With the midterm elections behind us, it’s time to focus back on the work to be done—and there’s a great deal of it. Only hecklers and blinded critics would deny that much progress has been achieved in the last three years, particularly in governance and the economy. But as many constantly point out, we have yet to turn the good economic news into benefits that reach all Filipinos, and not just a minority at the top.
What exactly is the good news? There remain skeptics out there, but let me distill it to the essentials using my “PiTiK test” that focuses on presyo (prices), trabaho (jobs/employment) and kita (income/output): P-T-K. (For my curious readers: Yes, a newly reelected senator did seek my permission to use that trademark mnemonic for his successful campaign.) And based on latest available data, my PiTiK test yields 2½ good news out of 3. In contrast, 2 of the 3 yardsticks were bad news a year ago, so things have indeed turned around for the better.
Price inflation is the slowest we’ve seen in a while, easing to 2.6 percent as of April. (Translation: The average market bundle you would have bought for P100 last year now costs P102.60, which is not much of an increase.) Average inflation rate was higher at 3.2 percent in 2012, and 4.4 percent in 2011. What to me is even better news is that food price inflation in April was reported by the National Statistics Office to be even lower—at 1.9 percent. As food dominates the budgets of poor families, this tells me that inflation has hit the poor relatively less than it has affected everyone else.
On jobs or employment, the news is half good and half bad. The January 2013 Labor Force Survey showed a lower unemployment rate of 7.1 percent from last year’s 7.3 percent, and a net gain of 606,000 new jobs. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the underemployment rate—the percentage of those who have work but feel the need to work more to make ends meet—has jumped from 18.8 to 20.9 percent, indicating that the quality of available jobs leaves much to be desired.
As for kita, aggregate output/incomes as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 6.6 percent, the fastest in Southeast Asia. Growth also picked up across all three major sectors of agriculture, industry and services, although the improvement in agriculture was only slight (from 2.6 to 2.7 percent, versus the 1.9 to 6.5 percent speed-up in industry, and 5.9 to 7.4 percent acceleration in services). I have written in recent columns of how key growth indicators in 2010-2012 show a clear break from past sluggish trends, particularly in the preceding six-year period of 2004-2009. This has won us unprecedented investment-grade ratings from the major credit rating agencies.
But as noted earlier here, much work remains for President Aquino and his team. The challenge is two-fold. First, we must broaden the base and widen participation in and benefits from our economy’s newfound dynamism. Inclusive growth is now everybody’s mantra, but is much easier said than achieved, as it requires fundamental restructuring of the economy’s driving forces and basic foundations. Second, we must lock in the basis for the current economic momentum so that change in political leadership in 2016 need not derail it. Neither challenges will be easy to meet, but the latter could come from the former. To my mind, five key things must happen if we are to broaden the country’s economic base, disperse economic activity and spread economic gains across all sectors and geographic areas of the country:
One, we must get agriculture moving in a way that secures for small primary producers (farmers and fishers) a greater share of the final value of their product while improving their productivity, raising their incomes, and uplifting their wellbeing. An important step in this direction is providing them wide opportunities to participate in value adding, such as drying and processing (examples are freeze-drying of fruit, coffee roasting, muscovado or coco sugar production, and the like).
Two, we must seize new opportunities to reinvigorate the manufacturing sector and resume the quest for broad-based industrialization that passed us by in past decades as services assumed premature dominance. Some called it “leapfrogging” then; now we see it as “missing the boat.” Among other things, China’s waning edge due to escalating labor costs is now paving the way for us to get back on the industrialization track.
Three, we must promote, develop and empower small and medium enterprises (SMEs), not at the expense of large enterprise, but by fostering a synergistic, even symbiotic relationship between them. In so doing, we must fill the many gaps in the various value chains in our economy while ensuring that these value chains are inclusive and not captured by dominant players. Small producers must also be aided in clustering themselves to achieve greater scale economies.
Four, we must make the financial system truly inclusive by reforming the rules, structures and mechanisms that perpetuate the perverse reality where financing is costliest for the small and most financially deprived, and cheapest for the large and most financially endowed. Farm credit and SME financing simply must become much more accessible.
Five, we must foster a solidarity economy based on social enterprises that would get us away from prevalent economic concentration, yet move beyond simple competition toward stronger coordination and greater cooperation for the common good.
The agenda can be further fleshed out, but if we can effectively pursue all these, 2016 need not be as scary as many seem to see it to be.
Do you have election hangover? I do. Have the campaign posters, placards and other campaign eyesores been pulled down? The victors may be too busy celebrating, and perhaps the losers couldn’t care less. They all should lend MMDA a helping hand, don’t you think?
At least the propaganda jingles are over. I am happy about that. I think that as clever and well intended as these tried to be, many were silly and inane and actually turned off their target audience.
Someone asked me what it was like in the good old days. Names like Quirino, Rodriguez, Lacson, Quezon and Osmeña come to mind.
I remember in 1957 jumping on the bandwagon and urging everyone who cared to listen to rally behind the irresistible senator from Tayabas.
Claro M. Recto was running for President, and I had a privileged seat (by virtue of being his daughter-in-law’s best friend) to witness his campaign up close and personal. His speeches were brilliant, his oratory impeccable. His smile was beguiling and could charm the birds off the trees. He was more than qualified.
But he lost, miserably. Many said it was because he spoke over people’s heads and belonged to the elite. Many who understood the times better saw the hand of foreign interests and blamed his Filipino First policy. In hindsight, it is obvious that no one could have survived against the popularity and mass appeal of Ramon Magsaysay.
Which brings to mind that in our recent polls, his son Jun Magsaysay didn’t make the cut. This is sad news. As a nation, we lost, big time.
We have never seen nor are likely to ever see again the likes of Don Claro. He was a statesman, orator, writer, a nationalist and an international personality. He walked the corridors of power with class. His brilliant career was cut short in Rome in 1960, when during a cultural mission to Europe and Latin America he suffered a fatal heart attack.
I was assigned to help edit a memorial supplement of his undelivered speeches for the Manila Chronicle, my first writing home base. I worked all night side by side with Recto’s bosom buddy, poet laureate Manuel Bernabe.
They had a mutual admiration society of sorts and a genuine affection and deep respect for one another. The sky was almost pink by the time we “put the pages to bed.” A Chronicle jeep took me home. He decided to walk. I guess his weeping was not over.
During the Recto experience I was a very young woman with stars in my eyes. I thought that being a man of integrity with a heart full of love of country were perfect qualities for a good leader. I knew I was right. But my man lost. It didn’t make sense. Not then. Those were my growing pains.
I have a clearer recollection of the rallies and campaign of 1965. I remember yelling at the top of my lungs about the virtues of the man who dreamed to make this nation great again. For a while there, it didn’t seem like an empty promise. I am sure it was more than that. And then life happened. Or worse, politics happened.
I have since reluctantly dabbled in things political, writing a speech here and a commentary there. But each time, there was a little less of the starry eyed idealist who, long ago, still believed.
I have friends who once upon a time marched the streets and braved water cannons in protest of people crazed by greed and the thirst for power. Today they are not moved.
I asked one of them why she is no longer involved. Back in the day, passion ran in her veins. She was fearless. Her reply was tentative, hesitant: “I am too old. I don’t have the energy. ” I prodded: “Old or disappointed?” There was sadness in her voice: “A little old, and a lot disillusioned. We have no more heroes.”
But that was before 2010.
The stunning results of this year’s exercise have revived my flagging spirits—yes, despite what doomsayers post on the social networks. I think bashers and complainers have nothing better to do than foment trouble and malign people.
Come on! Get over it. I say the die is cast. Let’s give them a chance. Get off that Facebook soapbox and stop spitting venom. And before you “like” or “share” the poison, remember: one click makes you just as vicious.
I am not exactly enamored with all the names and faces that have emerged in the winner circle. In the Magic 12, I have my “druthers.” But I believe each one has earned a chance to prove him/herself. For the good ones, three years will be too short. And one day may be too long for the “lemons.” But we picked them, didn’t we?
On the brighter side of things, I am totally delighted with the race run by Grace Poe Llamanzares. Great things are expected of her. I am confident she is more than capable. She will deliver and will not disappoint. Bravo, Grace!
It upsets me to hear TV and radio commentators speculate on how the new Senators will perform. They say that some will thwart whatever comes from the Palace, good, bad or indifferent, because they are committed to toe the party line.
We challenge them: “Stop being politicians and, party alliances be damned, start being Filipino!"
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Leaders of Movement Against Dynasties (MAD) said the group will continue to fight until 2016 for a law that would put flesh to a constitutional ban on political dynasties, encouraged by the rejection by voters of several members of powerful dynasties in the May 13 elections.
MAD chair Quintin San Diego said the best approach to ending political dynasties is still through a people’s initiative.
“The Supreme Court, for lack of an enabling law, has thrown out cases that asked the disqualification of some members of political dynasties,” he said.
“The incoming Congress still has many members [from] political clans. The way to go is still through the initiative petition,” he said.
A petition calling for the end to the succession of rulers from the same family was launched by the group in February at Baclaran Church. The target is 5.2 million signatures, the minimum requirement for people’s initiative-driven laws.
San Diego said while the Constitution explicitly prohibits political dynasties, no law in the last 25 years has been passed to make it operational.
In the absence of a law, he said MAD considers a family a political dynasty if two of its closely related members occupy national or local elective positions at the same time.
He said dynasties deny equal opportunity, control resources and worsen corruption and poverty in the country.
Dynasties, according to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, “breed corruption and inhibit general access to political power.”
“[The existence of dynasties] restricts democracy,” San Diego said.
MAD said at least 18 political dynasties have been hurt by the “growing antidynasty sentiment.”
These, he said, include the Jalosjos family of Zamboanga; Angara family of Aurora; Reyes family of Isabela; Magsaysay and Gordon families of Zambales; Osmeña, Garcia and Gullas families of Cebu; Villafuerte family of Camarines Sur; Lazatin and Nepomuceno families of Angeles City; and the Aquinos of Tarlac.
In April, MAD took the campaign to La Union, the political base of the Ortegas, and Ilocos Sur, where the Singsons are dominant. However, members of these families still won.
Among the powerful clans now are the families of President Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay, said San Diego.
The Center for People Empowerment in Governance tallied 178 dominant political dynasties, including those in local areas. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
Alfred McCoy’s classic description of Philippine politics—as “an anarchy of families”—was coined in the early 1990s, but two decades later it’s even more apt and true. The results of the 2013 midterm polls have only confirmed that, while guns, goons and gold continue to play a huge part in how this country elects its leaders, a fourth element—bloodline—has the strongest grip of all on the system.
The guns and goons were actually at a historic low in the past electoral exercise, according to international observers. Even if it was observed that “violence was still being used as a tool in electoral campaigns … in contrast to the 2007 and 2010 elections, we observed a decrease in election-related violence,” said the Compact for Peaceful and Democratic Elections-International Observers Mission.
What the poll observers found particularly disturbing was something else: the overwhelming number of political dynasties in both the local and national levels. It’s these Mafia-style family conglomerates in power that contribute to and exacerbate the main problems they saw in the conduct of the recent polls, such as election-related violence, vote-buying and election management. “Many of these family networks control economic and political power and go at all costs, including resorting to vote-buying and violence, to maintain power,” the observers said.
Of the Philippines’ 80 provinces, 73 are ruled by political clans. Of some 178 dominant dynasties, about 100 are old land-based families, and the rest, new clans that rose and gained power after Edsa 1 and the post-Marcos years. That steep imbalance has led Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago to call the Philippines “the world capital of political dynasties”—a description that was reinforced in the latest polls, with the entry of newly minted dynasties such as the family of boxing champ Manny Pacquiao in Mindanao and the Pinedas in Pampanga.
In Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s province, not only did the former president win reelection unopposed (her congressman-son Dato took his gerrymandered Camarines Sur district for the second time), her ally Lilia Pineda also won a second term as governor. Pineda’s son Dennis also won as vice governor, Dennis’ wife Yolanda was reelected mayor of Sta. Rita town, and Pineda’s daughter Mylene won as mayor of Lubao town.
The Dy family, once defeated by independent candidate and now Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca, is back in the saddle again in Isabela—its members holding the governor’s office, one of three congressional districts, and a number of mayor’s seats.
Down south, Pacquiao parlayed his celebrity and billion-peso wealth into a win not only for himself as reelected representative of Sarangani province, but also for his wife Jinkee—as green in governance as they come—as vice governor.
As neophytes go, however, none had a more spectacular run than Nancy Binay, a virtual unknown a year ago who placed fifth among the winning senators on the strength of her powerful surname. She now joins her father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, in a key government post, along with brother Junjun as mayor of Makati and sister Abigail as representative of Makati’s second district.
Of course, there is former president Joseph Estrada, bouncing back from political disgrace as the new mayor of Manila—with two of his sons now senators of the republic. And the case of the Marcoses is truly astounding…
When is enough enough? When will the voting public see that a political family’s rote invocations of “public service” to justify stuffing every public office in sight with kith and kin have curdled into plain greed?
Political dynasties come with huge costs to the health and well-being of the country. A 2012 study by Asian Institute of Management professor Ronald Mendoza correlates the Philippines’ economic inequality—the highest in Southeast Asia—with the lopsided character of its politics. With power and wealth and the means to acquire more of such concentrated in a few hands, the system becomes a self-perpetuating mockery of democracy.
More to the point, noted Mendoza, “political dynasties in the Philippines are located in regions with relatively higher poverty levels”—largely the result of families, their inclusive setup now free of checks and balances, treating their districts as fiefdoms for personal gain, and for shutting out qualified people from entering politics.
It’s a deadly stranglehold. Can any antidynasty bill be expected to thrive in the new Congress? Can dynasts turn on themselves and their kind?
Not all was light and hope in the last elections, there was a dark side to them. Agence France-Presse pointed it out last week. The elections also produced a “rogues’ gallery” of winners. Those rogues are:
One, Imelda Marcos, who won 88 percent of the votes in her husband’s turf in Ilocos Norte—she herself is from Leyte—retaining her seat in the House. She and her husband are well-known plunderers and oppressors.
Two, Joseph Estrada, who won as mayor of Manila against Alfredo Lim. Erap was variously impeached, overthrown by People Power, tried and convicted of corruption, but later pardoned by his successor who lived in constant fear of an uprising. Of course Erap was pitted against an opponent who had earned the nickname “Dirty Harry” for ignoring such niceties as due process and human rights. Poor Manila, Nick Joaquin’s noble city.
Three, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who also won 88 percent of the votes in her district in Pampanga. Obviously, it didn’t bother her constituents that she is detained in a military hospital for electoral fraud and corruption. Not quite incidentally, she and Erap are the two presidents who didn’t mind demeaning their former position by running for minor ones afterward. Of course it could always be said that Arroyo was just a stunted president and Erap an aborted one, but that’s another story.
Four, Ryan Luna, who ran for mayor of Bangued, and who had been in hiding since last month after being indicted for murder; five, Rodrigo Duterte, who ran unopposed for mayor of Davao City, known for trying to rid his favorite city of crime by ridding it of suspects, including minors; six, Ronald Singson, son of Chavit, who ran for representative in Ilocos Sur, whose claim to fame was being jailed in Hong Kong for cocaine possession; seven, Clara Reyes, who ran for Palawan governor, wife of Joel, the main suspect in the killing of environmentalist Gerry Ortega; eight, Jose Rodriguez, who ran for mayor of San Marcelino, who is on trial for raping a 12-year old; nine, Cipriano Violago, who ran for mayor of San Rafael, who went underground after being indicted for killing a cop.
Last but certainly not least, the Ampatuans who have won various seats in Maguindanao. Reshal Ampatuan, wife of Andal, won another term as mayor of Datu Unsay; Bai Dong Ampatuan, wife of Zaldy, won as mayor of Datu Hoffer; Bai Sahara won as mayor of Shariff Aguak; Benzar Ampatuan won as mayor of Mamasapano; Bai Sandria Sinsuat-Ampatuan won as mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha; and Zamzamin Ampatuan won as chief executive of Rajah Buayan.
Enough to make you wonder if there would be any witnesses left to testify against Zaldy and Andal in their trial.
Outside looking in, this has got to be most perplexing and disturbing behavior among a people, something only masochists do. Indeed, shortly before Election Day, a number of articles came out in the wires talking about Imelda drawing crowds in her campaign sorties. This is the wife of Ferdinand Marcos, one of the biggest crooks and at least one of the more devious dictators in the world, and she’s getting that reception?
The fact that we are not surprised at all about this, and about the victories of the people included in AFP’s “rogues’ gallery,” is itself pretty revealing. We do have a “damaged culture,” to borrow James Fallows’ term. A great deal of that damage is shown by the fact that do not have a strong sense of nation, we have only a strong sense of region. Or of province: Bicolanos are the only ones I know whose identity is regional rather than provincial. All others are Ilocano, Kapampangan, Ilonggo, Cebuano, Davaoeño, Chabacano. The Ilocanos in Hawaii do not particularly like to call themselves Filipinos, they like to call themselves Ilocanos.
We do not have a strong sense of nation, and so we do not have a strong sense of national interest. Elections bring that out furiously: Imelda is an adopted Ilocano (her husband was so), they will vote for her. Gloria is an adopted Kapampangan (her father was so; she herself grew up in Manila), they will vote for her. However they reek of rape and pillage, however they epitomize greed and selfishness, however they are the face of tyranny and oppression. As the Americans say about their favorite tyrants overseas, they might be SOBs, but they’re our SOBs.
Which itself owes to self-interest. We do not mind that they are crooks and murderers so long as they’ve oppressed others, not us. The most dramatic case of that of course is Marcos. He stole the country blind, but he at least gave back part of the loot to the Ilocanos in roads and bridges. He screwed the nation but he was kind to the people who deemed him their apo, their lord and protector. This country’s sense of corruption already being loose, it becomes looser still when applied to people who did well by their home and hearth, which is their province. Who the hell cares about the rest of the country?
While at that, it becomes looser still when the official takes on a Robin Hood persona, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. That is what Erap has succeeded in doing, which is why he remains a threat in national politics. And that is what Jojo Binay is, which is why the unceasing charges of corruption against him are bouncing off him like bullets off Superman. Which is also why he is a threat to national politics.
As to the Ampatuans winning in Maguindanao, and winning big, I leave that to Mindanao experts to explain. It is to me at least unintelligible at the level of heart or conscience, even if it is not beyond figuring out at the level of head or cold calculation. It’s just monstrous. It’s just sick.
The idea that Charter change is the key to unlocking the Philippines’ full potential, or to solving many of its most intractable problems, is a powerful one; it recurs every now and then, precisely because of the simplicity of its appeal. But it is a false simplicity. Charter change as many in the political class define it will prove to be difficult and complicated—and it may create more problems than it may solve.
This is not to say that the 1987 Constitution should not be revised or amended. But taking history’s lessons into account, we should recognize that the success of any attempt will be determined not so much by political will as by political timing.
One of the crucial innovations of the post-Marcos Constitution was the imposition of term limits, including a single six-year term for the presidency (a faint echo of the original 1935 Charter). The failure of the concerted efforts to change the Charter during the late Ramos years and in the last years of the Arroyo administration can be explained by their inability to generate popular support—an inability based directly on popular suspicion that the presidents at the time wanted to skirt the six-year limit. Any attempt at Charter change, then, must deal with that well-founded sense, that politicians if given a chance will move to extend their hold on power.
Those who wish to change some of the Constitution’s economic provisions (the limits on foreign ownership being at the top of their wish list) may question the continuing relevance of this public sense or chafe at its scope of influence, but it is reality. Perhaps the best chance to amend or revise the Charter was immediately after Edsa 2, in 2001, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo enjoyed the privilege of running for the presidency in her own right, and for a full term. (In other words, there was no need at that time to extend her stay in Malacañang.) Today, some proponents of Charter change see President Aquino’s continuing popularity, and his consistent position against any constitutional change, as the guarantee that the provisions on term limits won’t be lifted.
We do not know if the President shares their fine sense of irony. He has said again and again that he does not see the need to amend the Constitution; he will certainly not lead any effort to change it. Part of his reasoning must be that the reforms he has started to put in place, and which have earned him popular approval and international praise, did not need constitutional change to work, so why change?
Perhaps part is sentimental; the present Constitution is one of his mother’s legacies. Corazon Aquino, using her powers as the head of a revolutionary government, convened the Constitutional Commission in 1986 and ushered in a new constitutional order in 1987. He may be loath to tamper with one of his mother’s chief achievements.
Does the Constitution need amending or revising? That is a different question, to which many Filipinos, even those most suspicious of politicians’ motives, will answer in the affirmative. The lack of a run-off election provision has meant that no majority president has been elected since 1986. The lameness of the anti-political dynasty provision has condemned many parts of the country to a quarter-century of dynastic rule. The experiment that is the Judicial and Bar Council seems to have failed. And the list goes on.
Unlike in 1986, however, amending or revising the Constitution today is necessarily an open-ended process. When a constitutional convention is elected or the chambers of Congress are convened as a constituent assembly, the members will answer only to themselves; not even the President can impose his own schedule on them. In short: Despite promises to limit Charter change to specific provisions, everything in the Constitution becomes negotiable when a ConCon or a ConAss begins its work.
Perhaps the best approach today is to try the US formula, as recommended by constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas, SJ: File specific Charter-amendment legislation in Congress. That would limit the scope of any change, but at the same time meet the Constitution’s own more stringent standards for amending the Charter. Any other approach will create more problems than it will solve.
As in the poem, my heart leapt up when I beheld in Thursday’s Inquirer a report that the Metro Manila Development Authority will conduct a census of squatters to prepare for their relocation. At last, I thought, we will get back our family property that has been squatted upon for decades. But, reading further, I learned that only squatters along waterways will be the subject of the census and relocation. What about the private properties, especially in Quezon City, on which the city government is collecting additional real-estate taxes, allegedly to be used for squatter housing? Not a single hollow block for the alleged squatter housing has been put in place, and the terms of office of the councilors who passed the additional realty tax as well as the mayor who implements it are to end in one month.
Much of Metro Manila is decaying due to the squatter colonies that local government units are tolerating because they are vote-rich areas.
In fact, many of those squatters were brought in by these local officials when they were candidates, to vote for them. And these same squatters are the ones who keep them in office during every election.
Lot owners cannot develop their properties because of the squatters. It is ironic that many lot owners are themselves homeless and are renting rooms because squatters have taken over, and are profiting from, their properties. It is fallacious to think that all squatters are poor. Many of them are rich opportunists.
Look at the squatter colonies: There are stores, shops, and other businesses, as well as two-to four-story concrete houses built on lots that were stolen from their owners. Yet the squatters do not pay real estate and business taxes, have no business permits, and most likely do not pay income taxes, too. It is the lot owners who pay the real estate taxes for the lots being used by other people. The Quezon City government is quick to sell at public auction those lots whose registered owners are delinquent in the payment of realty taxes. The winning bidders are usually syndicates close to City Hall.
It is the responsibility of the government to protect private property in exchange for the taxes the owners pay. But the LGUs do not do that. To be fair, the LGUs should suspend the collection of real estate taxes on lots squatted on until they have relocated the squatters. When will they start doing this?
If you go to City Hall to seek police help to stop squatters from building their shanties on your lot, officials will tell you to get a court order. Yet, it is the duty of the police to prevent a crime that is in the process of being committed. When a policeman sees a person being held up, it is his duty to arrest the holdup man. When he sees thieves taking away appliances from a house, it is his duty to arrest those criminals even without a court order. It is the same thing with squatters. They are thieves and robbers stealing somebody else’s property.
If you file an ejection case in court, the wheels of justice grind so slowly that by the time the court issues a decision, the squatter colony would be firmly established. And even if you win the case, the sheriff and police will not enforce it if you don’t pay them extra.
And the courts are so slow and the legal process so expensive that many property owners cannot afford the costs. On the other hand, the squatter associations have in-house lawyers and enforcers. The odds are stacked against the law-abiding property owner.
The fact that one is poor is no excuse to steal. Even if a person is poor, it is a crime to hold up a fellow man or rob someone else’s house; that person is still guilty of theft and robbery. Squatting is no different. A squatter is guilty of theft.
But the bleeding hearts in Congress have decriminalized squatting. And the Urban Development and Housing Act (Udha), better known as the Lina Law, piles all the benefits in favor of squatters. As I see it, the Udha is class legislation because it favors one class of citizens—the squatters—at the expense of the law-abiding, tax-paying property owners. It should be repealed. Likewise, the law decriminalizing squatting should be repealed.
Because of these laws, squatter colonies have mushroomed everywhere like bad weeds, leading to the decay of many urban areas.
The contagion is still spreading, with the government unable, or unwilling, to stop it because squatters are voters. Many flying voters are also squatters, as are many vote-sellers.
All over the urban areas, we see these tall condominium buildings for the rich. What about the poor? Why is there no in-city housing for them?
The reason squatters resist relocation is that they are thrown to places far from their means of livelihood. The pittance they earn is spent for transportation. So they go back to squatting in the cities.
Can’t the government require the land developers that for every 100 units for rich customers, they provide 10 low-cost housing units for the poor? Build medium-rise housing, at break-even prices for the squatters, near the tall gleaming condominiums.
Then the house help of the condo owners can come from these medium-rise housing units. The owners of the condo units—which are very small—will save money if their house help are “living out.” And the house help will save the money they will otherwise use for transportation because they can just walk to their jobs.
Vice President Jejomar Binay is the housing and antisquatting czar. But he is more concerned about working for his election to the presidency in 2016 that he has forgotten his responsibilities. Doesn’t he realize that he will get more votes if he is able to provide housing for squatters and return the lots squatted on to their owners?
I have been monitoring the hunger incidence statistics of the Philippines as reported quarterly by SWS for over ten years, as long as I have been involved with the Gawad Kalinga movement. Because I was a late-comer in anti-poverty work at that time, I remained observant but quiet. I thought I could not speak up when I was just like most people I knew then—uninterested, uninvolved and concerned with a million other things.
Along the way, I grew more intimate with poverty from consistent presence in areas where the poor were, getting to know them better, deeper involvement with community organizing, working with volunteers and partners, and helping design community programs. All the time, I always remained watchful about hunger. And when I knew the terrain much better, I began to write about it.
Wanting to understand why the Philippines, a country so rich in almost everything, was inexplicably mired in massive poverty, I was forced to turn to history. In my whole lifetime, poverty was already a reality in the Philippines. And since governance by Filipinos began only in 1946 despite claims of independence earlier, I could not blame any government administration of causing poverty. Of course, government may be very guilty in perpetuating in what it could have substantially mitigated in the last 67 years, but not in causing the massive poverty we have.
There is no doubt in my mind that poverty was a direct consequence of Spanish colonization, specifically in taking control of land that belonged to the people. Land in the 16th century was more meaningful that what it is today. When everything was agricultural then, land meant everything that man needed aside from his own skills and administration. Land meant home, land meant food, land meant security, land meant opportunity, land meant the past, the present and the future.
When Spain engineered the largest land-grab in our history, the people’s slide to poverty began. Only a few were spared from it, mostly local leaders who allowed themselves to be used by the foreign masters to control the rest of the natives. Only a few, then, were spared from the massive poverty that ensued in the centuries to come. These included the peninsulares and the insulares who, together with cooperative local leaders, became the first elite.
The landlessness of native Filipinos led to poverty, led to homelessness, led to hunger. There was just no other explanation for poverty, not at the national scale it reached. That there are always poor people around may be understandable, but not when it reaches 90%, as in the D & E classes of the Philippines. The saving grace is that livelihood is now not anymore totally dependent on land. Landless OFWs are earning enough to buy home lots and build sturdy homes. They are also lifting themselves out of poverty without help from the government and the elite.
But the point is not only about poverty but one of its most horrible faces— hunger. I have written many times that hunger shames us as a people. It shames government. It shames the Church. It shames all the non-poor among us. Beyond being a shame, it places a curse on us, not just the administration in power, not just the cardinals and bishops still active in their service, but all of us who can feed someone who is hungry but does not.
It is extremely difficult at this time not to be angry about 20 million Filipinos experiencing hunger. There is something that is inhuman about it, not that there are hungry people, but that there are people in strategic positions who end up doing nothing. It is not as though it is only now that millions have experienced hunger, it has been reported by SWS for at least 15 years.
We have a Catholic Church that expended great effort to wage war against the RH Bill, to create Team Patay during the campaign. My God, if my God is the same God they believe in, the same Bible we read has Jesus Christ asking on Judgment Day, “When I was hungry, did you feed me?” Is that kind of message so hard to understand or have the priorities of religion been flushed in the toilet bowl?
We have a spokesperson for the President of the Republic who, when asked about the latest hunger incidence report, says that “they do not take the survey results alone as the sole benchmark used by the government for its poverty-alleviation priorities.” Well, Ms. Valte, if you speak for our President, please take the hunger incidence report every quarter with the utmost interest, priority and sympathy. Do not make people believe that the President is simply more interested in defending his policies than getting more hungry people fed.
In truth, who cares about poverty-alleviation priorities when people are hungry? The success of anti-poverty programs can be appreciated only when hunger is effectively and substantially reduced. In other words, if the CCT claims that it has helped millions of families, it is like saying the SWS surveys are terribly understated, that the two or more million families that the CCT says it has reached used to be part of the hungry. Either the CCT is completely inutile against hunger and dishonest about its failures, or there used to be more than thirty million Filipinos experiencing hunger.
I thought that an Einstein saying was most relevant only to elections. But it seems even more relevant to poverty and hunger. Einstein said, “Insanity: to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In attempts to ease poverty and hunger, what I used to think was only stupidity is actually insanity according to Einstein.
But what may be the unkindest cut of all for our millions who experience hunger is not government, not the Church, but the rest of the Filipino people who are not hungry and who make no effort to feed the hungry. It is Philippine society as a whole, its perversion from a culture of bayanihan to one that cannot think beyond oneself and one’s family. How sad to realize that, by how we have treated them, nobody really cares about the hungry.
Sen. Loren Legarda on Monday faced a second graft charge in the Office of the Ombudsman—this time for allegedly using a shell company to hide her ownership of a multimillion-peso Balinese-inspired mansion in Forbes Park, the swank village of the rich and famous in Makati City.
In the complaint for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, public interest advocate Louis “Barok” Biraogo accused Legarda of not declaring the mansion in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) from 2007 to 2011—an offense that led to the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona a year ago.
On paper, the Forbes property is owned by Loren Legarda and Associates Inc. (LLAI), a public relations firm that has “no employees, no operations, no business activities and no transactions” since its establishment by the senator in 1986, according to Biraogo.
He said Legarda identified the Forbes mansion at No. 40 Cambridge Circle as her residence in the invitations she sent in hosting a dinner for East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta in 2009.
In a complaint in the Ombudsman filed on May 6, Biraogo, 53, of Biñan City in Laguna province, accused Legarda of failing to declare in her SALN from 2007 to 2011 a P36-million condominium unit that she purportedly bought in Manhattan, New York City.
Loren denies charges
Asked for comment, Legarda sent a text message insisting that the Forbes property was listed in her SALN.
“It is owned by Loren Legarda and Associates. It is clearly in my SALN,” said Legarda, who also claimed that the US property on Park Avenue was in her official asset declarations.
A check with Legarda’s 2012 SALN submitted on April 30 indicated that the column “real property” only listed a residential apartment located in the “USA” with an acquisition cost of P28.7 million. This ostensibly referred to Biraogo’s first complaint.
Legarda’s SALN has an annex where her “personal and other property” with a total value of P67,481,803 were listed. She indicated in the document that she had shares of stock in LLAI worth P249,600.
“Personal and other property” also included cash on hand and in banks, a motor vehicle, jewelry, antiques and artworks, investments in shares of stock, receivables from advances, private insurance and “real property-USA” earlier disclosed.
Legarda said she also had shares of stock in the Manila Polo Club (P2 million), Tower Club (P350,000) and Bai-A-Labi Corp. (P622,365).
The senator, not LLAI, is the true owner of the Forbes mansion, Biraogo insisted in his complaint on Monday, citing her admission to journalist Joanne Rae Ramirez in an interview published on April 28, 2007, in Philippine Star that she owned the mansion.
In that interview, Ramirez asked Legarda whether the mansion was built from her “commission” for a project in Batangas in which her pork barrel fund was used, or whether it was a “gift” from a special someone.
Legarda replied that it was not a gift and that she had “kept my nose clean in my 25 years in television as a journalist and in my six years as senator.”
She also stressed in that interview that she had to borrow money from the bank to partly finance it.
Legarda owns 2,496 of the 2,500 outstanding shares of LLAI, with her father, Antonio Sr., and brothers Edgardo and Antonio Jr., and a certain Ma. Pancrasia Valdez owning just a share apiece, Biraogo said.
He stressed that Legarda owned 99.84 percent of the stock of LLAI, which meant she was not just the majority stockholder and controlling interest holder of LLAI but was practically the owner of LLAI.
“Obviously, LLAI is being used by Legarda as a shell company to conceal her ownership of the Forbes Park property,” he said.
In the two complaints he had filed in the Office of the Ombudsman, Biraogo said Legarda violated Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.
‘Mountain of evidence’
He said Section 8 of RA 3019 required a public officer to disclose not just his or her assets and liabilities and the full disclosure of net worth, financial and business interests, financial connections, and the identities of any relatives in the government service.
Biraogo said that Section 1, Article XI, of the 1987 Constitution and Section 2 of RA 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, required public officials to lead modest lives.
With Legarda’s self-proclaimed middle-class roots and her P75,000 monthly salary as a senator, Biraogo told reporters she could not have possibly afforded both the New York condominium and the Forbes mansion without “dipping her fingers into public funds.”
“The question is where did Sen. Loren Legarda get the money to buy a Forbes Park mansion, as well as a condo in an exclusive area in Manhattan where the Rockefellers and Trumps also have properties?” Biraogo asked. “From her annual pork barrel fund of P200 million multiplied by her years as an incumbent senator?”
Biraogo said Legarda could no longer claim black propaganda on his part to derail her desire to top the senatorial elections on May 13.
“The elections are now over and the day of reckoning for Lady Corona has come,” Biraogo said. “I will prove to the Ombudsman that there’s a mountain of evidence ready to cascade into an avalanche against Legarda.”
Biraogo said he was confident the Ombudsman would find probable cause to warrant Legarda’s indictment in the Sandiganbayan.
He pointed out that Legarda’s refusal and failure to declare the Forbes mansion in her 2007-2011 SALNs constituted five violations of Section 8 of RA 6713. Each count of graft prescribes a maximum penalty of five years in prison or a total of 25 years.
According to Biraogo, Citizen BAROK advocates, including cause-oriented lawyers, were considering filing charges against Legarda’s father and two brothers for possible connivance with the senator in hiding her immense wealth from government and public scrutiny.
He said the group’s members in the United States could also file a complaint against Legarda for perjury and violations of the US Property Codes for declaring there she was the sole owner of the New York condominium while declaring in the Philippines she was just a co-owner of the property with her father and brothers.
Charges of tax evasion against Legarda and her relatives are likewise being contemplated, Biraogo said.
In the case of Edgardo Legarda, charges may be filed with Singaporean banking regulators and the company that employs him, the Singaporean Development Bank, for his alleged role in hiding his sister’s wealth as a dummy in LLAI, Biraogo added.—With a report from Cathy Yamsuan
(The Philippine Star) | Updated May 31, 2013 - 12:00am
Many have observed that becoming mayor of Manila is Erap’s last hurrah. It may well be just that and because of it, there is a lot at stake in terms of legacy issues in the next three years of Erap reigning supreme at Manila City Hall.
Winning the election was the easy part, even if the homestretch proved to be more of a cliffhanger than most people thought. But as Dolphy once said, what do we do after we have won?
For someone like Erap who had once been president of the country, vice president, senator and mayor of San Juan for the longest time, there should be nothing more to prove. But the abbreviated term of Erap in Malacañang and the corruption trial and eventual conviction and instant pardon make it necessary for Erap to prove himself all over again.
If Erap failed to be the best president we ever had, he now has the opportunity to be the best mayor Manila ever had. If he manages that, maybe all will be forgiven, so to speak. He would have shown the world that what happened during EDSA 2 was undoubtedly a big and terrible mistake.
Making something out of this opportunity to revive the City of Manila is a chance of a lifetime for Erap. Not many politicians are given a second chance in this grand manner. The challenges of reviving Manila can be as difficult and complicated as running the country, but maybe not as impossible.
The basic problems of poverty, essential services delivery from health to education and peace and order are similar to those faced by the tenant in Malacañang. But the big difference is that for a city mayor, all these problems are more immediate and bigger than life.
Erap, through his years as mayor of San Juan, must be aware that these problems are more than the statistics discussed in cabinet meetings. These problems have faces and the mayor is expected to address these concerns, for each and every one of them, everyday.
Then there is the problem of poverty of the spirit brought about by one’s miserable surroundings. Seeing a Manila that is dirty and way past its prime can sap the spirit of its residents. Revitalizing the city means making it look vibrant and inspiringly promising.
The older residents can at least pine for the old days when Escolta was the premier street of the nation. This was where the notables spent time sipping coffee and exchanging gossip at Botica Boie while their wives and children shop at Berg’s or Syvels.
Binondo was the financial center where the biggest banks, the large accounting and law firms had their offices. Across the Pasig River towards the bay area is Dewey (Roxas) boulevard where every one could enjoy fresh air walking by the seaside or riding the Motorco open roof, double deck bus down the picturesque boulevard.
Ermita and Malate were not the red light districts of today, but where the notables lived. Calle Penafrancia in Paco was the virtual Forbes Park where the Laurels and the Yulos had their mansions. Even the working class neighborhoods of Sampaloc and Tondo looked a lot better than what we can see today.
I don’t know when Manila started to look like an old impoverished city, but I think the martial law years seem to be the beginning of the decline. Businesses started migrating to Makati in droves in the early ’70s.
I remember the times well because I was then commuting to UP Diliman from Pandacan daily via Quiapo. That was also the time when a sister who just graduated from UP Law started to work at the SyCip Salazar law firm at the Trade and Commerce building in Juan Luna St. in Binondo where I sometimes accompanied her.
Then when martial law came, I worked at a bank on Rosario Street which entailed walking from Echague to Binondo every day. I saw the steady decline of Escolta until PNB was the only major bank with its head office there.
Now, it is undeniable that the once Pearl of the Orient is no more. Somehow, the succession of mayors and other officials of the city lost control or no longer knew how to deal with the city’s sagging fortunes. They should have fought Makati’s drive to become the country’s business capital, but I got the impression they just didn’t care.
They should have cared. With the tax base of the city diminished by the migration to Makati, there was less money to spend on the growing needs of Manila. The Ospital ng Maynila and the Manila Zoo, two premier showcases of the city started to look shabby.
That’s the challenge for the new Mayor Erap. How can he raise enough funds to provide for the needs of Manilans? How can he attract businesses to go back to the city and create the jobs the residents need? How can he raise the morale of city residents depressed by years of living in really bad surroundings?
Addressing the problems of Manila will zap the energy and imagination of younger men. But a former president of the country who has the support of the masa can certainly have some bright ideas from years of experience. He also has friends with the means to help him revive the city.
Among the first things Mayor Erap must do is to clean up the city… collect the garbage and get the barangays to enforce cleanliness around their areas. Manilans shouldn’t be embarrassed to invite guests to visit their city.
Tourism is a quick way of improving the way the city looks as well as increasing livelihood opportunities. Luckily too, we have an energetic and imaginative Tourism secretary who should be a willing partner to a supportive City Hall.
Intramuros must be developed as the principal tourism attraction. While it is under the Intramuros Administration and the Department of Tourism, I know they are very eager to do something and are even ready with plans. They certainly can use the help of City Hall to bring their plans to reality.
From Intramuros, there is the Post Office and Metropolitan Theater. If City Hall cannot revive these areas near it, how can it revive other areas around the city?
Erap can also get the Philippine Ports Authority to partner with a property company so that its vast prime land holdings along Bonifacio Drive can be developed. There are at least two derelict buildings in the area, the old Philippine Banking Corp. headquarters and the old Philippine Veterans Bank building. Both have been condemned after some earthquakes decades ago. Something productive ought to be done with the land these derelict buildings stand on.
With the property sector in an upswing, Erap should work with developers to revive the inner city --- Binondo, Malate, Ermita, Paco, etc. City Hall should explore the potentials of PPP in reclaiming areas of the city from their present squalor. Affordable housing for the residents now residing in slums should be explored with NHA and private developers. In-site housing for squatters should be possible.
The thing is, Mayor Erap must remarkably improve the way the city looks and lives so that property values will go up and City Hall can collect more from property taxes. Deteriorating neighborhoods erode the tax base and the downward spiral is bad for city finances.
For good things to happen, Mayor Erap must keep his credibility. People will be watching closely how he handles City Hall contracts. In the past, the biggest bone of contention is the garbage collection contract. It is a dirty business in every sense and a mayor can lose his credibility and his ability to lead the city if this is not handled well.
Mayor Erap can also make the Manila City Hall a showcase for ease in doing business. The country in general has received bad reviews from international agencies looking into corruption and red tape in LGUs specially those related to starting businesses.
In this regard, Mayor Erap can work with DTI and the National Competitiveness Council in streamlining and computerizing processes and procedures to get mayor’s permits, business licenses, etc. Mayor Erap has years of experience in how a local government unit operates so he knows where corruption infests the processes.
Mayor Erap can make a difference and revive the City of Manila. But it is hard work, and Mayor Erap should want it badly for it to happen. The work has to be done because we have to leave this city to our grandchildren better than we have found it, or we all die in shame.
Man of conviction
Here is a current Erap joke from my colleague, Ichu Villanueva.
Erap says he is a man of conviction just like Ninoy Aquino and Anwar Ibrahim. All three of them, he says, were unjustly convicted.