Published on August 19, 2014.
To many, Mar Roxas’ presidential ambition is a given. I think, however, that a certain ambivalence attends his desire to occupy the one office that exceeded his father’s grasp. My Exhibit A is Roxas’ failure to run for a Senate seat last year.
I understand that if he had done so, he would have forfeited his election protest against Vice President Jejomar Binay. Was this the actual consideration? It is hard to believe that he would have traded a probable campaign advantage in 2016 for the unlikely prospect of a belated election-tribunal victory.
The last time Roxas won a national election unequivocally, he turned heads. He topped the Senate race in 2004, becoming the first candidate in our history to garner more than 19 million votes. Mr. Palengke (a political persona based on his service as trade secretary in both the Estrada and the Arroyo administrations) was suddenly presidential timber. But that was 10 years ago—an entire geological age in political time. Continue reading
Published on August 12, 2014.
Sociologist Herbert Docena’s characteristically astute reply to last week’s column is too long to fit into the Letters page; I am happy to use this space to run it in full. My comments follow:
It is always an honor to be criticized by John Nery, one of our country’s most thoughtful and most gracious columnists.
Nery accused me of taking an “ideological shortcut” in making my argument that the real difference between President Aquino and the likes of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada is that he represents the more sophisticated, because more far-sighted, factions of our ruling classes: He uses public funds not so much to directly enrich himself or his family but to indirectly enrich his clique or his entire class (“What’s the difference?” Opinion, 7/18/14). Continue reading
Published on August 5, 2014.
The scholar Herbert Docena wrote something truly provocative in these pages two or so weeks ago. He asked whether there was any difference between “the schemes cooked up by the likes of Sexy, Pogi, or Tanda” and President Aquino’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). In his view, both were forms of corruption, even though only the plunder allegedly committed by the likes of Senators Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile involved personal gain.
The problem, he suggests, is that we understand “personal gain” too narrowly. “But does someone have to directly gain from the use of public funds to be corrupt? What if the benefits are more indirect or intangible? And what if the benefits are more widely shared with members of one’s class? Is that no longer corruption?” Continue reading
Published on July 22, 2014.
The law is too important to be left to lawyers alone. Every citizen has the right to join a discussion involving legal issues, especially if the Constitution is at the heart of it. I am certain Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law and a constant critic of his namesake President, would agree. Like me, the columnist erroneously described as a priest-lawyer is not in fact a member of the Bar.
To be sure, as anyone can see from his biography posted on the Central Books website, he has at least two doctorates, including one in jurisprudence from a school in California. But even if he didn’t (and this is the point), his commentaries would still be welcome. So perhaps that should be our first thesis, if we make a concerted attempt to understand President Aquino’s intemperate reaction to the Supreme Court’s adverse ruling on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP): The law is too important to be left to lawyers alone.
Second thesis: The Aquino administration was right to file a motion for reconsideration, even though the possibility of reversal is small. I did not think it was worth it the week I read the ruling, but have since come to understand that the administration was bound to file the motion, for political reasons. The idea as I understand it is not simply to exhaust all legal remedies, but for the administration to rally the demoralized with a vigorous defense. The President’s speeches on July 14 and 15, however, were too aggressive, and rightly seen as threatening. Continue reading
Published on July 15, 2014.
I will hazard one reason why only the youth groups associated with the militant Left filed a plunder case against Budget Secretary Butch Abad last week; when the gaping hole at the center of their case becomes obvious even to reporters who are not lawyers, the complainants can always hide behind their mistake by pleading the exuberance of youth.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon led other youth leaders in filing the complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman, accusing Abad, the architect of the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program, of having “systematically misappropriated, converted, misused, and malversed public funds through his executive issuances and the programs implemented by him as Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.” Last July 1, the Supreme Court recognized the DAP as effective government policy but ruled, unanimously, that the means by which it was implemented violated the Constitution.
Because of the amounts involved, the youth groups filed a case for plunder. Republic Act No. 7080, the law “defining and penalizing the crime of plunder,” is perhaps best known for its P50-million threshold. But the heart of the plunder law, as passed by the Eighth Congress (that is, the first one in session after the plunder of the Marcos years), is the very Marcosian concept of “ill-gotten wealth.” Continue reading
Published on July 8, 2014.
I have written more than once on the integrity and competence of Butch Abad, whom I first met in the early 1980s. He has always seemed to me to represent the virtues of the transformational politics the Jesuit provincial at that dangerous time, Fr. Ben Nebres, asked student activists to envision; nothing in his political career since then has caused me to change my mind. Not his agonizing tenure at the Department of Agrarian Reform, not his quixotic bid for the speakership of the House of Representatives, not his leadership of the Liberal Party at a turbulent time—and certainly not his stewardship of the government’s entire budget apparatus since his good friend assumed the presidency in 2010.
But as architect of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) declared unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court, he is the man most responsible for President Aquino’s worst political loss; the ruling on the DAP, in the words of the Inquirer editorial yesterday (Monday), was “an almost complete defeat for the Aquino administration.” He must bear the full weight of that responsibility, and resign. Continue reading
Published on June 9, 2014.
There is a concerted effort to pin Budget Secretary Butch Abad to, well, something, anything. Alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles swears she learned her evil trade from Abad (a risible claim that has since been expertly demolished by columnist Solita Monsod). The information that he paid only P8,150 in taxes in the three essentially jobless years before joining the Cabinet, information that was available since at least 2010, suddenly became news. And the datum he himself supplied in his most recent statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, that he has nine relatives by blood or marriage working in the government, has been transmogrified into a sweeping claim of nepotism—with the number now inflated to 11.
I have always known Abad to be an honorable man; in July 2010, at the start of the second Aquino administration, I was moved to defend him (and his wife Dina and their daughter Julia) in this wise: “It pains me to see the incorruptible Abads suffer so much speculative intrigue, when anyone who knows them at all can testify, not only to their commitment to public service, but also to their integrity.”
It has been four years, and I haven’t seen any evidence that would make me change my mind. If the worst that can be thrown at him are Napoles’ attempts at fiction or Rep. Toby Tiangco’s shoot-from-the-hip accusations or PR man/columnist Yen Makabenta’s glittering generalizations, then Abad remains the same man I have looked up to all these years: the competent Catholic exercising his faith as engaged, and honest, politician.
So why Abad? Why this orchestrated campaign to paint him as the real mastermind of the pork barrel scam or (failing that) as the face of daang matuwid hypocrisy? Any citizen sufficiently attentive to recent events would know who the real target is: President Aquino, at a time of intense political drama. But why Abad in particular? Continue reading
Published on May 26, 2014.
Apparently there is a scientific term that explains why children engrossed in something—playing a game on the tablet, say, or reading the comics—seem to ignore anyone talking to them at the same time. The word is “inattentional blindness,” reports a BBC piece on a recent experiment, and it describes a familiar phenomenon characterized by “a lack of awareness, especially outside the immediate focus of attention.”
It is related to the development of the primary visual cortex. “The capacity for awareness outside the focus of attention develops with age, so younger children are at higher risk of inattentional blindness,” Prof. Nilli Lavie, of University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, told the BBC. It was Lavie who conducted the recent experiment at the Science Museum in London.
Reading about the concept of inattentional blindness reminded me of the Aquino administration’s approach to the achievements of the administration that preceded it. (Yes, at this point it bears repeating: There were achievements, buried under all the corruption scandals and the all-consuming struggle for legitimacy after “Hello, Garci.”) Mr. Aquino’s presidential campaign in 2010 was based on the simple appeal that he was Gloria Arroyo’s opposite. He was not alone in capitalizing on her unpopularity (and that of her husband); depending on how one reads the votes for Manny Villar, as much as 90 percent of the voters who cast their ballots voted “against” Arroyo.
But four years into his term, President Aquino has stuck to the black-or-white reading of recent history that resonated so loudly with voters in 2010. His address before the World Economic Forum on East Asia last Thursday may be usefully thought of as the epitome of that mindset. Continue reading
Published on February 17, 2014.
Almost a hundred days ago, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed President Aquino in the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” It was not a winning moment. Annoying speech tics, factual slip-ups, outright exaggerations—and I’m just talking about Amanpour.
Mr. Aquino did not do very well; he tried to describe a national government that was, to use the familiar phrase, on top of the situation, but five days after the supertyphoon devastated parts of Central Visayas, especially the unfortunate city of Tacloban, the government was in fact still looking for its bearings. Was he covering up for the chaotic reality on the ground, or was he determined to not play the helpless leader of a helpless country? Or was he just talking through his storm-soaked hat? The feedback on social media that I followed was overwhelmingly negative. Continue reading
Published on January 6, 2014.
When Reuters ran an analytical piece on the “backlash” against President Aquino on Nov. 15, a week after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” swept through central Philippines, I sent a message to one of my friends in the wire agency. “Did you compare raw satisfaction (74% in Mar 2013) with NET satisfaction (+49, Sept 2013)?”
Like many at that time, my assessment of the Aquino administration’s response had swung from the initial thumbs up the day after the storm (when we interpreted the lack of news from the disaster areas as good news) to an emphatic thumbs down several days later, when the question of leadership was very much in the air (and on the Inquirer front page). “Who’s in charge here?” Indeed. Continue reading
The fourth edition, as it were, of an annual roundup of anti-Aquino criticism. Published on November 26, 2013.
At least once a year in the last three years, I’ve tried to document the patterns of criticism directed against President Aquino. I got started because of what I thought was unfair criticism; I continued partly because of the vigorous, sometimes orientation-altering feedback, and partly because tracing the patterns can be instructive and useful to understanding politics, Philippine-style.
The documentation is hardly comprehensive; my so-called field notes are only preliminary; indeed, as I wrote at the get-go about the patterns I discerned, “there are others, some of them perhaps better objects of study than the ones I’ve chosen.”
From intuitive processes to systematic errors. Published on November 5, 2013.
Inquirer colleague and top business journalist Dax Lucas raised an interesting point on Facebook a few days ago. Linking to an image of the Inquirer’s Oct. 31 front page, which carried the headline “P-Noy: I am not a thief,” he wrote: “A key tenet in psychology and communications: the mind edits out words like ‘not’. So avoid stating in the negative.”
I thought it was interesting advice, because the President did not in fact say those exact words. I phrased my comment as a question: “Curious: Does this tenet work in languages other than English, such as the Filipino Noynoy used?”
Dax acknowledged my response, and graciously said he needed to study the matter, but others following the conversation immediately volunteered that, yes, the communications axiom worked in non-English languages too.
Column catch-up, all over again. This piece was written after the so-called Million People March, and was published on August 27, 2013.
In August 1999, or just over a year after the popular Joseph Estrada took office as the country’s 13th president, a major protest rally brought the Makati central business district to a standstill. A hundred thousand people, perhaps 120,000 at the most, occupied the intersection of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas; they were there, mainly, for three reasons: They went to signal their disapproval of the Estrada administration’s Charter change campaign; they went to sympathize with the plight of the Manila Times, then recently shuttered, and the Inquirer, then undergoing the second month of an unprecedented advertising boycott, both in circumstances many believed to have been orchestrated by Malacañang; not least, they went because Jaime Cardinal Sin and Cory Aquino asked them to.
Questions, plus an infographic on the jump page. Published on February 12, 2013
In its “Ten Facts about President Aquino,” an illustrated information sheet distributed to help mark his birthday last Friday, Malacañang emblazoned Facts No. 11 and 12 under an image of the President: that he was the 15th President of the Philippines, and the fifth President of the Fifth Republic.
Is he? The usual list of the country’s presidents begins with Emilio Aguinaldo, who proclaimed Philippine independence on June 12, 1898. (The same day, incidentally, when Apolinario Mabini came to work for Aguinaldo; Mabini did not approve of the proclamation he had no part in writing.) We then skip an entire generation, and resume our count in 1935, when Manuel Quezon becomes the first president of the Commonwealth. In 1943, when the Philippines is under Japanese occupation, Quezon is reduced to leading a government-in-exile in Washington, DC; and Jose Laurel becomes president of a parallel republic. On Quezon’s death in 1944, Sergio Osmeña assumes the presidency; in May 1946, he loses the presidential election to Manuel Roxas. Roxas retains the presidency when the Commonwealth is dissolved and a prostrate Philippines is granted independence on July 4, 1946; he is followed in office by Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos.
Published on November 27, 2012.
Do journalists, generally speaking, earn higher salaries than civil servants? The pattern of views I heard at the Media Nation conference over the weekend, which dwelt on corruption in the media, suggests that the reality is dramatically different—especially in the provinces.
In fact, almost everyone at the conference agreed that “local” journalists (a label, by the way, that many of those working in provincial newspapers or radio stations despise as insufferably Manila-centric) are more vulnerable to corruption. A large part of the reason is their economic situation. It should be self-evident, of course, that economic need alone does not explain the prevalence of corruption, in media or in other sectors. The knowing reader or viewer can easily name a handful of already wealthy media personalities for whom corruption is (or looks to be) a way of life.
But if the testimony of veteran media professionals is any guide, need can drive the desperate to extremes.
Published on November 13, 2012.
Say this for that much-disparaged American invention, the Electoral College: It makes a convincing mandate possible in a closely divided nation. While Barack Obama won the popular vote by Lincoln’s whisker—a simple majority of 51 percent to Mitt Romney’s 48 percent, according to NBC News—he won well over three-fifths of the 538 electoral votes at stake. (The popular vote margin was some 3.3 million votes, much lower than the 10-million vote differential recorded in the 2008 election.)
The “main argument” for the use of the College then, as Timothy Noah of The New Republic manages to mention in a thoughtful post proposing the abolition of the institution, “is that it manufactures majorities.”
A third attempt to classify anti-Aquino sentiment. Published on October 2, 2012.
In August 2010, I tried my hand at classifying the types of criticism directed at President Aquino, then a mere six weeks in office. In “‘Politico,’ ‘Inglisero,’ ‘hacendero,’” I identified three emerging patterns in the criticism. Either the new President was “merely another politician” despite “the moral character of the mandate [he] sees himself as having received at the polls last May”; or he was an English-speaking personality “essentially alienated from his constituency”; or he was the “fundamentally class-determined” heir of a large landowning family.
In July 2011, I tried again, offering a different classification of the growing body of criticism. In “Lost boy, playboy, bad boy,” I pointed to three new patterns that seemed to replace the first three. Either President Aquino was an amateur in politics, “out of his league, in over his head, or sinking under the weight of the presidency”; or he was a slacker addicted to play, whether as “a serial boyfriend” in perpetual search of “female companionship” or as an avid player of video or computer games; or he was “a vengeful man, out to ‘get’ his enemies.”
Yesterday, at a public function, a Cabinet secretary’s first words to me were, “Not now, Bam”–a playful, slightly imprecise reference to the following column, which was published on September 4, 2012.
Bam Aquino was my student at the Ateneo de Manila all of 17 years ago; he was, in a word, outstanding, the sort of student a teacher remembers long after the last papers have been marked. I still vividly remember the distinction he once proposed, just right after one particular class ended, between “convince” and “persuade”—the first was an appeal to reason, the second an appeal to the will—which I found a little too categorical for my taste then, but whose explanatory power I understand with greater clarity today.
Now Bam wants to run for the Senate; I have no doubt that he would excel in it—but I urge him not to run. Not next year, and not in 2016. Like many others, I believe that the Aquino family has sometimes served as history’s instrument; there is a family legacy we can all reference (even those critics who cannot stand the Aquinos can hold them accountable according to that legacy’s own terms). Continue reading
Published on July 31, 2012.
President Aquino is wrong to think that the fundamental nature of news has changed. But he is entirely in the right when he calls journalists to account according to journalism’s own standards. Unless, of course, journalists think those standards are only meant to be paid lip service.
“Negativity” in the news—the word the President used in his remarks at BusinessWorld’s 25th anniversary rites last Friday—has become the shorthand defining what an ABS-CBN story online would later call his “scolding spree” against the media, even though the real controversy erupted only after the President directly criticized ABS-CBN anchor Noli de Castro at the 25th anniversary party of the iconic “TV Patrol” newscast, later that same Friday. Continue reading
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
Column No. 200. A second attempt to categorize the types of criticism leveled against the second President Aquino, published on July 12, 2011.
Last August, about six weeks after his inauguration, I tried to distinguish the “types of criticism [already] being leveled against President Benigno Aquino III and his administration” by identifying three patterns in the criticism. That attempt, under the column title “‘Politico’, ‘Inglisero’, ‘hacendero’,” drew a vigorous response from several readers. To the most lucid rejoinder, by Herbert Docena, I ceded my column space the following week. Continue reading
It’s a process, not an end-state. Published on February 8, 2011.
THE AQUINO administration’s pledge of right conduct and good governance does not mean the repeal of human nature. In my understanding, the promise of daang matuwid (the straight and narrow path, in biblical terms) is not a guarantee that all corruption will be eradicated. Rather, it is a commitment to honest public service, with an assurance that, when corruption does rear its fetching head, the government will not stand transfixed, but will move immediately to cut it off.
The right biblical analogy, in other words, is to the reality reflected in the first Psalm, which speaks of two ways of life: that of the upright and that of the wicked. It is not an analogy to the Apocalypse, which speaks of the final days and the overthrow of the old. Continue reading
A “psychological” reading of the second President Aquino, published on October 25, 2010.
Consider this a belated meditation on President Aquino’s first 100 days in office.
I was one of those who applauded his decision to immerse himself in prayer, before throwing his hat into the presidential ring. It seemed to me that he was not only doing the right thing; by going on retreat in Zamboanga City, under the spiritual direction of a nun who was close both to his mother and to him, he was doing the characteristic thing. That is to say, the retreat was character-revealing. Continue reading