Thursday, November 29, 2007

Consumer Rights and Electric Cooperatives

Electric cooperatives in the Philippines are interesting phenomenon. For one, it is gradually turning out to be the last frontier in the classic confrontation of economic and political models. Can collective ownership work or is private operation better? Will peoples participation make a difference in the governance of electric cooperatives? Though these questions may be debated on the hypothetical level, contemporary realites mandate a broader appreciation of the situation. Electric cooperatives in the countryside are presently owned by the people. And legislative measures, such as the EPIRA, have armed consumers with significant power in the industry.

The Regional Conference on Consumer Rights and Electric Cooperatives in the Philippine Power Industry last 16-17 November in Naga City is a landmark undertaking for various reasons. First, it marks the initial collaboration among the Ateneo de Naga University Institute of Politics, the National Electrification Administration, and the Metro Naga Consumer Group. Second, it signals the strengthening of consumer group by raising awareness on consumer rights and anti-corruption initiatives. And third, it symbolizes the consumers’ clamor for greater transparency and enhanced peoples participation in the governance of electric cooperatives in the Bicol Region.

The current involvement in the effort to initiate reforms in the power industry cannot be viewed as a one-shot, area-specific intervention only. Instead, there is a broader context to be considered: the fight against corruption.

Anti-corruption initiatives is becoming the focal point for mobilization. It is a longer process, but it pays to invest on people. Examples of groups involved in anti-corruption initiatives are the CODE-NGO, Makati Business Club, TAN, and even the World Bank itself. Along this line, the Metro Naga Consumer Movement is not alone. In fact, this regional conference shows how strong the peoples movement can be when given the right motivation and support!


(A speech delivered during the LAMIPA/BIGMA/NCMB REGIONWIDE SEMINAR FOR EMPLOYERS, CEO’S, DIRECTORS, MANAGERS AND SUPERVISORS last 12-13 November 2007, at the Camarines Sur Water Sports Center (CWC), Pili, Camarines Sur)


Human labor, industrialization, and capital are among the concepts frequently flaunted and tossed around in academic discourse. The treatment of these matters however would be very different when discussed among people who are actively and substantially engaged in the management and sustenance of industries, as well as management and negotiations with significant labor forces. The gathering that we have today is an example of such situation.

Let me begin by citing that most of us here today are in one way or another immersed in our respective workplace. Some of us in production or manufacturing, others in service delivery, and others like me are in the academe. But whatever the nature of our economic undertaking is, we have all experienced the work place. And in that work place, we are organized according to the task which we have to perform.

The most common dichotomy among people in the workplace is the distinction between those who are in the labor/work force and those who are in the management. These labor-management relations as guided by, but at the same time, going beyond legal contracts/provisions.


The workplace therefore may be construed as a social phenomenon that is specifically organized for the economic endeavors we are pursuing. But like any other social reality, the workplace may be viewed from various perspectives. Each of us may have our own world-view of the workplace from which our behavior in it flows. Let me try to describe some of these.

• Area of cooperation and solidarity: the workplace is complex system made up of various inter-dependent parts, each performing a specialized function. As such, the emphasis in the workplace is cooperation and solidarity. After all, smooth operations will depend on each part’s performance of the task assigned to it. Any deviation will result in the disruption of the entire system.

• Arena of actual and potential conflict: the workplace may indeed be composed of various parts, but instead of cooperation and solidarity among these parts, there is actual or potential conflict. Thus the workplace is an arena of struggle and competition wherein groups are openly engaged in the process.

• Venue for individual interaction with the broader group: the workplace may also be viewed as interaction point, with each individual establishing a network of relationships and nurturing these relationships through regular communication and feedbacks via a common language. Thus, the workplace and the relationships in it evolve its own symbols, understandable only to those who are in it.

Take note that these perspectives need not be mutually exclusive. It is even possible that the workplace may be viewed best when we use a combination of or even all of these perspectives.

And like any other social institution that mankind has evolved, the workplace is also strongly affected by many vital elements of human interactions. Some of the thing that come to my mind are shared vision and aspirations, mutual respect for the dignity of each other, and a nurturing and caring environment.


To my mind then, talking about discipline in the workplace will never be a simple nor easy matter. Those who unfortunately happen to take this on as part of their job - such as the Human Resources or HR officer - description is facing some of the darkest days in his or her life, both figuratively and literally.

Among the difficulties would be the delicate balancing act that requires attention to the following factors which I briefly covered a few minutes ago: the actual legal/contractual/policy environment, the prevailing world-view or perspective of the realities in the workplace, and the accepted organizational vision and directions.

Another consideration would be the very personal and human dimension involved in assuming the multi-faceted role of a leader, facilitator, mediator, and even decision-maker. I know of some individuals who lost lots of friends and got more enemies when they assumed the role of the HR in the workplace. Some even had to resign because of the stress associated with their work.

What then can make discipline a regular phenomenon or even a staple feature in the workplace? At this point, I propose a review of some fundamental considerations in the appreciation of the human person, human work, moral values, and justice.


I will not attempt to preach for I am not a priest nor will I pretend to be a moralist for I am not an expert. Let me just share with you some important points for our consideration. First is on the nature of the human person and second is on the dignity of work.

Broadly defined, morality refers to the established notion of that which is right and acceptable, and that which is wrong and unacceptable. As such, it has both a personal and social dimensions. It is also influenced by culture. The Church has been widely viewed as an authority on moral issues. From this platform, let us then look at some points regarding the person and human work.

On the human person, it is said that every individual has an inherent dignity. In other words, you deserve respect not because of what you have nor because of what you do but due to your being human. You were imbued with this dignity when you were born. The person is a social being. You get into and nurture various relationships such as with yourself, your family, with others, and even with a higher being. And the person is also ambivalent. An individual has the inherent propensity to do what is good and right, but is also imbued with the capacity to do what is wrong or evil.

This peculiar understanding of the human person actually guides our views and attitude towards his/her labor. The Catholic Church affirms the dignity of work as opposed to its treatment as a commodity. Workers deserve living wage and justice for the working class is as valid a cause as the right to private property (Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 1891). It is also through his work that the human person is transforming nature for himself and the person becoming more human through work. (Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercsens,1981)

Thus we say that work or labor is not a commodity. It is an expression of the human person actualizing himself, asserting stewardship over the physical world. Work is an affirmation of the human person’s dignity. As such, issues and maters affecting human work becomes material for discourse on justice and human rights.


Justice maybe defined as the obligation to render to each one his due. Among Christians, such definition was even expanded to emphasize justice as the first requirement of love, more than retribution for wrong doing (1971 Synod “Justice in the World”, Vatican 2 in Giordano,SJ and Catan “Evangelizing Presence: The Challenge of Social Transformation”). They outlined three forms of justice: commutative, distributive, and social. Let us now look at labor-management relationship and the issue of discipline from this point of view.

Commutative justice refers to the relationship among the individuals in society. When we take it in the context of the relationship between the employer and the employee, it is possible to outline several imperatives. On the part of the workers: diligent work, provide labor (but not to be reduced as a commodity), form associations. Among employers: pay fair wages, provide human conditions for work, treat employees as persons (welfare, safety, health, protection from harassment).

Distributive justice refers to society rendering its services to the individual members. It is in this area that we may talk about the problems in taxation and corruption.

Social justice on the other hand is the broad interplay between the welfare of society, and our obligations to it. As such, some of the imperatives would be: economic and social institution should not dehumanize the workers or the entrepreneurs nor limit their basic rights as human beings in society; full employment with adequate pay; no discrimination in job opportunities or income levels (race, sex, or physical appearance); question extreme inequalities of income and consumption


Understanding the realities around us condition our behaviors. Our Christian faith inspires is to put people first. Understanding our moral obligations, fostering positive values, and upholding justice in our workplace goes a long way in developing productive interaction in the workplace.

Our world view, our people, our aspirations, our beliefs, and our convictions – in our workplace! The highest form of discipline is when you dream together and work for the attainment of that dream as a team! The highest authority is attained when people find it morally binding to uphold decisions and agreements made in a mutually acceptable process.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Support the Sumilao farmers!

The Sumilao Farmers, after walking all the way from Bukidnon,Mindanao will be in Naga City on November 16. If you have time, and if you have sympathy for the plight of our unfortunate farmers, join the various activities lined up on that day. For details and information, coordinate with Mr. Johan Dela Rosa of the Naga City Peoples Council at the CASAFI Compound in Liboton, Naga City. Tel. 811-2388.

Wake up!

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Harvey Keh
Date: Nov 8, 2007 5:04 PM
Subject: Support for Gov. Ed Panlilio

Dear Fellow Filipinos,

Good day to you!

Last October 13 , Governor Ed Panlilio of Pampanga came out to declare
that he was given P 500,000.00 in cash which came from a Palace Staff
Member in Malacañang. The money was allegedly given for baranggay
projects and to support candidates for the upcoming baranggay
elections. Since Gov. Panlilio's admission, there have been other
local officials and congressmen who have admitted to receiving money
from Malacañang as well. Up until today we still don't know where this
money really came from.

But since then, Gov. Panlilio has been under fire because of doing the
right thing. Right now, local officials in Pampanga led by Vice-Gov.
Yeng Guiao are ganging up on him and marginalizing him by not
respecting his authority as governor. Media Publications in Pampanga
are even being used to destroy his credibility. If one looks at Gov.
Panlilio's performance thus far in the less than 6 months that he has
been in office, the results would speak for itself. He was able to
raise the same amount of quarry taxes in less than 2 months compared
to the former governor who raised the same amount in 1 year. Due to
this, mayors and board members are now demanding part of this
collection money and are blackmailing Gov. Panlilio by not passing
important policies that will benefit the constituencies of Pampanga.

Isn't this a familiar refrain in our country? Someone does good and
yet he is often punished for doing what is right? And worse, while
this is happening many of us just turn a blind eye without doing
anything. We s just shrug it off and move on with our lives. It is no
wonder why majority of our government leaders are becoming bolder and
bolder in becoming corrupt since for them no one would dare complaint
about it. In short, we deserve the kind of leaders that we have
because we continue to do nothing despite the fact that we see that
there is something wrong. And this is why I am writing to appeal to
you right now, I'd like to ask for a few minutes of your time to send
an email of support to Gov. Ed Panlilio, let us all tell him that we
are behind him in his quest for the Truth. What is at stake here is
not only the people of Pampanga but the nation as a whole. Gov. Ed
exposed what has long been happening in Malacañang and now he is being
punished for it. Will you do something about it?

If yes, then please send an email of support to Gov. Ed Panlilio at and please help us by forwarding this
email to all your friends. We will print the emails that you send and
give it to Gov. Panlilio to show him that he is not alone in his quest
for the Truth. Let us show the world that the Filipino people will not
just allow another Good Man to fail and let evil prevail.

Thank you for your time! May you have a pleasant day!


Harvey S. Keh
Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship
Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government

See the blind beggars dance, the cripples sing, the idiot a hero, the
lunatic, king...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Criminal blast, collective shock, political block

Last Friday, I was watching the TV in my hotel room in Ortigas when the show was suddenly interrupted by a breaking news: a major explosion killed several shoppers, hurt more unsuspecting people, and damaged the Glorietta mall in Makati City. Initially thought to be an lpg gas explosion, it was later announced that the blast is caused by explosive material.

Whatever is the nature of and motive for the explosion, the fact is that it killed and maimed innocent people. That is criminal. And the consequence is that of collective shock. In a society wherein the people are hanging on to the established notion of security and justice, the blast is a terrific blow.

At the same time, speculations are immediate. The bombing(?) is politically-motivated. Allegedly, it is prelude to a coup. Others alleged that it is a diversionary tactic.

It is this latter claim that got my attention, if only for the relevance and proximity of circumstances. In the past few days, public attention has focused again on alleged scandals in the government such as the broadband deal and the alleged distribution of money in Malacanang. It is now alleged that the blast and its investigation will surely diminish the prominence of these scandals. Others speculate that it may even be used as the basis for more drastic measures by the government. I remember the scenario created by then President Marcos as political staging point for martial law.

At this stage, I am keeping my fingers crossed that the bombing/explosion is not a political act. The use of violence as a political instrument is anathema in any democracy. When people resort to such acts to make political statements, it simply point out the reality that democracy is diminished or trampled upon.

Coordination and synergy in the fight against corruption

The World Bank-Knowledge for Development Center(WB-KDC), in coordination with the Transparency and Accountability Network(TAN)and the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB)conducted the "Workshop on Procurement and Anticorruption" last 15-19 October 2007 at the Richmonde Hotel in the Ortigas Business District.

Various initiatives
Among the activities in the workshop is a sharing on the anti-corruption initiatives undertaken by participants coming from various regions of the country. Integration into the course curriculum, training sessions in partnership with the Ombudsman, data gathering on budget and expenditures, and actual prosecution of corrupt officials are some of those mentioned in the sharing. To my mind, the most important insight in the sharing is the realization that people acknowledge the prevalence of corruption and actually wanted to do something against it.

Evolving a framework for engagements
The classic discourse on the root cause of any social problem showed up again: is it the people or the social structures that foster corruption? Personally, I think any debate on this area may not be so productive. After all, both the people and the structures are part of a complex, interdependent social set up which has evolved through the years. Thus, my prescription here is always the two-pronged approach to the problem. Let us pursue structural reforms but do not forget the impact of values and orientation to the individual. The quest for social transformation must be pursued on two levels: the personal/individual and the collective/social. In this context, I mention the Jesuit-inspired modules of Ehem! and Aha! If you are interested to run this anticorruption modules in your institution or agency, just visit Ateneo de Naga University for details. Dr. Ronnie Amorado has also come up with an interesting book about fixers in the Philippines, "Fixing Society"

Coordination and synergy
The WB-KDC, TAN, and GPBB workshop provided an opportunity for people (with more or less common advocacy) to sit down together and talk about the things they are doing. It is along this line that I put forward my call for a more coherent view of these initiatives from the local perspective. For example, I would like to see findings of various anticorruption initiatives such as PDAF Watch, Textbook Count, Procurement Watch, etc. presented together and showing the picture of a regional status. As much as I appreciate national presentations and policy advocacy, I also feel the need to evolve a more relevant tool for data utilization in the local level.

Forging a united front
The fight against corruption is a complex and multidimensional struggle: personal and social dimensions in the local, national, and even international level must be confronted. Our inherent personal and collective weaknesses must not be an obstruction. Instead, it must be an inspiration for working harder, overcoming obstacles. We always strive for the "more", the "better". We do this not only for ourselves, for our family and children, or for our society. We do it for the greater glory of God.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Metro Naga Consumer Group in Action!

(Photos courtesy of Nono Aquino/Naga City Jaycees)


Monday, October 1, 2007

Why resign?

COMELEC Chairperson Benjamin Abalos has consistently denied in his public statements any involvement in the NBN-broadband deal. But as the expose and allegations become more explosive, the COMELEC Chairperson suddenly resigns TODAY.What are the political implications of this act?

Finding a way out. The impeachment rap against Abalos is set to start today and "fast-tracked" by Congress prior to his retirement on February 2008. It was expected he will wage a valiant battle in the impeachment process, or lose everything prior to his retirement from government service. However, the prospect of a long, drawn-out legal battle in the Senate may have been too much for the embattled poll chief. Thus, the way out is resignation.

Finding a new arena. With the resignation of Abalos from COMELEC, he is technically beyond the reach of Congress. Who will venture to prosecute him in the legal arena, via the courts of the land? It is assumed that with his background as a lawyer, and former judge, the battle may not be as difficult for him in the courts as it may be in a well-publicized and politically-charged impeachment proceedings.

Cutting ties. But will the resignation also imply a parting of ways between Abalos and allies in the Arroyo government? It may be too early to tell at this point. For one, a consideration in the decision to resign may have been the fact that Congress is the turf of Speaker Jose De Venecia, whose son is implicating Abalos in the broadband scandal. Another may be the level of support for Abalos that can be afforded by Malacanang, without significantly exposing itself to political vulnerability due to the scandal.

Thus, the resignation may be viewed as a combination of legal strategy and political maneuver. The first would seek to provide a breathing space for Abalos, the latter would put a breathing space for political leaders implicated in the scandal.

On Renewable Energy

I was invited to the forum "International and National Responses to Climate Change –
Challenges for Energy Policy and the Promotion of Renewable Energy"
last Thursday, September 27, 6 pm at Discovery Suites, Ortigas, Pasig City.

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), Philippine Office, presented Mr. Rolf Hempelmann, Member of Parliament of Germany and rapporteur of the parliamentary group of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on energy policy issues, as resource person of the said forum cum dialogue.

The forum aimed to bring together members of civil society organizations, institutes, government and business to share perspectives on how energy policy can address climate change, what role there is for renewable energy and how the generation and use of renewable energy can be promoted.

The said forum was enlightening, particularly with Mr. Hempelmann's sharing of the contemporary Gernman experience on enacting and pursuing policies towards renewable energy.

But a more important consideration which I dared to ask from (and share with the group) is the experiences and roles of organized power consumers. In a policy atmosphere dominated by lobby groups and big power corporations, consumers are often relegated into passive recipients of the rates and services pegged by such policies.

Along this line,the German experience is admittedly very different from ours. Whereas they do not have a very activist organized consumer groups, Philippine civil society draws from a long tradition of community organizing. Thus consumer rights and welfare becomes not mere matters of customer satisfaction, but important issues of political rights as well.

The quest for policies towards renewable energy in the Philippine context must build on this peculiarity. A strong civil society movement will prove to be an important deterrent to the inordinate appetite for profit among corporations, and also provide an effective check to the quality of services provided to consumers by these corporations.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On global warming and "environmental politics"

Reaction to Papers presented in the Ateneo de Naga University, 5 September 2007:
The typical quip “It doesn’t affect us, why bother?” used to be the standard reply among ordinary citizens when asked for opinions about environmental issues. Nowadays however, the experience is real and the effect is widely felt. Fish kill, abnormal weather (including halestorm in Baguio City!), excessively high temperature, frequent flooding, etc. are just some of the phenomenon affecting everyone. Thus, it is indeed timely to reflect on the environmental issues confronting us and discern possible actions that we can immediately pursue.

But global warming as an environmental issue is almost becoming as controversial as the presidency of PGMA. May I outline some of the "political" considerations involved:

1. methodological issues divide scientists thus, findings and recommendations in this area is continually challenged: how accurate are the models in representing realities, are the causes anthropocentric or simply geophysical phenomenon

2. the state of the art may be summarized along the following lines (quoting EPA):

•Human activities are changing the composition of Earth's atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.
•The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
•An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).
•The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.
•Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.

3. As a political issue, social movements and even political parties are born around global warming: (1)advocates calling for policy reforms and behavior modifications, (2)“cooler heads coalition” focusing on the flaws of doomsday scenario, (3)east-west divide being highlighted: who caused it, who suffers, who will act

4. Thus, this environmental issue takes on a very political dimension (politics referring to any social configuration that involves the struggle for and exercise of power):
•whose findings and perceptions will prevail
•whose recommendations and actions get implemented

5. But to my mind, the bottom-line is about the knowledge and truth that we gain, the actions that we pursue with this knowledge, and the learning that we derive from the experience. Politics is the tool for getting these.

6. Politically therefore, the action points in the international arena will be multi-layered and necessitating several policy interventions within and among the governments of the world. But in our level, much can be done already: (1)reduce, reuse, recycle (2)estimate climate impact of university, (3)get involved!

7. The two-fold fundamental politics in environmental issue: (1)power must be given to the people (knowledge and action being democratized instead of a few countries, agencies, and individuals only) ; (2)scientific studies, findings, and recommendations must be subjected to the most rigid discourse aimed towards truth and accuracy.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Guarding the Pork Barrel!

The Coalition of Development NGO's (CODE-NGO)and the Coalition for Bicol Development (CBD) hosted last August 30, 9am at the Regent Hotel of Naga City the presentation of their findings and recommendations in the project "PDAF Watch".

There was dismal response among majority of the legislators when requested to provide data on how their PDAF was spent. As expected, the widely perceived and publicly-acknowledged problems of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), popularly called "pork barrel", was validated. The three areas covered by the project: roads, IT/computers, and LGU priorities all revealed serious problems. For instance, some roads did not even last for a year before cracks and potholes emerged! Worse, there are even instances wherein roads are supposedly missing!

To my mind, the most important lesson learned from the study is that the technology for monitoring and safeguarding the PDAF must be improved, if it expects to make a more widespread and stronger impact. At the same time, policy instruments that will compel legislators receiving PDAF to be more transparent and accountable should be pushed in Congress.

And the PDAF Watch also run straight into the middle of a long and persistent debate on whether it should be abolished completely or retained, with some modifications.

As if these issues are not enough, PDAF must also be recognized for what it is: a political instrument of the executive branch to exact loyalty and obedience from the legislators. Thus, instead of the popular perception of PDAF as money that can be thrown around by the congressman or senator, it must be viewed also as the money that is essentially doled-out by Malacanang to its allies and supporters. More importantly, it is also the same money that is deprived of the opposition congresspersons, opposition senators, and their constitutents.

A bigger struggle therefore would be how to cut off this fund from the political interests and partisan bickering of politicians!After all, PDAF is widely hailed by many as a mechanism for equitable distribution of government funds. We might as well make it 'true to form'!

Muslim-Christian Interaction

I was invited to take part in a three-day four-country conference dubbed "Culture, Conflict, and Religion: Implications for Southeast Asia and Australia" last August 26-28 at the Ateneo de Manila University. It was jointly sponsored by the AdeMU Political Science Department and the Center for Dialogue of Australia's La Trobe University.

At the onset, I had to hesitate. At the back of my mind, I was thinking the conference is better off being attended by our brothers and sisters from Mindanao wherein various forms of conflict are raging (among which is supposedly a Muslim-Christian conflict). Nonetheless, the political animal in me got excited particularly when there was mention of analyzing the interaction in the context of the September 11 assault into the United States and the subsequent campaign against terrorism.

As it turned out, I was glad to attend the said gathering. Aside from the opportunity for bonding with kindred spirits from other Ateneos all over the Philippines, it also became a chance to interact with seasoned intellectuals and political analyst from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia. Needless to say, the conference turned out to be a treasure field of information and potential research directions in the area of Muslim-Christian interaction and multiculturalism.

And thus I was forced to look closely into the Naga City context. Questions such as "How do we relate with the Muslims in our midst?" and "Do we have biases and prejudices for our Muslim brothers and sisters?" took on a more serious implication. The social scientist in me is itching to start writing the research proposal and actually doing the study. After all, many of my insights and knowledge on this area is based on gut feel and casual observation. Maybe a more rigid scrutiny, subject to the rigors of the scientific research, will give interesting data.

Most importantly, the conference again awakened my wariness towards stereotyping and labeling. Something that is habitually done by society at the expense of the minority. Is Naga City different from other societies in the treatment of the Muslims? Is there a peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims in Naga City? And how is such interaction affected by the campaign against terrorism?

Maybe an interesting forum in the locality would soon take shape. "Multiculturalism: Diversity and Solidarity in Naga City". Watch out..

The Wonderful Island of Masbate!

I was in the main island of Masbate province last 18-22 July for a research work. The field work turned out to be an eye-opener not only on the exotic beauty of the island but a lot more on the people of this distant province of the Bicol Region. I venture then to offer an outsider's experience of Masbate Province.

The Place. Masbate Province is a paradise. Composed of three islands, Masbate City is the commercial hub of the province. The rolling hills, fine beaches, clean sea, as well as the cool and fresh breeze is a wonderful experience for anyone who is looking for respite from the pollution of the urban centers.

Mabate City is a curious mix of the urban and rural features. However, the city has managed to retain the placid and peaceful way of life characteristic of Philippine countryside.

Surprisingly, the breath-taking inland mountains and forested areas of the province has managed to survive in the limited land area through the years.

The People. Generally cordial, the kind and gentle people of Masbate can be assertive of their convictions (including political affiliations). It is also noted that the level of familiarity among the residents is hight, providing a prevalent sense of "community" among the people.

The Economy. The main economic sector of the province is agriculture. Fishing, farming, corn-raising, coconut production are the major activities. In the service sector, food shops and repair shops are prominent. Trading and retail is also brisk.

The Politics. The island's political environment may be described by the prevalence of dominant political clans in the various municipalities of the province. Young and old generation of leaders from the same political clans are distributed all throughout the province. Also, violence is sometimes a very real political phenomenon in this island province.


A brief stay in the province has provided so much data on the life of Masbatenos. Social realities observed herein are but the tip of the iceberg. But these initial observations simply inspire more effort to learn about the province and its people. The kindness and solidarity so unselfishly displayed amidst economic difficulties and poor infrastructure says a lot about the people of Masbate. Its neighboring provinces surely have a lot to learn from this phenomenon!

Monday, July 30, 2007


The State of the Nation Address delivered by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo last 23 July 2007 provided us again with a window for scrutinizing the state of governance of this country.

Ms. Arroyo projected the image of a politician fully conscious of the playing field. She knows what it takes to keep her allies loyal. One strategy is public recognition of this or that politician requesting this or that project. She played well the role of a patron or "matron" dispensing projects and funds as if these were personally hers. But at the same time, she is also trying hard to project the image of her stability and sustainability in power. In short, she is avoiding to be seen as "lame duck" president particularly because the 2010 elections is barely three years away.

On the development framework that she outlined, Ms. Arroyo must be reminded that the poverty in the Philippines is not simply an economic problem to be solved by constructing more bridges and roads. In fact, the investments she talked about will be like droplets of water in a wide parched land area. Big spending and expensive infrastructure awes an impoverished community but they never ease the suffering.

Moreover, focus on the so-called super-regions is a strategy that may eventually lead to the neglect and disregard of other more impoverished areas. And inordinate dependence on the private sector to propel growth in the selected areas may also lead to the neglect of state responsibilities.

Most importantly, the release of governmental resources must be done as part of a coherent development strategy from the national to the local level. Otherwise, such resources will be wasted or simply used as instrument for political patronage, without any clear developmental impact.

On the newly-enacted human security act, it will be better if the Supreme Court will finally step in and resolve once and for all the constitutional issues involved in the implementation of this law. Otherwise, the recommendations of the supreme court-sponsored summit on extrajudicial killings may be severely affected.

On electoral reforms, it must be noted that Congress has passed the election modernization law. The ball is now in the hands of COMELEC. But if significant reforms are not instituted in this commission, I doubt the realization of a credible election come 2010. And this will be worsened by the setbacks in the uphill battle against the culture of corruption.

Finally, talks about social services delivered by the government must be tinged with the insight that there is a need to dissociate service delivery from partisan political interest. In other words, the empowerment of an efficient bureaucracy must be a central concern for any public official who is conscious of the governments responsibility to the citizens.

The SONA is supposed to give us an idea of the national situation and the policy directions which the government will take to handle that situation. This 2007 SONA gave us a taste of what may be, and left us asking ourselves: "What respite will be given by all these plans and dreams to the suffering Filipino people ?"

Monday, July 16, 2007

Terrorizing the terrorists?!

The "Human Security Act of 2007" (HSA) or Republic Act No. 9372 took effect 15th of July 2007. This piece of legislation is supposed to protect the people and the state from terrorists.

Unfortunately, it is not being embraced joyfully by the people it purports to protect. There are fears about the possibility of abuse and political persecution, as well as violation of basic human and constitutional rights.

FLAG President Atty. Diokno cites: Worse, the HSA is a dangerous law. It authorizes preventive detention,expands the power of warrantless arrest, and allows for unchecked invasion of our privacy, liberty and other basic rights. Persons merely suspected of engaging in terrorism may be arrested without warrant and detained without charges.

They may be placed under house arrest, prohibited from using their cell phones, computers and any other means of communication, even when they are granted bail on the ground that evidence of guilt is not strong. They may also be subjected to surveillance and wiretapping, as well as examination, sequestration and freezing of bank deposits and other assets, on mere suspicion that they are members of a "terrorist organization."

The polarity being presented at the moment is the choice between sustained human and political rights or imposing effective restraint to terrorists through the HSA. This will not be an easy predicament, particularly for Filipinos who vehemently fight any form of political repression while being all too familiar with terroristic atrocities.

This is compounded by a situation wherein the incumbent administration is trying to steer away from political controversies. Thus, the HSA aside from being an affront to human rights is also turning out to be a potent instrument for the preservation of the status quo. There is pervasive fear that these campaign against terrorism may just be an excuse for a campaign against political opponents of the present administration.

Ultimately, the issues surrounding the controversial law must be settled in the Supreme Court. We can only hope that the justices will uphold Constitutional provisions over political exigencies. Otherwise, the struggle against a repressive political regime may rear its head again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

On electric cooperatives

IP, CCD and KDC-ADNU host RTD on Electric Cooperatives
The Knowledge for Development Center(KDC)-ADNU, Institute of Politics, and the Center for Community Development sponsored the roundtable discussion on THE ROLE OF ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES IN LOCAL DEVELOPMENT 10:00am last Saturday, 23 June 2007 at the KDC, O’Brien Library, Ateneo de Naga University.

Among the participants in the said discussion are Mr. Beda Priela of the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Butch Dela Torre and Ms. Bernadette Gavino of the Naga City Consumers Group, Mr. Nono Aquino of the Naga City Jaycees, Mr. Elmer Sto Domingo of the ADNU Center for Community Development, Mr. Dax Plopinio of the Institute for Small and Medium Enterprise Development Inc., Atty. Manny Teoxon as a consumer and advocate of consumer rights, Mr. Alec of the local newspaper Vox Bicol, Mr. Clark Batac, Ms. Jovy Dy, and Ms. Lany Botor as employees and union leaders of the Camarines Sur 2 Electric Cooperative.

Mr. Renne Gumba, KDC member and Institute of Politics Executive Director acted as the discussion moderator. He started by explaining the background/context of the gathering, including what the KDC as a partnership of the ADNU and Word Bank is all about. He then proceeded to present the guide for discussion which revolved around the following themes: 1.)EPIRA law and the electric cooperatives, 2.)the local electric cooperative/CASURECO2 and local development, 3.)role of the consumer groups/other orgs.

The discussion ended with the participants resolving to strengthen the local consumers group, and work on the various electricity cooperative-related issues and concerns affecting the public in general, and the consumers in particular. This will include action on the alleged irregularities in the management of the electric cooperative. It was also agreed upon by the participants to have a regular meeting/discussion and to open up the group to participation of other interested individuals and organizations.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

VforCE Statement on the Maguindanao Elections

Volunteers for Clean Elections (VforCE)

June 21, 2007

We believe there is enough evidence to show no elections were held or that there was a failure of elections in many, if not all, areas of Maguindanao.

During the supposed May 14 elections in Maguindanao, teachers who served as members of the Board of Election Inspectors have claimed they filled up ballots in favor of administration candidates. NAMFREL was not given its copy of election returns. And PPCRV and LENTE volunteers were refused access to many polling areas and canvassing centers.

The Comelec cannot and should not continue insisting that teacher-whistleblowers step forward to personally testify on election irregularities in the province; one has already been killed, two have disappeared, and many are in hiding. Without a climate of trust and security, which the Comelec should first seek to create, witnesses cannot reasonably be expected to expose themselves to great risks. If the Comelec seeks stronger evidence of election irregularities, it should simply open up the ballot boxes as suggested by the teachers themselves.

More significantly, crucial documents to show elections did take place in the province have mysteriously gone missing for over a month now. It has not helped that Team Unity has inexplicably failed to produce its own copy of election returns to support its claim of a 12-0 sweep in the senatorial contest. Even if the missing documents eventually show up, they will be highly suspect and therefore should not be considered at all, for doing so could likewise result in a disenfranchisement of Maguindanaoans.

We, however, reiterate that for any special elections in Maguindanao to be meaningful, truthful and free, the Comelec, the PNP/AFP and the government, as the case may be, must take the following steps:

cancel all gun permits and disarm paramilitary units in the province
deploy the Philippine Marines to ensure peace and order, including the safety of voters, election officers, and watchers
replace local Comelec officials with trusted Comelec personnel from other areas
count ballots in safe and secure areas
ensure the effective participation of watchdog groups and full media coverage, and
undertake voters education activities before the elections.
If special elections cannot be conducted under these circumstances, then no such special elections should be held anymore. In such a situation, we believe that it will be reasonable and acceptable to disregard the votes for senators in Maguindanao. For while it appears that local officials have been voted into office and have in fact already been proclaimed (after all, it takes only one vote for an unopposed candidate to win), the votes for the senatorial positions remain mysteriously unaccounted for. With over a month now since elections have been held, even if they should show up, they should be deemed spurious and should therefore disregarded.

(From Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO)2/F CCS, SDC, Ateneo de Manila UniversityLoyola Heights, Quezon City, PhilippinesTel. (632) 426.5938, 426.6001 local 4624/

Monday, June 25, 2007

Consumer Activism!

As I listened to tv and radio reports regarding alleged irregularities in the local electric cooperative, at the back of my mind was a shrill voice screaming: DO SOMETHING! I wonder if this is also felt by other consumers. I am suddenly overwhelmed by the sense of helplessness which this service providers have engendered into their constituents!

But before I go storming that sprawling complex in Del Rosario, Naga City, I opted to be a little bit more rational and calm at this point. Thus let us discuss the predicament with a semblance of human intelligence.

Local electric cooperatives it seems are but the tip of the iceberg. They are in fact minute part of this complex industrial complex called the energy sector. And just recently, this sector has been rocked by the passage of EPIRA law. The law intended to, among others, "rationalize" the energy sector in the country. Players in this sector were clustered into the generation, transmission, and distribution companies. The electric cooperatives figured prominently in the third. At present, these electric cooperatives are under the control and supervision of the NEA.

Thus, as I raged on the alleged shenanigans in the electric cooperative, I realize that there are bigger battles for the consumers. It doesnt end with the poor cooperatives. It included huge, even multinational, corporations. Policy reforms must be pursued. Directions should be plotted.

But to do so would entail organizing and mobilizing the consumers. At this point, the consumers are literally divided and vulnerable to vested interests. Therefore, the challenge for raising the level of consumer involvement and awareness on these matters.

Its turning out then that the alleged shenanigans in the local electric cooperative can be a turning point for consumer activism. In a society characterized by prevalent indifference and cynicism, it becomes a compelling reason to get involved. And to get organized.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Democracy and Peoples Participation

1. Democracy

The conventional undertanding of democracy is in the frequently-qouted, western-inspired line: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. When taken by the Filipinos, it was rephrased into a government "off" the people, "buy" the people, and "poor" the people.

But seriously, democracy as a political system is a governance mode that relies heavily on citizens participation. To ensure this, two crucial elements of democracy are the legitimacy of its governmental leaders (consent of the governed to be led) and the acceptable selection process for the preoples' representatives in government (electoral process).

Again, going to the Philippine context, both elements are problematic and eventually becomes the cause of an alarming culture: cynicism, indifference, and pragmatism. "Hear no evil, see no evil." "Mind you own business." "Go to the courts and prove me guilty." "I need money, cant eat principles." These are some of the more popular phrases among Filipinos today.

It is not surprising therefore that peoples participation in Philippine democracy is reduced to lip service nowadays. In fact, it has become an afterthought. The priority is the economy. And as long as that is allegedly done, those in power can get away with everything else.

It is in this political and cultural mess that the elections for barangay leaders will be done this year, barely a few months after the national election. Im afraid that these electoral exercises will be a slap to the quest for peoples participation. Thus, it may be worth our time to revisit the Local Government Code (LGC) and the mechanisms for participation it has tried to institutitonalize.

2. LGC and empowerment

The LGC is a concrete step towards decentralization and devolution. In theory, this process would bring the government closer to the people and provide greater access and participation for the ordinary citizen. The ultimate goal is peoples empowerment.

Interesting provisions in the LGC (as far as peoples participation is concerned) are the following: a) ngo/po/private sector representation in the local special bodies such as barangay devt. council, pre-bid and awards committee, local school board, local health board, local peace and order council ; b)power of recall; c)initiative and referendum, d) public consultation, e)mandatory hearings.

3. LGU Tasks

It is depressing to note that the culture of participation still yet to be seen among many local government units who have opened up to these LGC-mandated mechanisms. And it gets worse when you look at the major works of the local government units such as organizational management, development planning, delivery of basic services, inter-governmental relations, and even its relations with the ngo/po/private sector. The apparently diminishing premium on participation is alarming.

4. Evolving nature of the barangay

But partly because of the LGC, the barangay may be a good battleground for peoples participation. Being endowed with quasi-corporate and mass movement character, aside from being a governmental unit, the barangay is now empowered to champion peoples participation. Its relatively enhanced access to and control of resources, as well as greater mobilizing power for its constitutents, ultimately provide wonderful opportunities for peoples participation.

5. Challenges

The 2007 Barangay election will be a battle of independence or subordination among the barangay leaders. Independence from partisan interest and political agenda will be a tremendous challenge for candidates. Subordination to these agenda and interest is the destiny of the winners.

Unless peoples participation is taken seriously, this will always be the cycle in our electoral system and governance scheme.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Invitation to the Kwentong Bayan!

The Ateneo de Naga University, the Department of Social Sciences, the Institute of Politics, and the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan is inviting the public to a "Kwentong Bayan" (Pagsusuri ng Pambansang Kalagayan) 10am on Friday, 29 June 2007 at the Arrupe Convention Center, Ateneo de Naga University.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Where do we go from here?

Now that the election is over, we are constrained to move on even as we keep a watchful eye on what really transpired in the just-concluded electoral exercise. What I'm saying is that we do not really move on unless our doubts are confirmed and our questions are resolved. But again, the pehnomenon of social dynamism compels us to update ourselves, to make ourselves relevant again.

An interesting question that people may want to know is the direction that the newly-elected officials will take. In the case of Naga City and the province of Camarines Sur, for example, is there a possibility of collaboration?

What are the major issues/problems retarding Bicol development? How can these be overcome? What will be the role/contribution of the LGU to the development of Bicol under their respective leader's stewardship? What opportunities for collaboration with the private sector and with other LGUs are presently available or may be explored in the future?

As I relect on this further, there may be hope for the future. Convergence may be an effective strategy to attain Bicol development.

But I would stick to a principled collaboration that is anchored on strategic development policies and programs. Instead of lip service and motherhood statements, what we need right now are concrete, measureable, and feasible interventions for the advancement of Bicolandia.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Analysis of the 2007 Election

The Philippine political landscape was recently dominated by the May 14 election, effectively obscuring other pressing political issues such as the charter change, extra-judicial killings, and legitimacy issues against the Arroyo administration. This presentation will be an attempt to do analysis of the events and emergent trends in the said exercise, as well as of the scenarios and prospects after the just-concluded election.

1. The context
The 2007 elections took place at a time when there is “mixed” feelings among the people on the country’s economic, political and cultural situation.

Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri’s latest statement painted encouraging scenario( “I am pleased to report the economy’s robust performance in the 1st quarter of 2007. Gross domestic product or GDP grew by 6.9 percent, surpassing NEDA’s conservative forecast band of 5.3 to 6.1 percent as well as the 5.7 percent median forecast of Bloomberg’s survey. Gross National Product or GNP rose by 6.6 percent.” However, other economists are quick to point out that these so-called economic gains in the macro level still remains to be felt in the micro level, and that specific items in these so-called growth must be closely scrutinized. For example, the economy’s reliance on industries such as call centers and on the remittances of OFW’s does not reflect an expanding productive sector of the country’s economy.

Political controversies continue to challenge the governance structures of the country. For example, extrajudicial killing and forced disappearances has placed the Philippines in the international spotlight. According to the count by human rights group Karapatan, total extrajudicial killings since 2001, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took office, have hit 863 as of last May 15. The victims included church workers, farmers and youths. The number of journalists killed since 2001 stands at 51. Forced disappearances under the Arroyo administration, according to Karapatan, has reached 196 as of the middle of May. This prompted a comment by Chief Justice Reynato Puno that the Supreme Court would use its powers to protect civil liberties. (

The cultural context is also viewed with ambivalence. On one hand Filipinos are perceived as active and dynamic in the political life, steadfast in their principles and convictions. However, there is a growing loss of interest over social issues either due to confusion on the multitude of problems confronting the people, due to pragmatism, or simply due to declining moral values.

Natural disasters even compounded the burden among the Filipinos in general, and the Bicolanos in particular. Typhoon Reming has devastated the region causing almost incalculable loss in human lives and properties. The situation did not only cause despair, but also left the people vulnerable to unscrupulous and exploitative individuals taking advantage of poverty and misery in exchange for political support and favors.

2. The Electoral Process
It is within the context described above that the campaign of candidates for various elected positions got started. Supposedly, the polarity should have been between the administration and opposition candidates. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The administration played with two major machineries: LAKAS and KAMMPI. The opposition groups on the other hand hardly got their acts together to penetrate local campaigns, focusing the efforts on their national candidates. Thus, the 2007 campaign may be aptly described as "survival of the fittest". In the more literal sense, it is a fight among those candidates who got more money, more media mileage, and more tools for negotiation dominated the campaign. Instead of programs or platforms, people were treated to ads with crazy jumbled letters so they can remember names of candidates.

[It is close to this point when Ateneo de Naga University launched PAGMATU2007 as its four-pronged electoral intervention strategy: education, advocacy, mobilization, and deployment. In cooperation with the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan and the Society of Jesus, we rendered voters education sessions dubbed as Pinoy Voters Academy to significant number of sectors and organizations inside and outside the university.

It is also at this point when we effectively fused with the Archdiocese of Caceres in its electoral work. More specifically, we assumed active role in the Archdiocesan Committee initiated by the Archbishop of Caceres himself. Thus voters education became the major contribution of the university to the Archdiocese of Caceres, Diocese of Sorsogon, and the Prelature of Libmanan.

As the election draws nearer, our education session shifted from the conduct of PVA to the provision of Pollwatchers Training for PPCRV volunteers. Along this line, we acknowledge the role of two Jesuit brothers who worked hard with the university in the conduct of the said training to the various districts within the Archdiocese of Caceres.]
The voting process is just like the previous elections which the Philippines had. The night before the election day is characterized by excitement and anticipation of people going around until the early morning hours for various reasons. The election day itself witnessed the concentration of activities in the voting areas, with the now-familiar experiences of people losing their names in the voters list (and other election day hassles!).
After the voting centers close at 3pm, the counting begins. It is at this point that the ballgame takes on new rules. Lawyers become more prominent, with watchers serving as look outs for action! The counting in this election is no different from the 2004 elections because of the failure of COMELEC to implement the newly-enacted election law.

[ADNU election day mobilization and deployment was coursed through the Archdiocesan initiatives. Ateneans were generally encouraged to integrate and assume active roles in the PPCRV or NAMFREL. CCD was requested to evolve incentive schemes for students through their COP or NSTP programs.

An interesting addition here is the hosting of the International Observers Misssion (IOM) from the Compact for Peaceful Elections. A German student, a lawyer from Denmark, and a professor from Italy comprised the team. From May 13 to 14, they went around the provinces of Albay and Camarines Sur with some of our faculty and personnel, serving not only as observers but also at times as deterrents to electoral violence and fraud. A draft of the summarized observations are attached herewith.]
3. The Electoral Players
The candidates in the 2007 elections are separated on two levels: the national (senators) and local candidates (congressmen/women, governors and board members, mayors and councilors). The national level candidates were polarized according to those who are anti-GMA and those pro-GMA. As of Jun 6 2007 3:00 pm, COMELEC tally shows dominance of the anti-GMA candidates:
1. Legarda, Loren (GO) 18,069,466
2. Escudero, Francis Joseph (GO) 17,858,4163. Lacson, Panfilo (GO) 15,261,9994. Villar, Manuel Jr (GO) 15,004,7145. Pangilinan, Francis (IND) 14,229,4496. Aquino, Benigno Simeon III (GO) 14,052,1667. Angara, Edgardo (TU) 12,187,2258. Cayetano, Allan Peter (GO) 11,560,0839. Arroyo, Joker (TU) 11,381,20610. Honasan, Gregorio (IND) 11,343,60611. Trillanes, Antonio IV (GO) 10,977,68012. Pimentel, Aquilino III (GO) 10,656,050
In the local level however, including congressional candidates, such dichotomy did not come easy. Various districts, towns, and cities found themselves torn between candidates who are GMA supporters. Thus, it is observed that the efforts of the administration were actually focused on the local elections to guard its influence or control over the House of Representatives.

[At this point, it is must be noted that several members of the community, in their individual capacity, got involved in partisan electoral work either as volunteers, contributors, and endorsers of candidates. A significant number of local candidates are also alumni of the university. Attached is an interesting reflection of a volunteer in the congressional campaign of Abang Mabulo.]
PROVINCE GOVERNOR and MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVESALBAY: Jose Maria Clemente Sarte Salceda1st : Edcel C. Lagman*2nd : Al Francis Bichara*3rd : Reno G. Lim*CAMARINES NORTE: PendingLiwayway Vinzons ChatoCAMARINES SUR: Luis Raymond F. Villafuerte1st : Diosdado Ignacio Maria Macapagal Arroyo2nd : Luis R. Villafuerte3rd : Arnulfo P. Fuentebella4th : Felix Alfelor, Jr.CATANDUANES: Joseph C. CuaJoseph A. SantiagoMASBATE: Elisa T. Kho1st : Narciso R. Bravo, Jr.2nd : Antonio T. Kho3rd : Rizalina S. LaneteSORSOGON: Saly A. Lee
1st : Salvador H. Escudero III2nd : Jose Guyala Solis

A general trend pointed out is the emergence again of political clans as dominant players in Philippine electoral politics. Gladstone Cuarteros (28 May 2007) of the Institute of Popular Democracy wrote: "Every election since 1998, the political families are increasing their control of the provinces. Based on an earlier research, political families in 1998 have 64% of all governors. This has increased to 79% in 2001 and 80% in 2004. This year, the political clans have 76% out of the 55 governors proclaimed until today. For sure, when all the 81 elected provincial governors have been declared winners, the share of political clans will be higher."

In the said study, the following figures illustrate his point:

Clan and Non-Clan Governors, 1998-2007
Governor 1998 2001 2004 2007Clan Member 50 (64%) 61 (79 %) 63 (80%) 55 (76%)Non-Clan Member 28 (36 %) 16 (21 %) 16 (20%) 17 (23%)

The party list organizations were also surprised by the playing field they got into. Several party list groups who figured prominently in the 2004 elections found their seat in congress in danger of either being reduced or lost. As of 4 June 2007, 6:00pm the following are leading in the party list count:

1. BUHAY (Buhay Hayaan Yumabong) 1,082,685
2. BAYAN MUNA (Bayan Muna) 871,682
3. CIBAC (Citizens Battle Against Corruption) 705,971
4. GABRIELA (Gabriela Women’s Party) 541,403
5. APEC (Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives) 478,727
6. A TEACHER (Advocacy for Teacher Empowerment
Through Action, Cooperation and Harmony Towards
Educational Reforms) 436,257
7. AKBAYAN (Akbayan! Citizen’s Action Party) 411,192
8. BUTIL (Luzon Farmers Party) 403,002
9.ALAGAD (Alagad) 401,696
10. BATAS 350,780
For its part, the COMELEC has been struggling to maintain an air of independence and credibility. Unfortunately, it can not seem to stop itself from getting into controversial situations. In the party list elections, hotly contested rulings include the non-disclosure of party-list nominees and the determination of the maximum number of seats in Congress.

In the local level, several days before the election, its First Division suddenly acted swiftly on the Robredo citizenship case, citing the popular Naga City mayor as disqualified in the 2004 elections thus cannot sit out the remaining time of his term. This decision is supposedly done by commissioners identified with the opponents of Robredo. The public uproar in the local and national level, it seems, prevented further action on the case. The situation even prompted a statement of concern from our University President, Fr. Joel Tabora himself. When COMELEC sent Commissioner Rene Sarmiento to a fact-finding mission in Mindanao, the poor commissioner ended up resigning from the task for "health reasons". These instances cast a lingering doubt on at least two aspects: the independence of the body from political pressures and the capacity of the poll body to neutralize cheating and electoral fraud.
The AFP and the PNP have been making public pronouncements of neutrality and non-partisan stance. Unfortunately, experiences don't seem to bear this out. For example, the Bicol Command has unilaterally deployed a Regional Mobile Group to operate in Naga City during the election day while pulling out at least 14 local cops for alleged involvement in drugs. This RMG has been going around the city in darkly-tinted vans with no plate numbers before, during, and after the election day. In the First District of Camarines Sur, an army camp was discovered to have campaign materials of a congressional candidate who happens to be the son of the Commander-in-Chief.
Amidst all these, the civil society participation has largely been confined to the non-partisan campaign. Aligning themselves with the electoral watchdogs such as NAMFREL and PPCRV, other groups such as Bantay-Canvass, VFORCE, etc. they continue to provide until now a countermeasure to the alleged possible fraud and cheating. An interesting intervention also encouraged by civil society initiatives is the presence of various international observers such as those hosted by the Compact for Peaceful Elections.
The other armed groups such as the NPA's also surface again in the election period. Some candidates are prohibited from campaigning in particular areas if they do not pay permit to campaign. There are even accounts of "permit to win". Nonetheless, it is a growing perception that such interventions undermine the people's exercise of freedom in selecting their leaders.
4.The Future
What then is the post-election scenario?

In terms of power distribution within the government, a senate dominated by the opposition will have to prove its independence and courage as opposition of the GMA regime. The lower house on the other hand is expected to resume its role as apologist of the executive branch, with a sprinkling of vocal minority within it ranks. Local government unit leaders will also continue to be dominated by allies of the administration, except the key cities of Makati, Manila, and Naga.

In terms of political and electoral reforms, the field is now open for the advocacy towards a no-nonsense implementation of the modernization law. At the same time, previously shelved issues such as the charter change, extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances, GMA legitimacy, and growing dissatisfaction with democratic institutions and processes among the populace will be resurrected.

The challenge is for the university to continue articulating the truth, dissecting social problems, and putting forward alternatives for the present situation. As one foreigner has asked: Where are the university professors and students in the Philippines in the middle of all these things happening to your country?


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Poor challenger, rich entrenched elite

Much has been said about the biblical narration of the David and Goliath fight, wherein the diminutive David prevailed in the end.

As the Phillippines enter the electoral period, people are again using the storyline to describe some electoral fights in municiplities/cities, provinces, and even in national elective positions.

But much as we want to be optimistic and idealistic, those who assumed the role of David eventaully relaize that it will never be easy to be in his shoes.

In the political arena, the Goliaths are rich, powerful, and influential giants usually entrenched in political power!

Any David coming in and getting confronted by these spectatle will surely feel a certain level of apprehension.

Fortunately, may of the Davids in electoral politics are not wanting in some of the essential traits needed to fight a good battle: courage and sincerity! Because they have the purest of intentions, they fear no one! Because they are commited to a cause that goes beyond their own interest, they fight with passion that is beyond comprehension of ordinary mortals!

Thus, if the Davids feel the apprehension at the start of the battle, the Goliaths confront the same fear in the middle and at the end of the battle. After briefly basking on the false security given by power, wealth, and influence, they eventually realize the need to dig deeper into the arsenal of self-respect, integrity, and compassion. Unfortuately, only to realize too late that they have lost these values a long time ago!

Let there be more Davids among us to humble the Goliaths!

Monday, April 16, 2007

A decent campaign or political survival

As I observe my friends doing their campaigns for the 2007 elections, I am amazed about how manyof them are actually torn between the terrible choices of sustaining their ideals/values and losing in the election or doing what the opponents are doing and fighting it out to the last peso!

As I have observed my friends (and former friends) who have actually won electoral positions, the same digfficulty is perceived: to what extend can they sustain their values and advocacies without their reelection being endangered by various interest and lobby groups.

Thus, the common line that I usually hear among politicians is that winning must come first, while advocacies and call for reforms must be done after the position has been secured. After all, nobody takes a loser seriously.

This may sound logical. Unfortunately, experiences proved otherwise. Many of those who are supposedly reform-minded people who has fallen into elected positions found themeselves in an entirely new and frightening arena. Many are paralyzed by the pressures, neglecting the supposed duty of instituting reforms after the position has been won. Others simply gave up and became embedded part of the system and institution they so passionately want to change!

A lesson must be seen here. Politics is not about good intentions. Instead, it is about an individuals capacity to wield power and use it effectively. At the same time, it is also about the person's power to master himself and avoiding any delusion of grandeur or absolute authority.

After all, elected positions are given as some sort of trust to those who win elections. And such trust can be very fragile, particularly when viewed within the larger context of political, economic, and cultural realities.

Thus, it may not necessarily be a choice between being decent and committing political suicide or being trapo and surviving the fight. Instead, its about the capacity to be competent and passionate for social change while continuing to have fatih in the people whose trust every politician is trying to win over.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

On the Role of Citizens Group in the 2007 Elections

Now, it is final: COMELEC has given mandates to PPCRV and NAMFREL to act as citizens group in the 2007 elections.

PPCRV handles voter education and pollwatching. NAMFREL on the other hand will handle the quick count component.

With these developments, people may easily fall into the mindset that it will be "business as usual" come May 14. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

An exteremely heavy burden has been put on the shoulder of these citizens group: they have to watch closely and witness for the people whether the election will be credible and acceptable! And this is not a simple task given the complexity of our antiquated electoral system and the power and resources of the various contenders in this elections.

Thus, there is a dual need for NAMFREL and PPCRV to stand watch over the process while at the same time ensuring that their credibility remains intact. They are also supposed to be more aggressive this time, given their experiences in previous elections and the taking into consideration also the implications of the 2007 elections to the future of this country.

Thus, the fundamental questions: how they set up their operating structures and how will they combat cheating and violations of election laws, should be a central preoccupation of these citizens group.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

On living life to the fulllest

I am in the mood for some introspection today.

As I look back to my experiences, I just realized that Im caught in the perennial struggle of doing things a little bit better, and always wanting to do a little bit more. I dreamt of living my life to the fullest.

At first I thought that doing a lot of things lead to meanignful existence. Later on, I was thinking that doing things a little bit faster will make my existence better. So there I go, enmeshed and mesmerized by the multitude of tasks, trying to accomplish a lot at the soonest posssible time.

I ended up exhausted. And until now I feel drained.

So I ask myself, is this the way of living life to the fullest?!

At the moment , another fascinating thought is nagging at me. What will make me happy? So now, I embark on another journey. A quest for personal joy and satisfaction! And oh boy, did I go looking!

But still, I feel a persistent tiredness bordering on numbness.

I dont know for sure but it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps the challenge is not about doin a lot of things or being perenially happy. Maybe its about learning how to cope with the challlenges of life. Perhaps its about asking the right questions in life. Or maybe its about looking inside oneself..

At this point of my life, only one thing is sure..i am not sure. Maybe.

Friday, March 30, 2007

On Parties and Personalities

It is amazing how one can easily adapt inton the existing political culture! In the case of Philippine elections, for example, we are not surpised anymore about vote buying, personality-centered campaigns, and media hypes during election period!

Unfortunately, this electoral culture is devoid of the essential elements for a mature and meaningful electoral exercises! As you probably know by now, aside from being the venue for recruitment of new governmental leaders, elections are supposed to be a forum for programs and alternatives which the country may take. And the main vehicles for the articulaltion of these programs and visions are political parties. Blessed is the political system characterized by well-developed and mature political parties drawing their strength and unity from a well-developed program and vision for the country!

In the Philippine settings, elections are opportunities for the rich to show off and for the popular to become powerful. Riches and popularity are attributes that can get you elected to public office. Thus, qualifications and programs are not the primary considerations. Even your party affiliation wouldnt matter.

And when riches and popularity are insufficient to get you elected, you have electoral fraud and manipulation as an option. After all, the Philippine electoral system is one of the few remaining primitive and vulnerable electoral scheme in the world!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What is at stake in the 2007 elections!

Candidates are after each others' throats! The COMELEC personnel are caught in a never-ending stream of deadlines to be met, reports to be filed, and election rules to be enforced! Citizens groups are also trying to get into the fray by organizing election-related movements such as NAMFREL, PPCRV, Bantay-Bayan, etc.

B ut amidst all these, what is really at stake in the 2007 elections? To my mind, there are three major issues whose predicament will be dependent on the outcome of the elections. The charter change issues, electoral reforms, and regime survival of PGMA.

The charter change issue may have taken a backseat at the moment, but it will continue to be a contentious issue after the 2007 elections. The move towards a unicameral parliament, federal state, and economic liberalism will be at the core of the agenda for the the next legislature. It is not surprising if the division among legislators of the upper and lower houses of Congress will be along this line.

Electoral reforms will also be a major challenge for after the 2007 elections. The recently enacted modernization law will have to be implemented.
And depending on the results of the 2007 elections, the anti-dynasty provision of the Philippine Constitution may or may not be taken seriously.

Most important however, is the fact that PGMA regime is at stake in this elections. The number of opposition congressmen and sentators winning in the election will not only be an indirect rejection of her leadership, but might as well herald her impeachment from the presidency. Thus, the administration would not take any chances in ensuring a victory of its allies.

The voters therefore would be better equipped if they approach the decision-making process with these things in mind. Instead of focusing on the propaganda materials of the candidates, they may want to raise substantial questions on the issues that matter in this election: charter change, electoral reforms, and PGMA legitimacy!

The Philippine Predicament

As the 2007 national elections draw nearer, the dilemma that has always haunted me every election emerges again. Do I actively campaign for the candidates of my choice, or do I simply ensure that the electoral process will be accurate and fair?

But at this point, I just realized that I may have been deluding myself into thinking that there is a clear dichotomy between the two options! They are not on the opposite poles of my choices for electoral involvement, as my previous dilemmas seem to show. Instead they are both, and complementary, elements of a struggle for electoral reforms in the Philippines. Indeed both the people involved and the electoral system itself must be the target of sustained advocacy!

I have long agonized over our predicament wherein electorates are supposedly made to choose between the lesser evil. Since when have we given up looking for the good as the opposite of evil? Why have we displaced the good in our choice? This situation is reflective of a shift in our socio-cultural characteristic.

Filipinos nowadays are more cynical, more pragmatic, and more confused! We distrust norms and moral values imposed on us. We even distrust the political institutions exerting power over us! Thus, we have clamped up into our own myopic shells. If it doesnt concern me, why bother?
Along the line however, we lost the moral grounding and ended up seizing every opportunity for self-enhancement. Consequently, we expected the same from others including politicians.

But the situation is also inluenced by social structures and systems. Our electoral system continues to be vulnearable to cheating and manipulation. We have instituted an electoral system that is vulnerable to the influence of money, guns, and personalities. Thus, our elections are characterized by the presence of the rich people, tv and movie personalities, as well as that of armed groups including the military and the rebels!

At this point then, the predicament of those working for a better electoral system in the country is a double burden. As we clamor for better candidates, we also struggle for a better electoral system that will weed out the evil candidates and inspire the good among stakeholders in Philippine elections.

This is fascinating!

This is my first time to get into this thing called blog. Ive been hearing about it but havent got the time to try it out till now. Anyway, its always exciting to get into something new, and the blog seems to be a fascinating vehicle for self-expression!