Hacienda Luisita

Is the Philippines a Late Bloomer?

“Whenever we find a late bloomer, we can’t but wonder how many others like him or her we have thwarted because we prematurely judged their talents. But we also have to accept that there’s nothing we can do about it. How can we ever know which of the failures will end up blooming?”
Malcolm Gladwell

In the Philippines, children trooped to school this week as yet another academic year began. It seemed like any other year, with the rising cost of private education and the shortage of classrooms and teachers plaguing the public system giving concern to parents.

There was one significant difference though: the country became one of the last in the region to adopt a K-12 (kindergarten to Year 12) structure. The additional two years to secondary education and one year of kindergarten meant that the educational system in the country has finally caught up with the rest of the world.

It is hoped that with this reform, the country would be able to lift the academic test scores of its pupils which have been lagging behind that of neighbouring states. Previously it was hypothesised, educators tried to cram in too much content within the span of ten years. It is hoped that allowing more time to learn the new national curriculum would produce better results.

But apart from giving students the tools to succeed in life, there is a number of policy areas in which the Philippines has lagged behind but could now be catching up. Reproductive health and family planning is an example of where the country has remained staunchly intransigent even when there has been a near universal consensus arrived at around the world on this issue. The long-delayed reproductive health bill that has languished in Congress for over a decade may finally pass.

In the area of peace and order and social justice, the country has one of the longest running communist insurgencies in the world. Its land reform program whose implementation has taken decades longer than expected, may finally be completed with the resolution of the Hacienda Luisita case.

After a chequered history, the revised sin tax legislation may finally pass, giving government finances a boost and allowing credit rating agencies to give a positive outlook for the country, which in turn lowers the cost of borrowing for the government. Having been a net debtor nation to the rest of the world, the nation’s ability to shore up international reserves through balance of payments surpluses now make it a net creditor.

After being the consistent laggard of Southeast Asia when it comes to attracting foreign direct investments, an investment pipeline involving infrastructure projects may soon reverse its fortunes. With growth slowing in the BRIC economies, the US and the EU, a first quarter growth of 6.4% year-on-year making the average for the past two years 5.6% make the country a stand-out along with Indonesia and Turkey (see video below for an explanation).

With employment growing and inflation easing, some are beginning to wonder if the Philippines is finally getting its act together. Two thousand and twelve could be a “breakout” year for the country.

Spokes in the Wheels of Justice

Towards a Genuine Agenda for a Just Society

As the world of the blogosphere, twitterverse and mainstream media soak up as much as it can from the Corona impeachment trial, delving into the subtle elements of the rules of court, rules of evidence and so, on, one wonders about the long-standing issues related to injustice and impunity that slip below the radar as far as the public policy agenda is concerned.

The wheels of justice revved up so expeditiously in the lead up to the impeachment of Corona, but they grind ever so slowly in the case of so many others. To wit, I now turn the spotlight on them in the form of a Top 5 ranking. I ask the question, what is happening to these “five spokes” in the “wheels of justice” given the fact that P-Noy’s administration has placed “judicial reform” at the top of its agenda. I highlight the status of the issues involved, some history, current developments and provide some justification for including them in the top five list. Well, without further ado, here they are:

5. Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill.

The president sent to Congress his version of the bill on Thursday, February 2, 2012. It took at least eighteen months for his government to come up with its own version of the proposed law. At first, the Palace was rather reticent about endorsing any version of the FOI bill as urgent when it hammered out its legislative agenda. Finally, it relented after several months of mounting public pressure from concerned citizens on the issue.

Many elements of the law remain contentious which means that you can expect the debate in Congress to be fierce. The House of Representatives will need to reconcile the different versions of the bill. The question is whether the Senate will have time to deliberate on it given the proceedings currently underway there.

I include this in the Top 5 Spokes of the Wheels of Justice because an FOI law would allow for greater transparency. Greater transparency would be required in ensuring that government disclose to the public what it knows about certain issues that impact on people’s lives, safety and well-being.

This is just an extension of the freedom of the press, something that was uppermost in the mind of P-Noy’s father when he languished in prison and in exile and struggled to let the world know about his story. The FOI Bill needs to have safeguards, but the risks of greater accountability should not detract from the overall vision of having a more accountable, transparent, and just society.

4. Reproductive Health (RH) Bill.

After vacillating over whether to certify as urgent any of the reproductive health bills in Congress, the president finally gave his seal of approval by proposing his own version of the RH bill. The clock ran out last year though as Congress went into recess. The problem will be enacting the bill so close to an election year when the anti-RH adherents will be fired-up to go against legislators who vote in favour of it.

The longer the impeachment trial drags on, the greater the likelihood that the RH bill will not pass, considering where we are in our political/electoral cycle.

The reason why reproductive health comprises a spoke on the wheel of justice is that it directly affects the future health and well-being of at least half the population, and it indirectly affects every newborn child. Those who study women’s issues will tell you that the way women’s rights are treated in society is a proxy for how just and tolerant society is more broadly.

The question is will we have to wait until after the 2013 elections before this bill get passed?

3. Coco levy funds

If the FOI Bill is a carryover issue from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency, and the RH Bill goes all the way back to Fidel Valdez Ramos’, the disposition of the coco levy funds goes all the way back to Ferdinand Edralin Marcos’. The coco levy fund was administered by P-Noy’s uncle, Danding Cojuangco. The current Senate president had a hand in it too.

The Supreme Court recently ruled and affirmed the Sandiganbayan antigraft court’s decision which awarded to the government close to a quarter of the shares of San Miguel Corporation that Mr Cojuangco controls. It said that the funds should be used only to benefit the farmers who had contributed to the levy after it was mandated by Mr Marcos.

This prompted a farmer’s party-list organization to press for the president’s endorsement to the house of a bill that would facilitate the return of the fund to the farmers. The said shares in San Miguel are estimated to be as high as one hundred and fifty billion pesos (Php150 Billion) presently. If spread over five years, the annual disbursement could exceed the budget for the conditional cash transfers.

This is definitely a spoke in the wheel of justice since coconut farmers occupy the lowest rung in the ladder (sorry for getting my metaphors mixed up) in the agricultural sector. They constitute the poorest of the poor. While rice farmers continue to receive billions in subsidy from the grains program each year, no such assistance is extended to coconut farmers. Yet, the biggest growth in agricultural productivity can be had if this fund were used to assist them in making their fields more productive by introducing other crops.

With the appointment of a former aide of Mr Cojuangco to the cabinet, one can be certain that the views of the old man will be represented at the table when Cabinet decides on the issue. The longer it takes for such an anomaly to be corrected (the farmers have already waited a quarter of a century), the bigger the insult suffered by those who deserve just compensation. It is their money after all.

2. Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extensions (CARPER)

This problem goes back so long, I will not even bother to try to “date” it. The Huk rebellion in the 1950s following the war led to the election of President Ramon Magsaysay who promised to institute social reforms. What was applied though were band aid solutions. His popularity among the people which improved social cohesion and public trust in government and the availability of land in Mindanao made it possible to skirt the issue of land reform.

CARPER is just the last in a long succession of policies aimed at solving the land issue. Its immediate predecessor CARP was enacted by the late-Corazon Cojuangco Aquino’s presidency. The program was given a new lease on life at the end of GMA’s term. The current president promised to complete its implementation including resolving the Hacienda Luisita issue before stepping down in 2106. The Hacienda Luisita issue dates back to the time of Ramon Magsaysay when the government bankrolled its acquisition by the Cojuangcos by guaranteeing loans to P-Noy’s grandfather Jose Cojuangco.

Aside from the vexed issue of land distribution under CARPER, there is currently the issue of land grabbing allegedly taking place. An international fact-finding team recently investigated reports involving land covering three towns of San Mariano, Ilagan and Benito Soliven. At the heart of the problem lies Green Future Innovations, Inc which plans to put up a bio-ethanol plant that will cost $120 million. It was alleged that more than a thousand farmers and indigenous people were displaced by the project. The area involved is 2,200 hectares. The infusion of capital by a Japanese partner into the project was hailed as one of the positive developments coming out of the president’s trip to Japan last year.

Again, these are mere allegations at this point, but they are disconcerting given the context. They raise the question of whether the government has a land use policy in mind and how it plans to handle the question of foreign ownership of land. This is a sleeper issue. The same thing could conceivably be duplicated by China in its search for energy resources. At the root of this problem is the question of property rights. How are they defined and protected? What measures will the government take to ensure that land is used productively to benefit our national interests.

1. Compensation for Martial Law victims

I place this on top of the agenda. Why? Because in the others (save perhaps for the RH Bill and the case of Hacienda Luisita), people were deprived of either their property or right to information. Here, they were deprived of their lives and their liberty. The arbitrary use of police powers by the state to abuse its people, the very citizens whose rights they are meant to protect, well, no graver injustice can be said to occur.

Yet,  a quarter of a century has passed, and we are still awaiting some final closure to this issue. Even after the case was won securing money from the Marcoses to compensate the 7,500 victims, the orderly distribution of ten billion pesos worth of those funds is yet to be framed by Congress. A bill in the House has already made its way through the appropriations committee as of February 7, 2012. This paves the way for deliberations on the floor. Whether or not there will be enough time to hammer out the bill and enact it this year is another question. In March last year, victims started to receive compensation in the form of a $7.5 million award from a US court.

After waiting so long, the end is finally in sight. Each year, a few of the original surviving victims pass away without seeing their claims recognized. Honoring them and their loved ones through compensation would be the best way to bring closure to this dark chapter in our nation’s history.

Conclusion

In pursuing justice, the Palace has chosen to focus on the injustices that occurred during the last five years of the Arroyo presidency by going after her henchmen  whom she had left behind entrenched in certain sensitive positions. Last year saw a growing body count of individuals tied to the former regime. The latest target, the chief justice, is currently occupying the nation’s attention with live coverage of his courtroom drama unfolding daily.

Meanwhile, there are decades’ old injustices perpetrated by past regimes that remain unresolved. Indeed, if the Palace had pursued these cases with as much vigour and swiftness that it demonstrated when it filed the impeachment complaint against the chief justice, then perhaps its victims would be able to heave a heavy collective sigh of relief. The wheels of justice they say grind slowly. Justice delayed is justice denied. Let it not be said that this government turned its back on “the least of our brethren” whom it claims to be fighting for.

Like a Thief in the Night

image of Michaelangelo's Last Judgement from freepublic.com

That is not how the government acted in seeking to put Mrs Gloria Arroyo behind bars. Rather than keep the former president guessing as to the date when formal charges against her would be laid, President Aquino announced back in September what the timetable for it would be. Here is how he phrased it,

We will start filing the cases before the end of this year and with a little cooperation from the judiciary, maybe we can put some of these people in jail next year.

This signalled to Mrs Arroyo that she had to make travel plans as soon as possible, which then forced Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to take it upon herself to place the congresswoman under a departure watch list to keep her in the country even before preliminary investigations were concluded. This according to one justice meant that De Lima was now “more powerful than the court which can only do the same “after the filing of the information and the issuance of an arrest warrant“.

With a little cooperation from the judiciary”: those words of P-Noy now seem ominously prescient of events as they unfolded because straight after thwarting an attempt by the former president to leave by disregarding an injunction from the high court on the watch list order, the government then turned to a joint panel between the Comelec and the DOJ set up to look into electoral fraud to file a case before a regional trial court against Mrs Arroyo. This timeline shows that within the space of a few hours upon receiving their case files which numbered several thick ring binders, a judge issued an arrest warrant.

Had this judge not been so “cooperative”, Mrs Arroyo might have successfully fled the scene since the Supreme Court had by then thrown out the government’s appeal to have its injunction on their watch list order lifted. And so despite the fact that it had foolishly forewarned the former president of its intended moves, the government somehow managed to keep her in the country long enough for an arrest warrant to be served.

In the process of doing so, however, the government may have committed a few grave mistakes. These might come back to haunt its case. Certainly if it is found that it acted inappropriately, the president needs to own up to it because it was he who set the wheels in motion that eventually landed the government in a whole heap of trouble. Particularly with respect to his campaign promise to uphold the rule of law, P-Noy will be ultimately responsible if it is determined that his government usurped judicial powers or acted in contempt of court.

At the moment, the president is assailing the Supreme Court for the speed in which it issued its injunction on the government’s watch list order as he spoke before his “home court” the Makati Business Club, saying

(O)ur lawyers all know that it takes the Supreme Court 10 days, normally, to attend to motions, and it decides to issue a TRO for Mrs. Arroyo in three, who can avoid wondering what she did to merit such speedy relief?

And yet the president doesn’t see the irony of his position because the government was quite happy to get a lower court judge to issue an arrest warrant on his adversary in a matter of hours, which was a far more difficult decision to make. Certainly, when it comes to fostering the rule of law, what this government has in mind is something quite different from the standard.

Like a thief in the night–that is how the Hacienda Luisita decision was handed down by the high court in the midst of all this. Oral arguments had been heard and the judgement of the court had been pending. No one knew the day or time when it would materialize. Suddenly either by coincidence or by design the justices rendered a unanimous vote in favour of the farm worker beneficiaries to have the Aquino-Cojuangco estate title transferred directly to them.

Having justified its bold and decisive actions against the court’s injunctions because of the ensuing confusion surrounding it, the government through its spokesman immediately informed the public that it would respect this particular decision as public support had been mounting in favour of it. The only caveat was for the determination of ‘just compensation’ for the president’s relatives and other issues that the court still has to settle.

The initial action by the Arroyo government to revoke the stock distribution option taken by the Cojuangcos in complying with the agrarian reform law was suspect according to US officials based on confidential diplomatic cables as a form of retaliation by Mrs Arroyo on the matriarch of the Cojuangco clan for supporting calls for her ouster back in 2005. What the Supreme Court ruling now does is open up the possibility for a counter-retaliatory move on the part of Mr Aquino against the Macapagal-Arroyo clans who also own sugar plantations.

This tantalizing opportunity could reverse the destructive pattern of competition by ruling elite factions to accumulate wealth through landholdings using the weak system of property rights in the country in order to consolidate power. Now in a bid to weaken each other, these same ruling elites might now work to dismantle each other’s landholdings. Given that one faction controls the executive and another holds the sympathies of the judiciary, this feud might actually produce something positive for the country.

Like a thief in the night—that is not how events overtook this government on the economic front. For one, the debt crisis in Europe was unravelling like a train wreck in slow motion for several years now. The seeds of this crisis were actually sown during the last one when governments pumped liquidity into their banking systems and engaged in stimulatory fiscal spending. It was only a matter of time before bond holders began to raise the cost of public debt.

The government had ample time to prepare the nation for this crisis, to bullet proof it by sustaining demand through public construction and investment. The early warning signs that its fiscal consolidation was going too far and actually dampening growth in demand were quite evident during the end of last year. The government had ample opportunity to correct its course and make the necessary adjustments. It may turn out in the end that a transition to a new government may have caused unnecessary disruptions to patron-client networks in the bureaucracy. Reconfiguring these networks took too much time.

Finance officials might have taken this as a welcome blessing as the slow spend rate allowed them to limit the fiscal deficit while sticking to the president’s no new taxes pledge. Meanwhile,with the fiscal space it had from fiscal consolidation, it cut tariffs on certain industries. It balanced this decision by removing power subsidies to exporters in special economic zones. These could threaten the growth of some industries and lead to the closure of others at a time when global demand for our exports is already weakening or restructuring as some economists have noted.

The biblical phrase “like a thief in the night” comes from the parable of the ten virgins found in the canonical gospels of the New Testament. It is also known as the parable of the wise and the foolish virgins. The five virgins who were prepared for the bride-groom came to his wedding feast, while the other five who weren’t were excluded. It has an eschatological message: to be prepared for the day of judgement. The final reckoning.

With the second coming of the Aquino dynasty, will the country be prepared to pass the test? Or will it simply slip into oblivion? The day of judgement is nearly at hand!

That Vision Thing Redux: Wang-Wang Culture

In tackling wang-wang culture, has the president left something big out?

The president in his new found role as Sociologist in Chief spoke at his second State of the Nation Address about his vision for a nation free of what he described as a culture of wang-wang (blaring sirens symbolic of entitlement and abuse of privilege). His use of vernacular terms since his inaugural address in getting his message across has won him praise from even handed critics all around.

Those familiar with the business of vision building tell us that leaders should be adept at crafting a story or narrative that creates a sense of shared meaning and purpose for their followers. In this case, PNoy was delivering the “red meat” to his core constituents, those that saw in him the moral authority to bring about change to the culture of impunity that prevailed under the former dispensation.

Having recommitted his government to that cause, PNoy entreated his listeners to give him and the government he leads a pat on the proverbial back, to acknowledge its endeavors at fulfilling this corporate dream. That already seems to be the case. In fact as Mahar Mangahas points out, PNoy’s administration is the most popular one since public polling began (the distinction to be made is that this applies to his government as opposed to his person which is receiving the same treatment from the public as presidents past).

While the president’s speech was rightly praised by some for its lofty rhetoric, it has by the same token been criticized for being short on actual policy substance or consistency. When I say “some”, I mean respected commentators like economist Solita Monsod, sociologist Randy David and businessman Roberto De Ocampo to name a few.

Monsod criticized PNoy for failing to at least mention in passing his roadmap for delivering his vision, the Philippine Development Plan and for perhaps unwittingly committing intellectual dishonesty with leaps of logic and faulty use of statistics in attributing many positive developments to his good government agenda.

David goes even further and questions the roadmap itself for following the same orthodoxies and applying new buzzwords such as “inclusive growth” as a mantra without even a slight attempt to tweak these orthodoxies given their dismal record. The absence of the PDP in the president’s speech according to Monsod belies a view either on the part of the president or his men that it will have any impact on our development.

Indeed while the PDP projects a growth rate of 7-8% for the country in the next five years, the actual budget planning follows a lower set of growth assumptions of 5-6% in forecasting its revenue and spending plans. This exposes the roadmap as an aspirational one, where the budget figures show the real picture.

The need for tweaking

A strange quarter to find a critique against the business community came from one of its own in the person of De Ocampo who picked up the cudgels for competition policy given the doubling of locals in the Forbes billionaire club and the risk that such powerful business interests could swamp any attempt by this government to create a level playing field, citing the PPP program as one potential fatality.

If you look at why the government is unable to shore up its finances, it is largely because self-employed entrepreneurs and professionals and large dominant family-based corporations have successfully avoided paying their fair share of taxes. In a previous post, I cited the figures of the BIR and a study performed by finance economist Renato Reside that showed that the combined losses from non-tax compliance and abuse of fiscal incentives as well as watered down sin taxes could easily close the budget deficit of 286 billion this year.

Having trained his guns on the wang-wang mentality in government, particularly at his predecessor who according to Mangahas led the most unpopular government since public polling records were kept, the president went a little too easy on the well-heeled classes when he identified a glaring inaccuracy in their collective tax payments.

In fact this follows his performance at the Makati Business Club while he was still running for the highest office when he vowed to avoid raising taxes. The president appealed to them at his SONA however to take his honest attempts at creating public faith in government as an assurance that their tax payments would be used properly which he hoped would lead them to be more forthcoming in declaring their taxable incomes.

The problem may not lie just in appealing to a sense of common values. It might actually require in De Ocampo’s words “structural adjustments” a fancy word for fundamental changes in policy and approach. For example, the businesses that now avail of incentives from the BOI and PEZA while failing to follow-through on their investment commitments need to have their tax privileges stripped from them.

Tighter policies and enforcement means renovating our economic bureaucracy. A lack of teeth in enforcing the terms of fiscal incentives led to the failure of the import-substitution industrial policies of the 1950s and 60s. Just as an aside, my father who was in the banking industry in those days would later recount to me how he would often see the head of one bank bringing in sacks full of money after auctioning the import licenses issued by the Central Bank to supposed importers of capital goods meant for industrial production. It went instead to importers of finished goods who made a killing by avoiding tariffs on those items.

Today, the same sort of things is undermining our export promotion strategy where supposed exporters in our business parks and economic zones are able to avoid paying taxes, customs and duties while at the same time selling up to 50% of their output to the domestic market. This is outrageous because it creates an unfair advantage for them against smaller and medium sized competitors.

The real righteous road

Instead of taking a half measure by targeting abuse of authority in government alone, the president needs to focus as well on rent-seeking by private interests. Indeed if you stacked up all the alleged stolen wealth uncovered in the last twenty years, this would not hold a flame next to the amount of rents the business elite have been able to extract from the state during that time. Both are two sides of the coin, except that the latter form of wang-wang is legal, while the former is illegal.

At the risk of being lumped together with the “move on” crowd, I have to say that if the president wants to eliminate wang-wang culture in its entirety, he needs to broaden his vision and take the full-measure of targeting this culture wherever it may reside, be it in the corridors of power or the board rooms of our country’s business elite.

This is not about being forgetful of the sins of his predecessors; it is about being mindful that there are even larger sins being committed by powerful interests that are going on unnoticed. These same interests are able to switch allegiances with the changing tide of public opinion in the political arena.

It is easy to flog a dead horse. It is harder to go after the more prevalent and persistent forces that are alive and kicking. The president needs to take his carefully crafted vision of a country rid of wang-wang culture and turn it into a more comprehensive strategy. He will obviously need to take a balanced and considered approach as he doesn’t want to spook the horses so to speak.

The very essence of the social contract or grand bargain is to maintain the sources of growth, but to allow the more productive sectors to contribute an increasing portion of the proceeds of that growth to help the underclasses who lose out of the growth for whatever reason.

Walking the walk

Talking the talk is one thing, but if he wants to walk the walk, he might have to start with his own family interests. The Hacienda Luisita case could turn into a powerful device for demonstrating his commitment to the righteous path if the government is successful in fulfilling the true letter and spirit of the CARPeR law which would mean distributing land titles to the tillers of the Cojuangco estate. This would set PNoy apart as a leader who remained true to his word.

What would bolster his case even more is if he gets rid of his style of dealing with his KKK (classmates, friends and cronies) and instituted a true meritocracy in his team. Finally, he needs to strengthen the economic bureaucracy by instituting reforms in the way it is staffed and resourced.

A developmental state requires lead agencies that are engaged with but at the same time insulated from the influence of powerful business interests to prevent them from abusing the system. It is one thing to name and shame a group of delinquent taxpayers or to announce a policy of monitoring investment commitments, but the agencies concerned need to have sufficient resources to go out and conduct thorough audits on their clients.

A change in the wang-wang culture in all its shapes and forms requires not only a revamping of our moral and spiritual furniture as a nation, it will require a fundamental renovation of our economic strategy and bureaucracy. The president can leverage the cult of his personality to push for solid long-lasting reforms in this regard. That is if he would only recognize where the true wang-wang culture resides.

Revisit the original series: That Vision Thing starting here.

How long is a piece of string?

What yardstick are we using to measure P-Noy’s performance?

The arbitrary, rule of thumb of the first year in office is about to come and go for this administration. The obligatory journalistic pieces assessing the president’s performance have consulted the usual suspects.

Political analysts, polling firms and pundits, the business community and the average man on the street express varying degrees of satisfaction, from impatience on the part of Conrad de Quiros for instance, to a more sanguine position on the part of Mon Casiple. Regardless of their positions, they are essentially in agreement that while one year is too brief a period to expect major change, some demonstrably concrete level of progress or achievement is lacking in the president’s first 365 days in office.

As expected the president’s men were engaged in a charm offensive to address these complaints with Undersecretary Manolo Quezon of the Communications Group appearing on ANC, Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte on Twitter, and Budget Secretary Butch Abad polemically addressing the issue of economic management. The to-ing and fro-ing has been at times entertaining as in the case of the Valte-Magsaysay twitterverse exchanges and insightful as in the case of Quezon’s revelations about the president’s love life.

The advocates of the president (both in and out of government) say that much has been accomplished. The emphasis on government frugality and public spending restraint has created domestic private investor confidence and a credit ratings dividend according to Cielito Habito. Plugging the leaks in infrastructure spending has generated fiscal space to expand social spending by the end of the year according to Abad. Public private partnerships are “on track” to be consummated this year according to Finance officials.

That in essence is the shortlist of accomplishments brandished by Malacanang. Judging by his poll numbers, the public seems to give P-Noy the nod of approval with 64% expressing satisfaction with his performance.

Is that it, then? Should we give the president a pass too?

Unfortunately, what is missing is a solid discussion over, well…what sort of yardstick is appropriate for measuring the president’s performance. For instance,

• Shall we judge him on what he said he will do?

Based on the president’s anti-Gloria campaign theme, De Quiros now questions why the former president and her ilk have not been brought before any court to answer for her alleged transgressions. Based on his anti-corruption platform, the Management Association of the Philippines now asks why there have been no measures like the Freedom of Information bill or any meaningful reductions in business redtape progressed.

Civil rights advocates wonder what has happened to Jonas Burgos and many other like him. Women’s groups are still waiting for the RH Bill to be passed. Farmers are wondering what happened to the resolution of Hacienda Luisita. The ordinary man on the street wonders where the jobs are and the relief from the rising cost of living. These were issues PNoy promised to resolve once in office.

• On the other hand, should we judge him based on his ability to prudently modify or alter what he said he would do?

Those with a nationalist agenda like Teddy Casino say P-Noy is delivering more of the same as far as economic policy goes, and hopes he will re-think his developmental economic strategy. The anxiety felt by Casino and others like him (Walden Bello for instance) is that the quality of growth is poor and insufficient to make a dent on unemployment.

Budget analyst Ben Diokno is looking for a two-step tax reform process that will make the system fairer and more effective at raising revenues. Both of these policy prescriptions run counter to the “steady as she goes” pronouncements that PNoy made during the election season.

Measuring up

The answer to the question, what yardstick do we use, depends on whether you are a strict contractualist or not. Some will say, we should evaluate the president plainly on what he said he would do, and nothing more. For me, however, I believe that given the tenor of the campaign, there were promises that were bound to be made in the spur of the moment, which need to be reconsidered.

The problem for the president of course is, whether you adhere to the strict contractual sense or not, he has failed to register meaningful progress on many fronts. So the question then becomes, how much time should we give him before we start downgrading his performance assessment? How long before we start saying that the president has either reneged or foolishly forged ahead down a dead end path?

Should we give him another six months? A full year? Two years? It’s like asking the question, how long is a piece of string?

After all, for the marginalized groups awaiting resolution to decade’s old injustices, their well-being has been put on hold for far too long. The well-healed chattering classes may feel aggrieved that bringing justice to Arroyo has been delayed, but their grief is nothing compared to what farmers and human rights abuse victims have suffered.

Similarly for those denied access to education, healthcare, sanitation and protection from the elements, the experiment to improve tax collection without a root and branch reform process would prove to be the most costly of all, if it fails. Is it therefore worth the gamble?

Perhaps, it is in addressing the needs of the least of our brethren that the president ought to be judged. In his “Back to the Future” moment, the president like his mother in the mid-1980s seemed to have prioritized the needs of rich creditors and bondholders over that of poor and marginalized stakeholders. Private investments have improved the skyline, but public investment failed to raise more out of the poverty line.

How long is a piece of string? Well we will have to wait and see…

"Closure"

After more than twenty-five years after the first People Power uprising that sent Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies into exile, the pursuit of justice has ended with the full restoration of the families of the former dictator and his allies.

The aging solon and former street parliamentarian Sen Joker Arroyo was like a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness upon hearing the flacid “lukewarm” remarks of President Aquino in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling favoring his formerly estranged uncle over the government in the case involving about twenty billion pesos (nearly half a billion dollars) worth of shares in San Miguel Corporation one of the country’s biggest conglomerates that he purchased during the dictatorial regime under dubious circumstances.

As often is the case when dealing with ill-gotten wealth of crooks in government who operate in a lawyerly fashion, the labyrinth of transactions make it difficult to pin down the accused. Hiding as they do behind the corporate veil, their ability to weave through the legal system in order to extract wealth from the collective pot contributed by the lowliest in society allows them to go unpunished and even be vindicated by the legal system.

And so as in the case of Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. former czar of the coconut industry under Mr Marcos, it appears that the scales of justice have finally tipped in his favor. Having previously lost his case in the anti-graft court the Sandiganbayan, he has won on appeal to the Supreme Court. Not all justices voted to clear him though. The senior ranking dissenter pronounced the majority decision the biggest joke of the century to be visited upon our countrymen.

Indeed. And as for the Marcoses their restoration was cemented in the last election with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. winning a seat in the upper house from where he probably intends to stage a presidential bid in 2016. A hero’s burial for his father’s remains has been winning support in the lower house. This probably reflects the mood in the wider body politic to forgive the former dictator for his failings. President Aquino himself put this possibility on the agenda by commissioning the vice president to look into it.

During his election campaign, President Aquino said that he wanted to bring some final resolution to the remains of the EDSA I struggle. It appears now what that closure he spoke of means for the victims of the Martial Law and the perpetrators of the injustices under it. Incidentally, it will be interesting to see how the case of Hacienda Luisita Incorporated owned and run by the Aquino-Cojuangco clans but subjected to agrarian reform will be handled by this Supreme Court. Will the final ruling there bring about “closure” to that case as it has in this instance? Would that be the final form of appeasement between the rivaling factions that have governed our country for so long (and will continue to in the foreseeable future)?

For those who joined the struggle to restore democracy to the nation like Sen Joker Arroyo, it will grate them to see the very liberties and freedoms they fought and paid for with their blood, sweat and tears being adroitly used by those who formerly suppressed them to frustrate the cause of those who suffered under their foul treatment, to have history re-written, to find the same legal minds that defended their tormentors receiving honor and prestige, occupying positions of power and authority, and for their countrymen to look on indifferently.

Unfortunately, this is probably how the cause of freedom will end: not with a bang, but a whimper.

His First 9 1/2 Weeks

It began almost like a love affair between the country and its new President.  The nine and a half weeks of the Aquino Administration began with a landslide victory that many found difficult to dispute, and ended with a hostage crisis many find difficult to defend.  All we know right now of Daang Matuwid is the abstraction: the idealization of a long-term national project began by a President whom we thought can do no wrong.  In the first nine and a half weeks, almost everything wrong happened.

Not that Aquino is bad for the country; somehow, the President’s training wheels – led independently in all sorts of different directions at Daang Matuwid – aren’t doing him much of a favor.  There is no definitive stand: that the clarion call of unity and inner strength leads precisely nowhere so far.

There was no definitive stand on the issue of land reform, even if President Aquino may have been goaded into making one because of his blood-ties with Hacienda Luisita.  There was no definitive stand in the Manila hostage crisis, making it appear that the President has done too little, too late.

I wrote before that the central issue of the Presidency is what gives us the general idea of where we’re going: that we should be united in something before we go anywhere.  For President Aquino, it was an abstraction of wang wang, ersatz land reform, and the pressing issues of his diplomatic roles in situations of crisis.  It is, so far, a Presidency steeped and schooled in the ways of the ought, missing out on the all-important is: granted that no political problem can be solved overnight, but we can agree, at the very least, on one thing the people, under its own government, should stand for.

Read the rest of the entry at The Marocharim Experience.

Six presidential bets call for parallel manual count

Six presidential bets call for parallel manual count
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Six presidential candidates called yesterday for a parallel manual count to ensure the credibility of the May 10 elections.

They are former President Joseph Estrada, Sen. Benigno Aquino III, Sen. Jamby Madrigal, Bro. Eddie Villanueva, Olongapo City Councilor JC de los Reyes and Nick Perlas.

Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and former defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. did not join the call.

In a letter dated April 25, the six presidential candidates asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct a simplified parallel manual count for president, vice president and any of three local posts: governor, member of the House of Representatives, or mayor.

The results of the parallel manual count will be compared to the tally by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

“The credibility of automated elections has suffered because the Comelec has removed many of the safeguards that were initially set in place – a credible source code review, ultraviolet mark checking, and the authenticity check through digital signatures, among others,” read the letter.

“Credibility and acceptance of the outcome of the elections can be restored by simply adding this one step – the parallel manual count.”

The letter was also signed by business groups led by Ramon del Rosario, Makati Business Club chairman; and Gregorio Navarro, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines president; and church groups led by bishops Oscar Cruz and Deogracias Iñiguez.

NP: Manual count might cause confusion

The Nacionalista Party (NP) fears that a parallel manual count might cause confusion.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, NP spokesman Gilbert Remulla said they are not inclined to back a parallel manual count because “it is very late in the game.”

“We don’t know the rules and why they only want a parallel count for the president, vice president and mayor?” he said.

“It might turn out that the election fraud will happen (in the manual parallel count). What will happen in a situation when the results (of the automated count and the manual count) won’t match?

“Which will be more credible – the automated counting or the manual count which is also prone to errors.”

Remulla said those with backgrounds on poll cheating are former members of the Arroyo Cabinet who have joined the Liberal Party.

“Who are experienced in the ‘Hello, Garci’ type of operations?” he asked.

“Definitely not the NP, but those who were with (President) Gloria who are now with Noynoy Aquino.”

Remulla said former defense secretary Avelino Cruz, whom he claimed to have dealt with the Ampatuans in Maguindanao and members of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in 2004, and Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who became notorious for his “Noted” stance during the canvassing of votes, are now with the LP.

“We can now see who voted not to listen to the Garci tapes at that time,” he said.

“We know it’s the Liberal camp, we know it’s (then representative) Noynoy Aquino.”

Remulla said at the time the “Hello, Garci” scandal was exposed, talks were underway for the construction of SCTEX that passed through the Cojuangco-controlled Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

“So we see the timeline,” he said.

“This is why we are against the parallel manual count because, if there is a group who has the experience on cheating, it would definitely be not from the Nacionalista Party but from those in the Liberal Party.”

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said yesterday the Comelec has not yet come out with a decision on the parallel manual tally.

“The Commission will come up with the decision in the next few days based on thorough studies and in consideration of various factors,” he said. – Aurea Calica, Christina Mendez, Mayen Jaymalin, Sheila Crisostomo, Ma. Elisa Osorio

Sumilao farmers back Noynoy's candidacy

Sumilao farmers back Noynoy’s candidacy
JOHANNA CAMILLE SISANTE
GMANews.TV

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—While some farmers from Hacienda Luisita are criticizing Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III for his family’s non-distribution of the plantation’s land, another group of farmers pushing for agrarian reform is backing up his presidential candidacy.

Farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon were present at Aquino’s campaign rally in Cagayan de Oro Tuesday, where some of them even lit torches for the Liberal Party standard bearer.

torches
Sumilao farmers join others in holding torches as a show of support during Aquino’s campaign rally in Cagayan de Oro. Johanna Camille Sisante

The Sumilao farmers gained nationwide attention in late 2007 when they marched all the way from Bukidnon in Mindanao to Manila to push for their claim to their land. (See: Sumilao farmers return to a tearful reunion in hometown)

They also held hunger strikes for their land in 1997, and last year to push for the passage of the measure extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Act (CARP) until 2014.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Sumilao farmers said they are supporting the candidacies of Aquino and Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, who is running under the LP’s senatorial slate. Baraquel is one of the main proponents of the CARP extension with reforms (CARPER) law. (See: Arroyo signs CARP extension bill into law)

The Sumilao farmers said they are backing up Aquino despite the Hacienda Luisita controversy hounding him and the Cojuangcos.

“The Sumilao farmers are confident that the former will help put a close to this matter through a just and legal resolution, in consultation with the Luisita farmers-stakeholders themselves,” the statement read.

“The Sumilao farmers note that among the presidential candidates, only Senator Aquino has expressly pronounced that he will be seeing CARP to its completion,” it said.

Aquino had earlier vowed to ensure the distribution of Hacienda Luisita land by 2014 after all its debts were settled. Luisita spokesman Antonio Ligon said Aquino’s wishes regarding the fate of Luisita will be followed if he is elected. (See: If elected, Noynoy’s wishes will be followed, says Luisita spokesman) —Johanna Camille Sisante/JV, GMANews.TV

Joma Sison favors Villar over Noynoy: report

Joma Sison favors Villar over Noynoy: report
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – The founder of the reorganized Communist Party of the Philippines believes Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manny Villar has a relatively better program of government compared to his rival, Liberal Party presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

In an interview with D.L. Mondelo of Bulatlat.com, CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison lamented that Villar’s programs have been underplayed during the presidential campaign. He said that among Villar’s programs are “land reform and self-reliant food production, expansion of local manufacturing to generate employment, support for small and middle entrepreneurs, peace negotiations, review of the Visiting Forces Agreement, respect for human rights and indemnification of the victims of human rights violations and independent foreign policy.”

On the other hand, he lambasted Aquino and his running mate, Mar Roxas, as “rabid exponents of the US-dictated policy of neoliberal globalization, which has put the Philippine economy in severe crisis and is inflicting terrible suffering on the people.”

Sison said Aquino would probably follow the example set by his mother, the late president Cory Aquino, by paying lip service to land reform “but will actually prevent it in so many clever ways.”

“In the particular case of Hacienda Luisita, he will insist on the scam or swindle called the stock distribution option in order to prevent land reform. He promises a clean and honest government but the Kamag-Anak, Inc. and other vested interests are financing his campaign and are prepared to collect the spoils of bureaucrat capitalism and subservience to foreign economic interests,” he said.

Sison also noted that Villar seemed to be more amenable to reviving peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front. He said Aquino would probably get advice from former senator Wigberto Tañada and Quezon 4th District Rep. Lorenzo Tañada on the matter of peace negotiations. He warned, however, that some elements in the Aquino camp are “rabid anti-communists and pseudo-progressives who will advise Aquino to pretend being for peace negotiations as a way of deceiving the people.”

The CPP founder also defended the inclusion of Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza as guest senatorial candidates of Villar’s Nacionalista Party. The alliance has put Sison and Maza on the same slate as Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Sison said Ocampo and Liza threatened to withdraw from the NP slate after learning that the NP would forge an alliance with Marcos and his political party, Kilusang Bagong Lipunan.

“They were satisfied only after Villar publicly clarified that they were not compromised as guest candidates in the senatorial slate by the inclusion of Bongbong as another guest candidate and that the program of the NP remains firm on respect for human rights and indemnification of the victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime,” he said.