The Race is On

The conduct that was displayed by our “Honourable” representatives and senators during the opening of the 14th Congress was exasperating and unbecoming but not totally surprising. After all, the race towards the 2010 elections has already begun. For the Filipino people, this may be an opportune time to raise our issues and demands as politicians would want to appear concerned about the people’s welfare to be able to court our votes in 2010.

Vol. VII, No. 25, July 29-Aug 4, 2007

The conduct that was displayed by our “Honourable” representatives and senators during the opening of the 14th Congress was exasperating and unbecoming but not totally surprising. The heated jockeying for position by the two biggest and most influential parties in the ruling coalition, Kampi and Lakas-NUCD, began as early as the filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2007 midterm elections. It was expected that this will carry on up to the opening of the 14th Congress, thus, the shouting match during the election for House Speaker. The opposition said that this should have been settled in a caucus of the majority. But nay, no caucus or intervention from Malacanang could have prevented the heated competition for the position of House Speaker.

The opposition fared no better. The election for Senate President was likewise marred by intense jockeying for position and name-calling. In fact, there are now two groups claiming to be the true opposition, the so-called “solid 8” who backed Sen. Aquilino Pimetel, and the group of Escudero, Estrada, et. al who positioned for Sen. Manny Villar, together with administration senators.

Is this a sign of a “vibrant democracy”? No, this demonstrates the opportunism and rottenness in Philippine politics. In the Philippines, the divide is not between contending political platforms. In fact, the divide is very fluid because it is about competing political ambitions: who supports who for what position, and “what is in it for me?” Romeo Capulong, a brilliant human rights lawyer, once said that he has seen a lot of brilliant lawyers become dumb when they became politicians. And he was terribly right. Because in the Philippines, politics, of the traditional kind of course, is not about putting forward, developing, and explaining political principles, ideologies, and programs, it is about enhancing personal interests.

In the Philippines, having an ideology – defined as a “closely organized system of beliefs, values, and ideas forming the basis of a social, economic, or political philosophy or program” – is portrayed in a bad light by politicians. Political activists are derogatorily called ideologues and demagogues, which are actually opposites. The former is a zealous supporter of an ideology while a demagogue appeals merely on the emotions and instinct of the public to gain support. But being ideologue is not such a bad thing; a person with an ideology is actually a person with principles, a vision, and a political program. A demagogue, on the other hand, is much like traditional politicians who sing, dance, and flip flop just to appeal to the public’s emotions.

These very much characterize the Macapagal-Arroyo administration.

When Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo launched a tirade, during her state of the nation address, warning that she will not be a lame duck president and will go after those who would obstruct the ‘nation’s vision’ even as she will not be a hindrance to anybody’s political ambition, she displayed political acuity. And when Sen. Manny Villar called her a lame duck president, he was not attacking Arroyo personally but was merely stating what the presidency will be in the next three years, especially that of the Macapagal-Arroyo kind.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo built or rather desperately clung to the presidency by doling out political favours in exchange for support. When she became enmeshed in a crisis of legitimacy in 2005, she tried to survive by dangling the IRA (internal revenue allotments) of local government units and the pork barrel of congressmen in exchange for their continued support. Her smiles and expressions of appreciation to local government officials while enumerating the government’s planned infrastructure projects in the different regions and provinces during her recent state of the nation address spoke a lot about their meeting of interests.

She also rabidly defends the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the face of mounting international and local pressures regarding the spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, even as evidences clearly point to the culpability of state security agents. The case of Jonas Burgos is a clear example. Two vehicles were already traced back to the military, the plate number of the van and the back-up vehicle used in the abduction. But she refuses to force the military to produce Burgos while she continues to engage in empty rhetoric about the government’s efforts at addressing the problem of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

The next three years

The next three years will be quite different. Personal political ambitions for 2010 will transcend any previously built alliances. From now up to 2010, alliances will be based on a convergence of political ambitions and horse trading on the different elective and appointive positions from the president down to the lowest government official. In other words, who will get what come 2010.

Those aiming for higher positions, including the presidency, will still try not to totally alienate themselves from the Macapagal-Arroyo administration to have continuous access to the government’s resources. But at the same time, they will try to distance themselves from the Arroyo government and its policies because of its unpopularity.

Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is perhaps the president with the longest unsatisfactory rating in history, comparable only to the much-detested Marcos dictatorship. The debacle of Team Unity in the recently-concluded senatorial elections is a clear indication that Macapagal-Arroyo’s endorsement is a kiss of death to any politician. Only two senatorial candidates of the administration who are known for their independence won. A recent addition, Miguel Zubiri barely made it through the fraud-ridden Maguindanao vote.

The catchphrase now among politicians, with regards their relationship with the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, is “critical collaboration.” The Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s unpopular policies will now encounter rough sailing such as the tax reform (read: new taxes) it is pushing for to stave off another fiscal crisis.

While it will be exasperating to watch this circus called politics, the next three years may present a window of opportunity for people’s issues and concerns. Senators, representatives, and even local government officials who will be vying for higher positions will be more receptive to issues which have a political impact on the electorate.

Now may be the time to push for more measures and actions to address the spate of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The unabated extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, and the Macapagal-Arroyo administration’s deplorable human rights record is its vulnerability and no politician who wants to get elected would want to be identified with it. That is why even those who sponsored and voted for the Anti-Terrorism law are now pushing for its review and deferment.

We could push for stiffer penalties for perpetrators, better protection of witnesses, independent investigations, and congressional hearings and resolutions to address the problem of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances as well as specific cases. The people could push for the scrapping of the Anti-Terrorism Law, euphemistically called the Human Security Act of 2007, which would result in more human rights violations, and the counter-insurgency program, again euphemistically called Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Guard Freedom), which aims to “neutralize” (read: kill) whoever it perceives as enemies of the state and militarize rural and urban communities. In its stead, we could push for the resumption of peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to address the root causes of the armed conflict.

It may be the best time to push for the much-delayed P125 across-the-board increase for workers in private companies and P 3,000 monthly increase for government employees to mitigate the effects of the economic crisis on the people. Politicians would want to appear that they are concerned about the people’s welfare to be able to court their votes.

The people could push for legislation prohibiting the practice of labor contractualization and for more protection of workers’ rights, including the right to strike. The Filipino people could also push for a genuine agrarian reform program to replace the comprehensive agrarian reform law which is fraught with loopholes, and for the settlement of land cases in favour of peasants.

We could push for control in the prices of oil, as well as all basic commodities, and the rates of basic services and utilities.

The people could push for more protection of women’s and children’s rights and stiffer penalties for violators thereof. We should also push for more protection of the environment, a ban on all commercial logging, and the scrapping of the Mining Act, which gives foreign mining corporations the license to ravage our natural resources in the name of profit.

The list can be endless. And we may not be able get everything in our list of demands. But what is important is to be able to get immediate measures to initially address the most urgent and pressing problems, such as the issue of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and the intensifying violations of human rights and international humanitarian law; to provide the people with temporary relief from the effects of the crisis, in the form of wage increases and price controls; and to put a stop to the devastating effects of large-scale mining and logging on the environment.

Equally important is to once more put these issues in the realm of public debate to be able to propagate these, and to force the 2010 wannabes to take a position and expose themselves for the people to take note of.(

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