Column: Losing trust in Gloria

Published October 23, 2007

It bewilders me when even pragmatic businessmen like Babe Romualdez describe Sen. Panfilo Lacson as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “archenemy.” This is a misreading of the situation that flatters Lacson but undermines the efforts of the loyal opposition.

That he is on the opposite side of wherever it is President Arroyo finds herself is almost a given. But archenemy? That sounds almost like he is to Ms Arroyo what Ninoy Aquino was to Ferdinand Marcos.

But Aquino worked closely with Gerry Roxas and Jovy Salonga and Pepe Diokno and the old man Tañada (the only person, incidentally, to be elected to the postwar Senate five consecutive times). I cannot think of a single senator today who seems less disposed to work with other opposition senators than Lacson. (Begin by watching his body language on the Senate floor.)

The enmity between Aquino and Marcos was also real; perhaps there, too, is bad blood between Lacson and Ms Arroyo. But I remember the first time she visited the Inquirer after she assumed the presidency. It was December 2001. At convivial cocktails (those were the days), editors and reporters took turns sitting across from her and firing questions. When it was my turn, I asked her about the palpable animosity between Lacson, Joseph Estrada’s favorite policeman, and her spokesman and confidant, Bobi Tiglao (now the ambassador to Greece). Did her spokesman reflect her own attitude to (at that time) the newly elected senator?

I was struck by her answer: “I think Bobi is more hawkish about Ping than I am.”

* * *

To be sure, a lot of water has since passed under the proverbial bridge. For those who spend much of their time imagining an alternative ending to Fernando Poe Jr.’s presidential candidacy in 2004, however, those waters are decidedly murky. Poe’s supporters see Lacson as the spoiler, the illegitimate candidate who split the opposition. How many of the three million votes he received would have gone to FPJ, they continue to wonder.

It must be admitted, however: Since entering the Senate, Lacson has created a popular reputation for damaging exposés. In no small measure, he is responsible for the President’s low opinion ratings. But as I have written before, Lacson’s impact is felt through his influence in media, not his work in legislation or in organizing the opposition. He is merely the gatekeeper of secrets about to be revealed in Senate hearings, the dark angel hovering over the tracks of the First Gentleman, the overflowing source of anti-Arroyo statements. (Other senators envy his access to various media organizations.)

In “The Image,” Daniel Boorstin defined celebrity in the modern era as the state of being well-known; a celebrity is someone known for being known. That makes sense to me: Lacson is the anti-Gloria celebrity.

* * *

Does that mean he is the anti-Gloria leader, the fulcrum of the opposition? If Speaker Jose de Venecia met with him last August under that misimpression, then there is no help for the gentleman from Pangasinan province. He will be replaced when Congress session resumes next month.

* * *

The widespread belief that the Arroyo administration, or rogue elements in it, could be behind the Oct. 19 explosion in Glorietta offers more proof — if more proof were needed — that Malacañang has lost the public’s trust.

Is it possible, not merely to quantify, but to “monetize,” this loss of trust?

“Where is the Wealth of All Nations?” the landmark World Bank study, offers a general answer.

* * *

Let me quote at length from the start of Chapter 7: “The wealth estimates show that in most countries produced and natural capital account for a small fraction [only 22 percent in the Philippines] of total wealth. Most of a country’s wealth is captured by what we called intangible capital. But what does intangible capital stand for in the wealth estimates? By construction, it captures all those assets that are unaccounted for in the wealth estimates. It then includes assets, referred to as human capital, such as the skills and know-how embodied in the labor force. It also encompasses social capital, that is, the amount of trust among people in a society and their ability to work together for common purposes. Finally, it includes those governance elements that boost the productivity of the economy. For example, if an economy has a very efficient judicial system, clear property rights, and an effective government, the effects will be a higher total wealth and thus an increase in the intangible capital residual.”

Got that? I didn’t either, not in the first two or three passes. (It explains why the country’s GDP is half that of Singapore while its total wealth is only a tenth of that of the tiny city-state.) But a companion study issued by the World Bank, “Ensuring Environmental Sustainability,” contains a sidebar that makes it possible for non-economists like us to appreciate the possibilities. All told, the other study concludes, “three factors account for 89 percent of intangible wealth.” That would be the rule of law, education and remittances.

The clincher: “A one-point increase in the rule of law index (on a 100-point scale) boosts total wealth by over $100 in low-income countries, over $400 in middle-income countries, and nearly $3,000 in high-income countries.”

Conversely? Conversely we would have to do our own math. But perhaps the resulting numbers can help make the case even economists — like, say, President Arroyo — can understand. Loss of trust in public institutions and the rule of law is costing us real money.

1 Comment

Filed under Newsstand: Column

One response to “Column: Losing trust in Gloria

  1. “They the best of us, & they were the worst of us.”

    Joseph Estrada:“On September 12, 2007, the Sandiganbayan finally gave its decision, finding Joseph Estrada not guilty on his perjury case and guilty of plunder “beyond reasonable doubt.” He was sentenced to Reclusión perpetua.”(Wikipedia)

    Ferdinand Marcos:“Many despised Ferdinand Marcos’ regime, his silencing the free press, his dictatorial control, the imprisonment, torture, murder and disappearance of thousands and his shameless plunder of the nation’s treasury.”(Wikipedia)

    How will history judge Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?

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