Monthly Archives: March 2006

Solita no more

Winnie Monsod’s column in the Inquirer tomorrow will discomfit the Palace and confound the UP economist’s post-Garci crop of critics. (Well, at least some of them.)  It should also lay doubts about her alleged lack of public spirit to final rest. But of course it won’t; some will continue to attack her for sticking to the center when the center, self-evidently, won’t hold.

I cannot link to her column just yet (it’s seeing print in the first edition right about now, but the first copies won’t be available for a few more hours — at about the same time Inq7.net will publish it online). But suffice it to say for now that she goes Freudian, then Buddhist, on the administration’s latest, ah, initiative.

Where does the political center lie, I’m asked infrequently. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I answer: The center is where Winnie Monsod is.

PS. Update, at 10:07 am, April 1: Here’s the link to Solita Monsod’s Saturday column.

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Inspector Widget

Yesterday, Typepad launched a whole host of new features, called widgets. I stayed up till past two in the morning, trying on most of the new features for size. I’ve decided to use a couple, and perhaps may add another two or three in the next few days. I’m no techie, so convenience of installation was one attraction for me. I’ve also been tinkering with the site design (one great old feature of my Typepad service is it allows you to save design changes to your heart’s content, without publishing them until you are good and ready; everything is saved as a template — again, a convenience that appeals deeply to me). So the new widgets were manna from design heaven. (Okay, okay, I exaggerate, a little.)

I thought I’d install the Opinmind Quotables, which runs clickable quotes from previous posts in the blog. The installation intro read, in part: "The widget is periodically updated with recent opinions from your blog." The question is, How often is "periodically?" After all, an eon is as much a period as a second. (Openmind, incidentally, is a search engine that tracks the climate of opinion. Of course, because the service is new and out of Stanford, much of the weather it tracks is North American. But it’s an interesting concept, yes? The public square is changing right before our eyes.)

I also thought I’d install the Rollyo widget (it’s the last item on my left sideblog one right under the calendar). It allows one to create one’s own search engine. It allows a user to limit his Internet search to at most 25 URLs; I decided to experiment with news and opinion on Philippine politics. I listed an itinerary of about 12 or so "political blogs" (Manolo Quezon, Sassy Lawyer, John Marzan, et al) and took the new car out for a spin. Most of the first searches I conducted resulted in a logjam of PCIJ articles. I decided (at possibly one in the morning) to delink PCIJ and give it its own "searchbox." I’ll refine the thingamajig over the next several days. If you get to use the "searchroll," please let me know what you think.

Oh, I almost forgot. The very first new widget I added was the Search This Blog widget from Technorati, which includes a click-me feature that allows a peek into the sites that link (perhaps through no fault of their own!) to this blog. Technically, this is not new toTypepad; it’s been available for some time, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the very simple paste-HTML-code instructions. But last night, the muses of convenience alighted on my desktop, and all of a sudden I have new uses for the F-word: you know, functionality.

One last gizmo, but this time from outside Typepad. The Ignatian Perspective has an eye-popping series of maps of the world (and a link) as it would look from other, ah, perspectives: population shows a thinner Africa, immigration a bloated United States, and so on. Fascinating.

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What’s the frequency?

I’d settle for a good working estimate of the number of Internet users in the Philippines. According to this Agence France Presse story, it’s above 5 million, and will double in two years.

The number of Internet users in the Philippines is expected to more than double to 13.5 million by 2008, an information technology research firm said on Thursday.

The estimate is a sharp increase from the estimated current 5.6 million users said Cesar Tolentino, senior analyst of XMG, a Canada-based IT market research firm.

But search Google, and stats like these pop up at you. Apparently, we already had almost 8 million users in March 2005 — that is, a year ago.

7,820,000 Internet users as March/05, 9.1% of the population, according to Computer Industry Almanac.

I tried accessing the International Telecommunications Union website, to try to get their figures, but apparently they changed the furniture since my last visit, and I kept bumping into unfamiliar appliances. I’d appreciate a few solid leads.

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Best bargain books

My thanks to good friend Gigi, whose latest question set my heart racing today. "Is book lust a mortal sin?" Nothing venial about her musings. They led me to pitch-perfect Jessica Zafra, a sometime colleague from the late, lamented Today newspaper (well, I was there for only 10 months, editing the Today Folio, but it was a thrilling ride). Her "Biblioholics Support Group" is right on the money.

You have a problem. Not a real problem—very pleasant as problems go, but still a sort of problem. You can’t stop yourself from buying books …

Most of the comments were from fellow sinners, reminiscences about that desultory afternoon when one succumbed to temptation, that clean, well-lighted room where another’s (book) lust could no longer be denied. I emphatized, completely.

Just a sample of sinners: Jego, who proposed canonization for the Booksale guy, because "Booksale made it possible to buy books and still have enough for siopao and sago." (Santo, subito!)  Sparks, who confessed to leaving sinful signs, or rather occasions for sin, all over the place: "I have books collecting dust on my shelves. I have books I haven’t even opened from the packaging yet. I have books in my trunk, under the car seat, on the backseat, under my bed, in my nightstand, under my nightstand. I have a book right now, accompanying me everywhere I go. " Or El Capitan Montressor, who wrote, simply, of his object of desire: "Them Russians: gotta love ‘em."

Many other comments struck me; but for some reason, this one by Character Malfunction was like a slap in the face (that is, when you need to wake yourself up; like a tabo of cold water, to change metaphors): "But I feel most accomplished when I ransack the bins at booksales and find gems like Albert CamusThe Stranger for 18 pesos and James Joyce‘s Dubliners for 25 pesos!"

Here’s to that sense of accomplishment many of us feel, on those days when we can’t wait to get out of the mall because, surely, the bookstore guard would find us to say there has been a terrible error, about the price of the book we just bought, and won’t we be kind enough to walk back to the bookstore with him; you know, those days when we want to find the nearest exit before the bookstore manager or cashier or clerk realizes that someone, somewhere, had made a costly mistake.

To Jessica’s support group, I raise my list of five best book bargains.

  1. Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, at a flea market in Tomas Morato some 20 years ago: P5.
  2. Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, from a Philippine Library Materials Project per-kilo sale in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, also about 20 years ago: probably about P5 too.
  3. Robert Hughes’ Nothing if Not Critical, from a Honolulu second-hand bookshop, last May: $1.
  4. Richard Wilbur’s Responses, from one Booksale bin (I think), a long time ago: probably P30.
  5. The Stories of John Cheever, in that handsome, impossibly thick red paperback, early in the 1990s: P25.

Cheers!

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Oh, boy, is she talking about me?

"Poor guy." That, apparently, is what I am, because while it does seem that Sassy Lawyer is talking about me (she does drop a few hints, including the understandable factual error of calling the estimable Leo Magno a colleague of mine), she never names me or my blog. Worse, for someone who is acknowledged as the queen bee of the Philippine corner of the blogging hive, she commits the cardinal mistake of not linking to the matter under discussion. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t one of the principal promises of blogging the virtue of transparency? You know, power to the people, or the grassroots, or the citizen as particle of sovereignty, that sort of thing.

Sassy thinks I don’t like her. I am tempted to say this breathtaking act of mind-reading reminds me, too, of the bittersweet fate of unrequited love, especially in the time of cholera, but I must tell the unmagical truth. I don’t know her enough to like her or not like her.

Okay, I appreciate the e-mail. But I don’t need to rise to the obvious bait and attack back on the gutter level. The poor guy lives on that. If he had more substantial things to say–if he raises genuine issues and argues them out as a mature adult–I’d engage him in a discussion. But you know what? It’s personal to him. The guy simply doesn’t like me. And I have no right to insist that he does. His problem really is the inability to discern between an issue and its author whom he does not personally like. Hence, the personal attacks.

When one is in danger of swooning, try the corrective of facts. In Sassy’s case, may I refer to the three entries I’ve posted about her? I criticized her abusive treatment of Deannie Bocobo, using, among other means, an illustration of the argument from snide. I took issue with her position that the PCIJ warning of an imminent raid was premature. I also prepared to lay the groundwork against her proposal to impose an unconstitutional limitation on press freedom.

Were these personal attacks? I don’t think so. Or, to be more precise, only if Sassy cannot be criticized. (If I’m wrong, can someone kindly point me to the gutter level?) The thing is, if you take a look at some of her entries, and most especially at her deus-ex-machina comments, you will perhaps share my conclusion that it is Sassy herself who, in fact, resorts to the argumentum ad hominem, usually of the abusive variety.

As for Sassy’s second contention: What can I say but that she is egregiously mistaken?

It is about insecurity. Media, as an institution, is not the only one reacting. Individual media men are doing it too. And I am simply the best object of attack because I am only a blogger and I broke all the rules of the equation when I became an op-ed columnist. For people like him, it doesn’t matter what I write or what my position is in an issue–they will always disagree and be derisive because my being an op-ed columnist is not acceptable to them. They see themselves as above me, being true-blue journalists, and I, a mere blogger.

No, I don’t see myself as above Sassy, or any other blogger, for that matter. Anyone who actually knows me, or pays my writing any kind of attention, would know that. I think Sassy completely misreads the media situation (which also explains the jaw-dropping factual mistakes in her irresponsible column on yellow journalism last week). I hope I will have time later this week (before I leave for the beach!) to finally make my case. Suffice it to say for now that I criticize Sassy simply because (1) her views may have adverse consequences and (2) they are mistaken.

Nothing personal.

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Brawner’s gambit

He can tell the truth, but can he count? I was tempted to dismiss the rather forthright statement of election commissioner Felix Brawner, that the Commission of Elections had no choice but to dismiss any people’s initiative because of the absence of an enabling law, as a mere playing to the gallery. He was, after all, testifying before the Commission on Appointments, which is meeting to decide whether to confirm his appointment or not. It made for a nice contrast with the weaselly wisdom of Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos, who said the Comelec was prepared to help verify the signatures in the Malacanang-approved initiative-by-barangay-assembly.

“As soon as a petition is filed, we have no recourse but to dismiss the petition. There’s no implementing law,” Comelec Commissioner Romeo Brawner said during his confirmation hearing at the Commission on Appointments.

Then it occurred to me. The administration majority in the House, which is pushing Charter change through the initiative, is amply represented in the CA. All the administration needs to stop Brawner’s confirmation, or at least bypass it, is for one House member of the CA to blackball him. Surely the "no recourse but dismiss" answer, so clear even a Palace functionary can hear it, is not what Malacanang, the DILG, and the House majority had in mind?

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Cough relief

Would you believe it? After day-long sweltering heat, it started to rain a few minutes ago. I was up to get my medicine, and I heard the familiar but unwelcome sound of rain. The extremes in temperature (it must have been the mid-30s already the last few days, while in the car and in the office I would guess it’s the low 20s) had laid me low. Good thing I’ve discovered what Filipino Chinese (and broadcast journalists) have known for many years: the amazing Pei Pa Koa (“very popular for centuries because of its effectiveness and soothing taste”), which is now available even in candy (lozenge) form.

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Ah, lawyers!

The headline in this San Jose Mercury News story almost says it all: "Married man is suing for date."

John Claassen wants a date so badly he’s suing for one.

He’s taking eHarmony.com to court, because the popular online matchmaker refused to find him the perfect mate.

Why? Because he is married.

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Soldiers read surveys too

This took some time, but here, finally, goes nothing.

Despite John Marzan’s earnest good cheer I cannot but take surveys seriously. I think the best ones have done well over time to reflect Philippine experience as we know it. I like the example that Winnie Monsod has created, of a citizen intelligently coming to terms with survey results. (See here and here; her second column, however, takes a major extrapolatory leap that I cannot quite agree with.)

Public opinion polling is a tool that a modern democracy cannot do without, if it is to remain both modern and democratic. (So if Malacanang issues a new executive order or a new proclamation undermining the conduct of surveys, we should know what to think.) Like any tool, of course, surveys can be misused.

On to John’s comments:

1. I respect the work of both Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia, and (in the Philippine context) only those two. Ibon is an ideology in search of statistical validation; the many small ones that sprouted before the 1998 elections (showing Jose de Venecia gaining on Joseph Estrada, for example) and the 2004 vote (Proberz, to name only the most risible) are political operations disguised as opinion surveys.

2. Like many others, I have always tried to understand the Pulse and SWS surveys in context; when SWS released its flawed Metro Manila exit poll in 2004, I like many others felt disoriented, because the results were at such a variance with what we knew first or second hand. (SWS has since explained why that particular day-of-election survey turned out that way.)

3. John Marzan points out, in his first comment, "that the problem with this survey john nery is that there’s no "people power" option na pwedeng piliin sa survey." I agree, John. But the lumping together of the five resignation options Pulse Asia polled into one overall resignation category, with a rating of 59 percent, is Pulse Asia’s own doing. And that is the news hook Pulse Asia led its news release with. I see where I could possibly have been less than clear, when I wrote:

These days, with resignation in general terms the popular option, I think of the outrage gap in terms of the difference between those who want her to resign (all together, 59 percent of voting-age Filipinos) and those who are actually out in the streets, demanding her resignation.

What I meant by "out in the streets" was active participation in the political process, but not necessarily of the people-power kind. In general terms, I think John and I are in fact reading from the same page: we both think the five resignation options listed by Pulse Asia are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We simply can’t add the numbers up. But I do think that, in general terms, and based on my own reading of current political realities, a majority of voting-age Filipinos thinks of resignation as the popular option.

4. Did Joseph Estrada have good numbers back in late 2000 and early 2001? Relative to Gloria Arroyo’s dismal numbers, I guess the answer is yes. But relative to Estrada’s own previously stratospheric ratings, his net satisfaction index of positive 9 in December 2000 was in fact a fall from grace. (Again, I am uncomfortable with the use of net numbers, but that is what SWS and Pulse Asia offer us. But a look at both the gross satisfaction rating [44 percent, down from 49 from September 2000] and gross dissatisfaction rating [35, up from 31] suggests that Estrada was weakening politically.)

5. John suggests that the real moral of the story can be stated thus: "as long as you have the military’s support, you can do "people power", kahit na minority lang ang gustong magpabagsak sa isang presidente na katulad ni erap." In both people-power uprisings, the military was an active component. But contrary to what RAM leader Gregorio Honasan may still think, Edsa 1986 was led by civilians; the military played catch-up. Same thing in Edsa 2001; Gen. Angelo Reyes saw the people’s exuberant handwriting on the wall, and decided to withdraw support from the President who had deep-selected him. But in both instances, I think the military action (that of an ambitious minority in 1986, that of an anxious chain of command in 2001) only reflected currents in public opinion. In the February 26, 2006 "standoff" inside Marine headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Marine Col. Ariel Querubin called on what he must have thought was the key to public opinion to come to his side. "I hope the bishops will not forsake us." My own take on this: Soldiers read surveys too. They watch video footage of street protests. And they can do the math.

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Defending the right to make a fool of one’s self

I’ve been thinking about Connie Veneracion’s position on press freedom, which appeared in the Manila Standard Today last Tuesday. Some friends had asked me for my opinion on Sassy Lawyer’s deconstruction of "yellow journalism," as a working journalist myself. I am tempted to simply refer everyone who asked to Tocqueville’s chapter on "the liberty of the press." (It’s available on the Web, by the way, in one of the apparently many Henry Reeve translations.)

Of course, that would be a cop-out; allow me to find the time either today or tomorrow to put my thoughts in writing. (How do I know what I think, E. B. White wisely asked, unless I see it on paper?)

But I think Tocqueville strikes the right note: he is forced by an uncompromising realism to a weary, wary embrace of press freedom.

In my copy of Democracy in America (yup, another Henry Reeve translation), Tocqueville writes:

I confess that I do not entertain that firm and complete attachment to the liberty of the press which things that are supremely good in their very nature are wont to excite in the mind; and I approve of it more from a recollection of the evils it prevents than from a consideration of the advantages it ensures.

But once he had made the difficult decision to embrace the liberty of the press, he spares no effort in its defense.

But in the countries in which the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people ostensibly prevails, the censorship of the press is not only dangerous, but it is absurd. When the right of every citizen to co-operate in the government of society is acknowledged, every citizen must be presumed to possess the power of discriminating between the different opinions of his contemporaries, and of appreciating the different facts from which inferences may be drawn.

And there, right there, is where the press comes in.

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Sleeping with surveys

John Marzan was kind enough to leave two lengthy, thought-provoking comments, about my reading of the latest Pulse Asia survey. (They are also in his blog.) In a word, he gently suggests that I shouldn’t take surveys all that seriously. He says Joseph Estrada’s numbers were healthier than Gloria Arroyo’s, and yet he still found himself chased out of Malacanang.  I respect John’s point of view (I certainly don’t think we should base our decisions on surveys alone), but I will have to disagree with him on certain points. I do not have the time right now to respond to his generous inputs in the right way; I hope I can do so later tonight. But in the meantime, may I suggest that we consult the archives of the Social Weather Stations?

Unfortunately, the SWS website does not have permalinks to specific files; still, the surveys are easy to find. Go to the site, click on news releases, scroll down to 2000 and then to 2001, and then click on the appropriate story.

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V for Validation

Saw V for Vendetta last night. It was, to misuse Graham Greene’s terminology, an entertainment, more The Third Man rather than The Power and the Glory. There is, to be sure, no mistaking its power, but it is the power of a cartoon.

The New York Times was not very kind to the movie; Manohla Dargis was little more than snide. (The wonderful Janet Maslin, James Agee’s true heir in the art of discovering saving graces in even the worst movies, has unfortunately migrated to the book reviews.) Dargis asks:

Is the man in the mask who wants to make Parliament go boom Osama bin Laden or Patrick Henry? Or just a Phantom of the Opera clone who likes to kick back to the cult sounds of Antony and the Johnsons? Your guess is as good as mine, and I’ve seen the film.

I share her views about the unresolved ambiguity in V’s character, as played by Hugo Weaving; I found it disconcerting to hear the elaborately enunciated phrasing of "Agent Smith" (in the Matrix trilogy) issue from the Guy Fawkes mask V wore to hide the mutant within.

The otherwise agreeable David Denby in the New Yorker was not snide, but he didn’t find much to recommend in the movie. His lead was a cutting summary:

"V for Vendetta,” a dunderheaded pop fantasia that celebrates terrorism and destruction, is perhaps the ultimate example of how a project with modest origins becomes a media monster.

It’s true; V for Vendetta has the compelling inner logic of a comic book; that is to say, it follows the logic of images. The destruction of the Houses of Parliament in London makes for great visual, but the logistics behind it (apparently, V’s bomb-laden train and the new tracks he built over several years did not require the work of more than one man) are loopy — or at least a fantasy.

But on the whole, my own take on the movie is closer to the generally positive if still-somewhat puzzled reviews in the Boston Globe, by Ty Burr, or the Houston Chronicle, by Amy Biancolli. Burr writes:

"V for Vendetta" wants you to wonder how much of this sounds familiar, and, worse, how much of it might become familiar with a few twists of history’s tail. Then it wants you to root for the masked man who plans to blow it all up. Is he a terrorist or a freedom fighter, and what, exactly, defines the difference? The Wachowski brothers think they know. Anyone who gives thought to the matter may respond with one of their screenplay’s favorite words: Bollocks.

The set piece of violence that caps the movie is like illicit sex: Exciting while it lasts, and then you hate yourself in the morning.

Biancolli is the first (at least in the eight or so reviews I’ve read this morning, courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes) to raise the possibility that, on one level, the movie is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

V atomizes the Old Bailey courthouse in the movie’s opening spectacle, and he plans something similar for Parliament. He also plans to eliminate a long list of fascist nasties who had abused him in the past, a tragic back story being the key to every anti-hero. He is exquisitely, rapturously lonely — lonely in a minor key, with roses. When he rescues a woman (an impassioned Natalie Portman), she becomes his accomplice, then his prisoner, then his friend. He grows to love her in his silent, wounded way (despite torturing her later on: minor point). But still, he never removes his mask. She cannot transform this Beast.

PS. How could I have ended my post without so much as a glance at Natalie Portman? (Well, I had to rush to work.) Portman is a magnetic presence;  she is the movie’s emotional core, the fragile repository of the audience’s sympathies.  (I had problems with the consistency of her English accent, though.) Without her, it would have been a completely different movie.

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The outrage gap: A possible explanation

I did not mean to suggest last Friday that with the latest Pulse Asia survey President Arroyo can now rest easy.  While none of the resignation options constituted a plurality, public dissatisfaction with the President is still considerable. But why aren’t more people out in the streets?

The very first entry I posted, eight months ago, raised the question of the outrage gap. To be sure, I thought of the gap then in terms of the difference between those who thought the President committed election fraud and those who wanted her to resign.

There is, then, this seeming disconnect between public perception of the President’s "lapse in judgment" and the present lack of solid support for her resignation. Let’s call that difference the outrage gap.

These days, with resignation in general terms the popular option, I think of the outrage gap in terms of the difference between those who want her to resign (all together, 59 percent of voting-age Filipinos) and those who are actually out in the streets, demanding her resignation.

The latest Pulse Asia survey suggests a possible explanation. (In truth, the previous survey, conducted in October, already carried the same possibly explanatory results, but I did not realize it then.)

Consider the following table. Only 19 percent of voting-age Filipinos consider the possibility of GMA continuing in office as the "most inimical" scenario. (Pulse Asia, by the way, posts the wrong Tagalog question underneath the table.)

That total is down from 21 percent in October; very much within the margin of error, of course, but perhaps the downward movement means something?

At any rate, here it seems to me is one possible explanation for the outrage gap, as redefined. While it seems a statistical majority of voting-age Filipinos prefer to see Arroyo resign, only a fifth consider her continuing in office the worst thing that can happen to the country.  That could mean that, roughly speaking, two-thirds of all voting-age Filipinos who want her out are actually prepared to live and let live.

Of course there may be other explanations. (I have never been for reductionist explanations; I am always wary of the guy in the room who says the problem or the solution is simple — even or especially if that guy is me.) The government crackdown may have cowed some from venturing into the parliament of the streets; the presence of moral exemplars like Imee Marcos and JV Ejercito may have cooled the ardor of some in the pro-resignation ranks;  the active and high-profile participation of leftist politicians may have struck the fear of God in others; and so on and so forth.

But it seems to me that that particular "live and let live" index bears watching — perhaps no longer as a harbinger of people power, but still as an omen of change.

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A favorite photo

Last year, and following Jove Francisco’s example, I used to link to non-political stuff for weekend reading. I’ve never done it for weekend viewing though. Looks like it’s as good a time as any to start.

This is one of my favorite photos: It’s over a hundred years old, and shows two writers without peer, sizing up each other and the camera. Chekhov’s gaze is sympathetic, the look of a secular saint who worked himself to death; Tolstoy’s stare is suspicious, even jealous, the demanding look of an impossible ascetic who eventually ran away from home.

And this is something I just viewed today: the first film ever taken of Tolstoy and his beloved country estate (Yasnaya Polyana). Fascinating, and all too short.

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Taking our pulse

The latest Pulse Asia survey is, yet again, an inkblot test for these parlous, politically divisive times — that is to say, there is something in it for both Enteng Romano of the Black and White Movement and Bong Austero of I-am-angry email fame.

The headline in the Inquirer today is straight out of the Pulse Asia news release.  That is to say, the adding up of the 59 percent who want President Arroyo to resign and the 6 percent who want her removed through either a coup or foreign intervention is Pulse Asia’s own computation. I do recall reading something from Romano’s reply to the Austero email (at that time, still largely "anonymous") about the surveys; that the President’s numbers actually showed that a majority of Filipinos want her out of Malacanang. The aggregate numbers in this latest survey, even a first reading of the results will show, favor Romano.

But the devil is in the details, yes? When the numbers are broken down into their constituent parts, the very notion of a consensus crumbles.

Let us discount the 6 percent who prefer a forcible removal; it seems to me that the violence implied in this option makes it qualitatively different from the options for resignation — and thus, quite possibly, anathema to a majority of Filipinos.

Let’s deal with the 59 percent who say they want Arroyo to resign:

  • 16 percent say they want GMA to resign and a snap election held
  • 14 percent say they want VP Noli de Castro to take over
  • 12 percent say they want both GMA and Noli to resign, followed by a snap election
  • 10 percent say they want GMA to be replaced by a temporary council
  • 7 percent say they want Noli to temporarily take over "while preparing for a new government under a new Constitution"

On the other hand, 34 percent say they want GMA to continue:

  • 23 percent say until her term ends in 2010
  • 11 percent say until a new parliamentary set-up is ready, even before 2010

Of all possible options, then, the continue-the-course-until-2010 actually ends up with the plurality — an interpretation that favors Austero. Are we splitting political hairs? Possibly. But since politics is the realm of the possible, we need to look at the actual scenarios the pollster used in the survey.

One more ink-blot example.

The increase in the number of Visayas respondents who say, in the aggregate, that GMA should resign (from 47 in October to 59 in March) should be worrying for the President; the Visayas, after all, has always been her bailiwick. But the swing in "middle-class" sentiment, while still (barely) within the margin of error, should boost her morale. From 62 percent in October 2005, the number of Filipinos in the influential demographic classes ABC who preferred her resignation fell to 57 percent in March — still a statistical majority, but a conspicuous change nevertheless. 

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The numbers game, again

Now this is more like it.

Leaders of the House opposition said Thursday they will revive their bid to impeach President Arroyo in July as soon as they get the 79 votes needed for the complaint to prosper.

"We would think once, twice, thrice before filing it if we don’t have the required votes yet of 79 upon filing. We wouldn’t want to fall into the same trap of filing with less than the required 79," House Minority Leader Francis Escudero told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines at [the] Mandarin Oriental, Makati City.

I think the political opposition should come to terms with the fact that the numbers game in the impeachment process actually favors the minority. The political opposition rationalized its failure to gather the 79 signatures it needed to push the impeachment case against the President on to the Senate as yet another sordid example of the tyranny of the majority. Nonsense. In impeachment cases, the Constitution actually allows a minority to trump the majority of congressmen; Escudero should know, having been involved in the originally successful attempt to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide on October 23, 2003.

Now if he and his allies can only keep a low profile while they do the hard work of sourcing signatures. Why telegraph one’s punches?

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A matter of timing 2

Something struck me when I read the Agence France Presse report on Brother Eddie Villanueva’s revelations about so-called transition governments. Unlike the Inq7 story (reported by Joel Francis Guinto, and which narrowed the time frame to late 2005), the AFP report said Villanueva received the feelers "shortly after" the 2004 elections.

This may only be a mistake, perhaps written (or edited in) by someone who does not appreciate the nuance. But it seems to me there is a world of difference between the immediate aftermath of the May 2004 elections, when President Arroyo’s million-vote margin was by and large accepted as fact by a campaign-weary public, and late 2005, when the Hello, Garci tapes had already pushed public opinion decisively in the opposite direction.

A plan to establish a transition government "shortly after" May 2004? That sounds like an ouster plot in search of a justification. If Brother Eddie was quoted correctly, then I think he owes it to the public to explain whether the plotters "shortly after" the elections were the same plotters in late 2005. Does it matter? Yes, I think it does. At the very least, it will help us put things in greater perspective.

Again, and despite the acute crisis of legitimacy that continues to afflict the President, I do not think that a transition government provides the answer. Let’s think about it: Replace an official whose mandate is disputed, precisely because that mandate is in dispute, with personalities who have no mandate at all? Call me naive or a rank optimist, but I still think that the crisis can be resolved by our democratic institutions — yes, despite the shape they’re in. I still think the courts will decide against the creeping encroachments of Proclamation 1017, Executive Order 464, and even the administration’s calibrated preemptive response. (Well, maybe they’ll fudge the last one.) I still think the impeachment process can be made to work. I still think the key lies in electing an impeachment Congress in 2007.

But I do realize that the transition-government idea became more attractive, or at least more rationalizable, after the Garcillano tapes surfaced.  The Garci tapes, and the evident attempts at cover-up that came after they were circulated, are the crux. They are the dividing line. Plotters B.G. (before Garcillano) simply could not stomach the idea of six more years of the Arroyo presidency. Regardless of mandate, they wanted her out. Plotters A.G. saw their worst suspicions confirmed, or had their eyes opened.

If we buy the sales pitch of pre-Garci transition-government plotters, well, caveat emptor.

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A matter of timing

Here’s another puzzle that’s time-related. In today’s Inq7 breaking-news report, Brother Eddie Villanueva said he was asked by certain persons (whom he could not name because of a "gentleman’s agreement") to join a transition government in late 2005. But the AFP report said Villanueva, who of course ran for the presidency in May 2004 and lost, was approached "shortly after" the elections.

Same difference, right? Actually, no. Let’s discuss this a little later at greater length.

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Crying wolf?

Manolo Quezon refers readers to counters a recent post by Sassy Lawyer, which holds a different view about the legal threat the PCIJ now faces. Sassy’s lead sums up her view succinctly:

For those who e-mailed about the “threatened” issuance of a search warrant against PCIJ, I have this to say: it is premature to raise hell.

A commenter seconded Sassy, saying the controversy brought to mind the fable of the boy who cried wolf.

Fair enough, I should think. If, as Borges wrote, every writer creates his own precursors, every reader can discover in the given text his own allusions. But the real question is: When is the right time to raise hell? And did the PCIJ, in fact, raise hell?

Both Sheila Coronel and PCIJ’s counsel (disconcertingly enough, also surnamed Coronel) reported the unusual circumstances behind the attempt to source a search warrant against the PCIJ. The circumstances form part of a pattern; to miss the pattern is to refuse to see the evidence of our own eyes. Were they wrong in relating the facts to and expressing their fears before a Senate committee?

Besides, when is the right time to ask for help? Should the PCIJ have waited for the police to knock on their doors, before telling the public what they had found out days before? Perhaps Sassy Lawyer’s legalistic, or shall we say even literalist, view, assumes — wrongly, I think — that media organizations like the PCIJ have a lot of room for legal maneuver. Like other journalists now in the administration’s crosshairs, they did not, and still do not, have the luxury of time.

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April Fool’s

Expect the next round of speculative news to center on the resignation ("effective April 1, 2006 or as soon as my successor is appointed, whichever comes first,") of Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo. The news comes a week after Benipayo admitted the weakness of the Arroyo administration’s legal position in oral arguments on Proclamation 1017 before the Supreme Court.

(Here, as in the United States,  the Solicitor General is the government’s chief lawyer, with responsibility for arguing the government’s cases before the Supreme Court.)

"He told me he was resigning. He said he wanted to go back to private life," his boss, the Secretary of Justice, Raul Gonzalez, told INQ7.net. Considering the Orwellian doublespeak this administration has become known for, I wonder what a return to private life really means.

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Chilling

It pains me to hear Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo press the case for 1017, especially its intrusion into journalistic territory. He was a respected journalist himself, and I have always found him to be one of the Arroyo administration’s best, most lucid spokesmen. But his argument for an expanded government role in media is, fundamentally, beside the point.

The point is not that the raid on the Tribune and the posting of soldiers to ABS-CBN and GMA have failed to cool the usually aggressive Philippine media; the point is that, had journalists not raised a howl, the administration’s many agents would have, in all certainty, launched more incursions. There would have been a second raid, and then a third.

Saludo’s argument can be summed up simply enough: What chilling effect? The media continues to operate, and even to criticize the President and her men. But this is like telling a man using an umbrella: Rain, you say? You’re not even wet.

Exactly. The media outrage after 1017 went into full effect (complete with ominous anti-media Whereas clause) was the profession’s way of raising the umbrella. We may not be soaked, but that doesn’t mean the rain isn’t pounding.

PS. Incidentally, Dan Mariano is right. It is the Arroyo administration, not the Arroyo government.

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Separated at birth

Just realized who police general Vidal Querol reminds me of: Francisco Tatad, but without curling sneer or auto-didactic wit. Listening to him explain, say, why Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel was not arrested but merely invited gives me the creeps, not only because of what he’s saying, but also because of how he says it.

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EDSA 20: Download

Courtesy of Inq7.net’s estimable JV Rufino, the entire EDSA 20: Isang Larawan documentary is now available on the Internet, for viewing and for downloading. Free of charge, of course. I just tried the connection, and at least from the office, the download is fast, efficient. Please click here if you want to take a look.

Edsa20

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Front page

Last Monday, incidentally, we used a photo of Manolo Quezon on the front page of Inquirer Compact. Since the title is available only in provincial Luzon, I doubt if our essential blogger has seen a copy of that issue. Well, here’s an enlargeable image.

Compactfeb27

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A clumsy mistake

Okay, Proclamation 1017 has been lifted. Now what?

Secretary Raul Gonzalez seems to think the media (a principal target of the presidential proclamation) has learned its lesson.

Gonzalez added that one thing he learned from Proclamation 1017 was that even the "most rebellious media were intimidated by the proclamation and [as a result] had begun to reexamine their policies."

(Maria Ressa of ABS-CBN issued an immediate rejoinder: "We will not be intimidated.")

A more candid (or more cunning?) presidential adviser, ex-stock analyst and incumbent Albay congressman Joey Salceda, has a completely different take. He thinks the crackdown on media was absolutely ill-advised and decidedly counter-productive: it was, he says, "a clumsy and silly mistake." I will have to wait for tomorrow’s paper to be uploaded, before I can link to the story. But let me insert the image of tomorrow’s front page of the Inquirer Compact, to give anyone curious enough an advance look. (Please click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image.)

Compactmar4

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