September 13, 2014

It would take a revolution

    “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
                               - Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849

Sometimes it gets more and more difficult to write even just a weekly column.  Partly it’s because reading and listening to the news has become such a pain with the news reports reduced to crime, accident or showbiz stories and reportage on the economic and political news just smoke and mirrors. 

Then there are the reports about “encounters” between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) that of late seem to have been taken from the unchanging script of the western cowboy movies of my childhood with the Indian “savages” always getting routed.  Well, that’s not so surprising considering that the source more often than not is a military spokesperson.

Then again the reality of an ongoing armed conflict intrudes into one’s inured consciousness when the remains of a young woman, all of 33 years, a former student at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Engineering, is tearfully yet lovingly brought “home” to the Diliman campus.  The newspapers report a woman killed in a clash with Army soldiers in Abra, alongside at least 8 other suspected NPA rebels.

From all accounts she had a bright future ahead of her.  Recca Noelle Monte graduated from Manila Science High School in 1997, one of the school's silver medalists.  She was a DOST scholar in UP Diliman, taking up Industrial Engineering.  She was not only bright, her friends remember a bubbly, pretty, kind-hearted person who was easy to get along with.

But like many of our youth, generation upon generation, she awoke to the sorry plight of the masses of our people – the desperately poor, the interminably exploited and oppressed.   She became a national democratic student activist, tirelessly raising her fellow students’ social consciousness, organizing them to take a stand and act on the burning national issues of the day, above and beyond their narrow concerns as students preparing for successful careers once out of the university’s ivory tower.

She, together with her fellow “FTs” or full-timers (students who are not enrolled and do organizing work full time) “integrated” or some say “immersed” herself among the peasant farmers of Mindoro and set up activist chapters in the province despite difficult circumstances that had demoralized some of her companions.  She led by example not just by words. 

A tribute by a former fellow activist is a fitting accolade: “(Recca) proved to be a true revolutionary, not the stereotypical grim and determined activist but certainly determined in a most inspiring way.  She showed me that even in the worst situations, when we were at a loss as to what was happening, instead of going nuts asking endless questions, we should just forge ahead and take up the work we were given. The chapters we established in Puerto were all through the leadership and heart of Recca.”

Committed to working for fundamental, wide-ranging change in Philippine society and knowing that the ruling classes who have benefited from the unjust status quo would not give up their privileged positions without a grisly fight, Recca decided to join the armed revolution in the countryside.  She served in the Cordilleras for ten years till her untimely death.

The death of Recca Monte in the hands of the military happened under the fifth “democratic” regime after the fall of the US-backed Marcos dictatorship. 

The AFP top brass would say these idealistic youth were misled by communist agitators at UP and through a series of indoctrination sessions became “communist terrorists” themselves.  According to the army spokesperson of the Army's 5th Infantry Division local people had reported the group’s “extortion activity” that led to the clash. The intention is to ascribe only the most evil of motivations and the most reprehensible of behaviors on the part of the NPA. 

But no matter how the AFP and the Aquino government as a whole tries to demonize the NPA, the same background story to these idealistic young men and women keeps cropping up.  The youth of this land have been giving up a comfortable existence and a lucrative future since the late sixties to immerse themselves among the exploited and oppressed, offering and sacrificing their lives for a brighter future for the many.  It just doesn't make any sense that someone like Recca would endure a very difficult life and make such sacrifices only to engage in extortion. 

It has been 42 years since Martial Law was declared and 28 years since the EDSA people’s uprising that led to the ouster of the US-backed Marcos Dictatorship.  Society’s ills are fundamentally the same, even gone worse over the decades.  Every “democratic” regime after Marcos has proclaimed that it would end poverty, inequality and underdevelopment by ushering in his or her version of “good governance” but these have all been proven mere deceptive rhetoric.  The character of these regimes remains elite, oligarchic, averse to fundamental change and therefore violently reactionary.

President BS Aquino’s hallelujah speech last Friday before his party mates, his loyal supporters and his allies regarding the touted progress and  gains of democracy under his watch is a complete fairy tale for the masses, the majority of our countrymen.   It was meant more for foreign consumption, a rehearsal for his European and US sorties angling for investments.  On the other hand, a creeping dictatorship under the guise of “matuwid na daan” is the bigger reality. 

Perhaps his prospective European and USA audience -- the big multinational corporations and their imperialist governments might buy his come-on -- "We're doing great, pour in more investments into the Philippines!" -- albeit with even more attractive incentives.  But whether this will redound to the benefit of the common tao is an entirely different story.

The past 28-42 years say otherwise.  And as Recca Monte would say, it would take nothing less than a revolution for things to really change. #

Published in Business World
15 September 2014

September 07, 2014

Aquino allies bulldoze impeachment

The finding by the House of Representatives (HOR) Justice Committee that the three impeachment complaints vs. President Benigno S. Aquino were “insufficient in substance” effectively killed the complainants’ attempt to get to the bottom of the controversy-ridden Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and to raise the alarm about the gravity of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) through the impeachment process. 

Did the 54 committee members who voted to junk the complaint render “justice” to Mr. Aquino as Malacanang claims?  On the other hand, should the six Makabayan Coalition congresspersons bow their heads in shame for having been swiftly and brutally defeated by such overwhelming numbers?

This column need not reprise the recital of facts backed by official admissions and documents submitted by the Budget Department to the Supreme Court (SC) nor the bases in law that formed the grounds for the filing of the impeachment complaints.  The complaints are easily available on line for people to read and decide for themselves whether these are indeed sufficient in substance or not.

It is to the credit of the complainants and the endorsing congress persons that they put their money where their mouth is.  The complainants painstakingly put together the formal complaints as basis for exacting accountability over the DAP fiasco as well as the extremely lopsided EDCA.  The endorsers cogently presented and argued their positions given the very short time that they were allowed in the Justice Committee hearings even as the anti-impeachment congressmen freely hogged the time.

This is on top of having filed petitions against the DAP and EDCA in the SC (the former, by the way, they won by a unanimous decision although the Aquino administration has filed a motion for reconsideration); assiduously bringing the issues to the public consciousness in countless forums and public demonstrations; and most recently, embarking on a people’s initiative to legislate a law (thereby circumventing the pork-laden Congress) that would abolish the pork barrel system once and for all.

It should be evident by now to all except the most biased, that the move to impeach Mr. Aquino on the basis of DAP and EDCA is not at all whimsical but is in fact, dead earnest.  The President is immune from suit while still in office ergo the only legal way to make him accountable for culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust is through the impeachment process.

What are some of the repeated arguments raised against impeachment, from the legal to the demagogic to the seemingly pragmatic but in truth, mere demonstrations of lapdog loyalty.

Several Committee members continued to hammer away at the alleged “prematurity” of the impeachment complaints since the SC has not ruled with finality on the DAP, more so on the EDCA. An editorial in a respected broadsheet repeated the erroneous argument even after the Justice Committee Chair himself had ruled that the pendency of the DAP and EDCA petitions in the SC cannot be a bar to Congress impeaching the President or any other impeachable official so long as it follows its own rules for impeachment. 

While the SC decides on whether an act of the executive or legislative department is constitutional or not, the High Court does not have the authority to impeach.  Only the HOR does.  Consequently, confining impeachment proceedings to the rulings of the SC is not only unfounded, it is irrational.  Impeachment proceedings determine whether an impeachable official is unfit for public office based on Constitutionally-defined grounds and not on the Court’s decisions.

The other argument pretending to be a legal argument but is actually a demagogic one is that culpable violation must be taken to mean that the violation of the Constitution is “perverse” and of such severity that warrants impeachment.  It can be argued that culpable means “blameworthy, involving the commission of a fault or the breach of a duty imposed by law” thereby there is no gainsaying that Mr. Aquino had indeed culpably violated the Constitution when he engaged in “cross-border transfer” of funds, when he released government funds to projects without any appropriation item, etc.

But what is more important is that Mr. Aquino stands accused of illegally pooling at least P144 billion in DAP funds and illegally distributing these as pork barrel to his party mates and other favored members of Congress together with allied local government officials.  Mr. Aquino is not called by the Parliament of the Streets as “pork barrel king” for nothing. 

More reprehensively, Mr. Aquino used DAP funds as bribe money to exact favorable decisions from Congress such as the Senate conviction of Chief Justice Corona. The Aquino administration has still to fully account where the DAP funds were taken from and where they went.  The P144 billion DAP anomaly dwarfs the P10 billion PDAF scam by any reckoning.

Apart from Mr. Aquino’s usurping the Congressional power of the purse, he is accused of doing so in order to exercise fiscal dictatorship.  He placed in his own hands immense and exclusive power over humungous sums of public funds by which to unduly influence if not control both the Legislature and Judiciary and to exact submission if not canine loyalty from politicians on all levels. 

The pro-Aquino congresspersons had no qualms in showing that sufficiency in substance was farthest from their minds. What, for instance, is the relevance of the remaining time left in Aquino's term, the damage he has done and the possible good he can still do, to the substance of the impeachment complaint?  The dogged, if non-sequitur and irrelevant defense of Mr. Aquino while totally skirting the arguments raised on the sufficiency of substance of the complaints only betrayed the fact that these committee members were voting  not on the sufficiency of substance but for the retention of the DAP and upholding of the EDCA.

If Mr. Aquino and his backers and allies, especially in Congress, think they have nipped in the bud the burgeoning clamor to hold accountable Mr. Aquino and all involved in graft and corruption at the highest levels of government, and that they can continue to have their pork and wallow in political patronage albeit under the guise of new mechanisms and devices, they are bound to be caught again red-handed and with their pants down.

For one, the public by and large have unequivocally turned down overtures for Charter change that would grant a term extension for Aquino and revoke the judicial power of the courts to review gross abuse of discretion by any branch of government.  Furthermore, numerous groups and formations continue to sprout, calling for the total end to the pork barrel system and political patronage in government.

If media commentaries after and even before the hearings are any indication, the vote fooled no one as to the real reason behind its lopsidedness. Certainly, it had absolutely nothing to do with rendering Mr. Aquino justice, nor with judging on the sufficiency of substance of the impeachment complaints. The predominant view, even before the hearings began, was that it was, as one top radio anchor summed it up, a question of "sufficiency of numbers".   #

Published in Business World
8 September 2014

September 02, 2014

Machiavellian mischief in Malacanang

President Benigno S. Aquino III’s volte-face regarding Charter change (Cha-cha), after repeatedly stating that he did not see the need for it (not even for the promised economic benefits its proponents claimed would follow), is self-serving no matter how one looks at it.  It is an unabashed scheme not only to remain in power beyond his Constitutional term but to reduce the power of the Supreme Court (SC) and thus undermine the system of checks and balances in government.

With this move towards one-man rule coming so close after he had choked in emotion as he invoked his parents’ memory (thereby gaining sympathy and deflecting and softening public criticism over the Disbursement Acceleration Program), Ninoy and Cory Aquino must be turning in their graves by now.

Mr. Aquino says he arrived at the conclusion that Charter change is indeed necessary and urgent after he saw how the High Court has become too pakialamero or what he calls “judicial overreach”. 

The Constitutional proviso he apparently wishes to be rid of is Article VIII, Section 1 defining judicial power as “the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.”

This gives the High Court wide latitude to intervene, examine and adjudge certain acts of any agency in the executive department including the office of the President (such as in the case of the Development Acceleration Program or DAP) as well as the laws enacted by Congress (such as the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF) as illegal or unconstitutional. 

This provision is widely acknowledged as a response by the framers of the 1987 Constitution to the tyrannical abuse of power by President Ferdinand E. Marcos when he extended his term of office by declaring martial law and thereafter imposed the 1973 Constitution with its Transitory Provisions that legalized his illegitimate hold on power. 

(Flashback: Marcos dictated the provisions he wanted on a captive Constitutional Convention then manufactured the Charter’s ratification through the fake citizen’s assemblies.  When challenged before the SC, Marcos arm-twisted the Court into ruling that the legality of the Charter was a “political question” that it was not competent to rule upon.  The wily lawyer that he was, Marcos utilized his absolute control over the military to ensure that the Court would bend to his will and help legitimize his authoritarian rule.)

Mr. Aquino’s decision to embark on Charter change in order to clip the powers of the SC is a direct result of the DAP decision.  This ruling has so incensed Mr. Aquino that he is now raining fire and brimstone on the SC – accusing the Court of violating its own ruling regarding the DAP; cuts to the judiciary’s budget; the impending abolition of the Judicial Development Fund; running after the SC justices’ SALNs; threats to impeach the Chief Justice he appointed but who turned out to be a great disappointment; and perhaps the coup de grace, removing the SC’s power to check the abuses of the two other branches of government through Cha-cha . 

It seems Mr. Aquino believes these attacks on the SC’s independence will result in the Court’s overturning its unanimous DAP decision, an outcome thought to be highly improbable before Malacanang’s blitzkrieg against the SC.

On the other hand, amending the Constitution in order to allow Mr. Aquino to seek a second term of office is crassly self-serving.  Not even his seeming coyness and dithering about it nor his hallucinatory justification that the people, aka his “bosses”, are calling on him to stay the course of his good governance reforms, can camouflage the fact that his anointed one, Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, is lagging in the polls while the Opposition presidential candidate, Vice President Jejomar Binay, is way ahead of the pack.

So why should the prospect of the next President not being his party mate matter so much to the man who claims to be so eager to reach the end of his term?  Mr. Aquino claims that being President has made him a “masochist” forced to labor under the heavy burdens of his office while being subjected to several impeachment petitions and targeted for “personal attacks” by his political enemies.  (If we will believe Mr. Aquino the latter are legion starting with the Leftists who oppose his US-backed fascist regime; the Juana Change Movement reformers who used to believe in him but have since become one of his worst critics; the Supreme Court justices who would not grant him “good faith” while he usurped the Congressional power of the purse; and now the people responsible for the New York Times editorial “Political Mischief in the Philippines” who called Mr. Aquino’s Cha-cha as “jeopardizing Philippine democracy”.)

Is it because he faces the prospect of being hailed to court, at the minimum for numerous counts of technical malversation due to the unconstitutional DAP, if not for graft and corruption for failure to account for the hundreds of billions of public funds that he and his subalterns, notably Budget Secretary Butch Abad, illegally juggled and siphoned off to their favored political allies, business cronies, and local bailiwicks?

And yet there are those who say -- loyalists and detractors alike -- that Mr. Aquino is merely playing a game with his political enemies.  The prospect of his running for and winning a second term sends a signal to all those who are about to shift their allegiance from the Aquino-led coalition to the Binay bandwagon: the sitting President is not yet a lame duck.  His canine Liberal Party mates and close allies (most of whom were erstwhile devotees of former President Gloria Arroyo) are bestirred with the tantalizing possibility that they too could have extended terms.   Then there is the side effect that diversionary ploys take people’s minds off the pork barrel rip-off, the spiraling cost of living, jobless growth, intensifying and expanding poverty, landlessness, armed conflicts and human rights violations.

Some even venture to say, Mr. Aquino is merely joking.  It is a “joke” that gets his minions scurrying to figure out how to dance the Cha-cha before Mr. Aquino’s time runs out.  Or a “prank” that sends shivers down the spine of the Opposition standard bearer and jolts him into distancing himself from Cha-cha.

It is a “stunt” that has all the hallmarks of a dictatorship in the making no matter Mr. Aquino’s pedigree as the son of Opposition leaders who figured prominently in bringing about the downfall of the hated Marcos dictatorship.

It’s a hard sell and most people are not buying it. #

Published in Business World
1 September 2014