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.