Monthly Archives: October 2005

A goddamned trial balloon

"Very disturbing." That is what the President was supposed to have said to Inquirer Metro columnist Ramon Tulfo last Wednesday, over lunch at the Palace. Her object of concern? The military intelligence report that ABS-CBN news anchor Julius Babao posted bail for Tyrone del Rosario Santos, an alleged leader of a Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated group.

Santos, along with others, was arrested on March 22 and posted bail on April 26.

Rear Admiral Tirso Danga, AFP deputy chief of staff for intelligence (J-2), said Friday that the military had kept silent about Babao’s alleged act because “we did not want a confrontation with the media.”

Kept silent for six whole months? That must be a new record. Perhaps they could have vetted their intelligence in the meantime, instead of relying on something as speculative as seeing Santos leave jail on board an ABS-CBN vehicle.

Babao has not only denied ever paying for Santos’ bail; he pinpoints exactly who paid for it: Jonathan Tiongco, the controversial political operator whom Sec. Mike Defensor once used as an audio expert to debunk the Hello Garci tapes. Homobono "Asterisk" Adaza, who represented Santos upon Tiongco’s request, confirmed in two interviews with the Inquirer that it was in fact Tiongco who arranged for the bail.

A couple of phone calls, and Danga’s men would have found there really was nothing more to this, except a journalist’s pursuit of an exclusive. This is why we agree with the President: the incident is "very disturbing," but for reasons she will not agree with.

It is "very disturbing" that an intel report can go all the way up the chain of command powered by nothing more than a sighting and a charge of speculation. It is "very disturbing" that the commander-in-chief raises the issue of media collusion with alleged terrorists using nothing more than a flimsy report. Above all, it is "very disturbing" that, to appropriate the unfortunate terms Danga himself used, the Palace now seems ready, using nothing more than a single, speculative source, to provoke that "confrontation" with the media.

It is not a confrontation, but an ambush: The President of the Philippines is using six-month-old "data" to insinuate that a journalist is a terrorist-coddler.

A trial balloon, that’s what it is. An exploratory probe, the President and her men testing the mainstream media’s perimeter. Perhaps they chose Babao because his public image as news anchor is confused with the fuzziness of his morning-show persona; perhaps they thought it made him a softer target. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Palace hard line now includes an attack on the mainstream journalists themselves — and that journalists of all kinds must hold the hardliners to account.

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A chronology?

Dawn, Thursday, October 27. Former Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, the Hyatt 10 member widely thought to possess the most damaging information about the Arroyo administration, is rushed to the National Kidney Institute, because of a sudden attack of hypertension.

Afternoon, Thursday, October 27. Boncodin’s deposition on the controversial fertilizer fund scandal is received by the Senate committee on food and agriculture.

6:24 am, Friday, October 28. Fire strikes the Budget office in Malacanang.

Senior Fire Officer 1 Reynaldo Marcelino said the fire started at 6:24 a.m. at the DBM Building 3 near the Ayala Bridge.

As of 6:55 a.m., the fire was still raging at the front right portion of the ground floor of the two-story building, which houses the DBM’s computer center.

Quite likely a coincidence, but as a measure of the Arroyo administration’s credibility problems, the fire can only stoke unflattering speculation.

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Bloody Wednesday

Was in Baguio on Wednesday, to discuss something with some of our Northern Luzon correspondents. Throughout the workshop, the cellphones kept ringing; it was bloody Wednesday. The night before, Hacienda Luisita union leader Rick Ramos had been shot to death. On Wednesday, the violence became a morbid orgy, a "festival of killings." In the morning, Bayan Pampanga chair Francisco Rivera was gunned down after his usual morning jog; two other men, Rivera’s running companions, were killed too. Sometime past 5 pm, Piston Bulacan president and Anakpawis chair Federico de Leon was shot in the head and chest, by a man and a woman posing as passengers on his jeepney. During the workshop, we talked about the future, about plans and initiatives, but the long arm of the present kept reaching in.

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Back from the brink?

I see that the Manila Times has a scoop, courtesy of its veteran Congress reporter. (I don’t have access to the usual features, such as integrated links, right now, so may I spell out the address instead? It’s at http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/topofthehour.aspx?StoryId=19988)

"The Senate early Monday evening lifted its order holding National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales in contempt for refusing to divulge vital information on the contract he had signed with the US lobby group Venable LLP, a Senate source told The Manila Times."

It would be easy to file this decision (which according to the report will be officially announced sometime today) under the heading: Senate blinks in stand-off with Palace. But it is also possible, in fact even likely, that the decision is part of back-channel efforts to ease Palace-Senate tensions.

The Inquirer’s main story today (http://news.inq7.net/nation/index.php?index=1&story_id=54410) hints as much.

"President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has rejected proposals that she cut short her term to pave the way for the holding of snap elections in 2007, but she is now open to giving the opposition seats in her Cabinet, the Inquirer learned yesterday."

The snap elections proposal came from the Black and White Movement; in other words, people outside the loop. The Cabinet revamp, on the other hand, is famously the idea of Bro. Mike Velarde, an inside power player if there ever was one.

Stepping back from the brink seems like an idea agreed upon in a powwow of power players.

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Blogging without a license too

It is standard for a speaker at a conference or a panelist in a forum to say he has learned new things, or learned to look at his subject in a new light, because of the questions from the audience. But in the case of the PCIJ forum on "bloggers as journalists" last Saturday, I really did learn much more from the discussion than the audience probably did from my intervention. 

I had a short wishlist, which I used to end my remarks: I wished that journalist-bloggers minimized or avoided altogether their use of rumor or gossip (or "scuttlebutt," the word that Manolo Quezon has helped to popularize). That more journalist-bloggers monitor and write about radio news and commentary, which one broadcast executive once described as the "black hole" of Philippine journalism. That more journalist-bloggers learn to add quotes from other sites being linked to, especially when these sites are being criticized, rather than merely providing the links — the better to help the reader evaluate the journalist-blogger’s criticism. And that more journalist-bloggers enjoy "institutional backing" (the phrase Ricky Carandang used in the same early-afternoon discussion).

On the other hand, I learned the following: That top-notch Ellen Tordesillas is about to start her own blog. (Granted. That wasn’t a question from the audience, but an input from a fellow panelist.)  That journalists must learn to think of blogs "not just [as] an extension of opinion" (Caloy Conde). That we must consider the essentially subjective nature of blogs, that "blogs are biased" (Rachel Khan). That the issue of journalists using blogs to "get around" the strictures of conventional media is one that exercises many journalists (for instance, Joyce of Manila Standard Today, Ricky again, and Joseph Morong). That the distinction between journalists and journalists-as-bloggers may actually miss the point about blogging as a phenomenon (this is what I understood Alan Robles to be saying, but I myself may have missed a point or two). That blogging may breathe new life into community journalism (Rolly Fernandez). That Jove Francisco’s indispensable chronicle of life in the Malacanang press trenches enjoys enviable support from his newsroom. And, not least, that SunStar’s exciting experiment in blog-powered citizen journalism depends on Max Limpag’s sleeping cycle!

PS. Rachel has thoughtfully provided a link to "the best ethical guide for bloggers."

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Blogging without a license

At the PCIJ blogging forum yesterday, I adverted to the "metaphysical unease" I sometimes felt in keeping a blog. (The term had readily suggested itself to this student of philosophy because earlier in the day I had left the house without my driver’s license; it was naturally a disconcerting experience, but in the course of the morning I realized it paralleled my blog-writing, at least on those occasions when I paused before clicking on the Save button and wondered, Do I have the license to do what I am about to do?)

I gave three examples of possible conflicts of interest, phrased as questions: Should I "break" a story online or offer the story first to the newspaper I work for? Should I refrain from criticizing other media (even with the best of intentions)? And should I blog about something that I will eventually write for the newspaper in another form, possibly in an unsigned editorial?

My own blog-writing has rather limited objectives: to think through the events of the day, to offer a necessarily limited personal perspective on issues (some large, some positively minute) that have engaged my interest. For all that, I am still (and only) a journalist who happens to keep a blog on the side; I would like to keep to, and be judged by, the same journalistic standards I try to meet (not all too successfully) at work.

Should journalists follow "looser" standards when they blog? Of the questions that were raised in the session I was a part of, this I think was the central one. I offered my answer, but I am under no illusion that it is necessarily the right one.

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Marcelo, not Desierto

In their ninth guideline, the Philippine Jesuits offer what is in effect a social To Do list. One item on that list is the monitoring of "appointments to public office by the President." Even before the guidelines came out, of course, some groups have been doing just that. The Black and White Movement, for instance, has been keeping a close eye on the vetting process for the new ombudsman.

In a sense, no appointment could be more important than Simeon Marcelo’s replacement. The country needs another Aniano Desierto, the compliant, complacent graftbuster-in-chief appointed by President Fidel Ramos, like it needs another hole in the head. (Once, I had the opportunity to ask Desierto what his conviction rate was. His answer: It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we’ve filed the cases. That explains why his conviction rate, for his seven-year term, was an estimated 6 percent. If I remember correctly, Marcelo more than doubled that rate within months of assuming one of the most powerful offices provided for by the Constitution.)

The Judicial and Bar Council is considering ten nominees.  I don’t know, but only Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio seems to have the cojones the job description requires.

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Jesuit guidelines

After the De La Salle brothers called on the President to step down, not a few wondered aloud: Where are the Jesuits? The men from the order once called the "Light Cavalry" of the Church were in the forefront of social change movements in the 1970s and in the run-up to Edsa 1986 and Edsa 2001. Had they turned into a Praetorian Guard instead?

The answer to the second question: Hardly. The answer to the first: They are still in the thick of things. In fact, during their July plenary, the Catholic bishops sought the advice of only three "outsiders." They were all Jesuits: Fr. Provincial Danny Huang, Fr. Joaquin Bernas (needless to say, the country’s preeminent constitutionalist), and Fr. Jojo Magadia (a political science expert).

But as the new "Jesuit guidelines" make clear, the Society (as Jesuits and some Jesuit alumni call the order) recognizes that we are living through a time of "confusion and crisis." Contrary to the very public stand of a group of highly committed Filipinos whom I respect (some of whom I count as friends), the "things" in which we are in the thick of are not black and white. That, however, only makes moral intervention even more necessary.

The Commission on the Social Apostolate of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus (that’s a highly formal name for eight Jesuits of essentially like mind and roughly the same age, many of them classmates in Philosophy and Theology) wrote the guidelines. The Inquirer has the first part here. But if you can’t wait for the second part, the Ateneo website has the whole kit and kaboodle.

Three quick thoughts (my apologies, I’m under too many deadlines):

1. The Jesuit position, if there is such a thing, has hardened since July. The guidelines do not make for easy reading in Malacanang (or in Congress, for that matter).

2. The Jesuits are saying: Prepare for the long haul. The changes society needs may take much longer than we think. (See, for example, their reference to the martial law years, "when the alternatives were not clear.")

3. The feedback the Jesuits have been receiving since the start of the crisis has been nationwide in scope; the guidelines give it the proper emphasis. "Others, especially those in the provinces, feel excluded by and resentful of what they perceive to be Manila deciding for the country again. Efforts must be made to address this disillusionment and sense of exclusion, so that our people might be motivated to participate more vigorously in our country’s political life."

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Desire lines

Make that natural desire lines. This seems like something right up good friend Gigi’s blogging alley (Gigi Goes Gaga has a new look, by the way; bright hues of autumn colors, a better fit for the author’s bold, beautifully written reminiscences). But as it turns out, the term comes from urban planning.

I chanced upon it a few days ago in Word Spy, Paul McFedries’ one-of-a-kind website. A desire line, he writes, is

An informal path that pedestrians prefer to take to get from one location to another rather than using a sidewalk or other official route.

A Philippine example might be a counter-flow route at a busy intersection, worn thin by thousands of ordinance-defying, corner-cutting vehicles.

McFedries adds, in a rare Note: "I love that these paths are never perfectly straight. Instead, like a river, they meander this way and that, as if to prove that desire itself isn’t linear and (literally, in this case) straightforward."

You could look it up!

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Nuance and necessity

It is difficult to take a nuanced position, or strike a balance, if you’re an eminent public figure up against the necessarily simplifying drive of mass media. Consider the case of Archbishop of Manila Gaudencio Rosales.

I understand his remarks on last week’s "wet" dispersal near Malacanang as a delicate attempt to look at the picture whole. But because some of his remarks (here’s the Inquirer story, and here’s the Star version) are an implied rebuke to the three bishops who were present at Friday’s prayer rally, mass media has had no choice but to treat his statement as us vs. them.

To me, the most striking thing about his statement yesterday was the following:

"Leadership without vision is treason — I’m betraying my God and the people I serve," he said, adding:

"Filipinos do not know where they are going. They just move from one crisis to another, from one rally to another."

Treason! That is hardly a vote of confidence in the President. But because the most recent major event happened to involve three of his fellow bishops, his words about their protest action — as a "personal decision," as an attempt to "sneak" into Mendiola, and so on — ended up, necessarily, as head and lead.

Dong Puno has the luxury of columnhood (or columny, as more than one wag has said, in general, of the commentariat) of doing exactly what Archbishop Rosales did, and by and large be taken on his own terms. He strikes a balance. For instance:

In addition, if the PNP wants to rely on provisions of B.P. 880 to justify its actions, it should apply all the provisions, not only those which appear to advance its cause. Under that law, the operative policy is "maximum tolerance" not "calibrated preemptive response" (Sec. 10(a)). Subparagraph (c) of Section 10 prohibits the use of "…water cannons or any similar anti-riot device" unless "the public assembly is attended by actual violence or serious threats of violence, or deliberate destruction of property" …

Rally organizers should not play games either. B.P. 880 clearly requires that a written permit is required for any person or groups to organize or hold a public assembly in a public place. There is no exception for "prayer rallies." The only exceptions are assemblies in designated "freedom parks," private property or "the campus of a government-owned and operated educational institution." Unless B.P. 880 is invalidated for unconstitutionality, there is no escaping its requirements.

Straight down the middle.

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Up or down?

It took me some time to make sense of ABS-CBN News Online’s Reuters-based story on Philippine corruption.

The Philippines ranked 36th among the world’s most corrupt nations, down from last year’s ranking of 43, according to the latest Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index for 2005 published Tuesday.

That lead paragraph left me wondering what exactly "down" meant: Did our ranking improve? As it turns out, the CPI that is used to rank global perceptions of corruption is inverse: The lower the number, the worse you are. But the world rankings are the opposite: The higher the number, the more corrupt you are. What the number "36" is is not the actual rank, as determined by Transparency International; it is the number as computed from the bottom of the list.

(I trust, as Robert Bolt has his Thomas More say, I have made myself obscure?)

According to the story, in the 2005 CPI, the Philippines is No. 124. Since the list includes a total of 159 countries, that makes the country the 36th most corrupt in the world.

The story also says that, in the 2004 CPI, the Philippines was No. 102. Actually, a quick check with the actual table (which I needed to do, because some of the 2004 numbers in the story did not add up) will show that, strictly speaking, the country was actually No. 104, out of 146. That made the Philippines the 43rd most corrupt country in the world, based on corruption perceptions.

In other words, the country’s position deteriorated.

To be sure, it is more accurate to state that the Philippines was not 124th on the list, but that it shared 117th place with eight other countries: Afghanistan, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Libya, Nepal, and Uganda. But where’s the fun in that?

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News, not nuisance 2

Having criticized the Star’s editorial the other day, I feel bound to point out that today’s editorial is, or may be, an attempt to pull back from the brink.

The issue highlighted by last Friday’s violent dispersal is now framed as a "test of wills," a contest between two less-than-perfect positions.

A government giddy over the junking of an impeachment complaint decides to coin a silly phrase to describe its decision to start bringing a semblance of order in the streets. Anti-government forces naturally respond to the virtual dare by staging rallies where they are not supposed to, because if they confine themselves to designated areas, where’s the fun in that?

The essential role that dissent and the freedoms of speech and assembly play in the democratic polity is given its due.

Pray in churches, light candles in shrines, camp out at the people power monument, shout slogans and stage plays in plazas and parks. Demand anyone’s resignation, expose anomalies and play incriminating tapes. There are enough soap boxes in this country for everyone. In the information age, nothing can be suppressed. But there has to be some compromise, some modus vivendi on the conduct of peaceful protest. That compromise must be reached soon.

Interestingly, publisher Max Soliven’s column today (written from Madrid) is a candid admission of editorial misjudgement.

What totally embarrass[ed] me is what I learned later. I discovered our newspaper The Philippine STAR had completely missed running the story of that tumultuous event – including the violent put-down by the PNP and its water-cannon of the group. I’ve called our Editors for an explanation. Who was asleep at the switch or whatever. The following day, a day too late, was a follow-up headline: "GUINGONA III: RALLY DISPERSAL FORM OF TYRANNY, OPPRESSION."

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A word from the dismal science

I was reminded of it when I read Rina David’s column today.

The “calibrated preemptive response” policy is purportedly about putting an end to a season of protests by clamping down on them and ensuring they keep within legal bounds. But what the policy has instead accomplished is to ratchet up the scale and frequency of the protests. Initial public cynicism and indifference to the moves to oust the President are steadily being replaced with anger, alarm and a sense of solidarity with the protesters who have been beaten back, pummeled, arrested and now soaked.

"Ratchet" has a specific meaning for economists. Or rather, for economists, the word’s real meaning has not lost the following particular nuance: to ratchet is to move in increments, yes, but to move only in one direction.

David is writing of the protests, of course, but I would think the word applies even more directly to the administration’s hard-line response. The President and her closest advisers (I say this, although I have reason to believe it is really the President who is pushing the hard line) think their policy is "calibrated," but in reality it has had the effect of ratcheting up the administration’s level of intolerance. Now that even an eminently non-confrontational political player like Brother Mike Velarde has had harsh words to say about last Friday’s "wet" dispersal, surely an economist like Ms Arroyo can appreciate the nuance?

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Scion-nara

It was a pitiful sight: the old man Guingona, soaked to the skin, and showing his age. And yet I must also confess to a vague discomfort whenever I hear his son on the radio or see him on TV. Nothing recommends Rep. Teofisto Guingona III except his illustrious name. Thus, when I read the congressman’s statement yesterday, I was moved by his filial devotion, but at the same time I caught myself thinking: It should have been the son’s turn at the front line. Surely his father had done enough.

One of the things I remember most from last year’s elections was the drama in Guingona’s district in Bukidnon. A long-time oppositionist was running for another term in office, as the official candidate of Estrada’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino. Enter FPJ and his running mate, Sen. Loren Legarda. Through a political maneuver, the Estrada loyalist suddenly became the unofficial opposition candidate. As it turns out, part of the price FPJ paid for the opportunity to welcome Legarda’s close friend, Vice President Guingona, on board, was the Bukidnon seat for his son.

So much for the politics of principle. True, it is a subject which the young Guingona will perorate on at the drop of a hat (indeed, that’s how he found himself in a position to lecture all and sundry on the politics of courage and decency, by essentially throwing his FPJ-protected hat into a ring the lines of which his father had redrawn).

"There are no warm friendships nor serious alliances with this woman," [Rep. Guingona] said [referring to the President]. "Only frigid temporary alliances of conveniences."

As a certain Estrada loyalist may confirm, Guingona speaks from, ah, deep personal experience.

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News, not nuisance

I have agreed with quite a number of Star editorials, but yesterday’s was just plain wrong.

On a busy Friday, payday, traffic was again at a standstill in many parts of the city of Manila. Why? Because there was another anti-government rally in Mendiola. The usual people who surely hold no steady jobs and don’t go to school since they can afford to stage rallies daily were augmented by a small bunch of individuals suffering from acute lack of public attention.

The argument from inconvenience has been raised before; it does not acquire new force merely because the particular inconvenience in question happened on a "payday." Almost by definition, the use of the democratic space available to citizens may inconvenience others who live in that space. That is simply the price of democracy.

The closing off of certain streets in Manila to honor Filipinos who have brought honor not only to the city but to the country, such as Manny Pacquiao or Lara Quigaman, also caused some inconvenience. Should we allow this kind of inconvenience only because there are no water cannons or fundamental civil liberties involved?

To be sure, the main headline in yesterday’s issue was about the rally: the son of ex-Vice President Teofisto Guingona called the violent dispersal an act of tyranny and oppression. But that choice of story does not, at least in my view, redeem yesterday’s editorial, or the false dichotomy foisted on the reader by its last paragraph.

The protesters last Friday, however, were not just after expressing a message in their usual inarticulate, infantile way that leaves no room for intelligent debate. They wanted maximum disruption of other people’s lives. Was their dispersal state repression? Only if you think being a public nuisance is an inalienable right.

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Dancing with ghosts

As those who loiter by this newsstand already know, I have a thing about anonymous comments. I welcome them, but I am temperamentally unable to respond to them, at least not with any consistency. But someone who frequents this intersection, Jojo Abinales, dances rather nimbly with ghosts. This comment thread, for example, is a crash course on recent and not-so-recent CPP-NPA-NDF history.

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That ’70s show (not)

The Paris Review interviews from the 1970s are now online. Sadly, many of the PDF links don’t work. (Good thing the interviews from the 1950s and 1960s, such as Harold Pinter’s, are already available.)

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Mirror on the wall

I saw my first copy of the new newspaper today. Business Mirror looks almost exactly as I thought it would: Today’s clean lines and elegant type, BusinessWorld’s laser-like focus. The people who work the beats and keep the gates are a mix of the two papers too. (Starting from the top, with Chuchay Fernandez as editor in chief and Vladimir Bunoan as managing editor.)

I said "almost exactly," because I was not ready for its large format; it’s not simply broadsheet, it’s bigger than the usual broadsheet. (In contrast, to give only one of many possible examples, the Asian Wall Street Journal goes compact this very Monday.)

Except for Louie Teodoro, who now takes up his Vantage Point from a decidedly capitalist commanding height, I don’t see any name columnists yet. But some of the Business Mirror’s reporters are very good indeed: Mia Gonzalez, Joel San Juan, et al. Even without the syndicated pieces from the Washington Post, a most promising read.

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Hello, Garci?

The continuing absence from the scene of ex-election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano is the ghost at the President’s banquet. If a guest were to point to it, the specter would be unnerving, a haunting reminder of the real issue at the root of the President’s crisis of legitimacy. But who among the so-called leaders of the opposition are pointing a steady finger at Garcillano’s ghost?

It is the absence that cannot be explained away, only forgotten or ignored. But what is to stop the opposition, or at least those interested in establishing beyond a doubt what really happened during last year’s elections, from mounting a Garcillano Watch, or prefacing every single press briefing or protest action with a simple, "Today is the nth day since Garcillano last appeared in public…"

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Politics of re-affiliation

I was intrigued by the Star story on the Lakas-Kampi "let’s-smoke-the-pipe-and-bury-the-hatchet-in-someone-else’s-back" closed-door negotiations.

[House Majority Leader Prospero] Nograles said Kampi decided to "re-affiliate" with Lakas again, solidifying support for Cha-cha and the President’s political base in the process. "Along with it, the party line on issues like Charter change shall be observed and respected," he said.

Speaker Jose de Venecia sees the re-affiliation as a sign that Ronnie Puno, Louie Villafuerte et al have climbed on board the Charter change express.

De Venecia said with the two largest political groups in his chamber supporting the Cha-cha initiative, "there will be no more turning back on constitutional reforms that could save the country."

But Puno, the president of the other party that calls GMA its titular head, and Villafuerte see it differently. Kampi is on board the train, yes, but mainly to make sure it won’t make a certain scheduled stop along the way.

"We will take up only that resolution. The committee’s proposed amendments would be set aside. We did not want to be locked in to a set of proposals," [Puno] said.

Villafuerte said Kampi’s stand presented during the meeting was that the joint session could consider any Cha-cha proposal, provided that it does not disturb the full six-year term that the President was elected to serve in May 2004.

I have always thought that Kampi’s renewed high profile was an index of the President’s confidence; the higher it went, the more the President seemed confident she could survive her crisis of legitimacy, even without JDV’s help. (Of course, part of the dynamic is her felt need not to put all her eggs in De Venecia’s basket; at least, that is what we think she would do, if she were, quite reasonably, to hedge her bets.)

In the last couple of weeks, then, and judging mainly by the activities of political smooth operators like Puno and Villafuerte, it seems reasonable to conclude that the President is having a change of heart about the political cost of JDV’s help. De Venecia and ex-President Fidel Ramos, the real eminences of the Lakas party, have not been shy about computing the cost: It amounts to GMA cutting her term short.

Earlier today, something happened in Congress which piqued my curiosity even more: An administration congressmen moved to have all positions in the House declared vacant. Rep. Antonio Cerilles said he was frustrated by the continuing lack of quorum.

"Some would look at what I am saying this evening as maybe a warning. (But) I am serious, serious because we are mandated by the Constitution. A Constitution that gives the power of the purse to this Congress," he said.

"I have to stand and state my case because I cannot just sit here and look at the scenario wherein the Filipino people will be at a loss," he said. "That is why I think there is a need to declare all seats vacant so that maybe there will be more energy in this House."

"…So Mr. Speaker, I move that all positions be declared vacant. Is there anybody to second the motion? Anyone from the opposition? I reiterate the motion," he stressed.

[There is a longer version of the events, told from a different angle, in tomorrow’s issue of the Inquirer.]

"Anyone from the opposition?" Curioser and curioser.

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50 years late

As it turns out, this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature went to Harold Pinter, the playwright. So much for the quasi-official speculation, circulated in the Swedish and Norwegian press (and eagerly passed on in this obscure corner of the world), that for the first time since Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill two generations ago, the prize would go to a non-fiction writer. (Speculation, we are reminded once again, is most intense in closed societies, such as the Swedish Academy, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, or, let’s see, Malacanang or any branch of the military.)

I can’t help thinking the award, albeit deserved, comes almost half a century late. In contrast, the most recent deserved award, to J. M. Coetzee two years ago, came at the height of the author’s powers. (Have you read Coetzee’s wonderfully idiosyncratic Nobel Lecture? He returns to the Robinson Crusoe theme, which he had worried in previous books.) Or if not at the peak of his powers, then at least at that stage in the writer’s life when you know he still has a few more good books left to write.

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Writer in dissent

It’s great to see a writer land on the front page for reminding us of the fundamentals: literature as the art of engagement, writers as politically engaged.

Men and women of letters have peopled Philippine revolutions and revolts. But in the age of text messaging and e-mail, is literature still a relevant form of political dissent?

For Bienvenido Lumbera, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines and 1993 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the role of literature in giving a voice to the small, the weak and the oppressed is as strong as ever.

"Literature gives a voice to those that have been silenced," Lumbera said yesterday in Filipino at a press conference called by the National Coalition for the Protection of Workers’ Rights and the militant labor alliance Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 Movement).

Aside from a small mistake in the translation ("that" should have been "who"), these first paragraphs made stirring good reading.

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Opportunity cost

As if we needed another reminder that the joys of blogging do not come unalloyed: Academic Daniel Drezner, who writes a thoughtful blog (which I consulted often last year, to help make sense of US election politics), has apparently been denied tenure because he blogs.

Rather wittily, the Sun article leads off by reminding Drezner’s readers that he had not taken his own advice.

"I shouldn’t be doing this. I’ll be going up for tenure soon."

It was with those words of self admonishment that an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, Daniel Drezner, inaugurated his Web log in September 2002.

As thousands of his online readers know, Mr. Drezner didn’t heed his own advice. Instead, he rose to blogosphere prominence. His site is perhaps the most widely read blog focusing on the international political economy, turning scholarly research on issues like outsourcing, the politics of trade, and monetary policy into bite-size pieces of analysis for a wider audience.

On Friday, Mr. Drezner’s first blog entry came back to haunt him: He was informed by his department that he was denied tenure and would have to look elsewhere for a job.

Ouch. Drezner, for his part, has waxed elegantly philosophical; no matter what happens, he writes, we must keep our sense of proportion.

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Dubya’s article of faith

The Harriet Miers nomination is a true fork in the road in US, especially Republican-party, politics; it seems a shame to let it pass without comment.

Somewhere on TPM Cafe (largely Democrat), I read a reference to a post in Redstate.org (no, not even remotely Democrat) which seems to define how the evangelical right sees the battle to nominate Sandra Day O’Connor’s replacement on the US Supreme Court: someone said it was "the final showdown."

That explains the evangelical right’s fierce resistance to Miers, a relatively obscure lawyer whose views on, say, abortion are unknown. Essentially, George W. Bush’s response to quell the rebellion in the ranks has been to say, Trust me on this.

But when I read this story from the Christian Science Monitor, it occurred to me that Bush may have in fact found in Miers his true religion — just not the evangelical kind.

Too close to the White House. Too few credentials. Not a bona fide conservative. By now, the right’s criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers are well-known.

But nearly lost in the tide of comment is the Washington business community’s developing interest in Ms. Miers. With on-the-ground experience in corporate law, she has a background that they say has been missing on the high court in recent years.

Pro-business? Now that seems to be Dubya’s real article of faith.

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Say that again?

Apparently, Rep. Crispin Beltran (which in the shorthand employed by most Philippine news organizations is classified as a "militant" lawmaker) does have some use for the Americans after all.

Link: Arroyo told to press for US stand on gov’t, political crisis – INQ7.net.

But really: Apart from the incredible naivete of demanding to know where the US government stands on the current political crisis, there is the mental sleight-of-handedness of it all. Why should we care what the Americans think? Even more to the point, why should Beltran, who continues to hold the "US imperialism" line, even care? Self-evidently, he is trying to score a political point.

This is repellent intellectual dishonesty, on the same order as demanding that government, the same government whose inevitable withering is an article of faith, play a greater role in society.

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