Manifestation of BSAIII at the joint session of Congress on martial law

Manifestation of Sen. Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III at the joint session of Congress on martial law, December 14, 2009

Manifestation at the Joint Session on Martial Law

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, over the weekend, the President lifted the proclamation of martial law. Under different circumstances or perhaps if done by a judicious President, her act should have calmed the public groping for answers as to whether there was an existing rebellion at the time of the proclamation. But her act has raised more questions that need to be answered.

We join the condemnation of the massacre of 57 Filipinos in Maguindanao. Condemnation is not enough. We need to unearth the conditions that allowed such a crime in order to prevent a recurrence.

If we are to remain committed to the constitutional principles upon which the whole fiber of a just and orderly society rests, it behooves us to continue to inquire as to the factual basis of the declaration of martial law.

Was there truly a legal basis for declaring martial law in Maguindanao?

Was the restoration of peace and order the real reason for the imposition of martial law or are there other reasons yet unseen?

Was it to instill fear, given the very negative connotations of martial law?

Was there actual, not just impending, rebellion?

Was martial law imposed to cover up the discovery of DND/PNP arms and ammunition proving government support for the warlords that have delivered questionable election victories to this administration in the past?

Was it to enforce such overwhelming control to prevent any leakage of information and suppress evidence of electoral fraud and other crimes?

Was it meant to re-establish control of the alleged massive electoral fraud machinery in time for the 2010 elections?

Was this a test case for implementing martial law rule in the entire country?

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, the people deserve an answer, an explanation of the circumstances that led the administration to resort to this action. The joint session of Congress was the ideal venue for providing the needed enlightenment. Let the people’s voice be heard and indeed, it is through us that they will be heard. Let us not shirk from our responsibility, lest we transform ourselves into a passive accomplice of this administration’s penchant for constitutional defiance.

The President’s action has deprived Congress of its constitutional mandate to exercise oversight on how martial law powers are wielded.

Some claim that with the lifting of the proclamation of martial law in Maguindanao our constitutional duty in this whole exercise have become moot and academic. But as elected representatives of the people it is within our constitutional duty to ensure that this historic convening of both chambers of Congress will not be an exercise in futility.

It is for this reason, Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, that this representation urges both chambers to create a jointly appointed Independent Commission that will study and come up with recommendations to Congress in aid of legislation as to clearly define the conditions that would warrant the declaration of martial law, a definition of how the Commander-In-Chief should exercise martial law powers and to provide guidance to the Congress in the exercise of its oversight function over this presidential prerogative.

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

Aquino warns: I’ll void ‘midnight’ appointments, deals

Aquino warns: I’ll void ‘midnight’ appointments, deals
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Liberal Party standard-bearer Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III Thursday warned foreign governments and suppliers against entering into “midnight contracts” with the outgoing Arroyo administration.

Without giving specifics, the LP senator alleged that graft-ridden, “supplier-driven” deals involving the Armed Forces modernization program were “being rushed even as we speak.”

He also denounced the “midnight appointments” of administration favorites in the defense establishment.

In a wide-ranging speech at the Mandarin Oriental in Makati, Aquino said any “midnight deal” with the administration would be scrapped if proven to be disadvantageous to the government.

“We call upon suppliers and representatives of foreign governments to refrain from entering into 11th-hour contracts with this outgoing administration,” Aquino said.

“If such midnight deals are concluded just the same, they must all be subjected to the strictest scrutiny and immediately rescinded whenever warranted.”

Soldiers’ lives are the price

Aquino lambasted the administration for failing to come up with a comprehensive national security program and failing to curb “endemic corruption” in the security services.

“Every peso stolen from the budget of our security organizations represents a drop of blood of our soldiers, airmen, sailors and police officers who risk their lives in the service of our nation,” he said.

Aquino said procurement reforms that promote transparency must be fully implemented and include the participation of reputable watchdogs. “Anyone caught profiting from procurement contracts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Personal loyalties

Aquino accused the administration of undermining the defense establishment through the “midnight appointments” of favorites and through “politically driven policies and actions.”

“The most recent of these actions include midnight appointments in key leadership positions based on personal loyalties instead of merit,” he said.

Other politically driven actions were the “coddling and arming” of warlords and private armies that have acted with impunity, as shown in the Maguindanao massacre, reversal of policies to insulate the military and police from partisan politics, and the “repeated abuse” of powers by the Commander in Chief to promote a political agenda “in the guise of addressing emergencies.”

“It is unfortunate how the present administration has quickly forgotten that as a result of similar acts in the past, some of our men and women in uniform have taken to the extreme and rose in mutiny,” Aquino said.

Why warlords are protected

He said the administration was protecting warlords because they were useful during elections.

“It chose to coddle warlords willing to deliver command votes come election time rather than arrest them,” he said.

Aquino cited the Ampatuan clan as a prime example of the Arroyo administration’s failure to rein in warlords and resolve conflict in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“The infamous Ampatuans have become the symbol of everything that has gone wrong in Maguindanao, ARMM and other conflict-ridden areas. While political warlords like the Ampatuans live like kings, their own constituencies live in abject poverty and hopelessness,” Aquino said.

Ominous sign

Aquino said the recent Department of Justice decision to release suspended ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan—both massacre suspects—boded ill for the elections in Maguindanao.

“Nineteen days from today, our people will go to thousands of precincts all over the archipelago to exercise their right to vote,” Aquino said.

“The release of (the two Ampatuans) comes at a suspicious time—a few weeks before the elections. The consent of our fellow brothers and sisters in Maguindanao, we can predict, will not be given freely and honestly,” he added.

He said that from a broader perspective, the Maguindanao massacre and the Ampatuans “are the symptoms of a deeper systemic problem: The failure of the Arroyo administration to implement a comprehensive national security policy that focuses on the root causes of war and conflict.”

“Unless we correct this problem immediately, the democratic way of life will never be secure in our country and progress will remain an elusive dream,” Aquino said.

Under one flag

He said the national government, in partnership with international donor organizations, must assist the new ARMM government in building a capable bureaucracy with transparent procedures to speed up development projects.

Aquino vowed to make the peace process “transparent and participative” so that Filipinos would have a secure future “under one sovereign flag.”

“With the consent of our people, I am confident that the next six years will be a watershed period in the history of our young nation that is at peace with itself and proudly marching toward an even brighter future,” he said.

Nation building on IOUs

Nation building on IOUs
By Juan Mercado
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Come June, Benigno Aquino, Gilbert Teodoro or Manuel Villar will be president. Whoever is elected will inherit three “inevitables,” Viewpoint asserted earlier. These are: death, taxes—and nearly 93.9 million Filipinos.

Please make that four “inevitables.” To the first three, kindly add a fourth: utang or debt.

Philippine foreign debt amounted to just $1 billion when Ferdinand Marcos pledged, at his 1965 inauguration, that he would make “this country great again.” “Bisag niwang bastang walang utang,” says the old Visayan proverb. No matter if you are skinny, provided you have no debts.

Marcos & Co. didn’t heed that counsel. When People Power drove him into exile, the IOUs had bloated to $28 billion. Much of that was squandered.

Export-Import Bank bankrolled the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Constructed by Westinghouse, it straddled an earthquake fault. It never generated a single kilowatt. But cronies, like pseudo Austrian “count” Herminio Disini, made a killing.

Dirt poor Filipinos paid for this mothballed plant until 2007, when the last installment fell due. “Sumin utang kay ambayaran,” Zamboangueños say. There is no debt that is not paid.

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is running for the Senate. He has taken a sabbatical from his consuming avocation: tracking down debts of welshing presidential buddies.

These IOUs are assets parked by the dictator with cronies. After the Edsa Revolt, most denied squirreling such windfalls. Their ill-gotten wealth were ours to start with, Bongbong and family gripe.

Don’t look at me, snaps taipan Lucio Tan. All his assets were whistle-clean.

Today, total external debt towers at P1.93 trillion. About 10 percent of gross domestic product services those debts. Out of very peso in debt payment, 45 centavos will go to foreign creditors, says Rep. Teofisto Guingona III. Domestic lenders claim 55 centavos.

Every man, woman and kid here today is strapped with an IOU of P47,968. That reflects a population that quintupled since the eve-of-World War II census tallied 20 million Filipinos

There were 88,574,614 of us as of August 2007, the census claims. But this seven-year late head count is seriously flawed. Gunslingers dictated tallies in Maguindanao and much of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. There were serious undercounts in other places.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the census proclamation in April 2008. That made statistical fiction official. The data are used for just about everything—from allocating schoolhouses, gerrymandering congressional districts, slicing slabs from the Internal Revenue Allotment to computing IOUs.

Unless the next census is conducted more reliably, the incoming president and his team will have an unreliable policy tool. Yet, from day one in Malacañang, the new president will be burdened by inherited debts.

The Philippines won’t wail “Don’t cry for me, Argentina” anytime soon. Remittances from overseas workers provide, for now, a safety net against default like Evita Peron’s country did on $140 billion in foreign debts.

The World Bank classifies us as a lower middle income country. That may soothe some egos. But it slams the door to access to, for instance, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Facility or the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. Look, meanwhile, at the pinched features of malnourished kids in slums or barangays.

The New Economics Foundation calculates that “the Philippines requires 63 percent debt cancellation.” Only then can government wipe out the backlog in unmet basic needs of its citizens, such as health, education and infrastructure.

Typhoons sapped tax collections by notoriously corrupt agencies like the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs. We’ve also been peddling assets. That patches financial gaps but offers no long-time solution. And how do you tax four out of every 10 Filipinos who scrounge “below an ethical poverty line of $3 a day”?

Move beyond “motherhood statements,” the Freedom from Debt Coalition prods candidates. Sketch out, instead, concrete fiscal plans that will tamp down festering IOUs and address hunger, joblessness, etc. On her way to the exit, President Arroyo will leave a P290-billion budget deficit.

Fat chance. This remains a country where voters gawk at candidates warbling or dancing on the stage. FDC’s 12-point agenda won’t be debated in this campaign. The earliest these proposals will be dusted off is when the next debt crisis hits.

For now, the FDC proposals, like many thoughtful programs presented by NGOs and religious groups, can only be readied.

Among other things, FDC proposes a legislative overhaul, ranging from spiking automatic debt servicing, by repealing the Foreign Borrowings Act of 1966 and passing an alternative Official Development Assistance Act to regulating borrowings by local government units.

It suggests “automatic allocation measures”: six percent of GNP for education, as suggested by UNESCO; five percent of GDP for health, as recommended by the World Health Organization; and five percent for mass housing and settlement projects for the poor.

Other suggestions: Conduct an official debt audit. Scrap the R-VAT law. “Repudiate blatantly illegitimate debt cases.” “Rescind onerous contracts entered into by the national government.”

A country can’t be built on unpaid IOUs. “Never stand begging for what you have the power to earn,” the author of Don Quijote counseled.

(Email: [email protected])