Thursday, May 26, 2011

TWSC Launches Its 2011 Public Forum Series


The B.S. Aquino Administration: Possible Perversities, Perverted Possibilities

This forum series is not to assess the current Aquino administration. Other fora have done that. This series is for those who are willing to stake their sharp acumen and risk the chance that they could be proven wrong. The proposed series is a four-part forum that offers prognostications on how the Aquino administration will conduct itself in office and how it will impact on social institutions and the lives of Filipinos. There will be one forum for each month of June, July, August, and September 2011. The forum will engage academics and public intellectuals to discuss with the UP community and the broader public the following issues: the realpolitik of state-church relations, the 2011-2016 Medium-term Philippine Development Plan, public perception and governance, and that quagmire of corruption, the military. The forum proceedings will be transcribed, made public, and later be published as an edited volume—a pioneering academic and critical work on the B.S. Aquino administration.

Trust but verify. The greater the trust, the more intense scrutiny must be. The Third World Studies Center believes that the academe as a social institution is best suited for this task. There is no better time to express skepticism on the Aquino administration than at present when the chief executive enjoys respectable popularity with the electorate. What are the conditions for expressing skepticism, for predicting the possible perversities and the perverted possibilities of the present administration? By perversity we do not mean, nor limit it, to the sexual kind. By the possible perversities of the Aquino administration we mean the common notion of being contrary to what is good, of being recalcitrant to guidance, of being the twin of the previous administration that the present dispensation swore to extirpate. This public forum series may seem like jumping the gun. But for the academe to wait for rhetoric to turn rancid and for special concerns metastasize into scandals is to be complacent to the point of being criminal. We can start with the money. The Aquino administration has been accruing debt in selling peso-denominated bonds worth PHP143 billion and counting. With credit ratings upgrade, more debt to die for is in store. Not content with this easy money—said to be for addressing the fiscal deficit—it has also been selling government properties. As of December 2010 it has amassed PHP51 billion through this effort, and more prime government properties are being lined up for sale. How long before the putrid ghosts of the Roponggi Property and PEA-AMARI deals haunt this administration? Come June, the hungry horde of unelected and unelectable partisans of the president will be free from the one-year ban that relegated them at the bottom of the loser’s bin. Once welcomed at the banquet of governance, what ghastly carcasses of government largesse will they be living behind for the poor and starving masses to gawk at? At the end of President Aquino’s term, will his slogans parroted as policies like “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” and “daang matuwid” be quaint bumper stickers in his showroom of luxury cars? The list could, and will, go on. But continuing it is a task best left to the sagacity of prognosticators, critics, and apologists that the forum will assemble. The present administration’s mantra of transparency and accountability will be tested in these discussions of public affairs. This public forum series intends to get it right as it desperately wants to be proven wrong.

Forum 1 - Of Churlish Churches and a Sanctimonious State: Will There Ever Be a State of Grace?
On April 17, 2011, during the commencement exercises at the University of the Philippines Diliman, President Aquino brushed aside threats of excommunication from the Catholic Church. He made the unequivocal announcement that he is “resolved to enact into law the principles of responsible parenthood.” One wonders what the display of determination is for when the principle of the separation of state and church has been safeguarded, at least in writing, by the Philippine Constitutions of 1899, 1935, 1973, and 1987. However, organized religion—most prominently the Catholic Church—has continued, over the years, to exert considerable influence on various policymaking initiatives of the state. The recent fracas over reproductive health care and sexuality education illustrates this point. However, to confine the discussion of the dynamics of state-church relations to another heated pro-anti debate with its attendant bloviations would be to miss the point, and is thus not the aim of this forum. President Aquino’s dismissal of the Catholic Church’s threat should be read with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’s inclusion of Psalm 33:12 (“Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,” as translated into Filipino, “Pinagpala ang bayan na ang Diyos ay ang Panginoon”) on the new peso bills. As the Aquino government declares its belief in God, with the clear preference for the Christian one, it is also exhibiting its faith in adroit political maneuvers against self-assured churches and religious entrepreneurs. In attempting to deal with this question, it is necessary to consider the fact that the state itself continues to be guilty of fostering organized religion’s sense of secure stakeholder positions in its customary courting of electoral support.

Forum 2 - The Military on the Mend—Or Are the Mistahs Waiting for a Messiah?
Speaking, perhaps presumptuously, for the entire military, one senior military officer stated in May 2010 that there will be no coup attempts during the Benigno Aquino III administration. Will this prognosis be fulfilled? Will this Aquino administration be in stark contrast to the first, which was the most embattled regime in the nation's history in terms of coup attempts? A year into his presidency, Aquino has given amnesty to rebel soldiers who were, at best, a thorn in the side of his predecessor; corruption in the military is now under close scrutiny by the country's lawmakers-cum-arbiters, with longstanding secret "pabaon" and “pasalubong” practices now brought to the public eye; moreover, merit appears to be, at long last, the main consideration in appointing officers to the upper echelons of the military hierarchy. Indeed, Aquino may be the commander-in-chief that those clamoring for reform in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been waiting for, better than any of the chief executives that military men colluded with to bring to power. Yet, Aquino seems to have the same predilection for patronage as his predecessors; retired military officials, some of them former underlings of Aquino’s mother, are still getting choice appointments in government. Aquino may yet prove himself to be a stickler for traditions—the kind that makes the AFP one of the most excessively politicized armed forces in the world.

Forum 3 - Mantra Maintenance: Governance by Slogan, Administration by Spin
In his recent State of the Nation Address, President Aquino intoned:
Let us end the culture of negativism; let us uplift our fellow Filipinos at every opportunity. Why are there people who enjoy finding fault in our country, who find it so hard—as though it were a sin—to say something nice? Can we even remember the last time we praised a fellow Filipino?

Let us stop pulling our fellow man down. Let us put an end to our crab mentality. Let us make the effort to recognize the good that is being done.
This from the administration that relied on contrast and unrelenting criticism against the previous dispensation to justify its acceptability to the electorate during the May 2010 national elections—the whiff of hypocrisy in this statement is too strong to ignore. In Aquino’s “A Social Contract with the Filipino People,” for example, he put to good use his association, through his mother, former President Cory Aquino, with the touted 1986 People Power Revolution and all its perceived virtues. It would not be too far-fetched to surmise that parallels are drawn between Cory Aquino’s revolutionary government contra the supposedly evil and oppressive Marcos dictatorship and Noynoy Aquino’s transformational leadership against the supposedly corrupt Arroyo government. As such, good governance has been the guiding principle of the Aquino administration, transparency and accountability its accessory catchwords. After Arroyo’s scandal-rocked government, hardly anyone can object to such a scheme. But blaming his predecessor for his present difficulties might appear, in the long run, to be devious—an exercise in misdirection, an element of cheap tricks that works only on the gullible and the inattentive. Rid this nation of wang-wangs, both real and metaphorical, still people will ask if this is the much-vaunted social transformation that we must aspire for. (But why social in the first place? Because we cannot hack an economic one?) Or is this the usual bread-and-circus populism hyped by the government’s media machine as “social transformation” to exude gravitas? The president’s appeal to end negativism is reminiscent of Imeldific hokum that we only look for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Criticize others when in campaign, demand only praise when in office. Will platitude and sycophancy soon be state policies? Is this the president’s message for the next five years? Much room for conjecture remains as to whether his administration will succeed in keeping true to its words—and the ultimate effect on its popularity and legitimacy in the event that it fails to do so.

Forum 4 - Rationalized Inability: The President’s Hand in the Untouched Local Government Code
At the very start of his presidency, President Aquino took the helm of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). But as with his romances, the dalliance lasted a mere nine days. He eventually appointed to the post the current secretary, Jesse M. Robredo. Not to begrudge him his personal happiness, but since then, President Aquino’s romantic escapades have been part of the news cycles more often than his articulations on how his administration would take on the bastion of political patronage and locus of feudal rule, the local government units. The exception to this observation are the instances when the president pines for Puno—Rico Puno—to remain DILG undersecretary in charge of police matters even after Puno confessed to a possible liaison with a jueteng lord. Add to this Puno’s wooden response to the Luneta hostage-taking incident. The president’s enthusiasm as a serial dater may be inversely proportional to his inclination to address broad and complex institutional policy issues like local governance. But this perception seemed not to be true when he was running for the presidency. On October 6, 2009, in front of a hundred local government executives, then presidential aspirant Sen. Benigno Aquino made this statement: “Ang paniwala ko ‘yung local government unit, d’yan ho nababatay kung maayos na gobyerno o hindi.” He went on to commit for a review: “I-review muna natin ‘yung na-devolve. ‘Yung mga nag-succeed, bakit nag-succeed? ‘Yung nag-fail, bakit nag-fail?” Then, he became president and nothing was heard again from him on this matter. Not even in his State of the Nation Addresses. Perhaps the president prefers courting chieftains and wooing warlords, as when MalacaƱang was accused of playing footsie with the Ampatuans just to be able to nail whatever charge on his despised predecessor. Should this not be true, then October 10, 2011 must have a particular significance to his administration. Said date marks the Local Government Code’s two-decade existence that spans five presidencies. The code started as one of the achievements his mother’s presidency. But in his administration, the code may end up as an object of benign neglect, if not considered first as a tradable political commodity. It will be—if not already—a code of governance unsullied even by the most glancing of critical reviews yet marked by ravages of local politicos’ adeptness in exploiting the limitations of the code to perpetuate themselves in power. And as the administration pursues its peace agenda, most visible in its negotiation with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the limits of the code will be further exposed to the pawing, clawing, biting horde of opportunists and provincial potentates.

Can the Aquino administration offer transformational leadership sans any alteration of the basic code of local governance? What failures and missed opportunities will this adherence to the status quo bring about? Maybe it is a misplaced hope that trifling with the Local Government Code will ever lead to reforms. Maybe nothing’s broken. Maybe there’s nothing to fix. Maybe, just like the president, a perfect date is all there is to it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Defining the Baselines of the Philippines: Issues and Challenges

Friday, May 13, 10:00am-12:00pm. Claro M. Recto Hall, Faculty Center, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Quezon City. 

Brought to you by the Center for Political and Democratic Reform, Inc., the UP Diliman Department of Political Science, and the UP Third World Studies Center, you are cordially invited to this symposium, which features Professor Jay Batongbacal of the UP College of Law as main speaker.


Dr. Clarita Carlos

Dr. Jay Batongbacal
UP College of Law

Director Henry S. Bensurto Jr.
Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat
Department of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Keven Galanida, Moderator

Dr. Ruth Lusterio-Rico
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

Dr. Maria Ela Atienza
Third World Studies Center
University of the Philippines

Below is a playlist of the videos of the symposium: