Monthly Archives: September 2006

The rich are different from you and me

They have electricity. Manolo linked to the page one photo that appeared in today’s Inquirer (through the link). That photo was taken Thursday night by Jim Guiao Punzalan (the photographer I worked with on Unholy Nation: Stories from a Gambling Republic). Today’s issue of Inquirer Compact (please click on the image) used another photo from the same series. Compact_sept302006



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“A snob, an elitist, a deserter”

The memoirs of favorite critic Robert Hughes (see this poor attempt at appreciating a book I had not yet read; I wrote this note too) have finally reached the other side of the Atlantic. Christopher Hitchens has warm, personal praise (and a biting bit or two of criticism) in The Nation. He evidently knows the author well, which helps explain the source of the following insight:

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Thai coup: Pre-text or reason?

To get my bearings on last night’s coup in Thailand, I (naturally) consulted the pages of the Nation, the country’s best newspaper. (I’ve met some of the Nation’s editors; I wish them well.)  The following unsigned "Comment" is a precise balancing act, but I think it leaves no doubt about the damage sustained by Thailand’s democratic project.

Onus now on coup leaders to restore trust of the people

They proclaimed to be doing it in the name of democracy, to wipe out rampant corruption and to rehabilitate a badly divided nation. Now the coupmakers have to prove their intent. And unlike those before them, the Thai armed forces leaders who seem to have overthrown caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup, have very little time to do so.

The world is watching and scrutinising. To many democracy lovers, Thaksin’s downfall, engineered by top military officers, led by Army CommanderinChief Sonthi Boonyaratklin, turned back the clock on Thailand’s political development.

The use of military force, instead of a free and fair election, to change government can hardly be condoned in a democratic society like ours, let alone the fact that the coup took place just months before the country was due to hold a general elecฌtion.

The coupmakers are luckier than those before them in that much of society now believes they have done the wrong thing for the right reason. But the perception that this is something done in good faith will be extremely fragile. Public trust in power in the hands of men with guns can last as long as the smoke that follows when a shot is fired.

The slower the coupmakers are in the pledged transfer of power back to the people, the more Thaksin will look like a "pretext" and not the "reason" for the power seizure. Today, he is seen as a seriously flawed political leader, who had tried to propagate and perpetuate a culture of corruption and deceit that threatened to undermine democracy as we knew it.

Throughout his five and a half years in power, he was exposed as a greedy politician who had pursued selfinterest at the expense of public good. Even called a tyrannical leader by some, he was accused of rolling back civil liberties, suppressing dissenting voices, not to menฌtion his flagrant violation of human rights as part of a sinister design to dominate and then monopolise political power so as to indulge in corrupt practices unimpeded.   

Ideally, the likes of Thaksin should be rejected at the ballot box or through public pressure in the form of peaceful protests. The problem is most people did not believe both options available to them would succeed in removing him from power. To many people the military coup against Thaksin may be a necessary evil.

But make no mistake, the seizure of power, albeit one that was achieved without the loss of lives, is nonetheless a form of political violence that is incompatible with the democratic aspirations of the Thai people. Democratic aspirations will live on even as the Constitution has already been abrogated by the coup leaders.

The spirit of democracy that undermined Thaksin’s apparent omnipresence will now shift its watchful eyes to the coup leaders.

The Administrative Reform Council has pledged allegiance to democracy under the constitutional monarchy and cited Thaksin’s corruptionprone leadership and his disrespect for the monarchy as justification for the coup. But it cannot be emphasised enough that the coup party has now also concentrated all power of government in its own hand unrestrained by public accountability or system of checks and balances.

The coup group wanted the public to take them at their own word that they would do their best to implement needed reform and rid politics of corruption for now. They will be expected to promise to return sovereign power to the people, organise a free and fair election and then ensure a smooth transfer of power to the next democraticallyelected civilian government.

We expect the coup group to make clear how exactly it will implement its plans to restore democracy in this country, complete with defฌinite timeframes.

A transitional government headed by a respected and politicallyneutral civilian leader with unblemished personal integrity must be installed and a provisional parliament must be set up to draft a new constitution within specific timeframes leading up to a fresh general election and a return to democracy.

Once a transitional government is installed, all coup leaders must submit to the authority of the new civilian leader and bring back their troops to the barracks.

They must also prove beyond any reasonable doubt that they do not seek personal gains from the absolute power they now hold or intend to retain indirect control of the provisional government for ulterior motives.

It must be stressed that the first task of the coup group is to restore the confidence of both democracyloving Thais as well as the international community and foreign investors that democracy will be restored and this time democratic development will be sustainable and democฌracy will come equipped with inbuilt selfcorrecting mechanisms so that military coups will be put to rest for good.


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Cheap money, everyone

Today’s Businessworld story on EO 558 has a humdinger of a quote. It begins by placing the latest news in context:

Government financial institutions (GFIs) have joined the assembly of groups calling for the recall of a Palace order allowing government agencies and state corporations to extend credit.

The Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) wrote Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves recently to express their objection to President Gloria Macapagal’s Executive Order (EO) 558 issued on August 8.

Several paragraphs later, the story quotes from the letter of Rosalina de la Paz-Magat, a senior vice president at DBP.

"Direct lending by GNFAs and GOCCs will not achieve the goal of instilling market and credit discipline," she said.

I know, I know. Not exactly a blockbuster quote, at least at first glance. But consider the ultimate audience of her letter (not Teves, but President Arroyo, who as we all know is an economist by profession and a believer in free markets), and that understated warning takes on a whole new meaning. The bank official is, in effect, using the President’s own language (market dynamics, credit discipline) to criticize the new EO.

The new policy — or, rather, the return to the old, discredited policy of using GNFAs (that’s government non-financial agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture) and GOCCs (government-owned or -controlled corporations) to lend cheap money at subsidized rates, a la Masagana 99 — doesn’t strike us as an economist’s measure. The old EO had rationalized credit (again, to use the President’s econo-speak); the new one effectively politicizes a billion-peso part of it.

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Cheap money, anyone?

Who needs Charter change, when the bright boys in the Palace learn their history lessons all too well? In the last few days, Businessworld has run stories on a new and obscure Executive Order that has potential "pork barrel" uses. (It has another such story today, on its front page, but it’s hidden behind a subscriber’s wall.)

The Inquirer has a two-part series on EO 558 too. The opening paragraphs of the first part should give us a solid look at the issues involved:

After a six-year hiatus, the government is once more heading down the money-losing path of dole-outs and subsidized loans, thanks to a little-known order signed recently by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

More alarmingly, critics of the President believe, the timing of this 180-degree shift in government policy has "sinister" undertones, coming only months before the 2007 national and local elections, slated to be a litmus test of the Arroyo administration.

EO 558, signed last August, repealed EO 138 issued by President Joseph Estrada in 1999.

Back then, the Estrada order was received as a pleasant surprise by the business community, since it effectively put an end to the distribution of "behest loans" via government financial institutions (GFIs) and government-owned or controlled corporations (GOCCs).

Today, the Arroyo order — a sparse one-page memo that provides no explanation for the policy — is being received with raised eyebrows and sometimes amazement by the few people who are familiar with its implications.

"Potentially, I think this EO may be sinister," House Minority Floor Leader Francis Escudero said in an interview. "It could be related to the 2007 elections or ‘Cha-cha’ [Charter change — the Arroyo administration’s attempt to shift to a parliamentary form of government]."

The opposition stalwart opined that widening the government’s distribution channels for cheap loans was one sure way to win points with local government units and people at the grassroots level to support President Arroyo’s political agenda.

If we listen to the complaints of GFI executives, and we compare the documents at hand, and we consider what has taken place since the Garci scandal erupted, we’d think there was something sinister in this about-face on policy too.

President Arroyo’s EO 558 can be found here. Joseph Estrada’s EO 138 of 1999, which 558 repealed, can be accessed here. EO 138’s operating guidelines are here. In 1999, the Department of Finance wrote an overview of the 138 breakthrough. The first two graphs read:

The year 1999 was a milestone in so far as Government’s efforts to provide an efficient and effective credit delivery system to the disadvantaged sectors of the country are concerned. In line with its mandate, the National Credit Council, as chaired by the DOF, spearheaded the campaign toward the rationalization of all government directed-credit programs. This resulted in the issuance by the President on August 10, 1999, of Executive Order No. 138 directing all government entities involved in the implementation of credit programs to adopt the credit policy guidelines formulated by the NCC. The EO is anchored on the following basic policy principles:

  • Greater role of the private sector in the provision of financial services to the basic sectors;
  • Adoption of market-oriented financial policies by leveling the playing field to encourage a competitive credit environment;
  • Government to provide an enabling policy environment, critical support services and capability building services that will facilitate the increased participation of the private sector in the delivery of financial services; and
  • Non-participation of Government non-financial agencies and government-owned or controlled corporations in the implementation of government credit programs.

That last bullet point is where, amazingly, the Estrada administration bit the bullet.

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Tony Blair wants his mommy

This AFP story on wins my vote for, ah, most unexpected headline of the year: "Blair’s anxious tummy rub reveals the helpless child within"

LONDON — Awkward questions over British involvement in Iraq expose Prime Minister Tony Blair’s helpless inner child, a psychologist said Tuesday after studying the body language of the country’s politicians.

Dr Peter Collett, of Oxford University, told a science conference that Blair has a habit of touching his stomach in stressful situations, which effectively translates as: "I want my mommy."

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“I will not apologize” and don’t have this story yet, but the Beta version of the new GMA site,, already has a take on Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano’s presscon-turned-privilege speech.

"Madam President, Atty. (Jose Miguel) Mike Arroyo, I am not sorry,“ Cayetano said in his opening statement.

“It is not because I cannot humble myself if I made a mistake, but the administration refused to allow us to present evidence in the committee on justice. You refuse to sign the waiver and so far the bank certification has not proven the impeachment team wrong," he added.

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Why Congressman Cayetano must apologize

Bad democracy; good politics. That, in sum, is why it seems to me Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano should swallow his pride and "apologize" to the First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo.

Regardless of what Cayetano personally thinks of the "evidence" he says he has gathered, proving that Mike Arroyo had a secret bank account in Germany, he remains the accuser. And in our system, the burden of proof lies with him. Despite what we may think about the accused, it is not his responsibility to show proof; it is the accuser’s. From what I understand of the matter, Cayetano refuses to show the proof he says he has unless it were in the context of the impeachment process.  That is unfortunate, because it reinforces the sweet-talking congressman’s reputation as a Senator wannabe, with the "new" accusation against Mike Arroyo a mere political stunt. Surely the good congressman knows that an accusation is different from an actual information (as a filed case is called in our corner of the world). His accusation against Mike Arroyo needs, how shall we say this, the political equivalent of a preliminary investigation. But from what I understand, Cayetano wants to go straight to trial.

My point: Whenever we upend one of the cardinal tenets of the rule of law, we are (whether we realize it or not) undermining democracy itself. But that is exactly what we’re doing, when we shift the burden of proof from accuser to accused.

But an "apology," as President Arroyo has herself demanded, also makes sense tactically — that is, as politics. Bear with me.

Of the key charges brought against the President since the Garci wiretapping scandal broke, only this accusation, that the President’s husband and his family have kept millions of dollars in secret bank accounts, has received this kind of direct, point-by-point, let’s-skip-the-niceties refutation. All the others have been met with sweeping denials, glittering in their generalities.

I am not concerned, for the moment, with what exactly Mike Arroyo and his lawyers have said, or what kind of certification they said they received from the German bank. Instead, I am struck by the fact that stares us in the face: for the first time since the "I am sorry" speech (in which former Senate President Frank Drilon had some part), the President has come right out and given a direct denial of an accusation.

My question is: Why only now? And why only this one?

In contrast, the charge of election fraud — which remains the most potent, the most "impeachable," of them all — was met with an apology that did not mention specifics, a philosophical approach that sought to both dilute the guilt and spread the blame to others in the political class, a legal tack that emphasized the lack of a proper legal forum for revisiting the vote, and (not least) a political juggernaut, fueled by so-called prejudicial questions, that crushed everything in its way.

This contrast should make us wonder: Did the President blunder? Did she make an outstanding mistake when she oh-so-publicly endorsed her husband’s unusual defense strategy? That strategy, Cayetano’s present predicament should not keep us from noticing, is based on something radical: doing away with the processes allowed under law. In other words, Mike Arroyo took the burden of proof upon himself, even though he was the accused.

My question is: Why can’t the President do the same with the other charges? The sound, legal, democratic answer is, because the burden lies with her accusers.

But Mike Arroyo’s blitzkrieg, and the President’s stand-by-her-man speech yesterday, now casts a pall on the administration’s by-the-book approach. Do you get what I mean? It is the absence of a similar approach, against the more serious charges, that is quite telling.

And that is why I think Cayetano should apologize. Done right, an apology will make that absence ever-present to the public.


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Bound by blog

When I read Dominique’s post about enplaning to Manila just to attend the Philippine Book Fair, it occurred to me that I might bump into him. Today, with everyone in tow, I made it to the World Trade Center. Somewhere between Fully Booked and National, I saw Dominique (whom, you must understand, I had never met before). I ran after him, and then said, "You must be Dominique, right?" He replied, "You must be John." Amazing, I thought, when I had gathered the books my family bought and shepherded everyone to the car. We had recognized each other in the real world because we blog.


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Post, continued

I had always wanted to use "continued posts" — not because clicking on a "Continue reading" link would add to my blog stats (although, to be completely candid, that is not an unwelcome benefit), but because I had always wanted a "varied" look and feel to this particular corner of the world. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought then and still think now, if long posts were followed by short ones, if political posts (complete) would alternate with non-political (clickable, continued-post) entries? But I only signed up for Typepad’s basic service, and when I asked our (remarkably helpful) help desk, I was told, with much regret, that the continued-post feature was available only for Plus and Pro subscribers. Not wanting to add more money to the world’s largest economy (Typepad, of course, is based in the US), I thought that that was, well, that. Until last week, when I realized that the feature was now available to all Typepad subscribers (regardless of their contribution to the US GNP). In the continuous stream of improvements that come the subscriber’s way, I must have missed the memo on post continuation. Well, better late than never. Now I can do

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The next killer app

When Nick goes looking for coconuts, it almost always pays to follow the trail. Today he found Ronald’s honest take on politics, Philippine style. (As I’ve written before, I’ve always thought of the rejuvenated Liberal party as one of the principal casualties of President Arroyo’s crisis of legitimacy.)

Reading Ronald reminded me of something he had written after we both guested, together with Sassy Lawyer, on Che-Che Lazaro’s media issues show. He had recapped his "interventions" in the discussion (something I wanted to do, too, but never got around to doing). His third point, in particular, was especially thought-provoking.

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Senate possibilities

Pulse Asia has just released the results of a survey it took a couple of months ago, about the voting public’s preferred candidates for the Senate. Pulse_senate_july_2006_1(Someone described some of the results to me about two weeks ago.) I guess if the administration plan to eliminate the Senate pushes through, next year’s winners will be (as Woody Allen wrote of the peculiar fate that awaits atheists after death) "all dressed up and nowhere to go." I’m attaching the first of two pages, showing the first 35 names; the second page can be accessed on the Pulse website. (Again, please click on the inserted image to enlarge it.) Naturally, a caveat must be said: It is still early days, so the rankings will change as the election approaches. In the meantime, let the number-crunching games begin. (For a start, note how more people are "aware" of Chiz Escudero than of Alan Peter Cayetano, but more people said they were willing to vote for the latter than the former.)

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