Quantcast Current: April 2007 Archives

April 2007 Archives

Squeeze the virtual turnip

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LAST week Ricky Carandang in The Coming Deficit Blowout wrote that our government wasn't collecting enough money, and so we'd all better expect an increase in taxes. He wrote this a few days before the national treasurer resigned, as he (Omar Cruz, the national treasurer who quit) acknowledged it, while the going was good. So if increased taxes are in our future, what shape might those future taxes take? One answer came out of left field. The Mike Abundo Effect started the ball rolling, by quoting from a Manila Times article (but not linking to the article itself, so that in commenting on the whole thing, It's hip2b2 has asked for anyone, anyone, to find the original article) whose gist is that a gentleman named Edgardo Cabarrios was quoted as saying that the National Telecommunications Commission wants to classify websites, including blogs, to register with the government, presumably as a prelude to taxing them. Blogs and websites would be considered a value-added service, you see. Edgardo Cabarrios has apparently been NTC department chief for common carriers authorization for ages now, and his name has regularly cropped up in the news, whether concerning the VoIP brouhaha, or the proposal to mandate compulsory registration of SIM cards, as well as rather nifty proposals to allow people to keep the same number, regardless of the network they subscribe to, for example. But this latest attribution has gotten bloggers all lathered up. See Pinoy Problogger (using the famous line from the Borg) and Yugatech, who snappily borrowed the phrase"all your base are belong to us," to headline his take on the NTC official's alleged statement. The Unlawyer takes a look at the potential basis for such a requirement, finds a TMC.net article to link to:
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has released a draft circular that seeks to put value-added service (VAS) providers in the telecom and technology industry under its ambit. If the proposed rules are approved, all firms in the loose VAS provider industry - from mom-and-pop ventures to those owned by large multinationals - would have to register with the regulator... Services covered by the proposed rules include messaging, audio and video conferencing, voice mail, e-mail, information services such as road traffic and visa application data, gaming services except gambling, applications services such as mobile banking, content and program services such as music and ring tones, audio text, domain name hosting, fax, IP multicasting, virtual private networks, and PBX hosting. "The foregoing list of value-added services may be revised, modified, expanded or shortened by the Commission after due public consultation," the regulator said. The NTC defined "value-added services", in an earlier circular signed in 2005, as "enhanced services" beyond those ordinarily offered by incumbent local and foreign telecom operators.
Unlawyer says the practical effect will be registration fees that may be easy enough for multinationals to absorb, but which will be pretty stiff for ordinary Filipino bloggers. If you read Unlawyer's list of the kinds of websites that would be covered, you'll understand why Mike Abundo says proposals like these is one reason companies like Paypal don't set up shop in the Philippines (and the absence of a good, cheap, widely-used service like Paypal is often suggested as a reason e-commerce hasn't taken off as big as it should, locally, among other things). The income-generating aspect of the proposal, if true (my hunch is that the whole thing is a trial balloon, and who knows, perhaps the statement being attributed to Cabarrios is being airbrushed, so to speak, off the face of the internet?), will keep bloggers' and others hackles raised. But here's what raised my hackles: it's all something that could be very, very useful, National Security-wise. Imagine Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez armed with such a list, and on a bad quote day. Jeepers Creepers.

572 issues

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Today we printed the last issue of Inquirer Compact, the company's first venture in compact-format journalism. We had a great ride, but, well, all good things must come to an end. Ours came after almost a year and a half of publication, with issue no. 572. The transition occupied most of my time the last two weeks; one of the last things we did was to upload our front pages to Flickr, as a fittingly digital reminder of the work we poured into the title. Over the next several days, I expect, I will be updating the tags, the descriptions (in other words, the text part) of our Flickr site. But if you'd like to take a look now, the door's already open.

Weekend readings

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WHEN I shared some of my opinions with Carlos Conde, I didn't know what John was going to post in his Thursday entry. So without knowing it, there you have it: John's views and my views concerning the significance of the coming elections. Add Amando Doronila's analysis, stir, and serve. As a short aside, there's an interesting analysis of the first debate between the leading Democratic party contenders for the presidency. The article has some links to articles in Pollster.com, which features two professional pollsters, Mark Blumenthal and Charles Franklin. I wish our own pollsters would do something similar. For those skeptical of, or unsure when it comes to interpreting, surveys and survey firms, a recent speech by Mahar Mangahas of Social Weather Stations makes for interesting reading. He explains what all these things are. Apr 24- Social Surveys And Research Entrepreneurship Release (Click above to download the speech). Sooner or later, the debate on the national language policy of our country crops up in the papers -and in the courts. I just thought I'd point out three interesting links: read about language policy in Malaysia; and language policy in India and the debates that crop up.

Three hypotheses

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Spoke before a group of business professionals in Makati City today, on the political situation. I saw my role as provoking a spirited Q&A; to that end I proposed three hypotheses about the May 14 elections. First: The elections remain one way to resolve President Arroyo's crisis of legitimacy. (See, for instance, what I wrote on August 1, 2005.) One Voice's forceful and articulate position, that the mid-terms ought to be considered a referendum on the President, is not only borne of a deep faith in democratic practice; it is also faithful to much of our election history.   Second: The elections are the opposition's to lose. The SWS survey conducted from February 24 to 27 clearly showed that the public mood is anti-incumbent: A plurality of 36 percent of registered voters said they preferred an opposition candidate for congressman; a plurality of 28 percent said they preferred an opposition candidate for governor; a plurality of 35 percent said they preferred an opposition candidate for mayor. Third: The opposition will lose the elections, in all aggregates except the most high-profile one, the race for the Senate. This result is an indictment of the opposition -- especially its lack of preparation, its state of disorganization. Except for some high-visibility exceptions, such as Sabas Mabulo's candidacy against Dato Arroyo in Camarines Sur, many of the local races are uncontested by opposition candidates. Some extenuating circumstances explain the opposition's lack of preparation: Many oppositionists were forced to spend the last months of 2006 playing defense, against the people's initiative, against the constituent assembly, against the specter of assassination at the local or community level. Still: It needed more leaders like, say, Noynoy Aquino, who said the other week that planning for the 2010 presidential election (he is, of course,  supporting party-mate Mar Roxas) must start now. Planning for the 2007 mid-terms should have started in mid-2005, when it became clear that the President had a counter-plan against impeachment. I think the political opposition today, understood as broadly as possible, is in the same stage as the Democrats in the United States in 2004. The question for political junkies is: Does it have its Chuck Schumer, its Rahm Emanuel?

The Wily Filipino

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THE Nepales Report, the blog written by the Inquirer's Man in Hollywood (and a real A Lister he is, indeed, I've been told) goes from strength to strength. Whether its people unwilling to acknowledge their Filipino ancestry, or the Filipino-American obsession with racking up awards (a home-grown phenomenon, originally, of course), or his latest, the vicarious joy Filipinos get from celebs mentioning fondness for our country or our people  -what Nepales calls, in a freshly-minted acronym, "FC" ("Filipino Connection" -and isn't the acronym another of those things we so adore?)- there's something not only charming, and entertaining, but oh-so-enjoyable-because-so-true in what he writes. There are never enough Hollywood movies about or at least set in, the Philippines, though from before the war to during World War II, there was, perhaps, more of a reason for Americans to do so (see this Time Magazine article from 1939 concerning Sam Goldywn having to delete some scenes from a film about the American-Moro Wars). You can even find the Philippines and the war effort in terms of Hollywood, mentioned in academic literature. Most were well-meaning but, like They Were Expendable and its scene with John Wayne and friends singing "The Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga," offensive to us today. Most of the time, we're reduced to looking for Filipinos who feature as extras in American movies or TV shows. Everyone has their favorite examples. Apparently, though it's an ole time habit. I remember watching TV in Los Angeles with my dad late one night in the early 1980s, and there was an ancient film about the Japanese invasion of China. A group of Japanese soldiers corner the hero and one of them barks, "Sumunod ka sa amin!" Naturally, hilarity ensued: and then my father remarked, "you know, it's as funny to you as it was to me the first time I saw this movie in 1939..." I only wish I could recall the title of the film. Ditto that TV series about Edsa featuring fantastic performances by Filipino actors but which ended, I seem to remember it being said, with People Power undertaken by Sri Lankans who, seeing Laurice Guillen playing Cory Aquino, made the Laban sign and shouted, "Curry, Curry!" A show that has mentioned Filipinos is House MD, just the other week:
KEO: Sir, are you all right? HOUSE: He's drunk. [Peng starts to make gagging sounds, with his mouth still closed. Keo, an experienced flight attendant, quickly moves to get him an air-sickness bag. Too late! He lurches forward and throws up multiple times on his food tray. House closes his eyes in irritation and disgust. Other passengers, including a businessman and businesswoman react the same. A sweaty Peng gags a couple of times and falls against his backrest, fatigued.] KEO: [in Tagalog] Nilalagnat ka ba? [Are you sick?] PENG: [Korean, strangled] [untranslated] KEO: [urgently] Does anyone speak Korean? [Peng lurches forward and coughs out some more puke.] KEO: Is anyone a doctor? [House looks around, hopefully. Nope! He rolls his eyes.] HOUSE: Yes!
My favorite American tribute to the Filipino still has to be Steve Martin's marvelous essay, In Search of the Wily Filipino: actually, I first heard it, in the audio book compilation of his essays, Pure Drivel.

The Pope's ambassador

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I see that an old friend of the Philippines is up to his "old tricks" again ---- and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Archbishop Antonio Franco, now the papal nuncio to Israel (and Cyprus), has figured in another religious/political controversy. John Allen writes:
Archbishop Antonio Franco, the Vatican’s nuncio in Israel, has announced that he will attend the annual Holocaust Memorial day event at Yad Vashem, Israel’s main Holocaust museum, after the museum indicated it is willing to reconsider a caption of Pope Pius XII that Franco found offensive. Avner Shalev, President of Yad Vashem, sent a letter to Franco late in the week stating that the museum will “reconsider the way in which Pius XII is presented.” In response, Franco indicated that he will be present for the events Sunday evening.
Apparently, Franco did not only find the caption offensive; he backed it up with one of the more potent weapons in diplomacy's limited armory: he threatened to stage a boycott. Filipinos may remember Franco, who served in the Philippines for over six years, as the man who allegedly gave the Philippine bishops a tongue-lashing in July 2005 ---- a warning against politicized action that allegedly led to the bishops' tempered statement on the Garcillano crisis. As I have previously written, I do not believe that there was in fact a cause-and-effect relation between the papal nuncio's traditional address and the CBCP's measured position. (Here is a link to the first lengthy piece I wrote, which in turn references the Newsbreak and International Herald Tribune stories I objected to.) But Franco was also the Pope's ambassador who received the news about the repeal of the death penalty law last year right in Congress ---- his presence was welcomed by Speaker Joe de Venecia and his leaders, but I couldn't have been the only one to feel a vague unease over his visit. It seems clear, however, that Archbishop Franco "gets things done." How does he do it? His reaction upon hearing from the Holocaust museum (as reported in Allen's story) gives us a clue:
“Because my action was not intended to disassociate myself from the celebrations, but to call attention to the way in which the pope was presented … my goal has been reached,” Franco said. “I don’t have any reason to keep this tension open” and therefore “I will take part in the ceremonies.”
Practical (and clearly stated) expectations; a willingness to risk "tension" and a firm stance; a readiness to please and be pleased. Diplomacy, you might say, in the style of Roncalli, not Pacelli.

Best, brightest

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David Halberstam died in a car crash today; he was 73. He wrote essential books: The Best and the Brightest is possibly the best introduction to the Vietnam War, The Powers That Be possibly the best single volume on the rise of the modern media. I can still remember the way he started Best and the Brightest, painting the contrast between the old Robert Lovett and the young JFK, one cold day in December 1960. First page But Halberstam was also a sports fan, and wrote sports books, almost as though the grace and tedium of baseball, the discipline of basketball, held a Shakespearean mirror up to (American) nature. (My own favorite is Summer of '49, a narrative about the pennant race between the Yankees and the Red Sox centered on the rivalry of two true titans: Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.) He won a Pulitzer Prize for his Vietnam reporting, but ---- at least for this particular journalist ---- it was when he left daily journalism and turned to the writing of books (I think he wrote a total of 21) that he became a role model, the one nonfiction writer many wanted to be. It must have been under his influence, when I read him with intensity in late high school and throughout college, that I learned what I thought then and still think now is a fundamental aesthetic principle: All art aspires to the condition of a book. His conception of journalism as a profession, a trade, that can be practiced through books is inspiring. It's journalism in depth, journalism as extended narrative, journalism as second draft or perhaps even clean copy of history. The question a Filipino journalist must ask, however, is: Has anyone in Philippine journalism been inspired enough to actually make a career writing journalistic books? I suppose economics will supply the answer immediately. A career? Perhaps not. But the occasional book-length journalism? A few come to mind. POSTSCRIPT Howie Severino, if I'm not mistaken, was the first Filipino blogger to post on Halberstam's death (and influence). Gibbs Cadiz has a link to a commencement address the writer gave. Caloy Conde links to his paper's obituary.

Failing or failed?

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IN his column today, Amando Doronila asks if the country isn't headed towards joining the global list of basket-case countries:
The Philippines came up recently under intensified international scrutiny questioning whether it was moving into the category of a failed state in the wake of the incapacity of the country’s avowedly democratic regime to halt the wave of extrajudicial killings since 2001.
Doronila makes elaborate use of Noam Chomsky's own interpretation of the failed state idea. But the debate on whether or not the country is is a failed state is something I took note of in my blog back in August, 2005. At the time, I pointed to an entry in Global Guerrillas which explains the concept, and I think it still makes relevant reading today (more extensive readings can be found in Global Policy Forum). Back in 2005, the Failed State Index for 2005 had just been launched. In it, the Philippines came out No. 56. In the Failed State Index for 2006, the Philippines came out No. 68, between Israel and Peru. Since the lower your number, the closer you are to being a failed state, the 2006 rankings reflect a substantial improvement for the country. But Doronila's point finds its basis in the explanation of Foreign Policy for the country rankings of 2005:
What are the clearest early warning signs of a failing state? Among the 12 indicators we use, two consistently rank near the top. Uneven development is high in almost all the states in the index, suggesting that inequality within states—and not merely poverty—increases instability. Criminalization or delegitimization of the state, which occurs when state institutions are regarded as corrupt, illegal, or ineffective, also figured prominently. Facing this condition, people often shift their allegiances to other leaders—opposition parties, warlords, ethnic nationalists, clergy, or rebel forces. Demographic factors, especially population pressures stemming from refugees, internally displaced populations, and environmental degradation, are also found in most at-risk countries, as are consistent human rights violations. Identifying the signs of state failure is easier than crafting solutions, but pinpointing where state collapse is likely is a necessary first step.
As last Saturday's Inquirer editorial put it, after all, it's "open season." If Doronila is on to something, expect our country to inch back towards a lower score for the 2007 Failed State Index.

That 'Filipino Spy'

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Blogger Beer is an American blogger whose been keeping tabs on the Michael Ray Aquino and Leandro Aragoncillo security leak cases. He remarks that the latest news indicates Michael Ray Aquino has a good lawyer (and wonders whose paying the fees) and in one of his old entries calls the case, "in US terms a small story." Nevertheless, it's one that's received significant local media attention. The Center for Advanced Counterintelligence, Counterterrorism and Security Training has a thorough online dossier on the two, with links to documents and news stories.

Holocaust survivor's sacrifice

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THE dictionary defines Holocaust as follows:
holocaust |ˈhäləˌkôst; ˈhōlə-| noun 1 destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, esp. caused by fire or nuclear war : a nuclear holocaust | the threat of imminent holocaust. • ( the Holocaust) the mass murder of Jews under the German Nazi regime during the period 1941–45. More than 6 million European Jews, as well as members of other persecuted groups, such as gypsies and homosexuals, were murdered at concentration camps such as Auschwitz. 2 historical a Jewish sacrificial offering that is burned completely on an altar. ORIGIN Middle English : from Old French holocauste, via late Latin from Greek holokauston, from holos ‘whole’ + kaustos ‘burned’ (from kaiein ‘burn’ ).
The mass murder of students at Virginia Tech in the USA was subsequently reported by two Filipino students (hat tip to Philippine Politics 04). Filipino-American blogger goodboi points out two eyewitness accounts of what happened at icantread01 and ntcoolfool and that media left comments on their blogs, requesting interviews. Also, another blogger was apparently the victim of a rumor that he was the killer, to the extent that,
apparently to him all the attention was all fun and games until he started getting angry phone calls and e-mails - death threats too. Michelle Malkin and the Drudge Report have written stuff about him.
Read the entries of of the blogger in question for April 16 and 17. You have to wonder then, about the assertion of Buzz Machine, that the whole grisly event may be the harbinger of a "new architecture of news." But the most remarkable story -in that it represented an ennobling moment in the midst of all that horror- was the story of a professor. As blogger eyelid pointed out, the day of the VT shootings was Yom Hashoa, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. And on that day, a professor, Liviu Librescu, barred the door to his classroom, instructed his students to open the windows and escape, and continued to bar the door as they escaped -finally being shot to death by the gunman, but by then all his students had escaped. As the comments posted in Librescu's memory pointed out, he was a survivor of the Holocaust. And so, on Holocaust Memorial Day, a survivor of it gave his life so his students might live. If you have the chance, here is a book that makes for relevant reading:

"Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps" (Tzvetan Todorov)

Oil and water

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I'm glad Manolo brought up the example of the Oil Prize Stabilization Fund. With deregulation now in place, the consuming public (a phrase I hated on sight, when I was editing copy in an economics think tank, but which even I must admit has its uses) has learned to contend, or at least to accept, "market forces" at work. Yes, as Manolo pointed out, some subsidies are still part of the mix, but by and large it's the market that now dictates pump prices in the Philippines. But does this partial success ---- and I think it must be considered a success, because the government no longer needs to run up an enormous bill merely to cushion the public from oil price fluctuations ---- mean that the public no longer sees a role for the government in oil price setting? Last Saturday, I saw the usual man-on-the-street interviews the TV networks run when presenting an economic story; in this instance, the story was about a new increase (an average of 50 centavos) in oil prices. The various people interviewed for their reaction had the usual things to say: a number of them, however, complained that there was no adequate advance notice. The increase took them by surprise, they said; they should have been warned in advance. Their answer struck me (and this was hours before I wrote my first response to Manolo's thesis in "Cult of the Market"): It seemed to me that, instead of market-savvy consumers, the "men" on the street the TV reporter spoke to were still government's co-dependents, under the influence of what I have called, perhaps inappropriately, the "Myth of the State." Advance notice? For some reason, I cannot imagine that the various interviewees were referring to the oil companies; I seem to remember that the companies have on more than one occasion given several hours' warning. What I heard them saying, and what I responded to when I saw the news report, was an indirect appeal to the government to sound the alarm, to advice the public, to, well, do something. Of course, this was only one set of consumers, and their testimony amounts to nothing more than anecdotal evidence. But then, and correct me if I'm wrong, Manolo's original thesis was based on anecdotal evidence too. My own thesis, that in fact Filipinos are still insufficiently market-oriented (CVJ has an excellent summary of our positions, as well as a provocative take on the issue; Jemy Gatdula has raised similarly compelling points) is itself based on anecdotal evidence. What the news report (called an MOS, in producer-speak) seems to indicate, at least to me, is that the Filipino's understanding of the market at work, even in a matter as practical, as regular, as oil price fluctuations, is still seen through government-issue glasses. Some of the anecdotal evidence I have found intriguing, over the last several years, involve policy stands taken by leftist spokesmen. A quick search for something relatively recent led me back to Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casino's privilege speech last February on the P200 security fee levied by the Manila International Airport Authority. I have no quarrel with his conclusions; some of his premises, however, strike me as either deliberately or subconsciously founded on the Myth of the (paternalistic) State. The third paragraph of his speech begins:
It is primarily the government’s duty to provide modern facilities and accessible services for public use that include our country’s airports, both domestic and international.
Is it, in fact, primarily the government's duty to do exactly that? I suppose that the universal right to travel imposes on the government some obligation to enable its citizens to practice the right. I also suppose that, given the state of business and tourism in our part of the world, the government is under some obligation to provide "modern facilities." But is it in fact the government's duty to do so? To put it another way, if for some reason or another the Arroyo administration failed in the last six years to construct a modern airport or improve an existing one, is it therefore derelict in its duties? Casino also says:
This Representation holds the view that the MIAA is the government agency that should continue to shoulder the burden of financing the security needs of the airports, not the airplane riding public who already pay so many fees for the upkeep and development of the said State facilities.
While in practice this is something devoutly to be wished, in theory this view is unnecessarily constricting and somewhat dangerous. Does this mean that, say, a road user's tax will never be a general policy in the country, because it imposes an additional burden on the motoring public? I think this view leads to many problems; I also think it is quite representative of what many Filipinos actually think. The government as Big Brother? More like Big Daddy. PS1. The public's growing dependence on the largesse of media (encouraged, unfortunately, by my colleagues in the biggest TV networks) is the exception that proves the rule: Those who need immediate medical attention but cannot afford it, those with complaints against neighbors or public officials, or those who simply want to be heard, run to ABS-CBN or GMA ---- precisely because they've already tried asking for help from the government, or believe government help is a dead end. The media, then, as Big Momma. PS2. CVJ and Jemy offer excellent arguments, pro or con. My response, in my next post.

Party-list problems

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THE Inquirer editorial and Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ both focus on the party-list campaign. The editorial points out the most recent controversy: allegations by Danton Remoto (Chairman of Ang Ladlad, which was denied accreditation by the Comelec) that accreditations are for sale. Fr. Bernas, on the other hand, agrees with those who are asking party-list groups to reveal their nominees, but he suggests that those who want the Comelec to do something, should go to court. The Comelec's hands, he says, are tied. Pulse Asia's released its survey findings on awareness of the party-list, and voters' preferences, from those safely within the 2% threshold, to all the rest who aren't doing all that well at all. The survey points to how far the party-list system still has to go, in terms of public awareness and most of all, participation.

Paradox of modernity

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JOHN'S entry has me thinking of one very good example of how the traditional view of government as end-all and be-all has given way to a more modern view. And that has to do with gas prices. Once upon a time we had a Oil Price Stabilization Fund, as part of the 1990s reforms it was scrapped; and where once, governments lived in mortal dread of negative public opinion due to increased gas prices, over the last few years our government's learned that it can take, at the very least, a more nuanced approach to whatever public commotion world gas price increases cause. Instead of subsidizing everyone, government subsidized gas prices for public utility vehicle operators (who traditionally were at the forefront, together with the labor unions, of threats to mobilize strikes). The middle and upper classes that own vehicles have been left to fend for themselves, while the commuting public is cushioned by the subsidies for public transport operators. Now it might just be, that the appeal of a strike has been blunted in great part, because the tremendous number of Filipinos abroad (and sending news to loved ones at home) has taught the public that there are certain things governments can't really control -or decide not to control. John suggests the unwritten premise in my previous entry, "here is a tectonic shift in the public’s view of the role of government"; he suggests that there remain far too many who expect government to do too much, and that this attitude has remained pretty much the same over the past few decades. He and I obviously disagree, too, on the impact of the New Society, which I view had a massive (and on the whole, negative and almost fatal) effect, while John believes it had a more incremental effect, hardening our society's attitudes towards government (if you recall my entry on We Filipinos, there is much going for John's views. A blog like this is as much about an exchange of thoughts between myself and John, and between you, the reader, and either of us, as it is about each of us trying out different ideas, or even just working them out. Randy David in his column today, takes a look at the concept of modernity, and what's modern in comparison to what's traditional -and how the traditional not only comes into conflict with modern notions and trends, but has a strength of its own. My previous entry tried to look at the things public opinion has decided to target as one explanation for our problems, and I hoped to provoke readers into questioning certain assumption, including assumptions as to what the problems are. This passage from David's column particularly struck me:
This crusade, however, can only go so far in curing the problem. The proliferation of political dynasties is itself only a symptom of a bigger malaise—the absence of any real political competition in our society. If you just treat the symptoms—for example, imposing term limits and banning political dynasties—the disease will likely manifest itself in other forms. For now, the political family is the carrier of the virus. In the future, it could be the corporate mafia, or the religious cult.
Because the passage assumes that the absence of political competition is, indeed, a "malaise," and that things would be better if the malaise were to go away. My hunch is that it's gone beyond being a malaise -it's a permanent condition, as people -those inclined to think of themselves as modern, anyway- are tuning out, avoiding politics and its need for periodic divisions of the house (to adopt a parliamentary term), while John points out, on the other hand, that for a vast portion of our population, they continue to cling to perhaps outmoded, even unreasonable, expectations of what government, and the political system that props it up, ought to do. David pointed out that justifiable as opposition to political dynasties is, the real reform that remains to be done is campaign finance reform. To my mind, he's correct, if only because of this contradiction in the political dynasty debate: opposing dynasties puts one part of the population, those aspiring to be modern, against the rest of the population, which not only has no problem with the family being the basis for political involvement, but believes the family is the basis for involvement in everything. Which leads to some people being very angry at, and mobilizing against political clans as living examples of everything inefficient, disreputable, etc., while another, and much larger, portion of the population thinks family-centered involvement should define not just politics, but the professions (families of lawyers, teachers, doctors, engineers, pastors, etc.), and I suspect part of their ambivalence with shrieking about dynasties is: if you oppose political dynasties, what's next? The sort of dangerous thinking that opposes that other fundamental family-centered activity, the family business? Take the website David points to as exemplifying objections to family-dominated politics. Its fundamental claim is to representing a modern and modernizing attitude towards politics. And it assumes this:
This concentration of power in one or two families in a given area often becomes a source of corruption and poor leadership. Such political dynasties often get to corner businesses in their areas through illegal and unfair practices, in connivance with big businesses there who resort to bribing them.
But hasn't business, at least big business, increasingly learned to avoid its previously incestuous relationship with politics? And might it not be, that in local politics, entrepreneurs and business people are learning to keep politics out of the picture, as much as possible? This isn't to say they may be more honest, though surely they consider themselves, perhaps, more civic-minded. But whatever the reality may be, the perception is that the political class remains hand-in-glove with the business class: that they are both the problem. What does this do, to the modernizing claim, though, that the market will sort things out? The huge sums of money being spent nationally and locally in this campaign are testimony to a market approach to politics, and I think it's fair to say it's horrible because it's a waste of resources and sells public office as if it were a bar of soap. But this is the modern, market-oriented way of politics, which doesn't work, the surveys seem to suggest, with the minority that sees itself as more discriminating, but still appeals to to the majority -which John says still has the old, dependent, attitude towards politics, and which government even if run by the best qualified or most sincere, couldn't deliver on expectations. At this point all I can say is it may be John and I are approaching the question from two different sides; Randy David's column interjects a very helpful definition of terms. Another column, today, by Sylvia Mayuga, points to the momentum being built up in these modernist sectors of the population, whose modernity may actually, if we borrow John's framework, highly traditional. Both pieces point to a paradox: can the aspiration to be modern, remain modern, if it's built on what is, after all, a very traditional assumption? That political involvement and its goal of control of the government, are not only good, but necessary, and capable of achieving beneficial change?

The Myth of the State

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With apologies to the late, great Ernst Cassirer, let me appropriate the title of his last (in fact, unfinished) book, to organize my thoughts on Manolo's latest post. "The Cult of the Market" is one of the more provocative of Manolo's disquisitions; I cannot, however, bring myself to agree with him. To be sure, I think I do understand Manolo when he says he is worried about the ascendancy of this cult, which he helpfully defines as
the idea that politics has become less relevant to people’s lives, because it can’t deliver change or an improvement in lives better than attending to business -and letting the “free market” sort the things that politics used to consider its mission to sort out.
I agree with him that politics has become, as far as this is possible to ascertain, "less relevant" in our lives. I see what he means when he says more and more people simply want to let the "free market" sort things out, but I doubt whether this attitude (however defined, as a resigned fatalism to or an aggressive embrace of, those ubiquitous market forces) is in fact shared by many. (Admittedly, there is no science here; it's all judgment based on limited experience -- but what is experience if not defined by its limits?) I disagree with Manolo, therefore, on the main but unwritten premise: That there is a tectonic shift in the public's view of the role of government. I think, in fact, that the public, a large majority of it, continues to expect the same things -- that is, too much -- from the government of 2007 that the Filipino people learned to expect from, say, the government of 1976. I am not ready to lay the black wreath of blame at the foot of the New Society (whose latest monuments -- yes, its culture is alive and  well in the 21st century -- are a study in contrasts: the genial garrulity of Chiz Escudero, the casual brutality of Borgy Manotoc). It's possible that the Pinoy's principal attitude to the government, any government, merely hardened (that is to say, was not actually forged) during Ferdinand Marcos' experiment in dictatorship. My point is: Whether "traditional" or "modern," the Filipino still expects too much from the government. We (as far as it is possible to speak of a "we") expect the government to solve most of our problems. I am not speaking merely of the basics of governance, such as disposing of garbage or lighting the streets at night; I am also referring to, say, the expectation that the government not only find us a job, but provide us one too. To borrow Manolo's phrasing, the Myth of the State (or more properly, the Government, but as a title this word lacks oomph, yes?) is something that's been bothering me for some time. I first noticed it in my early days at the news desk, when press releases from leftist organizations (handled the old-fashioned way, as actual pieces of paper with actual ink on them) essentially placed the burden of the issue of the day squarely on the shoulders of the government of the day. Whatever the issue was, there was always something that the government failed to do, or did too much of. It seemed to me then that, even in issues that were fundamentally private-sector in character, the leftist organizations urged more responsibilities on the government, or wanted the government to step in. Whatever happened to the state withering away? I happen to believe, not only in a smaller government, but in a smaller role for government. The Ramosian techno-speak of level playing fields, to give just one example, appealed to me -- as long as the idea was sustained; that is, the government saw its role as allowing other players onto the level field too. Certainly, because of where the Philippines is on the development continuum, the role of the government is necessarily -- but only temporarily -- bigger. In theory, its role is to make itself dispensable in as many areas of concern as possible. My brief then against Manolo's argument: We are not yet market-oriented enough. This is not to say that we should leave everything to the not entirely invisible hand of the market. Again, the "markets and communities" formula appeals to me; but I think we are far from striking the right balance. And we still err on the side of a paternalistic state, taking care of our needs, rather than on the side of the market, with its many gods, all of them indifferent.

The Cult of the Market

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THE Cult of the Market is something that's been bothering me for some time. To me, this is the idea that politics has become less relevant to people's lives, because it can't deliver change or an improvement in lives better than attending to business -and letting the "free market" sort the things that politics used to consider its mission to sort out. In his column today, Amando Doronila points to something I've been trying to say for some time: there are some trends emerging which point to old assumptions no longer being valid. For example, as Doronila points out, the obsession with actors entering politics. Some UP MassCom students interviewed me about this a few weeks ago, and I told them that politics is as susceptible to fads as fashion is; and just like fashion, political fads will peak then subside after a certain point. He makes a larger point, which is, that our society is more innately conservative than is convenient to admit -and if so, another point could be made, which is that there is a clash between modernity and tradition that won't go away, and may even be intensifying. In my main blog, I once wrote about how I was very enthusiastic about Adam Curtis's documentary, The Power of Nightmares (see music like dirt which has more on the man and links to his documentaries). Adam Curtis has a new one titled The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom. Over at souldish there's a capsule review and links so you can watch it online on YouTube: watch episode one, then watch episode two, then episode three, or watch it at The Trap -Adam Curts- BBC or at omnibus. It seems blogger Ahhh, choices is working on a transcript. But for the most accessible synopsis of the documentary and its main points, see The Guardian's article. Mmmm looks at the documentary from a stylistic and pop culture reference standpoint and provides a synopsis, too; RosieBell reduces two contending views, quite cleverly, I think,  to a bit of rhyme:
Said a philosopher Sartre "Bourgeoisie should be taken apart So can all you brothers Blow up the others At least you are making a start." Said an essayist, Berlin, Isaiah "A utopian dream is a liar I saw it in Russia, And it was a crusher, So don’t ever trust a Messiah."
A four-part review by blogger Liberal Polemic -see Part 1, then Part 2, then Part 3 and his thoughts on the Conclusion, begins with a review of part one and concludes reviewing the first episode by expressing a reservation:
If it is Mr. Curtis’s intention to suggest that the positive elements of the revolution of the past thirty years – the deregulation and liberalisation that has led to wealth and freedom beyond the imagination of those living through the Winter of Discontent – have been accompanied by a creeping centralisation and rising state power, then he is correct (and in good journalistic company). But if, as I suspect, he intends to suggest that we would all be better off returning to the age of collectivism and public duty, of trusting citizens and paternalistic administrators, then he is simply swapping a flawed concept of freedom for no freedom at all.
But it is something at the very least, worth suggesting and which shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. But it is dismissed out of hand:
It is ironic, then, that so much of this last programme demonstrated exactly the opposite. The positive liberty of the French and Algerian revolutionaries, of Sartre and his acolyte Pol Pot, of the Ayatollahs and all those other inspired revolutionaries – yes, even of Tony Blair’s attempt to marry the two kinds of liberty – had always led to tyranny. In its mildest and most Fabian form, socialism in Britain led to Government officials dictating what individuals might earn and what businesses might charge, and as a result of its mildness it was more incompetent than brutal. Where positive liberty was carried to its logical conclusion, however, absolute poverty ensued – no matter how much relative poverty was alleviated – and dissenters went to the gallows or the gulags or just disappeared during the night. Curtis refuses to see this because of his bias towards socialism, exposed by his claim that “the redistribution of land and wealth” were essential aspects of democracy. This is nonsense. Democracy may be a means to affect social change, but social change is not integral to democracy. It is integral to positive liberty, however, for it is the vision of a better world and the use of the levers of power – be they autocratic or democratic – to achieve that better world that is at the heart of positive liberty.
Then mediocracy is miffed as well. As for the documentary maker himself, see Blairwatch,  where there's an interview with Adam Curtis about his documentary. But for people outside the British political experience, the value of the documentary is that it brings up trends and ideas that affect us, too. And that effect is seen in how the most Westernized among us -the middle and upper classes of this country- have withdrawn from political engagement on the basis of notions that Curtis puts forward: that "the market" does more to fulfill people's desires for freedom, fulfillment, etc., than politics. In our case, the retreat is also a reaction to the belief that as the electorate has expanded to include the masses, the classes that previously mattered most, now matter least -and yet, having the most at stake, have abandoned the fight out of despair motivated by mistrust of their fellow citizens. Which brings us back to Doronila, and from him, to an earlier column by Juan Mercado who claims, as far as the elite are concerned, we aren't far removed from the age of the Datus of old. But where there's a Datu, there are loyal followers; and the leaders in many respects are reflection of the followers who sustain them.  This is an argument I've had with some American historians and other social critics as well: railing against the elite is all fine and wonderful but glosses over two points we don't consider enough: 1. There remain large segments of our society whose histories have only begun to be touched on, and not in a sense as holistic as the history of the elite. 2. The elite of today is not the elite of yesterday -it is not even the elite of two decades ago. Therefore, if you are disgusted or even mildly critical of what the elite's up to, then at the very least, precision in what it is, and how it changes, is required. With regards to the first point, since the 1960s, the focus of writing history -and thus, explaining what our country is and how it got there- has been debunking the old idea that the elite was the be-all and end-all of nationhood. However, not enough has been done to either put forward a convincing account of the other histories that exist (the peasantry, women, Muslims, etc.) on their own merits and not in terms of simply debunking perceived myth-making. Most of all, not enough has been done to compare these parallel histories and weave a new, more inclusive national story (a book I very much admire, State and Society in the Philippines is a welcome step in that direction). Agoncillo and Constantino, for example, still belong to the debunking school, where one group would be focused on to compensate for too much focus in the past on another group, the elite. But they themselves have firmly receded into the past and what was new in their time is now old and itself subject (or should be subjected) to review and reexamination: but instead they have become mummified as sacred texts. When I was putting together some notes for a talk to the Philippine Historical Association, it became clear to me that what we have taken for granted as our dominant political history was not, even at the time, one in which even the majority of a very restricted voting population was engaged in. A rough chart I prepared for that paper illustrates what I mean: Year-3-1 Compare the figures on the people who actually voted, to the actual number of the electorate, and then the often very lopsided electoral results, and one could argue that while electoral politics engrossed a significant portion of the population, a significant portion always remained unengaged -and we're only talking about those qualified to participate. For those not qualified to participate, a great deal remains to be written on what they were doing, what actually interested them, what their political thoughts and priorities were -and it remains a stretch, to me, to assume they were all rebels, either. And concerning the second: I'd like to propose that there is one elite for 1896-1946, another that supplanted it from 1946-1986, another that has been created since ,and is itself dying now and may be gone by 2016 (as society becomes more complex and the country and its society more integrated with global trends, the lifetime of any elite may be shrinking, from half a century to forty years to thirty years and after that? Two decades? A blink of an eye in the lives of nations and their peoples). What I'm suggesting is that aside from the failed attempt by Bonifacio to have urbanites seize control of the direction of the emerging nation (a failure because the country only had one real metropolitan area, Manila, and the rest of the country still wasn't far removed from the way things had been for centuries, that is, local fiefdoms under local chieftains), the elite that crafted the idea that there was a Philippines, and that it was a nation, dominated the development of the country from 1896 to 1946. That elite had already begun to find its hold on power challenged even before the war and the issue of collaboration with the Japanese ushered in a newer elite, in many respects provincial in origin too, but modernized because urbanized (educated in Manila or abroad, often both), and who had little time for concepts of noblesse oblige and were impatient for a middle-class kind of democracy. Roxas was the bridge from the more European-oriented orientation of the generation that lived through the revolution; but Magsaysay was the personification of this new, impatient elite: but his successors, namely Manglapus, Pelaez, and Manahan were themselves more firmly of the old elite than Magsaysay ever was, and thus found themselves perpetually outfoxed by the exemplar of the last generation to mature under the Americans, Ferdinand Marcos, himself a representative of the more thoroughly provincial elite. By 1976, in many ways the high point in terms of power and popularity of Marcos, he had pretty much destroyed the old pre-1946 elite and had practically wiped out the new, urbanized elite that had been coming to the fore since 1946; and by 1986 both Marcos and his new generation of the elite had become old, tired, discredited men. Yet they clung on, and that is the story of 1986 to, I'd think, at the very least 2006 and possibly 2016 -the clinging on of a new, now old, elite that outlived its usefulness, missed its chance to modernize the country, and instead in many ways reverted to ways older than the dreams of a modern nation first articulated in the 1880s to 1890s and achieved, fairly successfully, in the 1940s to 1960s. We forget just how advanced, even enviable, the country was in the eyes of our neighbors at that time. It was in the 1960s that the next, crucial step in national development needed to take place: Marcos in many ways recognized this through his reliance on technocrats. And the old elite saw this too, which partially, thought not totally, accounts for the ferocity with which he was opposed by the old and more modern elites, who combined to oppose him in the period leading up to martial law. With so much unknown, so much remaining to be known, and so little known about sectors that everyone, from historians to politicians to the public claim to speak for, represent, or understand, is it a surprise that on the whole we still seem to be looking through blurred lenses at what's going on? But it seems to me that the most troubling thing remains: the growing belief that the market is the solution, not politics (whatever kind it is that floats your boat).

Tony Lopez is dead wrong

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I used to read Tony Lopez, when he wrote for Asiaweek. Reading him again after all these years, after Manolo pointed in the direction of his Manila Times column, makes me realize his copy then must have had the benefit of rigorous editing. He writes:
Eight of its 11 candidates [that is, the opposition's] are likely to win—if you believe surveys, which in the past had been dead wrong.
He is referring, I reckon, to the latest Pulse Asia survey, conducted April 3-5, which showed an 8-5-2 outcome. But his putdown of that survey, and other surveys showing an opposition trend, is worse than sly; it is, in fact, downright dishonest. Lopez suggests that it is reasonable to summarize the history of opinion polling ("which in the past had been dead wrong") by its handful of egregious mistakes. Yes, of course, there have been some real stinkers: The most famous (at least among the established democracies with a tradition of political surveys) was surely the 1948 US election; the image of Harry Truman holding a copy of the Chicago Tribune, with its Dewey Defeats Truman headline, is almost iconic. Dewey Truman The most recent major event which surveys got "dead wrong" was the United Kingdom's 1992 General Election, when all surveys pointed to a Labour victory over John Major's Conservative Party. (The trend led to the Sun's notorious Page One.) Sun 1992 Do these blunders (a study on the 1992 election called it "a statistical disaster") make it reasonable to argue against a particular survey result by generalizing ("if you believe surveys") from surveys that had gotten it "dead wrong"? The reasonable thing would be to check against the pollster's track record, yes? Just because mistakes are possible doesn't mean that a mistake, in the latest instance, is inevitable. (Surely Lopez must know this; he has too much political savvy to think otherwise, which is why I accuse him of mental dishonesty.) Fortunately for the country's democratic project, the track record of the two main polling organizations, Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations, is both solid and (largely) accessible. It would be easy for Lopez to check the facts -- if, that is, he were interested in the facts. I cobbled together a simple list of rankings from the 2004 elections. 2004 Comparison The list follows the official sequence of winners; thus, Mar Roxas, who won the highest number of votes in Philippine history, is in undisputed first place, while Pong Biazon, who had to duke it out with a K-4 colleague, Robert Barbers, for 12th place, brings up the rear. The SWS rankings are from its day-of-election survey, often mistakenly referred to as an exit poll. The Pulse Asia rankings are from its April 26-29, 2004 survey, the closest to the May 11 poll I could find online. As even Tony Lopez can see for himself, both SWS and Pulse largely called it right. That is, they correctly "predicted" most of the 12 winning senators, and they correctly called the proportions too. There is also an SWS research paper, Opinion Polling and National Elections, 1992-2001, by Mahar Mangahas et al, which discusses how closely the SWS results reflected the official Comelec tallies in four nationwide elections. I can't find it on the SWS site, but found it cached somewhere on the Internet. Perhaps Tony can find the time to read it.

When can the tide be turned?

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AS I did it before, I'll do so again. In response to John's yoeman's job of posting the survey numbers, here's my graphed version of the same thing, to visualize the trajectory of the leading candidates (you can look at Eleksyon 2007's bar graphs, too, which strictly looks at results within the campaign period for the top 24 candidates and for the top 12, part 1 and part 2, in alaphabetical order): Survey1-4 Survey2-3 Survey3-3 Survey4-3 John has already commented on what the numbers seem to indicate, as far as the candidates leading the pack are concerned. With five data points in the graph, January being the mid-point (and start of the campaign), basically everything before January illustrates how the relative uncertainty and confusion leading up to the campaign hurt or helped the candidates as the positioned themselves; and the points since January illustrates how well, badly, or pointlessly, the candidates have run their campaigns. However, something else struck me. Can  the survey's indication that something like 5% of voters either haven't made up their minds, or won't reveal who they will vote for, suggest a significant protest vote? 5% of an electorate numbering around 45 million, which translates to, what, something in the neighborhood of 2 and a quarter million secretive voters, is nothing to sneeze at. Add to this the results, in particular, for Ang Kapatiran, which are very interesting as presented in an Eleksyon 2007 Chart. The chart represents, in my opinion, a fairly respectable showing for  its candidates who have neither money, nor machinery, nor much paid-for media mileage. And yet, even if they show an improvement by leaps and bounds, they are still far away from reaching the top 12 rankings. Still, let me suggest: Ang Kapatiran's votes, to my mind, represents a protest vote. The question is, does the mysterious 5% noted by Pulse Asia also represent a protest vote, or something else? This is what Tony Lopez has to say:
The Genuine Opposition wants to capture the Senate. Eight of its 11 candidates are likely to win—if you believe surveys, which in the past had been dead wrong. The administration predicts a 9-3 victory, something that will defy public opinion. But then the Arroyo administration had defied public opinion before and survived. It even triumphed.
And this is what Rick Saludo argues:
Spotty surveys and analyses become especially damaging during elections. Trust in democracy may suffer if actual voting results contradict mistaken expectations engendered by surveys. Hence, the citizenry should continually be reminded that the people’s will only be revealed on May 14, never in any survey. In the last voter polls in 2004, President Arroyo led Fernando Poe Jr. by six- to seven-percentage points, or more than 2 million votes. She won by only 1.1 million.
The assertions of these two gentlemen makes me want to throw a question or two to John: first, how utterly wrong can a survey be? Dead wrong, as Lopez claims? And if, as he seems to be doing, we're all going to be stunned by a 9-2 administration senate landslide, what could make such a thing possible? Second, does Saludo have a point in saying surveys can be damaging to trust in democracy? As I was writing this, the results of another survey, this time on Trust Ratings of Officials, came in through the news pipeline. Pulse Asia has charts on its findings, both for the latest survey period: Table1 Pes2007-2 Trust-1 And over time: Table2A Pes2007-2-Trust-1 Table2B Pes2007-2-Trust-1 I've discussed before, that my rule of thumb, based on past surveys (I looked at how Pulse and SWS measured public opinion on issues such as calls for the President to resign, whether and how long she should stay in office, Charter Change, etc.), is that there are certain very broad constituencies that the administration and opposition can count on. For the administration, roughly a quarter of voters support it; for the opposition, broadly speaking, about half the country is opposition inclined. But another crucial 25% to my mind, is effectively with the administration, if only because it dislikes the opposition more than it dislikes the administration, or out of a desire not to rock the boat. Now look at the various trust and distrust ratings above. I assume that if you trust a particular leader, then you will be inclined to distrust those whom that leaders perceives or declares as the enemy. And that furthermore, strong (let's call it active) trust translates into active political support. It's interesting to me that you could end up drawing lines on the trust ratings to show a relationship between a positive feeling for one leader, translating into a strongly negative (that is, lack of trust) for another. Take a look at this, just for the sake of argument to show what I mean: Gma Cca Trust Those who have big (strong) trust in the President pretty much equal the percentage who have a strong (active) distrust of Cory Aquino; those who strongly trust Cory Aquino represent exactly the same number as those strongly (actively) distrusting the President. You could draw similar diagonals based on leaders who are widely known to oppose other leaders, and find interesting correlations, too, I think. the trust ratings of the non-candidate leaders, too, shows the clout they might have in influencing supporters to support candidates they endorse.

Joker slips, Sonia soars, Loren pulls away

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pulse-july-april.JPG In the latest Pulse Asia survey, conducted between April 3 and 5, Chiz Escudero has outpaced Kiko Pangilinan and Ping Lacson, to tie for third place. Manny Villar is more firmly in second (more firmly, that is, than in the last SWS survey), while Loren Legarda has pulled away. She is now in the statistical stratosphere, with 60.8 percent of "representatives adults 18 years and older" saying they would vote for her. It must be mentioned, however, that the same six candidates figure in the first six slots, except that there has been a rigodon in standings (Loren excepted). The same thing holds for the next six candidates: They appeared in the bottom half of the first 12 in the last Pulse Asia poll, but their positions have changed. Note that Joker, despite an impressive barrage of TV and radio ads, has actually slipped, from 34.5 to 31.6. A pity, because I thought that his campaign commercials, especially the one for TV, were the best of the lot: They actually showed a candidate standing for something. (One of the ironies of the 2007 campaign: Joker's ad actually makes the case against some of the Arroyo administration's repressive policies -- the calibrated preemptive response, for instance -- while Chiz's ads are generic; if we didn't know any better, we would think the House Minority Leader was not even a member of the opposition! Of course, they are meant to be crossover ads, but more about that in a future post.) Ed Angara has solidified his position; he seems to be going from strength to strength. The numbers are also more robust now for Gringo Honasan and Tito Sotto (which is bad news for good friend Koko Pimentel and John Osmena, both of the opposition). Sonia now leads the charge of the within-striking-distance candidates: from 22.4 in the last Pulse Asia survey (itself a tripling in her numbers), she has now positively taken flight, at 30.5. The chart incorporates the ratings from five Pulse Asia surveys, from July 2006.

Back to the trenches

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HOLY Week marks the last period of rest and reflection the politicians, media, and the public will get until election day in May. Black Saturday marked the restarting up of the national campaign and the revving up of local campaigns, both of which are now running in tandem. Last week, an editorial in the Inquirer expressed skepticism over the administration's assertion that its machinery would sweep away all opposition. Today's Inquirer editorial, in a sense, reiterates last week's observation that the Palace is trying to condition the minds of the public for an administration sweep, but that the polls are disproving that effort at conditioning. A counter-push by administration spokesmen was kicked off to mark the resumption of the campaign, but as Amando Doronila points out, the damage has been done: the juggernaut's a bit too creaky for comfort. An interesting three part series began today, by Winston Marbella, discussing the changing nature of political campaigns in the country. Among his assertions is that an old kind of political culture has died, and a new one has taken its place; in a sense, politics has become more scientific. At the very least, it's become more cost-effective for some, and a non-starter for others, because of how media-dominated elections have changed the political landscape. But what the landscape is, itself, is for other kinds of experts, such as sociologists, to discuss. In a March 11 column, Randy David, our country's most conspicuous sociologist,  I think situated the election itself best of all within the context of our changing society. I myself have tried to point out the difference between our old and new society, but I'm less optimistic than he about how different people really are, or how young people are poised to be a dynamic force. But I am as convinced as David that we're in an in-between period, where the old ways are dying, and a new way is waiting to be born.

Like a lover

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I was struck by the following coincidence of theme (or, to be more precise, agreement in metaphor) in three must-read pieces in today's Inquirer. Ceres Doyo, the only reporter in the paper with a regular column, wrote this newsfeature even before Palm Sunday. Its publication was, wisely enough, moved to Easter Sunday. The best quote, at least for newspaper-reading purposes, comes from Bo Sanchez, the Catholic lay preacher: “God is a fierce lover who will never let go.” This is, of course, an old refrain -- from the Song of Solomon, even. Sister Marie, a Carmelite nun, offers a more recent reference: "As Richard Hardy, a doctor of theology, said in a conference on St. John of the Cross, God loves us with an erotic love, with passion. In God, eros and agapé become one." The theme of lover is echoed in Patricia Evangelista's weekly column, although we are in eros territory, rather than agapé.
Boracay sand is a persistent lover. It stalks you in the shower and slips beneath bed sheets. It strokes eyelashes, slides into every cleft and crevice, then sweeps into the sweat and heat of summer dreams long after the plane’s last shuddering stop on the airport tarmac.
Every cleft and crevice: I hope for young Patricia's sake this compelling image is in fact an act of imagination, rather than experience recollected in some tranquility. The peerless Gilda Cordero Fernando has another piece in today's paper (she had one yesterday), this time about, well, the intimacy of connection.
No wonder the definition of one-ness is so hard to comprehend. Because it's not something you can get by reading or intellectualizing or analyzing. It is an experience. And it's momentary, a flash, a brief contact with the divine. And you can't have it either just any old time you want it.
Gilda's essay may strike some as positively asexual, which may be a good thing. But it did seem to me, insufficiently spiritual animal that I am, that her inventory of forms of connectedness, of one-ness with everything, missed out on one thing: lover becoming one with beloved.  I think even Augustine had a thing or two to say about that.

Brother Mike's clout

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He can certainly draw a crowd. In any election, it should go without saying, that is always an advantage. With some 200,000 faithful members of the El Shaddai Catholic charismatic movement in attendance every week, Mike Velarde's prayer rallies are a candidate's answered prayer. (Of course, there is that wonderful throwaway line from the inimitable Teresa of Avila, who knew a thing or two about politics, or at least the politics of organizations, about more tears being shed in heaven over answered prayers than unanswered ones, but that, as they say, is altogether another story). Tonight, Brother Mike (as the El Shaddai founder is familiarly known) starts making his short list of 18 Senate candidates known. I had thought he would endorse at least 15, maybe 18, candidates -- something I had wanted to write about last Tuesday. I had wondered about his appeal to the country's Catholic bishops, last month, for the church leaders to recommend 18 candidates for the laity to choose from: why 18, and not 12, the number of seats at stake in the Senate race? Later it dawned on me that political considerations had in all probability forced Velarde's hand. He certainly had to endorse at least one, perhaps all three, of the Kapatiran candidates; since he did not put a premium on popularity (at least not in public), he couldn't possibly turn the Kapatiran appeal down. The candidates and their party platform met his criteria almost to a tee. So at least 15 endorsements then (with probably six from the administration and six from the opposition). At least that's the way it seemed to me then. To be sure, Brother Mike's short list of 18 is actually not the final list; that, according to Juliet L. Javellana's exclusive, will come much closer to election day. But will his endorsements actually bring in the votes? I have already written on this: If clout is understood not as crowd-drawing but as vote-getting, Brother Mike's endorsement is not what it appears to be. The surveys also seem to bear this out. I cannot link directly to the 2001 survey conducted by SWS (it can be found under Media Releases, in the 2001 folder), but the results are clear: El Shaddai does not have a command vote, certainly not in the sense that the Iglesia ni Cristo can be said to have a command vote. Even in absolute numbers, those who identified themselves as members of El Shaddai (in the April 1998 survey taken in the run-up to Joseph Estrada's coronation) gave the game away: SWS estimated that their numbers reached only a total of perhaps 768,000 voters -- not the millions many claim. Perhaps Brother Mike's support in an election is most useful in close races, say between those four or five candidates tied for 12th place. It may well be that, on May 14, the one candidate who will materially benefit from Brother Mike's endorsement, the one for whom the endorsement will spell the difference between victory or defeat, is another smooth-talking Mike, of the Defensor variety. PS. As the piece I wrote in 2001 and republished in Newsstand makes quite clear, I regard Velarde not only as a religious leader but as a political player; in many ways, about as traditional a politician as you can get. I must point out, however, that when he drew a line in the sand last year, by condemning the shameless vote in the House that attempted to convene a constituent assembly even without the Senate, he helped stop the Arroyo administration's Charter change express. It may have been his finest moment: I thought then that his religious convictions and his political instincts had come together at the right time, helping save the day.

Quest for a common Easter

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ACTUALLY, this entire week is a light one, as far as most people are concerned. Politicians are looking forward to this week as the last stretch of R&R they're going to have until the elections in May. The same goes for media and the public. I noticed unusually heavy traffic here in Metro Manila last Friday, so I assume the Holy Week holiday's begun for many people: it's a nice stretch of vacation time this year, since the President's holiday economics (more thoroughly planned in recent years, because of complaints from businessmen) means the Holy Week vacation includes Bataan Day this year. The whole holiday period of course has a religious purpose -the commemoration of Holy Week. Since not much else is going on, I thought I'd focus on some interesting things concerning Easter. This year marks one of the fairly rare occasions when the two oldest branches of Christianity, the Roman Catholic and the Easter Orthodox, will be celebrating Easter on the same date (all of Western Christianity, of course, follows the calendar and the liturgical year, followed by Catholics). A thorough introduction to the different historical and religious calendars can be found in Calendars and their History. Jesus himself of course followed the Hebrew Calendar, and Holy Week commemorates a period that began with Jesus' trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. But from reading up on the Hebrew calendar, it seems two things happened in the case of his followers. First, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (the plundering of which is commemorated by frieze on the Arch of Titus) meant the elaborate institutional means for maintaining supervision over the Hebrew Calendar was dissolved; and second, as more Gentiles became Christians, they came to mark the year according to the Roman calendar, that is, the Julian Calendar. As for Eastern Christendom, when Rome decreed a reformed calendar in 1582, the East, which had separated from Rome centuries before, didn't follow suit. They continued to follow the Julian Calendar. Russia, in particular, as one of the centers of Eastern Orthodoxy (it viewed itself as the "third Rome," or the new center of Christendom, the first two being Rome itself and Constantinople), has continued to resist efforts to unite Christendom under a common calendar (when the union of Church and State was dissolved with the Russian Revolution, the Communists adopted the Gregorian Calendar, which led to historians pointing out the irony of commemorating the October Revolution, which took place under the Julian Calendar, in November, the event's date under the Gregorian Calendar). Easter then is based on a Jewish feast, calculated according to what was originally a lunar calendar, but fixed according to a solar, that is, the Roman, calendar, and one which has an old and a newer version in turn adopted by the two oldest branches of Christianity. The whole thing has led to a complicated set of calculations used by various Christian traditions (and even within particular traditions) to determine the date for Easter. And so, different Churches refer to different calendars -"Old" Style, "New Style" and "Revised". If you read about the debates among Christians on the proper date for Easter, you'll notice the eventual supremacy of Rome (for several centuries, at least) in determining the date, which suggests something we tend to overlook. One of the titles of the Pope is "Supreme Pontiff," an inheritance from Ancient Rome, and it's notable that the Pontiffs in Ancient Rome fixed the dates for official observances (and elections). Just last year, the present Pope dropped one of his titles, that of Patriarch of the West. This is apparently in the hope that dropping the title will foster reconciliation with the Eastern Orthodox (the move was received positively, but cautiously). The Pope's efforts at reconciling with the Eastern Churches is a major undertaking of his pontificate, but perhaps the first tangible sign for many that things are getting somewhere, would be for the two branches to finally share a common date for Easter. For Filipino Catholics, one of the highlights of Easter is watching the Pope's Easter Mass, and his Urbi et Orbi "to the city and to the world") message and blessing (which carries a plenary indulgence and can be received over the airwaves, which means if you watch it on TV or listen to it over the radio, you get the Pope's blessing as if you were in St. Peter's square!). The Pope says "Happy Easter" in many languages, and Filipinos look forward to hearing it in Filipino. Some websites to play with calendar dates: The US Naval Observatory's Julian Date Converter, and Fourmilab's Calendar Converter. Enjoy. The Inquirer family will be on vacation Wednesday onwards, so I'll see you next Monday. Happy Easter to all!

The George Costanza doctrine

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Joey Alarilla suggested that Manolo and I post "light" on Sundays, so I thought of linking to an op-ed in the Financial Times written by a policy expert based in Sydney. He outlines a witty but pointed critique of US foreign policy under George W. Bush. Light enough? It is, if you're a fan of the Seinfeld show, like me, and the current US foreign policy doctrine is named after George Constanza.
In recent times US grand strategy has been guided by a new kind of doctrine, named after not its author but its exemplar: the Costanza doctrine. This doctrine, which had its heyday in 2002-2004 but remains influential, recalls the classic episode of the TV comedy Seinfeld, “The Opposite”, in which George Costanza temporarily improves his fortunes by rejecting all the principles according to which he has lived his life and doing the opposite of what his training indicates he should do. As Jerry tells him: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” Emboldened, he tries a counter-intuitive pick-up line on an attractive woman: “My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.” At the end of their date, when she invites him up to her apartment, he demurs, cautioning that they do not know each other well enough. “Who are you, George Costanza?” the lady asks. Replies George: “I’m the opposite of every guy you’ve ever met.” The Iraq policy pursued by the Bush administration satisfies the Costanza criterion: it is the opposite of every foreign policy the world has ever met.
Fans of the unusually well-written show put up a most unusual shrine: a collection of fan-transcribed scripts of every episode ever shown. I've wasted many hours loitering in this site ("not that there's anything wrong with that"). Now it has an even more fan-friendly interface. The episode referred to by Lowy Institute director Michael Fullilove (hey, that sounds like a name conjured by the show's writers themselves) is "The Opposite," apparently the last episode of the fifth season. It's worth a lazy Sunday read.

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