September 2008

by Perry Diaz

The Palin Effect

When Republican presidential candidate John McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, a lot of people wondered if Palin was qualified to become Vice President of the United States. Having been a mayor of a small Alaska town of 9,000 residents and governor of Alaska with a population of 700,000 for less than two years, was Palin ready to take over the presidency should anything happen to 72-year old McCain if he were elected president?

McCain was criticized — particularly by the media — for his choice of a seemingly inexperienced politician with no evident exposure to foreign policy or world affairs. But as soon as Palin was presented at the Republican National Convention last September 3, 2008, she became an overnight sensation. Instantly, she boosted McCain’s presidential stock and reenergized his campaign. McCain wouldn’t go anywhere without Palin in tow. Palin — who calls herself “pit bull with a lipstick” — was very effective in getting the Republicans excited. In effect, Palin became McCain’s ultimate “weapon of mass deception” which he needed to torpedo and derail the turbo-driven campaign of Barack Obama.

Palin was so effective that some people started making reference to the McCain/Palin ticket as the Palin/McCain ticket as if she was the one running for president, which in a sense she was. In his campaign rallies, McCain would make a short introductory pitch and then let Palin do the talking… and attacking. Enthusiastically, she would do the dirty job of smearing Obama for McCain. And McCain would just stand grandfatherly-like behind her, happy as a clam. It was a great script.

Within a week of the emergence of Palin from nowhere, McCain obliterated Obama’s nine-point lead. In recent polls, McCain had surged ahead of Obama, thanks to the entry of a “super star” into his campaign. Indeed, the presidential campaign was beginning to look like a Palin vs. Obama contest. Why not? Given McCain’s age and health issues, Americans could be electing two Republican presidents in this election. But this could also cause the voters to take another hard look at the real Palin — not the stunningly attractive and sweet-talking “hockey mom” that they’re seeing in scripted appearances.

That first opportunity to see the real Sarah Palin came when she was interviewed by Charles Gibson on television. Gibson was selected in the belief that he would give Palin an easy pass. Wrong! Gibson seemingly knew Palin’s weak and vulnerable areas. So when he asked Palin if she agreed with the “Bush Doctrine,” she paused for a few seconds, breathed deeply as if she was going to perform a triple-somersault dive, and then asked, “In what respect, Charlie?” Gibson then asked her: “What do you interpret it to be?” Dumbfounded and with eyes agog, Palin said, “His world view,” which sounded more like a question. She then tried to wing it but it was one of those moments when you don’t know the answer, it’s better not to give an answer. However, to admit ignorance would have been more disastrous for a person seeking the vice presidency.

The second test came when Gibson asked her how Alaska’s proximity to Russia would give her an “insight” into that country. Palin responded: “They’re our next door neighbor and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.” Now, is that the extent of Palin’s foreign policy experience and world view?

Gibson’s interview with Palin has put an indelible black mark on Palin’s façade. Consequently, tons of information surfaced when an army of media people and researchers descended on Alaska turning over every stone under the artic tundra to unearth the trail that Palin left behind before catapulting to the national scene. And lo and behold, there were enough damaging and disparaging information that painted Palin quite differently from her “star power” image. Interviews with people and public officials revealed more about the “Troopergate” scandal in which Palin allegedly fired the Public Safety Commissioner when he refused her demand to fire Palin’s former brother-in-law from his job as state trooper.

Other scandals and anomalies involving Palin’s public and personal life surfaced and inundated the media as well as the late-night shows. She became staple for jokes by Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and others. Sarah Palin cartoons and funny pictures mushroomed in the Internet.

But the final test of Palin will come during her debate with her Democratic vice presidential rival Joe Biden on October 2. Their debate would be the defining moment for Palin. A mediocre performance could repel a lot of her supporters and put McCain’s candidacy at risk.

Although McCain’s selection of Palin momentarily boosted his candidacy, at the end of the day the American people will reserve their final judgment on which presidential candidate is best suited for the job. On November 4, 2008, the American people will troop to the polling booths to decide once and for all whether McCain or Obama should lead the nation — and the world — in the next four years or probably eight years. And like every U.S. presidential election, there are two criteria that the voters would use to decide whom to vote for: CHARACTER and LEADERSHIP.

Palin and Biden would become incidental to the voters’ choice for president. With less than six weeks left in the campaign, a lot of things could happen that could sway the Americans’ preference for president, particularly at a time when the country is experiencing a financial meltdown which could be worse than the Great Depression 80 years ago. And whoever that person is, there are two things he or she must possessed: strong character and great leadership.


by Perry Diaz

‘Legalizing’ Jueteng

Like the popular “transformer” toys, the illegal numbers game — jueteng — has transformed by way of bureaucratic legerdemain into a legalized game called “small town lotto” or STL. But the game hasn’t changed a bit, it is still jueteng. The only difference is that the jueteng lords are raking in more money.

STL is a government-sponsored numbers game administered by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Launched in 1987 during the time of then President Cory Aquino, STL failed for a variety of reasons. It was shelved in 1990. In 2005, in the aftermath of the jueteng scandal which implicated some members of the First Family –one of whom was referred to as the “Lion King” by whistleblower Sandra Cam — President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed Edward Hagedorn, the Mayor of Puerto Princesa, as National Anti-Jueteng Task Force czar. Hagedorn advocated for the revival of STL. He was convinced that STL was the right tool to stamp out jueteng. With optimism and great expectation Hagedorn set a deadline — September 15, 2006 — to totally stop jueteng in the country.

In reaction to the STL revival, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, the chairman of the “Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng,” said that STL was meant as a “shameful substitute for jueteng.” He said: “just the same it is also a corrupt and corrupting numbers game as jueteng. It was already tried before and proved to be a big failure.”

Recently, jueteng made the front pages again when Auxiliary Bishop Lucilo Quiambao of the Diocese of Legazpi City in Albay alleged that PCSO employees were also working as jueteng collectors for the local gambling lords. He suggested that the government should investigate the PCSO employees if the government was indeed serious in stamping out jueteng. But how can the government — or to be more precise, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — stop jueteng when her “kumpadre,” town mate, and political benefactor is reputedly the biggest jueteng operator in the country. To my knowledge, jueteng in Pampanga and the rest of the country has never been better during Gloria’s presidency. Ironically, it was the jueteng scandal during Joseph Estrada’s presidency that catapulted Gloria to power in 2001. Indeed, corruption begets corruption.

In Albay, the only STL operation in the entire province — and all of Bicolandia — was franchised to the Pilipinas Pacific Rim Corp. (PPRC) on November 29, 2006. Within a year, allegations of fraud were made that the STL operation was just a cover up for jueteng. It is interesting to note that PCSO granted the STL franchise to PPRC on the latter’s representation that it will use STL to combat the jueteng operation in the province. Nothing was farther from the truth. Once STL became operational, the number of jueteng “comadors” — or bet collectors — increased substantially, a clear indication that jueteng thrived under STL.

STL is supposed to generate revenue for the government. There are three draws everyday at 11:30 AM, 4:30 PM and 9:15 PM. The STL franchisee is supposed to remit the proceeds as follows: 5% to the provincial government, 10% to the local governments, 4.5% to the local PNP (police), 0.5% to the national police, 2.5% to the three congressional districts, and 7.5% to PCSO. PPRC keeps the lion’s share — 70%. But here is the stinger: it was reported in the news last year alleging that PPRC was “raking big money from the Albayanons while only a pittance is being remitted to the provincial government” by manipulating the remittance reports. The STL operation in Albay rakes in about P500,000 daily. That’s a whopping P182.5 million a year!

The plot thickens when Sandra Cam accused PPRC of not properly declaring its income from STL. Cam claimed that falsified bet collection reports were widespread in more than 15 provinces in Luzon, particularly in Albay. She criticized Gov. Joey Salceda for failing to act on the “doctored” collection reports. She also alleged that Salceda and three other Bicol governors — Sally Lee of Sorsogon, Jesus Typoco Jr of Camarines Norte, and Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur — were responsible for the jueteng revival in their respective province. In a surprise move, Salceda reacted and issued a directive to stop STL in Albay. He instructed the provincial police director to relay his directive to PCSO to stop all STL operations in his province. But PCSO defied Salceda’s order. Meanwhile, Malacanang has been quiet about the whole scandal.

Three years after Czar Hagedorn declared war on jueteng, jueteng is still alive and kicking with vigor. The people continue to bet on jueteng or STL… or both. It wouldn’t matter whether they’re betting on jueteng or STL — what difference would it make other than gambling away their hard-earned money. And it wouldn’t matter whether it’s legal or illegal. It’s a social disease and there is no known prescription to cure it. None yet.


by Perry Diaz

In her fervent desire to have peace in Mindanao, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo went to the extent of secretly forging an agreement that would virtually cede a huge portion of Philippine territory to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The treaty would have expanded the present Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) into a virtual state within a state replete with all the functions and authority of a sovereign and independent state.

But, in a twist of fate, the day before the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) last August 5, 2008 in Malaysia, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order in response to several petitions claiming that the treaty was unconstitutional. What followed next was a tragedy of error that cost lives and property in Mindanao.

In the aftermath of the public uproar over the attempt to partition the country, Gloria decided to scrap the controversial MOA-AD. She also dissolved the government’s peace panel negotiating with the MILF. Basically, it’s back to square one for the peace process. And, worst, Mindanao is now in a virtual state of war or, to be more precise, a civil war between Muslim Filipinos and Christian Filipinos. In reaction, Mohaqher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief peace negotiator declared, “The peace process is now in purgatory.”

One might wonder if Gloria could have done better to achieve a lasting peace in Mindanao. In my opinion, yes! she could have done better to achieve peace without dividing the country and pitting the Muslims and Christians against each other, particularly in the ARMM region.

ARMM was established in 1989 through Republic Act 6734 pursuant to the 1987 constitution which mandated its creation. It consisted of the predominantly Muslim provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. ARMM is headed by an elected Regional Governor and has a unicameral Regional Legislative Assembly headed by a Speaker.

Although ARMM is not a perfectly “autonomous” body, there is much to be desired to truly fulfill the mandate of the law that created it. Like the government that begot it, ARMM is, to say the least, congenitally corrupt. The recent ARMM elections, while generally peaceful, was marred by anomalies and irregularities. The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) Foundation, which was accredited by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), reported vote-buying and what it called “a culture of corruption.”

What MOA-AD would have accomplished was anything but peace. As a matter of fact, it already has started the opposite — war! For the first time in the past 30 years, the spectre of “jihad” — holy war — looms in the horizon. The snafu created by the Arroyo government has angered leaders from both sides of the conflict: the MILF militants were incensed because they considered the MOA-AD a “done deal” while Gloria and her henchmen were frustrated because they were stopped by the Supreme Court a day away from signing the agreement.

With 500,000 people already displaced by the war and increasing daily, peace has once again eluded us. All the work built up in the past three decades by government peace negotiators were blown to smithereens — a setback that would take time and effort to rebuild.

Now, that the “peace process” is back to square one, it’s time for the government to take a hard look at what it would really take to achieve peace. In my opinion, any peace formula that doesn’t address poverty is doomed to fail. Religious differences are not the issue. They can be bridged. But as long as the people are mired in poverty, there will be no peace in Mindanao.

Mindanao, with its rich natural resources is being exploited by profiteers. The local population — particularly the Muslims — have been relegated to second-class citizenship. The Arroyo government is lacking in programs that would alleviate the plight of the Muslim poor. Giving the Muslims an “ancestral domain” is meaningless unless there is a sincere attempt — not the usual lip service — to develop the economy in Mindanao.

In its June 2008 survey, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed that self-rated poverty in Mindanao rose by nine points, from 59% to 68%. In comparison, Metro Manila rose from 44% to 51% and Balance Luzon from 48% to 53%. The hardest hit was the Visayas from 47% to 66%. However, poverty in the ARMM region was the highest in Mindanao.

The polls would tend to support Gloria’s critics who have been saying all along that she neglected the Visayas and Mindanao, favoring the ruling elite based in Metro Manila. Indeed, the strongest supporters of federalism — or partitioning — come from the Visayas and Mindanao. Their complaints have been ignored by Gloria whose dole-out programs have caused more resentment among Visayans and Mindanaons.

Indeed, the price of peace in Mindanao is more than just giving the Muslim Filipinos their “ancestral domain.” As long as the Muslim Filipinos are treated as second-class citizens and kept in perpetual bondage, peace will never blossom in Mindanao. The seeds of discontent have been sowed and have taken roots in Mindanao. The bottom line is: peace can only be achieved in Mindanao if the people saw real economic progress in the ARMM region. And if real progress was made, autonomy or statehood becomes moot. The Muslims would opt to remain in the Philippine republic


by Perry Diaz

Going to the Dogs

With all the scandals and anomalies which have erupted during Gloria Arroyo’s tumultuous reign, it seems that the Philippines is going to the dogs or could it have gone already to the dogs. With a highly politicized military and an abjectly dysfunctional Congress, the Supreme Court appears to be the only branch of government that has not yet deteriorated. However, some members of the Judiciary have used their position to achieve ends other than protecting the law and safeguarding the constitution of the land.

In my article, “Reign of the Kleptocrats (January 19, 2007),” I said of former Justice Secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez: “The Perez corruption case is one of the most despicable corruption cases because, as the chief guardian of the law, he brazenly broke the law that he swore to protect. He was responsible for the prosecution of law-breakers and now he is prosecuted for breaking the law.”

Gloria appointed Perez, an intimate friend, as the Top Lawman of the land after she assumed the presidency on January 20, 2001 when Joseph Estrada was ousted President during the “People Power” EDSA II revolution. Four days later, Perez approved the controversial IMPSA deal in which he allegedly received a $2-million bribe for his ruling favorable to the Argentine-based company. It was also alleged that this amount was part of a $14-million bribe given to Arroyo administration officials. The First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo, was also implicated in the scandal.

Recently, a “bombshell” was dropped involving the two Sabio brothers in the GSIS-Meralco feud. It all started when Associate Justice Jose Sabio Jr. of the Court of Appeals complained that a certain Francis de Borja who, on behalf of Meralco, offered him a P10-million bribe to inhibit himself from the case filed against Meralco, presumably a move that would benefit Meralco. As soon as Justice Sabio disclosed the offer of bribery, de Borja countered and alleged that Justice Sabio wanted P50 million instead. According to de Borja, Sabio told him that Malacanang had offered him a large amount plus a promotion to the Supreme Court. Apparently, Sabio would have preferred P50 million to a promotion to the High Court. Needless to say, Sabio denied de Borja’s allegation.

As all of these events were going on, Jesus Santos, a lawyer of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and a member of the GSIS Board of Trustees, called Camilo Sabio — older brother of Justice Sabio and Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) — to ask for “help” on behalf of GSIS General Manager Winston Garcia. Santos later admitted that he indeed called Chairman Sabio on May 30, 2008. In an interview with dzBB radio station, Santos said: “We are not trying to influence the courts. We were just asking for help for GSIS president and general manager Winston Garcia, for his campaign to give justice to consumers and fellow Filipinos abused by Meralco’s policies.” Would anybody believe that?

The scandal prompted Senator Ping Lacson to call for the disbarment of Santos and PCGG Chairman Camilo Sabio. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also formed a panel to investigate the role of the PCGG Chairman in the bribery scandal. But like what had happened in several scandals involving government officials, Malacanang hastily sent Sabio on an “official” trip to Brazil, Austria, and the United Kingdom from August 14 to 30. When his brother Justice Sabio was summoned to testify before the Supreme Court investigation panel, he admitted that his brother Camilo called him twice to influence him to decide in favor of GSIS. With his testimony, the link from Winston Garcia to Justice Sabio was established with Justice Sabio’s brother Camilo as the conduit.

On June 12, 2008, several senators called for Camilo Sabio’s resignation or removal from office. It is interesting to note that Camilo Sabio was arrested in September 2006 by the Senate for ignoring a Senate subpoena to answer accusations that he and other PCGG commissioners dissipated funds from sequestered Marcos properties. What I found abominable is that Sabio is supposed to be the anti-corruption crusader and advocate for “good government” but as it has turned out, he may have betrayed his duty to the people he swore to protect. What a shame.

Last September 1, 2008, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) published a paid statement seeking the resignation of Court of Appeals justices involved in the bribery scandal and influence peddling in the GSIS-Meralco case. The statement said that “resignation would salvage what is left of the integrity of the Court and is a necessary sacrifice that needs to be made by those whose names have been dragged into the scandal.” Now is the opportune time for the Judiciary to clean up house and restore high ethical standards among its members from the Supreme Court down to the Municipal Courts.