The closest a column of mine has come to going viral (over 5,500 shares, some 3,000 Facebook recommends on Inquirer.net). This was published on September 10, 2013 — a day before the late, still-unburied dictator’s birthday.
GLORIA ARROYO practiced what the Freedom from Debt Coalition called “fiscal dictatorship”—impounding allocations at will and realigning items in reenacted budgets without congressional authorization. (Those who visit her at the hospital where she is detained may continue to deny reality, but it was this control of the budget that allowed the pork barrel scam to flourish.) Joseph Estrada centralized jueteng operations right in Malacañang. (He also forced the Social Security System to buy stocks for which he received a P180-million commission.) Compared to Ferdinand Marcos, however, Arroyo and Estrada were rank amateurs.
Published on July 26, 2011.
A YOUNG person relatively fresh out of college posted something on Facebook yesterday, several hours before President Aquino addressed the 2nd joint session of the 15th Congress. Her status update struck me, because it seemed emblematic—of much of what is wrong in our political culture. Continue reading
Every now and then I use my column space in the Inquirer to run someone else’s counter-argument. This one, published on August 17, 2010, was, as we have learned to say these days, a real winner.
It is a pleasure to cede today’s column space to Herbert Docena’s elegant, carefully considered reply to “‘Politico,’ ‘Inglisero,’ ‘hacendero’”—last week’s first attempt to classify the types of criticism leveled, this early, against President Aquino. I do not agree with all of Herbert’s points, and with one key assumption of his, but all that is for another time. It is to his instructive reply (I’ve deleted a few passages, to fit the available space) that we first ought to pay attention:
Your proposed typology of the criticisms against President Aquino is very much welcome at a time when his overwhelming popularity seems to be suffocating such criticisms. I fear, however, that I may have failed to express my idea lucidly enough so as to avoid interpretations that diverge from my own intended presentation. Continue reading
Published on April 20, 2010. The first paragraph, written at about the time the “Noy-Bi” campaign took off, now reads like it was composed in another country, or another time.
I THOUGHT Christian Monsod’s heavily nuanced presentation at last week’s Inquirer Briefing was tonic for the battered Filipino spirit. Essentially, he located several sources of hope for the generally successful conduct of the country’s first nationwide computerized vote on May 10, including the improbability of a multi-party conspiracy to engineer a general failure of elections. One aside of his got my particular attention: He raised the possibility that the vice president-elect could be proclaimed first, ahead of the next president, and in a matter of days. This would stop the succession problem in its tracks. Continue reading
Published on January 19, 2010.
This is not an essay in religious psychology, but only a look—via Fr. Joaquin Bernas’ precise theses, John Rawls’ “overlapping consensus” and the underlying philosophy of TV’s “CSI”—at what may well be Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s true legacy.
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I thought yesterday’s column by Father Bernas put paid to the debate over whether President Arroyo should name Chief Justice Reynato Puno’s successor. In 19 succinctly stated points (which he all but apologized for, saying he was forced to “write in telegraphic style” because “there are so many issues involved”), the foremost constitutionalist answered virtually all concerns raised in the debate. For instance: “The only instance I can think of where the presence of the chief justice might be indispensable is when the President is on trial on impeachment. But I cannot see that coming any time soon.”
Like many other political journalists, I am a layman forced to wrestle with legal and constitutional implications on a regular basis. Father Bernas’ theses-style approach, therefore, is useful for cutting through the clutter. For instance, an Inquirer editorial a few days ago took a few paragraphs to assert that Rep. Matias Defensor’s seeming desperation contrasted with the Constitution’s “massive calm.” Father Bernas disposed of Defensor’s panic in two sentences: “The original period proposed for filling vacancies in the Supreme Court was 60 days; it was extended to 90 days without debate … Thus even the Constitution believes that the vacancy can wait 90 days.”
After studiously avoiding the Inquirer for several years, President Arroyo visited the newspaper again on February 2. As was her preference, and our custom, she brought dinner too. In the beginning, she was seated between Sandy P. Romualdez and Marixi R. Prieto, president and board chair respectively, but over the course of the 90-minute dinner Sandy gave up her seat for Letty J. Magsanoc, the editor in chief, and MRP (as she is known in the newspaper) insisted on offering her seat to Joey D. Nolasco, the managing editor. Hence, this shot. Note the improvised nameplate for Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila, who sat to my left. He said he happened to be working overtime at the Palace, when the President saw him and asked him to join her for dinner at the Inquirer. (He didn’t seem put out, and indeed proved to be an engaging dinner companion.) To my right sat the formidable Medy Poblador, now accoutered with the rank of cabinet secretary. At the start, Sandy welcomed the President, and said she understood the terms of the discussion to be “no-holds-barred but off the record.” GMA immediately cut in, eyebrows raised: “I didn’t say no-holds-barred!” That night, we kept it light.
Published on November 3, 2009.
In the run-up to the 2010 elections, I hope to write in-depth pieces on the leading candidates, paying particular attention to their electoral strategies. I have already begun conducting one-on-one interviews. I will supplement these with the usual tools: tracking the candidates on the campaign trail, conducting background research on their campaign staff and organization and, well, just plain hanging around. Continue reading
Published on July 28, 2009.
THE ADDRESS. Here, outside the Batasan’s Session Hall, listening to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s ninth State of the Nation Address, I realize something about the character of the Arroyo SONA: It is, essentially, a stump speech, full of symbolic head-patting: “For standing with me and doing the right thing, thank you Congress.” And righteous chest-thumping: “The state of our nation is a strong economy.” And political cheap shot-making: “If you really want to be president,” she said in obvious reference to Sen. Mar Roxas, “don’t say bad words in public!”
This choice of rhetoric is no mere defense mechanism, conditioned by the crisis of 2005. This, for better or worse, is how the President thinks the political class is governed.
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Published on April 7, 2009
No, this is not an attempt to add to the literature of “warm spit”—the practice, begun by the Americans, of minimizing the importance of the second-highest office within the gift of the electorate. In the first place, John Nance Garner’s famous quip (the US vice presidency is not worth “a pitcher of warm spit,” he said) may have had some traction during his time as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second wheel; it does not apply to the United States today. Al Gore reinvented the office, and the imperial Dick Cheney used it as base to assert an over-aggressive executive.
Secondly, the charge of political irrelevance does not apply with as much force to Philippine politics. Even the famously self-effacing Sergio Osmeña continued to dominate Visayan politics under Manuel Quezon’s shadow. And ultimate political power was also always within sight. Since the Commonwealth era, six of the country’s 12 vice presidents have succeeded to the presidency: Osmeña, Elpidio Quirino, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Some thoughts about knights in dull, dented armor, with some interesting links; published on January 27, 2009
Who needs martial law, when you have the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002—and Jovito Palparan in the Dangerous Drugs Board?
As any private lawyer worth his salt will tell you, the circumstances behind the dismissal by the Department of Justice of the case against the so-called Alabang Boys are most curious. There may really be something to the allegations, aired by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in both congressional hearings and news conferences, that state prosecutors dismissed the case for several million reasons (only a fig-leafy few of them legal).
But what has happened since the news first broke, last month, is that the sordid story became a morality tale. The opposition’s often hostile treatment of witnesses from the DOJ is easy to understand; they are stand-ins for, effigies of, the controversial justice secretary. But even administration congressmen on the House committee on dangerous drugs have self-evidently chosen to side with the PDEA—reducing the state prosecutors to splutter in defense of their strained English grammar, their selective legal reasoning, even (in the case of state prosecutor John Resado) their unusual personal circumstances. Continue reading
The following passage from Barack Obama’s inaugural address (solid, but without Lincolnesque lift, as I hope to discuss one of these days) must have been aimed at the Putins and Mugabes, but I won’t be surprised if Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will find herself perceived (by her critics and perhaps by others too) as being in the subset of the admonished.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.