Archive for philippines

Noynoy Aquino Did Not Become A Hostaged President

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

Politics is a realm that neither political analysts nor fortune tellers can accurately predict the outcome. The reality is that the outcomes are determined by the interests of the politicians which they hold dearly to themselves as a poker player would his cards. Anlaysts can only do an educated speculation, fortune tellers can only do blind guesses.

Politicians’ interests and game plans may change as the seasons do, depending on the situations during a particular time, or the convenience at that moment. That makes them unpredictable, which is sometimes a necessity in the cut-throat world that they move around in.

I am happy to admit that one analysis I made while in the thick of the campaign of the last national and local elections did not materialize into reality. Yes, I’m happy that it did not materialize. That analysis, which I posted in my blog ( Noynoy Aquino Could Be a Hostaged President ), pictured a scenario where both chambers of the Philippine Congress are dominated by opponents of Aquino, with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo heading the House of Representatives and Manny Villar leading the Senate.

The basis of that analysis is the fact that both politicians had a good number of allies (at that time, at least) that should have been enough for them to take hold of the helm in their respective chambers. That, combined with the usual expectation for politicians of such stature to crave for the post of top banana and the craving to get back at political opponents, served as the foundation of the analysis.

But to my surprise, neither seemed to have exerted effort not exhibited the desire to make life difficult for the new president. Perhaps the overwhelming mandate and the people’s high trust and confidence in President Aquino was enough to dissuade them. Or they lost their allies to political expediency, each of them characteristically looking out for their own interests. Or, uncharacteristically for politicians, they both lost the desire for power and the need to get back at their rival.

I am thankful to Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Sen. Manny Villar for not acting like typical traditional politicians. Ordinarily, one would expect a typical trapo to use the situation to get back at the opponent who defeated him or do everything to use the position to protect herself.

Whatever it is, I am just glad that President Noynoy Aquino enjoys the goodwill and support of both chambers. Both Houses have super majorities that support the President, led by personalities who have expressed cooperation, if not complete support, to the new administration.

Indeed, President Aquino is a blessed man. Not just because he won the Presidency in a relatively easy manner (considering that he decided to run just 5 months before the campaign began), but because as he begins his term of office, he has a high trust rating from his constituency and the support of the two chambers of Congress.

I pray that those around him will not waste this golden opportunity for the Philippines to be great again.

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It’s Everybody’s Concern

Posted in Governance, Philippines and the Filipinos, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , on July 26, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

It’s turning out to be one of the most awaited events of the year. Media networks are all geared up for their coverage, the internet is buzzing with chatter about what might and might not happen, and people are eagerly anticipating what’s in store for them in the coming years.

Some attendees probably prepared their wardrobe weeks in advance, more concerned with what they will wear to the occasion rather than the substance of the proceedings. Indeed, the event has been likened to a movie industry awards night, with reporters and photographers waiting along the sidelines of the red carpet jostling to throw the question “Who are you wearing?” (a question about who designed the outfit) and capture a photo worthy of a spread in the papers.

Even the ordinary Filipino seems to be more interested, compared to years past. I was surprised to read some Twitter messages from students and working people alike expressing their disappointment that a holiday was not declared making it impossible for them to watch the event. Quite unlike previously when either the people were indifferent or even questioned why a holiday had to be declared.

I remember a story told to me years back by one of my dad’s staff. She was rushing to work when a friend asked her why she had to go to the office even if a holiday was declared. My dad’s staff said, “I’m going to the SONA”. The friend said, “Ok, I’ll go with you”. She said, “I’m sorry you can’t. It’s by invitation only.” The friend, flabbergasted, said, “By invitation only? What kind of sauna is that?”

There was a time when people could care little what the SONA was all about, content with only reading about it in the papers the following day. Not only when reports began to give extra focus on who wore what made by whom did the masa take enough interest in news about the SONA, perhaps due to the Filipinos’ fondness of celebrities.

But now, with the overwhelming confidence in President Aquino’s leadership, it seems that the people’s interest in what he has to say about the country’s state and what he intends to do about stems from genuine concern.

Technology has also made it easier to monitor the SONA, with social networks in the internet serving as public information tools. Increased accessibility through wireless broadband and live streaming has given those with access to those facilities the ability to view the proceedings live over the internet. Of course, those who are still dreaming of such connectivity have the old reliable transistor radio to rely on.

The SONAs of the past president has always been a show and tell spectacle, not unlike those presented by celebrity storytellers to kindergarten students. Whether they just wanted to show their powerpoint skills or they thought that the people could be mesmerized by the show, it basically led people to take the SONA as just an entertaining event rather than a government’s presentation of what is in store for them.

But it seems with the new President’s first SONA, the people genuinely want to hear what he plans to do for the country. With the overwhelming and unquestionable mandate that he has, much is now demanded from him.

After listening to the SONA, the people should not be left with a feeling of having just been treated to an interesting report from the President. More than just having their eyes opened to anomalies of the previous administration and presented with a smart program of government, the SONA should give the people a feeling of ownership of the challenges faced by President Aquino. The fight for the country’s future is not the President’s alone. It is a shared responsibility between all who would like to see this country move forward.

June 4, 2010- A Significant Day in the House of Representatives

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , on June 5, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

To the average Filipino on the street, June 4, 2010 was supposed to be just another day that will uneventfully pass just as the previous one and those before it have done in that person’s lifetime. In fact, for most of our countrymen, that day was nothing different from any other day, even including June 12, Independence Day, or July 4, Fil-AM Friendship Day or June 20, Father’s Day. To a big majority of Filipinos, everyday is the same, a day to survive the challenge of day-to-day existence.

But to those who have cared enough to take action for quite a number of years now, June 4 was a special day. It was the day that they had been waiting for since the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines was given life by the people’s voice in the plebiscite that institutionalized our country’s charter. It was supposed to be the day that the Freedom of Information Bill, mandated by the Constitution, was to finally become a law that would guarantee the people’s right to know how its government serves its constituents. After more than a decade of lobbying, June 4 was supposed to be Victory Day.

To me, June 4 was of special significance because it is the last session day that I will attend, my last day at work as a legislator. Although my term officially ends on June 30, I still intend to earn my pay by working for the welfare of my constituents until that day. But for me the work done in the committee hearings and plenary sessions is the essence of being a lawmaker.

After nine years as a member of the House of Representatives, I wanted the last day of session to be not just a day that would cap my three terms in routine fashion, but a day that would close with the passage of an important piece of legislation. I was eager to end the day with a vote ratifying the FOI Bill.

For the Secretariat of the House of Representatives, they prepared for this last day. For the first time in the history of the House, they prepared a special program for the closing session to honor the members of the House for the work that they have done in the Chamber. They intended to present to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd term members mementos of their membership in the House and compiled bounds of their legislative performance in a ceremony that certainly necessitated much preparation on their part.

It was just one day, but it had different meanings for different people. Actually, everyday is like that. What may be an insignificant, ordinary day for one is in fact, a special, life-changing or even historical day for some. It really just depends on what point for view we are coming from.

And so it was that June 4, 2010 was a significant day in the House of Representatives. While elsewhere in the country, anniversaries were celebrated, eulogies were being delivered, babies were being born, employees were punching out after their shifts, someone just lost his job…the session hall of Batasang Pambansa, the People’s House, was gradually getting filled with people attending the last session day of the 14th Congress.

The proponents, advocates and supporters of the Freedom of Information Bill filled sections of the gallery wanting to be personally present the minute that the vote of ratification institutionalizes this landmark piece of legislation. Many of them labored long and hard just for the bill to reach this day and they waited with anticipation for the proceedings to begin.

Actually, what was left was just a routine step of the process of passing a bill into law—ratification. The bill had already passed through the three readings of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It had also passed through bicameral conference. The Senate had ratified it, so the only thing left was the ratification by the House. Ratification was a simple ayes and nays vote of the House, the members not even required or expected to explain their votes. After that, it could be considered institutionalized as law. But in all its routine nature, it was a special piece of legislation.

The rest of the gallery was filled by employees of the House Secretariat, after having been directed to attend the ceremony to honor the Members of the House. Of course, also in the hall were the usual observers of the proceedings of the House, congressional staff and probably some curious citizens who happened to have time to spare to watch the proceedings.

But what promised to be a “special routine session” turned out to be quite an emotional one, with contrasting sentiments that pulled me in opposite directions.

The Members of the House were more psychologically prepared for the Honor Ceremony in the closing session. I would compare it to the emotions one had during high school graduation, the bittersweet feeling of wanting to move on in life while at the same time hanging on to the memories of good times spent with friends.

The honor that was to be given by the Secretariat also had its significance, since they were the people who served as our backbone during our work in Congress, and they were the ones who can truly make an objective judgment on how each and every congressman performed as a legislator.

Late by almost and hour, the session as finally resumed (it was just suspended in the previous session day) and the motion to ratify the Freedom of Information was immediately made by the Majority Floor Leader. As immediate as the motion was filed, the quorum was also immediately questioned.

Just by looking around the hall, it was difficult to make a judgment if indeed there were enough warm bodies present to constitute a quorum. When I entered the hall, there seemed to be not enough legislators on board. But with Malacanang joining the call for the passage of the bill, I did not expect that there would be a problem in the bill’s ratification. Nevertheless, congressmen began trickling in not long after the session was underway.

The session was suspended in order to resolve the issue that was raised. In this line of work, the adage “the squeaky wheel gets oiled” sometimes best describes this kind of situation. Many times in the past, when the quorum question is raised during a debate on a very important bill, the issue is settled after a little discussion with the one who raised the question during suspension.

After about thirty minutes of suspension, the session was resumed and the roll was called. Obviously, the quorum question was not resolved so the names of the members of congress were called one by one, with the secretariat staff ticking off the names in their list. At the end of the roll call, the Secretary General reported to the Speaker that 128 members of the House responded to the call. With that, the Speaker declared that with 128 members, there is no quorum and therefore, according to the rules, the House cannot conduct legislative business and would have to adjourn.

As expected, this ruling was met with vehement objections and impassioned pleadings from the proponents and supporters of the bill. Legislators pushing for the bill alternately took the floor questioning the results of the roll call and calling on the speaker to use a particular provision in the rules allowing the House to arrest the members who are absent. Understandably, emotions ran high and a bitter exchange threatened to mar the proceedings.

In the end, the Speaker stood pat in his ruling and adjourned the last session of the 14th Congress. What was intended to be a “special routine closing” and parting of friends now turned into a highly polarized legislative battle among peers. Definitely not what was envisioned as a last day of work for this Congress.

Naturally and rightfully so, those supporting the bill felt betrayed and cheated, and cast judgment on the House for failing to pass such an important measure. As I was doing live tweets of the proceedings over Twitter, I could see the numerous reactions of people online castigating the House most especially the Speaker. All the frustrations were posted and perhaps if not for the facility of the internet, people might have gone out to the streets to vent their anger.

The session had been adjourned but the honor ceremony still had to be undertaken. Actually, many had begun to think that it might not be appropriate anymore to have the ceremony. I felt it would not be taken well by the public who had just been treated to disappointment by the very House that would now give distinction to its members.

After quite a while of lingering, the Deputy Secretary General for Committee Affairs went on the public address system to inform everyone that the leadership of the House had decided to forego the honor ceremony, in deference to what the public might construe as the congressmen giving themselves a pat on the back after the emotional, divisive and controversial adjournment.

Her voice was cracking and straining under what seems to be a failed effort to hide her emotions. Clearly, she was distressed with what was happening. She went on to say that although the House leadership already made that decision, they in the Secretariat tried to convince the leadership to proceed with the ceremony. After all, she said, this ceremony, the first time held in the House’s colorful history, was initiated and prepared by the Secretariat to give due honor and recognition to the members of the House whom they had worked with on many important accomplishments of the institution. She pointed out that being first hand spectators to the performance of the legislators, they would like to proceed with the presentation of mementos and plaques of appreciation.

Indeed, while there are many highlighted occasions that the House had not displayed the righteousness that the people expect and deserve, there are many more unnoticed moments of low profile accomplishments that only the secretariat were witnesses to. They wanted to give due recognition to these accomplishments by way of the honor ceremony.

And so it was that under the contemptuous glare of the public, the House proceeded to honor its members. It basically consisted calling out the 1st-term, 2nd-term and 3rd-term members of the House in front of the hall and presenting them with plaques of appreciation and book-bound volumes of each legislator’s performance record (bills filed, laws passed, speeches delivered and transcripts of interpellations) and a CD version of the same. For the graduating congressmen, a Congressional medal was also presented in honor of completing the whole three terms in the House.

For me, it was a well appreciated gesture on the part of the Secretariat. What they presented was a symbol of the acknowledgment of the work I had done these past nine years. The mementos and volumes they gave me were things that I can present to other people to show that the mandate given to me by my constituents were not wasted and this was incontrovertible proof that I had earned the pay that people granted me the privilege to receive.

Indeed June 4 seemed to be an ordinary day. For some, it was. For others, it was a day that the House of Representatives failed the people. For me, it was the final day of a special period in my life when I had the privilege of being able to directly contribute to the welfare of this nation. Sad to say though, that by this final act of the House, the last thing in the people’s mind would be that the 14th Congress betrayed them.

Money in the Time of Elections

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , on February 28, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

A candidate who fails to see what’s wrong with handing out money during election season only shows that he has limited understanding of the concept of traditional politics and its ill effects. Worse than the cunning and calculating traditional politician is the naïve and innocently ignorant traditional politician because he is perpetuating the scourge of Philippine political culture and public service without him realizing it.

That kind of tradpol (or trapo, in Philippine political lingo) is personally beyond reform because he thinks he is doing the country a great service although he is unwittingly perpetuating patronage politics. He will always think what he is doing is noble and will only look at those who have an opposing view as detractors to his cause. But for him not to realize the ill effects of his charity, there must be really something wrong with his values orientation and judgment.

What exactly is wrong with giving away money in the time of elections?

Well, it really smacks of vote-buying. During the time of elections, a candidate is only expected to spend money on the production of campaign collaterals, payment of hired personnel, campaign operations and other services. To simply hand over cash to anyone in exchange for nothing, whether voter or non-voter, young or old, male or female, it only serves one purpose—to get votes.

Handing over cash to a child in the time of elections, even if the child cannot vote, only serves to solicit votes for the candidate handing over the cash. Especially if the cash is handed in full view of the public, and even played up in media because during political campaigns, each action of a candidate which is done in public is assumed as a means of attracting votes.

The child who was given money most probably had parents or guardians. Most likely they are voters. And it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the money handed over to the child is indirectly an appeal to the parents or guardians of the child to support the candidate giving the money.

In such a scenario, the appeal goes out not just to the parents or guardians of the child, but also to the observers of the whole event. The message to those who witness such charity is “look at me, I’m so caring I’m giving away money. So vote for me”.

Under normal circumstances, such actions may be considered charity. But during elections, it should be seen as nothing other than vote buying. The circumstances make it so. It might be said that it would be unfair to make that conclusion because the candidate may just be sincere in wanting help, but the circumstances call for better judgment on the part of the candidate giving the money away.

If the candidate had the right sense of values and principles, he would realize by himself that giving money away during elections will only be seen as a political gimmick and perpetuate a practice long identified with the trapo.

A candidate with better judgment, sound discretion and creativity would be able to think of ways to extend help without resorting to giving away money. For example, if a child is hungry, the candidate can buy food and hand it over to the child. There is a world of difference between handing money over to a child and giving the child food to satisfy his hunger, especially during the election season.

To a child, when he receives money from a candidate during campaign season (which they undoubtedly know owing to the streamers, stickers and smiling faces of candidates), he learns that a “good candidate” is a candidate who hands out money. At an early age, their young minds are already being corrupted by practices of traditional politics. What kind of voters will they turn out to be when they grow old?

Having been a candidate myself four times now, I get frustrated and disgusted at voters who return my handshake with the words “wala bang naka ipit na isang daan dyan?” These are the kinds of voters that the young children who were given money by a candidate turn out to be.

A candidate’s failure to discern this effect of this “political charity” says something about his own character and values. It reveals his principles and his views on what the guiding force in the process of selecting the country’s leaders is —“pera pera lang yan”.

RP-MILF Peace Talks’ Snag Just Appropriate

Posted in Governance, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , , on February 17, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

The postponement of the RP-MILF peace talks which were supposed to resume tomorrow is just appropriate, considering the fact that the Philippine Government is now in a period of transition with the 2010 National and Local elections to be held in May.

The position of the MILF in pursuing a deal that is not within the bounds of the Constitution further erodes the possibility of coming up with a peace agreement before the end of President Arroyo’s term. This administration cannot guarantee amendments to the Constitution under this 14th Congress, what more under the 15th Congress.

The composition of the 15th Congress, which will be the one to tackle any revision or replacement of the Constitution, will only be known after the May 2010 elections. No one knows how the 15th Congress will collectively think about changes to the Constitution so even if the government gives in to the demands of the MILF for concessions outside the Charter, it cannot guarantee that the concessions will be followed by the new government.

It is even incumbent upon the Arroyo administration not to commit anything that it cannot deliver, such as amendments to the Constitution. It would be an empty promise and it would be unfair to the new administration and the new Congress.

The Arroyo Administration should not look at this peace agreement as just another feather in their cap or as another mark in their list of achievements to highlight the end of their rule. A peace agreement should not be forged just so that President Arroyo can say that it happened within her term. At this point, it is foolish to sign an agreement is not guaranteed to be implementable. The prevailing circumstances make it necessary to pass the torch of crafting the peace agreement to the next government.

The offer of “Enhanced Autonomy” by the Arroyo administration should also be abandoned. Aside from questions on what kind of and how much enhancement the Executive Branch can give without legislative action, the issue of a midnight deal comes to mind. In the dwindling hours of the Arroyo Adminsitration, it shouldn’t go into such commitments.

Instead of offering “enhanced autonomy”, the Administration should just work for the adoption of a Period of Peace beginning now and until the new government takes office. During such period, both parties agree not to engage in hostilities and continue talks at the technical level in order to prepare the ground for fresh round of talks between the MILF and the new government.

Oppose Marriage Contract Expiration

Posted in Governance with tags , , on January 12, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

A party list group participating in the 2010 elections proposed the establishment of an expiration for marriage contracts.

The proposed marriage contract expiration should be opposed because it will endanger the integrity of the ties that bind Philippine Society. The Filipino Family is acknowledged as the basic unit of society and it cannot be denied that marriage is the foundation of most Filipino Families.

Marriage and families cannot be treated separately and impose policies on one and not consider the other. The Philippine Constitution guarantees the protection of the family’s integrity and states that marriage is an inviolable social institution. The non-expiring marriage contract is not a violation of any human right because entering into a marriage is an option where those engaging in it are well aware of the terms.

To give marriage an expiration is also to give families an expiration. It will be dangerous to open Philippine Society to the mindset that marriages and families have a predetermined end. While proponents may argue that the contract is renewable, the fact that when you enter into marriage you already know it will expire at a certain date, it already affects the way society will look at marital unions.

And how will we treat the offspring produced by marriages? What will happen to the legal status of children produced by marriages if they expire? It will be as if we have predetermined the legal existence of children even before they are born.

While I will fight for the rights of women, I put more premium in protecting the integrity of the Filipino Family. I will oppose marriage contract expiration.

A Leader’s Integrity

Posted in Inner Thoughts, Politics and Politicians with tags , , , , on January 11, 2010 by Ruffy Biazon

I have experienced it many times, so much that it has become a concern…I say that integrity is an important quality that our next president should have, there would be someone who would object and say, “it is not enough that the president has integrity”. They then emphasize that it should be competence that should first be considered.

I don’t argue against competence being a requirement for a president. In fact, all public officials should be competent. That is an undisputable proposition. But why the seemingly hostile reaction to the statement that a president should be trustworthy?

Why isn’t it possible for these people to say, “yes I agree that a President should possess a high degree of integrity, as well as competence.” Why does it have to be an Either/Or debate?

In selecting a president, it should not be a matter of choosing between integrity and competence. The two should go hand in hand because our country needs a leader who can govern with skill and at the same time the people need a leader whom they can trust.

But for public officials, there is a higher degree of expectation with regard to integrity. In the Philippine Constitution, Article XI, Section 1 states in the first sentence “Public office is a public trust”. By this simple six word sentence, the framers of the Constitution the most important benchmark for those who serve the People—trust.

It does not need to be emphasized that competence is a requirement for public officials. It even comes naturally. It is a rare occasion that an incompetent person rises to the higher levels of public service. Just getting oneself elected has some credit for competence because not everyone can run for office and win. But of course, we should not settle for mediocrity and still demand a high standard of competence for public officials.

Incompetence has no place in public service. But just for the sake of argument, a less competent leader may still be effective by tapping the expertise and competence of those around him. In fact, one of the best qualities of a leader is the ability to harness the talents of those around and under him. Leaders are not expected to do all the work themselves but to gather the strengths of their team to collectively deliver to their constituents.

But integrity is a quality that is exclusive to a person. It cannot be augmented by those who surround the leader. It cannot be borrowed and it cannot be sourced out. That’s why there is a need for it to be a primary consideration aside from other qualities we should look for in a leader.

Which brings me back to the question which prompted me to write this in the first place…why can’t people simply agree that integrity has a premium in the selection of the next president of the country? Why are there counter arguments, justifications, qualifying statements and what-have-you against the statement that integrity is a primary consideration?

For the record, I value competence in a leader. I will not settle for incompetence. But the competent leader should be trustworthy. So will the competent leader with unquestionable integrity please stand up?