11
May

The 2019 midterm elections: a look into the future

Today is the last day of the campaign for the national and local elections. This coming Monday, we are about to cast our votes to select people who will lead us into the future. As you ponder on who to vote for, this reflection will hopefully help you in selecting candidates for elected posts this year.

First, I will take a cursory look at the past 3 years, then discuss what’s at stake in this elections.

What has happened before

Let’s begin by looking at the landscape of the past 3 years, as these collective experience should guide us on what path to take for the next 3 years.

Rodrigo Duterte was swept into office because of his promise of change. Whether that change has come or not depends on whether:

  • You are an ardent supporter or
  • A former supporter who had given up on him or
  • Someone who voted for another candidate and now is a supporter or
  • Someone who voted for another candidate and is glad you voted for someone else.

I am the fourth person, so this post is colored by that choice (yellow, as DDS will say).

A video summary

Update (5/13/2019): Here’s a short video summary of the past 3 years under Duterte, as seen by a comedian in the US.

The drug war

Screengrab from Rappler video on Youtube.

Duterte promised a hard stance against drugs. It will be bloody, he said. And how bloody was it? We will never know at this point. Nobody’s counting properly. The PNP invented a new statistical data point: deaths under investigation, a special category separate from murder. Media has stopped counting; look at the Inquirer Kill List – it has stopped a year after Duterte took power. The government’s own count pegged the deaths at 5000 at the end of 2018. The Human Rights Watch pegged the deaths at 12000 at the start of 2018. There’s no way we can audit these numbers, and by inventing a new category, this government skews the data in its favor.

His drug war almost got derailed with the murder of Kian delos Santos and Carl Arnaiz by policemen. There were large protests against these murders, and Duterte even had to meet with Kian’s parents to put out the fire. These murders and their aftermath led to PNP recalibrating its operations and Duterte’s drug war continues.

The economy and infrastructure

Duterte promised a golden age in Philippine infrastructure and a pivot to China as main foreign partner. Branded BUILD BUILD BUILD, his administration has decided to move away from public-private partnership into a so-called hybrid one, where the government builds the infrastructure (most of them funded by Chinese loans) and the operations and maintenance bid out to the private sector.

Several of the projects were called out for being unnecessary and even posed danger. Some of the projects listed in the BBB are carryovers from the previous administration (Mactan Cebu airport, for one), and some big ticket items have yet to start (NAIA replacement, where there are numerous competing proposals), 3 years into this administration.

Screengrab from Inquirer.

Because not all projects can be funded through loans, the government has to source the funds internally. Through Sonny Angara, the 17th Congress has passed the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act or TRAIN Law, the first in a series of comprehensive tax reforms foisted into the Filipino taxpayers by the Department of Finance. While it increased the personal income tax exemptions and reduced in others, the law also imposed additional taxes on sugared beverages and imported oil. It also led to high inflation rates never experienced in five years.

Just recently, two conflicting economic news greeted the Filipinos: an upgraded S&P credit rating and lower than projected Q1 2019 GDP growth, a four year low.

Politics and political institutions

Duterte enjoys an unprecedented control over the 17th Congress, with a supermajority in the House of Representatives and a majority in the Senate.

The lower House (aptly called) remains a rambunctious chamber, abominably led at first by Pantaleon Alvarez, and was used to harass Duterte’s enemies like Senator Leila de Lima and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. The lower chamber reached its lowest in two counts: when it even thought of playing a so-called sex video of de Lima in a House hearing, and holding the 2019 budget in hostage.

The Senate has lost its so-called independence. When Senator de Lima, as chair of the Senate Justice Committee, started hearings on Duterte’s drug war, horror stories began to emerge. Duterte’s allies in Senate were alarmed, and had her removed as chair, a move initiated by Duterte lackey and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao. She was replaced by another lackey, Dick Gordon, who terminated the hearings soon after. The Senate has not held any hearing against Duterte’s policies to date.

Duterte had dinner with his allies in the Senate. Photo from Rappler.

The Supreme Court fared no better. The track record of Duterte’s Supreme Court is obviously biased for Duterte, with Gloria Arroyo/Duterte appointees voting consistently. Interaksyon has several infographics showing the voting pattern, and I am taking the liberty of linking the images here.

Infographic by Intekaksyon.

Inforaphic by Intekaksyon.

One of the most controversial, and the most glorious victory for Duterte so far, is the ouster of Chief Justice Sereno through a quo warranto petition, a remedy that most law experts deem as unconstitutional.

Duterte has already appointed 6 justices in the Supreme Court; by the end of his term, he would have appointed 13 of them, (at least 4 retiring this year alone), and may appoint up to 5 chief justices (he would appoint none if Sereno retained her seat).

Our society

Duterte enjoys unprecedented high approval and trust ratings. Just recently, 79% of us Filipinos approve of his performance.

At the same survey, 69% of Filipinos are satisfied with Marawi rehabilitation when it hasn’t even started yet.

Screengrab from SWS

What’s happening here?

What’s at stake

In short – a lot.

We need an independent Senate

The Senate of the 17th Congress has proven to be very docile if not very supportive of the Duterte administration. It has passed most of Duterte’s priority legislation, and has refused to exercise its power of investigation and oversight regarding this administration’s actions and policies. The Blue Ribbon Committee, headed by Gordon, has been reduced to whitewashing.

Duterte allies currently dominate the Senate and the House. Voting for his allies means it is quite possible for a Senate supermajority in favor of Duterte. What does this mean? Aside from breezily passing priority legislation:

  • Duterte can easily impeach anyone he likes, something that he has failed to do in the 17th Congress because there are enough independent minded senators who could vote against him. A supermajority of docile, supportive senators give him an edge in impeachment.
  • They can easily remove de Lima from the Senate itself. They tried before (and failed), but with a two-thirds majority for Duterte, they can try again. Heck, they can remove all members of the minority if they so wish.
  • There’s no possibility of the Senate asserting its independence and exercising its investigative and oversight powers.
  • And of course, it becomes easier for Duterte to ram charter change and federalism down our throats.

Only four opposition senators remain in the Senate as it enters the 18th Congress. A shutout (12-0 for Duterte) will be fatal. Duterte will have an unprecedented rubber stamp 18th Congress.

This survey result should give you an idea on how the Senate of the 18th Congress will look like. You should be spooked.

We need certainty on economic matters

The TRAIN law was met with mixed reactions. The middle class rejoiced when their income taxes were reduced (except for ROHQ employees who saw their income taxes skyrocket when the preferential tax rates were removed); the poor, who were already exempted from income taxes, were burdened with increase prices in some commodities; and almost everyone was hit by high inflation brought about by high oil prices exacerbated by additional excise taxes imposed by TRAIN law.

The second package of the CTRP, supposedly to be named TRAIN2 but hastily renamed to TRABAHO bill due to negative connotation brought about by TRAIN1, is pending and is due to be refiled at the 18th Congress. This bill aims to reduce corporate income taxes and rationalize fiscal incentives given to foreign investments in PEZA locations, including BPOs. Already, uncertainties in the proposed law are causing pause in investment decisions as to prevent possible losses when the bill is implemented.

The CTRP is sure to pass given a rubber stamp Congress. I am not totally against tax reform (it sure needs to be simplified so that you won’t need a tax lawyer), but any proposals should be debated openly and carefully. TRAIN1 shows us how sloppy lawmaking can hurt the economy. We need a Senate that will bring clarity to any economic measures to be filed. A rubber stamp Senate will not help us at all.

Infrastructure projects should be transparent and pro-Filipinos

The current Senate held one hearing on China-funded infrastructure projects. While some senators called for disclosing loan terms, the administration promised to disclose details, but has yet to do so.

An independent Senate can actually scrutinize these deals. It has subpoena powers to compel the executive department to provide senators copies of contracts. The fact that the current Senate did not even attempt to secure copies is a sign of its acquiescence to the executive department. We need independent senators to make sure all deals are transparent and will benefit the Filipino people.

Political institutions should be strengthened

After 3 years since 2016 elections, it has become apparent that our political institutions are weak. The Constitution envisioned a government of three branches, each providing check and balance to each other. Our experience so far has shown that the legislature and the judiciary have abdicated their roles to check the executive’s excesses. The Senate, supposed to be the most independent branch, is reduced to docility. The House remains the president’s puppets. The Supreme Court has perverted its own rules just to accommodate the president’s whims.

We must strengthen this check and balance. We start by making sure the Senate becomes independent by voting for candidates that are not allied to nor supports Duterte. We must retake the Senate and make it account for the executive’s excesses by exercising its oversight powers.

The drug war must end

And of course, the murderous drug war must end. We can start by voting for independent senators who will not be cowed by Duterte’s bullying. We must vote for strong, brave senators who will investigate the current drug war and condemn the violent streak of the war. We must vote for charitable and compassionate senators who will provide comfort and just compensation for the victims of the unjust war.

And most importantly: we must vote for senators that will be impartial if Duterte is impeached. Impeachment is another political institution that needs strengthening, and an independent Senate will ensure that impeachment will work. The current Senate makes any impeachment impossible.

Our soul as a society

Before we go to sleep days before the 2019 elections, think back on how we behaved as human beings. You will be horrified.

  • We laugh at (or tolerate, at best) rape jokes.
  • We put little to no value to human life, as long as it’s not ours.
  • We don’t have a sense of community. (”I don’t care as long as I get my piece of the pie.” ”Ang bagal mo eh.”)
  • We believe what we see in social media instead of news reports.

Our vote reflects our values. The candidates we choose should reflect how we want our country to act. And most importantly, the candidates that we choose should care about each and every Filipino, regardless of their color, ethnicity, economic status, and whether they are drug addicts or not. These candidates that we will choose should foster unity and pride, believe in a sense of community, and have an unwavering belief in each person’s right to live.

Our vote is a reflection of what we want as a people, of what we want our future to be, of what our children’s future should be.

Who to vote

It’s up to you. Think of yourself 3 years from now. Think of your children’s future 10 years from now. If you think a candidate will bring us to where we want to be in those time horizons, then vote for that candidate.

Vote for a candidate that will stand for you and will stand with you. Vote for a candidate that shares your values. Most of all, vote for a candidate that will ensure our survival as a nation – united, with dignity, and compassion and respect for each other.

4
Mar

The reasons why the MRT 3 is a mess will boggle your mind

NOTE: This article was published on another web site last June 11, 2017, but that web site’s gone now, so I am reposting it here. Please note that some information might be outdated by now. I intend to write another one, but no promises. /note

Regular commuters of MRT3 will tell you – it’s a mess. Long queues, broken rails, ovenhot train interiors, stations with non-working elevators and escalators, toilets that stink, constant train breakdowns. The MRT was meant to alleviate traffic and provide commuters another option at convenience. Now, it’s more an inconvenience than a comfort.

What’s wrong with the MRT3?

I. The ownership structure limited the government’s ability to act on the problems of the MRT 3

The MRT 3 was designed as a build-lease-transfer project. The private sector
proponent was a convoluted confusing haze of corporate vehicles really, but let us reduce these to two – MRT Corporation (the signatory to the MRT Agreement), which in turn is owned by MRT Holdings. In this Sobrepeña propaganda site, it listed down the owners, but it’s ownership is unclear, so let’s assume it’s MRT Holdings. The BLT agreement calls for the private proponent to design, construct, and turn over the system to government, while the government will operate the system and pay MRTC rental fees.

When two of the major owners of the MRTC – the Agustines and the Sobrepeñas – suffered financial difficulties, they (together with other owners like the Ayalas) created another company, MRT III Funding Corporation (MRTFC). MRTFC basically issued asset backed bonds (assets meaning the guaranteed rental payments) and sold them to private companies.

Back in 2007, the government was behind in rental payments, and to avoid default it decided to buy these bonds through DBP and LBP. Despite owning these bonds, government did not acquire ownership of MRT3. Remember, these bonds only represent the income from rental payments, not the system itself. MRTC still owns the MRT3.

Do you know why the PPP framework was created? To avoid issuing sovereign guarantees, with government providing financial guarantee to private companies in case the project doesn’t earn as expected. The MRT Agreement provides for such a guarantee. Not only is there a sovereign guarantee, the Agreement also calls for “an after-tax, after-debt-service, after-expense return on their investments of 15 percent per year.”

Not only is the government paying MRTC rental fees, it is also subsidizing passenger fares – Php 5.7 billion back in 2009 alone. The subsidies basically cover the real fare passengers should be paying; since the passengers do not (thanks to former president Estrada’s populist decision to reduce the original MRT3 fare price).

Why is ownership an issue and a reason why the MRT3 is in this mess?

Again, the government, through DOTC (now DoTr) operates the system without owning the system. Government pays MRTC guaranteed monthly rental payments. So the problems with the MRT – maintenance, new trains – are the responsibility of MRTC, not the government. The problems that commuters are facing were already apparent back in 2007. MRT3 has been operating beyond capacity since 2004. It is not clear if MRTC was remiss in its responsibility; it claimed it sent 3 proposals to DOTC since 2006, but DOTC did not act on them, or so MRTC claims. It is also unclear if DOTC did receive such proposals, nor if it decided not to act on them, why. This dispute is something for another day. But this much is clear – the MRT3 is owned by the MRTC, and it has the responsibility for capacity expansion and maintenance, being the owner of the system. The hands of the government are tied by this little piece of paper called the MRT Agreement.

II. Poor maintenance and problems on maintenance provider and maintenance responsibility

It is quite obvious that maintenance has been poor. Sumitomo had been the maintenance provider since the MRT3 began operation, and in 2010 MRTC abdicated its maintenance responsibility, throwing the problem back to the government. The contract with Sumitomo does not contain provisions for “penalties for malfunctioning elevators and escalators, and setting a minimum requirement of 19 trains running during peak hours between 7 am and 9 am.” The government was paying Sumitomo US$ 1.4 million per month (when MRTC should have been paying them instead). There had been no improvement since the problems became apparent in 2007, and Sumitomo has been accused of cannibalizing parts.

As stated earlier, MRTC abdicated its responsibility regarding maintenance, and government took over the maintenance aspect of the system. This is the reason why the government, and not the MRTC, made decisions regarding selection of maintenance providers.

There had been much controversy and noise on the decision to replace the MRT3’s maintenance provider, even leading to the sacking (or, as he claimed, voluntary resignation) of MRT3 General Manager Al Vitangcol (who is facing charges for extortion). To be clear, he was axed for conflict of interest (his uncle was one of the incorporators of the maintenance provider PH Trams).

The current maintenance provider, Busan Universal Rail (BURI), has managed to restore the MRT3 to its maximum number of operational trains to 22 within a year after it got the maintenance contract. However, at the onset of the 2017 summer season, a series of breakdowns hampered operations and once again reduced the number of maximum operational trains to less than 20. This (and politics, see part III) lead to questions regarding BURI’s contract.

There’s only so much a maintenance provider can do. Not only is the system old, it is also operating beyond its design capacity, reducing the life span of the trains. Sometimes the only solution is to replace the old one with the new.

Operating beyond capacity with previous maintenance providers failing to maintain the system and not being held accountable for such failures, it is no surprise that the MRT 3 is in this confusing mess. It is actually quite surprising that it is still running despite these problems. All this has been worsened through politicking by politicians.

III. Politics and revenge messing things up

The previous administration made two crucial decisions based on MRTC’s inaction: first, to replace Sumitomo with another maintenance provider, and second, to acquire new trains. However, with the change in administration, there seems to be a rather suspicious, concentrated effort by a certain politician and a certain party list (see 1, 2, 3) to discredit such decisions.

For example, PBA party list representative Jericho Nograles claimed the Dalian manufactured trains are unusable, which led Senator Grace Poe to call for another hearing. In the Senate hearing, it was proven that Nograles was wrong – the only things remaining to be resolved are the feedback signal and response time issue.

And with the recent breakdowns plus Nograles’ rants that the contract is onerous, DoTr threatens to terminate the maintenance contract with BURI. It remains to be seen if they will replace the maintenance provider. To be fair to BURI, it was handed a system in such terrible shape it is near impossible to fix these numerous problems. It is quite obvious the reason is not due to breakdowns (it happens most during summer, look it up). Folks, politics is rearing its ugly head.

IV. TL;DR

  • The MRT3 is a build-lease-transfer project, owned by MRTC and operated by government through DoTr.
  • MRTC gets guaranteed rental payments with guaranteed annual return of 15%.
  • MRTC has capacity expansion and maintenance responsibility, but it is unclear if it has shirked its responsibility regarding capacity expansion.
  • MRTC turned over the maintenance responsibility to DoTr.
  • DoTr bought new trains despite this not being a responsibility.
  • DoTr wants to replace BURI with Sumitomo as maintenance provider.
  • Current administration and its allies are bent on derailing current solutions to the mess.
27
Feb

#Resist

So. How are you today? How are you coping with the events of the past few days? Tiring, no? Kapit lang.

In a democracy, dissent is essential. We have designed our democratic project so that the government will serve the people, and the people will hold its leaders accountable for every government action. It is the primary duty of the citizen to remind the leaders of government of its sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and protect the people. Once the government violates its sworn duty, once it treats its citizens like excrement, once the government turns against the sovereign people, it is the primary duty of the citizen to resist.

Under a representative form of government, we elect people to be our representatives, to wield enormous powers in our behalf. We have enshrined safeguards in the exercise of such enormous powers, and once our representatives misuse that power, it is our duty to inform them and express our displeasure and opposition. They act in our behalf; if they are not acting for our benefit, they should be rebuked.

How can we ordinary citizens express our displeasure with the acts and words of our elected representatives? There are simple actions that you can do, but these actions require courage on your part. Because if your elected representative is evil, he or she will get back at you if you manage to get his ire. That’s the kind of mentality each poor citizen is facing when confronting the evil of elected leaders who are intoxicated with power. You need courage. You need to start confronting that evil. How?

  • Contact your barangay leaders. They normally have regular contacts with your mayors and congressmen. Tell them how you feel on issues and comment on the stand of your mayor or congressman on the issues of the day. If you want, you can ask them to accompany you to the offices of the mayor, vice mayor, and councilors so that you can talk to them personally. You might need to set an appointment.
  • Contact your elected representative. See below.
  • Contact the senators you most disagree with. Most of them are online on Facebook and Twitter. Based on experience and cursory look at their timelines, though, most of them do not take kindly to criticisms. Watch your words, be respectful but make sure you stand your ground and make your opinion heard loud and clear.
  • Contact your elected senators and representatives the old fashioned way – by calling their offices. You can fax them if you feel that’s more effective. Contact numbers for senators are here. Search for your congressman here, then click on the name to find the contact details. Most of them are not Internet savvy, so old fashioned calling you do. Or, see next item.
  • You can also try visiting your congressman’s district office. Take note that he or she may not be in the office most of the time, but the staff might be helpful. You’ll be surprised if they accommodate you, though. Who knows.
  • You can contact the Office of the Vice President here. Maybe you can also set an appointment so that you can meet Vice President Leni Robredo personally. I suggest you go in a group for maximum effect. You can also contact them through the OVP social media accounts.
  • As for the Office of the President – tough luck. Your best bet is through the Presidential Communications Office. Here’s the contact information. You can also contact them through social media, but I suggest not bothering with their personal accounts – see above regarding onion skinned senators.

If communicating (or attempting to communicate) with them fails for whatever reason (most likely ignoring you, as most of them do after elections), what can you do next? That’s for the next post.

1
Apr

On leadership and platforms and Mar Roxas

Mar and LeniThe buzzword from the last presidential debate was leadership. It resonated for some viewers and listeners. A few were impressed – it was strong and simple.

But what is leadership?

In plain terms, leadership is one’s ability to lead or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations. In transformational leadership, a leader:

  1. Creates the vision.
  2. Inspires the people to move towards that vision.
  3. Provides the information, knowledge, and method to realize that vision.
  4. Coaches and builds a team, so that it is more effective at achieving the vision.

A leader provides a vision. A candidate should show us what he thinks our country should be in the next six years. What is Mar Roxas’ vision? He articulated his vision during the first debate as:

Bakit ko gusto maging pangulo? Dahil gusto ko maging ganito din ang buhay nyo: malaya sa gutom, malaya sa takot, at malayang mangarap.

 

He further refined his vision in the second debate:

Dapat natin ipaglaban ang Daang Matuwid, kung may kulang, pupunuan; kung may mali, itama natin; para dito sa ating bansa tuluyan na makapamuhay tayo kung saan nagtatagumpay ang disente.

 

How does a candidate plan to achieve that vision?

This is what a campaign platform answers. What is a platform? Merriam Webster defines platform as:

a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands; especially :  a declaration of principles and policies adopted by a political party or a candidate

It is usually a list of principles, values, or actions that a political party or a candidate adopts. Basically, it enumerates how the vision is to be achieved. It is a covenant with the public – a binding agreement that a party or candidate is willing to be held accountable for. It is a powerful document, almost sacred. No wonder a lot of candidates are unwilling to provide concrete and detailed platforms – they are unwilling to be held accountable.

Roxas Robredo PlatformMar Roxas and Leni Robredo are willing to be held accountable through their platform – Ang Panata sa Pamilyang Pilipino. Only Roxas and Robredo have a specific and detailed platform among the candidates – a proof that they are sincere in coming up with plans and on acting on them when they get elected.

A leader who has no plan will just bluster and say what the choir wants to hear, for he has nothing substantial to say. It betrays a lack of knowledge of what ails this country. It shows a bankruptcy of creativity in solving this country’s problems. A fake leader fakes it.

We don’t need a fake leader. Mar Roxas is a real leader. He has a plan on how to create jobs. He has solutions to help solve the country’s problems.

A leader inspires his people to achieve his vision. People will flock to a leader who inspires them to do good. They will find a leader that will inspire to achieve common goals. People will gravitate to an inspirational leader to lead them on a journey towards a common vision.

Bayang Matuwid

Mar at Caloocan

A leader assembles a good team, composed of competent people who can be trusted to accomplish what needs to be done to achieve the vision. Most of the people behind Mar’s campaign are decent and trustworthy.

A true leader has a good vision, he only thinks of what is good for the country. A true leader has a good plan – they go together – on how to reach that vision. A true leader inspires his followers to do their best to achieve his vision, together. A true leader assembles a good team, each capable of helping achieve his vision.

So, as I said days ago:

We need a true leader, and that leader is Mar Roxas.

 

15
Feb

A shift away from personality-oriented politics

… is not forthcoming in this election period.

The campaign period for national posts has started, and from the way most of the candidates launched their campaigns, this is not an issues-centered campaign.

For example, Grace Poe was criticized for being dramatic, and decided that she should start her campaign by being dramatic:

Drama nga siguro ang tawag nila dito subalit realidad at tunay na buhay ko ito… katotohanan ito na araw araw pinagdadaanan ng marami sa ating mga kababayan.

She tried tying up the drama of her life with the life of ordinary Filipinos. This kinda fell flat, as her life’s not ordinary. After all, we ordinary Filipinos do not get to be adopted by the King of Philippine Movies, nor get an American citizenship, nor have children that can afford expensive/fake pair of shoes that costs more than half of what a minimum wage earner gets in a month. Her campaign has yet to release its platform of government. Or maybe her 20-item bullet list mentioned when she declared her bid is it.

Poe launched her campaign at Plaza Miranda, causing heavy traffic in the busy area of Quiapo. Ironic for someone who keeps on harping about traffic.

Jejomar Binay launched his campaign in the busiest street in Mandaluyong, also causing traffic. For those who haven’t been keeping watch, he did not launch his campaign in his bailiwick in Makati because for the first time in decades, no Binay is sitting in Makati City Hall. While Binay outlined what he wants to do if elected president, his campaign has yet to release specifics and how he plans to achieve his planned goals. He still has to explain how he got rich.

platform1

Rodrigo Duterte launched his campaign in Tondo, but not in the most depressed area of Tondo, which is in Baseco. He outlined his platform in a press conference held before he faced the crowds in Tondo. Like the other two candidates, Duterte has yet to release his detailed platform. His antics at the start and immediately after the launch (hell, even prior) are prime examples of what an issues-based campaign is not. He seems to be fixated with another candidate, alleging that the candidate is not a Wharton alumni (only to be proven to be incorrect). Recently Duterte questioned this candidate’s manhood, alleging that he is uncut (uncircumcised, circumcision being a sign of antiquated machismo-Spain era manhood).

The Philippine social media follows Philippine politics. Candidates have released their platforms, and one of them has the most comprehensive so far. There’s a dearth of discussion on platforms, and I guess netizens can’t be blamed, as there is nothing much to discuss. However, the toxicity of personality-based politics permeates Philippine social media. And we’re hoping for a discussion on issues? If our candidates are unwilling to do so, what is there for us ordinary Pinoys to discuss? We are left with one candidate’s fixation on another candidate’s manhood.

28
Dec

Downgrading the quality of public discourse

A few months ago, an article by a journalist led me to write about changing the way we discuss issues by veering away from personality-oriented politics.

Elevating the quality of public discourse

At that time I argued that we should discuss issues that are facing the country, and what are the candidates’ plans to address these issues. There hasn’t been much change since then. Senator Grace Poe was busy with all the disqualification cases filed against her (both in the Senate Electoral Tribunal and Comelec), and if she had time to share her vision, she made mostly motherhood statements and nothing concrete. She and Senator Chiz Escudero have yet to unveil their complete platform. Recently, she’s been conflating her case as a case against foundlings and OFWs, something that is clearly an appeal to emotions, a fallacy that attempts to subtly (or not) hide the residency eligibility problem that she’s facing.

Vice President Jejomar Binay is busy going around the country to campaign and activate his local network (painstakingly cultivated since his years as mayor of Makati through the sister city program) while ignoring his corruption cases. It is a move praised by some self-declared “unbiased” political analysts, as keeping his silence means he is largely ignored by the news organizations, leading the people to forget that the vice president has pending corruption cases.

Senator Miriam Santiago is rarely seen and heard.

Former DILG Secretary Mar Roxas is also busy touring the country alone or together with Liberal Party candidate for Vice President Representative Leni Robredo. There isn’t much criticism of Roxas’ plans as president except on his stance on DICT. Much criticism on Roxas are on… him lying on an ice block, eating on a mug, saying “istip by istip” instead of “step by step” in a forum in Cebu.

Yep, still personality-oriented politics.

Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement of his candidacy for the position of president further lowered the quality of public discourse.

The social media milieu prior to his candidacy was already close to toxic levels, but the entry of Duterte unleashed a congress of angry and hard headed fanatics who, imitating their idol unleashed coarse, uncouth, and terrifyingly threatening messages on hapless people who dared oppose Duterte’s candidacy. The sheer idiocy of some of the supporters led to a social media of demagoguery and stupidity.

Duterte contributed to this malaise by calling into question Roxas’ Wharton degree. The resulting conflagration was unfortunate. The sheer ignorance of both so-called social and political elites and the poor masses was astoundingly shocking, and I am being charitable about this observation. It led to Roxas taking on the slapping challenge, with Duterte daring to call for a gun duel only to back down (when it was pointed out that challenging someone to a gun duel is actually a crime). Duterte then said he is ready for a debate, and Roxas challenged him, only for Duterte to retort that number 4 cannot challenge a number 1 in the surveys (the recent surveys showed Duterte as number 3 or 4, so the retort was rather flat and weak).

That’s just one recent example. Heaven knows how bad it will be when the campaign period starts.

We as a people have a choice – we can discuss the candidates’ plans for the country or discuss how ugly a candidate’s face is. If we want an end to personality-oriented politics, we must want it hard. We support a candidate for his or her plans and vision, not because he or she is charismatic or for orphans or tough-acting. Otherwise, by all means engage in stupidity – and don’t blame us if in the end we end up in the figurative “kangkungan.” After all, that’s where pigs wallow with glee.

29
Nov

Duterte and the Constitution: a contradiction

The word “Constitution” is being bandied about these past few days, no thanks to the Senate Electoral Tribunal’s decision regarding Grace Poe’s citizenship and Rodrigo Duterte’s reaction to the said decision.

But what is a Constitution?

Duhaime.org defines constitution as:

The basic, fundamental law of a state which sets out how that state will be organized and the powers and authorities of government between different political units and citizens.

It is basically an agreement between citizens of a state on how the government is organized, its powers, and how it relates to its citizens. Basically all actions of the government – executive actions, legislations passed, decisions promulgated by the courts – are governed by the Constitution.

The same Constitution (in our case, the 1986 Constitution, a written document; not all constitutions are in written form, the United Kingdom, for example, doesn’t have a written constitution) also includes a list of guaranteed rights of citizens called the Bill of Rights. Basically, the government cannot act, cannot legislate, and cannot make decisions that will violate any of the rights listed in the Bill of Rights.

So basically, Duterte is correct:

duterte

Photo from ABS-CBNnews.com FB page

almanac

From The Philippine Electoral Almanac http://pcdspo.gov.ph/pub/201305may-election-almanac.php

But. Here’s the problem. The people had ratified the Constitution and its entire content, meaning we agreed on everything that is stated in the Constitution. You cannot take a part of it and disregard the others that you don’t like or does not conform with your beliefs. It just doesn’t work that way.

You take it as it is, or you have it amended through the means stated in Article 17. (I wish you luck; there has never been a successful amendment since the Constitution was ratified.)

So, the Bill of Rights. It is Article 3, with 22 sections. The first one is the most paramount:

Section 1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.

It is a very powerful provision: no one, not even the government can kill you, can detain you, or take away your property without you undergoing due process. Meaning, before the government can do anything against you, it “must follow fair procedures.” There will be investigation, you will be informed of the case against you, you can defend yourself before a court of law, and the court will decide based on evidence.

That’s how it is supposed to work. We have assented to the Constitution, and we promised to abide by it.

So: there simply has no place for extra-judicial killings in this country under the Constitution. If a candidate makes a bold claim that there is no messing up with the Constitution yet advocates killing suspects without due process, that candidate is paying lip service only. If  a candidate admits links to a death squad, he is actually violating the Constitution.

The Constitution is the fundamental law of the land. There is no middle ground in compliance. There is no compromising the Constitution.

(Originally posted as a Facebook Note.)

28
Nov

Scorecard, forum for candidates for presidency, 2016

This table shows all the fora that candidates for the presidency in the 2016 elections attended or not attended. I will update this table when new fora are held. See the description for the symbols below the table.

ForumBinayDuterteLlamanzaresRoxasSantiago
Philippine Business Conference and Expo

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry

October 27, 2015, SMX Convention Center, SM Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City
☑☟
Mega Cebu and Caucus of Development (CODE-NGO)
November 13, 2015, Center for the Performing Arts, University of San Jose - Recoletos, Cebu City
Meet Your Candidates

November 25, 2015, Manila Polo Club, Makati City

☑ Present
☟ Declined but attended at last minute
❌ Absent/Declined
▬ Not yet a candidate at the time of forum

20
Nov

Ayusin natin ang ad mo, Grace Poe

admo

“Matiisin tayo. Inaabuso na, tanggap pa rin. Ilang oras sa pila. Araw-araw sa traffic. Wala pa sa trabaho o eskwela, pagod ka na. Bakit pag serbisyo-publiko, pahirapan? Dapat maayos,at maaasahang transportasyon para sa lahat. Wag tayong mag-iwanan. Opo, tayo mismo. Ayusin natin ang Pilipinas.”

So goes the latest ad of Grace Poe, who is gunning for the post of the president of the Republic. This is just a short note to highlight some things.

One, it is very disingenuous and timing is perfect. Hello, didn’t she just have a Senate hearing on the MRT3 a week ago? And now everyone is#APECtado‬ ng #trAPEC‬? Poe, through her ad, is adding incendiary barbs to the raging farts to not only antagonize the Aquino administration but to tell the raging netizens “I told you so.”

So, she’s like, a prophet now? Kudos to her PR team, such timing is impeccable.

Yet we have to ask: after all those hearings, has Senator Poe produced any report, any findings, any concrete solutions at all? When all she could crow about are elevators, escalators, and bathrooms – Houston, we have a problem.

The problems with the MRT3 are more than just elevators and escalators and bathrooms and, yes, even trains: the problems with the MRT3 have been there since 2007! I had blogged several times about the problems with the MRT through the years, see MRT: Seconds from disaster, Another look at the MRT, MRT: Seconds from disaster 2, Technology and the MRT, and What should be done with the MRT?

Yes, the real problem that we all can see is that the MRT3 is operating way beyond capacity, brought about by wrong design assumptions, and Joseph Estrada’s populist idea of lowering the fare, thus making more people take the trains, way more than what was the designed capacity. And if you operate beyond capacity, the trains suffer, they carry more than what they were designed to do, so they conk out later on, rails break because the trains passing through are heavier than expected. That’s where we are now. We’ll talk about trains in a bit.

Two, it is not honest at all. Infrastructure projects take time. They are not straight-from-the-shelf things that you can take out, put somewhere, and voila! What the ad won’t tell you is that projects that are designed precisely to alleviate problems that her ad has stated are already either underway or to be started.

The Skyway Stage 3 connecting SLEX to NLEX is being built, so trucks from Batangas ports and Laguna industrial parks no longer have to take EDSA, C-5, and South Superhighway to deliver goods to the north. Another component, once started, will go directly towards the North Harbor.

LRT1 is to be extended up to Bacoor in Cavite, and new trains will be procured from Japanese companies (because the new train acquisition is to be funded through Japan overseas development assistance or ODA loans, only Japanese companies can bid). LRT2 is being extended up to Masinag so that people of Antipolo have another alternative mode of transportation. LRT7 is just waiting for some financing closing before they begin construction.

And the much maligned MRT3 will get new trains (to be honest, not enough but will alleviate current overloaded situation). Yes, we need more trains. But why only now? From the first time I blogged about it to now, it is a seven year span. Why did it take so long? While this was discussed in the Senate hearings, no emphasis was given on the complicated build-lease-transfer agreement between the owners of the MRT3 and the Philippine government. Yes, we don’t “own” the MRT3 – we are leasing it from the private owners, we pay them GUARANTEED payments regardless if the MRT3 earns or not (hence the yearly government subsidies running into tens of billions of pesos), and government maintains the system at government’s expense. So, where do trains come in the picture? The private owners are the ones who are supposed to provide new trains! What happened? They didn’t. They only expressed their willingness to do so when Poe had her first hearing. There was even a legal issue if the government can buy new trains, all because the government doesn’t own the MRT3. The government decided to get new trains, and we can expect new ones next year.

That’s just 2 major projects. They will take time, they are not instant-noodle solutions. They take time because the government wants to do it right: projects untainted with corruption; projects that are not ad hoc, not piecemeal, but part of a holistic solution. Projects that are carefully planned. Don’t we want that?

The next administration will have to make sure these are continued, especially projects that are in the pipeline. But if we elect someone who is averse or will tend to scrap everything, we are not back to zero, we are back to the Stone Age.

Aside: Mar Roxas intends to reform our bus system so that drivers are paid per day and make routes more profitable. I hope he’d take on the taxi system as well, since it is similar to how buses are operated.

Another aside: for this local problem, only one candidate has proposed solutions – only Roxas. Others we got I-promise-you statements.

Lastly, as someone who is aspiring for a national post, she keeps on harping on a rather local issue, specifically Metro Manila. Well, this is not surprising, given this:

Survey results are here (PDF).

It’s all for votes, obviously, but kind of pandering as well. Parang bahala na kayo, people outside of Metro Manila.

I have been a resident of Metro Manila my entire life; I’ve been taking the MRT for more than 8 years now; I’d seen how horrible the traffic was when Skyway phase 1 was started and the Libis Flyover-Katipunan Underpass was started. I’ve been through that hell that everyone is raging about. I want solutions that are sound, better planned, and untainted with corruption. I look forward to a time when government plans can be executed without ten million cases and more controversies.

We keep on hearing complaints about Imperial Manila and yet we have a candidate who props it more! Enough of that! Now we have five years where everyone is getting their fair share of resources. I have to wait for more than 10 years for a better MRT. In so many places they have had to wait 30 to 50 years for a bridge and a road and improvement. They got it now. That’s fair to me. And thats what we should expect from a good government that does not pander for votes: a country that grows together and not have one part spoiled in an irresponsible way. That’s the real cause of the hell that is being fixed. And we won’t get that, apparently, from Grace Poe.

To reiterate: the ad was made to make her appear prophetic and to raise antagonism against the Aquino administration; to allege, through omission of facts, that nothing’s being done about infrastructure problems; and to pander more to her core constituency – the angry netizens of Metro Manila, disregarding the rest of the country.

(Originally published as a Facebook Note.)

20
Nov

Elevating the quality of public discourse

mar-leni

At one point, we complained that his answer to the traffic question during the live interview was too long. He quipped: “But otherwise I’m just giving you two-second sound bites. What’s the point?”

Rappler published an assessment of Mar Roxas before the official start of the campaign for the 2016 elections (see Mar Roxas: His own enemy). This part of the article struck me:

But campaigns are basically passionate, emotional endeavors. Brave and admirable is the man who decides not to dumb down and merely entertain his audience. But woe to the man who will defy the wisdom of the crowd: it’s all about connection – in words and in gestures. To put it simply, Roxas has yet to connect.

I find it odd that Glenda Gloria made that conclusion – that Roxas has yet to connect. Odd because the same article said before July Roxas was only getting like 3% in surveys, and jumped to 20% in very recent surveys. How do you explain the jump? A connection must have been made somewhere, right?

Second, we keep on hearing complaints that campaigns are just entertainment gigs, that we should elevate the quality of our political campaigns. Yet here we have a journalist who thinks what Roxas is doing won’t win him elections. Is Gloria basically telling Mar to dumb his thoughts down? Here is a candidate who is willing to elevate the quality of campaigning by explaining what he thinks needs to be done, that he has a plan, and he’s being told to dial down things? I think it’s time that things change. It is ok to be emotional, but we should be more rational, now.

Third, is there an implicit claim that the general public does not and will not understand what Mar Roxas is saying? Is it a reinforcement of the common theme being shared in social media, that the general public are basically “bobotantes?” I refuse to believe that. The public will understand, if they want and choose to understand. No amount of song-and-dance nor policy speeches would convince a voter who has already decided.

I am for candidates explaining their plans. Enough of platitudes. Enough of pandering. Time to decide on what’s the best for the country, not what’s best for our pockets. Or, enough with That’s Entertainment of Politics.

Image from here.

(This is originally a Facebook Note.)