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.
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...
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.