Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fidel’s lament

Fidel Valdez Ramos, who together with Juan Ponce Enrile and the Reform the Armed Forces Movement, led the breakaway from the government of Ferdinand Marcos that culminated in what history now calls the “EDSA people power revolt”, has reason to be miffed. The woman he helped install into office, first by endorsing her along with Jose de Venecia as his party’s standard bearers in 1998, then once more in 2001, when his political nemesis and successor Joseph Estrada was on trial after his impeachment by the House, deigned it beneath her to attend the commemoration of the event that brought the forms of democracy back to life. She preferred to be across the street, visiting briefly one of those umpteenth job fairs organized by DOLE and its POEA to make the jobless scramble for the little mercies of available opportunities beyond these benighted shores.

For Gloria the POEA affair was another photo opportunity, to show to whoever still cares, that “GMA cares”. She preferred a fleeting photo-op for a commemoration of one of the two most important political events of two generations. Almost a generation before, the most important event was the declaration of martial law, which snuffed out the same forms of democracy.

“Hindi ko maintindihan kung bakit wala dito ang pangulo. Sana lahat ay sumama sa pagdiriwang at magbigay ng respeto”, the former President rued.

It is noteworthy that GMA chose to commemorate EDSA two days earlier, at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. She chose the spot perhaps to subconsciously “bury” the memory of that popular expression of democracy, afraid that she may one day be at the receiving end of public rage, as the dictator Marcos experienced. And she could not control herself. She said there that “the world would not forgive another people power”. She has become spokesperson for the universe, hah! Just because she has travelled to various parts 58 times in the 97 months that she has been in Malacanang gives her no right to speak for the world. But then, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is sui generis. No other Filipino leader ever displayed as much gall, and as little shame.

FVR and Jose de Venecia saved the little girl they inflicted upon the nation once more on July 8, 2005. On June 6, GMA’s spokesman and press secretary Ignacio “Toting” Bunye exposed to the nation his tale of two tapes. Hello Garci exploded, and continues to haunt the nation, with no closure yet in sight. Ten of her cabinet officials resigned, and Cory Aquino called for Dona Gloria’s resignation. Even her then Chief of Staff, Efren Abu, gave out a very tentative statement of support, as if waiting for opportunity from popular sentiment. The nation teetered, and the government of the illegitimate Gloria was on the brink of collapse. Only the timidity of Noli de Castro (the complete opposite of Gloria who conspired to remove the duly elected Estrada five years before) and the clarion call of FVR and his JDV for the trapos of their Lakas to circle their beleaguered creation, saved the day for her.

Now, his Gloria does not even deign the EDSA he started worthy of her presence. Fidel Valdez Ramos feels understandably bad.

But the bigger disappointment ought to be not just the absence of a failed and illegitimate leader, whose government’s corruption stinks and is smelled all over the world, but the failure of the same EDSA to bring about the flowering of genuine democracy, a democracy not only in form, but in substance. That substance, which is the full freedom of every man and woman regardless of the circumstances of birth, to fulfil his aspirations in a society of equal opportunities, amply protected by a polity where peace and order reign and good governance guarantees basic services, with justice for all and towards all, has been denied the same people whose combined power defeated a tyranny. Look at all the shattered institutions of what we call democracy, and weep.

There is a legislature whose independence is compromised, because most of the traditional politicians that populate both of its houses transact with the executive branch they are sworn to check and balance. The art of political compromise, which means the balancing of competing public interests in the service of the greater good, has been corrupted into the sacrifice of greater good and public interest in favour of selfish and immoderate greed.

There reigns an executive whose be-all and end-all is power in all its forms, political as well as economic, and for such ends, will transact with everyone in the military, the judiciary, the legislature, the civil service, the media, the business community, even low-life engaged in illegal money-making, to pursue the same --- at all cost. No leader, not even Ferdinand Marcos, has ever been as amoral.

There is a judiciary which but for a few brave and conscience-struck souls, are as transactional as can ever be. And there is a “Department Store of Justice”, as my friend Frank Chavez aptly describes it, presiding over a prosecution system where those who have less in life are persecuted, while those who can either buy or pressure are protected. And a police force that is more interested in jueteng intelihensya than real intelligence work and the discipline to fight crime and protect hapless citizens.

There is a military establishment where those who cannot stand corruption and the destruction of ideals instilled upon them in the Academy languish in jails, while generals who transacted with the illegitimate commander-in-chief grow fat with perks and are given juicy positions in the soldiers’ after-life.

There is a civil service whose career system has been destroyed by a multitude of unqualified political appointees, never been as pronounced or as pervasive as in the last eight years of the president FVR supports.

Tell you what, Mr. President, sir: it is best that the president you helped enthrone did not attend our EDSA. To begin with, she was never there when you were holed in Crame, ready to die if love of country demanded. She never participated in the fight against tyranny, and she never joined in the outcry that followed the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino. She was given by Cory that little office called the GTEB (which turned out to be such a juicy thing) only out of deference to her old man who after all brought Ninoy Aquino into the Liberal Party.

But also because, Mr. President Ramos, sir --- she has done more than any single individual, past or present, to destroy the values that EDSA sought to enshrine, values that even the Filipino public seem to have forgotten as they struggle every day of their miserable lives for the next meal.

You and I, and all of us, Mr. President Ramos, by sins of omission and commission and bad judgment, have at one point in our lives contributed to the rot the nation festers through these days. But we privately and sometimes publicly acknowledge our human errors. And in our time, irrespective of roles significant or insignificant, we were motivated by what we believed at the time to be in the greater national interest.

But your creation never says “I am sorry” and means it. And she discards old allies as quickly as she changes her scarves for her peripatetic traipses. Rather, she is now busy transacting both politics and business with the very same cronies that Marcos used to substitute for the oligarchies he disliked. She has politically decapitated your Joe de Venecia. She has co-opted all your other once faithful kabaleyan in Pangasinan. She has hollowed-out your own Lakas from you and transformed most all of them as toadies she would transact with her new political and business allies.

And in the wake of her governance most bad, she will leave, if at all or if we cannot help it, an economy once more in the hands of oligarchs, and a nation where moral values are irredeemably foreclosed by civilian institutions without a shred of credibility or sense of duty, and worse, a soldiery castrated of its courage and sworn obligations to country and people.

No, Mr. President Ramos, sir, there is no reason for you to rue her absence in your annual celebration of courage. She does not deserve to commemorate an EDSA spirit she has never, never at all, cherished.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Edsa 3 ?

Sa anibersaryo ng Edsa 1, na biglang na-alaala ni Donya Gloria, at nagpatanghal ng isang programa sa Tomb of the Unknown Soldier sa Kampo Bonifacio, imbes na sa mismong lugar kung saan nangyari ang makasaysayang rebolusyon, sinabi ng namumuno sa bansang kaawa-awa:

“Pinuri ng daigdig ang Edsa 1. Pinagbigyan ang Edsa 2. Nguni’t tiyak na ikukondena ang isang Edsa 3, at mahuhusgahan tayo ng buong daigdig na bansang lugmok sa gulo at kawalan ng istabilidad”. (Dagliang salin mula sa salitang ingles).

Alam ba ni Donya Gloria ang kanyang pinagsasasabi? Itinanghal at hinangaan sa buong daigdig ang nangyaring pag-aklas ng sambayanan, sa pangunguna ng mga kawal na sumunod sa pagkalas ni Juan Ponce Enrile at Fidel V. Ramos laban sa kanilang amo na si Ferdinand Marcos. Dahil dito ay napatalsik si Marcos at humalili si Cory, ang pangulong lantarang dinaya noong “snap elections” ilang linggo bago mag-Edsa 1.

Totoong hindi naisa-diwa ang kahalagahan ng Edsa 1. Nagsipagbalikan ang mga pulitikong sakim, at nagpasasa sila noong dalawang dekadang singkad mula ng hangaan tayo ng buong daigdig. Kaya’t ngayon ay balik tayo sa pagkakapariwara. Ipinagkanulo ang sambayanan ng mga pulitikong nagpasasa matapos mapatalsik ang diktadurya ni Marcos.

Dahil sa mga isyu ng korapsyon, ang ilang sektor ay nag-alsang muli laban sa halal na pangulo noong Edsa-2. Iniwanan si Pangulong Estrada ng kanyang hinirang na hepe ng hukbong sandatahan, si Angelo Reyes, matapos na magkagulo sa impeachment trial sa Senado na inumpisahan ng kanyang piniling Speaker, si Manuel Villar. Nagtagumpay ang mga sector na ito nang lisanin na nga ni Reyes at kanyang mga heneral ang kanilang commander-in-chief, at iniluklok si Bise-Presidente GMA bilang pangulo.

Matapos ang ilang buwan, ipinakulong ng rehimeng Arroyo si Erap, sa paraang nakapagpasiklab ng damdamin ng masang Pilipino na hindi naman sadyang narinig sa Edsa 2. Nguni’t si Donya Gloria ay mas matibay ang dibdib kaysa kay Ka Erap. Samantalang ang huli ay hindi nakipaglaban, at linisan ang Malakanyang, ang Donya ay inutusan ang hukbong kitilin ang buhay ng masang sumugod sa Malakanyang.

Hayaan na muna nating kasaysayan ang maghusga sa dalawang lider na ito, si Ka Erap at si Donya Gloria.

Anhin mo pa, sumunod ang walong taon at higit isang buwang rehimen na sa madaling salita ay batbat sa pangungurakot, sa masamang pamamahala, at sa lantarang pagsisinungaling at pagkubli ng katotohanan. At pandaraya ng kalaban sa halalan ng 2004, kaya’t nabanasagang ilehitimong lider si Donya Gloria.

Ngayon, sa naiiwang isang taon at limang buwan ng kanyang pamamalagi sa Malakanyang, buong pagmamalaking binigkas ni Gloria ang ganitong pananalita --- na hindi patatawarin ng sandaigdigan ang isang muling pag-alsa, kung saan siya ang puntiryang patalsikin.

Sa totoo lang, wala nang pakialam ang daigdig at ibanng bansa sa mangyayari o hindi mangyayari sa Pilipinas. Dahil lubha tayong napariwara, wala nang pakialam sila sa atin. Una, wala naman silang simpatiya kay Gloria. Biyahe ng biyahe maski na pinahahalataan na ng mga ibang lider ng kawalan ng respeto at pagkakasuklam. At pangalawa, nasa krisis ang lahat halos ng bansa, para intindihin pa ang mangyayari sa isang maliit na bansang lugmok sa korapsyon.

Sa aking konting pananaw, matutuwa pa ang mga lider ng ibang bansa, lalo na ang Asean, kung mapapatalsik si Donya Gloria. Napakagulo kasi ng pamamahala niya, at maging sila ay nababahala ng ilang taon na.

Tunghayan natin ang mga pananalita ni Juan Ponce Enrile, pangulo ng Senado, na nagpasimuno ng pag-aklas na tinaguriang Edsa 1. Sa panayam noong Linggo, kung saan siya’y tinanong kung possible ba ang isa pang Edsa, at kung siya’y sasama sakali, ang sagot ni JPE:

“Naniniwala ako na Diyos ang siyang makapagsasabi. Siya ang direktor ng mga gawain ng sambayanan. Kung nanaisin ng Panginoong Diyos, maaring magkaroong muli ng Edsa---ngayon, bukas, o maging isang dekada mula ngayon. Laging nangyayari ang ganito sa kasaysayan ng daigdig.”

At walang magagawa ang ibang bansa kung siyang nanaisin ng sambayanan, at nanaisin ng Panginoon, ano man ang sabihin ng ilehitimong namumuno.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How come no one believes her?

As the politicians look eagerly towards 2010, walang kamatayan cha-cha still hounds the nation. The FSGO and even Church leaders continue to warn against the political legerdemain a supposedly lame duck Gloria would yet spin. Nograles and Villafuerte just can’t lay cha-cha in the coffin, they have to keep it warm, these political necrophiliacs. And the congressmen could always be joined by a few actors and absentees in the Senate, to produce the magic number 197, three-fourths of Congress combined, and then throw the issue to a Supreme Court which by May will have been packed by more of the Glorianic majority, minus Puno, Carpio, Morales, Ynares-Santiago, and perhaps Quisumbing. Ten versus five, the cha-cha conspirators keep making tabs.
But palace apologists keep making assurances that political life in Malacanang would cease for their boss woman after June 30, 2010. Her new press secretary, Cerge Remonde said recently that speculations about Mrs. Arroyo extending her term “were the handiwork of destabilizers to fuel anger against the President and her administration”.
“We are appealing for an end to the intrigues and call on all sectors to work with the government in moving the nation forward,” he added. How come no one believes him? Even explanations by palace insiders that “Gloria just does not want to be a lame duck in the last year of her presidency, that’s why there are these deft political maneuvers”, fail to convince.
The Senate sounds smug, and its president Juan Ponce Enrile, says the Senate already considered the cha-cha initiative a “non-issue”, because they would certainly thumb it down. He said it would be a waste of time to push for cha-cha even only for amending its economic provisions. He observed that “just now everyone is already scattered all over the Philippines,” referring to politicians preparing for the 2010 elections.
But Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz remains unconvinced despite the assurances. According to the good bishop, MalacaƱang is committed to cha-cha regardless of the consequences. And he points out to the palace capture of the Congress of the Bought, plus the “collegial” alliance of the high tribunal, as reasons for his scepticism.
“Charter change is not a mere option for the national leadership. It has long since become an urgent imperative,” Cruz said.
How indeed can anyone believe the assurances coming from the camp of someone who before the monument of Rizal pledged in 2002 not to run any longer, “in order to end the divisiveness of the nation”, only to divide it insufferably after cheating her way to election in 2004? What word from Gloria Macapagal Arroyo can anyone reasonably trust?
When she learned that Chief Justice Reynato Puno would lead civil society and religious leaders in launching a “moral force” on March 27, and rally the people behind a crusade against the venal corruption that has metastasized all over her government, she tried to steal the thunder by issuing an administrative order directing all agency heads to launch “moral” renewal. But everybody ignored her gall. Many in media did not even bother to print the obvious lie she was peddling.
Because no one believes her spoken word, on top of the abysmally aberrant manner she has misgoverned the nation, there have been several attempts to throw her off her throne. Only the “reliability” of her bought generals has kept her there, and the patience of a timid population who do not seem to care about country, preferring instead the silence of resigned hopelessness.
A friend remarked in a round-table discussion early 2008, that there will never be an end to the “destabilization” Gloria keeps mouthing as threat to her regime. “Maski pa malapit na ang 2010 , the possibility of her being removed from power via non-electoral means will still exist”, he stressed against our then opinion that “pag-pasok ng 2009, election fever takes over”.
It seems to me now that he was prescient. First, in early 2008, one did not expect the financial crisis to be this severe. Joblessness and misery will haunt the land in 2009 till 2010. Second, Gloria and her ilk cannot seem to just let go. It’s not only the power and the pelf, it’s also a fear of judicial retribution. Look at the long line of cabinet and sub-cabinet allies who now want to run as senators or congressmen, even Genuino of Pagcor. The name of their game is protection through the “immunity” provided by electoral mandate. Third, more and more are convinced that elections the way we have it, will not produce the kind of alternative leader that the nation needs, that the system still sucks no matter who the players are, and in any case, the system will not allow even a good player to succeed.
And now comes another proof that the woman, already eight years, one month and two days in power, still feels insecure that she might not get to finish the one year, four months, and four days remaining in her stolen term. For why stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, whilst commemorating the first Edsa, and say that “the world will not forgive an Edsa III, but it will instead condemn the Philippines as a country whose political system is hopelessly unstable”? Is there a nagging fear that as she pushes her political envelope in the months to come, whilst her touted economic gains are washed away by joblessness and heightened poverty, her people might suddenly erupt in rage against her cheating, lying and stealing mis-governance?
She has gumption, this boss woman of crooks, to even predict how the world would react should another popular uprising occur. Is the world stage her last card? Does she think world leaders would save her, should something like that materialize? Hah!
The world, my dears, will not give a damn. Just as world leaders do not give a damn, even a hoot or care, about what Gloria Macapagal Arroyo says wherever she traipses in her perennial lilliputian misadventures in the world stage. Some of the same world leaders she inflicts her presence upon, including neighbours in Asean and Asia, would even cheer quietly in their tea rooms, should these benighted people finally muster the courage to throw her out. And that is the truth.
They are so enmeshed in their own problems, including the America she visits all so often, enduring the obvious snubs and indignities. And its new president has enough sense of righteousness as to be associated with the leader we suffer. Already, while President Obama signalled the significance of Southeast Asia by directing her Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to make it her first destination, breaking the usual tradition of visits first to Europe or the troubled Middle East, the Philippines was pointedly excluded. She went to South Korea, Japan, China and Indonesia. So near the Philippines, yet so far from his ken of vision. We do not matter. Period.
We do not matter any more because of the abysmal depths to which we have been sunk by a decade of bad government. And the leader who has inflicted herself upon us by virtue of a mistaken Edsa II uprising, a mistake because we rewarded someone most unworthy with our destiny, is certainly not someone the world will defend, should another uprising happen, people-powered or otherwise. Not the European Union, not the United States, not Japan, not Australia, not Malaysia or Singapore or Thailand, not Indonesia or Brunei. Why, not even “her” China. They would just let us be.
Gloria is not a Cory. It is as simple as that.
Sureour businessmen will be fidgety at the start, while foreign business would not even sit up and take notice. After all, they are in no mood to invest anything at the moment anyhow, so what the hell does it matter? If the new government after this abomination should mercifully be clean, purposive and reformist, the whole world will start taking notice. And if the new leaders should be the opposite of this woman, and could steer this country clearly in the right directions, with righteousness as governing standard, then the whole world will cheer as we, the benighted, will deliriously celebrate.
* * *

Joke of the week, courtesy of Ric Tan, FSGO stalwart and former PDIC president invited by Nograles to dinner to meet Legacy’s Celso de los Angeles --- DOF Secretary Gary Teves, testified before the Senate that as soon as he received the WB-INT report on the graft-ridden system at the DPWH, he had the same delivered posthaste to Merceditas Gutierrez, without reading.

Says Ric, “Gary should be the Postmaster-General. He is best suited for that job”.

Halalang bulok

Kung sadyang hindi guguluhin ng cha-cha o ano pa mang masamang balakin ng mga nasa kapangyarihan na walang intensyong bumitiw, dapat ay magkaroon tayo ng halalang pipili sa lider na uugit ng pamahalaan ng bayan mulo Hunyo 30, 2010 hanggang Hunyo 30, 2016.

Napakahalaga ng halalang naka-iskedyul sa Mayo ng susunod na taon. Nababalot ang buong daigdig ng krisis pangkabuhayan. Marami ang nawawalan ng trabaho, dito sa atin at maging sa sektor ng mga OFW na hindi naman tinatrato bilang bayani. Marami rin ang nagugutom, sa mga bulubundukin, at lalo na sa kalunsuran. Higit sa lahat, nawawalan na ng pag-asa ang sambayanan na wala nang ginawa kundi magtiis sa hirap sa nagdaang mga taon ng mali at lisyang pamamalakad.

Kaya nga ba’t kay daming sabik sa 2010, kung kailan mawawala na ang kasalukuyang rehimen, ayon sa kasalukuyang Saligang Batas, at makapipili na ang taong bayan ng susunod na pagkakatiwalaan. Kanya rin ang daming nababahala sa isinalang na panukalang amyendahan ang Saligang Batas, na kunwa’y para sa mga amyendang pang-ekonomiya, nguni’t malamang ay para magpalawig ng termino ang mga namumuno ngayon. Nguni’t ilang beses na nating tinalakay ang balaking ito.

Ang isa pang pinangangambahan ng inyong lingkod ay ang tila mala-pagong na pag-usad ng mga preparasyon para sa halalan ng 2010. Pagka’t ang buod ng tunay at demokratikong pamahalaan ay ang malaya at malinis na halalan, ilang beses na tayong naunsyami ng pandaraya sa ating halalang bulok. Pinakamatindi na ngang kontrobersiya ng halalan ay ang nangyaring pandaraya noong 2004, kung saan ipinuroklama ng Kongreso ang mandin ay huwad na pangulo. Hanggang ngayon ay pinaparusahan tayong lahat ng kabulukan ng ating sistema ng halalan.

Bagama’t naggigirihan na ang mga kakandidato sa 2010, parang wala pang malinaw ukol sa sistemang gagamitin para ma-computerize ang halalan. Unang-una, hindi pa pinapasa ng Kongreso ang supplemental budget para sa malaking gastusin ng computerization. Dito pa nga lang ay kitang-kita na natin ang pagka-doble kara ng rehimeng Arroyo. Mano bang isinali na ang budget ng computerization sa General Appropriations Bill na kamakailan ay pumasa na bilang batas, at hinihintay na lamang ang lagda ni Arroyo. Hindi nila ginawa ito, kaya’t ngayon ay panukala pa sa mababang kapulungan ang salaping gugugulin.

Pangalawa, wala pang malinaw ukol sa gagamiting sistema ang Comelec. Basta’t humihingi nga 11 bilyung piso, pero maraming nangangamba na madaling dayain ang sistemang kanilang napipisil. Samantala, may sistema namang bukod sa may “paper trail” ay gagamit lamang ng mga personal computers o PC, na matapos magamit sa halalan, ay maari namang ipamudmod sa mga iskwelahang pampubliko. At ang kailangan ay 4 na bilyon lamang.

Dapat na pagtuunan ng pansin at interes ng mga mamamayan, lalo na ng media, ang ginagawang preparasyon ng hindi mapagkakatiwalaang Comelec. Ilang beses na tayong dinaya ng mga Garcillano at Bedol, na hanggang ngayon ay pinagtatawanan pa ang sambayanan, kasama ng kanilang amo na si Abalos. Nakatatakot na kung hindi maipuslit ang cha-cha sa Kongreso at Korte Suprema, ay mandaraya na naman ang kasalukuyang rehimen, upang siguruhin ang panalo ng tuta na kanilang mamanukin.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The anarchy of impunity

Lintang Bedol has been “wanted”, ostensibly by the Comelec he worked for since June or July of 2007. A PNP official, Joel Goltiao, assigned to his lair, had been scouring (according to him), all the warrens of Maguindanao and neighboring provinces, so that Bedol may be brought to justice, as per the delayed orders of the Comelec. This Lintang na Bedol has been adjudged by everyone and his mother as having been the “evil” genius behind the “evil” operations of Zaldy Ampatuan and his clan, who, in trying to show their indispensability to the “evil” administration of Dona Gloria y su esposo.

It is now February of 2009, more than a year and a half since, and a Comelec commissioner informs the Commission on Appointments that they “discovered” of late, that this Lintang na Bedol is now lost in the wilds of America. The Bureau of Immigration, who issued a hold-departure order, is clueless. Of course, Goltiao and his policemen, who never ever really searched for Lintang na Bedol, are silent, even more clueless. For all we know, it was Goltiao and his forces who escorted Bedol through the backdoor, and from there the linta must have flown the coop.

Why aren’t we surprised? Why is it so matter-of-factly to the dishonourable men who run the Commission on Electoral Cheating? Magku-computerize pa daw, e tumapak lang sa isang linta, hindi pa kaya. We are hopeless. Crime pays, and pays exceedingly well in these benighted parts.

So do you expect the police operatives who kept shooting at a half-dead suspected car napper, the mayhem caught live by an ABS-CBN camera, to be meted justice for the rub-out? Perish the thought. After all, people have such short memories, and his superior officers in that institution of impunity called the Philippine National Police know this all too well. You think you could run to the Department of Justice, where a half-senile pit bull is propped up by a mafiosi of fixers supervised by a syndicate of quattri consiglieri? Perish the thought once more.

This is the Philippines of Gloria y su esposo, where an anarchy of impunity reigns, where bad is good, where the art of lying is virtue, and the science of stealing is enshrined as obras pias. Recall that Romulo Neri described his boss as “evil”. In normal dispensation, the person described as “evil” would have been insulted deeply, and sought retribution for such assaulting description. But no! Apparently she felt elated, she considered “evil” as encomium. And Romulo Neri, instead of being slapped, was promoted to one of the “juiciest” postings in her government.

Surreal? Of course not. “Blessed are the “evil”, say the lord bishops Ramon Villena, Diosdado Talamayan, Fernando Capalla and Juan de Dios Pueblos, her hallelujah chorus. Why, if these characters had their way, they probably would certify Dona Gloria y su esposo for beatification by the Vatican.

Look at the Ombudsman. She wonders why the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines and the Coalition against Corruption and a myriad other organizations whose sense of decency has been assailed by the prevailing culture of impunity, is asking her to resign. How could she? She has been of utmost service to Dona Gloria y su esposo. She has been faithfully, and mercifully absolving all those that they wanted to absolve, or keep indefinitely frozen, in her walk-ins at that pink building on Agham Road. She is duchess of impunity, gatekeeper of the culture where true evil is unseen, and her masters’ “evil” is propagated.

She is protected by a fixed term of office, and when some people upbraid her, she can always run to her Senate counterpart, that “insect” repellent called Miriam, and be insulated from the stings and bites of do-gooders. Sure, they can try to impeach her, but there’s Legacy’s patron, along with his majority of thieves in the House of the Bought, who will thrash whatever challenges to her term can be conjured by her detractors.

Thus is the culture of impunity enshrined in this benighted land. And we all suffer from the anarchy it breeds, the anarchy it institutionalizes.

Is there anyone to run to? Not the Supreme Court, even if you have a Chief Justice who is a bedrock of moral intentions in a land plagued by the immorality of greed and the impunity of crime. Many in his Court are not yet done paying the wages of their undeserved appointment by the “evil” they pay homage to.

Not the Senate, which can only rant and rave, often worn down and wearied by the harangues of a Miriam or the silence of lambs among the actors and absentees who plague that chamber.

Perhaps one could implore the armed forces, the soldiers of the people, who the Constitution mistakenly describes as “protectors of the people”? Perish the thought likewise. Its generals are just awaiting retirement, so they could in time escape what their consciences find revolting and what the Academy taught them, once upon a time, to be wrong. Its idealists languish in jail because they dared to challenge the legitimacy of the illegitimate commander-in-chief.

Why, that commander-in-chief will soon appoint her favourite, despite his inadequacies and his excesses, simply because he fawns upon “evil” with canine loyalty, to be the Chief of Staff of all “her” armed forces. And you think the sons of the Academy who were bypassed despite far better credentials will howl?

No. They will just mutter under their breath. Theirs but to follow. Theirs but to fight and die. Theirs not to question why or how, whatever the resident “evil” in our lives, should deign “best”.

Wait till Dona Gloria’s “classmate” in her adopted class at the Academy is appointed Chief of Staff. Then she will unleash the tactics and the forces that will keep her “forever” in our lives.

As the FSGO keep saying --- we are ruled by a curse. And for as long as we cannot muster the courage to fight evil in all its forms, in all its personifications, we just have to suffer through the anarchy of impunity that bedevils our society and our polity.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

‘Evil taking root in power’

I yield this space today to print the whole statement of the FSGO (former senior government officials) on the occasion of its first anniversary. FSGO, which counts some 80 former cabinet secretaries and undersecretaries as members, was formed on Feb. 16, 2008, where it denounced the attempted abduction of key Senate witness Jun Lozada on the investigation of the NBN-ZTE deal. Since then, FSGO has released several statements on the bad quality of governance, drawing from their own collective experience as practitioners of public administration from the Macapagal I to the Macapagal II presidencies, a period that has spanned two generations and six MalacaƱang occupants.

The statement is entitled, "A Cry and a Warning: Evil Taking Root in Power".

"We, former senior government officials, rose in alarm and outrage last year when Engineer Jun Lozada was nearly martyred. Many of us were impelled to act against dictatorship by the blood of Ninoy at the tarmac in 1983, and we were again compelled to raise our voices in horror of an attempted kidnapping that could have silenced a whistleblower.

"It has been a year since Jun Lozada decided to bear witness to corruption at the level of the couple Gloria and Miguel Arroyo. And sadly it has been yet another year of governing criminally.

"We cry at the debasement of our democracy. Mrs. Arroyo rode on the backs of people outraged with corruption in order to steal the presidency, and then used her tenuous hold to lie and cheat for a lengthened stay. Mrs. Arroyo remains president in Malacanang without being legitimately elected into office. That alone makes her an affront to our republic born of a free people rising in revolt against stolen elections in 1986. We cry that power over our government and our collective future remains in the hands of an illegitimate leader.
"Our people now look to 2010 as a constitutionally sacred deadline to finally end Mrs. Arroyo’s illegitimate tenure. We warn our people that left unrestricted, illegitimacy has no tenure, that a cheating and lying leader respects no constitutional limits. And we warn our people that the signs are clear – corruption is Mrs. Arroyo’s bribe to remain in power in the past, present and future.

"The corruption we hear, read, and above all, smell everywhere, are the wages of evil in power. Corruption is the currency of Mrs. Arroyo’s administration. Corruption is the price of getting positions of authority, the cost of incompetence in those positions, and the inevitable result of tolerating an illegitimate ruler.

"Corruption is the fertilizer nourishing Mrs. Arroyo’s evil to deepen its roots in our nation’s government. Corruption buys congressional inaction to impeachment and possible complicity with tenure-extending charter change. Corruption is the shopping bags of cash that keep governors and mayors coming to conspiratorial meetings for issuing statements of support. Corruption is the balm for generals’ troubled consciences, at least for those whose hands are still clean enough to retain a conscience. And corruption may eventually buy judicial tolerance to illegal rule and abuse of power, and may even offer incentives strong enough for providing judicial justification to extending that illegitimacy and abuse.

"One year after the exposure of the NBN-ZTE project as a veritable Chinese lauriat of corruption, no Senate report on its investigation has been issued; no Ombudsman case on anyone involved has advanced; no one in the administration has been suspended or fired, except one early retirement to ‘borjer-dom’ and golf heaven in Wack-Wack.

"Contrast the black holes of our institutions for accountability with the rest of the world. Over the past year, foreign institutions and governments have hit at Mrs. Arroyo’s corruption much more vigorously than our own government.

"Joc-joc Bolante, whom Mrs. Arroyo encouraged to escape abroad, was returned to the Senate by US authorities;

"Mrs. Arroyo’s appointed police generals, allowed to travel abroad with obscene amounts of euros in cash in their carry-on luggage, were exposed by Russian authorities;

"Mrs. Arroyo’s favored public works contractors, colluding with DPWH fixers to defraud our people, were formally sanctioned by the World Bank;

"And governments, investors, academics, and ordinary people around the world generated perceptions, experiences, and indicators that ranked corruption in the Philippines among the worst in the world.

"Filipinos themselves judge Mrs. Arroyo’s administration the most corrupt ever in their memories of other corrupt administrations. Corruption orchestrated by Gloria and Miguel Arroyo is more rampant, more deep-seated, larger scale, and ultimately more nefarious than anything we Filipinos have experienced. It uses corruption to keep power and uses power to pursue corruption in a self-reinforcing racket that perpetuates evil in power.

"In this year of global crisis, nations all over the world are turning to their governments to protect their collective welfare and sustain their productive capacities against the onslaught of a terrible global contraction in financial resources and economic demand. The Philippines cannot escape the ravages of the ongoing global decline in credit, investment, production, and consumption. Unfortunately, the government under Mrs. Arroyo offers nothing. To our fears of economic insecurity, Mrs. Arroyo mouths assurances as false as ‘I will not run’ in 2002 or ‘I am sorry’ in 2005. To our hopes of public action to mitigate private pains, Mrs. Arroyo merely lays out more pork, more patronage, and yet more opportunities for corruption that enriches only her coterie of conspirators against our democracy.

"We are witnessing the inevitable consequences of corruption becoming the currency of governing. Selfish and self-serving motivations crowd out the rule of law, devotion to public good, and pursuit of sustainable development. Everything is considered from the standpoint of what can be stolen by those in power; hence, all decisions and actions are driven by corruption. For example, corruption infests the enforcement of laws against illegal drugs, then infests the criminal justice system where such cases are brought, and infests public policy where Mrs. Arroyo as anti-drug mini-czar orders drug tests of students as prime measure to fight the breakdown of law enforcement against drug lords.

"We will not have a useful or effective government unless we root out corruption in its brains, muscles and bones. And the tumor that is Mrs. Arroyo’s evil at the center of power is growing daily, corrupting everything in its path to stay in power today, tomorrow, and tomorrow. And yet another year of governing criminally."


As postscript to the above statement, and as mirror of the wretchedness the country has sunk into, read this report which was forwarded to us by faithful reader Ferdinand P., and weep: A hospital in eastern Philippines is opening up its residency program to doctors from impoverished Nepal to address a shortage of Filipino physicians. Some 40 Nepalese doctors are vying to be admitted at the state-run Bicol Medical Centre in Naga City, where they will be assigned to departments including pediatrics, surgery and internal medicine.

The Nepalese doctors are supposed to undertake their residency in Philippine hospitals, but an officer-in-charge of the hospital said some of the foreign doctors may be asked to extend their stay to help solve "the severe shortage of doctors in government hospitals." Another government hospital is considering taking in more than 30 Nepalese doctors.

About 1,000 Nepalese doctors look for residency each year in medical facilities across Asia based on the US system to sharpen their skills and because there are only a few hospitals in their country. We have many hospitals, public and private, for a huge population. Problem is, we are now experiencing a shortage of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. How has this come to pass?

Exodus, that’s what. Since the year 2000, some 11,000 Filipino doctors have gone back to school to retrain as nurses, according to the Philippine Medical Association. Most of them have landed jobs as nurses in North America.

If Dona Gloria y su esposo continue in power, time will come when the only medical professionals left in the country are those at St. Luke’s, but their services will not be affordable to you and me. Only crooks in government and their contractors and "runners" will be able to afford them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is there no one else?

Last Friday, we described in this space what to our mind are the parameters of informed choice, for the kind of president we should elect in 2010. We have described ten presidential wannabe’s in previous columns. In the order of our articles, they have been former president Joseph Estrada, Sen. Dick Gordon, Sen. Loren Legarda, MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando, Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, then Sen. Francis Escudero, Vice-President Noli de Castro, Sen. Manuel Villar, Sen. Manuel A. Roxas, and Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson. Ten in all. These are the names most often enumerated by media, and the ones most often included by the pre-campaign poll surveys. But are there any others waiting for their “timing” to announce their candidacies?

Over the weekend, Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte categorically declared before the Kapihan sa Sulo forum that he is not running for president, dashing the hopes of some Lakas faithful that he could be their standard-bearer. Sonny knows best. I have always known him to be a man who weighs his chances carefully, and he knows that a presidential run at this time is “suntok sa buwan”. Never mind that he has proven competence in administration.

Administration loyalists are also thinking of Gilbert Teodoro, who has been competently running that staff department called National Defense. Early last year, when we bumped into each other at the wedding of Anthony Taberna and his lovely Roselle , Gilbert hinted at a desire to seek the highest post in the land. I told him that he needed to show both his wares and intent early on. He has been coy. And his own uncle, Ambassador Danding Cojuangco, owner of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, had formally announced that the party will choose between Senators Legarda and Escudero. One cannot fathom Gilbert running for president under a Lakas-Kampi coalition without the blessings of his uncle, who has been his political “father”. It is against the political culture of this country.

Groups like Kaya Natin have floated names like Among Ed, the embattled governor of Pampanga, Gov. Grace Padaca, a giant-killer five years ago when she broke the Dy dynasty in Isabela, and remarkable Jesse Robredo, umpteenth mayor of Naga City. The last two have been Magsaysay awardees for public governance, no mean feat indeed. But check out their awareness in an electorate of 40 million, and see how difficult the road ahead could be. I have kept saying that one should not run for senator of the land if a year before elections, his or her awareness level as measured by the surveys falls below 70%. You’d be surprised to note that persons more often in the news than these three have awareness ratings no higher than 40 to 50%. If any of the three should now announce that they are available for the senatorial slate of say, the Liberal Party, of whom the last two are card-bearing members, and accompany the announcement with familiarization trips across the archipelago, they ought to hit awareness levels of 70% by September this year. But the presidency? That’s a pipe dream, where the ten names we have described in our articles all have anywhere from 95 to 100 percent awareness levels.

I hate to be a wet blanket to the dreams of the idealistic Kaya Natin and their adherents, but political reality must set in. Kapatiran, the political party launched years ago by Nandy Pacheco, has been at it for a decade or so, and the highest number of votes a senatorial candidate of theirs garnered in 2007 was about half a million. One needs more than 11 million votes to be Number 12 in the next senatorial polls. Theirs is a laudable quest, but the system we operate in cannot change overnight.

This is not to detract from the competence of Padaca or Robredo, which have been demonstrated. This is not to pooh-pooh Panlilio’s singular feat of increasing quarry collection fees in Pampanga, manifold times over the Lapids, pere et fil. But they have yet to capture the nation’s imagination, let alone attention. Padaca and Robredo are excellent cabinet secretary material in a future administration, and that should give them the exposure needed to bag a Senate seat, and perhaps later, the presidency. But it’s definitely early days, whatever the bloggers spread.

So, is there no one else?

One name that has particularly caught the attention of the thinking crowd is that of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno. His low performance approval ratings as head of the Supreme Court is attributable to low awareness of the position among the masa, and second, his family name is often confused for Dona Gloria’s interior secretary and political Rasputin. The Chief is hardly related to Ronnie the Tree, but people do not know that.

But he has maintained, against a preponderance of numbers in his own court, the independence and institutional integrity of the highest magistracy. That has created believers among thinking society, who keep searching for one man to best approximate the “untainted, un-tarnished, un-controversial” character they seek in the next person to lead the land after the abomination. His stock rose when the lackey of a most controversial former congressman attacked his integrity over a mediocre ponencia written by a mercifully retired associate justice, the promulgation of which was withheld by his peers en banc. Noises about possible impeachment by a House of thieves made Puno loom even larger in the esteem of civil society.

Then, when he delivered a speech before young businessmen about the need for a “moral force”, using Confucian writings about the primacy of trust and credibility in national leadership, no less than a presidentiable, Senator Ping Lacson, endorsed him for the presidency, and declared that he would defer to the Chief Justice should the latter decide to run. Of course, Puno has refrained from taking the bite, but his name continues to reverberate among thinking society. It was reported yesterday that the CJ will launch the “moral force” along with civil society and religious leaders before the Holy Week. Will the moral force become a vehicle for political participation in 2010?

Let me now walk our readers through the Fernan experiment in 1991. I was one of those who were unimpressed with the list of presidential; wannabe’s for 1992. Either they were good, but not winnable, or, they were winnable, but they were not good enough. There was Vice-Pres. Doy Laurel, Senate Pres. Jovito Salonga, Speaker Monching Mitra, Ambassador Danding Cojuangco, Sen. Joseph Estrada, former First Lady Imelda Marcos, and Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos. Note that all of them, but for Imelda, came from Luzon.

I walked to Sen. Orly Mercado one fine April morning in 1991, and asked him to consider endorsing Chief Justice Marcelo B. Fernan. The man’s integrity was unsullied; he was not exactly a stranger to politics, having won overwhelmingly in 1984 as opposition member of parliament in Marcos’ Batasang Pambansa. Political arithmetic, I said, would take advantage of his being a Cebuano, and the Bisaya-speaking population of the country constituted 34% of the voters, a huge political force if united behind an “inato” candidate. It was, I reminded Orly, more than 30 years since the Cebuano-speaking nation had a president, the last one being Carlos P. Garcia of Bohol. On May 1, 1991, Orly and I flew to Cebu, and in a Labor Day speech, he entered Celing Fernan’s name in the presidential derby.

Immediately thereafter, Cebuano-speaking senators John Osmena and Boy Herrera seconded Orly, and later, even Ed Angara of Aurora. A secretariat to drum interest in the latecomer included Gov. Lito Osmena and his brother Tomas, now mayor of Cebu City, Lito Atienza, Mar Roxas and myself. Civil society took notice. The late Cardinal Sin was enthusiastic. Even President Cory was quietly encouraging. Things would have been different if Fernan took the political plunge two or three months after Orly’s announcement, but Mano Celing took so many months of agonizing whether to take a leap of faith, as against many more years in the Court as its Chief. When he finally took the leap, and resigned as chief magistrate, it was already the first week of December, less than sixty days before the starting bell of the campaign. Enthusiasm had waned, and in the end, we had to settle for vice-president, in tandem with Mitra of the humongous LDP. Mano Celing eventually became senator of the realm in 1995, and in 1998, Senate President, but died two years after.

If the Chief Justice should deign to take a political hat, and throw the same into the presidential ring, it would be best to take lessons from the unfortunate Fernan quest eighteen years ago. Of course, these are different times, and perhaps the despair over the system and its self-perpetuating cycle of shameless trapos could get enough people to take a long hard look at the chief magistrate as potential chief executive. Perhaps if civil society and respected religious sectors rallied around him, after no less than a senator-presidentiable announced he would support Puno, the tide of low awareness and even lower vote conversion could yet be reversed. But time is of the essence, and that runs fast.

Parenthetically, the clamor for the Chief Justice could also take the form of heading a transition government, a revolutionary mechanism proposed by many of those disenchanted with the decrepit political system. Given his competence and what we have appreciated of his character, Reynato Puno would indeed make such an excellent leader in transition. But that is a big IF, and as 2010 comes closer, chances of such catharsis materializing get more and more remote. At the risk of being called a subversive, I have always supported systems change, but not in the manner proposed by the unrelenting and irredeemable trapos who espouse cosmetic and self-serving charter change. The present polity, to my mind, sucks. It has kept us all benighted. But until circumstances and the political environment conspire to produce the culture for such germ of revolution to flower, we have to pin our hopes on a flawed system that just might produce a strong and incorruptible leader who will, after electoral victory and despite tremendous odds, change that hopeless system.

And because Filipinos take a long time to familiarize themselves with political candidates, pervasiveness of media notwithstanding, the chances of having someone outside the circle of ten entering the presidential fray are low. Of course, this is not doctrine, it is fair forecast.

What concerned Filipinos should do is make a mental matrix of the qualities needed in a president for these desperate times, and rate the ten against such desired qualities. Certainly, there are good persons among the ten. There are brilliant persons among the ten. There are persons with proven track records in their public life among the ten. There are persons among the ten whose political will and strong character have been demonstrated in the past and present. Just as there are people whose fitness for the office have been beclouded by issues of corruption or taking advantage of position for personal profit.

In sum, except for the possibility of a Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, there shall be no one else but the ten, namely: Ping, Mar. Loren, Chiz, Manny, Noli and Erap, plus BF, Dick and Jojo --- from whom to choose who should lead this benighted land out of the pits of its collective despair, if we have elections in 2010.

* * *

Just to underline how Dona Gloria continues to abuse the presidential power of appointments, she recently allowed an ailing Ramon Revilla Sr. to retire as chair of the Public Estates Authority. But guess who she named to replace him?

Why, Revilla’s son-in-law, former senator and former basketball superstar Robert Jaworski! All in the family.

And read more: El Esposo’s lawyer Ruy Rondain has been rewarded for representing his client, aside from legal fees, of course. His wife Cielo, or Chelo, has recently been appointed Assistant Solicitor General. Not that Agnes Devanadera wanted her, but what could she do? No wonder Agnes is dying to be appointed to the High Court. And if she finally gets her wish, who will be the new Sol-Gen? Think about it, and weep.


Sa imbestigasyon ng Institutional Integrity Division (INT) ng World Bank, may testimonya ang isang mangangalakal na Hapones, si Tomatu Suzuka, ukol sa kanyang mga eksperyensya sa Pilipinas, kung saan nagtangka siyang mangontrata ng mga proyekto. Minsan daw ay nakaharap niya si Ginoong Mike Arroyo at isang yumao nang senador. Hindi raw kasi siya makapasok-pasok sa DPWH, at sinabihan nga raw siya na kailangan kasing makipag-ugnayan siya sa mga malalakas at ma-impluwensyang tao. Nguni’t nasobrahan daw siya sa pakikipag-usap niyang iyon, at sa testimonya ay nasabing “they had a very rough approach” patungkol sa laki ng hinihinging pabuya. Ito naman ay isinalin ni Senador Ping Lacson sa wikang Tagalog, matapos makatanggap ng kopya ng report, at sinabi niyang “garapal”.

Kung dumaloy man sa isipan ni G. Suzuka o sinuman sa mahigit tatlumpung tao na ininterbyu sa imbestigasyon ng World Bank, ay tiyak na hindi na iti maglalakas-loob matapos mapanood ang nangyari sa Senado noong Huwebes na nagdaan, sa hearing na ipinatawag ni Senyora Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

Sa mula’t mula pa ay nagpakita na ng kakaibang interes itong si Santiago na siya ang humawak ng imbestigasyon. Marami ang nagsabing dapat daw ay Blue Ribbon Committee ang humawak ng imbestigasyon, nguni’t dahil sa ang World Bank ay matataguriang isang economic organization”, pinilit ni Senyora Miriam na sa kanya mapapunta ang isyu. Nakisama naman at pinagbigyan siya ng mga kapwa-senador matapos na mag-aasta pa sa plenaryo ng Senado.

Nguni’t noong Huwebes ay sa umpisa pa lamang ay makikita na ang patutunguhan ng hearing. Papel ni Senyora Miriam ay huwes o mahistrado at hindi senador. Rules of court lang daw ang kanyang gagamitin sa pagtanggap ng mga ebidensya, at binale-wala ang imbestigasyon bilang isang tulong sa lehislasyon at hindi isang criminal o civil proceeding.

Higit isang oras ang ginugol sa pagtanong ukol sa kalusugan ni G. Mike Arroyo, samantalang hindi naman ito isyu, at tinanggap na nga ng mga kapwa-senador, at nadesisyunan na niya mismo, na hindi pipiliting papuntahin ang esposo ni Donya Gloria sa Senado. Pagkatapos naman ay narinig natin ang pagmamagaling ng inutil na si Merceditas Gutierrez, ang muchacha ng mga Arroyo sa kanyang paghawak ng tanggapan ng Ombudsman, naturingan pa namang isang independyenteng ahensya na sadyang dapat ay umiimbestiga sa mga kurakutan sa pamahalaan.

Natanggap nga daw niya ang siyam na pahinang report ng WB isang taon na ang nakalilipas, nguni’t hindi naman daw siya makakilos dahil saw ala namang nakasaad na mga testimonya sa summary na ipinadala sa kanya, at may nakasaad pa raw na “confidential”. E anong klaseng imbestigador siya, kung hindi man lamang niya kinapulong ang World Bank para humingi ng mas malawakan at kumpletong report, kasama ang mga salaysay ng testigo? Malinaw na inupuan niya lamang ang WB report imbes na magsaliksik, gaya ng siya niyang responsibilidad.

E bakit si Lacson, nakakuha ng kopya ng report, matapos na sumabog na nga itong pagkaka-blacklist sa tatlong kontratistang Pinoy at limang kontratistang banyaga? Ano ang ginawa ni Merceditas sa loob ng pagkatagal-tagal na panahon? E di --- wala. At bakit nga naman siya magsasaliksik, e kung may Makita pa siyang masama, samantalang tila malinaw na malinaw ang tagubilin sa kanya ng mag-asawang nag-appoint sa kanya, na dapat ay para siyang ‘yung unggoy sa alamt, na “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”? Hirap na nga ang ale dahil batbat ng “evil” ang pamahalaang pinagsisilbihan niya. Puno na siguro ng muta ang kanyang mga mata, tutuli ang tenga, at panis na laway ang bibig, dahil nga sa dami ng binabale-wala at pinagtatakpang mga krimen laban sa sambayanan.

Moro-morong hindi mabebenta ang ginawa sa Senado ni Senyora Miriam noong Huwebes. At siya namang tinawag ng mga bobo sa Malakanyang na “statesmanship” daw. Ngayon ay World Bank pa ang siyang maysala, Sila pa ang siyang uusigin, nitong pamahalaang walang kasing-korap sa ating kasaysayan.

Talagang garapalan. Wala talagang pag-asang magkaroon ng pagbabago kapag ipinaubaya ang bayan sa mga trapo at mandurugas na nagkukuntsabahan.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The leader we need

Over the past six weeks, interspersed with more au courant topics, we have written in this space about the nine most-mentioned men and one woman who have either directly or through media speculations, indicated interest in running for Philippine politics’ top plum, the presidency after GMA. Just to refresh your memory, we first wrote about Erap (The Hamlet act, January 8), followed by Dick Gordon (What the difference a Dick makes, January 10), then Loren Legarda (Loren’s Sinta for 2010, January 13), Bayani Fernando (The misunderstood Bayani, January 15), and later Jojo Binay (Jobama, January 17). Then we wrote about Francis Escudero (Say Chiz and what do you get?, January 20), followed by Noli de Castro (Et tu, Noli?, Januray 27) and his Wednesday Group buddy-buddy Manny Villar (The Ethics of Mr. Itik, January 29), later Mar Roxas (What’s the matter with Mar?, February 3) and finally Ping Lacson (The atypical Ping, 12 February).

I started with the president I once served, as general manager and CEO of the Philippine Tourism Authority (June 30, 1998 till November 3, 2000), and concurrent Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs (June 30, 1998 till November 3, 2000), Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the darling of the nation’s poor. I ended with the man I have supported since he first sought elections, Senator Ping Lacson, who began his political career in February of 2001, running for senator in the aftermath of Estrada’s ouster, after a successful if brief stint as PNP Director-General from November 1999 to January 20, 2001. While I am (or used to be in one instance), on first-name recognition with all of them, I wrote with close familiarity on the first and the last in the series, Erap and Ping. Mar Roxas and I are friends from the Fernan days of 1991, and have been close together in Erap’s advisory circle. I’ve “been there, done that” since 1981, when Ninoy Aquino got me hooked on this “fever in the blood” called politics, and I thought this is an opportune time to share my views on these men who would be president.

Early last year, I suggested in this same space that civil society and media should get together and sponsor a series of debate-fora throughout the country’s 16 regions, the better to gauge the fitness, both intellectual and moral, of the many aspirants for the presidential derby of 2010. This, I wrote then, could be a simulation of the exhaustive debates and primaries that precede the choice of party candidates as they have in America. We do not have a two-party system as they do, and are plagued by a multiplicity of flags of political convenience. Pia Hontiveros of ANC, who hosts Strictly Politics, liked the idea, and interviewed me on TV about it. Three senators, one cabinet official and one mayor, directly or through media, agreed to participate if something like that could push through. But on February 6, 2000, the nation’s short-sightedness became even more disturbed by an aborted abduction of a prime witness in the ZTE-NBN scandal, and for a while, the dogs of abrupt finis barked at the unstable Arroyo government, as it did when the voices of Garci and she were revealed in 2005.

I have brought attention back to the onus of studied choice, in the hope, perhaps forlorn, that in 2010, the people of this benighted land will not again choose those who I constantly refer to as “the least among us to lead us”. For far too long, we as a people have been like the legendary Sisyphus, cursed to carry the burden of our hopes and dreams up a steep mountain, only to fall back each time. If we were to look at it from the economic assessment of stages of development, we have never “taken-off”. We keep building up towards pre-conditions to growth, always tried to fly, but never got past the runway. In the past decade even, we have retreated to the tarmac, measured in terms of the wretchedness of our poverty.

Which is why it is absolutely important that we choose the best among us to lead us beyond the abomination that is Gloria’s curse. And again as I keep repeating in this space and elsewhere, we have to carefully screen both competence and character, never mind the charisma that has always fooled us in the past. We have been swept away by the charisma of false political gods so many times in the past, only to realize years after, in the winter of our collective discontent, that we chose unwisely.

In the campaign of 1992, when I was working as spokesman for the Mitra-Fernan tandem, a journalist asked then candidate Mitra how he would govern the nation if he could at best only squeak in a tightly-contested race, and therefore, not have a “real” mandate. I have never forgotten how the late Tata Monching replied instantly --- “A president creates his own mandate”.

How true, except that it was Fidel Valdez Ramos, proclaimed winner after a see-saw canvass of votes that had him winning by a whisker, with only 23% of the electorate choosing him over a field of seven, who “created his own mandate”. Now FVR has little personal charisma. His words failed to inspire, and neither did he have the support of the country’s traditional politicians. He formed a party, Lakas-NUCD, out of a rib he fractured off the humongous LDP whose trapos chose Mitra over him, borrowed a band-aid strip from Raul Manglapus’ Christian Democrats, and then got incumbent Cory Aquino to bless his adventure. But his competence was clear, just as his rivals --- statesmen Laurel, Salonga and Mitra, firebrand Miriam, business empire- builder Danding Cojuangco, and the widow Imelda, once the most powerful woman in the country. His character many doubted, partly because they did not know him up close. But when he severed ties with his cousin Ferdinand Marcos the dictator, after serving him loyally for years on end, and finally took a stand in Edsa, his character shone. Many will yet dispute me on this, and perhaps only history will judge, but FVR kept the nation on even keel, started far-reaching reforms (though some disliked these with a passion) and made tough decisions when the same were needed. While I maintained strong doubts about his militarist background, he surprised me by being pacifist when he was president. He built bridges of understanding, instead of sowing more discord in a society already rent by the post-Marcos hang-over. Fidel V. Ramos created his own mandate, and capitalized on the built-in awe and respect for the institution, personal charisma notwithstanding.

I see 2010 as similar in many ways to 1992. The surveys show that there are no clear favourites as yet. There is no narrowing of the field similar to 1998 when it was clear early on that it would be either Erap or Gloria. When the latter sled down to become Joe de Venecia’s vice-president, the coast was clear for Erap. The surveys also reveal that the early leads have been a function of boob-tube presence, made mostly through paid advertising. It is still anybody’s game for six presidentiables --- Noli, Loren, Villar, Chiz, Ping and Mar, plus of course the chancy candidacy of Erap. It is going to be rather improbable for my friends, namely Dick, BF and Jojo, to qualify for the starting line. I may be wrong, for as I said in previous articles, one year is a long, long time in Philippine politics.

I attempted to list down the variables and the givens in the linear equation that political forces will perforce balance if there are elections under the same system in May of 2010. I still have this queasy feeling in my gut that the system may yet be sundered --- either by deft and scheming political maneuvers of Gloria and her cabal, or by a revolution in whatever form.

But, ceteris paribus, or all things being equal, as the economists always preface their equations, the probability of someone else entering the ten names I have written about, to repeat --- Noli, Loren, Villar, Chiz, Ping, Mar, Dick, Bayani, Jojo and Erap, is rather low. The exceptions to the lay of our political game happened when a reticent FPJ suddenly entered the scene, and discombobulated the equation.

There is another very important factor to consider, a major difference between the 1992 contest and what could be next year’s. Then, Cory Aquino was not a hate figure. As incumbent, and as the repository of the loyalty of a great part of civil society, her endorsement had quantifiable political value. If she had not anointed FVR, he surely would not have won. Today, despite incumbency, all but fifteen percent of this country hate Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and of the 15% who approve her yet, less than half would vote for whoever she endorses, and assert their independence of choice. Call it “kiss of death” if you may, but for her unquestioned ability to do anything and everything to pursue her amoral ends (read that as resources plus cheating operations), she would be better off just fading into the political sunset (though this is not likely).

Also, it would be foolish to assume that we will have a single “opposition” candidate. Perish the thought this early. Candidates will be chosen not on the basis of their administration or oppositionist leanings. First, because if elections push through, Gloria would not only be lame-duck, she would be pariah in most people’s sentiments. Second, because defining who is truly oppositionist is an exercise in futility. But for two or three, no one will strictly qualify, as loyalties in our crazy political set-up are mix-and-match, very situational rather than principled.

Candidates will be screened according to their track record, their steadfastness to principle, their platforms if any. While it may be reasoned that I speak only for the middle-class and up when I state this, I believe that the hopelessness of the socio-economic and political environment would goad even the masa to take stock, think, and think twice, before paying with their votes the money that trapos will give. That of course is a role cut out for church groups, civil society, the youth, and of course, the pervasive media. They must help in the process of informed choice, and insofar as the presidency is concerned, 90% of the population, I believe, will sit up and listen. I still have faith in the Filipino, even if there are times when I want to give up. The local trapos, like always, will be too busy with their own local fights, and will just take the money of the national trapos, period. Command votes will probably deliver only in the case of Zaldy Ampatuan and his ilk, but again, because his landlady, his boss woman will soon be functus oficio, he will paddle his own canoe for survival’s sake. He will be up for grabs, so to speak.

Who is the leader we need? It cannot be one who has stolen from the kaban ng bayan, whether proven, or where the preponderance of proof, but for our “fixable” prosecutorial and justice system, is evident. It cannot be one whose sense of the moral or immoral has allowed his conscience to take advantage of the poor and powerless, in business or political endeavours. It cannot be one who has refused to learn, either because of inherent lack of comprehensive prowess, or because of sloth. It cannot be one who, having been given a position of responsibility, has acted irresponsibly or did not learn from human mistakes. Bawal dapat ang bobo, at bawal ang tamad. The nation and its population of close to a hundred million, can no longer endure another flirtation with shallowness. The next leader should be one who has stood for principle, and as best as possible, been unwavering in his written or spoken commitments. These are some of the measures of competence and character.

For better or for worse, there will be an NPC candidate, either as a stand-alone party, or in combination with like-minded traditional parties. It could be Lakas, Kampi, both, or huge fractions thereof, depending on how the negotiators on both sides will transact their political sosyo-sosyo. The old pre-martial law parties will plant their flags in the presidential derby of 2010, the Liberal Party better situated than the Nacionalistas, the latter being a party of, by and for one man, Manuel Villar. The fortunes of the NP are ineluctably bound to the political fortunes of Villar; the LP has freedom of choice, on the unlikely probability that its prince, Mar Roxas, should “pass”. If the NPC and Dona Gloria cannot come to terms, then Lakas-Kampi will have to find a candidate, and the most likely “saviour” would be Vice-President Noli de Castro. Or, (do not discount the possibility), they might yet tap a Gilbert Teodoro or a BF, or even a Ronnie Puno. Dick Gordon is not likely to fly the standards of Kampi. That both parties will disintegrate into fractions before January 2010 is likely, with a pro-FVR and whoever else left with JDV coalescing with another party.

If Erap runs, there will be a PMP. Like Villar’s Nacionalistas, the glue that binds the party together is one person. If NPC chooses Chiz over Loren, she would perhaps resurrect whatever remains of Ed Angara’s LDP. Smaller but tightly-knit parties like PDP-Laban, if they could go beyond their narrow and temporary alliance with Erap’s PMP, and champion their own presidential candidate, could yet become another major player. The so-called United Opposition or UNO, has become political farce. Candidates like Ping, Loren (assuming Danding ditches her for Chiz) and Noli (if he is minded to run, or if he is jettisoned by GMA for the NPC candidate) would likely cobble a coalition of parties, and this is where even moribund vehicles like Reporma and Aksyon Demokratiko could be useful. Philippine politics under the present system is hopelessly personal, and parties are of lesser significance. If one does not own shelter, he could always rent one.

Chiz or Loren will run as the NPC candidate. If the NPC allies with GMA, in pursuit of the same alliance that has been mutually beneficial to both she and NPC’s bosses, Loren will likely not be the candidate. The Nacionalistas will field Villar, assuming he is still willing to bet his own real estate fortune in running. The Liberals will field Mar, assuming he himself does not lose heart, in which case, they mat cast a wider net. Fractions of Lakas and Kampi will congeal towards other candidates, whether Noli or Ping or Loren. Whatever is left of FVR’s Lakas just might stubbornly field the stubborn Bayani Fernando. PMP will have Erap, with PDP’s Jojo Binay as his vice-president, if KBL’s Bongbong Marcos does not beat him to it.

So there you are --- my scenario for 2010, again with the caveat that first, I still am not too convinced the road is clear towards elections, and second, my personal belief that reforms will be slow and tedious even if we are able to elect the best instead of the least, such that to me, only revolutionary catharsis, admittedly a giant leap of faith, can bring about meaningful change. Only a discombobulation of the puerile and destructive system would give this benighted land a chance at redemption.

Next week, circumstances permitting, we will ask --- Is there no one else?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The atypical Ping

In familiar company, he is a regular guy, and can poke fun at himself. But as a superior officer, he is quite formal. As a politician, he is rather unusual, atypical. He does not easily proffer his hand to strangers, worried that they may not reciprocate. He was quite affected when, in the aftermath of scurrilous accusations thrown his way by the administration as early as 2001, he saw cold stares and felt a sense of public rejection. Just a year back, he was the darling of the people because of his exemplary performance as chief of the national police.

After none of the accusations were proven, including a tall tale about hundreds of millions of dollars stashed away in foreign banks (which the same banks denied shortly and the FBI disclaimed existence after investigation), people warmed up to him once more. In 2004, when he went around the country to seek the presidency, he felt the resurgence of public acceptance, but that of course was no match to the star appeal of the king of Philippine movies. Still, he got a respectable 3.3 million votes, a third of what FPJ and GMA got --- despite having no party, no running-mate, and with only Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya accompanying him as lone senatorial candidate. GMA’s numbers were padded though, as history will never forget. If we go by the results of present surveys, those 3.3 million voters have remained faithful, even if Lacson still has no party, has not advertised, and has not stumped all over the islands like the rest of the presidential competition.

Traditional politicians scoff at a Ping re-run in 2010, saying, “tumakbo na ‘yan
eh”. Which is valid, if we go by the short history of our electoral politics. Raul Roco lost to the immensely popular Erap in 1998, and when he ran once again in 2004, he lost. But then again, political observers used to say that offspring of presidents will never win the presidency. Gerry Roxas lost as VP in 1965; Doy Laurel won as VP, but lost to FVR in 1992, both being direct descendants of previous presidents. Yet Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been president for the past 8 years and counting. How she did that is of course another story. So cannot a Ping Lacson win the second time around, just as Abraham Lincoln and Richard Nixon did in the US of A?

There is a caveat to this phenomenon of no re-runs in Philippine politics though. The late Sen. Roco lost twice in contests dominated by immensely popular movie icons, Erap, then FPJ. The 2010 elections will be different. The closer model is 1992, when choosing from “none of the above” was the mood a year before elections. Who were the choices then? FVR, Miriam, Danding, Mitra, Laurel, Salonga, Imelda, and Erap, who wisely chose to go for numero dos midway, and won. Who do we have now? Noli, Villar, Loren, Chiz, Ping, Mar, Dick, Jojo, BF, and of course, the returning Erap, with no one a runaway favourite. But even if Erap runs, would he have the same numbers of the“screaming” masa, as friend Tony Abaya describes them?

Who won in 1992? Former constabulary chief and former defense secretary Fidel Valdez Ramos, an atypical politician whose personal charisma a Ping Lacson exceeds.. In 1998, Erap was runaway winner early on; and in 2004, even with FPJ getting the masa vote, the dice were loaded in favour of the incumbent impostor. In 2010, the best man just might win, and Ping hopes the electorate will adjudge him the best in the field.

Because of the intense disappointment with the system and the quality of leaders it has engendered, the likelihood of an atypical and certainly non-traditional politician being chosen by the people in 2010 is quite promising. Already, civil society and youth groups have launched search engines, preparing matrices of qualities they pine for in a redemptive leader who they hope would yet save this country from disintegration into anarchy.

What are these qualities they look for? Track record. Advocacies and congruence with their ideals. Integrity and adherence to principles. All are measures of competence and character; the first easy to quantify, the other difficult to fathom because of the noise of untruthful claims and paid propaganda. People have to scratch well beneath the surface, winnow chaff from true grain, and discover the real character behind the smiling faces and fatuous claims.

Those who know Lacson up close, who have worked with him, know that he has both the competence and the character for the presidency. As Chief of the PNP for a scant 14 months, he dazzled the nation with theretofore unheard of exploits. In short shrift, he got the erring policemen to return all the carnapped vehicles they kept in their custody and eliminated “kotong” which victimized drivers of jeepneys, taxis, buses, cargo vehicles. He unleashed the full force of the law against syndicates engaged in kidnap-for-ransom, bank robberies, illegal drugs and illegal gambling, on which last target he clashed with his own commander-in-chief. He chastised his generals for playing golf instead of faithfully doing their mandated tasks, and got everyone in the force to keep physically fit, the measure being the simple expedient of imposing a 34-inch waistline, max. The morale of the nation’s police rose to the highest levels, with financial resources previously kept by headquarters downloaded by the new Chief to each and every police station, making their peace and order capabilities magnified by decent wherewithal.

From the most distrusted agency of government, the police agency became the most trusted --- in less than a year, and Panfilo Lacson became the nation’s most popular official. But as fate would have it, his commander-in-chief, Joseph Estrada, floundered because a palace insider blew the whistle on the jueteng payola. But even whistle-blower Chavit swore that Ping refused the payola, and continued to raid the lairs of jueteng operators.

With the new president after Edsa Dos, Lacson’s fortunes quickly changed. As a senatorial candidate in 2001, he was hounded by a barrage of unsubstantiated charges which in the thick of the campaign, found him an easily-besmirched target. Even the Dacer-Corbito double murder was laid at his doorstep, simply because some miscreant police subordinates of some of his staff were supposedly involved, though possible motive may point elsewhere. Still, as if saved from the jaws of a rout, he and a few other oppositionists managed to get themselves elected into the rarefied circle of the nation’s “august”.

At the end of a very difficult campaign, after Lacson was finally proclaimed number 10 in a field of 13, I had lunch with Dona Gloria’s powerful secretary of justice, Nani Perez. Discussing the barrage of black propaganda they unleashed against my candidate, I told Nani they need not fear that Ping would be an obstructionist; that he could cooperate if the administration’s legislative agenda was for the nation’s good. “Ang problema, GMA sees him as the opposition candidate in 2004”, Nani wryly stated.

A well-meaning business executive who was friend both to GMA and Ping arranged a very private dinner in the Macapagal home in North Forbes, one night in June. There, the president asked the new Senator Lacson to cooperate in her legislative agenda, and the man graciously agreed. “Basta ho para sa bayan, hindi ako magiging hadlang”, Lacson said, and he thought the lady he supped with that night sincerely wanted to make good. Unknown to him, a few days before that meeting, a team of demolition experts composed of a Colonel Boogie Mendoza, Col. Mario Chan, Sgt. Egdon Liscano, Blanquita Pelaez, and Mary Ong Gaba alias Rosebud were sent by ISAFP Chief Victor Corpuz to the United States. They had a rendezvous in the West Coast with then Inquirer reporter Christine Herrera, to whom they supplied their bromide of fabrications, allegedly “hacked” from bank records, and pictures of real estate they claimed to belong to Lacson. Citibank immediately issued a letter to deny the information splashed in the front pages of the Inquirer, stating that the alleged account numbers do not exist in their system and practice. The real estate turned out to belong to other people, and the only property that was linked to Lacson was one townhouse in San Diego where a younger brother lived, which he bought and later sold, with a value of less than 200,000 dollars. The only bank account traced to the Lacson couple by the FBI itself amounted to a few thousand dollars, a far cry from the alleged 500 million, or more, that the Inquirer initially bannered.

Unaccustomed to the surreal political hostility, and confident of his personal reputation, Lacson faced a long-running investigation by his peers, co-chaired by administration apologists Joker Arroyo and the late Robert Barbers. He was pilloried by a concatenation of lies spun with clumsy strategy and dirty tactics. But the damage to his political career was deep. A year or so later, Ador Mawanay recanted his false testimony against Lacson, even Loren Legarda and Noli de Castro, pointing to Corpuz as the instigator of the hatchet job. Last year, Blanquita Pelaez likewise admitted that Corpuz and Mendoza, among others, instigated the fabrications at the expense of Lacson, and at the instance of shadowy figures in Malacanang.

Thus, in 2004, with Lacson still weakened by the sinister propaganda, the leaders of the opposition rode roughshod on his self-respect by railroading the proclamation of FPJ as their challenger against GMA. Treated like dirt by fellows he thought would give him level playing field, Lacson persisted in his candidacy. Unknown both to him and FPJ, as well as to Roco and Villanueva, the electoral results had been pre-fabricated in the PCIB provinces (Pampanga, Cebu, Iloilo and Bohol), and only when GMA demanded a truly convincing million-vote margin, did Garci have to double-time, with the assistance of the military and the police, in the cheating fields of Mindanao.

The leaders of the FPJ movement have not completely forgiven Lacson for forging ahead and not giving in to FPJ. They do not know the unusual, the atypical Ping. Even Erap cannot read Ping right. To this date, he has not forgiven Ping for daring to run despite his having chosen his dear friend FPJ. He ought to ponder upon why the same PNP Chief never agreed to “go slow” on jueteng, even if he himself “pleaded” the case of so many governors and mayors who were his political allies, especially Chavit Singson.

Because for Lacson, “what is right must be kept right, and what is wrong must be set right”. To traditional politicians, that is just a useful slogan, to proclaim without meaning. But to Ping Lacson, that is a motto from his PMA days that he swore to live by. According to the guy, doing right was instilled upon him and his siblings by his parents from childhood. Despite modest means, Lacson finished his education through the nation’s public school system, all the way to the Academy, and beyond, at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila where he earned a masteral degree in public governance.

And setting right what he sees as wrong meant bringing the fight against corruption to the halls of the Senate. There have been many such fights. In 2003, he exposed the untold wealth of one Jose Pidal, who the public knew to be GMA’s first gentleman, even if brother Iggy Arroyo claimed the dubious distinction. He exposed the fertilizer scam involving the first gentleman’s favourite Jocjoc Bolante. He linked the proliferation of jueteng to the influence exercised by the Arroyos over the national police. He delivered the privilege speech that blew the lid off the NBN-ZTE deal that shocked the nation in scope of shamelessness. He persuaded Jun Lozada to speak out the truth, which the latter did after agents of government tried to abduct him from the NAIA. And now, he has linked the first gentleman yet again to the contractors blacklisted by the World Bank. For all these, Ping Lacson is both hated and feared by Malacanang. They cannot cut conscript them into their coven. Neither could they temper his advocacies with funds, for he has voluntarily given up any claim to an annual pork barrel of 200 million each year, the only senator to consistently deduct his pork barrel from the annual budget.

Such strengths are also what makes him weak insofar as the support of the members of Congress is concerned. “Hindi nakikisama”, they often describe him. Indeed, this atypical public official dislikes transactional politics, and if elections were left to the command votes of the trapos, he would never win. But in 2007, when he sought re-election, he polled exceedingly high and placed number three despite modest campaign funds, even ahead of then Senate President Manuel Villar with his hundreds of millions and the support of the trapos.

While many see him as the uncompromising crusader against graft, and a leader possessed with political will, there are also a significant number who are afraid of these same qualities, perhaps fearing the dreadful possibilities of the so-called “kamay na bakal”, an image that Lacson has to temper if not soften. The compassionate side of the man has to come out, and the true story made known to as many. Lacson must show more heart, more warmth, because the electorate, quite unfortunately in this benighted land, is more tug-of-heart than cerebral.

In the year 2003, when Raul Roco was leading in the early presidential surveys, an old friend talked to me about helping the newly resigned education secretary. He wanted me to talk to Raul on that very day, but I asked him for time to think it over. The political technician in me thought of getting into Raul’s tent, if only to assess their strengths and weaknesses, for I had already made up my mind then to help Ping. So I talked to Ping about my plan, thinking that he would see the utilitarianism of my admittedly devious plan. Yet, in soft and brotherly mien, he chided me thus, “Isn’t that being dishonest?”

I was never more embarrassed, and properly chastened. From that time on, I became a loyal believer. The man has genuine character, and on top of grit and determined political will, he could be the man to turn this benighted land around.

A leader must have competence, character and charisma. But for two or three, the ten presidentiables have displayed enough competence. Character many do not possess. Charisma is something they have yet to show, between now and 2010, assuming there will be elections at all.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Politics in prayer

Hypocrites, especially among the traditional politicians, will not spare anything to score political points. Not even prayer. Nothing is ever sacred.

Remember when her former press secretary now turned presidential legal counsel, whose credentials for both positions are quite specious, used prayer to float his (and hers) ardent desire to keep her in power, “even beyond (2010)”? Years ago, in the time of FVR, a National Prayer Breakfast was held each year at the Manila Hotel, with the president himself as regular guest of honour. Guess who was one of the prime organizers? It was a former congressman from one of the country’s poorest provinces, who gained infamy for having spent fabulous sums on the merienda of his fellows in the “house of thieves”, which according to then fiscalizer Nani Perez, invariably turned out to be “turon”. But there he always was, pious-looking and seemingly fervent in prayer, at each of those breakfasts. Oh well…he may have been contrite after his fall from grace and power. (Incidentally, his poor province is now headed by another set of politicians, just as greedy, if not more so).

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event held on the first Thursday of February at the Washington Hilton in Connecticut Avenue, Washington D.C. The founder of the event was Frank Carlson, former Kansas representative, governor and senator . Its first preacher was the Reverend Billy Graham, in 1953, and has since become a congregation of the nation’s power elite, breaking bread, and in prayer together. Later it became tradition for members of the United States Congress to organize the event through The Fellowship Foundation which sought to create understanding that cut through the barriers of religious, political and social divisions. Because the American president was always the guest of honour, it used to be called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, but in 1970, the event was christened simply the National Prayer Breakfast and through the years, international leaders were invited as special guests, such as Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, even Bono, the Irish singer and humanitarian aid worker. Benazir Bhutto, King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Ricardo Maduro of the Honduras, and other dignitaries have also addressed the luncheons following the breakfast. While the main event is held on the first Thursday of February, the tradition has metamorphosed into a week-long series of inter-actions among parliamentarians and other guests from around the world.

The event organizers normally send their invitations four to five months before February, considering that invitees are generally busy people who must thus arrange their schedules way ahead of time. At times, a senior legislator-member can arrange for some last-minute invitations, assuming there are seats available. Thus, Sen. Francis Escudero claims he was invited to this year’s prayer breakfast as early as the first week of October 2008.

The question that comes to mind is whether Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, president of this benighted land by the machinations of Virgilio Garcillano and “her” loyal generals, in collaboration with Benjamin Abalos, was invited to this year’s prayer breakfast in October or before (by protocol she outranks Escudero), or whether she wangled a last-minute invitation when she was already in Davos, perhaps by calling her friend, veteran Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.

That she left the country for Davos without plans of going to Washington D.C. does not make sense. It may be that she was no longer invited this year, because she had already attended the event in years past. But surely she knew that the star of the event would be Barack Obama, the newly-proclaimed 44th president of the United States. It has always been like that since Dwight Eisenhower. Could it be that in her desire to preen before the has-beens of the World Economic Forum on its last and sparsely-attended day, she forgot about the possible chance to meet Obama? Most certainly not. Why, she had been stalking the man even when he was yet a candidate, and had to wait in line for her signature call on victory night to be returned, and that was weeks later.

She hid details of her “last-minute decision” even to the Department of Foreign Affairs, whose secretary returned to Manila right after Davos. The resident ambassador to the United States was ignored, and was in Manila when he learned about the “instant prayer” only two days before, enough time for him and his secretary to catch a plane and inveigle Foggy Bottom for a fleeting Hillary Clinton audience with his dona. It turned out to be a consolation lollipop because the “pull-aside” with Barack Obama never materialized. But even Hillary brought disappointment. She was to embark on her first foreign trip as Secretary of State, to Japan, South Korea, China and Indonesia, but not the Philippines. So near of distance; so far in importance.

Did Barack Obama intentionally come in late and pulled out fast, and if so, why? Surely a handshake with the woman who presides over the fate of the benighted land which used to be colony of his country wasn’t too much, especially since she was seated right beside Nancy Pelosi, “his” Speaker of the House who had just whipped every Democrat to pass his economic stimulus fund? Those of us who know how the “West Wing” works, and how nuances of power are communicated or not communicated know full well that these events do not occur by happenstance. They are calculated. They are pre-meditated. They are vetted a priori by closest staff.
And Pres. Barack Obama did not want any spin on a simple handshake to distort the purity of his declaration on January 20 before the people of the world, that “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history…”

For much unlike this country where a local official could easily insert his presence for a quick photo with PARP, likely with a cellphone even, no one gets pulled aside or even allowed to get a photograph with “the” POTUS, unless prior arrangements are made. Clearly, the staff vetted GMA out.

So let’s go back to the original question. Why did she decide last-minute (if we are to believe Malacanang) to attend the prayer breakfast? Surely, if senators of the realm had been invited in October, the one who calls herself president, if she was in the mind of the organizers, should have received a similar October invitation.

But if Malacanang had pre-scheduled her appearance in Washington D.C. before she left for Switzerland, would not questions be raised about the absence by her side of her gracioso esposo, el Senor Don Juan Miguel Arroyo y Tuason? He was not with her in Davos, nor in Milan, nor in Riyadh, nor in Bahrain.

Was she afraid that the World Bank report would tarnish whatever sheen she hoped to gain in her trips, if her esposo was seen beside her? Or is it something else, such as problems her esposo may have, ostensibly from agents of the host government where the “instant” prayers had to be said? Cannot her esposo visit the land of milk and honey anymore?

So what are we surmising? She must have received an invitation for the prayer breakfast as early as October. But the prayers do not mean anything to her. She’s “been there, done that” several times over. The Obama picture, however, was important. She had gone to the US when he was yet a candidate and she could not go near him. She went back when Obama was already the president-elect, yet failed to get a minute of his time. Probably her American connections could not get through. But of course, they couldn’t. They were McCain rooters, friends of Venable, friends of Ronaldo Puno, former associates in the now defunct Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. So November was a no-go, despite her “punishing” trip to Illinois even.

Next possibility was Davos, but the new president did not want to dignify the audience of unrepentant globalists by his presence. It might send the wrong signals to recession-wracked America, and so Obama wisely rejected Davos. Foiled again for even a chance close-in, Remonde’s boss woman even chided the new president to “please do something” about the world recession. That was enough challenge, she thought, to catch his attention, “nagpapapansin”. So then she hies off to Washington. “Wala ka nang kawala”, she must have mused. Obama would surely attend the National Prayer Breakfast, a tradition of half a century. And surely he would “pull her aside” after his address, she being in the front row, right beside his favourite Speaker Pelosi. Okay na sa kanya yung photo-op, from where she would next visit Clinton on M Street.

How many millions of the people’s money did she spend chasing Barack Obama? She circumnavigated the entire globe for the chance, crossing the South China Sea, the polar caps, thence the Mediterranean, thence the Atlantic Ocean, and on her disappointed way back, across the North American continent, and the mighty Pacific to return to sneers and jeers from the benighted. See to what lengths she would humiliate herself and her country?

“All for a photo-op”, quipped Jojo Binay of the opposition. She might just as well have visited Jobama in Makati. He would not refuse to shake her hand, political differences notwithstanding. Or, perhaps she could have invited the other Obama wannabe, Chiz Escudero, for a cup of tea at her twelve-thousand dollar suite at the Four Seasons in Georgetown. Talk of trivial, but costly pursuits.

Then again, what is trivial to us is vital to Dona Gloria. She had lost Dubya, now whiling away his retirement with his horses in Texas. And Bill Clinton certainly would not intercede with Barry for her, never mind that Georgetown interlude. There is no “terrorism” trump card to play, because Obama has a firm emotional peg on Indonesia, where he is expected to rely upon more. In short, we are off America’s radar screen, and perhaps we are the better for that. But for GMA y su esposo, that simply would not do. She needs to be assured that “the” POTUS would be sympathetic when she pushes her political envelopes in the months to come, because bureaucratic America, as in State and the Attorney General’s office, already know the truth about her. They just could do little for as long as Dubya the shallow allowed her free rein. But how could she possibly impress, let alone fool a leader who would not even want to see her, or be seen with her?

* * *

Others are also sorry for this abomination called Gloria, in reaction to our February 6 article.

Reader Milette, de Pampanga tambien, wrote: “I am sorry too. I always thought I was a good judge of character. When a politician friend introduced me to the then Senator GMA, I thought I saw a decent and hard-working person. We inspected a resettlement project and with her was her best friend Lilia “Baby” Pineda, who was a silent companion, and later shared lunch of simple adobo and rice, which Pineda paid for Gloria. When Erap’s sense of morality was going down, I thought his vice-president was the best alternative --- decent, educated and coming from a good family (Arthur and Cielo have always been very honest and professional), and married to a rich man (I didn’t know the family wealth was long gone). To be honest, I was one of those who after a day’s work in Clark would go to Edsa, along with my kids to press Erap to resign. But when she became president and I saw how guys like Berroya were given positions, along with the characters she appointed at Clark, I decided to migrate to the USA for good. Kung si Erap raw pumapala ng lagay, eto naman, payloader ang gamit”.

And from someone who had worked closely with her in the first half of her presidency, comes this interesting assessment: “We never realized until late that GMA has absolutely no leadership; that behind the taray and temper lives a weakling. FG controlled her like a puppet such that she was just a front act and FG was the real president. That is the reason we don’t see any governance but just a pretext of it. But like Marcos and Erap, they will not live to enjoy the plunder of public coffers”.

Oh well, will there ever be an end to this long and inglorious episode in our history?


Nakatutuwa ito. Nag-iisip na raw ng angkop na pangalang bago para sa ipinagsasanib na mga partidong Lakas at Kampi.

Wika ni Jose Solis na kinatawan ng Sorsogon, ang bagong pangalan daw ay dapat na maiparating sa taong bayan ang magkaparehong layunin at adhikain ng pinagsamang mga lapian, at alinsabay na rin, dapat na madaling maalaala ng sambayanan. “Memorable and catchy for instant recall”, wika ng kalalawigan ni Senador Chiz Escudero.

Nagbiro pa si Solis habang kausap ang mga mamamahayag sa lingguhang Usapang Daungan sa Lungsod ng Quezon kamakailan at nagbanggit ng mga katawa-tawang kombinasyon ng pangalan tulad ng Lampi, Lakak, Kaspi at Kalas. Pwede rin daw Lakas ng Kampi, kanya lamang parang Kampi ang malakas kaysa sa Lakas. E hindi papayag ang Lakas doon, pare-pareho pa namang nagpapataasan ng yabang sila.

Kung ang nais ay pag-isahin sila ng mga “adhikain at layunin”, mayroon akong rekomendasyon. Tutal, makailang beses na tinaguriang “party of thieves” ni Rep. Teddyboy Locsin ng Makati ang Lakas, noon pa mang siya’y tagapaglathala ng isang pahayagang ngayo’y kasaysayan na, at hindi ko naman naaalaaalang umangal ang mga taga-Lakas. At alam rin naman nating walang kahabas-habas na pinagmamalaki ng mga taga-Kampi at Lakas ang kanilang adiksyon sa baboy sa pamamagitan ng pork barrel. Ang mga miyembro rin ng mga partidong ito ang siyang nangunguna sa pag-salag sa anumang akusasyon laban sa mga kontratistang na-blacklist ng World Bank, at halos ay balutin ng bandila ng bayan ang mga naakusahan ng sabwatan sa public bidding. Ang mga ito rin ang tagapagtanggol ng Unang Pamilya sa anumang akusasyon ng korapsyon, at siya ring agaran kung ibasura ang anumang impeachment complaints laban kay Donya Gloria na kanilang amo.

Kaya hindi dapat na ang pagsanib-pwersa ay batay sa pagsasaayos lamang ng mga kasalukuyang pangalan ng mga partidong Lakas at Kampi. Kasi nga, magiging katatawa-tawa, at pilit na pilit. Ayun na nga --- Kalas, Lampi, Lakak. Walang ibig sabihin. Sagdagan mo ng isang “L” yung Lakak, laklak na. “N” naman sa Lampi, e lampin na. Hindi bagay, matatanda na sila. Kapag “Kalas” naman, e parang iiwanan na nila si Donya Gloria.

Pwede siguro ang Kampilak, o kakampi ng pilak, kanya lang, hindi naman pilak kundi ginto ang hilig ng mga miyembro ng mga partidong ito. Hindi ba’t sabi nga ng isang testigo sa mga hearing patungkol sa fertilizer scam, e ayaw pumayag sa 30% ng isang congressman, at humihirit na dapat ay 40% ang komisyon niya sa pondong inilaan sa kanyang distrito ni Jocjoc? Oo nga naman, peke lang din naman ang produkto, e ‘di dapat hahataw si congressman, ano? (Saksakan talaga ng ganid.)

Kung gagamitin natin ang “party of thieves” bilang batayan, e di may patutunguhan na ang ating paghahanap ng nakaaayong bagong pangalan. Simple lang iyan --- Kapag sila’y “nagkaisa” na, e dapat ipangalandakan iyong pagsasanib-pwersa. Layunin at adhikain --- e di, “kawat”. Ano pa nga ba ang mga layunin at adhikain ng mga ito kundi tuloy ang ligaya, ‘di ba Teddyboy?
Kaya’t dapat ay wala nang patumpik-tumpik, lantaran na. Call a spade a spade, wika nga sa Ingles. “Nagkaisang Kawatan”, o “Nakaw”!

Madaling tandaan, maikli pa. Bagay na bagay sa mga adhikain at layunin, ‘di ba Congressman Solis? May Tagalog na, may Bisaya pa!

Paano kung sumanib din ang Nacionalista, o di kaya, ang NPC? No problem. Angkop na angkop pa rin. E di sabihin ninyo, “kanya nga “N”, ‘yun ang sa inyo, sa amin naman yung “K”, tama? Paano rin ‘yung Partido Sosyalista o ano nga bang pangalan noon, ‘yung kay Norberto Gonzales? Ahh, hayaan mo na ang mga saling-pusa.

O, kapag siya ninyong ginamit, huwag kalilimutan ang aking “royalty fees”. Paghahatian namin ni kaibigang Teddyboy Locsin, dahil ayaw ko namang mang-agaw ng kredito. Orihinal na ideya ni Locsin ang siyang basehan natin. Huwag kayong mag-alala, hindi namin ibubulsa ang royalty fees. Ido-donate namin sa kampanya ni Jobama para kay Teddyboy, at kay Bayani naman sa ganang akin.

Joke, joke, joke! Huwag mapipikon. Tandaan, sa pulitika o ano pa man, --- ang pikon … talo.