Focus-Philippines launched its most recent publication “Transitions/Yearbook 2010,” on May 21 at Annabel’s Restaurant in Quezon City, through a forum titled “One Year After P-Noy’s Election: To Where/What are we Transitioning?” Main speakers were Yuen Abana (labor sector) and Joann Fernandez (rural/peasant sector) who talked about the people’s aspirations; Dr. Prospero de Vera, Vice-President for Public Affairs of UP Diliman, who discussed the current issues in the anti-corruption campaign of the government; and Dr. Rene Ofreneo, former dean of UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations, who challenged the administration’s continuing promotion of “neo-liberal” economic policies. Representatives of non-government/civil society organizations and government attended the forum-launch; Agriculture Undersecretary Ernesto Ordoñez and Office of Public Affairs Undersecretary Chito Gascon were there. Below is the book’s introduction by its editor Clarissa V. Militante.
Mr. Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s ascent to Malacañang stands as one of the most significant political events in recent Philippine history,” wrote Jerik Cruz in his piece “P-Noy’s ‘New Dawn for Democracy’ and the Future of Democratization.”
If we are to describe what the year 2010 was about, this is the statement that best says it. This is not to diminish the value and meaning of other social-political events that defined our lives as a people in the past year. But ending a nine-year presidency that was leaving us with unsolved corruption cases involving the highest ranking officials of government, political scandals (cheating, conspiracies to usurp power) and stained, even ruined, institutions of government (politically appointed justices and ombudsman, and elected officials more loyal to their political-economic interests than to the people’s) should definitely be event of the year.
The campaign that preceded the new president’s “ascent to Malacañang” also easily eclipsed other events of the first half of 2010. As can be gleaned from the pieces in Chapter 1-Elections, the campaign period almost became the main event. Describing the period, Jenina Joy Chavez wrote “…Filipinos everywhere would have seen and heard more than enough of the elections—the muck, the dirt, the candidates’ profiles, the agenda, the promises and the projections, all thrown into a sticky mix of hope, propaganda and entertainment…There is the usual fare of partisan follies, the scare of failed elections and controversial survey ratings—all contested in this season of the most popular contest of all. Behold an expression of formal democracy, Philippine-style.”
We’ve seen all these in previous election campaign periods, including the political ads that “dazzled” us and the gimmickry through “populist rhetoric.” Carmina Flores-Obanil critiqued presidential candidate Manny Villar’s “brilliant packaging” that tried to hook voters into believing the image of a “poor-boy-who-got-rich-through sipag-and-tiyaga” (industry and perseverance). The money Villar spent for his ads, which can be estimated between P1.3 and P1.5 billion, landed him in the company of the top 10 corporate huge spenders in advertising.
Filomeno Sta. Ana III went beyond the ads and challenged Villar’s leadership qualities or the lack of these. Citing the candidate’s “irresponsible” rhetoric about increasing the budget for higher education and his opposition to the Senate inquiry on the controversial C5 road development, Sta. Ana compared Villar’s leadership style to that of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s (GMA). Sta. Ana even put Villar’s integrity on the line.
What added to the ‘days of disquiet and rage’ (to borrow and paraphrase the words of multi-awarded writer and poet Pete Lacaba) that were the 2010 election campaign were the persistent plotting and maneuverings of GMA’s machinery to ensure continued political power even after her term. Aya Fabros’ exhibit A of these machinations in her article “Mixed Messages” was the Supreme Court decision favoring a current president to run for Congress while disallowing other sitting officials from running. Fabros also cited: “Another dimension of GMA’s unfair advantage can be seen in the Panlilio-Pineda case in Pampanga. The recent Comelec ruling on the Panlilio-Pineda recount is considered a political move that advances the President’s interest. For one, this is viewed as ‘vendetta politics’ aimed at opposition bets such as Among Ed of Pampanga and Grace Padaca of Isabela, who are affiliated with the Liberal Party. At the same time, the installation of an Arroyo ally as governor of Pampanga during the critical stretch of the electoral campaign again gives GMA a strategic upper hand in steering electoral outcomes.”
Even before these campaign period scheming, however, Fabros pointed to the fact that GMA spent “P459 million worth of infrastructure projects in her district in 2009. This ‘excessive spending’ in 2009 was nine times more the infrastructure allocation given per congressman annually…”
On a more reflective mode, Akbayan party-list Representative Walden Bello took stock of the situation in Congress—on whether there’s hope for Congress if not to be agent of change, then at least to be a platform for intelligent social-political discourses that can contribute to reforms in Philippine government and society.
Bello wrote about “chronic absenteeism,” of “colleagues who are there mainly to get their priority development funds or pork barrel to distribute to their constituencies” and of members who when they “do rise to deliver privilege speeches, they usually devote these to attacking enemies in their congressional districts.”
He estimated that 20 percent of the 269 members of the Lower House during the 14th Congress were legislators “whose ken goes beyond local concerns to encompass national and international issues.” So he’s betting on the 20 percent and would affirm at the end of his article “Is Congress Worth Running for?” that indeed it is “because it is not at all hopeless as a platform for change.”
Bello’s hope has been anchored on what the party-list group representatives—“the genuine party-list groups”—had achieved in the past and the role they would likely to increasingly play in the 15th Congress to help “transform congressional discourse.”
Amid the frenzy that the campaign period was, there were efforts by civil society organizations and poll reform advocates to float urgent issues—to make sense of the opportunity for change being presented by the May 2010 elections, which could be bungled up or be directed towards something more meaningful and long term for the people. Joy Chavez, in her piece “Prosecuting GMA as Platform,” discussed a scheme for grading the corruption and accountability agenda of the presidential candidates, but made the “issue of prosecuting Mrs. Arroyo after she steps down from the Presidency” one of the most urgent election concerns.
“How the candidates respond to this issue signals whether there will be concrete steps to pursue corruption cases involving the GMA presidency. A stand leaving the matter to the institutions concerned will signal that there will be no active effort on the part of the Executive to pursue cases. A stand to pursue investigations and to resolve the issue will signal greater commitment,” Chavez wrote.
The day of the first automated elections in the Philippines proved to be madder, even simultaneously crazy hilarious and enraging, one would recall in reading the observations of a young Research Assistant in Focus and a foreign observer who both joined the International Observers Mission. Fang Chih-Yung, Focus volunteer from Taiwan, professed culture shock at the practice of giving out sample ballots with the names of the preferred candidates in the mock-ups. In some of these ballots that were handed out to voters, P20-50 bills had been tucked in. He also felt empathy for the voters who queued in the different precincts in Pampanga province, where his team was assigned, for hours before they could vote. But his greatest disappointment was from witnessing how the Aetas were disenfranchised because of the “disorderly” way the Comelec conducted elections in these communities.
“From what I saw in the Aeta community, I wondered how the government could claim the election was fair and modernized (only because it was automated?) when the voters were so confused with the voting procedure itself and could be easily deprived of their right to suffrage due to problems that could have been prevented (dirty hands) or caused by Comelec’s mismanagement (resulting in ghost voters),” wrote Yung.
Jerik Cruz, in his “diatribe,” claimed that “What we beheld throughout our deployments was stunning in many ways, as we had already foreseen various fiascos spawned by the Comelec’s lack of preparations—understaffed and overworked BEIs, ham-fisted clustering schemes, PCOS malfunctions, the absence of voter secrecy and vote-verification, transmission blues and countless other tests of voters’ patience.”
The starker reality that Cruz had to contend with was the “fraud-fending powers” of local politicians, often belonging to well-entrenched political clans. In Pulupandan town in Negros Occidental, Cruz would recount in his article how “During the polls itself, observers returning to the municipality brought back notes passed to them anonymously by the residents, recounting tales of the fear of eviction, the alleged involvement of local judiciary in efforts to disenfranchise opposition sympathizers (they had been crossed out of voters’ lists “per court order” according to these residents’ notes), the inordinate over supply of police and vigilante muscle that would supposedly be used to favor candidates.”
But how do a people bid farewell to a bad government’s legacies? Are elections enough? To use the word legacy is to imply something that is intended to have long-term impact—to imply too that what was bequeathed would be owned and claimed by the inheritors, which is exactly the opposite of what the Filipinos want with the legacies of the GMA government.
Fabros, in her piece “Farewell to the Legacy of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” would compel us to look at the misdeeds that can be attributed to the past government—and to do something about these. But Fabros also wants us to reflect and understand what have been done to us as people—and from what state of incapacity we should free ourselves to confront these legacies.
Thus, Fabros asserts: “Yes, we do have a flawed system. True, we do have a dysfunctional democracy to begin with. But we must never forget the more substantive underpinnings of all our criticisms and frustrations, even after we heave that satisfying sigh of relief, once GMA steps down from the Presidency. We must never allow what’s familiar, what’s common, what’s entrenched to colonize and hijack our aspirations for what is possible. We must never allow this regime to take away our capacity to conceive, our willingness to commit and our perseverance to carry out more thoroughgoing transformation. As we take stock of the GMA legacy, we must also constrain it from defining, confining our projects for the future. Meantime, the first step towards emancipating our collective imagination from the stifling limits of the GMA legacy is by prosecuting her and ensuring that she is held accountable. We must be reminded of what is possible again. And let this reminder be a platform for the many other steps that need to be taken to achieve this.”
New Government, New Policies?
A new government has been ushered in. Hope is still in the air almost nine months (as of February 2011) into the Aquino government. The President continues to enjoy popularity. But as early as the proclamation of Mr. Aquino as president, warning signs were already raised; rose-colored glasses were immediately taken off.
Are civil society organizations and activist groups just a jaded, pessimist bunch that they are not according this new government a honeymoon period?
Or maybe, the realities immediately forced us to face up to what we’ve been dealt with that there could be no honeymoon—that the time for this could have been right after President Noynoy Aquino’s mother had taken the reins of a ‘revolutionary’ government, but such ‘window of opportunity’ for change and reform had been wasted, and the impact of what had happened post-EDSA 1986 still resonate. Because Mr. Aquino also pledged to continue her mother’s legacy when he was campaigning, a feeling of uncertainty, of wariness now refuse to settle down.
As leftist leader Sonny Melencio argued in Reihana Mohideen’s piece “View from the Left: The Meaning of the Noynoy Aquino Presidency”: “The crony system put in place by Marcos had been restored by Cory with a liberal-democratic facade. This system continues today…There were real possibilities that opened up to undermine elite rule, but Cory never acted on this and it [had not been] her intention to do so. This and her legacy of the system we have today, shows the serious limitations of the Cory revolution.”
Meanwhile Ricardo Reyes’ optimism would only go as far as “We can expect Noynoy to run after GMA and her cohorts who are responsible for all those gargantuan corruption scandals which marred the latter’s presidency. His chances of success? Fifty-fifty is my estimate given GMA’s continuing clout in Congress, the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman’s Office.” But he sees “no deliverance from poverty and the huge social inequity of wealth and opportunities by the majority, (because) the Noynoy presidency has more limitations than the watch of his mother, Cory Aquino, to accomplish anything significant in this direction.”
Obanil validates the above prognosis through his update on Herbert Docena’s article “What’s at Stake in the President’s Anti-Corruption Crusade.” In her piece, Obanil keeps us posted on what have been achieved so far by the efforts of Aquino’s government to institute mechanisms for prosecuting GMA, such as the Truth Commission, and about the ongoing saga that is the Garcia deal.
Docena, meanwhile, draws our attention to why corruption is not just an important campaign promise for President Aquino’s administration but also to why the people should have a stake in the issue.
“Beneath the universalizing corruption discourse then are deeper and overlapping class and moral divisions. But, in its appeal for unity, this discourse tries to gloss over what is really at stake in these struggles by framing the issue as though the only question that matters is whether we are against corruption—who isn’t?—when the real question is, what kind of corruption are we against, and where do we want the boundaries to be drawn? Whether President Aquino is aware of it or not, each of his actions or pronouncements regarding corruption—what he considers corrupt and not corrupt, who he persecutes and doesn’t persecute—will be attempts to fix the disputed boundaries in one place instead of another, according to his personal or class interests and/or moral convictions,” argued Docena.
Cruz, in his piece on democratization, also flagged warning signs that appeared early on in Mr. Aquino’s presidency, even going back to the time when he was still campaigning and contending political interests already divided his campaign staff and supporters.
The signs: “…several weeks short of its 100 days—(President Aquino’s administration) has been characterized by infighting between elite factions. There is the so-called “Balay,” comprising of Liberal Party supporters of the President, and “Samar,” comprising of Aquino’s family and relatives…Even during the campaign period, such factions had been noted in the “Noy-Mar” and “Noy-Bi” dispute between the Hyatt 10 and the so-called Cojuangco Kamag-anak Inc. As had been the case with P-Noy’s mother, all these early signs show that elite competition may very much become an integral part of P-Noy’s political reality. In her nine years in Malacañang, GMA effectively splintered the Philippine ruling class in her frenzied bids to retain power; and thus, with the sudden vacuum generated by the Aquino inauguration, there is every reason to expect many of those disaffected by GMA to claw for a piece of the action in the new administration.”
The challenges to democratization, however, could be expected not only from the Executive but also from local politics and the legislature. Elections 2010 was a year of ‘harvests’ for traditional politics at the local level, with entrenched political dynasties still dominating the list of victors while several other have made a triumphant comeback.
As Obanil stated in “Family Matters: Delving into the 2010 Winning Political Clans,” the results of the 2010 elections in the local politics indicated that “the Filipinos would not be seeing the decline of political clans or dynasties in the Philippines anytime soon.” The local political landscape is still ruled by the Dutertes, Singsons, Arroyos, Cojuangcos, Sys, Marcoses, Villafuertes, Roxases, Garcias, Ampatuans and Dimaporos, to name a few. Many of these political families are even holdovers from the Marcos era.
Meanwhile, even the party-list system in Congress seemed to have been hijacked by trapo interests. Mary Ann Manahan’s article is a discussion of several party-list groups linked to GMA and her family and the other organizations that didn’t have basic mass memberships, but instead represented interest of social sectors not considered marginalized politically and economically.
Democratization, however, is not just a political project. Cruz would point out that “It is not only through politics that democratization can be measured, but through economic policies as well. The new government’s uncritical dependence on the private sector is something to watch for. It is known, for instance, that P-Noy enjoyed overwhelming support from the Makati Business Club throughout the presidential race. It is further known that during his State of the Nation Address (SONA), Mr. Aquino bannered the cause of increased public-private partnerships (PPPs) in order to propel economic development while circumventing his administration’s budget blues.”
Two of the most contentious economic policies that sparked debates within civil society circles and even in the legislature, and which government had to defend before the public, were the public-private partnership (PPP) and the conditional cash transfer (CCT).
Misgivings about P-Noy’s Economic Policies
Chapter IV-New Policies? of this book serves as a forum for the different viewpoints on the PPP and CCT. The CCT drew strong reactions, including criticisms, from civil society organizations and the public; even from traditional politicians in the legislature whose pork barrel and politically motivated poverty alleviation projects have been threatened.
In an interview with Focus, National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) Secretary Joel Rocamora sought to put the issue in perspective. “Think of reform as a series of phases…” he emphasized. He also explained that the CCT money is “not unlimited” and therefore the program should be implemented side by side with structural changes. “Anti-poverty work will work when there is economic growth,” Rocamora said, adding that this growth should be fuelled by “asset reform” and “agricultural development.”
In the same vein, Rep. Walden Bello in his piece “The Conditional Cash Transfer Debate and the Coalition against the Poor” stressed that the CCT has “a palliative content”—that it is indeed “complementary to structural reform, not a substitute to it.”
Bello also underscored the context in which the CCT is now being implemented: that “poverty is so pervasive and the combination of runaway corruption and neoliberal policies under the nine-year reign of the previous administration led to so much increase in poverty that any tool to contain its further spread must be utilized” and that “CCTs buy time for structural reforms to kick in. The key measures to reduce poverty are reversing trade liberalization, a moratorium on foreign debt payments, and effective agrarian reform…Thus I would see CCTs as a stopgap measure, to keep millions above the water line until reforms show results.” For Bello, the CCT is an important intervention that can help achieve the poverty reduction targets in the Millennium Development Goals.
He criticized the limiting perspective of those who have been against the CCT and categorized the CCT critics as: “those who oppose it for partisan political gains, such as Arroyo, who is now critical of a program begun under her administration out of sheer opportunism; traditional politicians, who are worried that the CCT program will destroy the ties of patronage politics that serve as their main form of control over the urban and rural poor; the extreme left, who are afraid that the reform coalition now in government could use the program to create a mass base that would become relatively impermeable to their ultra-left politics; the middle class, who are particularly susceptible to the charge that CCTs are a dole-out.”
On the other hand, Dr. Prospero de Vera’s apprehensions have been based on his evaluation that the elements needed to make a success out of the CCT are currently absent in the Philippine context; that these have been absent even during the administration of GMA when the CCT was first conceived and implemented.
De Vera pointed out that sufficient education and health infrastructures must be available to the poor to make the CCT work. He also highlighted the importance of making information accessible to the poor. “Information access is important, and difficult, because the poor (particularly marginalized groups like indigenous peoples) often have no access to information. The information has to be adapted to their needs, must be in a language that they understand, and must be gender-aware.” The CCT should come with “complaint mechanism” and “monitoring systems must ensure the participation of the beneficiaries.”
Dean Rene Ofreneo digressed in his article “From PPP to CCT: Where is the Country Headed To?” with his more critical appraisal that President Aquino has “opted to continue and strengthen the “old” neo-liberal framework of economic governance that has failed the nation in the last four decades.”
Ofreneo asserted that the PPP and CCT are not credible programs, but that they simply “revolve around the old World Bank policy prescriptions of privatization, trade and investment liberalization, and economic deregulation (finance, industry, agriculture and services). The “new” technocrats, led by some “recycled” officials appointed to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) are unwilling to deviate from the simplistic free-market path…”
To back up his criticism against the PPP, Ofreneo presented historical evidence about how the privately-financed public projects have resulted in higher prices for poor Filipino consumers; that poor Filipinos have been marginalized further by the prohibitive cost of transportation, energy and water as a result of PPP projects.
“…PPPs are national infrastructure projects—physical (e.g., roads, airports, railways, ports, etc.) and social (e.g., education, health, etc.)—that no society can do without if it seeks to grow and advance. But who will build and operate these projects? Under the PPP concept, the first “P” or the government does the brokering job, identifying needed infrastructure projects and enticing the second “P” or the “private sector” to invest and build these projects. The latter, of course, will come in only for a profit, that is if the government assures them of “returns on investments” under various operational schemes, the most popular of which is the “build-operate-transfer” (BOT) such as what the previous government did to build the NLEX and SLEX or with the power generation program of the independent power producers (IPPs),” Ofreneo argued.
The dictionary has interesting definitions for the word “transition”—that it is a passage from one state to another; that it involves changeover and conversion, and that the act of transitioning implies movement.
There was a changing of guards in government last year—a movement from a bad government to one that has been perceived as the opposite. We can say we’re passing through a state of being hopeless, of being without option to one that has created hope and opened windows of opportunities. But we can say too that we’ve been in this “passing through” state since EDSA 1986, which in 2011 celebrates its 25th anniversary; there have been movements as well from one government leadership to another, brought about not only by elections but by two more reproductions—not necessarily exact or accurate facsimiles— of the 1986 People Power. The question now is have there been conversions; have the changeovers addressed many of the historically rooted problems of our country, as expressed through the people’s aspirations?
Going through the articles in Chapter IV-People’s Aspirations and Chapter V-Regional Challenges, one will realize how civil society advocacies and the people’s aspirations haven’t changed much in the past decades post-Marcos era—we still yearn and struggle for agrarian reform, access to the commons (land, water and other natural resources), inclusiveness in trade agreements that don’t reflect the poor’s situations and desires, climate justice (though a new term, it reflects a condition in the environment that’s been unraveling in the past years and has been affecting local and regional communities), freedom of information, among others.
These aspirations have intensified but have not substantially changed because the root causes remain unchallenged, glossed over. This makes the task of Noynoy Aquino and his government tougher—because we’ve been in this passage, in this state of transition for a long time now. The government cannot do a genuine makeover and fulfill people’s expectations using the same mental state or perspectives that created the problems/obstacles in the first place (to quote and paraphrase Albert Einstein this time).
Now, here’s a note on the style and form of the pieces contained in this anthology. These articles were selected from the monthly editions of Focus-Philippines’ e-newsletter accessible in our website. There are about three new articles in this collection that haven’t been part of the FoP issues, but have been written to update some of the FoP 2010 articles. Most of the selections were written either in feature or essay form, but most are analytical opinion pieces that their insights are not time-bound. Now we’ve created a quandary—as long as the current social-political and economic situations in our country prevail, as long as the government pursues the same economic policies and ways of governing, this collection will be useful. But we wouldn’t want the former to continue; we’d just rather this book soon come down as a valuable piece of historical record.
Clarissa V. Militante
Editor – Yearbook 2010