elections

Pork to the parties, not the polies!

Why giving money to political parties not politicians is a better idea than scrapping their pork.

It’s been in the headlines for over a week, after the Inquirer broke the story of a scam allegedly involving 23 congressmen and 5 senators and Php10 billion of Philippine Development Assistance funds (aka pork barrel) being siphoned off over more than ten years by a syndicate known as JLN which stands for the initials of the lady accused of heading it.

A member of the syndicate, a close relative, blew the whistle on the boss after a row between them turned ugly. It blew the lid off the issue whether we as a nation still want to maintain the practice of pork barrelling in Congress. If these allegations are proven, it would simply confirm what a lot of Filipinos intuitively know, and that is that these funds or a significant proportion of them, which are meant to benefit local constituents of politicians simply go into their re-election kitty.

Some efforts through the years have been made to make it harder for or limit the amount of corruption or kickbacks from contractors to solons in exchange for awarding projects to them from taking place. The alleged conspirators have been able to defraud Filipino taxpayers by setting up ghost projects involving dummy recipient NGOs issuing fake receipts to help fulfil audit requirements and make everything seem above board with the imprimatur of the legislator who endorses the so-called “development” project.

The Palace, which understandably is concerned, given its reputation for clean and honest government has ordered a full and exhaustive probe through the Department of Justice spearheaded by the National Bureau of Investigation. This would inform and provide evidence to the Ombudsman which has started looking into it. The person accused by the whistle blower appears ready to front the enquiry.

As this developed, public support for abolishing PDAF has mounted. Senator Franklin Drilon, the man expected to assume leadership of the upper house has appeared to welcome the idea. The question will be whether the budget to be approved by Congress will still contain these allotments to its members or not, and whether Malacañang would be able to control the legislative agenda without them.

The opposition for its part considers the investigation a political ploy designed to bash it in the lead up to the 2016 elections.  Three of the five senators linked to the scam, Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Bong Marcos and Bong Revilla seem set to run for higher office. Prior to the 2013 midterm elections, a number of senators from the opposition bloc were engulfed in a similar scandal. The results of the elections seem to indicate that the issue swayed voters not to vote for their kin who were running to join them.

To be fair, the issue is not just about Congress and pork. It involves funds from the Malampaya project which along with the proceeds of the PCSO and PAGCOR Prof Benjamin Diokno describes as “shadowy funds” that are not subject to the usual process of budget scrutiny and deliberations by Congress. For as long as they are hidden, Diokno believes they will always be prone to corruption and a source of patronage and rent-seeking.

Here is how Prof Winnie Monsod weighs the pros and the cons behind the issue of pork:

In sum, what are the benefits of the pork barrel system in the Philippines? One, it gives the executive branch tremendous leverage over the legislature, which is supposed to provide checks and balances (the executive branch can withhold the pork). Two, it gives incumbent legislators an unfair advantage over their electoral opponents, because of the projects (if successfully implemented) they bring, or the money (if pocketed) they can use to buy votes. And what are the costs? At least P21 billion a year of taxpayers’ money that arguably could have been more efficiently and equitably used for the welfare of the Filipino people.

The problem with the abolishing pork is that you need the endorsement of the very people who benefit from it to succeed. This is exactly the same impediment to getting Congress to abolish political dynasties. Pork may be seen as the vehicle for the network of patronage emanating from the Palace to Congress to the people. In the past it has been indispensable in getting significant bills involving painful economic reform to pass. Some say even the impeachment of the Chief Justice would not have taken place without it.

Pork is then used to help solons get re-elected either through the projects they fund or through amassing some form of rents that then get used for their campaign. What’s more, this tacit arrangement seems to exist with the grudging consent of the public who don’t believe that public servants can afford to live on their salaries and run for office based on them alone. There is therefore a trade-off or deal with the devil being made here. Economic reforms are not costless to produce–they require some form of corruption in a developing economy.

The problem with that is it perpetuates a system of patrimonialism which many say lies at the heart of our problem of underdevelopment, i.e. we would not have to resort to this form of “transactions costs” if we had a strong party system in which policies mattered, where elected members toed the line or faced the consequences from their own caucus.

The problem with our system is that political dynasties control the parties, or stated in another way, parties are merely a front for the family franchise, and they are financed largely through a system of patronage that emanates from the presidency, who requires their support to push his agenda through. It is a co-dependent arrangement of patronage and rent-seeking that perpetuates itself.

How then do we untangle this web? Do we simply abolish pork? That presents a number of challenges as well. How will Malacañang push its legislative agenda? What forms of illegal activities would congressmen resort to to raise campaign funds?  But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. How would we get congressmen and senators to act against their own self-interest in the first place?

The answer lies in campaign finance reform: by using the PDAF to finance political parties. The amount involved, Php21 billion a year or Php63 billion per term, is a lot of money. With that kind of money parties could become professionally run organisations that would endorse candidates and provide seed money for their campaign. This system would still favour incumbents who presumably would still be high ranking members of their parties. It would still be subject to the audit and accountability rules of the Comelec and the Commission on Audit, since they are public funds.

The good thing about giving money to the political parties not the elected politician to disburse is that it gives their executive committees greater power to influence and discipline their members who will be relying on their endorsement to seek re-election. It will still be rife with influence peddling, factionalism and perhaps patronage, but that is the nature of politics. Some parties will do a better job of managing their affairs and that will be their selling point to the electorate.

The downside of this proposal is that rather than the money or at least a good proportion of it going to fund development projects that benefit constituents, all of it would now go to the political parties. Of course the way in which parties use these funds would be up to them. They could presumably still engage in development projects, but that would be a matter for them to decide. They may decide to keep all of it to manage their affairs and fund election campaigns of their members.

My answer to that objection would be to say that although shifting pork to parties does come with a cost to the constituent community, it does bring some benefits as well in the form of better policies and programs, with less padding for corruption, as parties are strengthened and get weaned off the system of patronage and rent-seeking. This would not happen if we simply abolished pork. These benefits would accrue to society and presumably outweigh the costs.

Some might say this is too risky. Even if we give money to parties, they will still be run by politicians, and every time you hand money to a politician you are courting disaster. Well, perhaps it does involve some risk, but it is a risk we should be prepared to take if we are to develop a different set of political institutions in our country, one that provides incentives to stronger parties, rather than the current arrangement which degrades them.

The next step after that would be to allow equal access to non-dynastic members of the party through legislation that would allow campaign funds to be disbursed by the state to political parties subject to their meeting certain requirements that allow greater access and participation to party members that do not belong to any established political family. That will be the subject of a subsequent post.

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.

MGG Expresses “Strong Objection” to COMELEC Purchase of PCOS Machines

MGG appeals to the COMELEC not to enter into another contract with Smartmatic, citing position papers by LENTE and TransparentElections.Org.Ph. Both LENTE andTransparentElections.Org.Ph were actively involved in monitoring the 2010 automated elections and draw from the expertise of their members in the law and information technology fields. Neither group is politically aligned. Read more

BSAIII action plan on peace and development in Mindanao

Aquino-Roxas Mindanao Peace and Development Agenda

Action Plan on Peace and Development in Mindanao

Peace and Security

Transparent and consultative peace process

Workable peace is possible only if supported by a broad, active and informed peace constituency.

  • I will assume direct responsibility for the revival of the peace process with the MILF.
  • I will reconstitute the peace panel with men and women of integrity who will directly report to me. There was a time when the peace process was doing well until the Arroyo Government began to use the peace negotiation as prop to political survival. I will see counsel from peace advocates like former OPAPP Secretary Deles, Peace Panel Head Afable and former Notre Dame University President, Fr. Mercado to put back on track the credibility needed in the peace process.
  • I will ensure the participation of various Mindanao stakeholders – Muslims, Lumad, Christian settlers – in the negotiating panels and working groups;
  • I will create a niche for the participation of other Muslim “gatekeepers” particularly traditional and LGU leaders, MNLF, the Ulama, Bangsamoro civil society.
  • Request the Bishops-Ulama Conference to submit a report on the results of the consultations it conducted in the aftermath of the failed MOA-AD; likewise with all known civil society organizations and academic institutions which undertook similar consultations or researches in the past year, such as the University Network on the Mindanao Question led by the UP School of Law, the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, and the Al Mujadilah Foundation.

The results of all these processes should be collated, with key points of agreement and contention identified for inputting into the peace mechanism, as appropriate. On this basis, a mechanism should be devised for these groups to participate in the continuing dialogue on and monitoring of their recommendations.

MNLF

  • I will immediately convene the Oversight Committee on the Organic Act on Muslim Mindanao (RA 9054) and complete a review and assessment of the implementation of the law. I will issue an Executive Order reviving/extending the function of the Oversight Committee, which was last convened before 2004 and which never completed its task, and impose a deadline for the completion of its work.
  • I will order the Department of Foreign Affairs, with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), to give a report on the tripartite review of the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement and cull the “immediate doable” measures that government can undertake.
  • I will order an inventory of the backlog on assistance to MNLF rebel returnees, as the basis for determining the requirements and timetable for addressing the gap and closing the existing program, while a new program is crafted in cooperation with concerned LGUs and approximating the international standards on DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Rehabilitation) of former combatants.

Indigenous People

  • We will review the recent appointment of the Commission to ensure they are in accordance with the law and rationalize the NCIP plantilla to professionalize the bureaucracy to do its mandate under the law, including the delineation of ancestral domains (AD) and support the development of the Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP).
  • I will work with IP communities and all land and resource-management related agencies for a thorough review of all Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs), Certificate of Ancestral Land Titles (CALTs), and Certificates of Free Prior and Informed Consent (CFPICs) issued towards weeding out those issued defectively, fast-tracking decisions on all pending applications, and providing support for development and implementation of the ADRMP for areas covered by CADTs.
  • I will ensure basic education, health, and sanitation facilities and services for IP communities.
  • I will look into the immediate situation of security of IP communities in areas of ongoing armed conflict.

Internally Displaced Families

Families displaced by conflict will receive full support to be able to return to their communities of origin, if they so desire.

  • I will put up a compensatory fund which will provide shelter, food and livelihood assistance to enable the estimated 30,000 internally displaced families to return to their homes.

Lawless and Criminal Elements

I will dismantle private armies and take a firm hand against all forms of lawlessness

  • I will ensure the prosecution of all identified perpetrators of the Ampatuan massacre. I am aware that the families of the victims and witnesses of the crime are vulnerable to harassment as well as bribes to weaken the case. I will ensure that families of the victims and witnesses of the crime will receive adequate protection and support as they work for justice.
  • The Maguindanao massacre was not just a local Maguindanao problem. It was abetted by the national government with government policies and resources. DND should submit immediately the result of its investigation and inventory of the arms and ammunition confiscated from the Ampatuans and identify civilian and military leaders responsible for the build up of arsenal of the Ampatuans.
  • I will revoke EO546. Never again will public funds be used to support and maintain a private security force.
  • KFR incidents are national security concerns. I will commit full budgetary support to PACER in establishing and implementing an anti-kidnapping strategy in Mindanao; provide full support for the filing of charges against suspected perpetrators, including full protection for released victims and their families.
  • Under my watch, I will ensure that all security forces will be insulated from partisan politics. I will implement the Defense Reform Program started by former DND Secretary Nonong Cruz which aimed to build a professional AFP. A professional AFP along with a professional PNP committed solely to defend the constitution and uphold the law is the key to the dismantling of private armies and implementing the gun control. All forms of excuses for self-protection can be abandoned only when citizens trust state security forces.
  • We will aim to improve the ratio of security forces to our growing population.
  • All appointments in the AFP and PNP will be based on merit and performance.
  • Forces on the ground will be provided with adequate provisions, equipment and training to be able to discharge their duties effectively.

Governance

Performance Incentives

Setting National Policy: Performance- and outcome-driven over-investments in education, health, and employment interventions.

  • I will match every peso invested by 4th and 5th class LGUs in basic education, maternal and child health care and potable water and latrines.
  • Moreover, I will provide additional support to performing LGU’s so they can fast track filling the gaps in attaining targets for their education, health and sanitation programs. In education I will support LGU efforts to attain 100% basic education enrolment, lowering dropout rates and increasing completion rates.

Transparent and proper use of public funds

I will ensure that all fund releases to all LGUs will be transparent and its utilization fully accounted for.

  • I will support DBM’s effort started by former Secretary Emilia Boncodin in regularly publishing and disseminating all releases to the LGUs.
  • I commend COA for their fearless reports which exposed politically sensitive cases such as the Jocjoc Bolante fertilizer scam. I will ensure adequate support to state auditors for proper and accurate audit reports. And their reports will not end in filing cabinets. The OP will take the necessary action on irregularities in the COA reports.

Free and honest elections

I will ensure free, honest and orderly elections.

  • I will release the Mayuga Report to make public the findings on the role of the military in the controversial 2004 elections.
  • On the next ARMM election in 2011, I will install measures that will hold paramount the will of the people of ARMM. The military and the police will remain strictly politically neutral. They will ensure that the election is clean, orderly and peaceful.

Development

Infrastructure

To transform Mindanao into modern agricultural center and the nation’s food basket.

I will address infrastructure gap in farm to market roads, irrigation and post harvest facilities.

Corollary to this, to substantially reduce post-harvest losses, post-harvest facilities will be provided to Mindanao corn, coconut and rice farmers while processing facilities will be made available to coastal fishers and aquaculturists.

Additional irrigated farms will raise cropping intensity and hence productivity contributing in the process to the attainment of the goal of self-sufficiency for specific commodities and bolstering export-competitiveness for others.

  • During my term, I will improve its total road network by bringing its current paved road ratio closer to the national average. This will lower transport costs and post-harvest losses.
  • Corn driers will be priority of DA under my watch. Every 1,000 hectares of corn land will be serviced by at least 1 corn drier.
  • Irrigation coverage will be expanded. Mindanao has about 700,000 hectares of farms that need irrigation. We will expand irrigation facilities to service half of the area by the end of my term, subject to sound cost-benefit analysis.

Public Investment

In areas of Mindanao where private investors are hesitant to invest due to high risk and uncertainty, my administration will establish state enterprises that will partner with potential private investors or extend guarantees to them to spread the risks. The purpose is to generate investments in these areas as a way of jump-starting economic activities and providing employment opportunities so direly needed in these communities. This will be the government’s direct assault on breaking the vicious cycle of lack of jobs, resulting to greater poverty, in turn partly fuelling the conflict, leading to lack of investments and lack of jobs.

  • Among my priority will be government investment in the development of the Halal Industry. This, first and foremost, will answer the essential need of Filipino Muslims for access to food and non-food products that is consistent with their faith. This will also enable local producers, Muslims and non-Muslims, to partake of the multi-billion dollar world halal market.
  • I will encourage investments in our energy sector to tap more diverse sources of power and lower the cost of energy in the long term. In the short term, I will support moves to mitigate the effects of the power crisis such as:
    • Leasing power barges
    • Contracting additional generating capacity through cooperatives and private utilities
    • Allowing the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines to use ancillary services such as the contracting of back-up generating capacity
    • Promoting demand side management

[Archived from the official campaign web site of President Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III]

Empty promises, vote-buying in Philippine slums

Empty promises, vote-buying in Philippine slums
Agence France-Presse

MANILA, Philippines – Colorful campaign banners hanging from decrepit cardboard walls lend a lively contrast to the filth of Manila’s North Triangle slum as a candidate presses dirty palms for crucial votes.

As the politician’s yellow-clad volunteers spread leaflets around, community organizer Teodosia Gacer ambushes them with a list of what she claims are undelivered promises to the slum’s more than 30,000 residents.

“We have not seen you around here since the last election three years ago — when we helped you win!” Gacer tells the sweating politician, who is obviously embarrassed as a small crowd gathers around.

“You people only come here whenever you need our votes, but disappear on us once you win.”

The politician stammers an apology, and whips out a two-page resolution he authored temporarily stopping an impending eviction as proof he had been working on their behalf after all.

Squatting under the shadow of a huge mall and the Philippine capital’s overhead railway, the 37-hectare (91-acre) North Triangle in suburban Quezon City is one among many sprawling shanty towns blighting the metropolis.

About 35 percent of Manila’s 12-million population live in these colonies, according to the World Health Organization.

Often cursed as a haven for petty criminals and outcasts, these slums are rich in votes and turn into a political force during election season that could make or break a candidate’s career.

Politicians have been braving the slums weeks ahead of Monday’s national election, when 50 million voters are eligible to pick a new president, members of congress and thousands of other government posts.

In North Triangle, candidates kiss the cheeks of babies swathed in dirty clothes and mingle with men stroking the feathers of their fighting cocks.

“We allow them to come here and hang their campaign materials, regardless of party affiliation. But of course, we vote for those who can protect us,” Gacer told AFP.

“Others vote for those who bring blessings,” she said, using a euphemism for monetary bribes offered by candidates.

A 54-year-old mother of two adult children, Gacer heads a non-profit organization that provides basic services and conducts voter education campaigns for North Triangle residents.

She said it was no secret that many slum dwellers sold their votes because money remained their only tangible and immediate benefit.

“The political strategy of (candidates’) coordinators is to go on last-minute house to house on the eve of elections,” Gacer said.

“They will knock and go inside homes to make sure they get their votes. They place money inside sample ballots. The smallest amount is 500 pesos (11 dollars).”

That is a kingly sum that will go a long way in an area where eating three square meals a day is a luxury.

“That is democracy at work for you. These politicians steal the money from public funds anyway, and we just take a small amount back on Election Day,” Gacer said.

For 53-year-old Rosalinda Caspe the bribe money brings much needed nourishment to her 15 children and grand-children who live with her in a small, windowless shack.

“Of course I’ve taken money… life is so hard. I used the money to buy rice and food,” the jobless widow said. “My reasoning is, it is the public’s money anyway, why should I not accept it?”

She said that in the local elections three years ago, she was paid twice by just tagging along caravans of opposing politicians.

While no politician will openly admit to buying votes, they acknowledge the importance of slum-dwellers to their election hopes.

“I rely on my voters in the squatters depressed areas,” Manila mayor Alfredo Lim told AFP while on the campaign trail in the city’s Tondo slums.

He said he had never bribed a voter, but estimated that “about 90 percent” of those who will vote for him will likely come from the slums.

Who can be a party-list rep?

Who can be a party-list rep?
By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WHEN word went around that Rep. Mikey Arroyo, anticipatedly displaced by his mother from his seat in Pampanga, might run for a position in Congress as party-list representative, true or not, people naturally wondered if this was constitutionally allowable. For that matter, a similar question was asked about Secretary Angelo Reyes.

It is a legitimate question because there is a distinction between the qualifications of a district representative and those of a party-list representative.

We are familiar with the qualifications of district representatives. They must be natural-born Filipino citizens, at least 25 years of age on the day of the election, registered voters in the district to be represented and residents of the district they hope to represent for at least one year immediately preceding the election. No qualities of the person are prescribed, no level of education, no party affiliation, no profession. One can be a lawyer, a doctor, a billionaire, a laborer, or even a Cardinal. Yes, even a Cardinal, because the Constitution says that no religious test shall be imposed for the exercise of civil or political rights.

Clearly, Mikey Arroyo or Secretary Reyes can be one of them. Not everyone, however, can be a party-list representative.

The birth of the party-list representative came with the party-list system. Both arose out of the desire to give voice to the underrepresented and marginalized classes of society. The Constitution has reserved 20 percent of the total membership of the House of Representatives for party-list representatives. According to current jurisprudence and on the basis of the total number of representatives today, party-list representatives can be as many as 55—a force to reckon with if strategically deployed.

Constitutionally, a party-list representative has the same qualifications as a district representative, except for the fact that party-list representatives, since they do not represent a district, can be registered voters in any place of their choice. Since, however, they are to represent a party-list organization, they must also be bona fide members of a party-list organization.

The Constitution says that the party-list members must be chosen, as provided by law, from “the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.” Hence, if Mikey Arroyo is to become a party-list representative, he must fit into one of these classes. This may take a lot of doing!

In 2001 the Supreme Court thoroughly discussed the issue as to what kind of organizations may participate in the party-list system. The current doctrine on this subject is summed in the Epilogue to the 2001 decision:

“The linchpin of this case is the clear and plain policy of the law: ‘to enable Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives.

“Crucial to the resolution of this case is the fundamental social justice principle that those who have less in life should have more in law. The party-list system is one such tool intended to benefit those who have less in life. It gives the great masses of our people genuine hope and genuine power. It is a message to the destitute and the prejudiced, and even to those in the underground, that change is possible. It is an invitation for them to come out of their limbo and seize the opportunity.

“Clearly, therefore, the Court cannot accept the submissions of the Comelec and the other respondents that the party-list system is, without any qualification, open to all. Such position does not only weaken the electoral chances of the marginalized and underrepresented; it also prejudices them. It would gut the substance of the party-list system. Instead of generating hope, it would create a mirage. Instead of enabling the marginalized, it would further weaken them and aggravate their marginalization.

“In effect, the Comelec would have us believe that the party-list provisions of the Constitution and RA 7941 are nothing more than a play on dubious words, a mockery of noble intentions, and an empty offering on the altar of people empowerment. Surely, this could not have been the intention of the framers of the Constitution and the makers of RA 7941.”

The Court’s decision is a clear enunciation of what an organization must stand for if it is to be allowed to participate in the party-list system. It is a great idea which I myself supported in the Constitutional Commission. But it can also be a backdoor entry point for the undeserving. Hence, who should be elected to represent that organization?

Section 9 of the Party-List Law says that he must be “a bona fide member of the party or organization which he seeks to represent for at least ninety (90) days preceding the day of the election.” This should mean that a party-list representative’s heart and mind should belong to the organization he or she represents. It may not always be easy to substantiate this requirement. Conversely, it may be easy to feign possession of this requirement!

In poll protests, freeze incumbents’ pay

In poll protests, freeze incumbents’ pay
By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer

AFTER procrastinating for years, the Commission on Elections is in a hurry to resolve election protest cases, now that new elections are just two months away. And candidates, both losers and winners, are complaining about the Comelec’s tardiness. In almost all the cases already decided, the results are next to useless. The cheaters, although eventually declared the losers, have already occupied the position, and collected the salaries and allowances, including the pork barrel in the case of congressmen, that rightfully belong to those declared the winners, for almost the whole term. The winners would be left with only a few weeks or days of the term. The losers have already spent the funds that belong to them. The winners are left with an empty treasury. Theirs are an empty victory. It teaches our people that crime actually pays. And encourages our politicians to cheat. Anyway, if they are caught cheating, it would take the Comelec almost the whole term before it can resolve the case. Even if the cheaters were declared the losers, they have already usurped the position for the whole term.

I think we should alter the process of resolving election protests to make it fair to everybody, especially the voters.

In case of a poll protest against a proclaimed candidate, there should be a quick preliminary investigation and if it shows that there is a prima facie case against the accused, all the emoluments of the position should be frozen, to be given to the candidate who is eventually declared the winner.

That is only fair to the winner, isn’t it? And it would discourage cheating because, if caught, the cheater wouldn’t get anything for his troubles.

Below, I will relate two poll protest cases resolved recently by the Comelec. One is the proclaimed winner, the other the declared loser. Both are protesting.

The first is Roberto Pagdanganan of Bulacan. He has been declared the winner in the Bulacan gubernatorial race of 2007. The Comelec has proclaimed him; he has taken his oath of office, twice, but until now he cannot occupy the governor’s seat because the incumbent governor, Joselito Mendoza, is using all sorts of dilatory tactics. Meanwhile, time is running out. By the time the case is resolved with finality, perhaps only hours would be left of the term.

Mendoza was proclaimed the winner shortly after the 2007 elections. Pagdanganan filed an election protest. Almost three years later, the Comelec finds, after a recount, that Pagdanganan had won by more than 4,000 votes. The Comelec proclaimed Pagdanganan the duly elected governor of Bulacan. But he still cannot occupy the gubernatorial seat because Mendoza has appealed to the Supreme Court, and the latter is notorious for taking its own sweet time in resolving cases.

With barely two months left of the three-year term, the clock ticks away and the rightful governor of the province waits outside the governor’s office while a usurper sits on the governor’s chair inside.

Even if the high court rules in Pagdanganan’s favor, the likelihood is that Mendoza will file a motion for reconsideration and at least another 15 days of legal skirmishes will follow while time runs out.

With only days or hours before the term ends by the time Pagdanganan is finally seated in the governor’s chair, what would he get in return for his three years of pain and patience? A piece of paper that says he is the duly elected governor of Bulacan and nothing else.

Pagdanganan’s case is not an isolated one. Cases of long drawn-out election protests are common in this country. They drag on and on and on. In many cases, election protests are overtaken by the election buzzer announcing that the game—the contested term—is over.

This is not to mention the fact that only moneyed people can afford to pursue an election protest. Poll protests cost a sackful of money. Poor candidates often just have to accept the blow even if in all honesty they won the votes but lost the count.

If the emoluments of the contested position are frozen—as I propose—and given eventually to the real winner, cheated and poor candidates will not be discouraged from pursuing election protests. At the same time, politicians will be discouraged from cheating because if they are found out, they would get nothing for their efforts.

* * *

The other case I want to talk about is the opposite of Pagdanganan’s case. He has been declared the loser in the 2007 gubernatorial contest in Camarines Norte and the Comelec has ordered him to vacate the gubernatorial seat. He is Gov. Jesus Typoco of Camarines Norte who has been ordered to vacate the governor’s seat and hand it over to his rival, Edgardo Tallado.

Typoco had been proclaimed the winner shortly after the 2007 elections. Tallado filed an election protest. After a recount, the Comelec had Tallado with 79,969 votes while Typoco has 79,904 votes, a hairline win of 65 votes by Tallado. Typoco went to the Supreme Court with a petition for certiorari, claiming that the Comelec did not consider the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation that poll results counted in favor of Tallado were spurious.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Edgardo Nachura, the tribunal said it is not a trier of facts and that it is the Comelec that is the expert in election cases and therefore it, the Supreme Court, will have to rely on the findings of the Comelec in the Tallado vs Typoco election case.

On the NBI’s report that some election results were spurious, the Supreme Court said “the Comelec, not the NBI, is the agency that has the competence to determine the genuineness of election documents.”

As I see it, in case of doubt, look again. In the case of two government agencies disagreeing on the genuineness of poll documents, a second look is in order to make sure there is no miscarriage of justice.

Bloody Red Money: How the NPA earns from elections

Bloody Red Money: How the NPA earns from elections
By Nikolo M. Baua
ABS-CBN News

“So ma’am, taga bundok daw po kayo dati?”

Marife, 27, laughed at the question. I didn’t know what the etiquette guide was on talking to former insurgents but my goal was clear, make her comfortable enough to explain how the New People’s Army (NPA) conducts revenue collection. Clearly, an icebreaker was needed.

Wearing a lilac blouse, jeans, earrings and three silver rings, Marife didn’t fit my image of a rebel. All my doubts, however, were erased as she talked with a rich Tagalog vocabulary that was accentuated with terms that unmistakably came from communist party propaganda.

Marife said she joined the NPA when she was 17 years old. She was promised a gun, equality and a better chance at life in the remote, poor, rural farm towns of Quezon province. After years of armed training, learning the Communist Manifesto by heart and living by the party rules and hierarchy, she became leader of a team of guerrilas assigned to collect money from candidates during the 2004 elections.

NPA revenue collection is done systematically and efficiently. As early as October, local candidates for the May elections are identified per province and background checks are made on their wealth and businesses. The NPA then forms teams of 3 to 4 rebels to focus on all candidates for a particular position in the entire province. The teams are assigned to talk, negotiate and collect from these candidates, like account managers of a sales company.

Initial contact is friendly. The rebels either visit the area of the candidate unarmed and/or send them a letter. Marife’s team was assigned to collect campaign fees from all the candidates for mayor in all 40 municipalities and cities in Quezon.

“Halimbawa, sasabihin ko lang ‘Good morning mayor, ako po si Ka-Julienne.’ Alam na ng mayor na NPA ang kausap niya at kung ano ang gusto namin. Kung hindi revolutionary tax, permit to campaign (PTC) o kaya pabor tulad ng sasakyan. Mainit ang pagtanggap nila sa amin,” she revealed.

The “solicitation letters” are interesting, to say the least. There’s a letterhead of the organization and a logo. There’s a control number so they know how many letters are sent and who receives them. The text is photocopied, back to back, on legal size paper.

The letter starts with how society and government have been degraded by corruption and ineptness. The last two paragraphs are the sales pitch. “Nananawagan po kami sa inyong supporta (We are calling for your support).” After reading this portion, the rebels are either shown the door or given assurance by the candidate that he is willing to enter into negotiation.

The second phase is the actual negotiation, which is usually held outside the territory of the candidate. This time, the rebels bring firearms and extra men. The politican is also allowed to bring an associate, usually a cop or a bodyguard.

According to Marife, candidates are charged different campaign fees depending on the position they are pursuing.

“Iba-iba ang presyo. Meron kaming sinusundan na palatuntunan. Ang mayor ng isang first class na municipality, nasa P100,000 ang halaga ng permit to campaign. Pwede sila tumawad hanggang P90,000. Kung kunwari hindi kaya at P75,000 lang talaga ang kaya, napag-uusapan naman. Hihingi kami ng 4 na computer na pwedeng pa-isa-isa ibibigay, o kaya sasakyan. May schedule na susundan,” she said.

She added that sometimes, the candidate is asked to campaign for a particular party-list group, which is being supported by the NPA.

Marife said the rebels focus on local officials who have to campaign in barangays and barrios that are controlled by the rebel group. She said national candidates often campaign in controlled city venues.

The third meeting is also held outside the candidate’s territory. There they agree on the terms and payments are made in cash. Candidates who refuse have to go through a process. “Sometimes, if they really have nothing, we just take whatever they give us,” said Marife.

She admitted that many politicians actually don’t pay permit-to-campaign fees of the NPA. She said some candidates pay up because they think that they will get support from the group. Others do it because they just want to get along or they want to protect their interests.

“Mananakot lang ang NPA, pero hanggang doon lang yon. Dito sa Quezon wala namang nasasaktan,” she said.

Marife said NPA members individually or as a group are banned from campaigning for any candidate or party-list group. “Hindi ito naaayon sa prinsipyo ng grupo, na kailangan pabagsakin ang gobyerno o ang sistemang corrupt. Kung merong nahuhuling nagkakampanya, may kaparusahan ito, pwedeng demotion o ililipat sa ibang lugar,” she said.

A former police chief who refused to be named said candidates do get punished by the rebels. This usually happens in remote provinces, beyond the reach of law enforcers and the scrutiny of the media.

“Meron silang parang kangaroo court, pinag-uusapan nila kung anong gagawin, kung pagbibigyan ba o paparusahan. May kilala akong kandidato sa pagkakonsehal, nilinaw niya sa NPA na mangingisda lang siya, walang pera at gusto lang manilbihan sa kapwa. Pinagbigyan siya. Nakukuha rin naman yan sa pakiusap,” he said.

He admitted, though, that paying campaign fees to the NPA has become an obligation in some provinces. He said some local officials tolerate the NPA because they can be used to solve simple disputes.

“The hands of the police and military are tied because of lack of people and resources. They can’t help the community solve simple disputes such as settling an argument or the theft of a cow. In these cases, local leaders use the NPA because they know the people and they have access and the problems are solved. What the local leaders don’t know is that the NPA actually started the argument or even stole the cow. The local leaders now owe the rebels a favor because they helped out, like a syndicate,” he said.

Marife said her group collected P942,000 from different mayoral candidates in Quezon in 2004. She said total collections for the entire province was about P5 million a month, from October to May.

“Quezon pa lang yan. Ang alam ko, mas malaki pa ang Rizal at Batangas. May internal audit din bawa’t probinsya. Pero pag nabigay na sa national, wala na. Hindi rin namin alam kung saan napupunta. Buhay ang kapalit kapag nabawasan ang koleksyon o kung may gastos na hindi maipaliwanag. Pero kahit diyan laganap ang korupsyon dahil yung iba hindi naman talaga dinedeklara ang tunay na binigay ng pulitiko,” she said.

Just last Saturday, 11 soldiers died in a clash in Oriental Mindoro after they responded to a reported “permit-to-campaign” negotiation. The following day, a rebel and 6 soldiers died allegedly for the same reason.

Last Tuesday, a candidate for city councilor was killed in a firefight between an NPA guerilla and government troops in Quezon province. The candidate was allegedly negotiating for his own permit to campaign when the shooting started.

Col. Cornelio Valencia Jr. of the 76th Infantry Battalion believes things could get worse in the coming weeks as the NPA ramps up efforts to collect as much money as they can from the candidates.

“Through the years, they’ve lost so much men and funds. They’re desperate to regain everything. The elections are their biggest source of income and they will take full advantage,” he said.

Valencia said the only way to stop the NPA’s extortion scheme is for all politicians to stop giving in to the rebels’ demands.

“It’s a terror cycle. If you give them money, you are giving them access to more guns and ammunition to raid and attack. You are giving them reason to ask for more money,” he said.