SAY ‘GRACE’ Newly proclaimed Sen. Grace Poe holds her certificate of proclamation as she poses with mother Susan Roces, husband Neil Llamanzares and daughters Hanna and Nika and son Brian during the proclamation of six senators-elect at the PICC in Pasay City on Thursday. JOAN BONDOC
As investors and analysts ponder whether the Philippines would remain in a sweet spot beyond 2016 when the country elects its next President, New York-based think tank Global Source listed four “viable” presidential contenders from the administration party who could challenge incumbent Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Binay has been touted by his political party, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), as the man to beat in 2016. “I’m saying he will be the next President,” UNA campaign manager Toby Tiangco told the Inquirer this week.
In a May 16 commentary on the midterm elections titled “Vote of Confidence,” Global Source named Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Senators Francis Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano and recent senatorial race topnotcher Grace Poe as the four potential standard-bearers within the Liberal Party (LP).
“We agree with the prognosis that the results are a vote of confidence on a highly popular President, which means that President Aquino will continue to have tremendous political capital going forward,” said the report written by economists Romeo Bernardo and Marie-Christine Tang.
“This will be very important as [President Aquino] will need to hit the ground running when the next Congress starts and show results quickly, to enable the economy to build on current momentum and translate the high business optimism into investments in hard assets that will sustain growth,” the commentary added.
Global Source said key pieces of legislation—such as the fiscal incentives reform that affects all sectors—would still be difficult to pass, but may stand a better chance with [Mr. Aquino’s] election clout still fresh in the winners’ minds.
“We also think there is very little risk of President Aquino’s becoming a lame duck executive in the near-term,” the report said. “The administration likely has a two-year window to initiate priority reforms before uncertainty and nervousness creep in with the approach of 2016,” it added.
Global Source added that President Aquino’s ability to influence the outcome of the 2016 election would hinge on the economy. The report said everyone would be looking for solid signs that the President was delivering on his promise of more jobs, investments and a sustained high economic growth.
“On the other hand, failure to bring the economy forward will hurt the President’s party in the final year, resulting in handing over [the] reins [of government] to the opposition led by the Vice President, who has demonstrated his own clout with his daughter’s fifth-place win in the Senate race,” the report said.
“In the meantime, the conduct of the election, as orderly and peaceful as the first automated one in 2010, has itself been a confidence booster,” the commentary said.
Within the LP, the research said Interior Secretary Roxas, who yielded to Mr. Aquino as the party’s nominee for the presidency in 2010, was “currently the likely anointed one.” But if, for some reason, Roxas drops out of the race, Global Source said the other “viable” candidates included reelected Senators Escudero and Cayetano.
The report noted that “one cannot rule out the surprise topnotcher in the senatorial contest, political neophyte Grace Poe,” daughter of the late action star Fernando Poe Jr. who, many believe, won the controversial 2004 election against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Based on the results of Monday’s midterm polls, the administration’s senatorial candidates are expected to bag most of the 12 senatorial seats in contention. Global Source said members of the President’s coalition party were also likely to have won the majority of the congressional and local elective posts.
“Political observers are starting to place bets on the leadership of the two houses of Congress, with Sen. Franklin Drilon seen as the likely Senate President, and incumbent Speaker of the House, Feliciano Belmonte, holding on to his post. Both are staunch allies of the President and high-ranking members of his Liberal Party,” Global Source said.
The report noted that supporters of the administration saw President Aquino’s control of both houses as positive for the government’s reform agenda and greatly increased the chances of passing “big ticket” political and economic legislation, among them the rationalization of fiscal incentives, a new mining law, the amendment to the 20-year Bangko Sentral charter, as well as the build-operate-transfer law and the Bangsamoro basic law.
With the President’s endorsement described as a crucial factor in winning the recent election, Global Source said he was expected to continue to hold sway in the next three years which would enable him, like his mother, to handpick a suitable successor to continue his reform program.
“Naysayers, on the other hand, claim that the administration’s numbers, especially in the Senate, are of no consequence, not only because the Upper House has traditionally acted more independently of the executive branch, but also because the numbers reflect a coalition of parties that came together solely for the elections,” the report said. “The latter implies that the President’s legislative initiatives would continue to face uphill battles and, if the past were any guide, that there is no guarantee that the coalition will stay in place through 2016, much less beyond,” the think tank added.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago sees in her crystal ball the fight for the Senate presidency of the 16th Congress turning into a toss-up between Sen. Franklin Drilon of the Liberal Party (LP) and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano of the Nacionalista Party (NP).
Drilon served as campaign manager of the administration-backed Team PNoy senatorial slate, while Cayetano ran as an NP senatorial candidate who got the biggest number of votes among colleagues from the party who ran under the Team PNoy coalition.
In a radio interview, Santiago said Drilon could be expecting the Senate presidency as his “reward” for his efforts in ensuring Team PNoy’s smooth-running campaign.
Team PNoy—the coalition forged by LP, NP, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), a member of PDP-Laban and independent candidates—won nine of the 12 Senate seats up for grabs in the midterm elections. Drilon attended more provincial sorties during the 90-day national campaign than most of the slate’s candidates.
Observers note that while President Aquino has not openly stated his preference for Drilon as the successor of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the former’s allies have referred to Drilon as the next Senate President.
“The Senate presidency is the will of the majority in the 16th Congress. In the coming weeks, we will carefully listen to the views of my colleagues on the Senate leadership,” Drilon said on Sunday. Cayetano could not be contacted for comment.
For now, Enrile can rest easy.
The administration won’t force any change in Senate leadership when senators resume sessions briefly in early June to close the 15th Congress, a senior Malacañang official said Sunday.
“Numerically [we have it], but what for?” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said of the 13 votes needed to elect a new Senate President. “I think the senators would prefer to end the 15th Congress in a friendly, amicable tone, rather than make it a point for division.”
No need to rock boat
Besides, Abad added, there was no need to rock the boat since administration senators would still be working with Enrile, and Senators Vicente Sotto III, Jinggoy Estrada and Gregorio Honasan II in the coming 16th Congress.
“Why do you create rancor when you don’t need to?” Abad, a senior political adviser to Aquino, said by phone.
After adjourning in early February for the May 13 midterm elections, lawmakers will resume sessions on June 5 and 6. They’ll adjourn sine die from June 7 to July 21.
Although the President “always holds his cards close to his chest,” he would have to make his choice known at some point and pick someone who will sustain his legislative agenda, said Santiago, whose term ends in 2016.
As it is, Aquino should not worry about his pick being acceptable to other senators, she said.
Vote of confidence
According to Santiago, the vote of confidence the President earned following the victory of a majority of his senatorial candidates is enough proof that he continues to have the support of the people.
“But the obvious effect of the last political exercise is that President Aquino’s leadership has even strengthened and he could use this development to further his projects…. He will have more confidence to assert his leadership,” Santiago said.
The LP would have only four senators in the 16th Congress, including Drilon, Ralph Recto, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III and neophyte Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV.
The NP, on the other hand, has five—Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes IV, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Pia Cayetano and neophyte Cynthia Villar.
Santiago, an independent, is usually counted among the NP senators given her closeness to most of them. She said that while the LP was outnumbered, no senator at this point would dare antagonize the President’s political party.
It is more likely that all senators friendly to the administration would support Aquino’s chosen one. [These may include Francis Escudero and Grace Poe, independents who won under the Team PNoy banner; Sonny Angara of LDP; and Koko Pimentel of PDP-Laban—all of whom won in the Senate race as candidates of Team PNoy; and Senators Kiko Pangilinan and Serge Osmeña.
Santiago does not discount, however, that Cayetano would consider putting up a fight for the Senate presidency. “Cynthia is the most senior among the NP senators. She could have a chance given that the NP members outnumber those from the LP but she is very shy,” she noted.
“Alan may try to seek the (Senate presidency),” Santiago added.
Santiago declared that the new membership of the Senate would spell the death knell for Enrile’s continued stay as its head.
As it is, Enrile could only rely on himself and his loyal followers including Estrada, Sotto and Honasan.
The four senators are fondly referred to as the “macho bloc” of the chamber.
“Enrile’s ambition to stay as Senate President is dead,” Santiago said tersely.
Apart from the macho bloc, Santiago said there was no one else that Enrile could rely on for support.
Santiago dismissed expectations that Jinggoy’s brother, Senator-elect JV Ejercito of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), would automatically vote for Enrile.
“JV would go for whoever is supported by his father, former President Joseph Estrada. But remember that the situation is not static, just because Enrile and his father are allies now doesn’t mean they would stay that way forever,” she said.
How about Nancy Binay who, like JV, won her Senate seat under UNA?
Santiago pointed out that Nancy’s father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, “is a member of the Cabinet of President Aquino. It’s not automatic that just because she ran under UNA, she is immediately pro-Enrile.”
“I would place a question mark beside (Nancy’s) name,” the senator added.
Enrile, former President Estrada and Vice President Binay are regarded as the “three kings” of UNA.
Nancy and JV are expected to support Enrile in case he decides to make another go for the Senate presidency.
Abad said a leadership change during the 16th Congress would be the natural consequence of having a bigger administration majority following the victory of nine administration coalition candidates.
He said Aquino campaigned aggressively for his 12 handpicked Team PNoy candidates precisely to achieve this goal.
“The President would like to see the majority in both chambers, and would like to see this reflected in the leadership,” he said.
At least 16 Aquino allies
Going into the 16th Congress opening in late July, Abad has counted at least 16 administration allies, more than enough to elect a new leader from their ranks and push the President’s legislative agenda.
Based on Abad’s list, the new majority would consist of Loren Legarda, Escudero, Cayetano, Pimentel and Trillanes; new senators Poe, Aquino, Villar and Angara; veterans Drilon, Recto and Guingona, all of LP; Osmeña, Lito Lapid, Pia Cayetano and Santiago.
“We will have a bigger majority, compared with the 15th Congress,” Abad said. But he said they would have to decide among themselves whom to elect to the Senate presidency.
Abad ruled out the possibility of Aquino calling Enrile about the leadership change.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate. The election of the leadership in Congress is a matter that is internal to the senators and House members. And knowing this President, he will not want to intervene in that process,” he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, who won a fresh term, is expected to coast to another term as Speaker in the 16th Congress, Abad said.
“It’s his to turn down. But I think he (Belmonte) will continue on. He did very well; there’s no reason he should not. Members of the House will appeal to him to continue on,” he said.
Talk things over
Santiago said the best strategy for Aquino’s allies in the Senate was to talk things over among themselves to strengthen their hold on the majority.
“If it’s going to be Drilon and Alan (as contenders), they must first resolve their intramural. Otherwise, the coalition would break and it would fall in the hands of Enrile. He will do everything he can to destroy the coalition of the LP, NP and NPC,” Santiago said.
Asked about Marcos’ role in the majority, Santiago said the senator would be ready to talk to the LP, the people in Malacañang and even President Aquino.
“Both know that in politics, you cannot be inflexible. You have to be flexible, you cannot fight with everyone like what I do,” she said in jest.
“If I may not be so imprudent, I think both are willing to come to terms with each other and refuse to fight. Politics is addition. I don’t think they would dwell on the past because to do so is counterproductive,” she added.
Santiago said she was not dismissing the possibility that Marcos was also looking forward to a higher position in 2016.
Marcos’ father, the late dictator and his namesake, was the chief tormentor of President Aquino’s father, a former senator and namesake as well. It is still widely believed that the late Marcos may have played a role in the assassination of the late senator.
But of course Grace Poe topping the senatorial race is the one dramatic, phenomenal, game-changing feature of the last elections.
I’ve been saying since early this year that all Grace needed was to raise her awareness level and she would break into the top five. With any luck, I said, she’d land in the top three. By awareness, I meant that she needed to get more people to know she was running. That wasn’t the case until about four months ago when she became more active in Team PNoy activities. It reached its peak during the last few weeks of the campaign when her ads tumbled in.
By awareness, I also meant that she needed to get more people to know she was the daughter of Fernando Poe Jr., a fact that might have been blurred by “Llamanzares.” Grace I knew to be her own person, which was why I’ve also kept insisting that she, like Bam and Jun Magsaysay, did not reflect “dynastic politics.” I thought she ran the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board very well, making well thought-out decisions and standing pat on them afterward. Such as when she suspended the Tulfo brothers from Channel 5 for making threatening statements on TV against Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barreto. She wasn’t borrowed light, but it didn’t hurt to exploit her strengths. Her ads that turned “po” into “poe” did the trick.
I did think Grace was going to do very well, but I never thought she’d top the field. I was bowled over by it when the first results burst in. My surprise soon turned into elation as the significance of it dawned on me. A game-changing event had just taken place in our midst. From out of the blue, from out of nowhere, from out of heaven, if you believe in these things, which Grace does.
It hit me that way especially because I had just written a column that said that after this election we would be faced with a presidential one that looked pretty bleak. The way things had been shaping out, it would only be a fight between Jojo Binay, who had already announced his bid, and Mar Roxas, who hadn’t but whom most people expected to. Either one of them coming in after P-Noy would be the paralytic following the sublime.
Then came Grace.
The first thing I thought of was that this country has had more than its share of amazing graces. Enough to make you believe in divine intervention, deus ex machina, and miracles. Or enough to make you believe, like Paulo Coelho’s “Alchemist,” that if you want something badly enough, the universe will conspire to make it happen.
Four years ago, the horizon seemed even bleaker. There was no real alternative to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a presidential candidate who would be the opposite to her. Worse, we didn’t even know if we’d have elections at all. There were a few things Arroyo wasn’t prepared to dare: extending her rule wasn’t one of them. But after she wangled an invitation to visit from Barack Obama and “drumbeat” the triumph in the local media, holding a bacchanalia in Le Cirque by way of celebration, it seemed more than likely that she would think the unthinkable, she would dare the “un-dare-able.”
Then Cory died, then Aquino lived. And the rest is history.
On a minor note, Grace’s victory gives a sense of that too. My first thought actually was not of Grace per se but of the significance of her victory. People had been asking me some time before the election if I thought there could be an alternative to a Binay-Roxas fight, if I thought we could find a third force, or way, or candidate to reshape or reconfigure that fight. I said hope springs eternal, though a Aquino happened only once in a blue moon. But I said I myself would go into that search mode after the elections.
Grace’s victory showed the voters were thinking along similar lines. Or at least that they were thinking out of the box. The surveys fell flat on this one, they completely misread the public pulse, or mood. People were prepared for change, people wanted change. If a Grace Poe could emerge from out of the blue, somebody else could do the same thing before 2016 came along.
Then I thought: Why not Grace Poe herself?
Of course as friends have been telling me, she will have to prove herself over the next three years first. But I’ve little doubt she’ll do very well in the Senate. Some friends of mine who started out being a little aloof toward her told me before the elections: “I’m voting for her. I saw her in the debates (or I heard her in a rally, or I heard her give a talk), and she’s smart. She’s got the head—and the heart. She’s just won me over.” Three years should give her ample opportunity to replicate that reaction, to multiply that reaction. One thing she has over the others: She straddles the social classes, she’s acceptable from A to E.
Which also means that this early, the two presidential wannabes, quite apart from all the others, deluded or sensible, who contemplate contesting the presidency three years from now, will be making a beeline for her doorstep, determined to woo her to become their running mate. Which is looking at the world through a rearview mirror. That was what happened too in 2010. Up till the 11th hour, several Liberals were still trying to convince me that the magic formula was Roxas-Aquino and not Aquino-Roxas. And I kept telling them that was a formula only for disaster. You made it Roxas-Aquino and you trashed the larger-than-life, mythological, good-versus-evil resonance of the Noynoy phenomenon.
Like Aquino in 2010, Grace will be courted by the presidential wannabes to be their vice in 2016. Like Aquino, why in hell should she agree?
Too early, as Grace herself says, to be talking about these things? Maybe. But the game has changed and, not altogether subtly, it and that has made me one very happy camper.
With a firmer grip on Congress, President Aquino is expected to push for changes in foreign equity restrictions to attract more capital in order to create more jobs and reduce poverty incidence.
But his political leaders are divided on how to initiate the changes.
On one hand, Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who is expected to retain the speakership, prefers Charter change (Cha-cha).
On the other hand, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. wants to focus the modifications on the “negative list” of investment areas that are off limits to foreigners under the 22-year-old Foreign Investments Act (FIA).
“Many of the restrictions are just executive or legislative issuances that can be amended. But I continue to believe in amending the economic restrictions in the Constitution,” Belmonte said in a text message.
Among the 1987 Constitution’s economic provisions that proponents of Cha-cha want amended are those that restrict foreign ownership of public utilities to just 40 percent and ban aliens from owning land in the country.
There are three ways to amend the Constitution—via Congress acting as a constituent assembly (Con-ass), a constitutional convention whose delegates are elected, and a people’s initiative.
Administration lawmakers may be able to muster the numbers to convene a Con-ass and proceed with Cha-cha should they get the green light from Malacañang.
Belmonte expects the ruling Liberal Party (LP) to have at least 105 members, or roughly a third of the House of Representatives, as well as to further cement its coalition with the Nationalist People’s Coalition, National Unity Party, Nacionalista Party and administration-friendly party-list groups.
With at least 16 allies of Aquino in the Senate, Sen. Franklin Drilon, campaign manager of the administration-backed Team PNoy in last week’s midterm elections, is expected to wrest control of the Senate leadership from Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Belmonte’s view was shared by another ally of Aquino in the Senate.
Sen. Ralph Recto said: “I prefer constitutional amendments. The Foreign Investment Act is [the] next best option.”
Recto said though that the President was not too keen on Cha-cha. “But he knows we must allow more FDI (foreign direct investments) to create jobs and modernize our economy. It can be done by liberalizing the investment policy through amendments to the Foreign Investment Act.”
Past Cha-cha efforts
Efforts to amend the Constitution were mounted during the previous administrations of Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but these did not prosper. The Church and civil society opposed these moves on the grounds that these were aimed at lifting the term limits of public officials, including the President’s.
“Instead of Cha-cha, the Department of Finance has been reviewing the ‘negative list’ with the objective of opening up previously restricted areas of investment,” Abad said in a text message.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima did not reply to the Inquirer’s query.
Aside from anticorruption, good governance and sustainability of reforms, Abad said Congress’ main priority was inclusive growth, which could be addressed by making investment areas more accessible to foreign investors.
No trickle-down effect
While the economy has soared during President Aquino’s first three years—the stock market has zoomed to historic highs, the peso has become robust, and the country has achieved investment grade status (from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s)—this has not translated into an increase in employment opportunities and reduction in poverty.
Portfolio investments, or hot money, have surged, but FDI has remained abysmal at $1.5 billion this year, 50 percent down from its 2007 level.
Last year, the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines issued a statement lobbying the government to shorten the foreign negative list in its next biannual listing in 2014.
“Despite continuous advocacy over almost a decade, responsible public sector leaders have yet to assign priority to shortening the list, with the exception of the economic provisions of the Constitution.
“Amending these constitutional restrictions has been advocated by congressional leaders and a study was reportedly prepared at the request of President Aquino but not publicly released. However, little attention has been paid to removing other restrictions from the list,” the foreign chambers said.
The chambers said a review was overdue. “This could be done by an interagency team instructed to review various restrictions on foreign equity investment … taking into consideration whether restrictions impede investment, job creation and competitiveness. A report with specific proposed amendments could be ready by the time the 16th Congress is convened,” they added.
They pointed out that since the FIA was enacted in 1991, there had been only two major changes made: the Retail Trade Liberalization Act (2000), which opened retail trade to foreign investors bringing in at least $2.5 million; and Executive Order No. 158 issued in 2010, which allowed 100-percent foreign equity in gambling in economic zones (by presidential proclamation).
The foreign chambers noted the Philippines’ miniscule 3-percent share of net FDI inflows into Southeast Asian region last year.
“While many factors explain this situation and there is good reason to expect the amounts to rise in 2013 and thereafter, a negative list that is too negative is one of the factors effecting FDI that can be further liberalized,” they said.
Foreign investments in the country are limited to zero percent in media; 40 percent in mining, oil and gas, agriculture and forestry, telecommunications and transportation; 60 percent in banking; 65 percent in power; and 75 percent in light manufacturing.
The 1987 Constitution provides three modes for proposing amendments or revisions: by Congress upon three-fourths vote of all its members; by constitutional convention where delegates are elected; or through a people’s initiative upon direct petition of the required number of voters.
Attempts at amending the Charter have been made since the Ramos administration, but these never took off.
In 1997, the People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action (Pirma) pushed for Charter change by way of a signature campaign or people’s initiative. It proposed a shift to a parliamentary system of government and the lifting of term limits on elected officials, including then President Fidel V. Ramos. The opposition charged Ramos of being behind the campaign, but he denied this.
The Supreme Court en banc unanimously shot down Pirma’s initiative, with eight justices saying there was no enabling law for it, and six others citing that the group’s petition was defective.
Then President Joseph Estrada also pushed for Charter change, which he called Concord, or Constitutional Correction for Development. Estrada sought to allow foreigners to own land, public utilities and media outfits, but this met strong opposition from the Catholic Church and other sectors, leading him to shelve the proposal in January 2000.
Under her administration, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created a Consultative Commission led by Jose Abueva that recommended a unicameral parliamentary form of government, decentralization of the national government and more powers to local government units.
A people’s initiative called Sigaw ng Bayan was also launched during her administration, but this was rejected by the Supreme Court in October 2006, citing its failure to comply with the basic requirement that the “initiative must be directly proposed by the people.” Voting
8-7, the high court noted that the proponents did not show the people the full text of the proposed amendments before asking them to sign the “signature sheet.” The tribunal said the “omission” was “fatal.”
Two months later, then Speaker Jose de Venecia began moves to convene the House into a constituent assembly, but it was met with heavy opposition. In December 2006, in the face of a firestorm of protests, Arroyo dropped her support for the proposal, saying, in a statement, “Philippine democracy will always find the proper time and opportunity for Charter reform at a time when the people deem it ripe and needful and in the manner they deem proper.”
In November 2008, then Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. drafted Senate Resolution No. 10 convening Congress into a constituent assembly to establish a federal system of government. It was backed by 16 senators but never took off.
In September 2011, Sen. Franklin Drilon said both Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte had concurred with his proposal to have both chambers vote separately on bills involving Charter change, which would only touch on economic provisions.
President Aquino, however, reiterated his position that constitutional amendments were not a priority of his administration.—Inquirer Research
SAN FRANCISCO — Perhaps the stupidest reaction to the last Philippine elections came from people who concluded that, based on the outcome, Filipinos are really stupid.
Someone even came up with a faux Time magazine cover making that argument. In an ironic twist, a few who embrace the stupidity claim believed the spoof was for real.
Then there’s the Philippine Star columnist who argued that, “In the present system no matter how hard we try, the numbers are against an intelligent vote. … It is inevitable that the huge majority of unintelligent voting will always overwhelm a small intelligent vote. So it is not about making clueless voters more intelligent to achieve better elections alone. It is also about restructuring our politics and governance so that the selection of leaders does not depend on money and popularity.”
Carmen Pedrosa’s statements about “restructuring our politics” and the need to neutralize the role played by “money and popularity” in elections certainly make sense.
That’s not just a problem in the Philippines. You can hear that complaint in most electoral democracies, even in older, presumably more established, ones like the United States where the fight to reform the way elections are financed has been raging for decades.
But in a country that very recently had a disastrous encounter with dictatorship, what she said can easily be twisted around by forces with a much narrower view of elections and who probably don’t even believe in democracy.
You can almost hear some of these forces declaring: “Well, clearly, the people are stupid and unintelligent. So it’s time for those of us who are not stupid and unintelligent to take charge.”
Yes, some of the big winners aren’t exactly paragons of democratic governance.
As an Associated Press report said, “From Imelda Marcos to Manny Pacquiao, familiar names of political clans and celebrities dominated the ballots in the Philippines’ congressional and local elections Monday, making them a contest of popularity first and reform second.”
It would have been great to see Risa Hontiveros and Teddy Casiño on the list of winners and to have them inject more progressive ideas and discussions into the Senate. (It would also be fascinating given that they belong to rival segments of Philippine progressive politics. But that’s another story.)
But the results aren’t as “unintelligent” as some would think.
As columnist Rina Jimenez-David pointed out, the number of women in the Senate just doubled – a big deal in a political culture notorious for narrowminded machismo.
The top-notcher Grace Poe has quickly come across as intelligent, thoughtful and eloquent. She clearly has no delusions about why she won. She knows it’s because of her ties to a revered cultural icon and was quick to acknowledge the hard work ahead to really earn the people’s trust and respect.
Meanwhile, Nancy Binay has quickly emerged as the most ridiculed political newcomer in the history of Philippine politics. Some of the criticisms and fears may be justified. But many of the attacks have been so over-the-top and unfair.
There’s an important point in the elections that I haven’t heard much about. And it has to do with those whom the supposedly “unintelligent” masses rejected.
There’s the son of the one-time guardian of fascist rule in the country, the veteran trapo now also known for a new literary genre we could probably call ‘extremely creative memoir writing.’ (“I was ambushed. … No, that was a hoax. … Just kidding, I was really ambushed.”)
His son will not be joining the Senate because enough people apparently were not impressed with Jackie Enrile’s ‘I didn’t kill anyone and I really wanted to be a missionary’ narrative.
And Filipinos won’t have to read or hear about Senator Migz “This-time-I-didn’t-cheat’ Zubiri. That’s apparently because enough people didn’t buy into the former non-senator’s ‘Believe me, I didn’t know my votes were stolen” tale.
Then there are the other signs of cracks, even small ones, in the elite political machine on the local level. Why can’t we celebrate the victory of Leni Robredo who just won a congressional seat in Camarines Sur by beating the powerful Villafuerte clan?
But the biggest win is this: Filipinos yet again were able to engage in this crazy exercise. For there was a time when elections were a far more dangerous political activity in the Philippines.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of one of the dirtiest elections in Philippine history.
The year was 1978. The dictator Ferdinand Marcos was in power and thought that he should prove to the world that the people really love him. So he called for elections for a new legislature.
A broad opposition coalition, led by the likes of Ninoy Aquino and Nene Pimentel, took him on. They waged a spirited, courageous campaign, winning the support of Filipinos who had grown tired of the regime.
The dictator hit back by cheating his way to victory. The cheating was so massive and so brazen it stunned even Marcos’s key ally, the United States.
Journalist Raymond Bonner recalls in “Waltzing With a Dictator” how the US Embassy in Manila reported how the Marcoses used flying voters and “printed and marked one million fake ballots for use in the process as necessary” to assure an “overwhelming” victory.
But cheating wasn’t enough.
After the elections, Marcos went after those who defied him by throwing his opponents in prison.
There’s a famous editorial cartoon by the legendary Herblock that brilliantly summed up Marcos’s twisted view of elections. It shows Marcos standing next to one of his generals. They’re both angry as they watch a military van hauling off protesters.
“Ingrates!” Marcos roars. “You let them vote and the next thing they want their ballots counted.”
Filipinos have come a long way since those dark days. And it’s time for an important reminder.
Democracy is a journey, and it’s often messy, unpredictable, at times exhilarating. And the destination isn’t paradise.
“Do not look at the heavens through a bamboo reed.” Can this Japanese proverb help us sift through the May 13 elections’ mixed bag? Nobody loses an election here. Those trashed insist they were cheated.
“My supporters and lawyers insist I fight on,” said legislator and Talisay Mayor Eduardo Gullas, 24 hours after the polls closed. “But I concede and wish my opponent all the best.”
After being trounced, Cebu City Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young insisted: The surveys of his camp foresaw a 14-percent victory margin. “Survey result is what is the reality.” And who confused actual election tallies with survey “guesstimates”? Cebu buffed up financial assistance to teachers from P5,000 to P10,000. The teachers were bought, Young charged.
Nonsense. A hefty dose of Prozac or Zyprexia would jolt Young back to reality. The Villafuertes, who have dominated Camarines Sur for almost 40 years, need that too.
Nelly Villafuerte’s well-funded machine scraped up 31,364 votes. But the wife of the late interior secretary and former Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo racked up 102,694 votes. Like Corazon Aquino and her son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Leni Robredo was badgered by people to run.
Grace Poe shattered the survey crystal bowls when she topped the 2013 senatorial race. Vice President Jojo Binay suddenly broke into cold sweat. The Makati kingpin had reveled in being touted as “the next president.” That would collapse like a pack of cards should Grace run. Flustered then would be a mild term to describe Binay—and incumbent Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. Both know that history has a replay button.
In Makati, Senator-elect Nancy Binay came in third, garnering 165,666 votes. Grace topped the Senate race in the Binay “heartland”—where control levers are kept in family hands.
Until Grace emerged, the 2016 contest seemed locked into Binay versus Roxas. “That’s Scylla and Charybdis, that’s a rock and a hard place, that’s the devil and the deep blue sea,” Inquirer’s Conrado de Quiros wrote.
“We’ve got three years to change things, we’ve got three years to look for an alternative. Otherwise, we won’t be going back to the future. We’ll be rushing forward to the past,” De Quiros warned.
Some political dynasties that “looked at heavens through a bamboo reed” have crumbled rapidly, Inquirer’s Solita Monsod noted. That includes now the Garcias in Cebu, the Fuas in Siquijor, the Antoninos in South Cotabato, and the Jalosjoses in the three Zamboangas. Will they be accountable for past lapses? No basta decir adios. It’s not enough to say goodbye.
Other dynasties were sapped by partial losses: the Josons in Nueva Ecija, the Tañadas in Quezon, the Sumulongs in Rizal, the Teveses in Negros Oriental, the Dazas in Northern Samar, the Villarosas in Occidental Mindoro, plus the Tupases in Iloilo.
But more dynasties are emerging: the Pacquiaos in Sarangani and Alvarezes in Palawan. In 37 provinces, dynasties still “look at the heavens with a bamboo reed.” But the disapproval is rising.
Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu rode a Simba armored personnel carrier, escorted by a military convoy, to his proclamation as governor of Maguindanao, reports Mindanews' Carol Arguillas. Three years back, a Simba also ferried him to oath-taking. No one bitched. Mangudadatu’s wife, sisters, relatives plus 32 journalists from the media were slain November 2009 in Maguindanao. “It was the worst preelection violent incident in Philippine history and the worst worldwide in terms of the number of media workers killed in a single incident,” Arguillas recalls.
A “two-year window of opportunity” to ram through measures to consolidate initial reforms has opened for the administration with its 9-3 poll victory, write Romeo Bernardo and Marie Christine Tang for Global Source Partners. Key measures, from a new mining law to the completion of the Bangsamoro peace talks, now have a better chance being enacted. “There’s little risk of President Aquino becoming a lame duck president (soon), they note. He should hit the ground running when the new Congress opens…”
“Poverty is the worst form of violence,” Gandhi wrote. Today, 28 out of every 100 Filipinos scrounge below national poverty lines—unchanged over the last six years, says the latest National Statistical Coordination Board data.
About 20 percent of the poorest get 6 percent of the total national income. The “upper crust” of 20 percent corners nearly half of the total national income. You see that in slum families or in scrawny kids cadging for handouts. “Children from the poorest households run twice the risk of dying before age five.”
Aquino’s ace in the hand is unsullied personal integrity. He must harness that as his new team grapples with what historian Barbara Tuchman called the “tyranny of the urgent.” The capacity to govern is sapped by interlocking crises, she wrote. Overwhelmed by today’s demands, “few can plan for tomorrow.”
Filipinos were the first to wage People Power with cell phones. Today, there are 106.9 million cell phones in use. Internet access is 21 percent—and rising slowly. This audience is monitoring Binay, Roxas—and the new kid on the block: Grace Poe.
What lies ahead? Banquo wistfully complained to Macbeth: “If you can look into the seeds of time. And say/Which grain will grow and which will not.”
Another dramatic thing happened in the election, though not quite a surprising one. That was Leni Robredo leading the rout of Luis Villafuerte in Camarines Sur. Leni buried Luis’ wife, Nelly, in a landslide in the congressional fight for the third district. John Bongat, a Robredo ally, remained mayor of Naga City, leaving his nearest rival, Jun Pelagio, biting the dust as well, and Luis himself lost to his grandson, Migz, as governor of the province.
The last is a curious twist in Philippine politics. It owes to Luis and son, LRay, being locked in a bitter feud, at times bordering on the violent. When LRay fielded his 23-year-old son against his estranged father, many thought he was crazy. The wise money said Migz didn’t have a chance, Luis owned Camarines Sur, he would win as he had always done in four decades by hook or by crook.
Lo and behold, neither hook nor crook worked. Last I looked, Migz was leading Luis by 50,000 or so. He’ll be the youngest governor in history.
A great deal of this owes to Leni. She it is who has brought about Villafuerte’s downfall, something her husband, Jesse, was never able to do in his lifetime. Her story invites a bit of comparison with Cory’s. Like Cory, she had lost her husband, though by the hand of fate or improvidence in her case rather than by the hand of man or a tyrant. Like Cory, she had been content to stay in the shadows and let her husband bathe in the public gaze. Like Cory, she had been thrust into politics by necessity, a reluctant candidate compelled to run to make sure her husband did not die in vain, his cause would go on. Like Cory, she faced a daunting task, fighting a kingpin that had ruled her province for as long as her province could remember. Like Cory, she had turned the fight into black and white, dark and light, abjectness and deliverance.
Like Cory, she now stands on the field of battle, surveying the remnants of her enemy’s scattered forces.
It’s not without a great deal of irony. Jesse Robredo himself had not planned on running for senator in the last election. He had entertained it early last year, but had abandoned it when he saw his ratings were not going up. He had been a great local official, even getting the Magsaysay Award for good governance, leaping over the heads of national officials for the honor. Alas, in this country it wasn’t enough to become senator. Bowing to necessity, Jesse settled for staying with the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Alas, too, fate had other ideas. His plane crashed one not very fine day in August last year, and suddenly the world he left behind changed. His death transformed him, making him more alive at least in his people’s memory than he had been in life. Certainly, it opened people’s eyes, making them realize what a blessing—and loss—he was to governance.
Leni didn’t just inherit her husband’s mantle, she earned it. She did so by the composure she showed in the wake of her husband’s passing. She did so by the fortitude and courage she showed in the face of grief and devastation, in the face of the multitude of things she had to attend to while mourning her loss. She did so by showing a quietness and grace amid the whirlwind of the sudden discovery of her husband’s worth, a thing that threatened to sweep her off her feet as well.
The landslide did not just owe to Jesse, it owed to her too. In the voters’ certainty, whatever her husband had planted, she would bring to fruition, whatever her husband had started, she would finish. I myself thought that if she had decided to run for senator—someone would tell me she never got invited, a not entirely surprising oversight from a group of people given to oversights—she would have won hands down. I did worry that Leni could become a victim of local politics, a more hospitable home to money, thuggery, and dirty tricks, her enemies having all three in abundance. But as it turned out, she had something more powerful than those things.
She had the voters. She had the people.
Of course like Grace Poe, Leni Robredo has a world of obstacles to hurdle before she can conquer the world. Not least is making sure the political dynasties of Camarines Sur do not mount a comeback. The trick is not just in banishing them, it is keeping them from coming back. Six years ago, Ed Panlilio did the seemingly impossible too, which was to bring down the Pinedas. Six years ago, Grace Padaca did the seemingly impossible too, which was to bring down the Dys—talk of grace and dynasties. Three years later, the Pinedas and Dys were back. Three years later, Panlilio and Padaca were out.
Just as well, Leni has yet to prove herself in Congress. But of that I have little doubt, just as I have little doubt Grace Poe will acquit herself well in the Senate. Both are extremely capable, both are extremely intelligent. And both carry with them a legacy that will flail at their backs like a whip, or blow at their sails like the wind. Poe carries the dream of her father with her, the dream of lifting up the poor, the dream of educating the poor. And Leni carries the work of her husband with her, the boundless potential of local government, the boundless power of good governance. Motivation is the strongest engine of all.
Like Poe, Leni will soon find herself resolutely wooed for higher office by those angling for the presidency. She represents something bigger than herself. But the rest of us can dream us well, and imagine that in an ideal world you can always have Leni—and Grace—spurning them and reaching for bigger things, grander things. In an ideal world, you can always have Grace and Leni themselves teaming up to run for president and vice-president of this country. Wouldn’t that be something?
As the saying goes: “Defeat is an orphan while victory has many fathers.”
This may explain why so many people are claiming the winners in the last senatorial elections as “proof” of the public support for or sentiment against the Reproductive Health Law, which is currently caught in the limbo of Supreme Court procedures.
But how is this possible? How could the same set of senators be for/against the same law? It all depends on the beholder, and the person interpreting the turnout.
Sen. Tito Sotto (still remember him?), who was staunchly against the RH bill during the Senate debates, said that Grace Poe’s clinching the top spot among the senatorial wannabes is “proof” that the so-called Catholic vote is “real.” He also said that the drop in the rankings of Loren Legarda, Chiz Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano, who had all voted in favor of the measure, “is strong evidence that there is a Catholic vote.” The Catholic vote, he added, also helped propel Koko Pimentel, Gringo Honasan, Cynthia Villar, Antonio Trillanes and JV Ejercito into the winning circle.
But last I looked, Poe—who has publicly declared her support for reproductive health—as well as Legarda, Escudero and Cayetano, occupy the top four slots in the senatorial tally. Sotto’s favored winners—Pimentel, Honasan, Villar, Trillanes and Ejercito—are caught in the bottom of the list, with Villar, Ejercito and Honasan taking the precarious last three slots.
This may be the reason the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, a key player in pushing for the passage of the RH Law, rejoiced over the election of pro-RH candidates, saying that “despite the black propaganda of the Church against senatorial candidates who have been supportive of the Reproductive Health Law, a good number of the pro-RH candidates won the recently concluded midterm elections.” This, the group said, is proof that “there is no Catholic vote, and [that] no black propaganda of the Church can steal victory from candidates who advocate reproductive health.”
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To reiterate, six of the seven candidates endorsed by the “Purple Vote” movement are front-runners in the senatorial race, with Sonny Escudero and Bam Aquino joining the pro-RH group. Only Risa Hontiveros among the “Purple Seven” failed to join the winners, but then again, a fellow candidate in Team PNoy, former senator Jun Magsaysay, who is anti-RH, has failed to make it, too.
In the House of Representatives, among the successful reelectionists were staunch RH supporters: Teddy Baguilat (lone district, Ifugao), Kaka Bag-ao (Dinagat Islands), Dina Abad (lone district, Batanes), Bolet Banal (third district, Quezon City), Kimmy Cojuangco (fifth district, Pangasinan), Jaye Lacson-Noel (lone district, Malabon City), Sandy Ocampo (sixth district, Manila), Susan Yap (second district, Tarlac), and Imelda Dimaporo (first district, Lanao del Norte). They won despite the fact that “they faced excruciating campaigns as their respective pastoral localities vocally campaigned against them.”
In a report in the news website Rappler.com, Aries Rufo pointed out that the strength of the Catholic vote should have propelled the candidates of the party Ang Kapatiran, which had mounted a faith-based anti-RH campaign, to victory. But even in the Archdiocese of Lipa, which “unleashed” lay Catholic groups against pro-RH candidates, and across the nation, the Kapatiran contingent is among the bottom-dwellers.
Rufo wrote that in an interview, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles “admitted that creating the ‘Catholic vote’ is still a pipe dream. We are just starting to create a mindset for the Catholic voters,” he said.
So if Sotto says the Catholic vote is real, while Archbishop Arguelles says it is still a pipe dream, who are we to believe? Maybe we should ask “Tito Sen” what it is he’s smoking.
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From Pangasinan comes news of the incredible, though not totally unexpected, victory of “Manay” Gina de Venecia as reelected representative of the fourth district comprising the towns of Mangaldan, San Fabian, San Jacinto, and Manaoag and Dagupan City.
“She did even better than I did!” exclaimed former Speaker Joe de Venecia, Gina’s husband who had represented the district for many years but whose votes were no match for his wife’s steamroller victory this year.
Gina won 92 percent of the votes in the municipalities and 75 percent in Dagupan over her main rival, Celia Lim. Thanking the province’s spiritual patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary of Manaoag, for the peaceful elections in Pangasinan, Gina cited the need for “strong legislation” to stop or mitigate “money politics” in the country. She added that she intends to reintroduce the movement for state subsidy for political parties initiated by her husband, “who is trying to promote it in Asia to reduce political corruption.”
Meanwhile, Gina is calling for prayers for the stricken Dagupan Mayor Benjie Lim, even as she predicted “wide-ranging reforms” under the new mayor, Belen Fernandez. She also suggested that after a year, defeated Liberal Party gubernatorial candidate Nani Braganza, former mayor of Alaminos City, would make a “dynamic, competent member of the Cabinet representing Pangasinan.” In the meantime, she said, Braganza could be “mobilized to help revitalize the peace talks with the CPP-NDF-NPA.”
Apparently, there was a sympathy vote for the late, defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. At least that is what many commentators, both professional and on-Facebook-only, assure us is the meaning of Grace Poe’s 20 million votes.
I can understand why the senator-elect sees her unexpected victory as vindication for her father; it is harder to understand why so many seem to think that that is the only meaning. Or why—and this is my main argument—there should be only one explanation.
Let me start, as many have, with anecdotal evidence. Two first-time voters in my household voted for Grace. Did they vote for her because they were convinced FPJ was cheated in 2004, or because they had realized that the country would have been better off in the six years between 2004 and 2010 under a Poe administration, or because they believed that the Poe family should be given a second chance to serve the nation at the highest levels?
None of the above. They voted for her because they liked what they saw; in the reverse hyperbole of teenage-speak, she “was not bad.”
No mention of FPJ at all. But think about it. How many of the 10 million or so new voters since 2004 (assuming over a million citizens reach majority age every year) even know who the actor was, or that he was the most reluctant candidate for the presidency, or that after Corazon Aquino he was the most famous victim of election fraud in our history—and knowing, cared enough to vote for his daughter?
I wish to be clear. There must have been many, even millions, who cast their vote for Grace Poe more or less for those reasons. Just not very many of the new voters, as now-conventional wisdom would have it. But if there were millions who voted for Grace for reasons unrelated to FPJ, how can we say Grace’s win was only, or primarily, a sympathy vote for “Da King”?
We need account for only a million and a half, or maybe two million, votes. That is the difference between first place and second in the Senate race. Take away those votes, and Grace wouldn’t have topped the Senate contest. And if Grace had not topped the Senate race, there wouldn’t be any talk now about sympathy for FPJ.
But starting with the January surveys, Grace was always in the winners’ circle. Her monthly standing varied, a roller coaster ride she has herself alluded to, but once she had dramatically improved her voter support level from August last year (at that time, only 6 percent of survey respondents said they would vote for her), she was among the handful of candidates who were always in the safe zone.
When we speak of her “unexpected victory” then, we do not mean that nobody expected her to win; we only mean nobody expected her to top the Senate race.
It is quite a feat. Her vote total is the first to break the 20-million mark; given the continuing growth in our voting population, reaching this milestone was only a matter of time. But it is still a powerful symbol: the highest vote total in our history, eclipsing Ferdinand Marcos’ 18 million votes in the sham 1981 presidential election and the 19 million votes of Senate topnotchers Mar Roxas in 2004 and Bong Revilla in 2010.
How did she do it?
She certainly banked on her father’s name, and her mother’s image. But I suggest that all that banking made a difference because of the massive investment in TV commercials she made in the last week of the campaign period.
Here’s more anecdotal evidence, but the kind that can be corroborated by hard numbers as soon as the data become available. By my count, in the last week of the campaign, Grace aired some 20 ads to every one of Loren Legarda’s. I must confess (and if I get the chance I will write at length about what I didn’t get right) that I thought all that adspend was a waste; my reading of the surveys led me to think that the race in the last month had become static, that the contest for the first 10 Senate seats had become settled. As the Grace Poe and Sonny Angara campaign teams would be the first to tell me, I was obviously wrong. But the point is: Grace spent a lot of capital airing ads in the last week; not coincidentally, all this happened after the last Social Weather Stations preelection survey was conducted on May 1 and 2.
How did she top the race?
I do not wish to belabor the point, but it must also be said that her campaign was the antithesis of her father’s feckless, frustrating drive to Malacañang. Having had the chance to cover that unexpected run in 2004, and seeing the Grace Poe campaign team at work in 2013, I can only marvel at the discipline, the strategic thinking, of Grace’s Senate bid.
While many volunteers and coordinators were on board (every single one I dealt with was as courteous as the candidate—something that cannot be said for all campaigns), there was one clear direction. There was a strong emphasis on ground operations. And from the start there was the decision to take part in candidates’ forums and debates. None of this, it pains me to point out, can be said of FPJ’s presidential run.
One more thing. As a candidate, she was acceptable to many. She took a principled stand and stood by the Liberal Party coalition when the United Nationalist Alliance forced her to choose, but in such a gentle, non-offensive way that, to the very end, Joseph Estrada, one of UNA’s so-called Three Kings, vowed to support her. Having worked diligently and intelligently to raise her awareness rating, she found that conversion (getting those aware to vote for her) came more easily because many perceived her, including first-time voters, as “not bad.”