July 2005

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

Last July 25, 2005, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gave her annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the Philippine Congress. Barely three weeks after an opposition-led mass action failed to topple her, her SONA was probably the most important address as the country’s president. It was a story in black and white — the good and the bad.

After her customary greetings, she went right into the issue of her presidency: “Ours is a country divided,” she said. “The story of our nation is a tale of two Philippines. Almost, as it were, two countries under the same name.” Was she being prophetic or just saying it plainly? No frills… no bells and whistles.

She talked about a “Philippines whose economy, after long years of cumulative national endeavor, is now poised for take off.” And she talked about the other “Philippines whose political system after equally long years of degeneration has become a hindrance to progress.”

Without going further into the details of her SONA, what I heard was: The Philippine government is in big trouble. No amount of rosy statistics and impressive numbers could defy the fact that the country needs more than a “call to the Lord to lead us.”

President Arroyo talked about a country divided between a good economy and a bad political system. I say that the real issue is a country divided between the rich and the poor. No amount of economic progress could help the poor as long as the profits of economic growth are for the exclusive benefit of the rich. As the old maxim says: “The rich get richer; the poor get poorer.” Yes, this adage is true from the time the Philippines was colonized by Spain in 1571… through the revolutionary period in the 1890’s… through the American colonial period… and from the Philippines’ independence in 1946 through the “people power” revolutions of 1986 and 2001.

The Philippines was once the envy of its Asian neighbors. It was a model of democracy in a region ruled by warlords and dictators. Now, it is called “The Sick Man of Asia.” Its government has become one of two of the most corrupt governments in Asia. The warlords and drug lords rule over their turfs. And the politicians promote their personal agenda over the welfare of their constituents.

It is sad to say but the country is ripe for another revolution. But is this the cure to the centuries-old problem that has divided the country? Would a revolution make the Philippines better? We’ve had a few already and still corruption abounds. The anti-Arroyo opposition — temporarily derailed — is still trying to pursue her removal from office. It would seem that they would not stop until they have succeeded.

Is a revolution inevitable? Can it be prevented? These are the questions that remain unanswered. However, the government has the upper hand in its struggle with the opposition. The government has a little window of opportunity to neutralize the opposition and proceed with the implementation of former President Fidel V. Ramos’ plan to change the government to a parliamentary system.

There are now discussions as to what exactly would a parliamentary system accomplish? Some of the proponents are even suggesting a federated parliamentary system. Putting it in perspective, the United Kingdom has a parliamentary system of government while the United States has a federal republican government, which allows the 50 states to have their own autonomous government.

The question is: Is the Philippines ready for a federated parliamentary government with each of the provinces having its own autonomous government? My gut feeling is: No. In my opinion, it would only institutionalize the political fiefdoms already in existence. Almost all the provinces are ruled by political dynasties. Giving them autonomous right to rule could lead to warlordism, similar to what happened in Yugoslavia before it broke into several independent republics.

In 1998, the United Kingdom underwent a dramatic change. Through devolution, certain powers vested in the U.K. parliament were transferred to new legislative bodies in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. “Devolution” is defined as the “transfer and subsequent sharing of powers between institutions of government within a limited framework set out in legislation.” Devolution allows the “transfer of power” to be done in phases or step-by-step transfer.

I believe that a step-by-step devolutionary process in a new Philippine parliamentary government would be in the best interest of the country and the Filipino people. Empowering the provinces, or regions for that matter, by devolution would give the provinces time to mature and develop a political system conducive to the welfare of the people. And the best part of it is that devolution in each province or region would not necessarily be in the same uniformed steps for all provinces or regions. Some provinces or regions could have more power than the others.

With the kind of flexibility provided by devolution, a national parliamentary government would be able to maintain limited but effective control over the semi-autonomous provinces or regions. As President Arroyo stated in her SONA: “Perhaps it’s time to take the power from the center to the countryside that feeds it.”

In a parliamentary form of government, national politics will cease to exist. Nobody will be running for national office. The members of parliament will be elected locally. And by the majority will of the members of Parliament, a Prime Minister will emerge to run the government. And the beauty of it all is that when a government loses the support of the majority of Parliament, the government falls and a new government is formed again by the majority will of the members of Parliament.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

On July 8, 2005, tens of thousands of Filipinos assembled in Makati. The organizers were expecting more than one million people who answered their “Call to Arms.” Their plan was to incite the gathering into another “people power” revolution similar to EDSA I in 1986 and EDSA II in 2001. It was going to be EDSA III.

Earlier that day, 10 members of President Arroyo’s cabinet resigned and demanded that President Arroyo resign too. Then they turned “balimbing” and pledged their loyalty to Vice President Noli De Castro. De Castro had been supportive of Arroyo but insinuated that he was ready to take over the presidency in the event of Arroyo’s downfall. Did that mean that if De Castro became President, the 10 turncoats would be rewarded with plum positions in a De Castro government? Excuse me, but does the sun shine? At about the same time, Senate President Franklin Drilon, an erstwhile Arroyo ally, defected to the opposition camp. He and other Liberal Party balimbings joined in calling for Arroyo to resign.

By mid-day, with the anti-Arroyo forces gaining momentum and were just about to reach critical mass, former President Cory Aquino called on Arroyo to make the “supreme sacrifice” and resign. Her coming out against Arroyo was expected to galvanize her EDSA I supporters and bring EDSA III to fruition. A “Siege of the Bastille” was about to commence to remove from power the most despised president since the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

At 5:00 on that fateful Friday afternoon, with Arroyo losing her grip on power and ready to flee Malacanang and follow her husband and son into exile in San Francisco, former President Fidel V. Ramos walked in to Malacanang Palace. He and Arroyo conferred. After their pow wow, a press conference was hastily called. Ramos presided over the press conference with a quiet Arroyo — poised and dignified… and seemingly happy — seated next to him. Ramos laid out a plan to transform the republic into a parliamentary system in 10 months!

According to a news account, Ramos proposed to convene Congress into a constituent assembly, change the constitution, change the presidential system of government into parliamentary, have it ratified by the people, hold elections in May 2006, and the new set of officers to assume office immediately after the elections. Ramos also announced that Arroyo has his “unwavering support” and rejected the resignation calls by the opposition groups. Instantly, Aquino — another beneficiary of Ramos’ “unwavering support” during her presidency — was neutralized. Ramos made it clear that Arroyo will remain as President until her “graceful exit” coinciding with the birth of the new republic in May. Just like what Julius Caesar said when he crossed the Rubicon River to invade Italy in 49 B.C., “Jacta alea est,” the die is cast.

News of the Ramos coup d’etat sparked a thunderbolt that struck the anti-Arroyo crowd gathered in Makati. The organizers were not prepared for the “Ramos Factor.” The crowd started leaving the assemblage and EDSA III was stopped.

A brilliant West Point graduate, who capped his military career as the hero of EDSA I, Ramos’ grandmaster-like execution of a coup — preempting a potentially contentious and bloody civil unrest — would be the watershed for a slew of political changes. Parliamentary rule of law will replace street parliament. Change of government will be accomplished through parliamentary fiat and not by mob rule. The people will be governed by a government that represents the majority will of the people and not by a government voted into office by a minority segment of the electorate.

The failure of EDSA III will be analyzed by the political pundits for years to come. How could it have failed when President Arroyo was the most hated President since the Marcos dictatorship? With a popularity rating that plunged more than 30 points below zero, EDSA III would have been easier to accomplish than EDSA II, the revolt that deposed Estrada, considering that Estrada had millions of diehard followers who would fight for their “Erap para sa mahirap” hero.

My question to Fil-Ams who supported calls for Arroyo’s resignation was: “Is there a person who has the caliber of a ‘national leader’ who can govern effectively after the fall of Arroyo?” One of my friends said: “Vice President Noli De Castro is the legitimate successor if Arroyo resigns.” Yes, indeed. But what was really weird was that while it is true that De Castro was the only legitimate person who could succeed Arroyo, nobody — I repeat, nobody — rooted for De Castro. Someone once said: “A leader without followers is just another man walking around the block.” If he had supporters, their silence was deafening. Of course, on the eleventh hour of the political moro-moro, ten “balimbing” cabinet members defected to De Castro, a move that De Castro should have executed in the early part of the game.

Instead, actress Susan Roces stepped up to the plate early in the game to rally the supporters of her deceased husband, Fernando Poe, Jr. Estrada gave up his “claim” to the presidency and endorsed Roces — who never held a political position in her life — for President. She became the rallying point of a motley group of Estrada supporters, leftists, labor organizations, opposition parties, opportunists and adventurists. It was the brightest moment of her acting career.

The odd part was that the Roces-Estrada alliance was against a De Castro takeover. Would that mean that if De Castro became President, it would immediately lead to EDSA IV? Considering that De Castro’s 2004 vice presidential victory over Sen. Loren Legardo is being challenged before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), a De Castro foothold on the presidency would be precarious and vulnerable to another public outcry on the legitimacy of his election as Vice President. According to a close friend of Legarda, Sen. Vicente Sotto, Legarda will be recognized as President if she wins her election protest against De Castro and Arroyo resigns.

The potential scenarios and chain of events following an Arroyo resignation have raised more concerns and struck fear and anxiety among the silent majority. The scenarios were all “worst case” scenarios; thus, retaining Arroyo as President would make a better alternative, if not the “best case” scenario.

When Arroyo was on the brink of resigning, Ramos immediately executed a strategy that would avoid any of the “worst case” scenarios. At the same time he saw a window of opportunity to set in motion a constitutional revolution that would scrap the farcical government with a government ruled by the majority will of the people, by the people and for the people.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

On July 8, 2005, tens of thousands of Filipinos assembled in Makati. The organizers were expecting more than one million people who answered their “Call to Arms.” Their plan was to incite the gathering into another “people power” revolution similar to EDSA I in 1986 and EDSA II in 2001. It was going to be EDSA III.

Earlier that day, 10 members of President Arroyo’s cabinet resigned and demanded that President Arroyo resign too. Then they turned “balimbing” and pledged their loyalty to Vice President Noli De Castro. De Castro had been supportive of Arroyo but insinuated that he was ready to take over the presidency in the event of Arroyo’s downfall. Did that mean that if De Castro became President, the 10 turncoats would be rewarded with plum positions in a De Castro government? Excuse me, but does the sun shine? At about the same time, Senate President Franklin Drilon, an erstwhile Arroyo ally, defected to the opposition camp. He and other Liberal Party balimbings joined in calling for Arroyo to resign.

By mid-day, with the anti-Arroyo forces gaining momentum and were just about to reach critical mass, former President Cory Aquino called on Arroyo to make the “supreme sacrifice” and resign. Her coming out against Arroyo was expected to galvanize her EDSA I supporters and bring EDSA III to fruition. A “Siege of the Bastille” was about to commence to remove from power the most despised president since the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

At 5:00 on that fateful Friday afternoon, with Arroyo losing her grip on power and ready to flee Malacanang and follow her husband and son into exile in San Francisco, former President Fidel V. Ramos walked in to Malacanang Palace. He and Arroyo conferred. After their pow wow, a press conference was hastily called. Ramos presided over the press conference with a quiet Arroyo — poised and dignified… and seemingly happy — seated next to him. Ramos laid out a plan to transform the republic into a parliamentary system in 10 months!

According to a news account, Ramos proposed to convene Congress into a constituent assembly, change the constitution, change the presidential system of government into parliamentary, have it ratified by the people, hold elections in May 2006, and the new set of officers to assume office immediately after the elections. Ramos also announced that Arroyo has his “unwavering support” and rejected the resignation calls by the opposition groups. Instantly, Aquino — another beneficiary of Ramos’ “unwavering support” during her presidency — was neutralized. Ramos made it clear that Arroyo will remain as President until her “graceful exit” coinciding with the birth of the new republic in May. Just like what Julius Caesar said when he crossed the Rubicon River to invade Italy in 49 B.C., “Jacta alea est,” the die is cast.

News of the Ramos coup d’etat sparked a thunderbolt that struck the anti-Arroyo crowd gathered in Makati. The organizers were not prepared for the “Ramos Factor.” The crowd started leaving the assemblage and EDSA III was stopped.

A brilliant West Point graduate, who capped his military career as the hero of EDSA I, Ramos’ grandmaster-like execution of a coup — preempting a potentially contentious and bloody civil unrest — would be the watershed for a slew of political changes. Parliamentary rule of law will replace street parliament. Change of government will be accomplished through parliamentary fiat and not by mob rule. The people will be governed by a government that represents the majority will of the people and not by a government voted into office by a minority segment of the electorate.

The failure of EDSA III will be analyzed by the political pundits for years to come. How could it have failed when President Arroyo was the most hated President since the Marcos dictatorship? With a popularity rating that plunged more than 30 points below zero, EDSA III would have been easier to accomplish than EDSA II, the revolt that deposed Estrada, considering that Estrada had millions of diehard followers who would fight for their “Erap para sa mahirap” hero.

My question to Fil-Ams who supported calls for Arroyo’s resignation was: “Is there a person who has the caliber of a ‘national leader’ who can govern effectively after the fall of Arroyo?” One of my friends said: “Vice President Noli De Castro is the legitimate successor if Arroyo resigns.” Yes, indeed. But what was really weird was that while it is true that De Castro was the only legitimate person who could succeed Arroyo, nobody — I repeat, nobody — rooted for De Castro. Someone once said: “A leader without followers is just another man walking around the block.” If he had supporters, their silence was deafening. Of course, on the eleventh hour of the political moro-moro, ten “balimbing” cabinet members defected to De Castro, a move that De Castro should have executed in the early part of the game.

Instead, actress Susan Roces stepped up to the plate early in the game to rally the supporters of her deceased husband, Fernando Poe, Jr. Estrada gave up his “claim” to the presidency and endorsed Roces — who never held a political position in her life — for President. She became the rallying point of a motley group of Estrada supporters, leftists, labor organizations, opposition parties, opportunists and adventurists. It was the brightest moment of her acting career.

The odd part was that the Roces-Estrada alliance was against a De Castro takeover. Would that mean that if De Castro became President, it would immediately lead to EDSA IV? Considering that De Castro’s 2004 vice presidential victory over Sen. Loren Legardo is being challenged before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), a De Castro foothold on the presidency would be precarious and vulnerable to another public outcry on the legitimacy of his election as Vice President. According to a close friend of Legarda, Sen. Vicente Sotto, Legarda will be recognized as President if she wins her election protest against De Castro and Arroyo resigns.

The potential scenarios and chain of events following an Arroyo resignation have raised more concerns and struck fear and anxiety among the silent majority. The scenarios were all “worst case” scenarios; thus, retaining Arroyo as President would make a better alternative, if not the “best case” scenario.

When Arroyo was on the brink of resigning, Ramos immediately executed a strategy that would avoid any of the “worst case” scenarios. At the same time he saw a window of opportunity to set in motion a constitutional revolution that would scrap the farcical government with a government ruled by the majority will of the people, by the people and for the people.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
By Perry Diaz

In the aftermath of the “People Power” that deposed President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the word “balimbing” became popular. The “balimbing,” or star fruit, became the mark of a turncoat. The star fruit’s cross-section is shaped like a five-sided star; thus, a person who changes political loyalty is called a “balimbing.”

Overnight, after Marcos relinquished the presidency, thousands of his supporters abandoned him and pledged their loyalty to newly proclaimed President Cory Aquino. The turncoats were welcomed to the Aquino camp. After all, the persons responsible for the removal of Marcos — Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos — were former allies of Marcos. Their followers simply followed them to the Aquino camp.

The Marcos overthrow was called “People Power” revolution because it drew hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) in Quezon City where the Marcos military loyalists were at a standoff with the anti-Marcos group led by Ramos and Enrile. The end came when Marcos called US Senator Paul Laxalt to seek his advice. Sen. Laxalt told Marcos to “cut and cut cleanly.”

In my opinion, EDSA I — as it is called today — was not a revolution; it was a coup d’état. Ditto with EDSA II in 2001 which removed President Joseph Estrada from power. As a matter of fact, except for the short-lived 1896 revolution, or “unfinished revolution” as called by the Filipino nationalists, the Philippines never had a true revolution.

Some people called the 1896 revolution a “Tagalog revolt” that culminated with the declaration of Philippine Independence in 1898. But before the revolutionary government of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo could take roots in the whole archipelago, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for $20 million.

During the 1896 revolution, there were already balimbings in the ranks of the Magdalo faction of Aguinaldo and Magdiwang faction of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio. Members of Magdalo would switch to Magdiwang and vice versa. After the execution of Andres Bonifacio by the Aguinaldo forces, most of the leaders of Magdiwang joined the Magdalo, mainly for self-preservation.

During the commonwealth government, there were two political parties, the Federalista Party favoring statehood and the Nacionalista Party favoring independence. After the independence from the United States on July 4, 1946, the Liberal Party was born. The biggest “balimbing” at that time was former Nacionalista stalwart Manuel Roxas who changed his party affiliation to the Liberal Party and was elected President in 1946.

Roxas died in office in 1948 and was succeeded by Vice President Elpidio Quirino, also a Nacionalista-turned-Liberal. Quirino won a four-year term the following year. He appointed Ramon Magsaysay as Secretary of Defense. Magsaysay was effective and became popular fighting the Hukbalahap (Huk) guerillas. However, he resigned due to a dispute with Quirino. Magsaysay left the Liberty Party in 1953 and became the Nacionalista Party’s presidential candidate. Magsaysay, an Ilocano from Zambales, defeated his former boss, Quirino, by a landslide and won in all provinces except Ilocos Sur, Quirino’s province, and Ilocos Norte, the bailiwick of Congressman Ferdinand Marcos, a rising star in the Liberal Party at that time.

Magsaysay died in a plane crash in 1957 and Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, a Nacionalista from Bohol, took over the presidency. Garcia won election later that year with Diosdado Macapagal, a Liberal, winning the vice presidency. Macapagal won the presidency in 1961. In 1965, when Macapagal ran for re-election, Ferdinand Marcos, his rival within the Liberal Party, bolted the party and joined the Nacionalista Party. Hundreds of Marcos followers also left the Liberal Party and joined the Nacionalista Party. Marcos captured the nomination and went on to defeat Macapagal in the election. Marcos won reelection over the Liberal Party’s Sergio Osmena, Jr. in 1969.

When Cory Aquino took over the presidency after EDSA I in 1986, hundreds of former Marcos loyalists crossed over to the Aquino camp. In 1987, the Philippine constitution was changed extending the presidential term to six years with no reelection. Her successor, Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, won a presidential term for himself. Again, hundreds of opposition party leaders switched to Ramos’ party. After Ramos, Joseph Estrada was elected and the same thing happened, balimbings defected to Estrada’s party. When Estrada was deposed in 2001 (EDSA II) due to the jueteng scandals, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo — with the help of Estrada’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Gen. Angelo Reyes, who switched his loyalty to Arroyo — took over the presidency. Estrada was jailed on charges of plunder. Overnight, loyalties changed.

When she ran for re-election in 2004, Fernando Poe, Jr., a movie superstar ran against her. Poe was ahead in the early part of the campaign, which caused a bandwagon effect with the opposition leaders. However, Arroyo came from behind and defeated Poe in the election. Poe immediately filed charges of cheating against Arroyo. Then Poe died of heart attack and Poe’s widow, Susan Roces, withdrew the charges.

Election-cheating is fairly common. There is a joke that says: “In the Philippines, there are no losers, only the winner and those who were cheated.” He who cheats better, wins; and party-switching is part of the political process.

With a government full of balimbings, it makes you wonder if the government really changes when a new President is elected. It’s all the same banana, or more aptly, the same “balimbing” running the show regardless of who is elected President.

With political power in the hands of a few people, the Philippines is governed by oligarchy. Virtually all of the provinces have political dynasties that control the provincial and local governments. It is expected that during a presidential election, their political allegiance be determined by their own agenda. They would switch parties if that were what it takes to get political concessions. As kingmakers, they play a key role in influencing the outcome of the election in their political turfs in favor of the presidential candidate they support. A presidential candidate who gets the most balimbings, wins.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)