Thank You !

It’s me again just to thank everyone who has responded by email, text, postings or a pat on the shoulder with such kind words (I now know who you are and where you live so you may regret ever having surfaced). With readers like you who needs friends?

I throw back the love and may we meet again albeit it in the cloud.


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Signing Off

After 216 blogs and 3 ½ years I have decided to hang up my spurs. I have been contemplating this for months but there was always one more development, one more thought warranting attention; but the time has now come.

I started to write on May 6, 2010 (“Reasons To Vote For Noy-Noy”), four days before the Presidential elections, as my modest contribution to the political process. It was a tipping point in our marred history and it was incumbent on every Filipino to answer the call of a quiet and honest man, a relative neophyte, heir to a name; who had tossed his hat into the Presidential ring. I thought the man would surprise us once vested with the scepter of power and I said so and that, fortunately, has come to pass.

The “daan matuwid” has not always been straight and has at times been overly narrow but that is the nature of change. There were lows –the Luneta hostage crisis, poor people choices- but these were overshadowed by the highs – the corruption clean-up, the investment grade. I chronicled these as I saw them and there are things I now know to be true.

I know numbers do not always tell the truth. Despite (or as a result of) the glowing growth rates, the gap between the 1% who disproportionately own the wealth of the nation and the 99% who do not has widened. Unemployment in the last three years has worsened. Owners of land and capital became richer at the cost of urban congestion and social inequality. It is unclear how a nation can survive in dignity and health with this disparity in wealth.

I know the keys to a democracy are not its institutions but the vigilance of its people. Some say it is not the institutions that betrayed us but its members; but they are now indistinguishable from each other. With dynasties, influence and money, those in power have hijacked and subverted the institutions they have sworn to serve. The challenge is how to break their lock on our future.

Social media has led this street revolution, it has become the voice of the people. Technologies with inelegant names like Twitter, Google and Tumblr have replaced the Constitution, the vote and traditional media as the Filipinos’ weapons of choice. This phenomenon will grow which is what gives me hope.

I know we deserve the leaders we elect but I also know there can be no true political choices without true economic freedom.

I know we can only be as strong and as happy as the communities we build.

I know the most meaningful legacies to our children are the lives we lead, the values we uphold and the earth we leave behind.

 I know that with common purpose we can be the nation we wish to be.

A blog is at its essence a personal journal but it could be more than that. You cast a thought. Mostly it returns barren. But sometimes the seed catches a wind and the wind drops it on fertile ground and the ground harvests an ideal and the ideal sparks change and that change raises the human condition.

 Occasionally someone -often a stranger- will respond with appreciation to say your thought has resonated (“Thank you” always touched me more than “Nice work” for it speaks as much of the reader as it does of the piece). This is what makes the writing worthwhile. Some reply with vitriol and libel cases. These are also what makes the writing worthwhile.

I have always been curious what attracts an audience. Looking back, my most popular piece by far was not about PNoy, the impeachment or pork but about human behavior and what defines our national character. Entitled “Just For The Money “ (4/4/11) it spoke of a tearing kid –Jan-Jan, aged 6- who was forced to macho dance on national TV for P10,000. It was a commentary on our social mores (“Our idea of a good time is reducing a child to tears”), the debasement of our culture and why it need not be. That the piece drew a crowd shows we care about who we are.

The last three years have been unprecedented: The country became –at least on paper- an economic wunderkind, a Chief Justice was impeached, and a number of lawmakers could be prosecuted. I was fortunate to have recorded some of that history. However, barring something so extraordinary, so evil or so absurd it cannot go unchallenged; my journey has come to a close, at least for the time being.

 I thank for believing in me and the readers who will largely remain unknown in name and in number for caring to listen. I had to learn (I read the Constitution and the Budget more often than I care), think and be mindful of others. It was at times fun. For all this it was worth the ride.

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This Could Get Messy

  • Sign Out

                “We know where your family lives” – Popular gangster saying


    Legal minds are opining the Administration’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) has no basis in law and some Cabinet members and even the President possibly violated Art. VI Sec. 25 (5) of the Constitution for misallocating funds. The Palace has admitted to some miscues.

    The President is popular and controls the Legislature so he will not be impeached even if the allegations have basis. Nonetheless, that the scenario is even being bandied -albeit it lightly- indicates how politically charged is the atmosphere.

    The President’s men, the Budget Secretary in particular, are not as secure. They could be liable for criminal or administrative proceedings which, I imagine, will be filed by the ever mindful  Opposition once the ammunition is in place. Already there is apprehension and finger pointing among Cabinet heads. Budget Sec. Abad has declared the monitoring of the PDAF is the responsibility of the implementing agencies, not his office. That is the first sign of a house divided.

    The Dept. of Justice and the Ombudsman could delay prosecution but they would be hard-pressed to ignore the accusations if indeed weighty. It would undermine their work, credibility and moral standing in the plunder cases filed and to be filed before them.

    An attack on the President’s people would distract the Administration from running Government and tending to the economy. The latest numbers confirm the unemployment situation continues to deteriorate.

    A protracted conflict could weaken the President by diverting his focus and depleting his political capital thereby diminishing his endorsement value in the next elections. He himself could be vulnerable to legal proceedings after he steps down. This is not the overhang he or this country wants going into 2016 when the President needs to be strongest.

    The fact is the President’s men got sloppy. This happens when your leader’s popularity is at 70%, when the world sings your praises and you think you can do no wrong. You start to believe your own press and disregard cautionary tales from your  supporters.

    A case in point is the pork barrel. Despite near universal objection to the program, Malacanang continues to defend it for reasons that do not make any political, economic or common sense. Is it bull-headedness, conviction, hubris or something more sinister? PDAF is politically and possibly legally dead so why not get ahead of the curve by permanently defanging it? The Palace has eliminated the PDAF in name but has not given up on the notion that select legislators can still request for funding of pet projects in exchange presumably for their vote. So the Million People March continues.

    Ironically the marchers have been the President’s strongest supporters, the people who got him where he is. The President has  ignored them. He met with Mrs. Napoles, escorted her to the PNP headquarters, yet has not even offered to dialogue with the marchers, his so-called Bosses.

    That could be a mistake. If the DAP proves to be as legally toxic for the President’s men as many fear, their only salvation will be the court of public opinion and right now the public is feeling shunned. A loyal leader, the President will back his men to the hilt but he risks going down with them. As the airlines say, when the plane is in trouble don your oxygen masks first before you don your children’s.

    Here lies the tragedy. We and the President are joined at the hip, we derive our strength from each other, we need to be one going into 2016. Yet we are divided by an issue –pork- that is, on the face of it, petty. It is not ideological, it is administrative; it is not about values, it is about mechanics. There are many ways to support the scholars and schools the President is concerned about without tempting the avarice of lawmakers. We are quarreling with each other when we should be running the bad guys out of town.

    In a karmic way, pork may have returned to bite the Palace. It is not that the President’s men bungled the PDAF and the DAP – people, even good people, make mistakes – but this time they may have to pay for it. With the plunder charges filed against some leaders of the Opposition a war has been declared and it is to the death and not just politically. Opposition lives are literally at stake and, like wounded tigers, unless they are put away or released, they will pounce upon any chink in the Administration’s armor.

    There is now a chink and lawyers say it is the DAP. If the Opposition cannot bring down the President, they will take down his official family –that is how the Mob operates- and even he may be helpless to save them. Their only recourse is the weight of public opinion but for this the President really must get the nation behind him. He needs to win back his constituents because right now they are sulking.

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Please, Sirs, We Are Not Idiots

U.S. lawmakers just voted (or more precisely did not vote) to shut down the Government. If only the Philippines was so lucky.

Right now our Government is one big pillow fight. The Administration charged three Senators with plunder. One of them retaliated with a “bombshell” –or at least what he thought was one- accusing the President of “bribing” legislators and the rest of his peers of all sorts of terrible things. With everybody a crook, he asked, why are he and his band of brothers being singled out? (Those with an answer the line starts here).

Despite the pre-marketing, the speech did not generate the expected buzz. On the contrary, it triggered a social media blowback.

One, the public is uninterested in what it already knows. The President is political, check. All lawmakers are bad, check. Pork barrel is evil, check. The system sucks, check. So now what?

Two, the speech lacked “cojones”. The Presidential “bribes” were actually “incentives”, lawmakers (himself included) took the money but were not “necessarily sinners”. You cannot, I am afraid, be half pregnant.

Three, don’t use “politically motivated” more than once in a sentence with the pronoun “me” or its diminutive “poor me”. Political motivation is actually okay as long as the public agrees with the motivation behind the political motivation. Example, the President was accused of “bribing” Senators to impeach Corona. Compared to the billions that are wasted daily, THAT is arguably money well spent. In management it is called a performance bonus. Similarly if the President was to offer, say, a Supreme Court position to the Sandiganbayan judge who convicts the Senators.

Three, never insult the public’s intelligence. Do not claim to be a victim of “ a flawed system so ingrained it has become institutionalized” when you spent millions to get elected to that very system. The victims are the Ondoy families who never got their relief, the farmers who never got their fertilizer, the kids who never got their schools. No, sir, you are not a victim but if you are feeling bad you can always, like, resign?

Lastly, do not seek righteousness from a lynch mob. The Senator is frustrated because he is innocent until proven guilty. The mob is frustrated for the same reason.

The speech did some good in that it confirmed why PDAF and its clone, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), should be abolished (not suspended). Reacting to the speech, Budget Sec. Abad said his department can withdraw “unobligated allotments of agencies with low levels of obligations both from continuing and current allotments. NB Circular No.541 allows withdrawn allotments to be used to augment existing programs and projects of any agencies (are you still with me?) and to fund priority programs and projects not considered in the budget but expected to be started or implemented during the current year”. The P72 billion DAP is to “fast-track disbursements and push economic growth in light of the global slowdown and the onslaught of recent calamities.” Thank you for the explanation.

In English -and some might be lost in translation- what Abad really meant to say, I think, in twelve words or less is if there are savings in Government, the DBM is allowed to hand these over to lawmakers for the charities of their choice (or as it turns out for themselves) because the Government cannot spend it fast enough. You are kidding, right?

Under Art. VI, Sec.25 (5) of the Constitution the heads of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial  branches of Government are “authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations” i.e. the DBM can re-allocate savings within departments but not across branches of Government. Abad therefore should clarify, one, the DAP money did not go to the legislators as the public seems to think, only to projects identified by them; and, two, the funds were intra-departmental transfers and not from the Executive to the Legislative branch. Otherwise he (and the President if he approved them) could be in trouble.

Another thing, if the Government has problems “fast-tracking” funds for economic growth why give it to legislators? Why not write the P72 billion check to 95 million Filipinos who can do an even better job at it?

Lastly, savings are supposed to be just that, money put away for a rainy day, for lowering taxes or reducing our yawning budget deficit. Last Christmas then Senate President Enrile was excoriated for channeling his office’s savings to select Senators. Sec. Abad, a seeming honest man, admitted to the exact thing, sort of.

Filipinos do not like being treated as idiots by their leaders be they the bad guys or the good guys. We don’t want to be patronized, spun or lied to, told that black is white or even gray.  Sure, sometimes good outcomes require questionable deeds, that is the reality of governance. In that case just level with us or, if indelicate, even a wink and a nod will do.

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Why Are We So Special?

 Senators Enrile, Jinggoy and Revilla have hinted at how they propose to defend themselves.

  Enrique Dela Cruz, attorney for Enrile, has denied the charges against his client as he would be wont to do. The Senator, counsel told media, knew nothing of the workings of his staff. Unfortunately in so doing, inadvertently or not, he also threw his client’s ex-Chief of Staff, friend and confidante of 25 years, Gigi Reyes, under the bus.

Many were surprised at the news. Filipinos still pride themselves on old fashioned values like chivalry, manhood and, in a sinking ship, women and children first; so, from where it looked, the notion of feeding a distressed lady to a lynch mob in order to skip town was, well, unexpected from an officer and a gentleman.

A better alternative might have been for the Senator to offer himself in exchange for the lady, with a statement something like this:

” I am innocent of the charges of plunder. As a Philippine Senator I have the moral obligation to ensure that my PDAF was properly handled. I may have been negligent in this respect for which I apologize to the Filipino people. However I have never acted with malice and look forward to vigorously defending myself against allegations I unlawfully benefited from my PDAF.

By law the DBM and the implementing agencies are administratively responsible for monitoring PDAF funds. I intend to file the appropriate charges against their officers. If I am to be tried so too must they.

 My Chief of Staff has at all times acted upon my instruction. I would be surprised if she has benefited from any of my PDAF. Therefore I request she be absolved of all charges.”

This noble approach would have come at little extra cost. At his age, with his vast legal and political armory and his party ally as possible next President, the Senator will never face time. It took the Sandiganbayan 7 years to convict Erap in a simpler case so unless he intends to live indefinitely, the man should be fine.

Sen. Jinggoy has a different set of challenges. For the first time he is required to play a role he is unaccustomed to, that of real life bad boy. The way to that character, he has seemingly decided, is not to prove he is innocent but to prove everybody else is guilty. Hopefully the Sandiganbayan is following his thinking.

In a privilege speech Jingggoy accused the President of “rewarding” Senators, himself included, with P50 million in additional PDAF for impeaching CJ Corona. The “incentive”, he subsequently clarified, “was not a bribe” and did not influence his vote (but did those of his peers?) so it is unclear where he was taking this.

The Senator then branded colleagues Peter Cayetano, Santiago, Pangilinan, Villar, Ed Angara and Rep. Gonzales as being philosophically if not criminally guilty of questionable pork releases and of hypocrisy and over-righteousness; although he did admit they may not be sinners. Again his messaging is tortuous but seems to ask why, if all his peers live in glass houses, are he and his two companions the only ones being stoned?

But he reserved his most scathing remarks against the “system” which he declared to be the real guilty party: “We are all here the victims of a flawed system which is so ingrained it has become institutionalized”. (When asked to comment the system chose not to reply). Some victims have obviously done better at it than others.

Sen. Jinggoy’s frustrations are understandable but he should know politics has never been about fairness. Therefore rather than bewail the inequities of life, the guilt of his colleagues or the flaws of the system; he should use his still considerable political capital, charisma and name to prove his innocence. He might also want to keep his perspective lest he be suspected –as he has by social media- of starting to wander.

Sen. Revilla is of the same circumstances as his friend Jinggoy (although there is debate as to who is the better actor). To his credit Bong has since an initial burst of hubris, chosen to remain quiet which has served him well. Silence speaks loudest when things are noisiest.

The three Senators have a long road ahead. The elements that elevated them to their pinnacle have mutated. Public sentiment, the political culture and their modes of expression have changed. CJ Corona did not recognize this shift in the ground, that the public will no longer suffer its leaders’ sense of entitlement (“Your Chief Justice will now excuse himself”) and this may have felled him. There is a lesson here for the Senators. As for the rest of the nation, however this may grate some of us, we might remember the men are innocent until proven guilty.

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Presidential Questionnaire

This is a multiple-choice test:

Q1 – Ma’am Jenny has been charged with kidnapping and plunder, offenses so serious they are not eligible for bail. Why is she confined in the comforts of Fort Sto. Domingo instead of a jail befitting her supposed crimes?

A. Jenny is in danger. It is the duty of the State to protect all citizens regardless of race, creed, weight, sexual preference or wealth.

B. Jenny is an important witness who must be treated with love and affection.

C. Jenny could implicate friends of the Administration. Malacanang must be the first (and only one) to know when that happens.

D. Jenny is footing all the bills.

Q2 – If Jenny’s testimony is so critical why was it not part of the 750,000 pages of plunder documents against Enrile, Revilla, Estrada & Co.?

A. Jenny has still to depose. She is tired and is currently resting.

B. Jenny is a victim of mistaken identity and has nothing to say.

C. Jenny is still negotiating the terms of her plea bargain.

Q3 -What is Jenny asking for?

A. She is demanding no restitution of monies, no jail sentence, income tax amnesty, guaranteed investment opportunities; and a gag on media. In return she is prepared to apologize to lawmakers for any stress she may have inflicted.

B. For the President to date her daughter Jeane.

C. Her lawyer.

D. Her Mommy.

Q4 – What is the Government offering?

A. Suspended sentence in return for restitution of monies plus interest and  affidavits against all Opposition leaders.

B. Death by stoning.

C. Exile in a tax-haven of her choice.

Q5 – How does Jenny like Fort Sto. Domingo?

A. She thinks the food sucks.

B. She wants to know why wi-fi is not complementary.

C. Ritz Carlton is better.

Q6 -Who is allowed to visit Jenny?

A. Her immediate family and lawyers.

B. Any Senator or Congressman who so requests.

C. Her private bankers.

Q7 – Jenny has filed for bail on the kidnapping charge. What if she is successful and is released? Will the Administration then not look silly for coddling her?

A. The Government has charged Jenny with a second offense of plunder so she should be back in jail once the Ombudsman establishes probable cause.

B. This is not the first time the Government has looked silly.

C. Life is not always fair.

Q8 -Would the better option not be to throw Jenny in jail with hardened inmates to get her to testify?

A. See 1. A-C above.

B. Jenny would have sought confinement in Makati Medical.

C. The prosecutors know what they are doing. Look how well they have done with the Ampatuans.

Q9 – Is it true Jenny has close contacts in Malacanang?

A. When she last spoke to him Exec. Sec. Ochoa told her he knows nothing of the scam.

B. The President’s picture with Jenny was photo-shopped.

C. PNoy only asked Jenny once if her daughter dated older men.

Q10 – Plunder charges have been filed against a total of 37 Senators, ex-Congressmen and their staff. Will they also be royally housed if the Ombudsman finds probable cause?

A. Lawmakers will be accorded the same treatment as Erap, GMA and Misuari. Ditto for staff who are serious offenders.

B. Their doctors have said they need to be confined in Makati Medical.

C.  It depends if jails are full at the time.

Q11 -What are prosecutors prepared to offer the 37 co-accused in a plea bargain?

A. Suspended sentences in return for restitution of monies plus interest and permanent ban from public office.

B. Death by social media.

C. A Groupon discount with Atty. Lorna Kapunan.

Q12 – Some leading members of the Liberal Party have been linked to the pork scam but have not been charged. Are the accusations against Enrile, Revilla and Estrada politically motivated?

A. The Government is non-partisan, the evidence speaks for itself.

B. Hey, Binay has not been charged.

C. Is the Pope Catholic?

Q13 – The scams involved several Government agencies. Why have their heads not resigned or been charged?

A. The offenses were committed under the GMA Government.

B. Their offenses are below the P50 million needed for plunder.

C.  Their replacements could be worse. Better the evil that we know.

 Q14 – Will the President use his majority in the Senate and the House to oust the accused lawmakers?

A. The Senate and the House can decide this for themselves in the same way they decided, without presidential prompting, to impeach CJ Corona.

B. The lawmakers are innocent until proven guilty.

C. The President has nothing to do with any of this.

Congratulations: If you correctly answered 75% of the questions you can be President of the Philippines.

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Pork: The Good News

I was told a month ago Senators Enrile, Jinggoy and Bong Revilla were shortly to be charged with plunder over the pork scam. It is hard to imagine but if it happens and it sticks, it would historically be more consequential than the Corona impeachment and at least at par with the ouster of Erap. Only EDSA I would be bigger.

JPE has not responded to the allegations which is probably the way to go. He has had his share of mishaps in his long political career –assassination attempts, coup plots- so this could be just another one. He eats controversies for breakfast. He is more concerned, I imagine, his ex-Chief of Staff, Gigi Reyes, has been implicated.

Jinggoy and Bong are newer at this and are now talking through their lawyers, the first sign of discomfort. They may still escape the charges but their political futures have been seriously damaged. Jinggoy was until today the front-runner for Vice-President in 2016 while Bong, if only in his mind, had dreams of the Presidency.

The problems of Jinggoy open the race for prospective VP. Those vying for this spot are supposedly Chiz Escudero, Peter Cayetano and Drilon with Grace Poe an outsider. As always Escudero has positioned himself well: He was one of the first to call for the abolition of the PDAF. This has given him national visibility at a time when his peers are ducking for cover. Like him or not the man has good political instincts.

Cayetano has remained relatively quiet. A report last year by the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism pointed out that despite their national mandate, the Cayetano siblings channeled their PDAF allocations legally but almost exclusively to their political base where Lani, Peter’s wife, sits as mayor and Dino, their brother, as Congressman. Coupled with the Supreme Court decision returning the revenue-rich Bonifacio Global Center to Makati, the scrapping of the PDAF means Peter’s  bailiwick has lost two major sources of funds.

Drilon has the Senate Presidency to launch a VP or Presidential run in 2016 when his term expires. However, he needs to boost his poll ratings and soon.

Grace Poe is a dark horse. Topping the May Senatorial elections propelled her to national prominence but she needs to prove her leadership, hone her political skills and build bulk if she is to be a viable candidate. In the pork scam she has chosen to follow rather than lead. She might need to take more risks.

The pork scandal has had unintended consequences on one person and that is Vice President Binay.  If JPE and Jinggoy are taken down, Jojo will have lost two pillars of his UNA party. Erap is still around but until when? Binay needs to re-jigger his coalition. He continues to enjoy public support but now must develop new allies to broaden his reach for his presidential run. His most natural partner is Sen. Escudero with whom he was closely associated in the successful if stealth Noy-Bi combination that propelled Binay to his VPship in 2010. For his part Chiz will be looking for a home especially if the President re-endorses Mar or another Liberal Party stalwart for the Presidency. Chiz has no equity in that ticket.

The 2016 scenario has still to unfold but, absent an implosion or a health concern, we will probably see a Binay-Escudero tandem against a PNoy team that has yet to emerge. The former is a formidable duo so the President needs to do three things if he is to present a worthy opposition: One, he needs to make economic growth more inclusive. Unemployment has increased under his watch. If the slide continues his presidential endorsement could lose much of its cachet.

Two, he needs to re-connect with his base. PNoy is still vastly popular but in the pork scam he surprisingly miscalculated the nation’s sentiment. Since his election  he has abandoned his 2010 core constituency–the NGOs, the young, the intelligentsia- in favor of a coterie of insiders some of whom have been linked to the pork protagonists.

Three, he needs to start grooming a successor or possible successors. He need not prematurely expose them but there must be a plan.

Pork barrel has allowed our elected representatives to scam this nation for over a generation. Yet some good may have finally come out of it. One, it has re-energized people power. Not since the ouster of Erap in 2001 has there been an issue that has united Filipinos, this time to reclaim their country from the hoodlums in Congress.

 Two, it has provided the evidence to what we knew all along, that those entrusted to enact our laws have been the first to break them. If we can finally nail some big names, we will put all public officials on notice that they will be held accountable.

If for these alone, the price we paid for the scams might well be worthwhile.

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