Jinggoy Estrada

Actions, not words

On 30 December 2013 President Noynoy Aquino declared: “we are destroying the last bastions of corruption.” And in other news, Malacañang Palace clears the re-alignment of Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s PDAF to his father’s fiefdom, making LGUs the new NGOs through which state largesse is dispensed or diverted back to the political sponsor’s pockets.

It is not words we need from you, Mr. President, it is action. Actions speak louder than words. It is perfectly obvious that a conflict of interest exists here when the sponsor and recipient of spending measures are related. Any ordinary person can see it, why can’t you and your officials? Unless of course you are deliberately turning a blind eye.

This is how the PDAF and DAP scams began, with the executive’s tacit approval. We know what will happen here. The vast majority of congressmen have a father, son, wife, sister or some other blood relative occupying a local government post. With this precedent set, the floodgates will once again be open to abuse as political dynasties milk the system for all it’s worth.

Is this how you intend to spend the “last two minutes” of your administration? Waiting for another scandal to blow up in your face? “There is definitely something wrong in the state of Denmark,” Mr. President. Stop deluding us that you are conquering corruption, and do something about this.

By the way, I am not a critic. I have been accused of licking your ass by trolls whenever I say something positive about your administration. I am speaking here as your boss. If you fail to act, then you will have earned the tag of #noynoying. So for the sake of preserving your legacy, intervene at this crucial moment, before it comes back to bite you as DAP did.

Seeds of undoing

greek-tragedy-and-comedy-masks

An essential element of Greek tragedy according to Aristotle is for protagonists to carry with them the seeds of their own undoing. Often it comes in the form of “hubris”, man’s feeling of invincibility, which makes him tempt fate, or contest the will of the gods.

The same sense of mortality that comes at the end of each plot seemed to creep in last week as results of internal polling commissioned by the administration and leaked by a Palace insider showed the president’s popularity taking a nosedive as a result of his response to the controversy involving the release of impounded government savings without congressional approval.

DAP or the disbursement acceleration program was hatched by budget secretary Butch Abad, the chief ideologue of the Liberal Party to deal with the embarrassingly sluggish pace at which the economy was crawling at the time, dragged down by fiscal contraction. This was the result of the administration’s own deliberate attempts at house cleaning by scrutinising projects and contracts which were entered into by its predecessor.

The irony is that in a bid to rid the government of the ghost of Mrs Arroyo, the Aquino administration wound up committing the very same act that it accused her of, namely re-aligning budget items out of expediency. During Mrs Arroyo’s presidency, the opposition blocked passage of her proposed general appropriations for a number of fiscal cycles forcing a re-enactment of the previous year’s budget. This enabled her to reallocate spending across departments at will for budgeted projects that had already been completed the previous year.

Mr Aquino faced an entirely different situation but ended up with the same outcome. He had no problem getting congressional sign-off on his proposed annual expenditures, which sailed through in record time. His problem was getting the approved amounts spent. Having applied the fiscal brakes too harshly in a bid to present a clean break with the past, he wound up revisiting it.

The Department of Budget and Management explains how much was spent under DAP and for what purpose, as follows

For 2011-2012, a total of P142.23 Billion was released for programs and projects identified through the DAP, of which P83.53 Billion is for 2011 and 58.70 Billion is for 2012. In 2011, the amount was used to provide additional funds for programs/projects such as healthcare, public works, housing and resettlement, and agriculture, among others. While in 2012, these were used to augment tourism road infrastructure, school infrastructure, rehabilitation and extension of light rail transit systems, and sitio electrification, among others. […]
Of the total DAP approved by OP (Office of the President) for 2011-2012 amounting to a total of P142.23 Billion only 9 percent was released to programs and projects identified by legislators. These were not released directly to legislators but to implementing agencies.

The sad thing about DAP is that even though less than a tenth of it was directed at legislators, the whole program has become tainted as a result of the scandal that broke out involving the funneling of some of this money into bogus NGOs identified by them.

Not only that, but its release coincided with the impeachment of the Arroyo-appointed chief justice, which the Palace had openly campaigned for. It carried the hint of political back scratching. Add to that the contestable basis on which one branch of government allocated its savings to another (from executive to legislative), and you have the appearance of a government that disregarded the rules in pursuit of its political agenda.

To top it all off, the president appeared on national television denouncing his critics, denying the label “king of pork” that grated his good government sensibilities, claiming that he was “not a thief” in a fashion reminiscent of US president Richard Nixon who left office in disgrace. It is truly tragic that, after cruising at an astronomically high altitude in opinion polls, stratospheric compared to his predecessors, he should come plummeting back to earth and be forced to distinguish himself from common criminals in this manner.

To think that this all happened when the government seemed to be getting into its stride. The past year has been particularly productive with the enactment of several reform measures like reproductive health, sin taxes, and universal health care. In addition, there was the uplift in the country’s credit ratings and ranking in the Doing Business Survey, the resurgence of manufacturing investments, and the signing of the peace deal with Muslim rebels. The growth figures for the first half of the year seemed appealing to most outside investors, as well.

With legal challenges left, right and centre seeking to undermine its legitimacy, the government now appears besieged. Previously, one would have been forgiven for thinking that with its recent string of successes, the regime may be able to manage an orderly succession to its hand-picked nominee. But with the Liberal Party’s important figures, Senate President Frank Drilon and Budget Secretary Butch Abad, in the hot seat for their involvement in the DAP, the party seems like a spent force, having lost its moral authority.

Elite bargain

When Senator Jinggoy Estrada angrily accused the administration of hypocrisy for what he claimed was an unfair targeting of the opposition, I expressed doubts that his tirade would inflict any serious damage on the teflon presidency of Mr Aquino. With hindsight, it now appears to have been an effective ploy. Estrada’s complaint was that there seemed to be “no honor among thieves”, that cosy symbiotic relationship among complicit individuals.

What he was referring to was the political bargain that occurs in multiparty democracies within developing states, in which power is alternately shared among various groups of elites. Corruption is tacitly tolerated because it is assumed that each group will commit it once it is their turn to rule. Allowing a group of oppositionists to be singled out for prosecution, to ruin their political careers, is in effect, reneging on this grand bargain. Mr Estrada’s retaliatory response did nothing to protect him from prosecution, but it nevertheless inflicted damage on the administration for its “unfair” actions.

Time will tell if the damage inflicted is merely a flesh cut, or a mortal wound, but from the perspective of the reformers within the administration, it is a bad omen. Not only has the focus on PDAF and DAP abuse detracted from its policy agenda, it is going to make it difficult to secure votes for what could be unpopular pieces of legislation, particularly in the lead up to the next election when political turncoats will begin sniffing the political winds in search of their new padrino.

The reform constituency often claims that in order to make our political and economic systems more inclusive, we need to eliminate all forms of rent from society. That is we need to generate a clean, accountable and transparent system of governance, and that there will be no trade-offs between pursuing this agenda and pro-poor economic growth. This is in part the fault of the international donor community that has peddled this idea for over a decade on nations with very different institutional foundations.

Reality runs contrary to this notion, particularly if you look at the development experience of the “tiger” economies of East Asia and the “lion” economies of Africa, which are the fastest growing in the world. The tragedy of Daang Matuwid, the good governance agenda of the Aquino administration was that it failed to acknowledge this. It took the economy for granted while hastily conducting a highly charged political prosecution of its predecessor regime.

When the economy started slipping into second gear, it unlocked the floodgates of spending and applied less stringent controls on congressional pork barrel projects than it enforced on its own administrative agencies. It committed an act of “hubris” in thinking that it had succeeded in transforming the political culture of the country. It now finds itself defending a system of rent distribution that its constituents consider anathema to its own brand of government.

It is for this reason that many honest, reform-minded governments get eaten up by the system they seek to change. They often set goals that are too lofty, such as the elimination of corruption within one term of office, or the removal of patronage in favour of a system that observes the rule of law and democratic accountability. In the pursuit of good governance, the perfect often becomes the adversary of the good.

At the end of such a trail is “reform-fatigue”, with a disillusioned electorate turning to corrupt leaders who are able to distribute rents in ways that cater to their local needs. Such leaders are seen to be more competent and effective. This scenario could eventuate in 2016, with many in the reform constituency distrusting the LP and seeking an alternative candidate with a fresh face. This will split their votes and allow a pragmatic populist to gain power.

The scandals that have bedevilled congress and engulfed the president have served only to discourage certain contenders from the opposition to seek higher office, clearing the way for the vice president to consolidate its forces behind him. This means that their votes are less likely to be split along factional lines. And with the vice president’s popularity remaining intact, his lead will simply be unassailable.

The only way for the ruling LP to avoid electoral defeat is for it to deliver rapid, pro-poor growth within the remainder of its term. That won’t be easy, particularly since its formula for producing it, the good governance agenda (captured in its mantra: kung walang kurap, walang mahirap) has already been discredited in different parts of the world where it has been faithfully applied.

From Erap’s Playbook

Jinggoy

Jinggoy is no stranger to controversy. More than a decade ago, he and his father were jailed for participating in the Jueteng scandal exposed by whistleblower Chavit Singson. He was later released on bail by the Sandiganbayan and acquitted. His father Joseph Erap Estrada however was not so lucky. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, although later pardoned by the woman who deposed and prosecuted him, Mrs Arroyo.

The fact that Mr Estrada today enjoys his freedom and greater popularity than Mrs Arroyo is nothing short of a stunning turn of events. It should be recalled that in the lead up to his impeachment, Erap’s popularity was plummeting. He had always denied any involvement in the Jueteng scandal, maintained his innocence throughout the judicial proceedings, refused to recognise the legitimacy of the trial and its verdict, and likened his predicament to that of many famous dissidents like Ninoy Aquino and Nelson Mandela.

In 2010, the rehabilitation of the Estradas was complete as Erap overtook Manny Villar to claim second spot after Noynoy Aquino in the presidential derby. His ability to knock off Alfredo Lim in 2013 to become Manila mayor is testament to the success of his strategy to regain the people’s trust despite having been convicted of a high crime by claiming himself a victim of political persecution by someone he presented as a usurper of his office. The fact that Mrs Arroyo damaged her own credibility by subsequent events fed into this narrative.

But now his son, who has been tagged by whistleblowers to be a principal in the Janet Napoles P10 billion pork barrel scam, is seeking to lift a page from the father’s playbook. In a privilege speech before the Senate, the younger Estrada claimed he was a victim of trial by publicity, of political persecution and of demonisation by his colleagues. He decried the fact that despite the COA’s identification of anomalous transactions by his colleagues, he and two other opposition bloc senators have been singled out by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigations.

In an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of proceedings at the senate, he accused its president Sen Franklin Drilon of offering a gratuitous amount of P50 million to reward him and his colleagues for voting to convict Chief Justice Corona with the imprimatur of Budget Secretary Butch Abad. After accusing his fellow senators of dragging his name through the mud, he then proceeded to name a number of them as well and question why the spotlight hasn’t been focused on them.

There are several reason why this ploy by Jinggoy may not work effectively against the current administration as it did against its predecessor. One is the fact that President Aquino enjoys the public’s trust and confidence, maintaining his net satisfaction rating at high levels three years into his presidency, something unheard of since data has been collected on this. Two is the fact that Jinggoy has not denied receiving and using his PDAF allotments. Third is the unpopularity of pork barrel, in the light of the ostentatious display of wealth by one of its fixers Ms Janet Napoles.

PDAF, BUB, August 26 and 2016

President Benigno S. Aquino III calls for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund at the President’s Hall of Malacanang Palace on Friday, (August 23). The announcement was made in the aftermath of the alleged Php10B pork barrel scam. (Photo by Gil Nartea/ Lauro Montellano Jr./ Malacanang Photo Bureau)

Just as he did with the RH Bill, the president came late to the party and led from behind in the scandal  involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Congress by belatedly bowing to public calls for its abolition.  Although as Winnie Monsod noted he did not indicate this meant the abolition of all forms of pork barrel. With nationwide protests slated for August 26, his administration could not afford to be seen on the wrong side of history, not after mouthing anti-corruption slogans like Daang Matuwid and Kung Walang Kurap, Walang Mahirap in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

This is perhaps his only out, after a former treasury chief showed how large his own discretionary funds are, dwarfing that of Congress. His initial tone deaf and dismissive response to public calls for PDAF abolition threatened to turn it into his “Flor Contemplacion moment”. This is a reference to the hanging of a domestic helper in Singapore by that name accused and convicted of killing her ward. The Ramos government’s lethargic response at the time to seek a commutation of her death sentence and vigorously raise a diplomatic protest with the Singaporean government was judged inadequate and subsequently led to virulent protests.

What the angry twittering masses behind the August 26 rally fail to grasp, however, and this I believe should be credited to the president, is that the scale of congressional pork barrel would not have even been known if he had not taken the decision to make it more transparent in the budget. Secondly, the Commission on Audit special report conducted under the tearful eye of Ms Grace Pullido-Tan, its chair, would not have even been possible without President Aquino’s leadership.

The problem was the Palace’s foot-dragging made it seem part of the problem rather than the solution. At first it responded to the concerns of the masses over the alleged Php 10 billion scam involving Janet Napoles’s syndicate of NGOs by window dressing, making the DSWD the accrediting agency for NGOs receiving PDAF allocations. This was wrong since as the COA report revealed, releasing public funds to NGOs without an appropriations law or ordinance violates the government’s own procurement policy.

The COA report, incomplete as it was gave an indication as to the scale and scope of corruption and abuse. About 75 per cent of audited PDAF went to NGOs. Thus, the 192 members of the 14th Congress that were found to have engaged in the practice are in fact liable. The DOJ does not even have to prove that the funds were diverted back to them.

The senators and congressmen who want to wash their hands clean by either saying the money was liquidated appropriately or that monitoring of funds is the sole function of the executive branch don’t have a leg to stand on. The only defence they can mount is that their signatures in authorising the allocation of PDAF to those NGOs were forged as 22 of them have done.

Even assuming their signatures were forged, why would it have taken them so long to protest against it? It stands to reason that anyone who had P70 to P200M allocated to them would be adamant in getting it released for their use. Why has it taken them 3-5 years to denounce the siphoning off of their PDAF? If anything, they would be negligible for allowing it to go on for so long.

So any which way you look at it, the legislators in question have something to answer for. True, the DBM’s record-keeping has been found wanting. In fact the COA report only covered a mere 39 per cent of the total P115 billion worth of PDAF released from 2007 to 2009 because DBM could not even identify correctly the legislators who approved the majority of funds amounting to some P70.4 billion.

Even so, the legislators that have been rightly identified need to apologise to the public for allocating their PDAF to NGOs and take leave from their party if they are currently in public office or loose whatever committee chairmanships and privileges they have enjoyed as such.

British and Canadian examples

In the UK parliamentary allowance scandal of 2009, both PM Gordon Brown and Opposition Leader David Cameron issued apologies to the British public for the excesses committed by members of their parties who used housing allowances to invest in the property market. Subsequently, an independent body was set up to determine the compensation and allowances for MPs, and the disbursement of the same was made more available to the public.

In the current scandal in the Canadian senate, PM Harper’s chief of staff resigned after being implicated, a number of senators were suspended from their party and issued public apologies for their abuse of privileges. In both the UK and Canadian cases, a Freedom of Information request led to uncovering the facts and those that had been found to have abused their privileges were ordered to repay every last penny they had unlawfully charged to the public purse.

The amounts in question ran only in the hundreds of thousands of pounds or dollars per representative or senator. In the Philippine case, the amounts run into the billions of pesos (which amounts to millions of dollars!). And yet the legislators in question do not seem to be ashamed in the least. Some of them in fact have the gall to now champion the scrapping of pork, when they in fact have been identified by the COA for certain anomalies in their use of pork, such as Majority Senate Leader Peter Cayetano whose release of P2.7 million to baranggays in Taguig were found to be deficient, and whose wife exceeded her PDAF by P8.5 million.

BUB, another acronym for pork masquerading as reform

The protesters heading for the Rizal Park on August 26 would probably say that there needs to be an investigation and prosecution of those involved in the PDAF scam. The DOJ has said that it will be issuing indictments soon. The case could easily drag on beyond 2016, after the president steps down. The senate and the house seem poised to investigate their use and abuse of PDAF. Senator Cayetano has endorsed former Senator Panfilo Lacson to head an independent body to investigate it, which found support from the President. This was ridiculed by many including Senator Miriam Santiago who questions Lacson’s ability to impartially run the investigation.

The politicisation of the investigations and reform process is becoming a problem. This is precisely what shouldn’t be happening as abuses cut across party-lines. Take the unveiling of a fund associated with the Department of Budget and Management’s Bottom Up Budgeting approach or BUB. This is a fund amounting to P20 billion to be allocated by Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to local governments. It is no secret that Mr Roxas is the Liberal Party’s presidential nominee to succeed Pres Aquino in 2016. Budget Secretary Abad is the party’s chief ideologue.

The fund’s existence was apparently leaked by congressmen from within the LP. It was reported that many of them were dissatisfied with the manner in which this fund has been set up: to give Mr Roxas the role of a padrino in handing it out. This charge was denied of course by Messrs Roxas and Abad who do not deny the existence of BUB funds but instead say that legislators were supportive of it.

If we needed a reminder for why PDAF and its predecessor CDF (countrywide development funds) came into being, this is it. Pork barrel has evolved through the years from a means for the executive to control congress and get it on its side, to a means by which the legislators can wrest control of patronage from Malacañang by limiting its ability to withhold pork to congress. BUB seems like an attempt by the Palace to retake control, at a time when congressional pork has been abolished.

Just as an aside, what the reaction of local LP stalwarts shows is that party discipline is weak. These legislators probably do not plan to endorse Mr Roxas in 2016. They are probably planning to jump ship again just like they did in 2010 when President Aquino’s lead in the polls was evident. Given the lead Vice President Binay now has in public polls, it would seem they might be hedging their bets both ways, or in the very least, they want to hand out the BUB funds themselves to local officials, to be the sole padrinos in their districts.

On the other hand, it can be argued that Mr Binay has been receiving pork with the president’s blessing, worth P200 million a year, so that this is simply a way of evening up the playing field for Mr Roxas and the Liberal Party. Given that the president has abolished pork (which presumably includes the vice president’s), shouldn’t his heir apparent refuse to use it too? By politicising the bottom-up budgeting approach, a key reform of President Aquino’s administration, Abad and Roxas could be tarnishing their reformist credentials and weakening the very institutions they seek to build.

To 2016 and beyond

A number of prospective presidential and vice presidential contenders could be ruined by this scandal. Senators Bong Bong Marcos, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada all have plans to run for higher office. All were tagged as part of the original PDAF scam. Senator Peter Cayetano may also have plans to run for higher office in 2016 and was also given special mention in the COA report for irregular PDAF releases. Mar Roxas could sully himself if BUB is perceived to be used for political motives.

You might think this is the end of the road for pork, but don’t count pork out, just yet. As Manolo Quezon points out, pork has a funny way of resurfacing under a different guise. Winnie Monsod believes it will revert back to the old way of being hidden, inserted in line agency budgets, as was the practice before President Aquino made it more transparent. This could be an unintended consequence of abolishing PDAF.

What the inchoate masses gathering on August 26 fail to understand is that unless PDAF is replaced with something more suited to a modern democracy, it will be reincarnated in some other shape or form even if the current set of PDAF abusers are put behind bars. The real answer in my view is for the state to provide campaign finance to accredited political parties.

Without such state support, congressmen and senators will find a way to access state funds anyway through some form of pork barrel or worse, they could go underground and raise money through illegal means. Of course they may harass legitimate businesses and rich individuals for donations with adverse consequences for policy making if they win. The piso-piso campaign to raise money has very limited impact in a country with very large disparities in income.

Perhaps the president who until now has been so focused on proving he can make government work, as in he wanted to prove that PDAF could be used properly for good, can now lift his gaze towards undertaking real reform that would not only restore systems to the way they were under some imagined golden age, but transform them above and beyond what they are currently capable of becoming.

To use an automotive analogy, which I am sure the motoring enthusiast in him would appreciate, imagine that you have an old 1950s engine which you have worked so hard to restore, but is still leaking fuel and is inefficient. You can choose to keep fiddling with the old system by adding dashboards with indicators that tell you if fuel is leaking (i.e. making expenditure more transparent) or you might decide to overhaul the engine completely with a new up to date model that injects fuel well and does not leak with indicators that tell you what is happening under the hood.

Having a modern democracy entails campaign finance and political party reform combined with beefed up integrity measures as well as an adequate level of compensation for elective officials to remove the incentive that lead to the plunder of public funds. That is the reality that neither the president, nor the people massing at Rizal park on Monday, have yet realised needs to be confronted if we are to have a sound democracy in the lead up to 2016 and beyond.

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.

Winner’s curse: How the opposition intimidated Team PNoy to take the low road to win in 2013 while leaving daang matuwid with no clear agenda or heir-apparent


In the Japanese martial art of Jujitsu one gains victory not by superior strength, but by using the force of one’s opponent against him. This is what the leader of the “friendly” opposition Vice President Jojo Binay did to the administration in the 2013 senatorial elections.

Having defeated President Aquino’s heir apparent Secretary Mar Roxas in the 2010 vice presidential derby, Binay’s unrivalled popularity while in office and his links to two of the most revered names in Philippine politics (Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and ex-president Joseph Estrada) made “winnability” foremost in Team PNoy’s mind in considering candidates for its 2013 senate slate.

Having experienced the “tyranny of numbers” in the lead up to the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and in the subsequent push to have a number of its reform measures passed, the administration was not going to risk losing a majority of senate seats this time around. This caused the administration to take a “win at all costs” approach.

Its first move was to mend fences with its former rivals in the 2010 election. The entry of the Nacionalista Party’s standard bearers into the tent of Team PNoy spelled an about face for both parties. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano had started the TOPAK meme which maligned the president’s mental capacities. Senator Loren Legarda had called on him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation during the campaign. All that was swept under the rug as far as the administration was concerned.

After framing the contest between Messrs Aquino and Villar back in 2010 as one of “light v darkness”, the Villar’s were all of a sudden admitted among the “chosen ones” who would travel down the “Righteous Path” alongside the president. Not to worry, the administration said, since such a coalition was based on platforms, not personalities. Except that they avoided at every turn to define what that platform was.

When asked to identify the top 5 legislative proposals Team PNoy would push for if elected, its spokesman, Rep Miro Quimbo could only identify 4. “Let me get back to you on that” was his candid response. Unfortunately even the priorities he outlined didn’t figure in any formal policy document or in most of the endorsed candidates’ platforms.

When asked why there was no shared policy platform across Team PNoy, the undersecretary for strategy and communications, Manolo Quezon replied that midterms weren’t about policies but a referendum on the president. You either believe in him and his “chosen ones” or you don’t. So there you have it. The election was framed as a clash of personalities and their proxies, not as a contest of ideas, policies and visions for the country. Here’s what he said…

Consequently, the voters simply did what they have always done when faced with no real alternatives but the same old dynasties and incumbents: they went with those that connected with them on a deep emotional level, those with whom they felt a sense of shared destiny.

Due to the economic make-up of our electorate, that meant electing Nancy Binay even if she had no prior experience working in an official capacity in government. It also meant catapulting Grace Poe to pole position based on the memory of her deceased father and the playful use of her surname as an expression of respect.

Both these candidates scored high on our “trapo scale” dubbed the “pander-o-meter” based on an analysis of their personal platforms. Of course their policies were never scrutinised by the media. Neither did the intelligentsia perform its role in critically assessing the promises of each candidate (the absence of party-wide platforms made this task a lot more difficult than it should have been).

Health care reform, a key plank in Ms Binay’s platform was not given the kind of treatment it needed. She was never challenged on the feasibility of her proposals to provide free nutrition and medicine particularly to nursing mothers. In the case of Grace Poe, nobody noticed that her campaign was anchored on a coulda shoulda woulda basis committing her to nothing specific and nothing firm.

The candidates were allowed to promise the sun, moon and stars all the while pandering to the emotional pleasure zones of the electorate without the voice of reason being given an honest hearing. Social media was co-opted to suit the candidates’ purposes. There was no one calling them out on the false hopes and expectations that they were building.

Finally, in assessing the aftermath of Election 2013, what we will find is that although Team PNoy garnered a clear majority of seats that were up for grabs, it comes out the weaker party.

Sure, it now can boast of having a majority in both chambers of congress, but the political calculus facing its adherents will be daunting. Will they really pursue the tough and unpopular reforms that are needed to bring the country forward, especially now that the electoral bankability of the BInay dynasty remains utterly unassailable?

Secondly, the president does not have a clear, viable heir-apparent to challenge the Jojo Binay-Jinggoy Estrada machinery and name recall in 2016. Secretary Mar Roxas has not accepted his party’s draft to run perhaps due to his failure to define a narrative for his candidacy.

Only one of the Liberal Party’s three senatorial candidates is likely to win in this election, in large part due to the fact that he shares the same name as the president. Bam Aquino will be too young to contest the presidential elections in 2016 being a year shy of the minimum age requirement, repeating the fate of his late-uncle.

So that leaves the administration with a mere three years to cement its legacy before handing over the reins to its successor who is likely to come from the opposition. For failing to define its agenda and properly vet its allies prior to the elections, the administration now suffers the problem of having no clear mandate to implement whatever reforms it outlines afterwards.

The same thing happened following the 1986 people power uprising. Rather than develop a new breed of politicos based on principles and a common reform agenda, the revolutionary government of Cory Aquino accommodated and resuscitated the clans who ruled the country in the pre-Martial Law era allowing the children of its revolution to die in the ditches defending their cause.

Joseph Estrada once said that her government’s biggest mistake was letting guys like him back in (clever guy he truly is!). Only those like Jejomar Binay who were willing to “play by the rules” of the jungle survived.

Instead of taking the hard, difficult path of building a constituency for reform through principled, policy-driven politics and developing a new breed of politicians from inside its base, the second Aquino administration opted to go down the quick and easy path to success, just like the first.

For those that thought 2010 marked the beginning of an era of new politics, think again. The years 2010-16 might simply be an interlude, a case of trapo interrupted, where the country enjoyed a momentary respite from the worst forms of populist, predatory politics at the top, before old habits kicked in once again.

Image: courtesy of Rappler.com

Enrile is Senate President again

Enrile is Senate President again
By Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — A survivor of many political wars is keeping his grip on the Senate presidency, after all.

Earlier thought to be on his way out, reelected Senator Juan Ponce Enrile clinched the Senate leadership Sunday night by obtaining the support of 21 senators — a powerful majority in the 23-member upper chamber of Congress.

Senators said the 86-year-old lawmaker from Cagayan was assured of his continued hold on his position following a series of meetings and sudden developments during the weekend.

The most dramatic was Sunday’s last-minute announcement by Senator Francis Pangilinan, the erstwhile candidate of Malacañang, that he was withdrawing from the Senate presidential race in order to unify the chamber.

“It’s a truly united Senate,” Senator Edgardo Angara told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, saying that all blocs in the chamber have come together to support Enrile as their chief.

It was the second time in the Senate’s recent history that all parties and blocs have backed a common leader, Angara said.

Curiously, both cases involved Enrile and both happened while an Aquino was at the country’s helm — the first during the presidency of the late Corazon Aquino and now, during the rule of her son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

“In the first Aquino administration, it was Senator Enrile who was the lone minority member in the Senate. Now under the second Aquino administration, he is the head of the unity Senate,” Angara said.

“He [Enrile] has come full circle,” he added.

In a phone interview, Angara credited the sudden turn of events to efforts of the Liberal Party (LP), Nacionalista Party (NP) of Sen. Manuel Villar Jr., and other blocs — including Angara’s — to come together and agree on a Senate President by the time the 15th Congress opens this Monday.

Since late last week, Pangilinan had been the frontrunner in the fight for the Senate leadership.

Enrile of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino only loomed as an alternative candidate after the NP and LP candidates failed to get the 13 votes needed to win the Senate presidency.

“Since neither side [Villar and Pangilinan] were able to make it, we agreed with Villar and the others that we need to elect one because it would be embarrassing for the Senate if we can’t rule even ourselves,” Angara said.

All different blocs “contributed” to the unity of the Senate, according to Angara.

He said Enrile was “the best option” because neither Pangilinan nor Villar was able to secure the 13 votes.

Angara said Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada would remain as Senate President pro tempore, while Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto would be the majority leader.

But with a unified Senate behind Enrile, Angara conceded that the question of who would be the minority leader was up in the air.

“We don’t know yet who would want to stand on the opposite aisle,” he said.

The Senate has 23 members with Aquino’s rise to the presidency. Only 21 of them can vote in Monday’s Senate presidency election.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV remains detained while Senator Panfilo Lacson has yet to surface after he left the country six months ago while facing charges for the double murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and Dacer’s driver.

Estrada, like Enrile, committed to support Pangilinan but Estrada made it clear to the LP senator that he would only support him if Enrile did not make a bid for the Senate leadership.

Pangilinan lost support for his bid after party and administration allies late last week confronted him on whether he could secure the necessary numbers and later pushed Enrile to go for the presidency himself.

Enrile had said he would do so if the senators would be able to get him the numbers.

In a statement on Sunday, Pangilinan said he gave up his bid for the top Senate post because he “realized there are political realities and developments that prevent us from securing the needed 13 votes resulting in a deadlock or stalemate.”

“Much as I would like to go down fighting, I realize that to continue with my bid would keep the Senate fragmented and disunited. The disunity must now end. I believe I can help make it happen by voluntarily stepping aside,” he said.

“It has been a very difficult experience for me and my family, but if I had to do this all over again for the cause of genuine change and reforms for our nation, I would. I would like to thank our people for their prayers and support. We fought a good fight,” Pangilinan said.

Senators were meeting on Sunday to deal with the committee chairmanships. There are 27 chairmanships up for grabs.

Drilon and Estrada said they did not think Enrile’s leadership in the Senate would be a problem for President Aquino.

Drilon said that Enrile from the very start had supported Pangilinan’s bid until the latter was unable to get the needed votes.

Likewise, he said Enrile would support the administration’s legislative agenda because not only was the Senate “an institution which will respond to the needs of the country” but one was inclined to support a “popular” President such as Mr. Aquino.

Estrada agreed that Enrile would not be a problem for Mr. Aquino since the two men were very much in good terms in the Senate before.

Malacañang said on Sunday it still expected to deal with a Senate “friendly” to President Aquino despite the withdrawal of Pangilinan from the Senate presidential fight.

“We look forward to working and cooperating with a friendly Senate,” the President’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said. “It’s important that we have a friendly Senate [for] our legislative agenda.”

Lacierda said that in hoping for a friendly Senate, Malacañang was not fearing that the senators might scrutinize the Aquino administration for possible corruption.

“The Aquino administration has promised not to engage in any corrupt practices that’s why we are not afraid of that,” he said. “What we are more concerned of really is the legislative agenda the President has in mind, which will require cooperation from the Senate.”

PMA board goes for Noynoy, Mar

PMA board goes for Noynoy, Mar
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) board is backing Liberal Party (LP) bets Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III for president and Sen. Mar Roxas for vice president.

The PMA board chose to endorse the 2 candidates to ensure the successful implementation of PMA’s various health programs, according to Dr. Mike Aragon, PMA chairman for media affairs.

The 2 candidates deserve the PMA’s endorsement because they have a legislative program that “protects the medical profession” and health of the country, the PMA secretary general said.

Aside from Aquino and Roxas, the PMA board has also decided to support several candidates for senator from different political parties.

They are:

former Senator Franklin Drilon (LP);
Sen. Pilar “Pia” Cayetano of the Nacionalista Party (NP);
Dr. Martin Bautista (LP);
Binalonan Mayor Ramon Guico of Lakas-Kampi-CMD (Lakas);

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago of the People’s Reform Party (PRP);
lawyer Gwendolyn Pimentel (NP);
Adel Tamano (NP);
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile of the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP);

Sergio Osmeña III (LP);
Ralph Recto (LP);
Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. (Lakas);
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada (PMP).

PMP bets vow review of flawed laws

PMP bets vow review of flawed laws
By Jose Rodel Clapano
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Senatorial candidates of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), led by Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, vowed yesterday to review the controversial Oil Deregulation Law, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and the Fair Election Act if they win in the May 10 elections.

Estrada told editors and reporters of The STAR that if re-elected, he would file a resolution to review the EPIRA and Oil Deregulation Law.

“These (laws) have to be studied. This is a very sensitive issue. I will manifest, once I win, to revisit the two laws,” Estrada said.

Estrada chided President Arroyo for appointing former secretary Angelo Reyes to the Department of Energy (DOE).

“GMA (President Arroyo) should not have appointed Reyes. I think he is not an expert on energy. She should have chosen someone with wide knowledge on energy. Reyes should have also declined his appointment as energy chief. Only I and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, among the members of the Commission on Appointments, objected to Reyes’ appointment before the CA. Maybe, Reyes had talked to other members of the CA,” Estrada said.

Estrada said he has also sponsored a bill seeking to amend the EPIRA co-authored by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, his party mate.

“I forgot the particular amendments. I don’t know if the House also passed a counterpart bill. Maybe in the next Congress, I will push for it again,” Estrada said.

Former Negros Occidental Rep. Apolinario “Jun” Lozada said the Oil Deregulation Law is everybody’s concern.

He said good laws are useless if the one heading the agency to implement such law is not good.

Lozada said the Department of Energy (DOE) should reorganize following the power crisis in Mindanao.

“There must be a reorganization of the DOE from top to bottom. Who really is the energy czar of the country? Not only the EPIRA, but also the Charter of the DOE (has to be restudied). Who really calls the shots? There is the PNOC (Philippine National Oil Company), the NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority), and DOE. The law by itself has to be reviewed. Unless the people knew what they are doing,” Lozada said.

Lozada said the present difficulties facing the country showed that the power crisis in Mindanao had already affected Metro Manila where residents have complained of increased power rates.

Former senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad said the main purpose of the EPIRA is to encourage competition to lower power rates.

“It did not encourage competition and it makes the government powerless. There is a cartel among big oil companies. Cartel could drive away investors. It’s time to revisit it particularly in the face of the power crisis,” Tatad said.

Lawyer JV Bautista said the government must have full control of the industry to protect the people from greedy businessmen whose only objective is to gain more from their profit at the expense of the poverty-ridden Filipinos.

“We have an energy secretary lawyering for oil companies. Reyes, for not being able to do anything on the series of oil prices increases, said it’s deregulated. The state, during the Marcos regime, was able to control the prices of oil because he created Petron. It subsidized the oil industry and competed with privately owned oil companies. Why is it that every time there is an increase in oil products, the increases are not impeded, but when there is a decrease in oil prices, it’s not decreasing, NEDA says there is a decrease in oil, but DOE says there is none,” Bautista said.

Fair election act

On the issue of the Fair Election Act, Estrada said there are candidates who are now circumventing the law.

“They are using the party-list (groups) to have themselves included in the political advertisements. I’m in favor of revisiting the Fair Election Act,” Estrada said.

Estrada said the PMP has spent way below the allowed amount for the campaign.

He said the Fair Election Act was created out of the insecurity of politicians who cannot equal the wide publicity that movie actors-turned politicians like him are getting from media.

“Actors like me, who turned politicians, do not need political ads because the people are seeing us almost once in a while on television and in the movies,” Estrada said.

Tatad said there must be a complete ban on political ads.

He said candidates must not spend more than what they will earn legally once they win.

“If the candidates spent billions during the campaign, how will they recoup that once they win? We will need real electoral reform, not on the 11th hour… Who undergo the survey? What post the margin of error, etc. etc,” Tatad said.

Tatad said he wrote the Commission on Elections to enforce the provisions of Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Election Act on Pulse Asia, Social Weather Station (SWS) and other poll survey firms on their conduct and publication of survey results during the current campaign.

“I will be filing charges later. On our television ads, we should get 30 percent discount from TV ads, 10 percent from the print from the prevailing rates 12 months before the elections,” Tatad said.

Bautista agreed, saying that the Fair Election Act is turning into an “Unfair Election Act.”

“There must be electoral reforms. There should be no TV ads that are private. TV ads should be equal to all candidates. It’s not a matter of if I paid this much? The state must have a corresponding duty. Surveys should be regulated. If it has to be private, it should not be published. Mass media should not publicize it,” Bautista said.