By Harvey S. Keh Contributor LAST week, Pampanga Governor Eddie "Among Ed" Panlilio again made the headlines and even the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) when he broke the news that the reason why he wants his Police Provincial Director relieved from his position is due to the latter's refusal to cooperate with him in his fight against illegal gambling particularly jueteng in his province. What even made the news even more alarming was the fact that there are allegations that it was First Son and Pampanga Congressman Mikey Arroyo who was exerting pressure on the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ensure that the demands of Gov. Panlilio will not be given. If we will recall, in the last 2007 elections, one of Gov. Panlilio's main opponents was Lilia Pineda who was then a Provincial Board Member and wife of alleged jueteng lord, Bong Pineda. We all know that despite meager resources and limited amount of time to prepare, Gov. Panlilio through the support of the civil society and church groups was able to win and one of main thrust of his administration was to put an end to jueteng in Pampanga thus, ridding his province of the label, "the Vatican of Jueteng in the Philippines". Barely a year in office, Gov. Panlilio filed a plunder case against Bong Pineda for his alleged involvement in jueteng operations all over the country. I was in Pampanga over the weekend and I was listening to a local radio station wherein two radio commentators were saying that instead of focusing on the eradication of jueteng, Gov. Panlilio should just let the issue go and focus his efforts elsewhere. I was disturbed by those comments since if we recall, wasn't jueteng one of the major reasons why many of us went to the streets leading to the ouster of President Joseph Estrada? How many families have been destroyed by this prevailing addiction to illegal gambling? It is a grim reality that many politicians in our country from the local government units up to our national government continue to allow jueteng operations to run since they also benefit from it. The money that is earned by taking advantage of the hopelessness of the poor is then used to buy votes during elections or even influence the results thereby perpetuating themselves in power. For a country that is run by a few selfish interests while millions continue to live with less than 100 pesos a day, the upcoming 2010 National Elections again present an opportunity for us to elect the right leaders for our country. Yet, this may only remain an elusive dream if we continue to allow jueteng lords to influence the results of the elections thus, making our political leaders beholden to them. Gov. Panlilio is right in fighting jueteng because by doing so, he is not only fighting one of the causes of poverty in our country but he is also fighting to preserve the integrity of one of the most important rights that we have in a democracy, our right to freely choose effective and ethical leaders for our country. However, we all have to realize that this fight against jueteng will not be won overnight given that this is also a source of livelihood for many Filipinos. The challenge for Gov. Panlilio is to ensure that he is able to stimulate enough economic activity and employment in his province so that Kapampangans will have opportunities to earn a decent living and they will no longer have to pin their hopes for a better life on this gamble of numbers. The experience of other countries like Mexico and Colombia wherein money from illegal drugs has been used to elect the highest officials in their respective countries is something that we can all learn from. Drug lords continue to reign in these countries and it won't be long that jueteng lords will also be our country's rulers if we don't do anything about it now. Do we want our country to be known not only as the Sick Man of Asia but also as the Jueteng Republic of Asia? I certainly hope not. Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
February 2009 Archives
By Harvey S. Keh Contributor THE past weeks we have seen yet again another controversy involving the first family particularly first gentleman Mike Arroyo. According to an alleged report by the World Bank, the Arroyo has been at the receiving end of bribes given by contractors who aim to corner infrastructure projects run by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and primarily funded by the World Bank. As a result of this report, the World Bank has decided to suspend and ban these contractors from taking part I any future biddings for their projects. This issue has since elicited various reactions from our political leaders. Our Congressmen and Senators have since began their own investigations regarding this matter with even one congressman saying that it should be the World Bank and not Arroyo who should be investigated. Up until now, Arroyo continuous to create all sorts of excuses just to be able to avoid being called and asked by Senators who are trying to get to the bottom of yet another corruption scandal that has been an all too often refrain in this present administration. What is primarily lacking in our present government and leaders is transparency and accountability. Sadly, our President didn't even help as she even took out a right to information clause in our National Budget which would've made it easier for ordinary Filipinos to ask where our money is going. We have also seen that prior corruption and political scandals have died a natural death not because they were resolved but simply because the attention of media has been shifted to other equally pressing and important matters. Up until today, we still haven't heard Senator Manny Villar explain clearly about the budget insertions that he allegedly made that would favor his real estate company. Last week, we celebrated the first year anniversary of Jun Lozada's expose on the NBN-ZTE deal but up until now its alleged main perpetuators are still enjoying their lives playing golf. Finally, we will already be going to the 2010 national elections and even up to now, there is still no closure in the 2004 Hello Garci elections controversy. Given the kind of government that we have had the past 8 years, we have seen it to be a government that has continued to condone and perpetuate graft and corruption at all levels. Several democratic institutions such as the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the Office of the Ombudsman have also been compromised. Thus, while many of us are already starting to lose hope in our government and our political system, I believe that this kind of situation calls for us to be more vigilant to look for a leader that will first and foremost be God-fearing, ethical and morally-upright. I have always believed in the saying that a great leader is a product of the need of his or her time. We have seen in the United States of America that they were able to elect a African-American President in Barack Obama simply because they wanted to see a drastic change in the way their country was being run. As if on cue, one of Obama's first Executive Orders was to ensure transparency and social accountability in his government by banning current lobbyists from serving in his government. Right now, I believe that our country needs a righteous leader more than a leader with a Doctorate in Public Administration. It seems that we have often looked at the competencies of the leaders we elect while failing to check whether or not they have a genuine heart to serve our countrymen. I am not saying that competencies and skills is not important but with the kind of situation that we are in right now, our next President should primarily have the strength of character and unceasing will to battle the growing corruption found in our government today. I have always believed that leadership skills can easily be learned but the character and principles of a leader whether good or bad cannot easily be changed. Comments are welcome at email@example.com Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government
By Joy Aceron* The understanding and practice of civil society in the Philippines has evolved over the years, with many meanings and permutations ascribed to the term civil society. These multi-faceted views and characteristics of civil society reflect how vast and diverse societal actions are in our country. In the Philippines, we see in practice all the major arguments and views on civil society. We see (1) the associational civil society based on Touqueville and Putnam’s argument about social capital or strong civil society as a critical element of democratization; (2) the counterweight civil society that presents a dichotomy between society and state and civil society serving as a force that guards against a tyrannical or predatory state; and (3) the hegemonic civil society based on Gramsci which looks at civil society as a space for political contests where civil society serve as trenches that protect the state. Civil society in the Philippines could refer to actors, a space, a phenomenon or processes and form of communication at the same time. The seeming “democratic rollback” in the country under the current administration poses serious threats to civil liberties and political rights that constrict the space for non-partisan and “harmonious” civil society work; hence more than ever, the fundamental significance of partisan political work by civil society actors requires serious consideration. Institutions of democracy are weakened, as repeatedly pointed by advocates and scholars; and the serious implication of this on citizens’ participation is that without the restoration of these institutions to their supposed form, citizens’ engagement with these institutions could be distracting to the real reform work and thus could be destructive to democratization. The imperative of partisan electoral work is further underscored given the seemingly insignificant democratic change in the country’s power structure. Significant political power remains in the hands of the same privileged few, despite the active and vibrant works of different groups and forces in civil society. This proves the limit of associational and counterweight civil society work that in general do not presuppose contesting state posts and gives much relevance and urgency on the need for societal forces to compete for formal seats of power. Why guard power if you’ll just end up guarding the same abusive power holders? It only becomes a self-perpetuating cycle if citizens’ participation in governance is not linked to citizens becoming the government. Given the limitation of resources, the narrow ranks of reformers and reform-oriented groups and with formidable forces whose interests lie on keeping the status quo, there is a need to prioritize and to concentrate efforts. Both the conjuncture and the capacity of reform and progressive movements make it imperative to identify a focus and locus of efforts. Partisan Civil Society, a discussion series on the engagement of societal forces on partisan politics organized and hosted by the Ateneo School of Government through its Political Democracy & Reform (PODER) with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in the Philippines, was about what lessons from the past, particularly the 1992, 1998 and 2004 presidential elections, can guide future partisan political work by groups and forces from civil society. It was not a political project, but it delved on praxis. The discussion was not meant to make binding decisions, but instead it attempted to start laying a framework for citizens’ meaningful engagement in partisan politics, cognizant of the diversity of its advocacy and forms of engagement, through an examination of past experience and analysis of the current conditions. Partisan Civil Society, provided a rare space for key leaders in civil society from various backgrounds and with diverse perspectives to step back and reflect on their involvement in politics. This space served as an opportunity to link the practice to theories and concepts, which is critical to elucidate understanding and appreciation as well as to frame and structure future interventions. Because of the complexities of practice and the richness of academic discourse on civil society, short discussions are bound to get confusing and overwhelming, hence there is a need to do desk work that will process and put to writing the discourse guided by the result of the discussions. The most important academic learning from this exercise is that there seems to be a growing dissonance and disconnect between what is said in theory and what is actually happening; that theories are no longer enough to entirely capture what is on the ground. The discussion series also proved to be useful in recollecting historical facts and painting a version of Philippine electoral history—chronicles that could be most compelling to those who want to know stories in Philippine politics that are not mainstreamed but nonetheless give an important color and dimension in the exercise of power and the continuing growth of a nation. What is probably the most important lesson generated from the discussion is the need to extend the logic of electoral engagement of civil society actors to political party formation—organization, political strategy formulation, platform development and preparing to govern. “Partisan civil society” phenomenon should be appreciated as just a temporary solution to the under performing political parties and barely existing party system in the Philippines and hence just a beginning of serious electoral engagements. The historical account of the experience pinned down the limits of partisan electoral engagements of civil society groups such as the lack of effective machinery in converting mass base to votes and the absence of a permanent collective that could support those who “crossover” to government particularly in dealing with the balance of power within and outside the government. These learning point to the need to consider serious political party building efforts. There has been enough explaining of why there has been little progress on this, but the most important challenge from this point on is how to finally make it work. “The language of reform is the language of power,” said one of the discussants; hence to be effective in pushing for agenda, citizens’ reform groups must speak the language of power. As one of the resource persons said: “Whoever wins the presidency in 2010 will determine the kind of reform agenda. It is crucial therefore to find and elect a candidate who can challenge the status quo and push reforms for the country.” Reform constituencies must be translated to vote base. But where and what constitute the reform constituencies? The final session pointed to three (3) segments of the population that have the greatest potential of becoming part of the reform constituencies that must be organized and mobilized for a successful engagement of reform-oriented groups in the 2010 elections. These are: overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the youth & students sector and the existing reform-oriented advocacy groups. Based on the discussion, these are the potential political actors that are not yet entirely immersed and integrated in the patronage-based political system of the country. They also have the numbers, the capacity and most likely the desire for changes in politics and governance of the country. In order to further hone the potential of the youth and students, which constitutes majority of the country’s population, they must be mobilized and educated using the language and methods that they are accustomed to. The OFWs have experienced a different politics abroad that could give them new and fresh perspectives. The reform-minded, though few and scattered, would provide the experience in engaging the traditional political landscape. It was inspiring to see in the discussion series the not so young along with the young to come together and draw lessons collectively, admitting in the process mistakes and shortcomings, conceding limitations and weaknesses and realizing what’s left to fight for, so as to give a better chance for the future attempts to make a difference in electoral contests. Finally, the data and information generated from this process are more than enough to start writing a book on the phenomenon of “partisan civil society” (albeit the controversy on the term used) or the engagement of societal forces on electoral partisan exercises to provide a guide to reform-oriented groups on how to elect reform-oriented leaders and sustain their hold to power towards a more radical social transformation. Joy Aceron is Instructor at the Political Science Department of the Ateneo de Manila University and Program Coordinator/ Research Fellow of the Ateneo School of Government. For papers, presentations and other materials on the Partisan Civil Society Discussion Series, you may contact PODER Team (Attention: Glenford Leonillo) at (02) 9202920 or firstname.lastname@example.org.