November 23, 2007

To the hilt

No Philippine president has insulted the Filipino people's intelligence more than Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. No other administration has so mangled and twisted the Constitution to suit its ends and made a travesty of the rule of law while maintaining the trappings of a democratic regime. (Ferdinand Marcos had to declare martial law first, place a gun to the heads of the members of the Constitutional Convention and then proceed to justify his so-called “constitutional dictatorship”.)

You think you've seen the most brazen cases of immoral and illegal conduct in the highest reaches of government with the recent spate of corruption scandals. This latest string of outrages culminated in the multi-million dollar ZTE scam topped by the bribery attempts to squelch criticism and preempt impeachment proceedings.

You think you've heard the worst insults to your intelligence with the barefaced lies and clumsy attempts to put the lid on the stench of corruption and official wrongdoing. Comes now the World Bank suspension of the release of loans for Philippine road projects (USD 33 million, part of USD 232 million loan) due to reports of irregular bidding and excessive pricing.

Mrs. Arroyo’s Budget Sec. Rolando Andaya has the gall to attribute and thereby pass on culpability for the anomalies to WB-imposed procurement procedures! Mr. Andaya argues further that the irregularities could have been avoided if Philippine procurement procedures were used instead.

However, everyone knows that public works is one of the biggest sources of corruption in the Philippines, with a going rate of "forty percent automatic" at the lowest levels and much higher as one goes up the bureaucratic ladder.

One might acknowledge that Mr. Andaya is not being entirely off the mark. The Bank itself cannot be accepted as a paragon of virtue, not exactly your champion of clean governance. The World Bank and its projects are themselves plagued by corruption; estimates range from 5-25 % of the USD 525 billion it has lent out to Third World countries has been lost to corruption since 1946. That means Third World peoples -- including you and I -- have been paying for 26-130 billion US dollars that have enriched unscrupulous bureaucrats, technocrats and contractors.

According to US Senator Dick Lugar, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, “Even if corruption is at the low end of estimates, millions of people living in poverty may have lost opportunities to improving their health, education and economic opportunities…So, not only are the impoverished cheated out of development benefits, they are left to repay the resulting debts to the Bank.”

According to the Government Accountability Project (GAP), “Management can no longer point the finger at borrowing countries with lax protections as the source of the devastating cost of corruption. The World Bank itself fosters fraud and abuse within its own organization by silencing many responsible staff members and shielding those who abuse the system.”

GAP ia a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group in the US that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers and empowering citizen activists. Its Webpage describes GAP as the leading whistleblower-protection organization in the US.

But this sobering knowledge about the Bank only underscores how intolerable and unacceptable the levels of corruption in the Arroyo government have become. And how smugly blatant, preposterous and ridiculous its excuses. It is worthwhile to make a run down of what Mrs. Arroyo’s subalterns and apologists had to say about the latest black eye on her government.

Public Works Secretary Ebdane said that while “foreign-funded projects are not bound by local laws that mandate bidding to stay within the approved budget for contracts” he later cancelled the bidding of the two large road contracts that the WB suspected to be marred by collusion and excessive pricing in order “to remove the root of the problem.” Is Mr. Ebdane saying that the root of the problem is oversight by the foreign funder?

DBM Secretary Andaya sought to downplay the significance of the suspension by saying that “technically speaking” the Bank had not suspended the loan package because Phase 2 was still being deliberated by the agency’s board and its implementation had yet to begin. “The DBM and WB have agreed to institute safeguards…which in turn will facilitate the resumption of deliberations on NRIMP Phase 2.”

Finance Secretary Teves, on the other hand, confirmed that he was briefed about the inquiry being conducted by the bank’s internal investigation unit, the Department of Institutional Integrity (INT) and that he suggested that the Office of the Ombudsman be involved “because it would be the body that would be construed as fair and clothed with independence…”

Presidential Management Staff Remonde exhibited flagrant buck-passing when he said, “The contracts might have become collateral damage. We were just caught up in the internal row among the World Bank staff…this suspension is a result of the changes in its leadership.”

1. Justice Secretary Gonzales adjudged that the problem lay in that “…we are the most notorious in flagelating ourselves so that the international community makes conclusions based on what we ourselves say to the world about us.” Mr. Gonzales railed against the unfairness of the Bank saying, “We cannot allow ourselves to be the punching bag of any international (agency).” He reminded the public that the Bank had its own share of shenanigans as demonstrated by the resignation of its former President Paul Wolfowitz over the controversial appointment and high salary he had arranged for his girlfriend, a WB employee.

The World Bank suspension of the $232-M loan looks really bad for the Arroyo government so much so that the Malacanang must resort once more to another inept cover-up. Within the logic of an economic policy framework that has made the Philippine economy foreign debt-dependent and foreign investment-driven, this development indeed spells trouble for the Arroyo regime and the system as a whole.

Any ruling regime should quake at being accused -- much more proven -- as one that cannot be trusted to execute foreign-funded projects reasonably “free” of corruption. The fact that the World Bank has taken official notice, enough to investigate and to suspend the loan while the investigation is pending, indicates that the Arroyo administration has taken its corrupt practices to the limits of what is “acceptable” even of corruption-ridden governments like hers.#

*Published in Business World

23-24 November 2007

November 16, 2007


Like Caesar's wife, we must be above suspicion and we must see to it that morality, transparency and commitment will be supreme, always and everywhere. -- - Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

The bomb attack at the House of Representatives (HOR) has been roundly condemned by all. No one who can be taken seriously has claimed responsibility for it. The knee jerk reaction is to blame so-called terrorists; the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) immediately comes to the public's mind since they are generally perceived to favor this sort of modus operandi.

Certain quarters would certainly not mind this angle as it could constitute a perverse kind of lobby for jittery members of Congress to amend the new Anti-terrorism Law, making it easier to use the draconian law in going after the supposed enemies of the state. But the National Security Adviser, who is usually quick to cry "Terrorist!" every time a bomb explodes, is uncharacteristically coy. Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo preferred to initially lump the blast with the usual "political noise", although with a far deadlier ring, that is meant to distract her from her administration's priority economic programs.

House Speaker de Venecia has not minced words that the powerful blast that killed four, including a controversial Moro representative from battle-scarred Muslim Mindanao, and injured several others including a solon from the Leftist party list group, Gabriela Women's Party, was an "attack on the House of Representatives". Did he mean this in the general sense that the choice of the Batasan Pambansa, a national seat of power, as a venue to launch such an attack is a clear affront against Parliament? Or is he considering this as a not too subtle message for someone whom GMA loyalists suspect to be plotting the downfall of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo despite the recent smiles, handshakes and protestations of steadfastness amongst party mates Mrs. Arroyo, Mr. de Venecia and former President Gen. Fidel Ramos.

Police Generals Razon and Barias are clearly in favor of the theory that the bomb was meant for Basilan Representative Wahab Akbar, a former rebel turned successful politician-warlord who does not lack for enemies, political and otherwise. Ironically, Mr. Akbar was also courted by Malacanang, Philippine and US military officials and even Moro rebel groups as a useful ally even as rumors of his continuing ties with the ASG persisted.

But the hasty conclusions and quick pronouncements of police investigators is counter-productive and even suspect. Why are they in a rush to pin the blame on Mr. Akbar’s enemies when there are still many other possibilities not least of which is that the target could be the Left party list groups currently hit hard by scores of political assassinations widely believed to be the handiwork of government-sponsored death squads.

As a stinging rebuke to the Arroyo presidency and the downright vile reputation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, there are not-unfounded speculations that the HOR blast may be part of a dastardly scheme to lay the ground once more for the declaration of some form of emergency rule, if not martial law. Filipinos have not forgotten that way before bombings attributed to "Islamic extremists" and similar "terrorist" groups became the buzzwords in official and media circles, these were used to justify the imposition of martial rule by the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Not a few historians, political analysts and activists have pointed to the dangerous similarities between the premartial law conditions in the early seventies and today: a corrupt and brutal presidency seeking impunity for criminal acts by maintaining its hold on power; a military and police establishment run by corrupt, abusive and fascist generals; a Superpower who will back the Devil if its suits its strategic geo-political interests; and unmanageable armed resistance and unarmed dissidence from a citizenry restive over economic hardship, corrupt and repressive governance, social degradation and moral decay.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the nationwide alliance of nationalist and democratic people's organizations, immediately condemned the Batasan blast that also killed one of the progressive movement's own, Marcial Taldo, a grassroots activist who served as driver to Gabriela Representative Luz Ilagan, herself injured in the blast. Bayan pointed out, "The bombing happens at a time when intense political crisis is besieging the Arroyo administration. The incident happened hours before a Senate probe on bribery allegations involving Malacañang as well as Congress hearings on the impeachment case against the President."

Bayan called for "an independent and thorough probe on the incident" as it demanded justice for the victims. "We do not want the investigation to turn into another Glorietta probe wherein the results lack credibility. There should be no cover up. Even as the Philippine National Police is popularizing the theory that Mr. Akbar was the target of the killers, it should not immediately and conveniently disregard other political angles that may be the reasons for the blast."

It said, "The PNP has the duty to determine whether or not the blast was also aimed at the Gabriela Women's Party, whose leaders are known Arroyo critics, or if the blast was some form of diversionary tactic to cover up the impeachment issue and the Senate bribery probe. All angles, even the highly political, must be looked into for the probe to be credible and acceptable to the public."

Police investigators turn a blind eye to what is staring them in the face: whoever was behind the Batasan blast may well have meant to deliver a political message or achieve some sinister political ends. The choice of the House of Representatives as a venue to kill, maim and create mayhem can not be dismissed as inconsequential or irrelevant to the objectives of the crime. To do so would be the height of political naivete and investigative incompetence or even part of another crude cover-up which the public will not buy. It would be, as well, an open invitation to bloodier and highly destructive incidents when the masterminds are not brought to justice.

For one thing, if the intention is to cow the broad opposition to the illegitimate and immoral rule of Mrs. Arroyo and to terrorize the people in general from undertaking exposes & protest actions, it will not work. Every time the current discredited and isolated regime uses political repression to squelch dissent and resistance, the more it reaps the whirlwind. This time around, should the Arroyo cabal be proven to be resorting to the bombing of innocent civilians for its political survival, the backlash will be indescribable.

Whoever the perpetrators are and whatever their motives, incidents like these only serve to weaken the whole iniquitous and moribund ruling system and inflame the people to take matters into their own hands. ###

*Published in Business World

16-17 November 2007

November 11, 2007

Lame-duck president

The bogus President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is a lame duck president in more ways than one.
Time is running out since she is ineligible to run for another term and is merely left to complete her remaining years in office.

More ominously, there is a real chance she may not last till 2010 as popular discontent with her regime continuously rises; one scandal after another triggers renewed calls for her resignation or ouster from respected quarters; erstwhile allies begin distancing themselves from her failed policies and programs; her ruling coalition breaks up over how her relatives and front men monopolize the opportunities for plunder; and restiveness roils the military and police ranks while the communist-led and the Moro armed revolutionary movements prove themselves resilient and intractable.

Mrs. Arroyo appears to be tough and strong despite the political crises that have battered her regime from the time she took over from ousted President Estrada. In reality, all she is reduced to doing at this point is damage control.

Political fires are breaking out everywhere. Mrs. Arroyo may be able to douse some but not all and not permanently. Before long new conflagrations are set off by seemingly innocuous incidents. Sometimes Malacanang provokes even bigger fires with its damage control measures. Witness the fallout from NBN-ZTE scam followed by the exposure of the bribery that took place, right in Malacanang Palace, of Congressmen and local government officials with hundreds of thousand in cash stuffed into gift bags.

The fake President’s standard line is that she will ignore the “political noise” generated by her enemies, an assortment of ne’er-do-wells, and concentrate on governing, most especially, on improving the economy.

But a vast majority of people are not buying this line because times are getting much harder and for the very poor, getting much more desperate. Two days ago, an 11-year-old girl was reported to have committed suicide by hanging; she was despondent over her family’s extreme poverty. Mrs. Arroyo adds insult to injury whenever she talks of economic gains that are not at all felt by the people who see instead the profligacy, the corruption, and the looting of the national treasury.

Reading between the lines, “governing” means favoring relatives and cronies with juicy contracts; siphoning off presidential intelligence and social amelioration funds to electoral campaigns and for political patronage; agreeing to lopsided agreements like the JPEPA (Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement) that are bound to destroy jobs, cheapen wages, deepen economic backwardness and allow the plunder of the national patrimony and economy by foreign carpetbaggers.

“Governing” means allowing the police to botch the investigation of a highly destructive explosion in the central business district of Makati, by single-mindedly pursuing an “industrial accident” as the cause of the carnage even after compelling evidence, like the presence of trace components of C4 (an explosive exclusively used by the military), had been discovered. Was this unsubstantiated theory by the police a way to divert attention from the possible involvement of military personnel in the blast? The police appear bent on looking for scapegoats like Mrs. Arroyo’s arch enemy, Makati Mayor Binay, and its thorn on the side, the Ayala business interests which fund the Black and White Movement, and ignoring the serious consequences of a cover-up or a perceived cover-up of the Glorietta bombing.

“Governing” means prioritizing debt servicing over social services and turning a blind eye to the continuing decline of the health care and educational systems. “Governing” also means to tax the people to death while promising non-existent “safety nets”.

“Governing” includes entering into morally unconscionable, politically opportunistic and legally untenable deals with the anti-GMA factions of the ruling elite e.g. the Erap pardon. It is buying the loyalty of one’s allies and potential allies with bribe money and perks; cynically flouting constitutional provisions on public officials’ accountability by using the tyranny of numbers to quash impeachment complaints; and undermining the purported system of check and balances of the three branches of government by abusing “executive privilege”.

Reading between the lines, “governing” means pursuing a failed militarist counter-insurgency policy against the revolutionary armed movements, scuttling peace talks and turning a blind eye to widespread human rights violations spawned by Oplan Bantay Laya (Oplan Freedom Watch) against legal activists and their supporters as well as the rural civilian populace.

It also has to do with following the US blindly on its war of terror thereby exacerbating internal armed conflicts and encouraging US military intervention and further political interference in exchange for military aid and political backing.

“Governing”, according to the administration’s doublespeak, is the utter lack of transparency so as to be able to commit wrongdoing with impunity, in order to get away with more wrongdoing.

In truth the Arroyo regime will find it more and more difficult to “govern” this country. For the remaining years of Mrs. Arroyo’s term up to 2010, there will be increasing instability and turmoil. The socio-economic as well as political crisis will worsen. The opposing and basically reactionary political forces will sharpen their knives against each other. The armed revolutionary struggles and the mass protest movements will continue to generate the bases for their validity and the people’s support from the anti-people and anti-national policies of this rotten and indisputably lame duck regime.###

*Published in Business World
9-10 November 2007