Monday, December 19, 2011

Still the sick man of Asia

The Wall Street Journal once referred to the Philippines as the “perpetual sick man of Asia,” a moniker the country earned because of the pervasiveness of graft and corruption in its political institutions, and in society in general.

Observers point out that without exception, the whole Philippine government, from the Executive to the Legislative to the Judiciary, has been immersed in the culture of open and pervasive graft and plunder. The cancer of corruption has also shamefully earned us the stigma of being “the most corrupt country in Asia.”

While there is good news of the country’s recent economic performance, suggesting an unexpected recovery from its usual frail status, like a four-year low 6.4 per cent in unemployment rate and an upgrade in its credit rating from the New York-based Standard & Poor (S&P) Ratings Services, the political climate in the Philippines remains unclear, if not surreal.
President Noynoy Aquino greets Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona
during National Criminal Justice Summit in Manila. AP Photo/Malacanang Photo.
Click link to
view "Chief Justice Corona: "I am your defender!"
The imprisonment of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on charges of election sabotage and corruption, and the impeachment of her appointee, Renato Corona, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, for his bias in the court’s rulings in favour of Mrs. Arroyo, are distracting the reform agenda of the incumbent government of President Noynoy Aquino. President Aquino considers these two personalities as the main obstacles in his objective of cleaning the government of corruption that will enable him to deliver on his election campaign promise.

But in singling out his predecessor and the current Chief Justice, President Aquino’s strategy may miscarry and thrust his administration into a deeper hole where there is no possible escape.

Aquino’s zeal in eliminating corruption is already seen by many as risky and may plunge the country into instability. A Corona acquittal will inevitably erode President’s Aquino’s popularity and could engender more hostility from the judiciary.

The uncertainties of the impeachment process and the politicalization of the judiciary that it brings upon the courts could dampen economic growth and drive away foreign investment. Sluggish exports this year are already predicted to slow down the economy. Impeachment is also diverting political leaders from the more serious problems of unemployment, slow growth and inflation.

Impeachment of any sitting president or the highest magistrate could bring paralysis to the state.

With the Senate about to indict former President Joseph Estrada in 2001, a people power uprising saved the senators from convicting the first Filipino president impeached by Congress. But this kind of uprising is not possible this time. It’s like “cache-22.” If Corona is successfully impeached, Aquino will be accused of coercing the judiciary into submission. If Corona is acquitted, Aquino's public support will take a big hit. And should former President Arroyo escape conviction, President Aquino might be seen as damaged goods forever. This will further wear down his presidential cape, which the military might exploit if the situation becomes uncontrollable by civilian authority.

Or, a reversal of fortune.

With President Aquino’s triumphal disposal of his predecessor and the Chief Justice, he might be emboldened to install constitutional authoritarianism, a “creeping dictatorship” feared by some as already happening.

Corona, for the record, is the first Chief Justice and Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court to be impeached by the House of Representatives. At least 95 signatures (one-third of all members of the House) are required to impeach, and 188 of the 284 members of the House voted to impeach Corona.
Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, 15th President of the Philippines and 5th President
of the Republic. Click link to view "Viral Video 'Attacks' Aquino-Cojuangco Family
There are rumours circulating that President Aquino was personally involved in hatching the impeachment proposal, some alleging that the President was castigated by elders of his family, the Cojuangco clan, for being responsible for the loss of Hacienda Luisita. The court presided by Corona made the decision to transfer ownership of Hacienda Luisita to the hands of the farmers, which obviously disgusted the Cojuangco clan who has been in possession and control of the disputed lands for more than sixty years.

But the Senate would be a totally different scenario, however. The number of senators is smaller compared to the House of Representatives, and they are elected at large by the entire electorate. Senators have a national rather than a district constituency, thus are expected to have a broader outlook of the problems of the country, instead of being restricted by narrow viewpoints and interests. They are likely to be considered as more circumspect, or at least less impulsive than members of the House.

To indict the Chief Justice, two-thirds of the total 24 senators are required to vote in favour. This would be a tall order, and with members mostly from the legal profession, it is unlikely that the Senate would vote against a fellow member of the bar.

Corona’s impeachment will probably draw references from the experience of the United States, whose constitutional practices and provisions were written into the Philippine Constitution almost verbatim. American case law is also usually cited in the Philippine judicial system.

Only one member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Chase, had ever been subjected to the impeachment process. Chase was accused of showing his extreme Federalist bias that led to his treating defendants and their counsel in a deliberately unfair manner. The Senate acquitted Chase, holding the view that grounds for impeachment should be either based on criminality or abuse of office, rather than partisanship, thus preventing the overt politicalization of the process.

It is therefore up to the Philippine Senate to rise to the challenge. Whether it can rise beyond political partisanship remains to be seen. Corona was a “midnight appointment” to the position of Chief Justice, and a former chief of staff to President Arroyo and Presidential Legal Counsel to former President Fidel Ramos. But the legality of Corona’s “midnight appointment” has already been addressed by Congress and the Office of the President, including the other issues which are being challenged for Corona’s impartiality toward his former boss, Mrs. Arroyo.

In one of his public speeches, President Aquino has admitted that the Chief Justice remains to be the last stumbling block to his reform agenda. It will be interesting to find how the Senate will ignore political alliances and decide on the merits of the case. Otherwise, this important trial will peter out in another political scandal that will further drive the country down into an abysmal chaos. If there is any conviction, it must be clear cut, not just on the grounds of mere suspicions of wrongdoing.

But the handwriting on the wall appears unmistakably clear. In the end, partisan politics, entrenched interests, and personal greed will win over common sense and doing the right thing. It would be another sad day for Filipinos, but what could we expect from our irresponsible and oligarchic elite?
Philippine Congress in joint session. Photo courtesy of Bikoy. Click link to view "Pinoy Politicians:
Wealthy Liars, Rich Traitors & Media Darlings!" 
Paul Hutchcroft, an American political scientist, wrote in “Oligarchs and Cronies in the Philippine State: the Politics of Patrimonial Plunder,” that the Philippine oligarchic elite, where most if not all members of the Senate come from, are “booty capitalists” who prey on the weak state for its rent-extraction. They have very little incentive to demand a more predictable order, according to Hutchcroft. The principal preoccupation of these oligarchs is to gain favourable proximity to the political machinery.

With former President Arroyo out of the picture, these oligarchs and even those not closely affiliated with the present Aquino regime would be more interested in currying favours to the current occupant of Malacañang rather than demanding profound structural changes, such as strengthening an independent judiciary or keeping a transparent and responsible bureaucracy.

The Philippines is the “sick man of Asia”—and for this stigma, to paraphrase one political commentator, we should be grateful to our irresponsible elite.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the verge of a breakdown


On March 16, 1998, the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL). Hailed by both sides as a unique and landmark agreement, CARHRIHL is actually a superfluous agreement.

The GRP and the NDF panels set the objectives of CARHRIHL as follows:

1. To guarantee the protection of human rights to all Filipinos under all circumstances, especially the workers, peasants, and other poor people;

2. To affirm and apply the principles of international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population and individual civilians, as well as persons who do not take direct part or who have ceased to take part in the armed hostilities, including persons deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict;

3. To establish effective mechanisms and measures for realizing, monitoring, verifying, and ensuring compliance with the provisions of this Agreement; and

4. To pave the way for comprehensive agreements on economic, social, and political reforms that will ensure the attainment of a just and lasting peace.
Members of the New People's Army (NPA) belonging to the Pulang Bagani Command
 celebrate the 40th Founding Anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
 Photo courtesy of AKP Images. Clic klink to view "Inside the Philippines New People's
CARHRIHL in fact contained provisions already covered by various international declarations and conventions on human rights and international humanitarian law, which the Philippine government had long signed and ratified and which the NDF had also in principle adhered to.

Among the most important international declarations and conventions that the Philippines has agreed to or ratified are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (both of which entered into force in 1976), the Geneva Conventions (1949), and Protocol II (1977). In addition, both the GRP and the NDF acknowledged that CARHRIHL includes principles of human rights and international humanitarian law embodied in these instruments.

The Philippines has also in place a Commission on Human Rights and there is a wide network of human-rights groups aligned or sympathetic with the NDF, all human rights bodies that are supposed to address human rights violations.

Even the Rules for Combatants (1989) of the Philippine military direct all military personnel in the field to strictly observe and apply humanitarian principles in the performance of their duties.

So, why the need for CARHRIHL?

After almost 14 years from its adoption, CARHRIHL has barely passed through the first stage of the agreement while the GRP and the NDF panels continue to struggle with their effort to broker a peace agreement.

The spokesperson for the government panel clearly sums up its position on alleged violations of human rights by the government: “So long as there is conflict, there will always be circumstances that can be perceived as human rights violations.”

To the government only the absence of conflict would end violations to human rights. It is a state of war from their point of view. If that would be the case, the laws of war would apply. Should the government be proved culpable of violations of international humanitarian law, the government must be brought to the international criminal court for war crimes. President Noynoy Aquino and his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could be prosecuted as war criminals under the doctrine of command responsibility for extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Government chief negotiator Alexander Padilla underlined the role of the military and
police  in pursuing a negotiated political settlement with the Communist Party of the
Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front Panel (CPP-NPA-NDF).
So much about the impeachment of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, the prosecution of former President Gloria Arroyo for election sabotage and corruption, or the imminent imposition of an authoritarian government by President Aquino. The government must be teetering on the verge of a political breakdown—this is the looming crisis in our hands.

But back to CARHRIHL.

The NDF panel disagrees with the government’s position. Unless the government addresses the root causes of conflict, the NDF maintains that there will always be armed resistance by the people. Hence, the NDF believes that the government should respect human rights and resume negotiations for lasting peace.

The government, however, is not playing naïve. It believes that the NDF is using human rights violations and the CARHRIHL as a ploy to achieve belligerent status under international law. Currently, however, nations refrain from explicitly recognizing rebels as belligerents to maintain their flexibility in dealing with the parties in conflict. The only alternative for the NDF is to force the government back to the negotiations table with a foreign government as intermediary, thus creating the illusion of two sovereign powers trying to negotiate for peace.
Organizational structure of the NDF. Photo courtesy of by nina de amado. Click
link to view interview with Luis Jalandoni, chairperson of the NDF Panel, by an
Australian reporter,
But lasting peace is not even in the horizon. Here we have a government that is best described as a “cacique” democracy, dominated by a politico-economic elite composed of power families that manipulate elections through patronage, corruption and violence. On the other end of the spectrum, is a dissident organization that seeks to overthrow the government and establish a “people’s democracy” along the lines of a Stalinist-Maoist one-party dictatorship. Both are scary options, and the people who have been numbed by decades of failed experiments in democratic government would, perhaps, simply choose the status quo. With that in mind, the government is wielding its heavy military stick to preserve itself.

Both the government and the NDF would rather destroy each other militarily as well as use the peace talks as a diversionary tactic. Neither side has demonstrated genuine sincerity to the peace process.

Not to mention, the Philippines is also besieged on its southern flank by a secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a war waged for self-determination by Filipino Moslems who have never been subjugated either by colonial power or by the central government for more than five centuries. The Moslem separatists appear to have a better chance in creating their own well-delineated Bangsamoro nation, except for the military intervention by U.S. Special Forces under the guise of counterterrorism, which has been allowed by the previous and present Philippine governments.

Now the incumbent government of President Aquino is beset by opposition from the branch of government that is, under the principle of separation of powers, a co-equal branch of the executive. We have a government besieged from the left, from the right and centre, and perhaps, even from its private cordon sanitaire that is responsible for containing the president’s limited ability to govern.

Not just the peace talks with the NDF and the MILF, the entrenched politico-economic elite that dominates the state also appears to handicap President Aquino in governing the country. The impeachment of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and the imprisonment of a former president are manifestations of a bitter contest between these elitist elements, while the majority of the marginalized classes continue to pine for genuine political and economic reforms.

This contest between various sectors of the society could be a linchpin for another “people power” uprising, similar to the popular uprising against the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, and against corruption in the Estrada government in 2001. Or, perhaps, military mutinies like the failed putsches against the administration of President Corazon Aquino. It has been said that a weak government is always an effective reason for a coup d'état.

President Noynoy Aquino’s hands are full nowadays. Two years in his presidency, Aquino has yet to deliver on his election campaign promise to rid the government of corruption. Two insurgencies are testing his leadership as Commander-in- Chief. What is he going to do when the politico-economic elite that dominates the present oligarchic state turns its back against him?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Super visa – not so super

The new super visa for parents and grandparents took effect last December 1.

Canada Immigration promises to issue these visas within eight weeks of application. So, instead of waiting for eight years to visit their child or grandchildren, parents or grandparents can now come to Canada within a matter of eight weeks.
Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announces the "super visa" program
 for parents and grandparents effective December 1st . Photo courtesy of  Adrian
Wyld/Canadian Press. Click link to view  "A Statement on the New Super Visa,"
What a great relief! But wait, let’s see if this would really work.

Right now, there is a backlog of applications for sponsorship of parents and grandparents. Those waiting for approval for their visas will have to wait for eight years, possibly even ten years, if their applications were received in September 2007. In Manila, for instance, the Canadian Embassy will take 50 months or more than 4 years to assess the sponsors of these applications, and 36 more months or three years to assess the parents and grandparents being sponsored.

Why does it take so long to assess an application? How many eyes are looking at one application and how much paperwork is exchanged between Ottawa or Vegreville and the foreign office? This is where Canada Immigration should focus its efforts to reduce or eliminate the backlog.

There are about eight documents a sponsor fills out when applying to bring a parent or grandparents to Canada, which includes the checklist and the use of a representative form. This means that there are actually only six vital documents that must be reviewed by an Immigration Officer when the sponsorship application is received in Vegreville or in another immigration office inside Canada.

Assessment of an application entails examination of the applicant’s status in Canada, which is the starting point of any sponsorship application. Once status is determined, then a review of proofs of marriage, birth and other family information will follow. An evaluation of the applicant’s income will be made, and if the low income cut-off is satisfied, the application is approved in principle. This entire process does not require 50 months to complete, unless we count the number of times an Immigration Officer goes to the bathroom or breaks for coffee, lunch or a smoke of cigarette. Or factor the time spent in talking with other colleagues that may not be related to the assessment work being done.

Efficiency problem, not backlog

What this picture suggests is an efficiency problem, not a backlog.

Granting Canada Immigration could be short of manpower, still that doesn’t imply a problem of backlog. Besides, Canada Immigration measures backlog as a function of the total number of applications received each year, not as the number of applications actually processed in real time. You’ll always have a backlog problem if you simply look at the number of applications coming in, without effectively measuring efficiency. Therefore, Canada Immigration’s problem of backlog is illusory, if not totally misleading.

Just consider Canada Immigration’s claim, for example, that the new super visa application will take on average eight weeks to process. The same application forms will be filled out by the sponsors and their parents or grandparents, and similar proofs of identity, births, and other pertinent family data will be assessed. Yet, the super visa application will take only eight weeks to process, despite the additional requirements of buying Canadian medical insurance coverage and a medical examination.

The same requirements—8 weeks for a super visa to process and 8 years for sponsoring parents or grandparents.

This clearly indicates to us what the real purpose of the super visa application for parents and grandparents is. In effect, Canada Immigration is telling permanent residents and citizens that they don’t actually need to bring their loved ones in Canada to live with them. All they need is to visit, and they can stay for as long as two years, provided they have medical insurance and their sponsoring children have satisfied the low income cut-off. And they can always return again after leaving Canada because their visa will be valid for ten years. This moratorium is not a temporary pause, but a necessary conditioning of the minds of new Canadian permanent residents and citizens to accept the new order in Canada—the new policy on family reunification, which is exactly no reunification. The moratorium will surely be extended for another two or more years, especially if it works, and you have read it from this blog.

More roadblocks ahead

Intake of immigrants to Canada starting 2012 is already being significantly reduced. Whether these are foreign temporary workers, including live-in caregivers, and applicants for permanent residents.

Visas for foreign workers have already been relaxed by allowing temporary workers to stay for a maximum of four years, perhaps a concession to industry demand. The exodus of live-in caregivers has been slowed down by prolonging processing times for applications, both for first-time caregivers and caregivers applying for permanent resident status.

Most live-in caregivers waiting for the approval of their permanent resident status have already lapsed work permits and have been advised by Canada Immigration not to worry and that their work permits will be approved as soon as they are granted permanent status. Why would they still need open work permits when they are already permanent residents?

There is now a long delay in the processing of permanent resident applications by live-in caregivers, and it is unnecessarily tying them up indefinitely to their employers, even beyond their two-year work contract. This way, Canada Immigration is able to cut the supply of incoming caregivers by forcing those caregivers in the country and who are simply waiting for the approval of their permanent resident status to remain with their employers. This creates an illusion that the demand for caregivers by Canadian families is being met.

Closing the doors permanently to parents and grandparents is not possible under the current law without tinkering with the original make-up of Canadians to be allowed as permanent residents.

Will Canada, for example, disqualify applicants with older parents, such as those over 50 and above, or discriminate against married applicants with children and living grandchildren? To do this, the present law has to be amended to dispense with the objective of family reunification. A moratorium on parents and grandparents may appear reasonable and a super visa looks like a good thing in the interim.

Onerous obligations

But looking at the requirements that an applicant must meet in order to be eligible to apply for a super visa, there are at least three onerous obligations that need to be satisfied.

One, the sponsoring child or grandchild must provide a written commitment of financial support even though the low income cut-off is met. This is equivalent to a sponsorship undertaking or agreement when sponsoring a family member for permanent residence. This written commitment is unnecessary since the parent or grandparent will not be eligible for social assistance when they visit Canada.

Second, parents and grandparents must undergo medical examination, which is also a requirement under regular sponsorship. This process already takes a lot of time from the total of eight weeks allotted to complete the application.

And third, applicants or their sponsors must purchase comprehensive Canadian medical insurance, valid for at least one year. The medical insurance must provide a minimum of $100,000 in coverage and must cover the cost of the applicant’s health care, hospitalization and repatriation. The premium for this medical insurance will be a big burden for most parents and grandparents, or even to their sponsors.

Denial of right to sponsorship

Sponsorship of parents is critical to most new immigrants in this country, especially to those who have young children who can benefit from the care of their grandparents. These immigrants have contributed to the Canadian economy and many of them are on their track to citizenship; thus, they have earned the right to sponsor their parents. Yet, Canada Immigration is denying them this right and making it more difficult for parents to come here to reunite with their children and grandchildren on the pretext that they’re trying to fix the backlog problem.

We are living in critical times. The fragile world economy, the lingering eurozone crisis and the continuing joblessness in the United States, all help spur on immigration hysteria.

Advanced economies are closing their borders to the mass exodus of refugees from the Third World. Under the helm of the Conservative Party for the next four years, the Canadian government will stay on course with this trend of tightening its doors to prevent the influx of immigrants to this country.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Corruption takes a backseat


The arrest of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has caused an unnecessary public uproar, if not ambivalence. One side is almost ready to burn the former president at stake, declaring her guilty on all counts even without trial. While the rest call for slowing down the prosecution, reminding everyone that she is also entitled to a presumption of innocence.

But can a former head of state expect a fair public trial when it’s her political enemies who are in charge of the prosecution?
Former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is seen arriving on a
wheelchair at the Manila International Airport on Nov. 15, 2011. Photo by
 Noel Celis/AFPGetty Images. Click link to view "Gloria Arroyo charged with
 electoral sabotage,"
Just a wild thought: Wouldn’t it have been easier if Arroyo were lynched by a mob after being overthrown? Wouldn’t that be neat? Like Muammar Gadaffi when he was lynched by a mob of Libyan rebels in front of multiple cell phone cameras while the event was broadcast within hours all over the world. Or pretty much like every unpopular leader from Caligula to Ceaușescu after being deposed from power.

Filipinos can’t be blamed if they cry for blood. For years in power, Mrs. Arroyo had been suspected of plundering the economy to enrich herself and her own family. Remember all the scandals that plagued her administration, to mention just a few: the overpriced North Rail Project involving a $400 million loan from China's Export-Import Bank, the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal between the Philippine government and China’s ZTE Corporation, the ZTE-Mt. Diwalwal mining contract, bribery of members of Congress amounting to half a million pesos each to members of Congress in exchange for the dismissal of impeachment complaints against her, the so-called “Hello Garci” scandal wherein the President was caught on tape while tampering with the results of the 2004 elections, the fertilizer funds scandal which personally benefited Arroyo and some key officials of her government, and human rights violations, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture of individuals opposed to her administration. All these happened while the poor majority of the Filipino people wallowed in poverty and the misery it breeds.

As president, Mrs. Arroyo was accused of rigging the electoral process so she could freely cheat and ensure that the election results would keep her in power. Four times Congress tried to impeach her but all failed because she had the money and political power to silence and derail members of Congress from acting.

Now that charges were brought against the former president preventing her from leaving the country, some have criticized the action of government as hasty and without due process. The culprit is now in police custody, yet holding her in captivity is being peddled as wrong and in violation of her legal rights. What’s wrong with this picture?

Imagine if former strongman Ferdinand Marcos had been captured while fleeing Malacañang during the final hours of the EDSA People Power revolution. He would have suffered the same fate as Gadaffi and the people would be rejoicing. The lynching of Gaddafi is the new standard for the treatment of deposed despots and it will be doubtlessly imitated by others.

The transgressions of the Marcos regime were no different from the Arroyo’s. Except this time, Gloria Arroyo has no more powerful friends left to save her. Any appearance of public lynching of Gloria Arroyo in the media is therefore understandable. Arroyo should be thankful that it is much more pacified and without the violent trappings of an actual mob lynching.

However, in spite of all the drama in prosecuting Gloria Arroyo for her past misdemeanour in office, the question that remains unanswered is, what happens now to President Noynoy Aquino’s crusade against graft and corruption?
Gloria Arroyo, the 'most hated' Phillipines leader since Marcos. Photo courtesy
of  The National Conversation. Click link to view "Unexplained wealth of President
 Gloria Arroyo,"
Arroyo has been charged with sabotaging the elections in 2007. Should Arroyo be convicted and sentenced to spend time in prison, her greater sin of economic plunder will remain unpunished. Is the Aquino government pursuing only the electoral charges against former President Arroyo because corruption is much more difficult to prove? That it would have a disrupting impact on government and a disincentive for future leaders? That it could possibly open a can of worms for the present administration when it leaves—that the successor regime might also consider prosecuting crimes of corruption and thus cause an endless cycle of partisan recriminations?

Everyone on the street will tell you unequivocally that all politicians steal, that no one is truly incorruptible. Not even President Noynoy Aquino. This is as much a way of life as it is the political culture in the country.

All past presidents have been dogged with rumours and allegations of corruption. No wonder, no president under the old Constitution was re-elected for a second term except for Ferdinand Marcos who knew how to wield and control the powers of the presidency for his own benefit. Every corrupt president did not merit re-election. There was no need for prosecution, the people could always boot out the incumbent every election. Thus, the presidency was a continuously revolving door, and corruption in government became part of the institution of the presidency.

With the present one-term limit for the president, this now appears too long for a corrupt president or for an ineffective leader. This is why many still favour the old system, a perpetual revolving door—a new president every four years. But Ferdinand Marcos broke the rule, except he did it differently. Marcos was also a dictator and he imposed his will on the people. Why he was never prosecuted in a Philippine court—for corruption, abuses, and all his crimes against the Filipino people—only shows the lingering influence of his regime over the country’s political and legal system. Consider, too, that members of his family and his former political allies are back in political power without any blemish of culpability for their role during the Marcos oppressive regime.
Former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Courtesy of  wikicommons.
 Click link to view "Martial Law in the Philippines,  1972-1986,"
It seems easier for the present government to prosecute Gloria Arroyo for an electoral offence than corruption. There’s no need to disclose Arroyo’s network of irregular financial transactions that may also lead to the identification of people whom the government doesn’t want to embarrass, like foreign governments, financial institutions and contractors, or local businessmen and politicians. The government doesn’t have to inquire about the unexplained wealth of officials who run the military establishment who could be beneficiaries of Arroyo’s corruption, the very same people whose loyalty the present government needs to support and back up its administration. Proving corruption is a very complicated matter and may entail a long time to finish, perhaps even beyond the term of the present administration.

Noynoy Aquino wants Gloria Arroyo in jail before Christmas. This he can easily accomplish by sticking to the electoral offences against Arroyo. What easier accomplishment is there than putting a former president in prison for sabotaging the electoral process to ensure that she could stay in power?

Gloria Arroyo’s family and its minions would probably appease and take her conviction with less rancour. Their ill-gotten wealth remains in their hands, and there’s no urgent need to ask for presidential pardon. Politicians and businessmen who benefited from Arroyo’s corruption remain untouched or undisclosed, so the best thing for them is to simply keep quiet.

President Noynoy Aquino will always be loved by the Filipino people for putting in prison the person they hated most. Insofar as corruption is concerned, every person on the street will continue to talk about it. Ironically, the culture of corruption remains unscathed, and no sitting or former president will ever be put to trial on account of it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Prosecuting corrupt former presidents

Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo behind bars
on charges of electoral fraud filed by the Department of Justice and
the Commission on Elections.
Prosecuting sitting presidents or former ones could be the biggest challenge that faces democracy. 

It is much easier for an illegitimate government, one that has been installed by a military coup for example, because of the risk posed by a former head of state. Illegitimate governments often consider their predecessors as threats. This is also true in cases where governments had been toppled by a rebellion. A recent example is Egypt where its president, Hosni Mubarak, was arrested and brought to trial after thousands of protesters brought down the government. The death of Muammar Gadaffi in the hands of rebels and protesters pre-empted his prosecution and public trial for crimes against the Libyan people.
With the fall of Hosni Mubarak, center, a military council led by Field Marshal
 Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, left, has run Egypt. Photo courtesy of NYTimes and
 Aladin Abdel Naby/Reuters.Click link to view "Opening moments from Mubarak's
But it’s never easy in a democracy, as oftentimes it’s messy, to bring a sitting or former president to public trial for crimes or offences against the state. Ordinarily, a sitting president is constitutionally immune from ordinary prosecution but is not the moment he or she leaves office, an outcome that can be obviously hastened by impeachment.

The issue is not the president personally but the institution of the presidency. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was impeached by Congress but he survived and finished his term of office. Philippine former president Joseph Estrada was not as lucky. Although not impeached, Estrada was found guilty by the Sandiganbayan for committing economic plunder and eventually pardoned by his successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arroyo, who stepped down from the presidency in 2010, is now the defendant in a suit filed against her by the Philippines’ tandem of Department of Justice and Commission on Elections for alleged electoral fraud in 2007.

Other past presidents have been sued in court but these actions have never been successful. Augusto Pinochet is an example of how the prosecution of a former president might unfold. In 1998, the one-time dictator of Chile, then eighty-two years old, was seized in Britain on a Spanish warrant of arrest. Pinochet was charged with several crimes alleged to have been committed during his seventeen years in power—including torture, illegal detention, and forced disappearances. He was placed under house arrest in an English mansion while waiting for the outcome of several months of complex proceedings. The British determined that Pinochet was medically unfit to stand trial and returned him to Chile where he eventually died before he could get tried for his crimes.

But this peaceful process would be difficult to replicate with an American political figure. Unsuccessful attempts were made to sue former President George Bush and his vice-president, Dick Cheney, for waging an illegal war in Iraq and the illegal use of torture, including waterboarding. It would be likewise equally difficult to expect the United States to extradite former leaders who were granted political asylum in the country and regarded as friends of the American government. This probably explains why the Philippine government at that time did not exert serious efforts to have Ferdinand Marcos extradited so he could be tried for his crimes However, a civil suit against Marcos was filed in Honolulu for damages by victims of his martial law regime but the judgment against him has not been enforced to date.

There are other recent examples of suits brought against former heads of states. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been sued by federal prosecutors in Brazil, charging him of misusing public funds in sending more than 10 million letters to retirees telling them about low-interest payroll loans from Banco AMG.

Family members and survivors of the 1997 attack in the Mexican state of Chiapas that killed 45 indigenous people sued former President Ernesto Zedillo for his alleged complicity in the massacre.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines has sued former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo on charges that security forces under her control killed and tortured at least six members of the church.

Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, together with Senator Panfilo Lacson and others were sued before a California Court for compensatory and punitive damages for the killing of Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver Emmanuel Corbito in November 2000, under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victim Protection Act, both American statutes.

A Chilean court has allowed a lawsuit to proceed against the former president, Michelle Bachelet, over failings in Chile's tsunami warning system during the 2010 earthquake. Victims of the tsunami have accused Ms. Bachelet and other senior officials of “denial of assistance” over the tsunami which struck after the 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

The relatives of 11 French engineers killed in a 2002 bombing in Pakistan have brought charges against former President Jacques Chirac, claiming he ignored risks of reprisals against French personnel by stopping bribe payments to Pakistani officials.

Trivial and serious suits can be brought against former presidents but the likelihood of their success is very small. When Barack Obama was asked in August 2008 during the presidential campaign if he would seek to prosecute officials of the Bush administration for the illegal use of torture during the Iraqi war, he offered a very guarded response. He said, “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as partisan witch-hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.” His adviser similarly warned that pursuing prosecutions of Bush administration officials would generate a cycle of partisan recriminations. This is a plausible explanation why prosecuting former presidents has never been commonly resorted to.

But creating a precedent and thereby opening a floodgate of future suits against former presidents was not foremost in the mind of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III when he ordered the laying of charges against his predecessor. Upon succeeding Gloria Arroyo as president of the republic, Noynoy Aquino’s first major decision in office was to create a Truth Commission that would investigate and prosecute Gloria Arroyo for corruption during her years in power. That was his campaign promise and he wanted to keep his word.

However, Noynoy Aquino was tripped by the Supreme Court which declared his Truth Commission unconstitutional on the ground that it violated Ms. Arroyo’ s right to equal protection under the Constitution. It took Noynoy Aquino and his administration more than 500 days to regroup and devise another scheme to go after Arroyo, this time charging her of election fraud. The Supreme Court might as well rebuff Noynoy Aquino again for hastily pulling out an arrest warrant against Arroyo that contravened a previous order by the High Court to vacate a temporary order restraining Arroyo from leaving the country for medical consultation abroad.
Former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is seen with a neck brace
 as she  arrives on a wheelchair for a flight to Hong Kong at the Ninoy Aquino
 International  Airport where she was eventually  prevented from leaving. Click
link to view "Arrest warrant issued for former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo,"
This is looking more and more like Noynoy Aquino’s personal mission to prosecute Gloria Arroyo than anything else. That he was willing to sidestep the legal niceties is proof of his rabid determination to accomplish his election promise, although not in pursuit of those guilty of corruption. But then, electoral fraud might as well be on the same plane as corruption, because this was equally an abuse of power in order to stay in power.

No one is above the law, and that applies to President Noynoy Aquino, his predecessor former President Gloria Arroyo, and to their legal minions. Arroyo’s day of reckoning could have been hastened if only Congress decided to impeach and remove her on the same charges of corruption and electoral fraud while she was still in office.

Once out of office, former President Arroyo is still accountable to law and to the country. The question though is how, when, and by whom.

After Richard Nixon resigned from the U.S. presidency following the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for all actions committed during his presidency. Ford did not find it beneficial to the country that a former president be brought to trial. To President Ford, trying Nixon was less important than preserving the tranquility of the nation by avoiding a divisive prosecution.

Noynoy Aquino does not have this kind of dilemma. He has the popular support of the Filipino people. All he has to do—and this means his own legal advisers—is to ensure that Arroyo’s prosecution is within the bounds of the law. President Aquino’s actions, so far, appear capricious and merely vindictive, thus he could be wasting the enormous political capital the people have invested by electing him as president.

In a democracy, the decision to prosecute a former head of state is ultimately a balancing act between the retributive and utilitarian functions of the law. The retributive function assumes that the law should be applied equally, regardless of rank and privilege. When presidents engage in misconduct and violate the law, they betray public trust. They place their office in disrepute and invite disrespect of the law. Anyone who steals or abuses public funds deserves to be arrested and prosecuted. And there should be no impunity because no one is above the law.

On the other hand, there is nothing to be gained politically in prosecuting a former president. The prosecution of one head of state may lead to divisiveness, and may dilute the quality of politicians if succeeding leaders fear prosecution for actions taken while serving the country.

There appears to be a huge public outrage over Gloria Arroyo’s abuse of power in plundering the country’s economy and in keeping her in power by sabotaging the electoral process. It will serve the country well, and create an effective institutional deterrent for future politicians, to prosecute Gloria Arroyo for her egregious violations of the law. If only President Noynoy Aquino could stay within the parameters of the law and not let vindictiveness or vengefulness become the principal driving force for his actions.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Poverty as a moral dilemma


Poverty is a condition that a vast majority of people in the world suffers from. Today, poverty exists amidst a world of plenty.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and like movements around the world have focused on this condition as 99 per cent of society struggles to survive while its 1 per cent luxuriates in wealth accumulation. This is what makes the protesters angry, the fact that poverty co-exists with affluence. The OWS protests are also furious that the larger socio-economic system is greatly responsible for this general malaise and the rich are not doing their share in resolving this issue.
Occupy Wall Street, New York City. Photo courtesy of Paul Stein, Click link to view  "Naomi Klein
 Interview  at Occupy Wall Street ."
The issue of extreme inequality has been recast as a moral problem. Morality in politics is no longer simply about sexual preferences, reproductive choices, or the sex scandals involving elected leaders. Now, the burning issue of the day seems to be the morality of contemporary financial capitalism.

Whether measured in terms of private consumption, income or wealth, the gap between the affluent and the global poor has continued to grow at an alarming pace in the last few decades. At least one billion people in the developing world lack minimally adequate nutrition, health care, housing, and educational opportunities.

Poverty creates massive human suffering and misery, especially for children. Every year, ten million children under the age of five in the Third World die from preventable diseases. Millions of these children grow cognitively or physically severely underdeveloped. On the other hand, people living in the wealthy industrial societies of the North have more than enough income to routinely discard many still serviceable goods.

That severe poverty in a world of abundance would be insufficient to create a moral challenge for the affluent is beguiling. It is a fact that seems hardly a serious ethical concern.
Almost half the world, over three billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day. From Poverty
 Facts and Stats by Anup Shah. Click link to view "Dr. Jeffrey Sachs - Giving What We Can"
Why is it that there’s very little success in convincing affluent citizens that global poverty should be a high moral priority for them?

Dr. Rüdiger Bittner, a philosophy professor at Universität Bielefeld in Germany, has offered three explanations why affluent people have not accepted as their moral duty to help alleviate world hunger and poverty.

First, Bittner explains that people are immoral and do not care much about the suffering caused by global poverty. Second, he believes that people in affluent societies are simply slow in understanding that global poverty is a moral issue. And Bittner’s final explanation is that affluent citizens are not morally persuaded by global poverty because it is not a real problem setting or task or duty for them.

Christian believers, perhaps followers of others faiths too, would be quick to dismiss Bittner’s suggestion that people simply don’t care about the sufferings of others. There are those who would argue that poverty and morality are connected based on their understanding of the Bible. In Deuteronomy, for instance, the Bible speaks of a future time where there will be no poor because God will bless everyone in the land He has given them. However, to arrive at this kind of bountiful society, it would be through God’s blessings and not through policies aimed at confiscating wealth from its creators, which sounds like the core of Republican Party belief. Most Republicans believe that the war on poverty started by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 was a dismal failure, that small government and economic freedom are the best answers to poverty. As Hadley Heath of the Independent Women’s forum explained, the various income redistribution schemes imposed by the federal government were bad for taxpayers—and bad for poor people.

People being immoral and impassive to the sufferings of others—this is the kind of argument that reduces our humanity. Call it idealism but it is still possible to appeal to the better angels of our nature.

Bittner’s second explanation that affluent people are quite slow in grasping the moral dimension of the problem of global poverty seems a more realistic argument. But this is so only insofar as Bittner maintains that world hunger is not a moral problem for the affluent because it is not “imputable,” i.e., it cannot be credited or charged, to one or more specific agents.

According to Bittner, moral discourse is only appropriate with regard to states or events that can be “imputed,” i.e., credited or charged, to one or more specific agents. Bittner writes: “World hunger is non-imputable because “we do not have a clear understanding of who brought it about, or who is bringing it about.”

Bittner goes on to explain that morally sensitive persons should not morally evaluate their actions because any decisions they make on world hunger are obscure and ridiculously small. Their decisions would not make a difference, and since nobody is clearly responsible, Bittner says that moral assessment won’t thrive on such ground.

But Bittner seems to exaggerate the extent to which we lack an understanding of the causes of world hunger and poverty. To hold that sharing responsibility means that there is no personal responsibility is empirically wrong. Take the case of apartheid in South Africa and the role of white citizens in sustaining this unjust system. Their contribution may be small but it does not mean that they lacked responsibility for apartheid. At the minimum, it is their responsibility to seek to change the system, as the affluent have a duty to change their system of economic privilege. This they can do by advocating political change and by supporting nongovernmental organizations that aim to assist the poor.

Bittner’s third explanation seems to suggest that global poverty is a political issue, not a moral one. It is related to and an extension of his second argument.

According to Bittner, global poverty is not a moral problem because it fails to satisfy two necessary conditions: that those be in some way close to the agent upon whom that agent is doing something that is to be morally assessed, and that the relevant good or bad states or events can be clearly credited to some particular agent or agents. Neither condition is fulfilled, so it lacks morality’s endorsement. Yet, the abolition of global poverty may still be a political goal.

Bittner argues that the aim of moral actions is to improve the lives of people who are close to us. The global poor are not close to the affluent people in the North, so they are outside the scope of their moral compass.

To Bittner, the duty to assist others in great need is limited to people who are part of their political community. American citizens, for instance, privately donate less than $15 per capita to foreign countries, but their total private charitable contributions are around $700 per capita. This suggests that people feel compassion for good causes, but primarily for those of their fellow citizens.

There is nothing obviously wrong with this type of prioritizing, but it doesn’t fully explain why global poverty is not a moral task for the affluent. The duty to aid may be a duty of justice since the affluent are at least partly responsible for the existence of global poverty. This is central to the recent work of Dr. Thomas W. Pogge, director of the Global Justice Program at Yale University, in a stark contrast with Bittner’s arguments on the lack of a moral duty of the affluent to alleviate global poverty.

In World of Poverty and Human Rights, one of the most prominent and controversial books in contemporary political philosophy, Pogge argues that wealthy Western liberal democracies are currently harming the world’s poor. This is very evident in the resource and borrowing privileges that international society extends to oppressive rulers of impoverished states, which play a crucial role in perpetuating absolute poverty.

Pogge maintains that these resource and borrowing privileges persist because they are in the interest of wealthy states. The resource privilege guarantees a reliable supply of raw materials for the goods enjoyed by the members of wealthy states, and the borrowing privilege allows the financial institutions of wealthy states to issue lucrative loans. It may seem that such loans are good for developing states too, but Pogge argues that, in practice, they typically work quite to the contrary. Consider the foreign loans granted to the Marcos government during the 1970s or the much more recent Arroyo administration, and take stock of whether they helped alleviate poverty in the Philippines. Pogge urges us to recognize the ways in which international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF facilitate and exacerbate the corruption perpetuated by national institutions.

Without denying the culpability of local leaders, Pogge argues that the world’s poor are not merely suffering because we are doing too little to help. Moreover, they are being actively and wrongly harmed by a system of global political and economic arrangements that is disproportionately shaped by and for wealthy Western societies.

Pogge contends that the affluent have a duty of justice to aid the global poor because they are the beneficiaries of an unjust history of colonialism and because they use most of the world’s diminishing natural resources without compensating the global poor who use them hardly at all. Whether these links of responsibility are too weak or so diffuse to impose a moral duty on the affluent brings us back full circle to the protestations of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Occupy Wall Street, New York City. Photo courtesy of The Whistling Monkey.
Click link  to view "Occupy Wall Street Through the Eyes of the World,"
Occupy Wall Street and like movements around the world may soon be dispersed and ultimately disbanded. But the issue of inequality, which is one issue the Occupiers are angry about, will continue to resonate no matter what happens to their movement in the short term.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sex and the politician

Why is it that the American public is so enamoured with the scandalous liaisons between private life and politics?

This is almost a universal soft spot among Americans, whether the object of ridicule is a public figure or a celluloid superstar.

Sex life, especially outside the marriage or a monogamous relationship, is actually interesting news. Because we allow media to cover and investigate it to the utmost detail. And this is not just true of our politicians and high-ranking government officials or the movie world’s most exciting couples. Even the ordinary or the most private of individuals write about their sexual angst to media advice columnists, disguising themselves in haplessly silly names.
American politicians linked with sexual scandals during their term in office.
Photo courtesy of CBS/AP. Click link to view "10 Biggest Sex Scandals,"
For politicians in particular, public exposé of their shenanigans outside of the conjugal bed could be a career-ender. An incomplete list of some recent offenders includes former U.S. president Bill Clinton, ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former New Jersey gay governor Jim McGreevey, former congressman Mark Foley, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and current California lieutenant governor, former senators David Vitter and Larry Craig, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, and former senator and presidential aspirant John Edwards.

Some in the list survived the constant hounding of the press and trial by publicity like Clinton, Gingrich, Giuliani and Newsom. Their political lives, however, have been forever scarred. Their sexual indiscretions would always be added as more fascinating footnotes to their otherwise waning political careers.

While other advanced democracies such as France and Italy would not place too much weight or attention to their leaders’ private lives, especially to what is happening inside their bedrooms, America, however, is an exceptionally strange place. Here, politics and entertainment intersect. Scandals and sexual innuendoes are normal only in the sense that these are reported, but always frowned upon by both the conservative and liberal segments of American society.

Herman Cain, on top of the leader board among those competing for the Republican Party nomination in the next U.S. presidential election, is the most recent high profile figure to receive public scrutiny for allegations of sexual harassment. This is much different from sexual misadventures outside of marriage. It is almost comparable to the allegations made against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his nomination hearing and to the charges levelled against former International Monetary Fund honcho Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Strauss-Kahn had been rumoured to be the next Socialist Party presidential candidate in France until the allegations brought him down, despite being cleared afterwards.

No matter the quick resolution of Herman Cain’s saga of shifting responses to the allegations of sexual harassment, he is still in the thick of the presidential race although almost everyone in the press has already dismissed his candidacy. It seems only a matter of time before Cain would eventually bow out, just like the others whose sexual improprieties have been exposed to public scrutiny.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain answers questions about sexual
 harassment  allegations. (AP/Photo) Pablo Martinez Monsivais. Click link to to view "Herman Cain Accuser - He
tried to grab my genitals."
According to a study conducted by a Dutch professor of psychology, the likelihood of infidelity increases the more powerful someone is. From an analysis of respondents from low-level management positions to top level executives, the study confirmed that the higher someone was in the hierarchy, the greater the chances of cheating with another partner.

This runs in contrast with the amateurish psychoanalytic rumbling of Rush Limbaugh on radio about the probable causes that led former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner to show on the Internet how sexually endowed he was. Limbaugh has even suggested that liberal women are to be held at fault for political sex scandals, specifically blaming their supposed efforts to suppress testosterone in men.

Limbaugh said Weiner had been hanging around too much with a bunch of liberal women who have been attacking testosterone and traditional male roles. Weiner has been “kitty-whipped,” Limbaugh said. “He was no longer a real guy,” Limbaugh added.

During the radio show, Limbaugh said that liberal women have "neutered the business of politics," by suppressing testosterone in men.

Sadly for Limbaugh, his theory wasn’t merely ludicrous, degrading and utterly disconnected to feminism. It is simply illogical and nonsensical as well. It fails to explain the numerous sex scandals involving conservative men, like Herman Cain, for instance.

Perhaps, America does not want its president or any of its political leaders to exploit their influence and power to exact sexual favours even if these have nothing to do with the jobs they have sworn to do. Sexually harassing women, however, is not the same as currying for sexual advantages. Here lies Herman Cain’s greater misdeed, whether the allegations against him prove to be true, or settled, thus absolving him of any liability or guilt.

As there is no speculation about his sexual secrets, would Barack Obama cut the figure of robust integrity then?

Michael Wolf wrote in Vanity Fair that his friend, a middle-aged white doctor and Obama supporter, said that Obama would never have the same sex problems these aforementioned politicians have. “Because Michelle would whip his skinny ass,” this friend was alleged to have said.

True to the findings of the Dutch study, here is Obama as a controlled man, not one obsessed with power and hints of sexual desperation. According to Wolf’s friend, his is “our ideal of a good liberal’s sex life ought to be.”