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By Leandro Milan
OUR brand of democracy, specifically our electoral system, is a fraud. The rules are designed so that only the rich and powerful get elected.
In an attempt to broaden representation in policy-making bodies such as Congress, the framers of the 1987 Constitution introduced the concept of “party-list” representation wherein the so-called marginalized sectors – peasants, urban poor, disabled, cultural minorities – will be allotted seats in the House of Representatives. The pertinent provision states: “The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.”
Twenty-five years hence, the party-list system, is alive and well. Problem is what was meant as an avenue for greater people’s representation has become just another traditional political arena for the rich and powerful. Using so-called people’s organizations clothed in fancy and elaborate names, vested interest groups have hijacked the party-list system and turned it into another charade.
The list of groups seeking party-list seats gets stranger and more absurd every election season, prompting Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. to call the party-list system a joke.
Almost every group now wants to be accredited by the Comelec to be eligible to seek congressional seats — health promoters, aviation advocates, athletes and hobbyists, entrepreneurs, former drug users, ex-military renegades, school dropouts, foreign-exchange dealers, LPG marketers.
The election watchdog Kontra Daya, led by Fr. Joe Dizon, is spearheading a campaign to expose bogus party-list groups. One group on its watchlist is Ang Mata’y Alagaan (AMA), which claims to represent blind indigents and people afflicted with all kinds of eye diseases and disorders.
In a petition before the poll body, Kontra Daya says the nominees of AMA belong to the well-connected Velasco family. The group’s first nominee is Lorna Velasco, a nurse and the wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco. Velasco’s daughter, Tricia Nicole, a lawyer, is AMA’s second nominee.
“The Velascos are very powerful politically and economically, considering that they have as head of the family a sitting member of the highest court of this country,” Kontra Daya said. “Clearly, the AMA has no bona fide intention to represent the sector it claims to represent, but rather to represent the interest of the already powerful, well-connected Velascos.”
Kontra Daya also cited 1-AsalPartylist, a group that claims to represent the urban poor but none of its nominees is a slum dweller. In fact, its first nominee, Ryan Tanjucto, lives in posh Corinthian Gardens in Quezon City. The group’s two other nominees are Tanjucto’s wife, Maria Lourdes, and Manila City Councilor Raymundo Yupangco.
Kontra Daya also referred to the Association of Local Athletics Entrepreneurs and Hobbyists Inc. (Ala-Eh), whose first nominee, Elmer Anuran, is a known boxing promoter who runs a boxing gym and oversees Saved by the Bell Promotions.
Earlier, Kontra Daya had asked Comelec to cancel the accreditation of Ang Galing Pinoy party-list group represented in Congress by Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, the eldest son of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Ang Galing Pinoy claims to represent security guards, tricycle drivers, farmers and small businessmen.
But Kontra Daya says Ang Galing Pinoy is not a legitimate party-list group representing marginalized or underrepresented sectors but a “tool of the Arroyos and their political allies to remain in power.” (Note: In late October, the Comelec subsequently disqualified Ang Galing Pinoy as a legitimate party-list organization.)
Kontra Daya also questioned the credentials of Ang Galing Pinoy’s nominees for next May’s elections, Charlie Chua and Eder Dizon. According to the watchdog, Chua is a member of the Sangguniang Bayan of Lubao, Pampanga, and a senior partner at Chua and Munsayac Law Firm, while Dizon is a cosmetic surgeon and businessman who owns the Pampanga-based Suncove Corp.
Kontra Daya observes that new groups continue to sprout claiming to represent the urban poor but whose current nominees come from the upper crust of society. Some organizations also claim to represent the sick and the handicapped, but their representatives are neither ill nor handicapped and some of them come from well-known wealthy political families.
Brillantes said he was aware that many party-list representatives in the House are multimillionaires and many of the groups seeking accreditation for next year’s elections have handpicked nominees who are either former government officials or members of powerful political clans. One name readily comes to mind: President Benigno Aquino’s aunt, former Tarlac governor Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, who is the first nominee of the party-list group Aksyon Magsasaka-Tinig ng Masa.
“That’s why we are doing this [review] to be able to cleanse the list,” Brillantes said.
Two hundred eighty-nine groups have filed applications for accreditation to contest next year’s party-list elections. One hundred sixty-five of them are new groups, and the Comelec’s job is determining their legitimacy to cleanse the party-list system that it concedes is infested by sham organizations.
“Can you imagine if every three years there are 165 new groups applying? By 2019, there will be more than 1,000 of them listed on the ballot… that will make the party-list system of elections absurd,” Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento noted. “So to me, this is the opportunity to screen and process these party-list organizations.”
As of Oct. 24 the Comelec has disqualified 50 organizations for not meeting the standards for party-list groups set by the Constitution and the Party-list System Act. Among them were groups claiming to represent habal-habal (extended-capacity tricycle) operators and drivers, former drug addicts, peace advocates, ex-convicts, and banana farmers.
The Comelec blames the infestation of the party-list system with sham groups on the ambiguities in the law. The Constitution does not clearly define the concepts of marginalized and underrepresented and also does not lay down the qualifications for party-list nominees, Sarmiento said.
Comelec officials cite the need to amend the party-list law. “We appealed that the vagueness in the law be addressed for the guidance of the Comelec since we implement the law,” Sarmiento said.
In the absence of a more rigid law for the accreditation of nominees, the Comelec has tried to remedy the ambiguities in the law by issuing Resolution No. 9366, specifying that only those who belong to marginalized underrepresented sectors can seek party-list representation in Congress.
By Cherie del Rio
They were the most popular matinee idols of their time. Richard Gomez was the ultimate depiction of the much-desired breed of the “tall, dark, and handsome”. Aga Muhlach was the mestizo actor known for being extremely good-looking whichever way you look at him—thus earning the title of “Ang lalaking walang anggulo.”
Richard Gomez, or Goma to friends and colleagues in the business, has made a name for himself as an actor, athlete, TV show host, model, and director. He had chart-topping movies and TV shows. Goma has also won Best Actor merits from prestigious award-giving bodies such as Gawad Urian, FAMAS, Metro Manila Film Festival, and Star Awards. Goma has also been branded as a ladies’ man, having had romantic relationships with equally popular showbiz stars like Sharon Cuneta and Dawn Zulueta. The Dawn and Richard tandem is perhaps one of the most iconic love teams in Philippine cinema, with their critically acclaimed movie, Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit, as one of the most memorable romantic dramas in Pinoy movie history. But Dawn and Richard’s off-screen love affair was not meant for eternity. The couple eventually split up and Goma later married Lucy Torres, his leading lady in one of their more popular TV commercials.
Goma has had his share of downtime in showbiz, having transferred from one network to another and ultimately coming back to ABS-CBN where he landed the lead role in the remake of Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit — the primetime hit teleserye Walang Hanggan (where he rekindles onscreen romance with Dawn). This new soap could well be Goma’s biggest break after a period of drought in his career. And it seems that the veteran actor subscribes to the saying that one must strike while the iron is hot. He now has plans to run for Mayor of Ormoc City in Leyte in the 2013 elections.
Aga Muhlach shares the same circumstance. He has expressed his intent to run for congressman of Camarines Sur. Last August 3 Aga was sworn in by Mar Roxas as a new member of the Liberal Party. Incidentally, Goma and Lucy, who is an incumbent congresswoman of Leyte, are also LP members.
A couple of years ago, in the height of the fame of shows like Oki Doki Doc and movies like Kailangan Kita, one could not have foreseen the decline in Aga’s career — considering that the actor was able to maintain his baby face good looks and impeccable acting skills. But perhaps with factors such as age, marriage, and the tough competition with and among newer and younger actors, even the biggest names in Philippine cinema are susceptible to having their once stellar careers morph into lackluster visibility in showbiz.
Compared to Goma, Aga’s career has taken a steady spiral down to unpopularity. He has no new projects or upcoming movies. He left his home network ABS-CBN and transferred to TV 5 in 2011. The multi-awarded actor now hosts a TV 5 show called Pinoy Explorer. He is married to former beauty queen Charlene Gonzalez.
Both Goma and Aga are seeking a new career in politics — a considerably seamless transition since the realms of politics and show business are so closely intertwined in the Philippines. Showbiz celebrities, whether they are seasoned actors or starlets, have gone in and out of politics. And even politicians themselves sometimes cross over to the world of movies and TV.
Aga is up against formidable odds in his first try in politics. He will be facing the candidate of the Fuentebella dynasty of Camarines Sur. Aga does not consider this an obstacle, confidently offering his services to the people of Camarines Sur, believing that the “people will decide.”
Goma, on the other hand, has his eyes on the mayoral seat in his wife’s hometown of Ormoc. Wife Lucy meanwhile is seeking reelection as Ormoc City’s representative. It was actually Goma who sought the congressional seat in 2010 but he was disqualified for lack of residency, forcing Lucy to take his place at the last minute.
The actor is confident of winning the mayoral seat, pointing to his wife’s performance in Congress. “Sabi ko sa kanila, huwag na silang manggulo kasi ang ganda ng ginagawang trabaho ni Lucy,” Goma said. “There’s so much improvement, there’s so much progress sa Ormoc… Continuously, nanggugulo sila. I’ll be forced to run head to head against them. Ayaw nilang tumigil so maglaban tayo head to head. Lalabanan ko sila,” referring to his political foes.
Intrigues will continue to besiege the political path that Goma and Aga have chosen to traverse. Their political opponents will undoubtedly find one controversy after another to hurl against the former matinee idols. Their motive for running will always be questioned. And they will, as previous actors who have shifted their careers to politics have been grilled, be accused of using their showbiz fame and popularity to garner votes and will therefore win not based on actual political merit or skill but on face value and artista factors.
The trend of showbiz personalities shifting to politics is not new in the country. Countless actors have tried their hand in public service and governance. Vilma Santos is currently the governor of Batangas, Tito Sotto has been a senator for several terms, and Joseph Estrada was once the president of the country. It seems that there is a certain age in showbiz, a period close to retirement, when actors deem it most practical to dabble into politics, to present themselves to their fans and ask for their support as they run for public office. This recurrence is widely accepted in the industry that older actors gradually put a foot out of the silver screen and into government office.
The question now is, will Goma and Aga’s once-sparkling careers be bright enough to snag them the electoral win they’re vying for? Winning Best Actor trophies seemed an easy enough feat for these talented actors. Will a mayoral and congressional seat for Goma and Aga, respectively, be just as easy to achieve?
By Sheila Coronel, for CNN
(CNN) — The irony is often lost on Filipinos. How can the country that gave the world not one, but two, peaceful “people power” uprisings that ousted corrupt regimes have such violent elections?
On Monday, May 11, more than 50 million Filipinos will have the chance to elect a new president, a new Congress and a roster of local officials. So far the campaign has exacted a deadly toll: Including the Maguindanao massacre that killed 57 people in November, some 100 people have been reported killed in election-related violence, according to news and police reports.
This past week has been especially bloody. Last Monday, armed men fired at two trucks carrying 200 campaigners of a mayoral candidate in Zamboanga del Sur in the southern part of the country. One man was killed, and 32 others injured. On Tuesday, a lone gunman approached a candidate for councilor and shot him several times at close range, as the candidate was shaking hands with voters in a gymnasium in the central Philippine city of Cebu. He died a few hours later.
These incidents merited only a few paragraphs in Manila’s free-wheeling newspapers. Violence is part of the fabric of Philippine elections, and a murder or two seldom gets headline treatment.
Most of the violence is rooted in local political rivalries. Contests for public office at the town and provincial levels are fought so fiercely because the spoils of public office are so rich. Those seeking national office can bank on popularity, celebrity and media exposure in order to win. At the local levels, the calculus is far cruder.
Last November, the private army of a powerful local clan in Maguindanao province attacked a convoy of vehicles on a provincial highway, killing 57 people, 30 of them journalists. The massacre was intended to prevent the clan’s rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from filing his candidacy. It was so cold-blooded and so gruesome that it shocked even those who had become inured to the violence of politics and daily life in the Philippines.
The Ampatuan family, which has been accused of masterminding the massacre, has dominated local elective positions in Maguindanao for years and become rich in the process. In recent months, investigative journalists have had a field day documenting the family’s 28 mansions, their fleet of luxury vehicles and private arsenal of high-powered firearms.
“The Ampatuans do not have plantations. They do not own factories,” said Albert Alejo, a Jesuit anthropologist, at a forum of religious leaders in Mindanao. “Bullets are not harvested from crops. Where did they get these from?”
Over the years, the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has showered billions of pesos to fund development in Maguindanao, one of the country’s poorest provinces. In exchange, the Ampatuans have delivered votes for the president and her party. But the province has little to show for that money: It has only 18 government doctors for over a million people and one of the lowest literacy rates in the country.
Like many political families elsewhere in the Philippines, the clan has preserved its dominance through a combination of patronage, intimidation and links to the presidential palace. Officials say that the Ampatuans kept a 2,000-strong private army, which included the over 100 men who are now facing murder charges for last year’s massacre.
Six Ampatuans are in prison for their alleged complicity in that massacre. Despite this, at least 23 family members are reported to be running for local office in Monday’s elections. The family patriarch Andal Sr., currently jailed for multiple murder, is seeking the vice-governorship of the province, running against his own daughter.
The Ampatuans are an extreme example – most political families in the country do not wield such hegemonic or terrifying power. But they do show how the dynastic nature of Philippine politics has reached such absurd heights – or depths. The leading presidential candidate, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, belongs to a family that has held public office for four generations. His mother, the late Corazon Aquino, was the country’s first female president. And those leading in the senatorial races — including Ferdinand Marcos. Jr., son of the former Philippine dictator — are part of the country’s entrenched political clans.
The dominance of families demonstrates the dysfunctions of Philippine democracy. Yet, lively debate on democracy and a high level of engagement in electoral politics exist in many places, especially the big cities and mass media. Voter turnout has traditionally been at 80 to 85 percent, higher than in more mature democracies.
Still, guns rule in places like the far-flung villages of Maguindanao. That sad reality will continue as long as families like the Ampatuans are not held to account. With the public outrage at the massacre still fresh, this election is a good time to start.
Editor’s note: Sheila Coronel is the director of the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University. She is a co-founder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Committee to Protect Journalists board member and author and editor of more than a dozen books. She is a 2003 recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
Here in the Philippines, where majority of the population are glued to their TV sets for three to seven hours a day, there’s no question from whom someone seeking election into a public office should ask for help. Says Yes! Magazine editor-in-chief Jo-Ann Maglipon: “If you want instant recall, if you want immediate rapport with a large audience, there is nothing like having a celebrity endorser.”
In an ideal world, of course, celebrity endorsers don’t matter. After all, said Rolando Tolentino, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications: “What needs to be sold are the platforms of politicians, their ethical positions, where they’re coming from, where they’re planning to deliver the country in the next three or six years — that should be the basis of choice.” READ FULL STORY.
By Leandro Milan
The biggest, most star-studded and spectacular circus is coming to town!
Consider some of the dramatis personae in the next House of Representatives: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Imelda Marcos, Manny Pacquiao and Vilma Santos. It surely promises to be a controversy-laden and an action-filled chamber, where impeachment plots are hatched and the pork barrel is cut up and doled out.
The Senate is no less colorful and dazzling. Movie actors Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid, whose performances in the Upper House are definitely below Famas standards, are making a comeback. Other contenders include coup leaders Danilo Lim and Ariel Querubin, who are running on rival tickets; and militant Leftists Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, and the late dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., strange bedfellows in the Nacionalista Party. Two outgoing senators have tapped their children to continue their legacy – Ruffy, congressman-son of Rodolfo Biazon, and Gwendolyn, daughter of Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
It is in the local contests in the provinces where the political cauldron will reach blistering levels. It is here where electoral battles between families and clans are fiercest and often defined by the three G’s: guns, gold and goons. Most of the protagonists are familiar names that have become associated with political dynasties. In some cases it’s a free-for-all among clan members when there are not enough posts for everyone. Many of the contests are a replay of past encounters between the scions and dummies of the moneyed elite.
The biggest shocker of the electoral season, of course, is the declaration of President Arroyo that she is running for the congressional seat of the second district of Pampanga, which is currently held by her older son, Jose Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo. (Her youngest son, Diosdado Ignacio “Dato”, is gunning a second term as congressman of the first district of Camarines Sur. How he ended up in Bicol is another story.) Needless to say, it’s a walk in the park for Mrs. Arroyo, who said she would remain in her post until her term expires on June 30, 2010. She is up against three unknown opponents.
Mikey, who joked that he had been “eased” out of a reelection bid, has been named as the first nominee of the party-list Ang Galing Party (AGP). He said at least five party-list groups have offered him a slot as their nominee. Mikey’s party-list bid drew this reaction from Liberal Party senatorial candidate and Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros: “They’re elevating this shameless craving for political power to a different, legendary level. We might as well give it a name, and call it ‘Arroyotitis’.”
Hontiveros added: “Like mother, like son. Obviously, Arroyotitis is hereditary. Masyado naman silang naghahabol ng pwesto. Gusto nila kunin ang pagka-Prime Minister, President, Speaker, at limang seats sa Kongreso. Kulang na lang baguhin nila ang ating batas para makatakbo si Mikey ng SK (Sangguniang Kabatan).”
There are two other relatives in the House: the President’s brother-in-law, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, and sister-in-law Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Lourdes Arroyo.
The fight for the Pampanga gubernatorial post will be a rematch between the Liberal Party (LP) bet, reformist priest-turned politician Gov. Ed Panlilio, and Lakas-Kampi candidate Lilia Pineda, wife of alleged jueteng lord Bong Pineda and a staunch ally of Mrs. Arroyo. In February, the Comelec’s Second Division nullified Panlilio’s 2007 victory and proclaimed Pineda as the rightful winner.
Solid North face-offs
Another sitting governor and LP candidate, Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca, was earlier ousted by the poll body’s Second Division earlier in December. The polio-stricken former radio broadcaster who ended the Dy’s 30-year reign in the province in 2004 when she trounced then governor Faustino Dy Jr., is facing in May another member of the Dy clan, Isabela Rep. Faustino Dy III. In 2007, Padaca, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee for government service in 2008, defeated another Dy clan member, former governor Benjamin Dy. Faustino Jr, Faustino III and Benjamin are brothers.
Over in Ilocos Norte, the Marcoses are once again flexing their political muscle. The former First Lady is seeking to take over the congressional post of the second district, now occupied by her son Bongbong, who is running for senator. Eldest daughter Imee Marcos-Manotoc is eyeing the top provincial post against her first cousin, incumbent Gov. Michael Keon. Two old hands – former governor Rodolfo Fariñas and former congressman Roquito Ablan Jr. — are slugging it out for the congressional post in the first district.
In the 2007 fight for Pangasinan’s fourth district congressional seat, then-Speaker Jose de Venecia trounced Dagupan City Mayor Benjamin Lim. This time, it will be the turn of their wives to face each other. Gina de Venecia and Celia Lim will re-ignite their husband’s rivalry that began in 2001.
In the Manila mayoralty race, incumbent Mayor Alfredo Lim is facing his old nemesis, former mayor Lito Atienza, who is currently secretary of natural resources. The two used to be allies; they won as a tandem in 1992 and 1995 (Lim was mayor and Atienza was vice mayor). Atienza took over when Lim unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 1998. Later, the two parted ways and they tangled for the mayoral post in 2001, which Atienza won. In 2007, Lim resigned his Senate post and went on to regain his old post against Atienza’s son, Ali.
In Makati, long-time Mayor and vice presidential candidate Jojo Binay had a falling out with erstwhile allies Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado, ex-Rep. Butz Aquino and Rep. Teddy Boy Locsin. Mercado and Aquino are both running for mayor against Binay’s son, Junjun, a councilor. Locsin has sided with Mercado and fielded his wife Louie to take over his congressional seat.
In San Juan, the bailiwick of former President Joseph Estrada, the ousted president’s mistress, Guia Gomez, seeks to take over the mayoral post from incumbent Mayor JV Ejercito, her son by Estrada. JV, in turn, is running for the lone congressional seat to be vacated by erstwhile Estrada ally Ronaldo Zamora.
In Parañaque, actor and former mayor Joey Marquez is making a comeback at city hall. He is facing incumbent Mayor Jun Bernabe and outgoing congressman Eduardo Zialcita. His estranged wife, Alma Moreno, is returning as councilor but under a rival group.
Free-for-all in Cebu
In Cebu, there are two simultaneous wars going on – one, between the Garcia and Osmeña clans and the other one is between Osmeña family members. Over the last several years, the Garcias have eclipsed the dominance of the Osmeñas in Cebu. Incumbent Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, the province’s first woman governor, was first elected in 2004 and got reelected in 2007. She is favored to win a third term in May 2010 against allies of the Osmeñas. The Garcia patriarch, Pablo, is seeking reelection as congressman of the second district. His son Pablo John is also running for another term as congressman of the third district. Former Cebu City Mayor Alvin Garcia, a cousin of the Cebu governor, is seeking to reclaim his old seat but under a rival party.
Outgoing Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña is fielding Vice Mayor Michael Rama to succeed him. The mayor’s wife, Margot, was endorsed by various groups to replace her husband but decided to run for a council seat instead. But Tomas’ younger sister, Georgia, could not be stopped in her mayoral bid.
The Osmeña internecine feud has spilled over to the national arena. Cousins Sergio III (Serge), a former senator, and Emilio Jr. (Lito), a former governor, are both running for senator. This could prove disastrous to both because a vote for “Osmeña” will be will not be counted as there are two candidates with the same surname.
The protagonists are third generation members of the Osmeña clan, whose patriarch was the former president, Sergio Osmeña. Two of Sergio’s sons are Emilio and Sergio Jr. (Serging), who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1969 against Ferdinand Marcos. John and Lito are sons of Emilio; Serge, Tomas and Georgia are children of Serging.
Duel in Davao
A bitter electoral battle is also shaping up down in Davao City between City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and House of Representatives Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr. Duterte, dubbed “The Punisher” by Time magazine for his tough stance against crime, is on his third and last term. His daughter, Sara – the incumbent vice mayor – is running to replace her father; the elder Duterte will run for vice mayor.
Nograles, who is also on his last term as congressman of Davao City, is challenging the younger Durete for the mayoral seat. His running mate is former mayor Benjamin de Guzman, who used to be a protégé of Duterte. Nograles’ son Karlo, meanwhile is eyeing to take over his father’s congressional seat.
Over in Saranggani province, boxing idol Manny Pacquiao isn’t content being just the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer, he wants also to be known as “The Gentleman from Saranggani.” He is running for the province’s lone congressional seat against incumbent Rep. Roy Chiongbian, who belongs to a wealthy clan in the province. Whether Pacman’s latest string of victories will be enough to propel him to Congress this time is another story. In his first congressional bid in 2007 in General Santos City, he lost to the incumbent, Darlene Antonino-Custodio.
Vilma, Chavit, Jocjoc
Other prominent movie celebrities in the fray include reelectionist Governor Vilma Santos in Batangas; Cesar Montano, who is running for governor in Bohol; and Christopher de Leon, who is seeking a board member seat in Batangas. Actor Richard Gomez has appealed his disqualification by the Comelec from his candidacy for the congressional seat of Ormoc City on account of his being a resident of Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila. Ormoc City is hometown of his wife Lucy.
Broadcaster Jay Sonza and former Jukebox Queen Imelda Papin are running for vice president and senator, respectively, under the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, the party founded by Ferdinand Marcos. The pair refers to themselves as Mel and Jay, which was the title of the defunct TV show that featured Jay and GMA-7 news anchor Mel Tiangco.
Former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson is out to reclaim his old post which he last held from 1992 to 2001. His son, Ronald, is running for reelection as congressman of the first district of the province.
With their boss’ imminent departure from Malacanang, several Cabinet members are seeking congressional posts: Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita in Batangas, Justice Secretary Agnes Devenadera in Quezon, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap in Bohol and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. in Camarines Sur.
Other Palace officials in the electoral fray are Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, for president, MMDA chair Bayani Fernando for vice president, Secretary of Public Works Hermogenes Ebdane for Zambales governor, Tesda director general Augusto Syjuco for congressman in Iloilo, and PNR chair Michael Defensor for mayor of Quezon City.
Rounding off the cast of characters are personalities who are known more for their notoriety than for integrity or nobility. There is former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante, the alleged architect of the P728-million fertilizer scam, who is running for governor of Capiz. It will be recalled that the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee had conducted an inquiry into the anomaly and recommended the filing of plunder charges against Bolante, a close friend of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.
And in Maguindanao, 10 members of the Ampatuan clan implicated in the Maguindanao massacre, are candidates for various local positions. According to Comelec records, 68 Ampatuans are running in this year’s election – 50 of them carry the surname and 18 others use Ampatuan as middle name. Of the 50, at least 23 candidates are directly related to Andal Ampatuan, Sr., the former governor of Maguindanao who is alleged to the brains behind the Maguindanao massacre.
By Joe Rivera
This coming national election in the Philippines will not be an ordinary one. While a successor to incumbent president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be crowned, the election can also be a prelude to a possible shift to a parliamentary system of government if Arroyo wins her congressional seat in Pampanga and becomes the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. READ FULL STORY.
By Juan T. Gatbonton
The Jesuit educator, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, describes government’s neglect of elementary education as “our immense and largely invisible failure.” The fact is that education is not the only basic chore we’ve forgotten to look after. We are a country of immense and largely invisible failures: Our nation is like the proverbial frog inside the kettle on the stove—swimming blithely in water that is coming to a boil. READ FULL STORY.
By Francisco Lara Jr.
The Maguindanao massacre predicts the eruption of wider violence and conflict as the nation heads towards the 2010 elections. Yet to dismiss this incident as “election-related” is to miss the fundamental political and economic implications of this evil deed. The massacre is rooted in the shift in politico-economic sources of violence and conflict in Muslim Mindanao. It signifies the emergence of new-type warlords whose powers depend upon their control of a vast illegal and shadow economy and an ever-growing slice of internal revenue allotments (IRA). Both factors induce a violent addiction to political office.
Mindanao scholars used to underscore the role of “local strong men” who were an essential component of the central state’s efforts to extend its writ over the region. The elite bargain was built upon the state’s willingness to eschew revenue generation and to grant politico-military dominance to a few Moro elites in exchange for the latter providing political thugs and armed militias to secure far-flung territories, fight the communists and separatists, and extend the administrative reach of the state.
The economic basis of the elite bargain has changed since then. Political office has become more attractive due to the billions of pesos in IRA remittances that electoral victory provides. The “winner-takes-all” nature of local electoral struggles in Muslim Mindanao also means that competition is costlier and bloodier. Meanwhile, political authority may enable control over the formal economy, but the bigger prize is the power to monopolize or to extort money from those engaged in the lucrative business of illegal drugs, gambling, kidnap-for-ransom, gun-running, and smuggling, among others. The piracy of software, CDs and DVDs, and the smuggling of pearls and other gemstones from China and Thailand are seen as micro and small enterprises. These illegal economies and a small formal sector comprise the “real” economy of Muslim Mindanao.
The failure to appreciate how this underground economy, coupled with entitlements to massive government-to-government fund transfers, shapes prevailing notions of political legitimacy and authority in the region partly explains the inability of the central state to deal with lawlessness and conflict.
Political legitimacy in Muslim Mindanao has very little to do with protecting people’s rights or providing basic services. People rarely depend on government for welfare provision, and are consequently averse to paying any taxes. People actually expect local leaders to pocket government resources, and are willing to look the other way so long as their clans dominate and they are given a small slice during elections. Legitimacy is all about providing protection to your fellow clan members by trumping the firepower of your competitors, leaving people alone, and forgetting about taxes.
There were positive signs in the recent past, especially among the Moro women and youth who bore the brunt of conflict and who sought a different future. But achieving their aspirations depends on their ability to rise above clan structures and the dynamics of hierarchy and collective self-defense that bound its members. This dilemma was painfully exposed in the Maguindanao massacre, where Moro women who usually played a strategic role in negotiating an end to rido (clan wars) became its principal victims.
The sad thing about the recent massacre is that it could have been avoided. Everyone in Central Mindanao knew about the looming violence between the Ampatuan and Mangudadatu clans as early as March 2009, when the latter’s patriarch Pax Mangudadatu confronted Andal Ampatuan in a public gathering and made known his clan’s intention to challenge the latter’s political hold on Maguindanao. This threat was in turn based on the knowledge that Ampatuan was planning to undermine the Mangudadatus by fielding a challenger against them in Sultan Kudarat.
In short, the “looming” rido which pundits are predicting today actually started more than six months ago. Yet neither Malacanang nor the Comelec, PNP, and the AFP made any attempt to monitor their activities, disarm their private security, demobilize their loyalists within the police and military, and ring-fence their camps.
The answer lies in the newfound role of Muslim Mindanao to national political elites. The region is known for a long history of electoral fraud. The difference today lies in its ability to provide the millions of votes that can overturn the results of national electoral contests, a situation brought about by the creation of a sub-national state (ARMM) and reinforced by the sort of democratic political competition in the post-Marcos era that makes local bosses more powerful and national leaders more beholden to them. This was the case in the presidential elections of 2004 and the senatorial race in 2007. It will serve the same purpose in 2010. Whose purpose is served by arresting Ampatuan in an election year? Certainly not those of the ruling coalition.
This partly explains the foot dragging and the lame treatment of principal suspects in the massacre. And to those pressing for limited martial rule in Maguindanao, beware what you wish for. Having a surfeit of troops on the ground can provide a superficial peace at best. At worse, it may facilitate the same type of electoral fraud in 2010, or leverage the firepower of one clan over another.
In a region where the rebellion-related conflict between the GRP-MILF received all of the national and international community’s attention and aid, NGOs such as International Alert and the Asia Foundation have often decried the ignorance and indifference of the government and donor agencies to community-based inter and intra clan violence. As International Alert asserts, it is time to focus on the confluence between both types and sources of violence and conflict. Indifference will only lead to more death and destruction as the election approaches, when a convergence between rebellion-related, and inter and intra clan conflict occurs as military forces and armed rebels take sides between warring clans and factions.
Mindanao scholars such as Patricio Abinales, James Putzel, and John Sidel have previously noted how local strong men made Mindanao, and how the region provided an ideal case of the country’s “imperfect democracy” and “political bossism.” More recently, the conflict scholar Stathis Kalyvas called attention to the birth of “ruthless political entrepreneurs” who shape and are shaped by the dynamics between states, clans, and conflict.
The viciousness of the Maguindanao attack shows how these phenomena resonate here. It demonstrates the weak and narrow reach of the central Philippine state in Muslim Mindanao, and how the continued reliance on local strong men will not end the cycle of violence.
(The author is Research Associate at the Crisis States Research Center, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics.)
By Leandro Milan
Claiming public service was “emblazoned on my DNA (genetic fingerprint),” President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stunned the nation when she declared on Nov. 30 that she was running for Congress in the coming elections. She said she would remain in her post even after she had filed her certificate of candidacy.
Her announcement was welcomed by her most ardent supporters but condemned by her critics, who accused her plotting to extend her hold on power as a way to escape criminal prosecution when she steps down from the presidency. When her term expires on June 30, 2010, Mrs. Arroyo, 62, shall have served as president for nine and a half years (three and a half years are from Joseph Estrada’s unfinished term), making her the second-longest serving Philippine leader after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled for more than 20 years. According to surveys, she is the most unpopular leader the country has had since Marcos was booted out in 1986.
Mrs. Arroyo said her decision to seek a congressional post was due to her desire to continue serving and to heed what she called a “clamor” by her province mates for her to serve them. “After much contemplation, I realized I’m not ready to step down completely from public service,” she said on the government-run Radyo ng Bayan.
This is the first time that a President is running for a lower position, an idea that no one thought would ever happen. Even the framers of the Constitution failed to consider this scenario. Section 4 of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution states, “The President shall not be eligible for any re-election.” But the Charter is silent on whether the President could run again for a lower position.
While Mrs. Arroyo’s announcement maybe shocking, even shameless, to some, it was not completely surprising. During the past year, she has made 47 visits to the second district of Pampanga (18 of them to her hometown Lubao). This translates to nearly one trip a week. During her visits, she would be accompanied by staff from various government agencies and give away free PhilHealth cards, seedlings, medicines and cash for microfinance projects. Acting on the requests of barangay leaders, she would order the construction and repair of schools, roads, health centers, canals and dikes. To her cabalen, the presidential largesse is like manna from heaven.
On Nov. 28, two days before the President’s announcement, the President’s elder son, Pampanga 2nd District Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, led a contingent of over 200 mayors, barangay captains and other local officials of Pampanga in a call on his mother in Malacañang.
“My dear mother, in your decision-making, my sentiments must be taken as inconsequential,” Mikey said in his speech. “My political future must be brought to the back seat because as public servants, we have sworn to give our all to our country. . . Madame President, I believe that the best service I can give to my constituents, whom I’ve grown to love so much, is urging you not to deny them the privilege of being represented by your person.” Mikey is eligible to seek reelection but is giving way to his mother.
The congressman noted the steady stream of farmers, fisherfolk, businessmen and civic leaders trooping to the Palace “to express their desire that they be given the privilege of being represented by … a stateswoman with the stature of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.” On Nov. 27, some 200 leaders from farming and fishing communities, as well as representatives from cooperatives and business organizations from the second district of Pampanga presented the President with a manifesto urging her to run in 2010.
Up against three unknowns, the President is a sure winner in the congressional race. There is near unanimity in the belief that there are no legal impediments to the President running for Congress. But this did not deter Akbayan Rep. Rissa Hontiveros from filing before the Commission on Elections a petition to disqualify Mrs. Arroyo from running in Pampanga. Hontiveros argued that the President, by refusing to vacate her post after filing her candidacy for Congress, will be violating the constitutional provision regarding “equal protection of the law.”
“As current President, she has all the powers and resources as well as access to it that will definitely prejudice the chances of any opposing candidate in any electoral competition against her,” Hontiveros said.
But beyond the legalities, there are those who question her decision on moral grounds. Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said Mrs. Arroyo should forsake her plans “in the name of decency and for the sake of propriety.”
“I’d appeal to her not to run and to respect the spirit of the Constitution instead of exploiting the letter of the law, which indeed does not categorically prohibit running for lower positions,” David said.
Fr. Joaquin Bernas, an expert on constitutional law and a member of the 1987 Constitutional Commission, shared David’s sentiment. “We never thought the President would be humble. If I were her, I would not seek a lower office,” he said.
Bernas, dean emeritus of the Ateneo College of Law, admitted there were no legal obstacles to stop Mrs. Arroyo should she decide to run for representative. “Now, delicadeza ibang bagay yan,” Bernas told reporters.
Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said the framers of the Constitution did not think of imposing a ban on an outgoing president running for a lower office simply because “really there is no person in his or her sound mind who will do such a funny and demeaning political circus.”
Bishop David’s older brother, UP Professor Randy David, who backed out from his earlier plan to challenge Mrs. Arroyo, noted: “There are areas of social behavior where there are no explicit laws because in many instances, the existing custom, the existing sense of shame and sensitivity to what is regarded as decent or what we call delicadeza are deemed sufficient to keep people in line. You don’t need specific laws.”
Circuitous route to the top
Most of the President’s critics – from the political oppositon to Church, business and civic leaders – however believe her decision to run for Congress is just the first step to her aspirations to regain power. This is how they paint the grim scenario: she will aspire to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, then move to amend the Constitution to allow for a shift to a parliamentary form of government, and finally crown herself prime minister.
Sen. Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, running mate of Liberal Party standard-bearer Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, said, “Her ultimate goal is to become House Speaker and ram through her burning desire to change the Constitution. Since she cannot hope to beat Noynoy, her next best option is to render his victory useless and lead the change in the form of government.”
United Opposition president and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay voiced the same fears. “The real agenda is to … shift to a parliamentary form of government and snatch power from whoever is elected president in 2010 by becoming prime minister and head of government,” said Binay, who is the running mate of former President Joseph Estrada.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said he suspected Mrs. Arroyo would finance the candidacies of many administration allies so that she could control majority of the House if she won.
According to them, it is only by regaining power as prime minister could she escape the deluge of suits that await her – from plunder to human rights abuses – after she steps down as president.
But Sen. Joker Arroyo, an on-and-off critic and ally of the President, dismisses the fears. He believes Mrs. Arroyo can never be prime minister.
“She is now very weak. She has no political clout; what more if she is only a congresswoman?” the senator asked. “She can never be prime minister because we have to amend first the Constitution. Since she cannot amend it, no way.”
He continued: “How can she succeed as speaker—she cannot do that—because the speaker of the next House will be the choice of whoever is the President. . . Chances are there will be no President that will support that—Noynoy won’t, Villar won’t, Erap won’t and even Teodoro won’t,” he said, referring to presidential candidates Benigno Aquino, Manuel Villar, Joseph Estrada and Gilbert Teodoro.
Senator Arroyo‘s observation was echoed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. In its editorial last Dec. 2, the daily wrote: “In truth, however, and given the political realities, it will be difficult for a rookie representative, even a former president, to drive Charter change from a seat in the chamber. We have raised the threshold question before: If she could not effect a revision of the Constitution while she served as president, how can Ms Arroyo reasonably expect to change the Constitution as merely one of over 250 congressmen?”
Indeed, it is worth noting that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies in the House have tried vainly to ram through various proposals to amend the Constitution during the past two to three years. The influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has already made it known that while it was open to a constitutional amendment in the past, it is now rethinking its position if such a move would be used to perpetuate “a few people” in power.
In the 15th Congress, Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will be joined by three other Arroyos: youngest son Camarines Sur 1st District Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Macapagal Arroyo; brother-in-law Negros Occidental 5th District Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo; and sister-in-law Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Ma. Lourdes Arroyo. There are reports that Mikey Arroyo will be joining a party-list group so he can possibly stay in the House of Representatives.
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