Serapio was subsequently acquitted.

In fact, President Aquino has fallen back on his classmates at the Ateneo in his search for appointees, leading critics to dub them as “Kaklase [Classmates] Incorporated.”

Among those who have been named to the Aquino government are Kim Jacinto-Henares, Diaz as administrator of the Land Registration Authority, Rene Almendras as Energy Secretary, Cristino Naguiat as chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., and Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Jose Amor Amorado.

Other Atenean lawyers in Aquino’s government are Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Juan Andres Bautista as chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, Pio Lorenzo Batino as defense undersecretary, Michael Frederick Musngi as deputy executive secretary, and Francis Tolentino as chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority. A number of them were part of the group called Pinoy Lawyers that served as the legal arm of the Aquino campaign in the elections on May.

Ochoa said he and President Aquino act like they are still members of a barkada and are often the only two officials at Malacañang’s Premier Guesthouse. “Ang lungkot sa Premier Guesthouse. Kami lang dalawa ni Noynoy [It’s lonely at the Premier Guesthouse; it’s just the two of us],” he said.

Barkada-style relationship

The barkada-style relationship prevails to this day and Ochoa said he often forgets he is dealing with the President. During a meeting with World Bank, Ochoa said, he answered Aquino with a “Sige, pare [Okay, dude].”

“Then I corrected myself. ‘Mr. Pre-sident,’” he said.

This relationship and his position as executive secretary, often considered the “little president,” have practically given him a monopoly on the President’s attention. When President Aquino didn’t like the names recommended by the search committee to head the Department of Science and Technology, he turned to Ochoa for help.

“He [Aquino] said he didn’t know anyone on the list. So I offered to consult my brother-in-law,” Ochoa recalled, referring to Mario Montejo, a mechanical engineer.

But Ochoa said that the President instead replied, “Bakit hindi siya [Why not him]?”

Ochoa also said he recommended Enrique Ona as Health secretary after hearing about his work at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute. “I know him only by reputation,” he added.

Critics have slammed Ona’s appointment, especially his promotion of the sale of organs for transplant. “He is for Filipinos to sell their organs. That’s against medical ethics. It’s exploitation of the poor. One donates organ to save another life, not for pay,” said a leading doctor.

Ona and Romulo are said to be among five individuals recommended by the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), a two-million-strong church group whose support the LP reportedly courted during the campaign. The INC also recommended the appointments of Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and National Bureau of Investigation chief Magtanggol Gatdula.

Paje, however, was named in an acting capacity to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources portfolio that would reportedly be given to former Rep. Nereus Acosta of Bukidnon, the President’s fellow Liberal Party member, who lost in the senatorial race. Acosta is covered by the one-year appointment ban on losing candidates.

Ochoa acknowledges that “everyone tries to influence” the President in the appointments. In cases when his advisers clash, the executive secretary said he and Aquino end up having the last say.

But he also said, “At the end of the day, it’s P-Noy [President Aquino] who decides. It’s the personal choice of the President. It’s his personal judgment.”

(Read the first part here and the second part here.)

Aquino alliance rocked by factions, interests (Second of three parts)

(Series by VERA Files; first published in The Manila Times)

President Aquino also said he told Robredo: “I will retain direct supervision on the PNP [Philippine National Police].” In his testimony before the Incident Investigation Review Committee that is probing the hostage-taking incident, Department of Interior and Local Government Undersecretary for Peace and Order Rico Puno said that he had “verbal instructions from the President to oversee the PNP” in addition to his duties to supervise Patrol 117, Bureau of Fire Protection, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Public Safety College and the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime.

In his platform of government, President Aquino had pledged to transform government service “from presidential appointees chosen mainly out of political accommodation to discerning selection based on integrity, competence and performance in serving the public good: a civil service based on merit and not political patronage.”

Mr. Aquino’s supporters, however, are also among the first to admit that a number of more qualified, competent and experienced individuals recommended by the search committee for Cabinet positions were edged out because the President based his selection not only on trust and his “comfort level” but also on “utang na loob [debt of gratitude].”

Clashes among the President’s advisers have also surrounded the appointments. The two main competing groups are carryovers from the campaign. One is composed of Liberal Party stalwarts and the Hyatt 10, or cabinet members of former president and now Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga who quit her government after the “Hello, Garci” exposé. The group supported Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd for vice president. They are also referred to as the “Balay” (which means ”house” in the Visayan dialect) group because their meeting place was the Araneta-Roxas compound in Cubao, Quezon City.

The other group is made up mainly of relatives of President Aquino like his uncle, former Rep. Jose Cojuangco of Tarlac, cousin and TV director Maria Montelibano and friends who supported Jejomar Binay’s bid for vice president. They are referred to as the “Samar” group because their headquarters was a house on Samar Avenue in Quezon City owned by real estate businessman Jose “Jerry” Acuzar, brother in law of Executive Secretary Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa.

Rough sailing Robredo

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who was part of the Aquino campaign and endorsed Binay for vice president, had said Robredo would have a difficult time before the Commission of Appointments.

There is also the clash between the “pragmatists” and “purists” among President Aquino’s close advisers.
The purists are those who think Aquino should make a clean break from his predecessor Arroyo and that he should rid his Cabinet of those identified with her government. The pragmatists are those willing to work with former officials of Mrs. Arroyo.

The ad hoc search committee was composed of Ochoa, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim, Presidential Management Staff Chief Julia Abad, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Internal Revenue Commissioner and Aquino classmate Kim Henares.

Accounts on the role of sisters Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz and Aurora Corazon “Pinky” Aquino-Abellada in the search committee vary. While some said they were members of the committee, Ochoa said in an interview that the President’s two elder sisters merely gave suggestions but were not members of the committee.

The post of Foreign Affairs secretary was at first committed to former Trade Secretary Juan Santos, a member of the “Hyatt 10.”

Repaying Romulo

President Aquino, however, was forced to retract the offer to Santos after his sisters prevailed on him to retain Alberto Romulo mainly because of their families’ friendship, despite allegations of incompetence by the career foreign service corps on Romulo.

Romulo was the first among Mrs. Arroyo’s government officials to have openly said he would support and campaign for then Senator Aquino even though he held on to his post all throughout Mrs. Arroyo’s incumbency. “But we owe Tito Bert [Romulo] a lot,” a source present in the meeting quoted one of the sisters when President Aquino informed the search committee of his decision on Santos, who was recently appointed chairman of the Social Security System.

A Malacañang source said President Aquino is keeping Romulo only in a “holdover” capacity for not more than one year.

President Aquino’s lack of rapport with Romulo has resulted in a disconnect between Malacañang and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) with adverse consequences. These include the cancellation of Mr. Aquino’s visits to Vietnam and Indonesia, scheduled for the second week of September, which the Philippines had initiated.

The disconnect also resulted in President Aquino’s failure to receive the call of Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang at the height of the hostage crisis.

A Malacañang official said an aide of Mr. Aquino received Tsang’s call at about 5 p.m. of August 23 through the Palace trunkline. Tsang called without prior notice, and since President Aquino’s aide did not know who Tsang was, a source said the aide referred the call to the DFA.

A Foreign Affairs department official said that they waited for Tsang’s call but it never came. No one from the DFA took the initiative of calling Tsang because Malacañang’s instructions were “to wait” for Tsang’s call.

(Read the first part here.)