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The dangers of official disclosure


Sonny Pulgar puts forward this piquant quote:

As Vittorio De Sica remarked, “moral indignation in most cases is, 2% moral, 48% indignation, and 50% envy.”

And along the way he points to one lesson from contemporary political history: an incumbent must always seek an inferior successor:

Erap and his nocturnal Malacanang pirates were shoved in the calaboose. Immediately we mounted a moral pygmy onto our own pedestal pining for a “gentler, and better presidency.” We were soon disillusioned when we were introduced rudely to her incredibly rapacious estranged espouse. (Erap in hindsight was nanghihinayang with the unbeatable team up of Erap with Lito Lapid in May, 1998. He harassed Lito with myriad Ombudsman cases that led to the latter’s suspension early on the former’s presidency. Had Lito been Erap’s Vice President, Ramos and company could have thought a million times before undermining Erap’s helm).

Asked why he had not replaced Spiro Agnew on the 1972 ticket, Richard Nixon replied, that Agnew was his “insurance policy” because “no assassin in his right mind would kill me.”

(Incidentally some time ago in To cheat is patriotic, he put forward this very shrewd look into the moral framework, politically-speaking, of the President; I happen to agree in that the fundamental lesson she took away from her father's presidency is, nice guys finish last).

So for every effort at constituting a Moral Majority, the President can underscore the timelessness of Machiavelli's dictum that the appearance of virtue is more important than virtue itself. I have been pointing this out since June 14, 2005, and once more, with feeling, is Machiavelli's advice:

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite…

For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious.

And so in response to Hayden Kho and his documenting his conquests, the Elected are proposing all sorts of legislation to penalize public exhibitions of penises. Which makes for the Law as less a means to enforce public morals but rather, to camouflage the public's voyeuristic proclivities, Government as Fig-leaf, if you will.

So anyway let's go on to public dissatisfaction over other public sins like profligacy with the public purse.

Even if you grant that Pulgar's De Sica quote has a kernel of truth, still, that can only give an insight into the hidden motivations of public outrage over official spending at a time of public want.

Domestic news and public opinion have completely ignored the rather remarkable goings-on in the United Kingdom, where, for the first time in 300 years the Speaker of the House of Commons ended up confronted in such a manner. Things came to a fascinating head during a stormy parliamentary session, in which the embattled Speaker tried to make an Arroyo-style "I am.. Sorry" speech which only poured gasoline on an already-raging fire.

Accounts of the tumultuous parliamentary session particularly struck me because of the elephantine institutional memory of everyone concerned. Aside from most commentators pointing out it's been three centuries (not since 1695 to be exact!) since a Speaker of the House of Commons has been prematurely removed from office, Sir Patrick Cormack, in responding to the Speaker's apology-flop, brought up the Norway Debate (in which Neville Chamberlain lost the confidence of the Commons in 1940). Bloggers picked up on the reference as well, see From a Vauxhall Velox:

You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

The words of Leo Amery in the Norway Debate have never had such resonance and appropriateness as they perhaps have had today in the House of Commons. Sir Patrick Cormack referenced the great debate of 1940 during what can only be described as the shambolic statement by Mr Speaker Martin today.

And Leo Amery, a partisan of Churchill, in turn used the famous lines of Oliver Cromwell when he dismissed the Long Parliament on April 20, 1653, perhaps one of the most vitriolic speeches ever made by a politician against his peers:

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money. Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!

Although SnarkMarket points to research suggesting the speech may have entered legend but without a basis in historical fact! But puts forward this genuine account of a genuine example of vintage Cromwellian ire:

Lt. General Cromwell (I am sure of it) very loud, thumping his fist upon the Council table, til it rang again, and heard him speak in these very words or to this effect; I tell you, Sir, you have no other way to deal with these men, but to break them in pieces; and thumping upon the Council table again, he said, Sir, let me tell you that which is true, if you do not break them, they will break you; yea and bring all the guilt of the blood and treasure shed and spent in this kingdom upon your head and shoulders; and frustrate and make void all that work, that with so many years’ industry, toil and pains you have done, and so render you to all rational men in the world as the most contemptiblest generation of silly, low-spirited men in the earth, to be broken and routed by such a despicable, contemptible generation of men as they are; and therefore, Sir, I tell you again, you are necessitated to break them.

It's interesting how the fallen Speaker's defenders tried to turn the tables, at first, on their critics, see To labour is to struggle:

The Speaker may appear to be a victim of misdirected anger, a scapegoat. However it was Mr Martin who actively blocked attempts to use the FOI act to reveal the spending habits of MP’s. His response has been muted in public and obstinate in private. He is totally out of touch with the public mood. His example (his wife’s taxi fares) before this blew up, his failure to step forward as an impartial representative of the house of commons and his subsequent (in)actions clearly warrant his demise.

His supporters have long suggested that his opponents are waging war on a nationalistic (Mr Martin is scottish) class front. Mr Martin is brusque at best and rude at worst but these are traits present in many of our business and political leaders. He has however been accused (below the parapet) of a lack of impartiality in his running of the house.

But the public mood was definitely not only sour, but indignant on a nationwide scale. A commentary in The National Newspaper outlines the whole issue, including some of the more lurid revelations:

The cause of the MPs’ decline is the publication of their expenses, leaked to a newspaper. It is the detail that has caught the public imagination, rather than any huge sums of money. Yesterday it was revealed that a Conservative MP installed an ornamental floating island in his garden to protect his ducks from being eaten by foxes, at a cost to the taxpayer of £1,645 (Dh9,500). A fellow MP claimed for cleaning the moat around his country manor. No one can see how these expenses were necessary for them to carry out their jobs, especially at a time of deep recession.

More seriously, several top politicians, including cabinet members, have manipulated the rules so that they can avoid paying the taxes that they legislate for other people to pay. Others have claimed for reimbursement of the interest on non-existent mortgages, which looks like fraud and is being investigated by the police.

The scandal might have been contained but for the fact that a succession of MPs have explained their conduct by saying it was “within the rules”. But the MPs themselves set these rules and fought hard to keep them secret from outside scrutiny. Many still cannot see that it was their responsibility to change a patently unreasonable and immoral system, not to go along with it. Some caught with their hands deepest in the public purse have blamed the Fees Office – the body which approves and reimburses their expenses – for not cracking down on them.

MPs are paid a relatively low salary – £64,766 a year – so they can enjoy projecting an aura of frugality. By comparison, a B-list news presenter on the BBC was forced by an angry parliamentarian to admit that she received half as much again – £92,000 pounds. In order to bump up their pay – and provide for having two homes, one in London and one in their constituency – MPs have been allowed to claim generous allowances. These have ballooned into covering the cost of food, gardening and refurbishing homes that can then be sold at a profit, tax-free.

Suspicions about what the MPs were claiming were heightened when they fought to keep their allowances secret, retaining an exclusion from the Freedom of Information Act. The public mood was already one of anger at the elite: the reckless greed of the bankers – abetted by a complacent government – had driven the country into recession.

With hindsight it is clear that the British parliament was blinded by its own traditions, which date back to the 13th century.

The New York Times editorial today also says the issue is one of official salaries not being in keeping with what the jobs may really require:

Members do have a legitimate compliant that they are paid too little: less than $100,000 a year, compared with about $170,000 for a member of the United States Congress. Britain’s taxpayers want changes. They want to make Parliament’s doings more open, which is a good thing. They also want to cut out these fat and far too easily abused expense accounts. That’s good too. But they will also have to find a way to pay their representatives a better wage.

The Daily Telegraph has been at the forefront of the issue.

As this article (Selangor to enact Freedom of Info law ) shows, increasing demands for public access to official records may be part of the Zeitgeist.

Official allowances have also been controversial, domestically, and economic downturns often lead politicians to trim their salaries as a sop to public opinion, while finding other ways to maintain their income (see my October 31, 2007 entry on official allowances).

This whole thing is extremely relevant in light of the ongoing efforts to muster public support for a Freedom of Information Act. Public indignation was sparked by journalists using the UK's Freedom of Information Act of 2000 to secure official information damaging to officialdom.

See A Very Important Notice in Filipino Voices:

While the Supreme Court has upheld the enforceability of the constitutional right to information, its effective implementation has for the past two decades suffered from the lack of the necessary substantive and procedural details that only Congress can provide. There are also no effective sanctions that will deter the violation of the right.

The passage of an enabling law has come closer to reality when the Lower House approved on third reading and transmitted to the Senate its counterpart measure last 12 May 2008. What is left is for the Senate to pass its counterpart measure. Initially we had difficulty moving the Senate committee concerned. However, during the change in Senate leadership last December 2008, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano became the chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media. He has committed to take the measure forward, and has made good his promise by conducting the necessary public hearings and technical working group meetings.

A draft committee report is now ready, and a final committee hearing on it is scheduled on Monday, 25 May. After the committee members sign the committee report, the next step is its sponsorship before the Senate plenary. The fighting target is to have the sponsorship on Wednesday (27 May).

I support a Freedom of Information Act but with the understanding that it may be very much a Dead Letter even if enacted. Its effectiveness will depend on an institutional awareness of the importance of record-keeping, and the safeguarding of official records -which brings up the problem that much of what is of public interest is not being recorded at all.

For example, minutes of official meetings, and institutional diaries and so forth; not all government agencies are created equal in this regard and even those with a tradition of record-keeping, have their records protected by new interpretations of existing laws or concepts like Executive Privilege. This can only make getting to the bottom of current events even more difficult than it already is.

As Tony Abaya says of himself and Tony Gatmaitan, people commenting on politics are all looking through a glass, darkly; you are as liable to get things wrong as you get things right; but sooner or later you will be proven either right or wrong. What is worth pointing out in addition, is that it takes some time for what is often bruited about in politically-active circles, to percolate into the public domain. Let me give you an example.

If you'd read this blog entry by Mon Casiple mere weeks ago,

However, various scenarios threaten to replace the election scenario or at the least vitiate or weaken its regime-changing role. One, of course, is the current charter-change move. Other possibles are the attempts to manipulate or–failing–to sabotage the automated elections (and revert back to manual election system), the creation of artificial political atmospheres to justify various forms of state of emergency, and the scheme to form a caretaker government premised on a nationwide failure of elections. Various combinations of these are also possibles.

You might have considered him unduly alarmist. At the time, officialdom was confident that it could accomplish the full automation of national elections by 2010. Even as late as the other week, when iBlog 5 took place, by all accounts, James Jimenez of the Comelec was upbeat; though one has to wonder if he wasn't already aware of the looming problem of the bidding for automation not being successful.

Indeed, not very long after Jimenez' smooth reassurances at iBlog5, the Comelec's own chief was publicly speculating on No-Election scenarios. Personally, whether a conspiracy exists or not, it's the public indifference to the issue that's pregnant with political meaning. Public opinion -or the lack of it- has a direct relationship with however things unfold, politically.

This brings me to something Ellen Tordesillas blogged about in more timely fashion: the response of Judge to her (and my) view that he was out to get himself inhibited. Vera Files published a transcript of the Judge's response:

Q: Balikan ko po ang isyu: Ano pa po ang pressure ng Malacañang na sinasabi ninyo at pinag- iinhibit kayo?

A: I am a trial lawyer, may mga ginagawa na idedeny lang nila. Frankly, sino ang gagawin kong witness? Yung gumawa sa akin e di syempre pag ka tinanong nyo siya, idedeny nya. So yung tangible lang ang itotouch ko dahil isa akong trial lawyer nga ako. Dati, ang tagal kong nagproprove ng kaso, ang tagal ko sa piskalya. So I will touch on the tangible ones.

Itong pressure, marami pa itong kasunod, tinatawag nga akong ignorant. Ang nakakatawa dito, doon sa Internet, chini-cheer nila ako e. Maganda ang May 4 order ko, may lumalabas na gross ignorance of the law.

Q: Saan nanggagaling?

A: Yung tama ang ginawa ko? Sa mga blogsites. Ang daming bloggers na pinupuri ang aking mga decision. Tapos may tumitira na ignorant ako of the law. Pero ang matagal na tayong judge. Umpisa lang ito, I'm sure meron pa yan.

Kaya lang nga, ang masasabi ko sa kanila. Kahit anong gawin ninyo, hindi ako mag-iinhibit dahil ayaw ko ipasa ito sa mga mahal kong kapwa mahsitrado. The temptation to inhibit is very great. All I have to is, o sige, inhibit and then balik ako sa dati kong buhay. Kawawa naman judge na mag-iinherit ng kaso, ganon ba dapat, hindi e, trabaho ko ito.

Q: May mga demolition job na ho.

A: Umpisa na ito after hearing today's news. Expected nyo na bukas na may motion to inhibit na. E hanggang ngayon wala.

Q: Tangible po itong demolition job. May nabanggit kayong intagible, maaari nyo ba kaming bigyan ng clues?

A: If I mention the name of the person, he will just deny e, syempre tao lang ako, syempre natatakot din ako. Kahit anong tapang ko, kung may ahas dyan o bayawak, lintik na itik, yung famous words ni Jamby Madrigal, kung may lintik na na pinepressure ako, baka matakot ako. Kahit itik yan, kung may pangil ang itik na yan di ba?

Q: Ano po ang ginawa ng taong yan, Judge?

A: Hindi nga. Ganito na lang, kahit ano pa gagawin niya sa susunod, hindi ako mag-iinhibit sa kaso.

Balik tayo doon sa order ko May 4, ito lang yata in Philippine history na pinost sa Internet. Yung mga bloggers medyo pilyo ito, sina Manuel Quezon III, si Ellen Tordesillas ng Malaya. Meron silang theory na kaya ko raw inisyu yan para ako mag-inhibit. Well, I would like to correct, although binasa ko ang blog ni Ellen Tordesillas, naiyak ako e. Kasi marami palang nagdadasal sa akin na pagpatuloy ko raw to. Kaya lang ang misis ko tinutukso ako kasi meron din doon ano ba yun, kaklase ko yata yung judge na nakikipagusap sa dewende. Tawa sya ng tawa. Tinitira ka dito. Sabi ko, oo nga no. Ganun lang, may freedom of speech.

Q: Sino sa Malacanang ang nag-pressure sa iyo?

A: Syempre, hindi sila personally magpapadala nyan, si di ko alam,. Di ba pag may conspiracy, ang main conspirator hindi nagpapakilala. Hanggang ngayon hindi nga natin alam sino nagpapatay sa ating hero.

Q: Pero lumapit po sa inyo? Tinawagan kayo?

A: Hindi ako crybaby. Kahit elementary ako, kung suntukan, suntukan, kung karate, karate. Pero matanda na ako, ayaw ko na makipagsuntukan.

Marunong din ako matakot, kahit anong pananakot nila, tuloy ang kaso sa akin.

A little later in the interview, he says he wrote his bistering opinion to pique public interest, and as a means of self-protection:

Q:Ano po sinabi?

A: I will be consistent, hindi na. Ito na lang mas importante.

Puro sa news... baka hindi nyo nakikita ang plano na mag martial law?

Balik tayo kina Manuel Quezon III at Ellen Tordesillas. Sabi nila mag-iinhibit lang ako kaya ko ginawa yung funny order. One of its kind, pero hindi eh. I intentionally wrote it that way para maging interested ang tao para pag nagsalita ako ngayon, madali na.

Q: Hindi ba kayo natatakot at mas lalo kayo pag initan?

A: Tao lang, syempre matatakot ako. Just the same, hindi ako mag-iinhibit. Tuloy ang kaso sa akin. Wala pa naman akong motion to inhibit. Ano gusto nila? Dahil sinabi ni Lolo Gonzalez na mag-inhibit ako? Wala nga motion sa akin e, paano ako mag inhibit?

Voluntary inhibition, ayaw ko nga mag-voluntary inihibit. Ayoko ipasa ang problema sa kapwa ko judge na mga mahal ko kahit yung iba hindi ako mahal...

Q: Motibo?

A: God-fearing kasi eto nga. I hope I'm very wrong in my analysis na magkakaroon ng martial law. All these are moving towards martial law. Pero kung hindi ko sinabi ito ngayon, I will not be able to forgive myself, my conscience will be bothering me for the rest of my life. Kasi maraming nagsasabing hostile witness role na hindi nakita ng iba, tawa sila ng tawa kung pwede ko daw bang ipaaresto ang presidente. Sabi nga sa isang dyaryo ignorant daw ako, hindi daw pwede, pero si former Secretary Drilon sinabi pwede at hindi nakakatawa.

In the meantime, read this glowing account of the preparations in Indonesia for their coming presidential elections, and weep: Indonesia Clears the Decks for a Presidential Election.

The Great Book Blockade of 2009: Timeline and Readings

Per The Curious Couch, the Dean of the UP Law School, Marvic Leonen, is interested in filing a case. Please be aware that:
you do NOT have to pay taxes to claim your book purchases/packages at the post office. Books are tax-exempt. Marvic Leonen is interested in filing a case to put an end to this kind of fiasco and has asked me to dig up my old receipt to get the case going. I have spent the last hour or so trying to find the receipt, to no avail. I am usually very good at filing even the most irrelevant documents, and so I am starting to get that sinking feeling that I must’ve thrown it away. I’ll keep on looking for it, but in any case, if you’ve had a similar experience–paying taxes for books at the post office–and you still have the receipt, please get in touch with me at chingbee(dot)cruz(at)gmail(dot)com. I’d like to collect as many receipts of this kind as possible and turn them all over to Marvic.
"Where is your evidence? Bring it to the proper forum!" Here's an attempt to cobble together a timeline of events 1950: June 17 The Florence Agreement is concluded under the auspices of Unesco. How is this, and subsequent revisions to it, supposed to be interpreted? Narrowly, or broadly? The Unesco's own Guide to the Florence Agreement and Nairobi Protocol: Emphasizes the following:
Under the Agreement, books, newspapers, periodicals and many other categories of printed matter are granted duty-free entry. Printed music, maps and even tourist posters are similarly exempt. All the items of this annex to the Agreement, except architectural plans and designs, enjoy exemption from customs duties regardless of destination. Books are the most important category. The exemption granted to books is not subject to any qualifications as to their educational, scientific and cultural character.
That is, interpretation is supposed to be as broad as possible. 1952: August 2 President Elpidio Quirino signs the Florence Agreement. Unesco lists the formal Ratification of the Republic of the Philippines as having taken place on August 30, 1952. Although another Unesco link dates Philippines' signature on August 7, 1979 (this may be a discrepancy reflecting the Philippines' acceptance of the Nairobi Protocol?) 1957: June 22 The Congress of the Philippines passes Republic Act 1937, revising the tariff and customs laws of the country; it incorporates the undertakings of the Florence Agreement into Philippine law. 1973: September 3 Ferdinand E. Marcos issues Presidential Decree No. 205 authorizing the republication of foreign books domestically if the prices of books becomes "so exorbitant as to be detrimental to the national interest." He also issues Presidential Decree No. 284 substituting existing provisions in the Customs and Tariff Code with the following provisions:
Section 1. Subsection (s) of Section 105 of Republic Act Numbered nineteen hundred thirty-seven, as amended, is hereby further amended to read as follows: "s. Economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical, historical, and cultural books and/or publications: Provided, That those which may have already been imported but pending release by the Bureau of Customs at the effectivity of this Decree may still enjoy the privilege herein provided upon certification by the Department of Education and Culture that such imported books and/or publications are for economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical, historical or cultural purposes or that the same are educational, scientific or cultural materials covered by the International Agreement on Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials signed by the President of the Philippine on August 2, 1952, or other agreements binding upon the Philippines. "Educational, scientific and cultural materials covered by international agreements or commitments binding upon the Philippine Government so certified by the Department of Educational and Culture. "Bibles, missals, prayer books, Koran, ahadith and other religious books of similar nature and extracts therefrom, hymnal and hymns from religious uses."
1976: November 26 The Nairobi Protocol to the Florence Agreement is signed. 1977: September 27 Ferdinand E. Marcos issues Presidential Decree No. 1203 amending his earlier order, granting the payment of royalties to authors affected by the domestic republication of books. 1978: June 11 President Ferdinand E. Marcos issues Presidential Decree No. 1464 consolidating existing Customs-related laws and decrees into the Tariff and Customs Code of 1978, including the following under Section 105, Conditional Duty-Free Imports:
s. Economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical, historical, and cultural books and/or publications: Provided, That those which may have already been imported but pending release by the Bureau of Customs at the effectivity of this Decree may still enjoy the privilege herein provided upon certification by the Department of Education, Culture and Sports that such imported books and/or publications are for economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical, historical or cultural purposes or that the same are educational, scientific or cultural materials covered by the International Agreement on Importation of Educational Scientific and Cultural Materials signed by the President of the Philippines on August 2, 1952, or other agreements binding upon the Philippines. Educational, scientific and cultural materials covered by international agreements or commitments binding upon the Philippine Government so certified by the Department of Education, Culture and Sports. Bibles, missals, prayer books, Koran, Ahadith and other religious books of similar nature and extracts therefrom, hymnal and hymns for religious uses;
1990: November 27 President Corazon Aquino issues Executive Order No. 438 imposing a 5% duty on all imported items except those enumerated as duty-free under Section 3 of the order, which includes "those conferred by effective international agreements to which the Government of the Republic of the Philippines is a signatory". 1995: June 7 The Congress of the Philippines passes Republic Act 8047, the Book Publishing Industry Development Act, which among other things, exempts foreign and domestic books from the Value Added Tax (VAT):
Sec. 12. Incentives for Book Development. — ...In the case of tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing, the Board and its duly authorized representatives shall strictly monitor the quality and volume of imported books and materials as well as their distribution and the utilization of the said imported materials. The Board shall also recommend to the proper prosecuting agencies any violations of the conditions of the duty-free importation. Books, magazines, periodicals, newspapers, including book publishing and printing, as well as its distribution and circulation, shall be exempt from the coverage of the expanded value added tax law.
The Law also mandates the following:
Sec. 4. National Book Policy. — The National Book Policy shall conform to the policy provided for in Section 2 hereof and shall have the following basic purposes and objectives: (c) to ensure an adequate, affordable and accessible supply of books for all segments of the population;... (j) to reaffirm and ensure the country's commitment to the UNESCO principle of free flow of information and other related provisions as embodied in the Florence Agreement and in other similar international agreements;...
2003: Roland Benzon notes in a May 6 at Philippine Genre Stories comment that attempts to tax the importation of books were already taking place at this time:
so i have shipped books and magazines by surface and air since the 80s, all for personal consumption and collection; some donated to public libraries. all tax-free. as recent as 2001, i air-shipped books from amazon. air freight is pricey, but the books were not taxed. i first encountered book taxation around 2003, when i claimed a parcel of books from the makati post office. citing the florence agreement and my long history of importing books, i argued my case. the postal clerk just played dumb, and countered with "new law" and "just doing our job". in disgust, i told them to return the books. i refused to be a victim. attempting to bypass the post office, i ordered books for door-to-door delivery. i was more willing to pay a premium than fill pockets of crooks. but when dhl delivered the books, same thing: customs duties. in resignation of the inescapable, i paid the taxes and vowed never to ship by air again. i do not remember the taxes, but i can tell you this much: it was not 1% or 5%, which i wouldn't have blinked at. it was 15%, at least! heck, it might have even been close to 50%.
2005: January 25 The Congress of the Philippines passes Republic Act 9335 providing for "a Rewards and Incentives Fund and a Revenue Performance Evaluation Board" for the Bureaus of Customs and Internal Revenue; The Trojan Bore suggests this may have provided the motivation for officials to seek every means possible to meet revenue targets. 2008: September 23 My entry on how Post Office and Customs attempts to levy 5% duty on a shipment of books, plus VAT (see a similar experience in The Curious Couch and in Boomarked!). BIR officials opine no such levies are warranted. 2009 The Great Book Blockade (for additional details see Philippine Genre Stories, Bibliophile Stalker, and Bahay Talinhaga): January 26 Air shipments of books are stopped and held by Customs authorities. Cause? As reported by Robin Hemley,
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer... an international best seller, had apparently attracted the attention of customs officials. When an examiner named Rene Agulan opened a shipment of books, he demanded that duty be paid on it... Mr. Agulan told the importer that because the books were not educational (i.e., textbooks) they were subject to duty.
January 27 Department of Finance tells Customs to release the books; "but their order was ignored by the aforementioned examiner Rene Agulan." Bahay Talinhaga goes on to suggest this provided the impetus for the bureaucracy to confer "and eventually, Customs and the Dept. of Finance, found common ground on this issue." Hemley summarizes the goings-on as follows:
Throughout February and March, bookstores seemed on the verge of getting their books released—all their documents were in order, but the rules kept changing. Now they were told that all books would be taxed: 1 percent for educational books and 5 percent for noneducational books. A nightmare scenario for the distributors; they imagined each shipment being held for months as an examiner sorted through the books. Obviously, most would simply pay the higher tax to avoid the hassle. Distributors told me they weren't "capitulating" but merely paying under protest. After all, customs was violating an international treaty that had been abided by for over 50 years. Meanwhile, booksellers had to pay enormous storage fees. Those couldn't be waived, they were told, because the storage facilities were privately owned (by customs officials, a bookstore owner suggested ruefully). One bookstore had to pay $4,000 on a $10,000 shipment.
March 5 Date of a letter to to "Atty Pasion-Flores of the NBDB, the examiner refused to release the books despite the fact that all previous requirements had been met, including a 'certificate of membership with NBDB.'” Somewhere during this time, officials from the Department of Finance apparently engaged in consultations with members of Congress. March 16 Usec. Sales meets booksellers. As reported by Robin Hemley:
Customs Undersecretary Espele Sales explained the government's position to a group of frustrated booksellers and importers in an Orwellian PowerPoint presentation, at which she reinterpreted the Florence Agreement as well as Philippine law RA 8047, providing for "the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing." For lack of a comma after the word "books," the undersecretary argued that only books "used in book publishing" (her underlining) were tax-exempt... Likewise, with the Florence Agreement, she argued that only educational books could be considered protected by the U.N. treaty. Customs would henceforth be the arbiter of what was and wasn't educational. "For 50 years, everyone has misinterpreted the treaty and now you alone have interpreted it correctly?" she was asked. "Yes," she told the stunned booksellers.
As reported by Kenneth Yu:
After this meeting with the Congressmen, Undersecretary Sales and her team also met with various booksellers. She said that her meeting with them was cordial, good, and respectful, as she made all these details clear to them. In other words, her meeting with them went well with no untoward incidents, which is why she was surprised at what came out in the Hemley article. Everything was spelled clearly to the booksellers.
March 17 First of the stopped shipments are released "a day after Undersecretary Sales spoke with importers and book sellers, and storage fees were paid." According to Hemley:
The day after the first shipment of books was released, an internal memo circulated in customs congratulating themselves for finally levying a duty on books, though no mention was made of their pride in breaking an international treaty.
March 24 The Department of Finance issues Department Order No. 17-09, published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Easter Sunday, April 12: scan0001vnjscan0002uza The Department Order institutes a regime in which all books brought into the country are deemed subject to Customs duties until or unless a complicated process of obtaining dispensations from the authorities are resorted to; and which further assumes that titles must be in small quantities and not for sale, barter, or trade to qualify for any Customs duty exemption. The Order furthermore institutes an elaborate series of definitions for books covered by existing Duty-free importation privileges, which are definitions different from the broad classifications in the Florence Agreement; and furthermore, restricts the interpretation of the National Book Development Act to apply only to the duty-free importation of books "used for book publishing." The duties imposed are 1% for "educational, technical, scientific, historical or cultural books" and 5% for all other books, according to the Department of Finance's new definitions. A backgrounder on how the Order above was put together. Here is Usec. Sales' version of events as reported by Kenneth Yu:
First of all, Undersecretary Sales and her team at the DOF spent a lot of time studying the rules/laws/regulations involving this matter beforehand, and found that in Sec. 105 of the Tariffs and Customs Codes, there really is a provision for a 1% duty on imported books ("educational, cultural, etc.") that are for sale and for profit, and she said that the Florence Agreement was addressed here in this specific section. This 1% has been in existence since way long ago, and in fact, has not been implemented for that long a time. After Undersecretary Sales and her team studied all these laws, the results of this was that this regulation should be followed because it is the law, and forthwith published this information on Easter Sunday 2009, with implementation to follow 15 days after Easter Sunday. From what I understood of what she said, there will be no duty only if these imported books are donations to public schools, readers' groups, etc., that is, if the books imported are not for sale or for profit. This 1% is for, to use her words, "control/monitorinig" of the imported books coming in. She used the example that if a bookseller brings in P100,000.00 worth of books, the duty on this is only P1,000.00. She told me that she would like to also make clear that vat on books is still 0%, no matter what.
Now, if a book or title does not fall under "cultural, educational, etc.", then that duty goes up to 5%. However, she points out that the DOF is not the one who determines a title's labeling of whether it is "educational, cultural, etc." She said that this labeling belongs to other organizations (she mentioned the DepEd and Unesco)... I also asked her about books ordered, say, on Amazon, and picked up at the post office. Should that duty be paid there too? She said, "Yes, but only if that hasn't been included in the original payment." In other words, check your receipt and your emails of the online transaction. If duties had already been paid via Amazon or whatever online bookseller, then print that receipt/email and bring that proof with you to show that duties have already been paid. If however your receipt/email doesn't show this duty, then you are obliged to pay for that duty.
Abdon Balde says Rep. Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. proposed amendments to the Department Order but these were not viewed favorably by Usec. Sales. Here is Kenneth Yu's report on Usec. Sales' mentioning consultations with Congress:
These laws which she and her team researched were brought up in a respectful meeting with various Congressmen. She said that at first, a number of them were against it, but when she explained that this duty has been in existence in law for so long and really has just not been implemented, they agreed to it. She said that if the Congressmen really want to make it 0% duty for all, then they must pass that law first before the DOF can implement it. In other words, the legislative part of the gov't, Congress, has to pass it into law before the DOF, the executive branch that "executes" these laws, can enforce it. As of now, after all their study, Undersecretary Sales and her team have seen that this duty exists in law, and they are doing their job in enforcing it.
April 27 The Department of Finance Order goes into effect. May 1 Robin Hemley's The Great Book Blockade of 2009 is published online in Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency. May 5 Kenneth Yu publishes the results of his interview of Undersecretary Salas, giving the Department of Finance version of events for the first time (and so far, the only time). May 6 Louie Aguinaldo establishes the Facebook group, FILIPINOS AGAINST THE TAXATION OF BOOKS BY CUSTOMS. May 7 Jessica Zafra in her blog publishes the Position Paper of the Book Development Association of the Philippines Re: Tax and Duty Free Importation of Books May 24 RockEd will hold a "book giveaway": BOOKPROTEST Here's a roundup of bloggers who've blogged about the issue: andrewdrilon, Animetric's World, Bahay Talinhaga, Bet.cha.by.golly.world., Bibliophile Stalker, Bitter Pills & Breathing Spaces, Bookmarked!, Bittergrace, Fish in a bubble, Star in a bowl, castles in the air, Daily Musings, From Donelle's point of view, everyday reads, Glass half-empty, Hibernating Bear, Hmmm... that's interesting, Indolent Indio, Internet451, i hate twilight, Jarminator :-), Journal of the Jester-in-Exile, JessicarulestheUniverse, Karotitay.com , Komikero Comics Journal, Life is like a game of poker, Love and Choices, mzeid, Mnemosyne Writes, opinionated thoughts of a cubicle dweller, Original SIM, >> Press Start >>, Purpose Driven Paul, Random Thoughts, Refine Me, My Thoughts Exactly, Notes of an Anesthesioboist, Pine for Pine, Pop ups of my mind, Philippine Genre Stories, Random bits of life and media, Street but Sweet, Scratching Post>>, The Trojan Bore, THE GRIN WITHOUT A CAT, The Age of Brillig, The Curious Couch, The Pelican Spectator, The Misadventures of Wonderboy and His Broken Hearts, The Pork Sword Chronicles, The Unlawyer, To the Tale, and Other Such Concerns, Twilight Sucks, Twilight Coven Philippines, Tales of a Backpacker, touyatouya, The Pageman in Kabul,  uneditedmara, What lies beyond the furthest reaches of the sky?, Wandering Star, vinzmondi, xairylle, and see also On The Book Blockade put up by the UP Hobby Gamers' Circle.

Congressional Blind Man's Bluff

The President -and the Palace- is extremely pleased about wangling an invitation to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, thereby dispelling the conventional wisdom that it is in bad odor with the Obama administration, and that the President and her husband are in hot water concerning their financial transactions. To be sure, the ever-active rumor mill says the President enjoys diplomatic immunity and so, wouldn't undergo any actual indignities going to, or while in, the United States; but that it's an entirely different story for her husband (and so supposedly explains his sudden deplaning in Tokyo and his absence at the Pacquiao fight). The Palace is being unusually tight-lipped about who, exactly, invited the President and who or how the invitation was wangled; it remains to be seen if the President actually gets any face time with the new American president or a superficial "photographed in the same room" Kodak moment. Still, the signal's clear: reports of the President's sinking status in Washington are greatly exaggerated. Interestingly enough, a Filipino in Macao apparently texted a sighting at the international airport, of the President's husband. No announcement has been made in the media of his having gone off overseas for what can only be a bit of R&R, since Macao is the last place one would go for cardiovascular convalescence or treatment (note that the President and her husband have been there quite often). What's significant about this sighting, if true, is that it's par for the course as far as the President's husband and political issues heating up are concerned. The moment an issue starts pointing to him, he hies off overseas, beyond the clutches of media, the courts, or Congress. And the issue's getting closer and closer to the President's husband:
Right before him, “(They) first discussed bribes. They had a rough approach.” From that meeting, it was impressed on him that “(bribe) money was important to do business in the Philippines.” This was how the Japanese contractor described his meeting with First Gentleman Miguel “Mike” Arroyo and a former senator to World Bank investigators who looked into alleged collusion and rigging in the Bank's funded road projects. On another occasion, the Japanese executive met the former senator and “it had been made clear to him that there would be no business in the Philippines without paying money,” the WB report, as prepared by its Integrity Vice Presidency (INT) unit, noted. He was also told “that money would have to be paid as high up as the president, senior government officials and politicians in order to do any further business in the country." The Japanese contractor, however, had no direct contact with the President. The report further added: “To win a contract, it would also be necessary to pay the head of the bureau and politicians several million yen.” We obtained parts of the World Bank report but we are not disclosing the name of the Japanese contractor and other witnesses. The Japanese contractor has since left the country. The Japanese contractor was among those interviewed by the INT in connection with its probe on bid rigging. His firm purportedly participated in two bid packages, which were later confirmed to be false. In fact, the company denied placing any bid and that the signatures of the company president were forged. It was the only direct testimony in the WB inquiry alluding to the First Gentleman’s possible link to bid rigging controversy that has led to the blacklisting of seven firms and one individual for alleged collusion in WB funded road projects worth $33 million. Three other interviewees gave testimonial evidence that indirectly linked Mr. Arroyo to bid manipulation.
The problems of the congressmen's patrons aside, this is not a good time for the House of Representatives. While I was in the hospital, much as I try not to follow the news, I had the impression the whole World Bank contractor issue, combined with the Legacy Group's collapse, could have been much worse. Consider the situation of the Speaker of the House. Uniffors lays it out as follows:
Mikey Arroyo’s errand boy, putative Speaker Prospero Nograles, is in deep shit because of the collapse of rural banks owned by Celso de los Angeles Jr. His ever-changing stories about his relationship with the man whose classmates at the Ateneo called “Boy Kadena” have been the subject of an editorial by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. See “Prospero’s Legacy?” Also, a former president of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp revealed that Nograles tried to pressure him to go easy on de los Angeles. Nograles disputes the expose. But here’s something Nograles admitted and Boy Kadena confirmed at the Senate hearing on the Legacy collapse. Nograles invested millions, around 18 to 20M, in the failed banks. So the question is this: Was Nograles’ investment in the form of deposit accounts? You see,according to a PDI news report “The rural banks held a combined P14.03 billion in insured deposits in 132,642 bank accounts that each held amounts at or below the P250,000 limit of Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp.” So the enticement behind the de los Angeles’ double your money ponzi scheme is that all your deposits are guaranteed because they are insured by the PDIC. Your capital is safe. However, the maximum amount any one depositor can collect from the PDIC is P250,000. So, even if one has multiple accounts, those accounts will still be considered as one depositor account. In other words, the limit is on the depositor not on the account. So, to get around this limitation, depositors use fictitious names for their other accounts. However, they still run the risk of getting caught by the PDIC and, if caught, if the PDIC finds out about the dummy accounts, those accounts will be counted as accounts in the name of one depositor and will be subjected to the P250,000 limit. Now, Nograles had 18 to 20M in the Legacy banks. Was he a depositor with a single account? Or were his deposits made under different names? If his deposits were made in his name then he will recover only 250K from PDIC. If his deposits were in different names, then Nograles knowingly participated in a scheme to defraud the PDIC, which incidentally, his brother now heads.
Now if Nograles has a brother in the PDIC, which has to bail out banks, like the ones Speaker Nograles invested in, that's quite a big public relations pickle to be in. Worse, it plays straight into the hands for someone lusting for the Speakership or simply, to take Nograles down. Personally, besides the long-standing mutual antipathy between Lakas Speaker Nograles and Kampi Grand Pooh-Bah Villafuerte, the Speaker is embattled on a front in which Villafuerte happens to have some experience -investment banking- and let no one forget Villafuerte's wife sits in the Monetary Board, which has a say in the bailing out of the PDIC which has to bail out depositors; who wouldn't put it past Villafuerte to have politically career-killing information on the Speaker now, thereby toppling him? That would make two Lakas Speakers toppled for careless deal-making, and strengthen Kampi's demand to be the dominant partner in the new Ruling Party. But instead, it seems the full arsenal of administration crisis management's been deployed. Step I: Delay The Palace and friends had months to digest the contents of the World Bank report and dot all the i's and cross all the t's with regards to a legal defense, as well as lobbying; after doing their bit to maneuver legislation that might be beneficial to the Legacy Group and other friends, and failing, the House still had time to maneuver things so that when the issue broke wide open, some sort of damage-control could be undertaken. Notice the length of time the Ombudsman's been in possession of the WB Report, with no preliminary investigations taking place. But then, if pressure keeps up, they can use preliminary investigations as a way of buying time (remember the handling of ZTE?) Step II: Dispute The Senate wants to investigate contractors? The House will investigate, too -faster, and gentler, too (see Contractors in Congress). At the very least everything's reduced to House-said, Senate-said. Step III: Decamp The President goes overseas. Her husband goes overseas. Out of sight, out of mind. No lightning rods. Step IV: Divert And so, after being so quiet as to make everyone think they were comatose, or resigned to the status quo, the Committee on Constitution Amendments of the House has announced that the Nograles Resolution has made it out the gate and can be sliced and diced in plenary, which will hog the headlines for a few weeks, making opposition and administration congressmen happy. Richard Gordon's given Congress another way to get what it wants (so long as enough of them get reelected... see, it's all connected, somehow!):
Gordon... said that the Charter should be revised by the elected lawmakers of the Senate and the House of Representatives sitting as delegates of a Constitutional Convention. He filed Senate Joint Resolution 20, which calls for a Constitutional Convention after the May 2010 elections with the newly-elected members of the 15th Congress as its delegates.
Meanwhile, get the 2010 Beauty Contest going, just to create buzz but no real political momentum. Take your pick: A. Scuttlebutt on candidates, such as Bossman Eduardo Cojuangco anoints Escudero and not Teodoro; or Manuel Villar wooing Vice President de Castro to join the Nacionalista Party. B. Ordering that long-delayed merger to proceed. C. Additional efforts to muddle things by means of spectacles (see Pagcor chief launches 2010 Coalition) that give reform a bad name. Message 1: don't tread on us. Message 2: The Speaker's a statesman. Message 3: We're all in this together, nyah, nyah, nyah. What's happening is a whitewash on one hand, and juggling political balls in the air to help the whitewash. All these things carry a price, and they're not of the opposition's making. The two issues involve collusion between the private sector and officials firmly in the administration's ranks. The ranks of the administration, meanwhile, have an election coming up and need to grease the wheels of governance through pork barrel spending. As Ricky Carandang recently pointed out in his blog,
The P50 billion in additional spending will be used for infrastructure and social services. Much of that will be funneled through administration friendly lawmakers districts. The pork comes in two forms: first is the outright earmarks that have increased in the 2009 budget. The second is in te form of “hidden” pork. Outlays included in the budget of the Department of Public Works and Highways that must be spent “in consultation with lawmakers.”
Mon Casiple, in his blog, apropos of the long-delayed Lakas-Kampi merger, describes the lay of the land:
The situation on the ground in the 2010 national and local elections is one wherein, in many places, it is Lakas and Kampi political dynasts who are vying for elective positions, including scheming at electoral cheating and, in some cases, at electoral violence. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, in the absence of a strong political party system. The only attraction a GMA-brokered merger brings to the table is the political weight the presidential endorsement carries, including the financial resources and government network that goes along with it. Many, if not most, of those in the ruling coalition will definitely need it and thus will be expected to echo the merger call. However, such an attraction will have to be tempered with the sobering fact of a hugely unpopular president. Her endorsement of a candidate–in many places–is the sole factor for a great many voters to drop the candidate. It is a kiss of death in national electoral contests and in many local contests. The GMA endorsement will matter only in those contest areas where her popularity is not an issue. Ironically, there it will not matter much. The money and the government resources from the presidential deepwell will be the major reason if ever a candidate in these areas accepts the endorsement. The merger likewise will actually weaken both parties in the coalition when a spurned Lakas or Kampi member who wants to run under the merged coalition bolts out and run as an independent or under other parties. As I said before, party affiliation is based on the interests of the candidate-member, not the party. GMA’s motive in calling for a merger obviously has everything to do with her political situation and nothing to do with the 2010 prospects of Lakas or Kampi. She needs to fend off as long as possible–at least in appearance–the lameduck character of her post-Cha-cha administration. She also needs the leverage to maintain her influence over her chosen presidentiable and ensure the candidate’s victory. A merged ruling coalition (or the appearance thereof) is crucial.
Whichever way you put it -from the perspective of a President saddled with a mercenary political coalition, or the point of view of the mercenaries in that coalition, and the mercenaries in the opposition for whom election or re-election is as much an end-all and be-all imperative- this requires money. And you wonder why there are rumors of grand heists?
LPG shortage (?)–>justifies raising LPG prices. Rice price increase (again?) without any justified reason in sight. Power Lotto, on top of several megamillion Super Lotto and Mega Lotto prices recently. Buy-in in Meralco, Petron, Liberty Communications. New mining corporations. No land reform but million-hectare corporate farms carved out of public lands and land reform areas. Huge national budget, including funds for mega-infrastructures or (a new favorite) recession-proofing and poverty-alleviation. And, horrors, a jack-up in smuggling cars, rice, drugs, DVDs, and what have you. Also, “taxing” drug lords and jueting lords or arranging tax amnesties for tax evaders or laundering for a fee the infamous hoards of corrupt officials.
But now the whole cozy system's been subjected to an unwelcome spotlight, arming political opponents (whether just as dirty or not) up and down the line with a juicy issue: squandering resources at a time when belt-tightening is in order. And pursuing a policy of shifting resources around. Today, Jarius Bondoc writes that half of the 50 billion stimulus plan will come from the Social Security System (and only revealed because the SSS Chief, Romulo Neri, Jr., was asked about it by the opposition). As Abraham Lincoln famously said, "too many piglets, too few teats." Which may help explain news stories like Investors see RP defaulting:
ADB senior economist Dr. Cyn-Young Park said the widening credit default spreads lead many investors to think that the Philippine government may default on its debt, or not pay these when it becomes due. “This is the investors’ assessment of the creditworthiness of the Philippine government,” Park said in a seminar organized by the Yuchengco Center and the De la Salle University. “Generally, the market is more cautious in giving credit… that’s why sourcing funds overseas may be too costly at this [time],” she added. A company’s credit-default swap spread is the cost per annum for protection against a default by the company. Park, however, said that with the global economic crisis, the Philippines fares well compared with newly industrialized economies in Asia, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. She said most of these have been heavily affected since they have a “substantial financial market,” mainly being linked with the United States market. It will be in the hands of the national governments in the region to spur the economy—such as what the Arroyo administration is doing—by providing stimulus packages to perk up market and consumer demand, she said.
Here are some readings on the issue. As far as the (reading, and specifically, On Line) public knows, what is floating around is pretty much an Executive Summary from the World Bank. Much has been made of "collusion" being the main, provable, offense. To understand the process is to see where people like the President's husband come in (see Newsbreak's Bidders spill names, modus operandi in bid fixing):
But this time, it is now the politicians who set the rules. “Contractors engage in a sort of auction, where the contractor willing to pay the largest bribe can win the politician’s support,” one local contractor told WB probers... Normally, one has to deal with politicians in both the national and local level—the former who controls the implementing agency and the latter, whose area is hosting the project... At this point, word of honor is not honored. The one who has the money reigns supreme. Bribe, preferably, should be given at once to seal any agreement. It is also crucial to be in the favor of the ‘facilitator’ of the bidding manipulation, which bidders say is contractor Eduardo de Luna, owner and proprietor of the now-blacklisted E.C de Luna Construction Corp. for public works projects. Contractors interviewed by WB says de Luna has connections in the public works department who are part of the cartel... Several witnesses told WB probers that de Luna enjoys the backing of First Gentleman Miguel “Mike” Arroyo. De Luna, they say, acts as Mr. Arroyo’s go-between in foreign assisted projects. One contractor said E.C de Luna is so powerful that it controls most of the bidding at the Department of Public Works and Highways. The WB source said it was through E.C. de Luna operations that China Geo Engineering Corp., China Road and Bridge Corp, and China Wu Yi Co. Ltd., three of the blacklisted firms by the WB, won the bidding for WB-funded projects. The source had predicted that these three Chinese would win the bids before the tender offers were opened. Once the ‘winning’ firm has been identified with the blessing of the cartel, the sham bidding begins. Designated ‘losing’ bidders, in collusion with the syndicate, complete the charade. The previous standard operating procedure (SOP) was for the ‘winning’ bidder’ to provide three percent of the advance payment for the project to the losing bidders. SOP to the politicians is also taken from the advance payment... But recently, the practice is to split a percentage of the advance payment between the politicians and the intermediary. A lawmaker who acts as sponsor to the bidder gets 15-20 percent of the project value while local officials share between 2-3 percent. The intermediary is responsible for the share of the losing bidders... The kickback is nothing to scoff at. Total payoff, according to the local contractor, ranges from 15-27 % of the total value of the contract. This does not include up to 20 percent in “unnecessary costs added to the project,” a former government official with intimate knowledge of bidding in the public works told the WB’s Integrity Vice Presidency unit. The “unnecessary costs” are mean to cover the costs incurred for the bribe. Expectedly, all payments are in cash. “Company books do not reflect any of these payments in any event, because the books are faked to avoid taxes, ” said a local contractor. The former government official supported this assertion, adding that bribery extends to internal revenue officials to keep the company’s financial books above board.
For a report on how this process may have worked, see the PCIJ's Special Report on the World Bank's bidding findings (As for why the behavior of Congress can be said to constitute a whitewash, see the Inquirer editorial, Whitewash, from January 30, 2009. You may want to visit The Legacy Group Watch blog, set up by a disgruntled investor. For a broader perspective, see these papers: Corruption in Asia Pervasiveness and Arbitrariness And Japan Korea the Philippines and China Four Syndromes of Corruption

The Untouchables

Yesterday's Inquirer editorial brought up the dangers of Narcopolitics. Last year, I pointed to the blog Third Wave, who I believe was the first to bring up the issue of Narcopolitics with regards to the 2010 polls. More recently, he had this to say in his entry, Just a social user: No big deal?:
The war against dangerous drugs is the most dangerous job. The entrapment operation of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on September 20, 2008 that caught young and affluent drug suspects will prove the risks of the job. The wealth and political connections of so called Alabang Boys has became the greatest threat of honest drug enforcers of PDEA. Let the money moves. Let political influence change things. Behold wealthy suspects, you’ll soon be free! I don’t wonder why the Alabang Boys appear so confident and relax. They know wealth and influence can save them. One of the parents admit that he knows that his son is using drugs. He said, (my son) is a social user but not an addict. It’s no big deal. If all of the parents of 6.7 million drug users in the Philippines think the same way, the war against drug in the country will not prosper. (Data based on 2004 survey of Dangerous Drugs Board).
The entry provides an insight into the awareness of many citizens that illegal drugs presents a grave threat to society, and the desire of many citizens for something to be done; and that law enforcement when it comes to the drug trade means tangling with mad, bad, and dangerous people. But it all points to the problem that the best way to tar and feather anyone is to bring up the "D" word. Another insight into the uphill struggle for those insisting on a scrupulous regard for rules of evidence and so forth, is the obvious skepticism with which government lawyers' actions are often met. A good example is in Pinoy Politics:
In our country, you can buy your freedom as long as you have connections and money. I remember my American friend who teased me about our judicial system. He said, in the Philippines, "it's better to drive without license, than to drive without money." Funny, but true! Maybe, for some "onion-skinned" Filipinos, they might be offended. But come on, guys, let's be real! If the buy-bust operations happened to "Talayan Boys" or "Payatas Boys", would the hullabaloo that beseiged DOJ happen? I don't think so! Immediately, these "Talayan Boys" or "Payatas Boys" would be annihilated. There'll be no intervention from influential people from down abyss, or even from high-heavens. These fucking people who intercede on behalf of "Alabang Boys" must be prosecuted, or even burned to death. They don't deserve to be in the government, they're doing great diservice to the people. Putang ina, wala kadikadecalideza ang mga hayup na ito. Eh si Zuno nga madalas kong makita sa Cafe Adriatico at kung sino-sinong kameeting na babae dun. Pati din si Blancaflor madalas din sun. If both of them are really guilty, let their heads roll! ...Gen. Santiago and the PDEA have been working hard to eliminate drugs. But with these misplaced people in the government, who lawyered for the accused instead of prosecuting them, the country is indeed going to the dogs. Putang ina nyo, mamatay na sana lahat ng mga sangkot sa cover ng Alabang Boys. What makes me angry is the fact that on mere "technicality" the people in DOJ tried everything to mitigate the case against Alabang Boys. Bakit kaya? May porsyento ba sila o sangkot kaya sila. Well, your guess is good as mine!
But the "technicalities," when anyone's life, liberty, or property are at stake, are everything. This is because aside from the harsh and disturbing realities Pinoy Politics points out, there is another reality, and that is, the prevalence of official extortion and the flipside of the impunity the wealthy and well-connected exhibit when it comes to the justice system -the non-wealthy and non-connected, if targeted unfairly by the authorities, are completely at the mercy of officialdom. A Simple Life has this to say:
The curious case of the Alabang Boys, who allegedly are connected to a big-time drugs syndicate, would have been one of those countless cases that got dismissed “due to technicalities”, if not for the righteous indignation of the PDEA. While PDEA agents were spending sleepless hours staking out and apprehending illegal drug pushers, DOJ undersecretaries and state prosecutors were apparently busy conniving with drug criminals and their lawyers, in duping the seemingly clueless Justice Secretary into signing dubious resolutions to dismiss drugs-related cases.
I don't contest that the indignation may be righteous, indeed, but that ignores the quite obvious problem here: enthusiasm and a zeal for interdicting and apprehending drug pushers (minor or major) means nothing if the cases aren't ironclad. And the even more basic issue is whether you have the right sort of people in charge of law enforcement in the first place. Major Ferdinand Marcelino has become a kind of (Middle Class, at least) folk hero for his fiery and uncompromising nature, something the public tends to admire and sorely misses in officialdom. But Mon Casiple points out the odds stacked against Marcelino:
The so-called “Ayala Boys” case and the facts that came out exposed the subject that is usually only whispered about: the extent of and intertwining of drugs, politics, and the justice system. It points to a frightening combination that may have already undermined the very integrity of the current democratic system. It is an open secret that drug money provides a major source for campaign money in Philippine elections, right up to the level of the campaign for national political positions. Drug, jueteng and other criminal money is expected to play a major role in the financing of many candidates in the 2010 national and local elections. It is also an open secret that–despite the decades-old anti-drug campaigns–the drug problem not only persisted but has grown and spread to every nook and cranny of the archipelago, corrupting government officials, policemen, judges, lawyers and other components of the the whole justice system. From time to time, there may be petty drug criminals who were convicted but by and large, major players–especially those big fishes (operators of shabu laboratories, distributors, and smugglers–are freed on technicalities, escaped, or simply had their cases dismissed. The drug syndicates’ core leaders are never caught.
See also Malou Guanzon-Apalisok's 3 biggest drug scandals, which details the woes of one whistleblower:
The 2001 investigation conducted by the House dangerous drugs committee, then headed by Cebu City Congressman Antonio Cuenco, is worthy of mention not only because a top NBI official insulted the members of Congress by playing golf instead of attending the House hearings, but also because today one of the whistleblowers, Bernard Liu, is bearing the brunt of the legal action filed by the brothers Peter and Wellington Lim as a consequence of Liu’s testimony and the committee’s failure to pin the businessmen down on illegal narcotics activities. Trying to vainly fend off before the Court of Appeals the warrant of arrest issued against him by the Cebu Regional Trial Court three years later, the witness bewailed why he is being punished for testifying. Liu’s fate has had a chilling effect on those who may have inside information on the illegal narcotics trade.
And how bizarre things can get as officialdom tries to be responsive to public opinion while failing to achieve anything:
The case of a very large cache of amphetamines that went missing after it arrived in the port of Manila from Seoul, South Korea, in November 2001 was a subject of a probe conducted jointly by the committees on dangerous drugs and public order and security. Then National Bureau of Investigation director Reynaldo Wycoco revealed that Seoul counterparts tipped him that about 100 kilos of shabu hidden in a cargo of vermicelli or noodles will be transported to Manila in a 40-foot container van via Hong Kong. Wycoco confirmed the illegal cargo arrived shortly after midnight of November 17 on board the vessel Manila Star but after two days in the Customs container yard the shipment was released reportedly without the knowledge of NBI officials. Shocked over how a large shipment of illegal drugs could disappear under the very noses of NBI and Bureau of Customs officials, Ilocos Norte Congressman Roque Ablan exposed the anomaly in a privilege speech. Summoned to appear before the joint House committees, the officials described a bizarre entrapment operation that allowed the delivery of the drug cargo to a fictitious address in Binondo, Manila, only to be led to nowhere in Bulacan. The House hearing abruptly ended after Congress was fed with a letter from a supposed police authority in Seoul, saying that the drug shipment was just 500 grams of amphetamines.
This discouraging reality is what inspires an admiration for vigilante justice in fighting illegal drugs. As Patricio Mangubat wrote, back on January 2 in Filipino Voices,
One source revealed that Johnny’s son is not really a hardcore drug pusher-addict. The real pusher is one of the two young guys arrested. He’s said to be the close friend of the high-society drug lord who’s closely associated with a retired general. This guy should be the one arrested by PDEA. But, for some unknown reason, they always fail to catch him in his Valle Verde lair and his BF homes-Paranaque tambayan. Maybe, they’re scared of the father who’s very close with the First Golfer. I would not even be surprised if some showbiz personalities fall in the next few weeks. This young druglord is highly connected and very well known in the underworld and in showbiz. He’s the one who supplies the drugs to artistas, social climbers, the Fort habitues, and those partygoers. In the future, he’ll be unmasked and brought to justice. For now, the public is encouraging the Alabang boys to spill the beans. Time to rehabilitate yourself. There’s still time for you to repeat and turn a new leaf. By the way, those Magdalos inside the PDEA—again, thank you. You did a great job. The nation hopes that you’ll continue your good work. Dismantle these drug cartels. Kill the bastards.
I fully subscribe to Mangubat's call for the parents to put their kids in rehab and for the kids to spill the beans. The cautionary note to his call for the liquidation of evil drug dealers is this comment on his entry. And at least one columnist also perceives the whole thing to be The lynching of State Prosecutor John Resado. Let me add that another problem is that Marcelino, who obviously admires his boss, Santiago, is still subject to a chain of command with a flawed sense of way to go about things.See No PDEA post but Palparan was briefed:
Santiago said he could make Palparan his deputy for “special concerns” in case the controversial former military officer is appointed to the PDEA by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “We will discuss with him how best we can utilize him at PDEA,” Santiago told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday in a phone interview. Santiago said he gave Palparan an overview of what PDEA does during a briefing last week. Afterward, he said, the retired general “seemed to like” the idea of joining the agency.
A President who would appoint such a man; a PDEA chief who would welcome him -this should be enough to say, "whoa, there, hold your horses!" So even as PMA alumni back Dionisio, Marcelino. one has to distinguish if Santiago and Marcelino deserve to be put on par with each other, and the disquieting reality that the Philippine National Police as an institution still hasn't overcome its Philippine Constabulary origins, and is riddled with brass who graduated from the PMA: and that is part of the problem when it comes to law enforcement in this country, it still lacks a firm grounding in civilian-minded law enforcement. Still, considering past efforts to exact accountability from our elected officials, why this sudden insistence on my part on precisely the sort of thing I've challenged? If "where is your evidence, prove it in the proper forum!" was a noxious mantra with regards to asking the President of the Philippines to resign or impeaching her, why should it matter in the case of people like drug dealers, whether real or alleged? Hence my column today, The Untouchables. The genesis of this column was my dissatisfaction with the whole issue of the collision between the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). And my having recently watched The Changeling (on a related note, read more on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders). At the heart of my column are two things: 1. It is wrong to put a civilian undertaking like law enforcement in military hands, the military mentality is incompatible with evidence-gathering and the prosecution of offenders; the reason the military's colliding with civilians is that the vigilante-minded soldiers have been sent to run after drug dealers but in such a manner as to keep the truly powerful drug dealers beyond the reach of these soldiers; and so- 2. The whole issue is a sideshow because it parades parasitic socialites before the gallery (which always generates applause), but ignores the really powerful drug lords. Concerning the second point, I brought up the need for an Elliot Ness, instead of a George S. Patton, to lead the fight against illegal drugs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, has made available significant portions of Ness's FBI File. Something of interest is his response to his pursuit of a poential suspect as the Cleveland Torso Murderer (a 1930s serial killer):
One very strongly suspected individual was Dr. Francis E. Sweeney, who voluntarily entered institutionalized care shortly after the last official murders were discovered in 1938 and remained in such in various hospitals until his death in 1965. Significantly, Sweeney worked during World War I in a medical unit that conducted amputations on the field of battle. Sweeney was later personally interviewed by Ness, who oversaw the official investigation into the killings in his capacity as Cleveland's Safety Director. During this interrogation, Sweeney, whom Ness code-named "Gaylord Sundheim," is said to have "failed to pass" two very early polygraph machine tests administered by polygraph expert Leonard Keeler, who told Ness he had his man. Nevertheless, Ness apparently felt that there was very little chance of obtaining a successful prosecution of the doctor, especially as he was the first cousin of one of Ness' political opponents, Congressman Martin L. Sweeney. Sweeney {d.1960}, a political ally of and a father-in-law to Sheriff O'Donnell {d.1941}, and an opponent of Republican Cleveland mayor Harold Burton, had hounded Ness publicly about his failure to catch the Butcher. After Sweeney committed himself, there were no more leads or connections that police could make to him as a possible suspect. The killings apparently stopped after Sweeney committed himself. He died in a Dayton veteran's hospital in 1965, though he did continue to mock and harass Ness and his family with threatening postcards well into the 1950s.
This is of interest because of the refusal of Ness to exceed the parameters established by the law. This is what separates the law enforcer from the vigilante. As it is, the whole thing has gotten bogged down in the minutiae of the accusations and counter-accusations. An interesting perspective is provided by Ang magulong pag-iisip ni Pulis Na Pogi:
so where did things most probably went wrong? for pdea: they did everything right except entrap the bribers. for all we know, pdea double crossed the suspects (accepted the bribes--but not major marcelino i think--and still filed the case anyway.) this might have given rise to the outburst of one of the relatives of the suspects as narrated during the congressional inquiry. for resado, he was very coarse in his diskarte. he should have not rendered an inquest resolution right there if he had the intention of receiving the expected bribe. he should have talked to his supervisor first. but habit may have overtaken him this time. it is common to see cases recommended for filing by the inquest prosecutors on the night of the inquest proceedings when the arresting offices are present, overturned the next morning by the chief inquest when the resolution is forwarded to him. during the interim, you and i knows what happens. for the doj, they had tolerated their people for so long that verano thought that even in this high profile case, he can get away with the blatantly illegal things that he used to do all the time. for the family of the suspects, they should have known better than bribe pdea. with a bagito marines as team leader of the arresting team, they should have known that he is still incorruptible. had they bribed resado at the very start, they could have won right in the very first round. resado could have written: "there are things that need to be clarified in a preliminary investigation. release of the suspects is hereby ordered unless detained for other lawful grounds." the only recourse of the pdea then is a motion for reconsideration. this happens all the time!
And so, my column was an effort to try to zero in on just what, exactly, was bothersome about the whole issue. Late last night, long after I'd submitted my column, I ran across this January 10 entry in Torn & Frayed in Manila, “Alabang Boys” – give us a break:
Here are three conclusions you might have arrived at from the relentless coverage of the “Alabang Boys” case in recent days. • Drug taking in the Philippines is almost unknown — this is why this exceptional case has attracted so much attention. • The Philippines must be as incorruptible as Singapore — this is why the papers are so outraged at this alleged bribery attempt. • The Philippines has no serious problems to attend to — this is why the papers are devoting so many acres of newsprint to this trivial case (not to mention the ruckus at a golf club that competed for space on the front page). • This place is weird. Unlike the Inquirer, which has clearly decided that the Brodett family is guilty (or so it seems to me), I haven’t reached a conclusion about the rights and wrongs of the case. Given the way things work here, it seems to me quite possible that the Brodetts may have tried to pay money for their sons’ release. Facing similar circumstances, many of us might have done the same. On the other hand, it also seems quite possible that, realizing that the young men were from a wealthy family, members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) either set them up or tried to use their sons’ predicament to “encourage” a bribe from their parents. After all, it would not be the first time such a thing has happened in the Philippines. That’s why we have courts; to decide which of prima facie equally plausible explanations reflects what actually happened. I have reached a couple of conclusions about the furor over the case though though. • The PDEA claim that the three young men represented “a syndicate that sold illegal drugs at the Metro Manila club circuit and did business online” isn't too convincing, if only because it has supplied no evidence of this, beyond dropping the name of Embassy (surely an easy target), which the club has strongly denied. • It seems much more likely that this whole thing is about young people taking drugs for fun, an activity that has been widespread throughout the world for at least 40 years and will still be practised long after the Brodetts, the PDEA officers, you, and me have all kicked the bucket. So why can’t we have a public policy that reflects the realities of the 21st century rather than those of the 1940s?
That about says most everything that needs to be said, and quite nicely. And it tells us the limitations of the coverage in our media. Everyone, like the French officer in Casablanca, seems shocked, shocked! That drug-dealing (and taking!) is going on here. But there's a certain feigned ignorance about the whole thing. And yet, the implications of such scandals is dire. More recently, stories have started cropping up, pointing to N. Mindanao tagged as RP’s new illegal drugs capital while there are other areas of the country long blighted by Narcopolitics: Calabarzon ‘narco-politics’ under watch.  In the past, even the New People's Army has been shocked, shocked, they'd even be thought of as possibly coddling the drugs trade! You can be sure the NPA will find itself the target of an offensive justified by the War on Drugs. Which may be why Palparan is chomping at the bit to be assigned to PDEA (see Insurgency Re-examined, from the Free Press Centennial Issue, on the self-perpetuating nature of the Communist insurgency and the military's response, which helps feed the beast). As the Roman saying goes, who will guard the guardians? If PDEA says Narcopolitics’ a factor in 2010 polls, and yet assuming (as I do) the good, even noble, intentions of the young officers in PDEA, this still brings up the need for caution, as Ding Gagelonia points out in Filipino Voices:
This narco-politics spin, unsubstantiated as it is, fits well into a scenario where even genuine, non-criminal dissent may be stifled. The onus is for Santiago to put his money where his psy-war-prone mouth is and present to Filipinos real hard evidence about national level narco-politicians. Throw your suspects in jail, Mr. Santiago, and spare us your histrionics and psy-war tactics! Could it be that this one-time Marcos-era Metrocom officer may actually be engaged in a politically motivated black propaganda push where the ultimate beneficiary is the anti-drug trafficking Czarina and not Philippine society?
For background, here's Aljazeera's The shackles of shabu. It takes a look at the crystal meth trade in the Philippines, and the prominent role Chinese triads play in the manufacture and distribution of the drug. See Howie Severino's Blood for Shabu.He tells the story of addicts who sell their blood so as to have money to pay for the addiction. See also Ecstasy party pill; shabu drug of choice.Recently, Vera Files has reported As 'shabu' price rises, Ecstasy use up, and along the way puts forward official statistics on drug use: The figures seem small, don't they? While Baby Boomers, the generation that embraced the Drug Culture in the 1960s and 1970s, are now a relatively smaller portion of the population than the under thirtysomethings that comprise the overwhelming bulk of our population, surely their percentage of drug use would raise the overall percentages? But if true, I wonder how the percentages compare with other countries. In other news, SMC-allied group buys 7% of Meralco: Board changes seen Monday. The end of an era?

Slowly but surely

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Back in December, I wrote about the then-unreported loss of jobs in the Call Center industry, which some readers disputed as a "half-empty" sort of thing to say; still, hard news started trickling in (for example, Accenture Manila cuts hundreds of jobs).And while, indisputably, the industry itself is trying to maximize its potential (see BPO industry short by 20,000 jobs of its target last year) it has to do so while grappling with harsh global realities (see BPO industry sees consolidation amid uncertainty in US economy ). To be sure, if companies are nimble, there are actual opportunities:
Tholons Philippines country manager Jo-An Darlene Chua was quoted as saying that with the country’s BPO export value aggregating close to 50 percent of India’s, companies may well find the Philippines as a good alternative. Tholons said the same for Vietnam “as a solid alternative to India on the IT side.” Sañez said he can’t see any backlash yet on the US government’s move to generate domestic jobs that may impact the BPO industry. “It doesn’t matter whether the policy of President-elect [Barack] Obama may rein in offshore activities because outsourcing and offshoring are business decisions.”
But as blogger Marocharim, over at Filipino Voices, recently wrote a timely reminder of the very human face of all these statistics: the layoffs are real, the concern among young Filipinos, acute. Today's headlines focus on the closing of Intel's Philippine operations and disclose job loss figures that are disheartening, though also, confusing: Export drop affects 34,000 jobs; Gov't fears 60,000 IT job losses (surely some overlap between these two separately-reported figures); and RP 2008 growth may be weakest in 7 years. No one doubts this year will be tough; the ongoing economic crisis is global and of course affects us, too (see Layoffs for January 2009 at America's 500 largest public companies:71,450). However, if the country is to weather the storm, or position itself to recover as quickly as possible, then it surely helps to see where the bad news has been fostered by existing conditions. This Intel story, for example, began close to two years ago. On April 3, 2008, blogger SEAV, in Intel Cavite Closing Down, for Real? pointed to Yugatech first blogging about the possibility "almost one year ago," and then mentioned information that surfaced in the comments section of an entry of his in another of his blogs, Vista Pinas (see Intel Philippines, Cavite Plant). One comment in SEAV's blog (April 4, 2008; seconded by an April 7, 2008 comment) explained the closure as follows:
The complete story is that, and this has been extremely misrepresented in various circles thus far, there are issues with the current building where Intel CV is operating and given Intel’s utterly strict standards on safety and building code compliance, this is deemed more as a long-term move for safety reasons (think Hanjin and you know what I mean) rather than an immediate pull-out of busines operations. In order to sustain the business, a set of options have been formulated by Intel Corporation as a whole with the most promising being that a new building should be identified where all operations can be transferred to and resumed. This part of the story is still not resolved and a second announcement is due by end of June to finally roll-out the official plan, a full closure being one of the alternatives, if a building is not identified and the economic climate of the Philippines continue to be inferior versus Vietnam and China and the rest of the world.
According to Yugatech (in Intel to shut down Cavite facility by year-end), has been steadily paring down its workforce since April, 2008 (when SEAV's entry came out), reducing it from 3,000 workers at the time, to the 800 who made the cut but who will now lose their jobs. It seems reasonable to deduce that the economic reversals of the company at present meant it had to dispense with finding a win-win solution for the problem it's wrestled with for some time now:
According to a source who received the memo, Intel will no longer continue its plans to transfer its operations to Laguna (the one by NXP Semiconductors, formerly Philips Semiconductors, plant in Cabuyao as reported earlier). Intel has been taking bids and contracting 3rd party providers for the transfer but suddenly scrapped them altogether. The memo did not specifically indicate the reasons for the sudden reversal of decision.
Now there's a moral to this story, and it is, that if we are to not only entice, but retain, foreign investments, you can't muck around with "puwede na" slipshodness and that problems, once identified, ought to be resolved within a reasonable period of time, otherwise the window of opportunity might simply close, leaving ordinary employees in the lurch -and further retarding the competitiveness of the country (and other issues were raised concerning the waning enthusiasm of Intel: high taxes, high power rates, etc.). In a letter to the editor today, Peter Wallace comes up with an answer to the ongoing debate about the 2007 economic figures touted by the government:
As to 2007 being a good year, we can’t fully agree. The reported growth of 7.2 percent was not because of a strongly growing economy but because of a numerical oddity. Import growth is subtracted in the equation for the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2007 imports fell by five percent, the double negative meant that this rate of fall was added to GDP — a double-negative becoming a plus. Had imports grown at their previous more normal rate of around five percent, GDP growth would have been about 4.8 percent, much more in line with anecdotal evidence. One must ask: How could imports have fallen if the economy was growing strongly; intriguingly how could oil imports fall by some 6.6 percent? The only explanation we can think of is that smuggling must have been up.
But then the problem is that data is ever disputable. But Wallace's letter, which ends with his opinion that the World Bank's blacklisting of some domestic firms is a step in the right direction, brings me to another point related to my point concerning Intel's shutting down its Philippine operations, and my blog entry, yesterday, on the government and its possible anxiety over the handling it will get at the hands of the new American administration. ph6-062708 Personally I think Amando Doronila is being alarmist (and if you want my view on the matter, there's my commentary, New era of intervention ; the best overview, remains, to my mind, in Torn & Frayed's blog). So f what the country can expect is more assistance for development, but no encouragement for secession, and also, increased scrutiny on human rights, then this means the Palace had better nip all this talk of ex-Gen. Palparan being put in charge of the anti-drug agency of the government! And more to the point, it had better start finding some big fish to fry as far as corruption is concerned. Philippine Commentary links to a Dow Jones Story, World Bank Bans 7 Firms, Some China Government-Owned, In Philippines:
Following a major investigation spanning several years by the Integrity Vice Presidency, the World Bank found evidence of a "major cartel involving and international firms bidding on contracts," it said in a release. That led to four Chinese state-run firms being barred for the first time from doing business with the World Bank for a period of between five and eight years - the China Road and Bridge Corp., China State Construction Corp., China Wu Yi Co. Ltd. and China Geo-Engineering Corp. A Philippine firm E.C. de Luna Construction Corp. and its owner, Eduardo C. de Luna, were each banned indefinitely. Two other Philippine companies, Cavite Ideal International Construction and Development Corp. and CM Pancho Construction Inc., were each barred for four years. "This is one of our most important and far-reaching cases, and it highlights the effectiveness of the World Bank's investigative and sanctions process," said Leonard McCarthy, vice president of the World Bank Integrity department, in the statement. The investigation began in 2003 after the World Bank team grew suspicious about collusion in the bidding process for a contract during the first phase of the Philippines National Roads Improvement and Management Program. The road improvement program was partially financed by a $150 million World Bank loan, though none of the sanctioned firms received any money. In August 2008, the inquiry led the bank to ban a South Korean firm working on the roads project, Dongsung Construction Co. Ltd., for four years.
The government, from what I've been able to glean, saw the writing on the wall as far back as October last year. In broad strokes, the story goes like this. In October, the government got wind of the Millenium Challenge Corporation's attitudes cooling towards the government. It seems some officials in the President's official family decided that some sort of public to-do had to take place. The private sector was approached, in an effort to net, as the saying goes, a big fish or two. The idea, as proposed by the members of the President's official family to representatives of the private sector with whom they met, was to mount some sort of investigation and undertake prosecutions to prove that the government was serious about curbing corruption. The private sector suggested that one way would be to focus on issues that were festering, such as the Diosdado Macapagal Highway issue or even electoral fraud in the 2004 presidential elections. But the officials balked at this. OK, so why not look into the National Road Improvement Project and the findings of the World Bank, the private sector suggested, by way of a compromise. Apparently the World Bank findings were already being discussed not just in government circles by this point. But when the private sector asked for a copy of the World Bank report, the officials balked, although it seems the government was in possession of the report in full, and not just an executive summary of its findings. Along the way, the Ombudsman seems to have received a copy of the report, but with the interesting proviso, on the part of the World Bank, that the report not be used by the Ombudsman for prosecution: if a prosecution was to be undertaken, the Ombudsman would have to do her own investigating (interesting, because it suggests the World Bank didn't want to get dragged into domestic politics, or had little confidence in the report being used for anything more than window-dressing by the Ombudsman). So the whole thing fell apart because the private sector failed to be convinced of the good faith of the officials that made the approach; I wouldn't be surprised if ongoing efforts in Congress will simply be written off as  the government deciding it would be better to go through the motions of doing something regarding the World Bank report rather than opening up other investigations. To be sure, the World Bank report deserves a congressionaly inquiry. The World Bank's report probably had an impact on the American government's Millenium Challenge Account Philippine Threshold Program and its decision to cut funding for the Philippines. At first, it seemed that essentially what the country had was a P.R. problem. See Millennium Challenge Corp. cuts Philippines aid:
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an American government aid agency, has restricted aid flowing to the Philippines due to concerns about corruption. The MCC is setting aside a prior decision to promote the country from "Threshold" to "Compact" aid status, which would have secured significant funding for development projects. The decision appears largely based on the World Bank Institute's aggregation of corruption perception surveys, which report a worsening public perception of corruption problems.
After she'd taken great pride in the supportiveness of the Millenium Challenge Corporation, the President obviously knew she'd have a lot of explaining to do once news of this reversal leaked out. But more than perception, it seems, the problem of the government was that the Millenium Corporation seems to have been affected by the World Bank's findings -and they were factual. Which pulls a rug from the government's beloved "where is your proof? Prove it in the proper forum!" mantra. After all, it could undertake precisely what's going on -its own investigation, within the controllable parameters of congressional inquiries. Score Fy09 English Philippines Still, the damage has been done. The charts above shows the inexorable slide, downwards, of the Philippines' ratings concerning corruption. But if the Millenium Challenge Corporation hands you lemons, make lemonade. If the government's going to suffer a black eye -and a loss of funding and the accompanying erosion of its prestige- it could, at least, keep its China Card in play, as an antidote, fiscally, and politically, to its having lost the American Card. Which, one could argue, is what it's doing. On the principle that even if stories end up unfolding slowly but surely, so long as you keep the public distracted, it can't detect the slow, inexorable, unfolding of events. So you can blame the closing of Intel's plants on the global economic downturn (which is true, of course) while sweeping any domestic culpability for it, under the rug. You can thunder and shrill about the World Bank report while downplaying what you used to trumpet -the Millenium Challenge Corporation's decision to put things, at the very least, on hold.

Not Ala-bang, but Ala-whimper

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I can't quite put my finger on it, but I am not completely sold on the P50-M bribe allegations involving the so-called "Alabang Boys." Perhaps it's the way the PDEA has cast a rather large net; I cannot quite see Ric Blancaflor being in on the bribe. And a couple of DOJ prosecutors seem genuinely innocent. I don't know; the plot, as they say, thickens. (Then it sickens.)



liberty, equality, fraternity

(Free Press editorial cartoon from the 1920s.)

Gentility is supposed to permeate places like country clubs and golf courses. They are the places where the hoi polloi are kept out and where everyone else can see and be seen. When someone like Bambee dela Paz and her family collide with official thugs, the collision isn't just physical, it's cultural. The set of rules that keeps the plebs in their place is never supposed to intrude into places where gentility matters.

But power, which relies on armed might to enforce obedience and simulate public respect, by it's very nature isn't genteel, can never be civil, will always ride roughshod over others.

I fully sympathize with dela Paz, her father, and her brother: bravo to her for raising hell and bravo to all those who've taken up her call for there to be consequences for what happened to them.

There is an irony here, of course: several, actually.


One irony is that gentility is the last thing that really matters in the supposed enclaves of the middle and upper classes, where the old days of black balling potential members because they were scandalous or generally socially unsavory individuals has long disappeared and been replaced by the sort of entitlement culture where mere possession of wealth or influence (the two are joined at the hip like Siamese twins) trumps all other considerations (how obtained and how used?) is what matters.

Another irony is that this incident could only have happened in the national capital, where an altercation in one place can safely be reported by someone when they get home: the metropolis is vast enough for you to be able to get away with blowing the whistle, everyone has kinship ties extended enough, at least among the middle and upper classes, to neutralize those belonging to those with whom you've collided.

There is a reason rallies tend to take place in national capitals; there is a reason a young lady can go and blog and have people rally to her cause in sympathy, both expecting something to be done and not having to think through whether the call and rallying to that call will have fatal consequences. It is the existence of a civic culture which is still powerful enough to compel limits on official impunity.

So we have here a clear clash of civilizations: between the entitlement and warlord culture of the provinces, which compels obedience by force, and which doesn't hesitate to use that force to compel submission by anyone who isn't part of the ruling clan's pecking order of enforcers; and the national capital culture which expects self-control of officialdom, which doesn't think twice about standing up to official bullying; which, even if beaten to a pulp thinks it's possible to rally support from like-minded people who actually believe in justice and notions of equality -because there are more decent people than the bad.

Still another irony is that People Power is now being mobilized -its first stirrings being the sharing of officially embarrassing news, the stoking of popular outrage, the expression of public opinion, the coming together of a constituency mobilized by shared values- among the sort of people who'd shrugged off so many other acts of official impunity. There is a lesson here somewhere: and it's a simple one. Impunity eventually sows the seeds of its own destruction. There will always come a time when a line will be crossed, and it's a line too far.

Which is not to say that this incident will cause a revolution; but it is proof of how reality will always intrude into even the politest of conversations.

The coming year is going to be a showdown, of sorts, between the exponents of the culture of impunity, from the President to her allies on the official and local level. It is a showdown between those who furiously resent a political culture where public opinion matters, where impunity is challenged, and where privilege is supposed to be something subjected to questioning.

In Resistance isn’t futile, I mentioned just one way I oppose impunity: by blowing my horn at official convoys. This holiday season, I had the satisfaction of doing so, to the president's convoy itself, twice. The second time around, the President passed within spitting distance and the PSG actually craned their necks to get a view at whoever was committing this act of lese majeste. They genuinely seemed startled. I myself was startled to see that the President no longer uses license plate No. 1 on her car. Her limousine has no license plate, at all.

My point is we see this impunity all the time, in small ways, and shrug it off -oddly enough, in the same manner we shrug off the big, spectacular, cases of impunity, too- when we ought to start tying it all together.

And their project next year is to basically abolish public opinion; to reduce it to its component local parts, where public opinion has been muted, and where it can be treated in such a way and such a manner as to be beyond questioning, court cases, heckling, letters to the editor or blog entries demanding resignations: because the trump card of an official when it comes to the provinces is the message every bodyguard represents: you can run, but you can't hide.

Wait till the Nasser Pangandamans of this country are both members of parliament and ministers of state, ruling over Federal states where their writ is literally and not just figuratively, the law.

You've seen what has been unfolding over the past few years and what is out to entrench itself over the first quarter of this year.

The danger is to confuse the forest for the trees. We are susceptible to doing this: shrieking over Estrada's threatening to run for office, while overlooking the President who cynically released him with a pardon; twisting Cory Aquino's comments out of all recognition while overlooking how truly mistaken everyone was, to think the President would be a stateswoman and not a thug in skirts; wringing our hands over Mar Roxas's cussing when no government since martial law has so thoroughly justified cussing because of it's crossing every line, written or not, expected of officialdom; placing traffic and corporate premiums over public demonstrations of outrage; venomously scorning Jun Lozada while overlooking the officials who wanted him rubbed out and who very nearly managed to do it.

The Japanese had a chance to be welcomed to the Philippines, as they were in many other parts of Asia, as liberating heroes, except they proceeded to slap Filipinos who refused to bow to them; and so, resistance was immediately sparked, even among those disillusioned with the Allied cause. Again, I'm not saying this appalling incident will accomplish anything more than inspire horrified tut-tutting over how tasteless, and ungentlemanly, the President's official family is. But you never know.

A weekend reflection on power

hhc-campaigns for rej:acc In any national debate there are two sides actively campaigning to convince the uncommitted: there are the Pros and the Antis. The purpose of a debate is to put the issue on the table and present the sides for and against the issue. The public in the end is the audience and the one called upon to decide which side wins. As people ponder the possibility that they will be asked, eventually, to vote "Yes" or "No" to amendments to the Constitution, the motives of opponents and proponents of the campaign are being briskly debated, too. Often lost in the debate as many commenters point out in this blog, is the point of view of the public itself, as differentiated, if possible, from those who have already embarked on their pro or anti advocacy. Either advocacy has at its heart a particular vision of where the country is and where it ought to be; and of leadership in general and the things that are meritorious or objectionable in our leaders on either side of the fence.We are called upon to clarify, I think, our individual conceptions of three things: (1.) What kind of nation do we want, and this means, what are the things that require improvement and the things that are already positive about our country? To achieve the former, will it endanger or diminish the latter? (2.) What are our views considering leadership in its positive and negative aspects, and what are the characteristics that make for positive or negative leadership? And where do we fit in, as followers or supporters of such leaders, or as the constituents to whom all leaders must appeal for political support? (3.) If there are times that call for great national divisions, how will those divisions manifest themselves in our communities? How do we ensure that we play a positive and not negative role in the great national division -that is, if you even wish to be counted- and just as importantly, how do we ensure the division is not so destructive that it will permanently endanger our communities or so fundamentally alter them, as to endanger whatever positive aspects either side may currently have? This includes whether a national division would be better off postponed to a more auspicious time. Concerning (1.), let me put forward this parable from The Analects of Confucious:
Tzü Chang asked Confucius, saying: What are the essentials of good government? -The Master said: Esteem the five excellent, and banish the four evil things; then you will become fit to govern. The Master replied: The wise and good ruler is benevolent without expending treasure; he lays burdens on the people without causing them to grumble; he has desires without being covetous; he is serene without being proud; he is awe-inspiring without being ferocious. Tzü Chang then asked: What are the four evil things? -The Master said: Cruelty: -leaving the people in their native ignorance, yet punishing their wrong-doing with death. Oppression: requiring the immediate completion of tasks imposed without previous warning. Ruthlessness: -giving vague orders, and then insisting on punctual fulfillment. Peddling husbandry: -stinginess in conferring the proper rewards on deserving men.
Concerning (2.) There are, too, these (famous) passages from Machiavelli's The Prince. The first, concerning the aspirations and optimum conditions to sustain of and for one in power:
[Is] it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved... Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely ...when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. [The] prince ...relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon...
(Note this line: "as long as you succeed, they are yours entirely." Marcos rephrased it on September 25, 1972 in his diary: "There is nothing as successful as success!" There is a very human propensity to always side with the perceived winner, and to turn victory into its own peculiar and superior kind of virtue) The second, by what means and through whose support, power is retained and sustained:
[W]here a leading citizen becomes the prince of his country, not by wickedness or any intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow citizens — this may be called a civil principality: nor is genius or fortune altogether necessary to attain to it, but rather a happy shrewdness. I say then that such a principality is obtained either by the favour of the people or by the favour of the nobles. Because in all cities these two distinct parties are found, and from this it arises that the people do not wish to be ruled nor oppressed by the nobles, and the nobles wish to rule and oppress the people; and from these two opposite desires there arises in cities one of three results, either a principality, self-government, or anarchy.
(let me put forward something Bobi Tiglao first put forward as a critique of the Communist Party's surround the cities from the countryside Maoist model back in the 1980s: which was, that the Philippines was already well on its way, then, to being an urban society, and increasingly is headed there, if not actually there, now; that the political temperament and culture, then, of the national capital will increasingly be reflected in the political cultures of the other great urban cities of the country, except where they are old enough to retain a distinct, provincial culture of their own). And the third, the public and private characteristics of a leader:
A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about... But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler… Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them... to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite…
Regarding (3.), this extract from Garry Wills' Certain Trumpets: The Call of Leaders:
So far I have been discusssing just two things—leaders and followers. That is better at least, than treatments dealing with only one thing—leaders. But the discussion cannot get far without a third thing—the goal. This is not something added on to the other two. It is the reason for the other two’s existence. It is also the equalizer between leader and followers. The followers do not submit to the person of the leader. They join him or her in pursuit of the goal. It is time for a definition: the leader is one who mobilizes others toward a goal shared by leader and followers. In that brief definition, all these elements are present, and indispensable… Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership…The goal must be shared, no matter how many other motives are present that are not shared.
To amplify Wills' point, let me put forward two quotes I've previously mentioned (I've ried to put these quotes in the proper context in The soundbite that haunts us). The first quote comes by way of Teodoro M. Kalaw in his autobiography, Aide-de-Camp to Freedom:
The problem with you is that you take the game of politics too seriously. You look to far behind you and too far ahead of you. Our people do not understand that. They do not want it. All they want is to have the present problem solved, and solved with the least pain. That is all.
This a point of practical politics, in which the satisfaction of putting forward and discussing theory and policy must be tempered by asking whether this is relevant to, or a real concern of, the constituencies the theories and policies are supposed to serve. The second, from this entry dated December, 23 1938 in the Diary of Francis Burton Harrison:
The people care more for good government than they do for self-government…the fear is that the Head of State may either exceed his powers, or abuse them by improprieties. To keep order is his main purpose.
Which in a sense brings us to back to (1.) for there is the possibility that the electorate, the public, is being called to undertake a role for which it is temperamentally disinclined because culturally alien. Which means then that success may be within the grasp of whichever side is able to appeal to other instincts and cravings of the electorate -such as keeping order. On a final note, while not yet complete, you may wish to review the Diary of Ferdinand E. Marcos (in particular, go to the entries from 1971 to 1973) for a glimpse into how leaders marshal their resources as they try to secure a political objective, while rolling with the punches day to day.

Wrapped in the flag

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But it seems to me questionable whether any government has the right to demand loyalty from its citizens beyond its willingness or ability to render actual protection. -Quezon To MacArthur, January 28, 1942 For once, I agree absolutely with Bong Montesa: never play the game of chicken. If this recent Inquirer editorial pointed out the administration has so botched up the peace process and is zigzagging so clumsily today, as to make the restoration of peace so much more difficult, the subsequent Inquirer editorial,suggests the MILF finds itself in a bind, because of the hostilities that have erupted and for which it took credit. Pointing to August 22 news item MILF Chair Al Haj Murad raise points in meeting IMT and the from Luawaran.com, the editorial suggested that the MILF (or the faction of its leadership that wanted to achieve its political aims through negotiations) was trying to invoke the assistance of its Malaysian sponsors. See -MILF asks Malaysia to convene peace panel - INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos Davao City councilor Peter Lavina in his bog, suggests that the Malaysian government officially speaking, is supportive. But the political reality in Malaysia is that the government is in its own version of survival mode. Lip service and a little diplomatic nudging here and there is all very good, but in determining the cost-effectiveness of using a nation's resources (diplomacy, economics, military, etc.) there is little going for Malaysia if it publicly supports armed rebellion on the part of the MILF. Militarily, even, the dilemma is there. If you assume, as some do, that the MILF possesses SAM's in its inventory, it cannot use them now, or even later. For to do so would provide proof of foreign funding or at least facilitation/support; and regionally speaking, Malaysia as the likely culprit would trigger unease in Indonesia and alarm countries like Thailand (both being firm U.S. allies) which is fighting its own Muslim secessionists. And so it seems the last-ditch appeal, perhaps by the more moderate among the MILF's leadership, is for the Malaysians to give a sign that they continue to enjoy that country's confidence and backing, in an effort to convince the other foreign powers to head off full-blown hostilities. Again, here is a confluence of interests: the Americans wouldn't be too keen on hostilities because as the primary funder of our armed forces it would have to foot the bill and this includes what the Americans know all too well includes lining generals' pockets (see Who Profits From The War in Mindanao? | Filipino Voices). It wouldn't even really help the American arms industry. Not much money to be gained with out Korea and Vietnam War-era weaponry.Add to this the possibility that SouthEast Asia, including the Philippines, exists in a kind of policy limbo vis-a-vis Washington: In Asia » Blog Archive » Asian Policy Challenges for the Next President. But that doesn't mean that these nations could prevent a shooting war, either. So when the MILF announced, on August 21, it would hold a press conference on August 23, I had deep misgivings. What would they say? After their former brio, they'd been complaining that AFP uses excessive force in attack pulverizing Muslim communities, which ignores who started the fighting or the absurdity of expecting the AFP not to send in the PAF. Though they did have a point in saying MILF: CAFGUs, CVOs, plus Pinol, et al=Ilagas which the PNP, for one, validated by the tactic of arming civilian militias (see PNP sending shotguns to Mindanao auxiliaries - INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos). The news of state-armed militias is indeed troubling; it is a sign of weakness and does not address the sort of insecurities that led to this: see Iligan City Hall Sights « preMEDitated. Where did this insecurity come from? On one part, the public being unsure of what, really, the administration's game plan was concerning Mindanao (in a nutshell: An irresponsible response « Mon Casiple’s Weblog on Philippine Politics). Second, the Palace having to respond to public hostility to its peace plan, and that response being at best, a confusing combination of bluster and appeasement. ALthough RG Cruz puts forward the Palace line of a STRATEGY CHANGE | RG CRUZ which suggests some sort of rhyme or reason, crude zigzaging seems a more appropriate description: Malacañang Backtracks on BJE MoA Even As Supreme Court Set to Rule on Constitutionality » The Warrior Lawyer | Philippine Lawyer. Third, uncertainty concerning traditional allies such as the United States (see US silent on MILF terrorism « Peter Laviña New Blog) and Fourth, the possibility that the armed forces intervened by mounting operations even when the President hadn't quite made up her mind on that to do. In his blog, thenutbox actually suggests the President announced offensive operations to retroactively rubberstamp the armed forces' decision to begin them, regardless of the President's position on the matter:

What my uncle told me was that Mrs. Arroyo actually ordered the attacks against MILF after the generals have already decided to launch the AFP offensive. Arroyo’s inability to control her temper, his hypothesis went on, is actually borne out of her fright of the generals’ deciding by themselves without consulting her. She made a complete turn-around in his policy towards the MILF to appease the generals who were clearly pissed off with the BJE deal she made with the rebel group. And she wanted to appease the generals as soon as possible, hence her uncontrolled emotions for the delay of the taping. At first I dismissed this as another conspiracy theory from a Gloria-hater. But veteran journalist Ellen Tordessillias, in a reply to a comment I posted on her blog, confirmed that, indeed, the anti-MILF mopping operations were actually carried out before the Bitch ordered them.
Put another way (see Philippine Politics 04: Arroyo needs to defend and explain the MOA-AD) if the President really did see the deal as an opportunity to display statesmanship, her statesmanlike resolve dissolved quite quickly, indeed. And Fifth, I'd say, a kind of latent nationalism everyone in official circles had assumed wasn't there anymore (see This is what will happen to the Philippines after signing the GRP - MILF Memorandum of Agreement : OTWOMD | Bluepanjeet.Net) The President hasn't given supporters of the peace deal any chance to save themselves or the cause of peace. Which, sad to say, has been the repeated experience of those who still suffer from the delusion that they can achieve their idealistic goals by means of a pragmatic alliance with the President. So if there are defenders, still, of the MOA: MOA-AD a path to peace, says Archbishop Quevedo « SCRIPTORIUM and refer to Red's Herring: SC review imperils Mindanao peace process; then see The Palace’s High Cost of Learning | ralphguzman.org. And refer to GOING IN CIRCLES « THE MOUNT BALATUCAN MONITOR and PUSONG MAMON « THE MOUNT BALATUCAN MONITOR to get a glimpse into how people -particularly Filipinos seized by uncertainty in the affected areas of Mindanao- began to send the message to civilian and military officials alike that in the absence of any reassuring information that the governmet knew what it was doing and would defend citizens seized by panic, that they would then take matters into their own hands. And the would do so in the manner of their forefahers, see Viva Iligan! « preMEDitated:
In the speech, he appealed for: Calm. Bravery. Community. And Solidarity. He also urged community leaders to lead the people under them, to prepare for the worst, and fight if the need arose. He also mentioned the presence of the tanks and the several thousand strong army defending Iligan. He also mentioned that the people of Iligan should not be afraid because God and Senior San Miguel was on our side. He closed his speech with a, “Viva Senior San Miguel!,” to which the people heartily replied a “Viva”. Although, I’m Protestant and do not agree with Catholic veneration of saints and even angels, I could not help but realize that the Mayor was speaking the heart language of the Iliganon, something that they could understand. He was speaking the old language of the Spanish times at the time when the citizens of the old fort of Iligan defended the fort and even waged battle against the Moros. Historically, even though Iligan was just a doorstep away from the Moro stronghold of Marawi, it was never conquered by Muslims despite the fact that at that time their pirates raided Christian towns as far away as Luzon.
"War," Clausewitz famously wrote, "is the continuation of politics by other means." Samuel Johnson also famously warned that "patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels," and yet it is also a time when a formerly divided people can find unity and leaders can tap into a kind of mystical reservoir of national solidarity and idealism: As Juned Sonido, perhaps one of the most even-tempered bloggers around reflected, in a time of conflict there is the need to be aware of the dangers of jingoism and the imperative that should weigh heavily on all those in authority: to provide protection from those who hold allegiance to the state. What distinguishes the two? A clear and present danger, a compelling need:
At present waltzing around the negotiation table is as useful as cupping a corpse. It is hard to negotiate when one side has not given up the armed option or has no control over its army while the other side seems to be following the likes Neville Chamberlain at Munich - practicing vermi-negotiation or the art and science of negotiations by the worms at Munich. Meanwhile, the war continues and people are hurt. A few hours ago a bomb was exploded in Zamboanga. Will this again reach the other corners of the country. Another bomb in the MRT or LRT? Is this jingoism? No. This is a matter of national self defense. It is the duty of the State to protect the citizens who opt to stay in this country. Otherwise these same citizens will go to other means to protect themselves.
You have to wonder whether such viligantism can view anything other than bloodcurdling hostility as acceptable. By way of Carl Parkes -- FriskoDude: Philippines: The Sulu Zone of Peace who points us to Jolo's gun culture - Sidetrip with Howie Severino, we catch a glimpse of the complexities of conflict and clan relationships among the Moros. Those like the Catholic bishops clamoring for peace know from personal experience that peace is possible but peace between Christians and Muslims is made doubly difficult as peace among the Moros is difficult enough to achieve. Though it can be done: see A Lesson on Clan Conflict Resolution in the Philippines. The reality however is that even though it's always denied it, the Palace is sensitive to public opinion particularly when that opinion starts triggering May, 2001 flashbacks in the President's inner circle. Where that opinion is -and how it's increasingly hostile to any policy other than crushing the MILF- can be gleaned from surveying the blogosphere: See The Journal of The Jester-in-Exile: Are Yu Dif? Didna Her? then The Philippine Experience, as well as fiesty commentaries from mindanao is the land, promise « Geisha (gay-’sya) Diaries and Mindanao « the Scribe in Me and The Art and Science of - Notes from an Apathetic Atenean Doctor. As well as idiosyncratic thoughts: hay.. and A SCENARIO EVERYONE SHOULD WATCH OUT « THE MOUNT BALATUCAN MONITOR. On a more philosophical note, two entries discuss A Just War | Filipino Voices and A Just War: Road to A Just Peace | Filipino Voices (what is a "Just War"? See Just War - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). The voices raised against war are few and far between, see: Oppose the Mindanao War « Pinoy Observer And while some will ask (and perhaps hope) Critical Criterion Edition: Peace in Mindanao? Here is A sober reminder that the war is real | Filipino Voices which makes for cautionary reading, as does this entry from General Santos City, in For the Children | HomewardBound:
12:52 PM Our principal called for an emergency meeting, the second meeting we had today that zeroed in on matters of safety and security. The schools has received calls that messages were circulating about schools in General Santos City whose students and teachers were hostaged. We were not very sure of the report but for the reason that we have to secure the safety of our students, we have decided to send them home. However, we could not simply let them take the public transport, which will drop them in downtown GenSan. So, we arranged for vehicles that will take them to their respective homes. Those who have their own vehicles were fetched by their parents. What happened in the elementary school is a different story. Panicking parents rushed to the school fetching their kids. Some drivers told us about the chaos in the elementary school. Some member of the authorities went to our school to reassure us that none of the reported events were true and that we are relatively safer here. That’s a bit of a relief. But who knows what will happen next? Better safe than sorry.
Intuitive: We Need Your Prayers echoes the unreported reality for most Filipinos, worried about loved ones and even their property and livelihoods. Meanwhile, everyone waits to see which side will escalate matters and bring the front lines to other metropolitan centers of the Philippines.

On those official plates

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Today's Inquirer editorial proposes the abolition of special license plates for officials. This is an issue that appears and clutters the opinion pages and then wanes with predictable regularity. Officialdom, even when not corrupt or abusive, thrives on the symbols of privilege. Special license plates are the equivalent of the gold braid and other insignia that obsesses the military, for example (reading the story of virtually any revolutionary army and you'll find, as happened to Washington and Aguinaldo, that even in societies aiming to establish a republican regime, titles and symbols of rank obsessed those holding and aspiring to them). The plates that members of the House and the Senate use are often abused not by the members themselves, but their relatives. College campus parking lots often boast vehicles bearing Congressional plates used by the children or nieces and nephews of Representatives, for example. Neither the schools nor the student bodies do anything about it. I have always opposed the abolition of official plates not only because I believe that protocol is not the real issue at hand and therefore, that those who oppose protocol only do so from ignorance and the wrong sort of egalitarian instincts but because they do serve a practical purpose. For example, the editorial completely ignored the flipside to the reality it pointed out: the reality being that it may just be that policemen who spot vehicles bearing official plates will be intimidated into not enforcing traffic rules when it comes to that vehicle; the flipside is that what is probably more intimidating is neither the vehicle nor the plate but rather, the strong probability whoever's riding in the vehicle is accompanied by bodyguards and a motorcyle escort composed of policemen more senior and agressive than any regular traffic enforcer. The editorial also ignores the executive department. Aside from the President of the Philippines (No. 1) and the Vice-President of the Philippines (No. 2) in the past, cabinet members had their own official plates. But if you've noticed, even cabinet members entitled to cabinet plates have dispensed with using them. Does this mean that they rush around without the benefit of motorcycle escorts or bodyguards? Of course not. What they do is rush around with escort vehicles and a retinue of motorcycle escorts with sirens, but without official plates, and, I've noticed quite often in recent years, usually without any license plates attached to their vehicle at all. The end result of this is that no one can stop the little convoy trying to bully its way through traffic, but no one can figure out who the official is, although it's obvious (because some of the escort vehicles sport license plates with red numbers, indicating they are government vehicles) that the person being escorted is an official. Proximity of the little convoys to and from the presidential palace indicates they're off to or coming from the Palace. Presidents periodically issue Executive Orders, Administrative Orders, Memorandum Circulars, etc., regulating the use of motorcycle escorts (if memory serves me right, the most recent one limits official escorts and sirens to the President, Vice-President, Senate President. Speaker of the House and Chief Justice, Nos. 1 to 5, respectively), an executive issuance the chief executive's own subordinates take the lead in ignoring. Members of Congress in a sense, are too stupid to realize they are living proof of why official plates make sense. As elected officials, they have to respond to the public and when the public is critical of their behavior, they have to modify it accordingly: and the public knows what it does precisely because the official plates identify the members of the legislature. In contrast, officials in the executive department have it both ways: they violate the law, and do so with impunity, because they continue to enjoy anonymity. It seems the Speaker of the House is too stupid to tell the LTO, which wants each official plate to identify the district the legislator belongs to, that it ought to look into the number of vehicles used by cabinet members and other presidential subordinates that don't use license plates at all, and all of which violates executive issuances, and how diplomatic vehicles (the 1000 plates used by ambassadors which are supposed to identify the country of the ambassador) tape over their country designations. But he is not being too politically-obtuse in not holding a caucus asking his colleagues to limit the plates they use (ideally, each legislator should only get one pair of plates for one vehicle, not multiple plates for multiple vehicles as happens these days) and agree to identifying their districts (if the objection is security then the legislator ought to not use official plates, and not use escorts, and take their chances going incognito in private cars). They'd never agree, and he knows it. Keep the official plates. We're entitled to know where our representatives are, and whether they drive around with a minimum of fuss or with an elaborate escort. As with so many things, the debate is over the wrong things -not official plates, but the abuse of them and that includes new innovations as demonstrated by the executive department.

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