Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Saving face

The Filipinos’ knack to poke fun at themselves is beyond belief. Self-ridicule seems almost a justification for all and everything, whether it’s for misery or bliss.
We indict ourselves for our inability to follow the “rule of law” as the rationale for where we are now as a society or a nation, perpetually struggling to move up as others have already left us in the dust. As one blogger wrote: “Filipinos cannot progress if they cannot follow even simple guidelines.”
Where is the truism in this?
Yet, traditional Filipino culture reflects an enduring and time-honoured reverence for family values such as respect for elders and people in authority, in the spirit of bayanihan (cooperation), and the fruits of hard work. The Christian faith has also taught Filipinos to be eternally hopeful and to show their faith not only in the observation of church rituals but also in helping and serving others in need.
Manila compared to "gates of hell" by American author, Dan Brown.
With respect to laws, Filipinos have always lived under a regime of a law of rules since time immemorial, whether in the larger and narrower sense of the law as it relates to limits and sanctions on social and individual behaviour. Whatever violations or aberrations exist either as often or once in a while, these are common occurrences that are not solely endemic to Filipinos. After all, the crime rate in the Philippines is still lower than in Chicago or Detroit, for example. Or the chances of getting killed by guns are higher in Iraq or Afghanistan or even in the U.S. than in the Philippines.
Filipinos, in general, are slow to anger and not too easy to be aroused to rebel against their government to seek redress for grievances even if these would be sufficient to stir a civil war or widespread rioting in other societies. That despite corruption in government and dishonesty of its elected officials, Filipinos have kept their trust in their political system and continued to go through the periodic rituals of national and local elections even though these have not benefited them directly through greater access to social services such as education and health or to opportunities for a better life.
Where else in the whole world could we find people who are as easygoing as Filipinos, as if their social problems don’t really matter? Or where the capital city is described by a foreign writer like the gates of hell and yet would accept it as a matter of fact, not pure fiction, and even make fun of it? Or where the incompetence of their politicians is vividly displayed on television in competition with regular soaps but even this would not raise hackles enough to jolt the entire country?
Or where could you find various forums or discussion groups, whether on Facebook and other forms of social media, which provide an enlightened free-wheeling exchange of opinions on what ails the nation – from lack of sanitation and sewage system to urban planning? Or where else could you find so many pundits and newspaper columnists who never run out of ideas on how to run the government or change society in general?
Our society as a whole seems to have been infected by the virus of intellectualism that every hub where people gather or chat can boast of a discussion group bursting with good ideas.
Our country is an oddity in itself, an abnormal exception to the rule. It is not because Filipinos cannot follow guidelines or subject themselves to the grand imperial reign of the rule of law. But perhaps, because we have so much of these rules already, that we have been paralyzed to suffer in silence and acquiescence. Or is it simply, we are just a people who love to talk, talk, talk.
Because we love to talk, we also love to denigrate ourselves. We enjoy exposing our frailties and shortcomings; we don’t mind if foreigners like the writer Dan Brown would paint an ugly picture of our capital city, or Hollywood actors such as Claire Danes could dismiss Manila as “just f--king smelled of cockroaches,” or in more graphic terms, “There's no sewage system in Manila, and people have nothing there. People with, like, no arms, no legs, no eyes, no teeth.... Rats were everywhere.”
Our martyr complex numbs us to embrace these condescending remarks as the harsh reality of our fair city and forget that such horrible characterizations could also apply to other cities of the world, not just to us. But while other societies are apt to revolt, Filipinos would just shrug their shoulders and accept their travails as ordinary humdrum occurrences. If Manila were the gates to hell, then everyone passes through its gates before entering the afterlife.
Kidding aside, our country has progressed since we deposed that dictator Ferdinand Marcos. That’s a fact, not fiction. But not very much, though. The martial law years put our country back in the throes of the dark ages and we have not fully recovered from our false attraction for a strong leader. Little did we know that a leader could only be as strong as the people like them to be.
In 1987, the country ratified an important piece of document, a body of rules we ought to follow as a nation, which we call our Constitution. In this document, safeguards against a dictatorship or a return to an oppressive system of government were installed which are popularly known as the democratic provisions of the Constitution.
If we want change, we don’t have to start big, in the hopes that if we are successful, the many little things that we nitpick and grumble about daily will disappear. Neither do we have to be too ambitious.
Let’s just start with the basics. With what we have right now. Yes, with these so-called democratic provisions and see how far we could go. After all, it’s been 26 years since the 1987 Constitution was ratified and none of these so-called democratic provisions ever saw the light of day in the form of practical pieces of legislation.
What are these democratic provisions of the 1987 Constitution?
The Constitution speaks of prohibition against political dynasties in Section 26, Article II. There has been no successful initiative in Congress to define and implement this prohibition against political dynasties so far but it has been a hot political topic every election year.
Article 5 of Article VI provides for a party-list representation, a mechanism of proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives from marginalized or underrepresented sectors of society. Although this provision has been implemented as early as the May 14, 2001 elections, the party-list law is so murky and unclear that its implementation by Comelec is far from being adequate and effective or questionable if it truly serves the mandate under the Constitution.
A system of initiative and referendum is provided under Section 32, Article VI whereby the people can directly propose and enact laws or approve or reject any act or law passed by Congress. This provision apparently recognizes the effectiveness of referendum in advanced democracies, but so far, this remains untouched and has not been translated into law.
Another popular innovation in advanced democracies—a mechanism of recall—found its way in the 1987 Constitution, Section 3, Article X, but is only applicable to local government-elected officials. It is a positive step towards democratization of local politics but Congress has remained silent or simply uninterested in enacting an enabling law.
Lastly, and this has been controversial and has raised several questions before the Supreme Court, the 1987 Constitution in Section 2, Article XVII has allowed for amendments of the Constitution through a people’s initiative, in addition to calling a constitutional convention or holding a constituent assembly.
All these provisions are in the Constitution. They are there to recognize and uphold the bedrock democratic principle of government that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them, as declared under Section 1, Article II of the Constitution.
If President Noynoy Aquino is r-e-a-l-l-y serious about his presidency and historical legacy, he could direct his attention to these democratic provisions in the Constitution for the remainder of his term. The demand and public clamour already exists, but our leaders in Congress have remained deaf or intentionally playing dumb to listen.
Philippine President Noynoy Aquino ponders about the legacy
of his presidency.
It was during President Cory Aquino’s tenure that the 1987 Constitution was ratified, an important milestone in the country’s history. The country had just been liberated and was rising from the ashes of repression during the martial law years. President Noynoy Aquino, the son, could now complete the country’s ultimate return to democracy, if only he has the political will to do so. Completing his mother’s greatest legacy could be a crowning achievement of his presidency rather than the vacuous “daang matuwid” philosophy of government he’s been selling from day one.
If nothing of this sort happens, then the Filipino people should put President Aquino on notice, that they are seceding from the republic and forming a new government. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is about to form their own Bangsamoro nation, thanks to President Aquino, so why can’t the people do just the same? If nothing happens, we might as well all head to the hills and join the rebels.
President Noynoy Aquino can still save his derrière by acting as a true leader now—meaning, TODAY.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A weakling’s response

It was an apology that wasn’t an apology. Worse yet, a weakling’s show of remorse after wilting to pressure from a foreign government that has no diplomatic relations with the Philippines.
The Taiwan government rejected as insincere the apology issued by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III for the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman last May 9 on Philippine waters just north of the island of Batanes. Taiwan’s premier Ma Ying-jeou rallied his countrymen to “prepare for a prolonged war” as he announced a slew of sanctions to be imposed against the Philippine government, which included an immediate ban on the recruitment of Filipino workers, the recall of the Taiwanese representative in Manila and an order to the Philippine envoy in Taipei to return home.
Taiwanese fishermen burn Philippine flag as they  protest inTaipei last May 13
against the killing of a local fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard. Click link to view Taiwan vs. Philippines
(The Fishing War) - Golden Retriever vs. Chihuaha.

More sanctions from the Taiwan government could be expected such as the suspension of economic and trade relations between the two nations and a ban on tourism travel to the Philippines. All sanctions considered, both countries will be hard-pressed, although the Philippines will be hit hard most.
Taiwan is behaving like a great power that looks down on little countries in Asia like the Philippines. One foreign observer noted that even India is a small country in Taiwan’s eyes.
Taiwan doesn’t want just an apology but also to conduct its own investigation of the shooting incident. President Noynoy Aquino has blinked first, exposing his obvious lack of preparedness to face a diplomatic row similar to his handling of the Rizal Park hostage-taking incident in 2010 involving Chinese citizens from Hong Kong.
Foreign policy appears to be the weakest chink in President Aquino’s armour. After being rattled by Chinese bullying in the South China Sea, Aquino had to run to America, his former colonial master, for help. Spurned by the ASEAN for his proposal for a united stand against China in the South China Sea conflict, President Aquino went alone for an international arbitration of the dispute which would most likely prolong the impasse instead of solving it. To date, China continues its aggressive behaviour in intruding in Philippine territory in the South China Sea and President Aquino could do nothing but issue empty reassurances that the Philippines has the capability to repel any foreign intervention.
When the ragtag army of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu attempted to recover Sabah which it claims has been the sultanate’s property all along last March, President Aquino again could not do anything but watch in horror as Filipino Muslims were massacred by the Malaysian military. This just proves President Aquino’s weakest suit as Taiwan now takes its turn in bullying the Philippines.
The Philippine government has acquiesced to Taiwan’s demand that it conduct its own investigation of the shooting incident in the Bashi Channel where the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of both countries overlap. In agreeing to a parallel probe, the Philippines has waved the white flag although it has also allowed Hong Kong the same right to jointly investigate the hostage-taking incident in 2010. At least, Hong Kong is part of China which has diplomatic relations with the Philippines. But one wonders why the Philippine government didn’t demand that Malaysia similarly accede to a joint investigation of the Sultan of Sulu’s failed foray on Malaysian land?
There are reports that Filipino workers in Taiwan are being subjected to physical assaults and harassment as Taiwan’s nationalistic jingoism heats up. The interests and protection of Filipino workers must have weighed heavily on President Aquino’s mind in giving in to Taiwan’s demand for a joint investigation rather than defending the country’s territorial integrity. This kind of father-figure was sorely lacking in the President Aquino’s diplomatic stance during the massacre of Filipino Muslims in Malaysia last March.
Besides an official apology and a joint investigation by Taiwan and the Philippines, the Taiwanese government is also demanding compensation for the fisherman’s family, punishment for the guilty and bilateral talks over a fisheries agreement to avoid similar incidents. In other words, Taiwan is dictating the terms of an acceptable resolution, leaving the Philippine government with nothing to do but comply. But these are not preconditions in promoting diplomatic peace and harmony. Instead, these are terms coming from a position of arrogance.
If international relations would be carried out unilaterally, then such relations should be called by another name. Taiwan is behaving badly and its reaction to the shooting incident is way out of proportion, especially for a country which has not been officially recognized by its neighbours in the region.
In allowing its citizens to turn their nationalistic anger toward Filipino workers who are fully blameless, Taiwan is committing xenophobia and racial intolerance. Is Taiwan actually gearing up for war? It’s ludicrous to think so.
Should the safety and security of Filipino workers in Taiwan be the Philippines’ primary concern, the government should prepare a plan to repatriate these workers and not simply caution them about limiting their visibility that could further enrage the citizens of Taiwan. Just like in previous wars such as those in Iraq and Libya, the Philippine government immediately took steps to repatriate Filipino overseas workers caught in danger’s way. The government should not vacillate and worry about the loss of jobs and dollar remittances. Nothing is more important than the safety of Filipino workers, especially when Taiwan is ratcheting up its threat of a “prolonged war” with the Philippines.
Never mind that Taiwan is the Philippines’ fourth largest source of remittances from Asia. Or Taiwan was the fifth largest source of foreign tourists (216,511) last year. Or Taiwan was the Philippines’ ninth biggest trading partner and eighth largest source of foreign investments.
The Philippine government does not deserve to be treated in an arrogant and high-handed manner by Taiwan. It has continued to treat Taiwan as a friend by maintaining economic and trade relations despite of the One-China Policy. Is there any more room left to allow diplomacy to work?

Amid row with China, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III announces
$1.8 billion military upgrade vs. "bullies."
Allowing Taiwan to conduct a parallel probe of the shooting incident is demoralizing to the Philippine Coast Guard in particular, but also establishes a wrong precedent. From now on, we could expect foreign governments to demand that they conduct their own investigation of any shenanigans committed by their nationals on Philippine soil or waters. When Filipino citizens are victims of crimes or suspects of criminal wrongdoing abroad, never has the Philippine government demanded that its National Bureau of Investigation be allowed to conduct its own probe. Our NBI does not act in the same way as the US Federal Bureau of Investigation or the CIA when American interests are at jeopardy abroad. We just don’t have the ability and resources, and we are only a small nation and our timidity is only natural and to be expected.
But at least the Philippine government can use diplomacy by requesting the safe repatriation of Filipino workers when they are unnecessarily placed in harm’s way. There is no substitute for the safety and lives of our overseas workers, and this should be the single and most important factor that the president must consider.
If it would mean a significant drop in foreign remittances by overseas Filipino workers, then that it is the price we must pay. Maybe this a wake-up call for the government to concentrate its efforts in generating jobs instead of prostituting our skilled workers overseas. It’s about time for our government economic planners to realize that overreliance on foreign remittances is not the best way to strengthen the economy. In addition to promoting job growth, the government should redirect its economic priorities in developing local industry which is necessary to arrest the foreign drain of talents because this is the most effective way of achieving full employment.
The real test of an effective national leader is not solely his ability to win elections for his party. If this is so, then President Aquino must be a good and strong leader and he has passed the test.
But when his countrymen are being slaughtered in a foreign land or when a foreign government tells him his apology is not enough, that he should accept the foreign state’s demands or else face more sanctions, then that president must be lacking of courage and will to stand up for his country. In any estimation, that president is a weakling.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The path of least resistance

If we are to construct a hierarchy of excuses for the dismal performance of those candidates whom we would have liked to win in the last May 13th elections, on top would be “the idiots” who voted for those not supposed to win.
These are the masses, the ordinary people who are not educated to vote according to Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. Yet, these are the same people that traditional Filipino politicians woo (or buy in most cases) their votes every election time.
We always blame the poor masses, because it is easy to point out their inability to choose wisely and their vulnerability to material inducements. Candidates from political dynasties take advantage of their families’ fame and the legacy of those in their families who did well in politics, movies, business and sports. Particularly in the election of senators, popularity and money are all the candidates need in order to win.
Results of the 2013 Philippine elections showing the 12 winning senatorial candidates from the
major political parties and political dynasties.
It is not the masses who are at fault. Rather, it is the politicians and the oligarchic elite they represent who have made elections a meaningless popularity contest.
Why do we elect senators nationwide, in the first place? They don’t represent a basic constituency. Besides, only those with money, power and name recognition could win. The results have always been the same ever since senators were elected nationally.
No senator, for instance, has ever been elected on the basis of job competency and integrity, except for a very few like Jovito Salonga, Jose Diokno or Lorenzo Tañada.
The likes of Teddy Casiño, Risa Hontiveros or Ed Hagedorn have virtually zero chances of winning despite their impressive political credentials compared to Grace Poe, Nancy Binay, Cynthia Villar, JV Ejercito Estrada or Bam Aquino who all relied on the magic appeal of their family names.
In 1946, Luis Taruc, former Hukbalahap Supremo and five of his fellow candidates for the Democratic Alliance decided to run for Congress. They abandoned their armed insurgency against the government and chose to take the path of least resistance. But once elected, all six members of the Democratic Alliance were prevented from attending Congress to vote against an important legislation such as the Bell Trade Act and an amendment to the Philippine Constitution that would grant United States citizens equal economic rights with Filipinos, particularly in the exploitation of natural resources.
Many Filipino nationalists including those in the left like Taruc and his colleagues in the Democratic Alliance opposed giving parity rights to American citizens. But the US government stipulated in the Philippine Rehabilitation Act of 1946 that payment of war damages amounting to US$620 million was contingent on Philippine acceptance of the parity clause.
Taruc and his fellow elected Democratic Alliance representatives were denied their seats in Congress on cooked-up charges of fraud and violence during the election campaign, which left them with no other choice but to dig up their arms and resume the Huk rebellion. In a similar vein, President Noynoy Aquino this time wanted all his candidates for senators to win in the last elections to secure a docile majority in Congress so he could easily shove his pet project, the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement, without stiff opposition.
The next time militant candidates would venture in electoral politics was during the post EDSA-elections of 1987 through the hastily-organized Partido ng Bayan, which fielded a senatorial slate that included former New People’s Army chief Bernabe Buscayno (Kumander Dante), National Democratic Front chair Horacio “Boy” Morales, Kilusang Mayo Uno leader Rolando Olalia, labour leader Crispin Beltran, newsman and publisher Jose Burgos, peasant leader Jaime Tadeo, and beauty queen-turned-activist Nelia Sancho. Partido ng Bayan also fielded 36 candidates in the congressional race and supported allies in the local elections.
Those in the Left found themselves painfully dancing with their enemies in the latter’s domain and the ensuing result was a miserable failure with all its senatorial candidates losing in the elections. Partido ng Bayan would soon disband after their disastrous foray in the political arena.
The legal Left would rejoin parliamentary politics in 1998 using the party-list system in entering the elite-dominated Congress.
Under the banner of Bayan Muna, the Left won three seats for party-list organizations in 2000 that surprised even some hardcore members of the underground movement. In 2004, Bayan Muna expanded its electoral base with additional party-list seats for the peasant and worker-based Anakpawis and the women party-list Gabriela. It added another seat for the youth-based Kabataan in 2007.
To further expand its influence, Bayan Muna and other leftist party-list organizations formed a broad alliance called Makabayan. It entered into a tactical alliance with mainstream political parties that would help improve the chance of its prospective candidates at winning in national elections.
In 2010, Makabayan fielded Bayan’s Satur Ocampo and Gabriela’s Liza Maza, whose terms as party-list representatives were ending, as senatorial candidates in an uneasy coalition with presidential candidate Manny Villar of the Nationalista Party. Villar’s senatorial slate also included Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator and it meant that Ocampo and his Makabayan alliance would have to grudgingly campaign for the younger Marcos. Both Ocampo and Maza failed to win.
In last Monday’s May 13 elections, Makabayan fielded Teddy Casiño as its candidate for senator but Casiño failed miserably in joining the magic 12 by finishing in the 22nd spot. So with Risa Hontiveros, candidate of the social democratic party-list Akbayan, but at least she finished a notch higher than Casiño.
Why have the progressive and leftist groups not learned their lesson?
The biggest problem with Philippine electoral politics is that the system is rigged in favour of the candidates of the oligarchic elite.
Most, if not all, national and local positions are in the hands of powerful political families who also represent the interests of those who control the country’s economy. A combination of political and economic power is lethal. Traditional political parties or their coalitions can easily run roughshod over candidates fielded by the progressive and militant sectors of society. They have the machinery, the money, and their famous moniker.
To be successful in parliamentary politics, progressive organizations, including those in the Left, should not rely on elections alone. It’s probably their biggest mistake to aim at winning seats in the Philippine Senate which is anathema to real democratic representation. A better alternative is for civil organizations to return to the parliament of the streets by demanding the abolition of the Senate and the establishment of a unicameral legislature where its members will be elected by districts on the basis of proportional representation. This would be a long and protracted process, but it is still a better shot than fielding candidates for senators who have no realistic chances of winning.
Real and meaningful democratic reforms must start with the implementation of the democratic provisions in the 1987 Philippine Constitution such as the party-list system of proportional representation, prohibition against political dynasties, citizen initiative to amend the Constitution, people’s referendum to enact legislation, and the right of citizens to recall their representatives and elected officials who have failed to meet their expectations. This would entail a massive dose of political will by our elected leaders, but still attainable if civil organizations, the Left and other progressive groups, would mount continuing pressure on Congress to enact the necessary enabling law to implement these democratic provisions in the Constitution.
Many continue to clamour for the role of education in effecting social change as if education is the answer to everything. That the masses need to be more educated so that they should know who to vote in office, whether it be the president, member of Congress or city mayor. But that is short-sighted and places a heavy burden of responsibility on the masses when they are not to be blamed for our political malaise in the first place. For as long as the country’s mainstream political process continues to be wedded to a false ideology that democracy is all about elections, the oligarchic elite will always find it easy to dominate politics.
Ousted Philippine president Joseph "Erap" Estrada elected as mayor of Manila during the
May 13 elections. Photo by Associated Press. 
After almost twenty years of dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino people have regained their democratic foothold by deposing the dictator and dismantling the institutions he had put in place to shore up his illegitimate government. The adoption of the 1987 Constitution augured the great promise of democratic renewal but successive leaders after Marcos forgot this potential to restore and rekindle democracy in the Philippines. Instead, the post-Marcos years until today restored and reinvigorated the old oligarchy and the results of every so-called democratic election confirm the re-entrenchment of the oligarchic elite and their families in the political system.
There is always a disruptive alternative to the path of least resistance when all options have been exhausted. But how much more would the ordinary Filipino people bear and persevere with a political system that has continued to deny their voice in the democratic process?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Country of crabs

The city of Baltimore is world-famous for its crab houses, not to be mistaken for pubic lice or “crabs,” a common form of STD. Freshly-steamed blue crabs have been very much a part of Baltimore tradition.
But in the Philippines, the kind of crustacean that is the most well known is the two-legged variety that lives on land – Filipinos with a crab mentality.

Click link to view 100% Pinoy Crab Mentality.
Only a few weeks before the coming May 13 elections, putative topnotcher of the senatorial candidates and re-electionist Senator Loren Legarda was accused of not disclosing her condo apartment in New York’s tony Park Avenue in her SALN (Statement of Assets and Liabilities Networth). The accusation triggered off potential comparisons with former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona whose downfall from the highest court in the land was caused by inaccuracies in SALN reporting. Senator Legarda must have felt the tremors from the ground up there in the stratosphere where she has been coasting along as the top senatorial candidate since day one.
Senator Legarda was charged at the Office of the Ombudsman with five counts each of graft and non-declaration of a property in the United States in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth from 2007 to 2012 as required by law.
Crab mentality arises from a situation where crabs in a bucket find it difficult to escape because the other crabs grab at each other and prevent the other from escaping. The analogy is extended to human behaviour where some members of a group pull down any member who has achieved success over the others, out of envy, jealousy or competitive feelings.
While popularly ascribed to Filipinos, this particular mentality is not endemic to Filipinos. It’s a universal individual and social dynamic, ubiquitous in almost every other culture. Among Germans, for instance, there is an attitude called schadenfreude which means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others and can be understood as an outgrowth of envy or jealousy.
When Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz was asked if Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney should release more of his tax returns during the last US elections, he categorically answered no, implying that those who wanted to see them were just jealous of Romney’s wealth and success. “He’s the kind of guy I want to be president. He actually knows how to turn the economy around,” Chaffetz added.
So this crab mentality of pulling down someone because of his or her advantages is a common thing. Most people are naturally insecure or unsatisfied with where they are in life, so they take the opportunity to try to hold down others. We see neighbours defaming neighbours, reporters inventing stories about celebrities, businessmen cutting corners to beat their competitors, and professionals dislodging fellow professionals, which are all common varieties of crab mentality.
In politics, crab mentality is intuitively germane in the dynamics of rivalry or competition. Politicians by nature attack their opponents for their failure to deliver their electoral promises of honesty, good government, jobs growth or better social programs, or simply for the purpose of putting them down in the eyes of the electorate. They pull down others who don’t follow their line. It is because of this incessant tug of war and mudslinging between politicians that there is a perceived general failure in government.
It’s rather disingenuous, however, to hear allegations from the opposition party that crab mentality is driving a member or some members of the administration’s roster candidates (Team PNoy) to prevent Senator Legarda from finishing on top of the senatorial contest. “Somebody wants to be number one ahead of her. Is that the kind of people you want to be elected in the Senate?” asked senatorial candidate Richard Gordon of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
“It is saddening that Loren’s fellow Liberal Party candidate is the one initiating the black propaganda against her. Behind the ‘daang matuwid’ (straight path) is a mix of personalities who put ambitions over principles,” UNA secretary general and campaign manager Toby Tiangco noted.
Talking about ethical principles is something very strange to hear from politicians. They better check the reflection on their personal mirrors first before they open their mouths for they could also be sorely lacking in ethical scruples.
Yet, it is more refreshing to listen to Nancy Binay’s candour when she expressed disapproval of what Senator Legarda’s fellow candidate in Team PNoy was doing to pull her down. “We are helping each other to improve our chances. In the last three months of campaigning together, we are becoming closer to each other and we are already like sisters and brothers and one family. Our relationship as friends and as UNA candidates is becoming more strong as the elections near,” Nancy Binay said.
Very comforting and honest words from a candidate who seems not to know why she’s running for senator in the first place. But this is closer to reality, to the kind of remarks expected from contestants in the American Idol singing contest – praising the closeness and camaraderie they have developed among them, and the expression of collective angst that one of them could be thrown out because one of them is secretly pulling another down. Doesn’t Ms. Binay sound like a contestant in the American Idol show?
Instead of crying crab mentality, spare the blameless crabs of their complicity. If a candidate has a spotless record as a politician, what then is she afraid of attacks against her? Don’t blame it to our cultural predilection to pull down those who are ahead. Tell the truth and it shall make you free.
Ms. Binay and Mr. Gordon are both running for senators on account of their parents’ political legacy. At least Mr. Gordon has proven himself in the past. In the case of Ms. Binay, it’s all about name recognition. All she carries is her father’s name. She’s as empty as a vacuum, who is willing to engage in a debate with the other candidates, but only after the election is over.
Both Ms. Binay and Mr. Gordon are scions of famous political families, just like Bam Aquino, Jun and Mitos Magsaysay, Jack Enrile, Allan Cayetano, Sonny Angara, Tingting Cojuangco, JV Ejercito, Cynthia Villar, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Koko Pimentel, Jamby Madrigal and others who could all trace their political fortune to their ancestors and are all banking on the magical appeal of their names. Even Senator Legarda hails from a political family, her husband was former governor of Batangas and member of a political clan.
If we want to involve the crabs in this election, then let’s emulate them: we might as well pull down all these candidates and elect instead people on their true merits and political principles they stand on. There are a handful of aspirants among the 33 senatorial candidates who are not from known political families and are running on political platforms worthy of the people’s support. Teddy Casiño stands tall among these candidates for his unwavering crusade for nationalism, democracy, and the rights and welfare of the people at all times. But the major political parties, including the media, are portraying Casiño as a leftist because of his advocacy of the rights of workers, farmers, and the poor and oppressed. As if electing one candidate from the left will shake the entire Congress and bring the government down. At least, in electing Casiño, there would be one member of the senate who represents a new perspective, a fresh point of view instead of the usual exchange of senseless political tirades and one-upmanship that have typically characterized Congress.

Makabayan Platform. Click link to view Miting de Avanse ng Makabayan,
But because of crab mentality again, this time by those on the conservative right fearing of a Teddy Casiño-led uprising of workers and peasants, they’re going to shoot down Casiño’s candidacy. They will keep portraying Casiño as the leftist arsonist, who will burn Congress to the ground if elected. If necessary, they will push politics back to the Hobbesian state of nature where political envy and jealousy are the primary passions of the day.
Forever under the spell of crab mentality, Congress has become a big bucket of crabs, each member trying to outdo the other while some members keep pulling down the others. It’s a brutal race to the top, and victory always belongs to the one whose political genealogy is rooted to a powerful family dynasty. Just look at our past and present leaders, Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino – all family dynasties, and their minions are still growing.
Let’s rally all the crabs in the country to put these family dynasties down for good. At least, this way we can make use of the crab mentality we are known worldwide in dismantling a significant obstacle to the democratization of the political process. Like the popular crabs of our culture, we will claw them back and stop them from reaching the pinnacle of political power.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Delusional talk

Speaking before the general commencement exercises of the University of the Philippines for its Class of 2013, Senator Edgardo Angara, also a former president of the university, told the graduates that they belong to the middle class that “is emerging as a potent force in the Philippines’ social transformation.” Angara compared the young graduates to the ilustrados of the Spanish colonial period who spearheaded the failed reform movement for a more equitable role of Filipinos in the political and economic life of the colony.  

Of course, it’s a historical myth to liken the middle class to the ilustrados of the 1800s. These ilustrados represented the highest class in the Philippine social system at that time. Together with the lower class called the taos, both the ilustrados and the taos comprised the entire social spectrum. There was no middle ground during the Spanish colonial times, either one belonged to the rich upper class or the poor lower class. 

Filipino ilustrados in Madrid during the Spanish colonial period. Photo courtesy
 of Wikipedia Commons. Click link to view Protest Action at UP Graduation 2013,
The taos were peasants and were in greater number, while the ilustrados or caciques as they were sometimes called were large landowners or persons of influence. They were small in number, well-educated and cultured, thus they comprised the ruling class. Dante Simbulan called this class the principalia which was the origin of the present-day oligarchic elite in the Philippines.
The concept of the middle class is a latter-day phenomenon although it was historically referred to in the past as the bourgeoisie that was responsible for the success of the French and American revolutions. In contrast, the socialist revolutions in Russia and China were not led by the bourgeoisie although their leaders were intellectuals from this class who forged ranks with the masses of workers and peasants. While today’s liberation movements, like the wars in Algeria and Vietnam and in other parts of the world could also be considered revolutions in the popular sense, they are not necessarily bourgeois in nature and origin. The recent Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were hastened by street demonstrations of disgruntled youth, students and ordinary citizens, not by the middle class.
Perhaps, Senator Angara was talking tongue in cheek when he graciously described the UP Class of 2013 as part of the new middle class that could be harnessed in the social transformation of the Philippines. The reference to “social transformation” seems an obvious attempt to dissociate it from the 1896 Revolution, a radical and an armed struggle that took over the reform movement.
In talking about “a strong middle class as the backbone of civil society,” Senator Angara refers to this class as “the voice of reason that moderates vested interests, the force of change that compels societies to invest in their own future.” This sounds like a line lifted from the political platforms of American political parties which both stress the vital importance of the middle class in responsible political governance and in promoting economic growth.
Senator Angara’s middle class, however, is about as American as apple pie: a comfortable standard of living, significant economic security, considerable work autonomy, and with a college education that helps to sustain themselves. But the American middle class is not the same middle class we find in other economies or cultures, especially those which are poorer or backward. So, all this talk about creating the middle class patterned after the American model is only as aspirational as a fairy-tale dream.  
Philippines' poverty map. Graphic courtesy of Emil Mercado, Click
link to view NCSB: Poverty
Incidence Almost Unchanged.
This is like the kind of surprise President Noynoy Aquino elicited when reality strikes you on the face. To the president’s chagrin, his own bureaucrats, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), reported that the poverty incidence in the Philippines stood at 27.9 percent in the first semester of 2012, practically unchanged from the same period in 2009, which was 28.6 percent, and in 2006 which was 28.8 percent. They must be referring to old population data, not 2012, the president could only gripe. President Aquino must be wondering as to what happened to the high credit ratings the Standard & Poor, Fitch Ratings, and Moody’s Analytics recently gave the Philippines, which all pointed to a robust economic growth in 2014. Or to the president’s much-ballyhooed Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program which he was hoping would rescue the poor from their misery.
Is it a paradox that poverty in the Philippines continues despite high expectations of economic growth?
There is really no paradox. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a liberal economic institution, “the benefits of strong economic growth have not spilled over to the people because they still cannot find a job.” The country’s rate of unemployment stood at 7.1 percent in January 2013, with a further 20.9 percent underemployed or those working fewer than 40 hours a week. About 41.8 percent of the underemployed are in the farming sector. Norio Usui, ADB senior country economist, said that the government must solve the problem of jobless growth if it hoped to reduce poverty.
This also means that only the rich and the educated have benefited from growth the economy is experiencing and not the poor and uneducated, which also explains why there is a pervasive income inequality between the haves and the have-nots.
Similarly, President Aquino’s flagship anti-poverty initiative, the CCT Program wasn’t also enough to significantly mitigate income inequality in the first semester of 2012. Because the CCT budget accounted for only 25 percent of the amount needed to eradicate poverty, the NCSB said. Besides, with the corrupt nature of pork barrel politics, it is highly likely that the money could have been shifted around instead of spending it for the alleviation of the targeted poor.
The model of economic growth that the present government adopted depended on increased levels of consumption, strong remittances from the country’s large overseas workforce, and the outsourcing industry which the Philippines is currently number one in the world. Half or even more of the UP 2013 graduating class, the new members of the middle class as Senator Angara would like to call them, will probably join the growing outsourcing industry which employs highly educated workers, if they don’t migrate to work or settle overseas.
The Philippines has a weak industrial base compared to the other economies in the region. Without durable industrialization, highly educated college graduates or even high school graduates will not be able to get jobs. Their only choice is either to become underemployed as call-centre workers or go overseas as part of the contingent of the country’s cheap exploitable labour.
National industrialization is one of the key issues that the National Democratic Front, the umbrella group for communist organizations, has been insisting to be on the peace negotiations table with the government panel. Edwin Lacierda, President Aquino’s spokesperson, said the problem with the NDF is it continues to use ideas that had become passé, such as “national industrialization,” which makes negotiations for peace impossible.
“National industrialization? I mean, we’ve moved on. They seemed to have not moved on. So how does one talk in a present setting with people who are still in the ’50s or in the ’60s perspective?” Lacierda asked.
Perhaps, President Aquino and the staff that surrounds and protects him, including our politicians like Senator Angara, should go on a retreat for some serious soul-searching. The country will never be able to gain a significant headway in attempting to solve its economic and social problems if our elected leaders and their coterie of experts continue to ignore realities that their own bureaucrats and other respected institutions have objectively identified.
It is not enough that the country is favourably regarded by international credit rating agencies. High ratings are not the true measure of a country’s economic performance if the growth in the economy does not trickle down to the benefit of the greater majority of the population. The outsourcing industry is not a real industrial boon that would spur an increase in jobs, beyond the minimal expansion in consumption patterns of those employed in this sector.
Senator Angara in his speech before the UP Class of 2013 called on the new graduates to take advantage of a nascent Asian regional economy that would allow the Philippines “to finance our own growth from our people’s own savings, without having to levy new taxes or borrow from other nations’ savings. We can build schools and hospitals, roads and bridges from our own pockets—investments for the people, by the people.” This is the rising middle class, he said.
Talk is really cheap, especially if it is not reflective of reality, historical and present, and the actual choices the people must confront. It’s probably time for our leaders in government not just to think outside the box, but perhaps by going beyond and away from their traditional mindsets.