Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Do we need the Senate ‘Blue Ribbon’ Committee?

So much is wrong about the ongoing debate on who should chair the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, otherwise known as the “Blue Ribbon” committee.

The naming of Senate committee chairs is the sole prerogative of the majority. It may be debated internally within the majority, but never between the majority and the minority. The ongoing debate betrays a lack of understanding of the basic rules, and of the precise mandate of the committee.

In any Congress or Parliament, the majority controls the committees. The minority members are entitled to sit as members, but not to chair any. This practice was broken during the Senate presidency of Jovito Salonga when the majority allowed some minority members to chair some committees. This has been imitated since, but it has not created a norm which confers upon the minority the right to chair any committee.

It is, therefore, absurd for anyone to say the minority has the right. And it is even more absurd for someone like Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan, if the reports are correct, to say that an opposition senator should chair the highly coveted committee.

We cannot, however, blame the opposition for feeling the way they do. For the last election gave them a clear Senate majority. Whether the count was 13 senators (with Fred Lim, who is now mayor of Manila, and Antonio Trillanes IV, who is still in jail) or 11 (without the two), the opposition had the majority, vis-à-vis the Administration’s nine senators, and two Independents.

That majority had the right and the duty to choose from among themselves their nominee for the Senate Presidency. It was also the duty of the opposition senators aspiring for the office to submit to the decision of that majority. The vote need not be unanimous, but whoever had the bigger vote among the opposition aspirants should have been the nominee.

Sen. Manny Villar, however, was operating on a different principle. After having won his reelection as an opposition candidate, he wrenched himself away from the opposition majority. With three other opposition senators in tow, he went over to the administration bloc to form a new majority, thereby reducing the opposition majority into a minority. Sadly, this effort was supported by the young and promising Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, whose incarcerated ex-President-father personifies the opposition’s prolonged agony under the regime of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Former President Estrada and his senator-son have since tried to assuage the wounded feelings of their disappointed supporters by saying they would withdraw their support once they see Villar collaborate with Mrs. Arroyo. This is painful and pathetic sophistry. Villar’s new coalition is administration-controlled; it has nine administration senators, two pro-Malacanang Independents, and four apparently confused “opposition” senators.

No further proof of collaboration is needed. In fact, this is the most crudely disguised capitulation, if there was one. The Senate does not have a legislative agenda of its own; Mrs. Arroyo’s agenda, not Villar’s, even if he had any, will prevail.

This naturally disappoints many. But it should not. Abyssus abyssum invocat ---one depravity leads to another. The last senatorial election was fought without any principles; we cannot possibly expect those who had won in that election to suddenly become the soul of righteous honor and virtue.

These senators did not mind that three political parties were running two sets of senatorial candidates on the two opposition tickets in the last election. They did not mind that some of them were running while their father or sister was still sitting in the Senate until 2010. They did not mind that they or other candidates were spending hundreds of millions of pesos to land a job that paid less than a million pesos a year. Why then should they be expected to become so honorably principled after the elections?

This much is clear. The once honorable and proud business of the Senate is now a “dog eat dog” affair. The opposition has been completely outplayed in that sordid game, so it must now swallow everything being fed its members. They can only be members, not chairmen, of committees, notably the so-called Blue Ribbon committee.

Thus, if the majority decides to retain Sen. Joker Arroyo as chair, this will not be for the minority to question. The Rules of the Senate are clear: “Whenever a motion regarding who should be a member of a permanent committee is presented, no objection against the proposed membership of any Senator in particular shall be considered. The objections, if any, must be formulated against the proposed membership therein as a whole.”

But why does the so-called Blue Ribbon committee excite a lot of senators? Its high-profile investigations, which many times border on the questionable, by no means explain it all. Some of the reasons may not all be agreeable. While the Constitution empowers the two Houses of Congress and their committees to conduct “inquiries in aid of legislation,” this committee “investigates”, often to create sensational headlines, which in turn create fortunes for some, and misfortunes for others.

And despite the vigor expressed by members of this committee during investigations, no bigtime grafters have been convicted, or even prosecuted in court, because of such investigations. The findings of this committee are not binding upon the Ombudsman; they are routinely set aside or made to sleep the sleep of death in the Archives, after a sensational investigation.

This was probably the reason why then Senate President Neptali Gonzales once suggested its abolition, except that Senator Ernesto Maceda argued with fervor that it would deprive the Senate of its strongest source of power against the Executive Department. Indeed, under certain chairmen, the committee has become the most dreaded venue for “exposing” or threatening “to expose” the corruption of others, often for the material advantage of the “exposer.” The use of the term “Blue Ribbon” has long become questionable.

The term “blue ribbon” originally applied to a jury or committee chosen on the basis of intelligence or special experience to investigate particularly complex or important matters. The term comes from the ribbons worn by members of the
Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded by Edward III around 1348, and the cordon bleu of the ancient order of St. Esprit in France. The choice of the garter as a symbol is the subject of legend about the king picking up a garter which a lady of the court had dropped, and telling those who were amused by the incident, “honi soit qui mal y pense---shame to him who thinks evil of it.” The color of the garter is dark blue velvet with gold trimmings. It is also associated with prize-winners in competitions, both human and animal.

Nothing about the present committee seems to relate to any noble tradition.
There may, therefore, be no valid justification for retaining the term. “Blue Ribbon” committee. In fact, there may be no reason for keeping the committee at all. If the intention is merely to conduct “inquiries in aid of legislation,” as mandated by the Constitution, there is nothing under the jurisdiction of this committee that cannot be farmed out to the other committees for appropriate action.

An inquiry into the misuse of agricultural funds, which I had originally exposed prior to the 2004 elections, but which the Senate decided to investigate only in 2006, could be undertaken by the committee on finance or the committee on agriculture. An anomaly in the use of defense funds could be inquired into by the committee on finance or the committee on national defense. And so on and so forth.

The question before the senators, therefore, is not who should chair the so-called Blue Ribbon Committee, but whether the committee should continue to exist, or should now be gracefully retired.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

An early reorg of the Senate?

In a previous piece, I showed how the Senate botched the most basic rules of parliamentary procedure during its inaugural session last week. I was hoping I would not have to write again so soon on the same subject. But I have just read the official transcript of proceedings and the Journal of the Senate of Session No. 1, Monday 23, 2007, and I am appalled.

Both official documents, which now belong to posterity, say that the first regular session of the Senate of the 14th Congress of the Philippines was opened on the morning of July 23, 2007 by “Senate President Manny Villar.”

There was no “Senate President Manny Villar” at the time the session opened. There was only a Senator Manny Villar. His opening the session as “Senate President Manny Villar” constitutes a usurpation of the office of Senate President. That can be neither excused nor justified.

The statement in both the transcript and the Journal recognizing Villar as Senate President at a time when he was not the Senate President constitutes a gross misrepresentation and falsification of the facts and the official records of the Senate. That, too, can be neither excused nor justified.

Under the Rules of the Senate --- this is a small handbook published by the Senate--- whenever there is neither a President nor a President Pro Tempore, the first session in which the Senators elected in the immediately preceding regular elections shall participate, the Secretary of the Senate shall open the session and announce that the business in order is the designation of the temporary President, who shall preside until the election of a Senate President.

Secretary Oscar Yabes had reportedly resigned before the inaugural session. But until his resignation was accepted by the Senate he was still the Secretary; or by operation of law, an Acting Secretary should have assumed his duties. But his resignation was never submitted to the Senate nor was it even referred to before his successor was elected. That, too, can neither be excused nor justified.

On Jan. 25, 1960, during the third regular session of the fourth Congress, an unknown Assistant Secretary of the Senate named Abelardo C. Austriaco opened the inaugural session of the Senate, pursuant to the Rules. His only duty was to open the session and to ask the Senate to designate a temporary President. On Senator Cipriano Primicias’s motion, Senator Quintin Paredes was named temporary president, and later the Senate elected Eulogio “Among” Rodriguez as Senate President. The same thing could have been done by the present Senate.

But Senate sources are saying, not out of sheer malice, I hope, that one reason Villar had to preside, even without any legal authority, was because he had invited the Las Pinas Boys Choir to lead the singing of the national anthem, and they would never have understood if he did not preside. I am hoping that this is entirely false, but if true, then we’re seeing the final days of the Senate.

In the case of Sen. Francis Pangilinan, his usurpation of the duties of Senate Majority Leader leads to a more blatant falsification of the Journal. While Sen. Gringo Honasan nominated him for the position of Senate Majority Leader, and Sen. Alan Peter seconded the nomination for the same position, the Journal speaks of Honasan nominating Pangilinan, and Cayetano seconding the nomination, for the position of Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Majority Leader. That is a complete fabrication.

Rule X, Section 13 (1) of the Rules of the Senate provides: “The Chairman of the Committee (on Rules) shall be the Majority Leader of the Senate. The Vice Chairmen shall be the Assistant Majority Leaders.” So one is elected Chairman of Rules, and he or she automatically becomes Majority Floor Leader.

But Honasan did not nominate Pangilinan as Chairman of Rules. His erroneous nomination was never corrected by the Chair or anyone on the Floor. Villar simply declared him elected as Chairman of Rules, without putting it on record that no one is elected Majority Leader, and that the Chair understood the nomination as one for the position of Chairman of Rules, rather than for Majority Leader. The Journal was fabricating when it said Pangilinan was nominated, and elected as Chairman of Rules and Majority Leader.

These are not mere offenses against parliamentary procedure.

Two days later, Sen. Panfilo Lacson called attention to the error, and moved to correct the Journal by replacing the term, Senate Majority Floor Leader with “Chairman of the Committee on Rules.” The Senate approved the motion, but this merely compounded the falsification.

The Journal is meant to be a faithful summary of the proceedings. Senators are allowed to correct it, when something said or done by any member is erroneously recorded. But one cannot delete from the Journal the faithful rendering of an erroneous motion or statement, and make it appear as though the error had never been made. The error should be corrected, and the correction recorded in the Journal of the session when the correction was made, but the previous Journal which accurately recorded the error may not be changed.

In the Senate Journal of July 23, what should be deleted are the references to the Committee on Rules, which neither Honasan nor Cayetano made on the Floor, not the erroneous reference to Senate Majority Leader, which was the only one made in the nomination speech. Lacson was correct in pointing out the erroneous nomination and election; he should have moved to purge the Journal of its fabrications and falsifications, and then renominated Pangilinan as Chairman of Rules, after asking the Senate to consider his “election” as Senate Majority Leader invalid.

What happened during President Estrada’s Senate impeachment trial provides a useful guide. After Chavit Singson had told the court that Atong Ang had delivered P130 million to the Estrada residence, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile asked Singson what would be the weight of P130 million in P1,000-bank notes. Singson said he did not know. Enrile said, 1,000 pieces of P1,000 notes (or P1 million) would weigh one kilogram. So P130 million would weigh 130 kilos ---a little too heavy for one man to carry.

At which point, Sen. Ramon Revilla, Bong Revilla’s father, rose to correct Enrile’s figure. He said he had a weighing scale for chicken at home, and had tried weighing money on it. And the weight of 1,000 pieces of P1,000 bills, he said, was 96 grams, not one kilo. This statement entered the Journal of that day. The next day, Revilla rose to say it was not 96 grams, as he had earlier said, but 960 grams. He then moved that his reference to 96 grams be deleted from the record.

As Majority Leader at the time, I had to explain that the correction would be recorded in the Journal of the session when it was made, but the original figure of 96 grams would have to stay as recorded in the Journal of the session when the error was made.

Revilla’s error did not involve the integrity of the Senate and its proceedings. The errors involving Villar, Yabes and Pangilinan do. If the senators begin to act more like senators, we should not be surprised if there should occur a sudden reorganization of the Senate.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Senate in Disarray

As the 14th Congress opened last Monday, we expected the usually rambunctious and unruly House of Representatives, with its high-profile Speakership fight, to provide the biggest source of public disappointment and embarrassment. The Senate managed to outdo the House on several counts.

First, the numerically superior “Genuine Opposition” failed to resolve within its ranks the question of the Senate presidency. They managed to split up instead, and to reduce the rightful majority into a much diminished minority.

Second, the Rules of the Senate were flagrantly violated when:

1) Senator Manny Villar presided over the session without any legal authority, having ceased to be Senate President on June 30, and not having been reelected yet to that same position when he did;

2) the Secretary of the Senate, who had the legal authority to preside, had been prevailed upon to resign beforehand and not to take part in the inaugural session of the 14th Congress;

3) the Presiding Officer recognized the Majority Floor Leader at a time he did not exist, and Sen. Francis Pangilinan took the floor, despite his having ceased to be Floor Leader on June 30, and before he was returned to the same post;

4) Sen. Gringo Honasan later nominated Pangilinan as Senate Majority Leader, and the Senate elected him as such, without anyone pointing out that no one is ever elected to that position: one is elected Chairman of the Committee on Rules and automatically becomes Majority Floor Leader. And finally,

5) when the Senate elected Emma Lirio Reyes, a former judge and old Secretariat hand, as the new Secretary without first acting on Secretary Oscar Yabes’s resignation, which was never mentioned by the Chair, if it had entered the Senate record at all.

As everyone knows, the Opposition became the majority bloc after seven opposition senators were elected last May, in addition to the six incumbents whose term expires in 2010. They lost one member when Senator Fred Lim ran and won as Mayor of Manila. Another member, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, remains under detention for his alleged role in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny.

But their bloc of eleven members is still bigger than the administration bloc of nine, and might have stood a fair chance of gaining the support of the two “independents,” Pangilinan and Honasan, had they tried hard enough.

But apparently not sure of getting enough support within the opposition coalition, Villar went over to the administration bloc, and with Senators Francis Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano and Jinggoy Estrada in tow, confected his own coalition with the administration senators.

The result is an administration-dominated coalition, which seriously compromises, among other things, the political integrity of Jinggoy’s position, and that of his father Erap, who is trying to fight off a possible conviction for plunder at the Sandigabayan.

For Villar, the Senate presidency may be all that matters for now. But it raises a not altogether infinitesimal or irrelevant question of political or moral principles that could affect his drive for the presidency in 2010.

The rules of parliamentary procedure form part of what Bagehot has called “the dignified aspects” of the Constitution. Ignorance may occasionally intrude, but there should never be any brazen attempt to step upon the rules, in the mistaken belief that everyone else is too ignorant to mind, and that those who will mind are entirely incapable of doing anything about it.

It is not at all a minor point that the Senate’s inaugural session was opened and presided over by someone who did not have the authority to do so, and that none of those present rose to question it. It is a blot on the record and integrity of the entire Senate.

Manny Villar was Senate President until June 30, 2007. He was elected Senate President again on July 23, 2007. At the opening of the inaugural session, he was just plain Senator Villar. He had no authority to open and preside over the session of the Senate.

Under the Rules of the Senate, whenever there is neither a President nor a President Pro Tempore to open the first session in which the Senators elected in the immediately preceding regular elections shall participate, the Secretary of the Senate shall open and preside. Oscar Yabes had been occupying that position from Senate President Franklin Drilon’s watch, but he was reportedly asked by Villar to resign beforehand, and not to attend the inaugural session anymore. And Yabes did.

But the Secretary is an elective official of the Senate, not a mere appointee of the Senate President. The Senate must accept his resignation before it can take effect. Yabes’s resignation, however, was not even mentioned before his successor was elected. And none of the senators raised a single question about it.

Now, just as Villar was no longer Senate President when he opened the session, Pangilinan was no longer Floor Leader when he took the floor to assume its duties. Honasan nominated him later, and the senators elected him as Floor Leader, without anyone correcting the erroneous usage.

Under the Rules of the Senate, the elective officers of the Chamber are the Senate President, the President Pro Tempore, the Secretary and the Sergeant at Arms. The Majority Leader is not part of the enumeration. The Senate elects a chairman of the Committee on Rules, and he or she automatically becomes the Majority Floor Leader.

He or she is normally elected with the other committee chairmen and members, a day after the ceremonial session. None of them take an oath before the Senate President. Sen. Loren Legarda was the first one, I believe, to take her oath before the Senate President as Floor Leader; Pangilinan is obviously the second.

Now, even the opening prayer delivered by a member of the Senate is subjected to interpellation, and the Chair is unable to rule it out of order. The bigger absurdity, of course, is that the minority that used to be the majority now wants to have a say in the distribution of committee chairmanships. Unless the majority decides to accommodate the minority, that is solely the prerogative of the majority; the role of the minority is to sit in every committee as mere members.

Of course the biggest absurdity is that a senator who had won as a candidate of the Opposition is now Senate President by virtue of an administration-controlled coalition, while the Minority Floor Leader is also a member of the Opposition. This is nothing we have learned from anyone; perhaps it’s something we should export.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

No grand claims, no grand vision, just a little cheese

For the first time since President Arroyo came to power, I did not mind listening to her seventh State of the Nation Address (SONA) on television. It was by far her least provocative, most tourist-friendly and reconciliatory SONA, even though she used the much misused word “reconciliation” only once---in relation to Mindanao.

The speech was a complete departure from all previous SONAs, both in substance and in style. It made no grand claims, painted no grand visions, apart from wishing to see the Philippines become a modern society with strong institutions in 20 years, which we can either pursue or debate for the next 20 years.

It gave her critics not much room to nitpick. But it most certainly achieved its purpose, if its purpose was to deliver a speech that would still, rather than stir up, the political waters, and show the nation a side of Mrs. Arroyo’s character which her most devoted critics may no longer be prepared to grant her.

That she did not say much is a virtue rather than a defect. She made no extravagant claims you would instantly call “lies.” She made no provocative statements that instantly launched you on the war path. Her claims were modest, and so was her tone. She even deliberately avoided putting jewelry around her neck.

Instead of claiming credit for every little project that has come to a community or a region, she credited it to the local politician, regardless of party affiliation. She took you on a guided tour of the “super regions,” with well-produced maps, graphs, and statistical data, and on every stop, she pointed to a project and trotted in the congressman, governor or mayor who had helped to bring it about. Her own tourism people couldn’t have done a better job.

Somebody likened her to the Queen of England, distributing birthday honors. As my contact with British royalty is rather limited, I will only say she looked like a doting balikbayan grandmother distributing little pasalubongs to all her favorite grandchildren. She wanted everyone to have a little cheese. The result was the longest list of names---and nicknames, at that ---ever to grace a President’s speech that had nothing to do with the awarding of Philhealth insurance cards, DAR land titles, or TESDA diplomas. And just for having been mentioned in that SONA, many of these politicians will never be the same again:

Rufus Rodriguez, Nur Jafafar, Glenda Ecleo, Sim Datumanong, Au Cerilles, Rolando Yebes, Digs Dilangalen, Ros Labadlabad, Victor Yu, Evelyn Uy, Sammy Co, Boy Daku Plaza, Edel Amante, Leo Ocampos, Aido Parjinog, Hermie Ramiro, Bobby Dimaporo, Oca Moreno, Tinex Jaraula, Joben Miraflores, Art Defensor, Neil Tupaz, Rahman Nava, Monico Puentevella, Migs Zubiri, Miriam Defensor Santiago, George Arnaiz, Mian Mercado, Nitoy Duano, Benhur Salimbangon, Lina Seachon, Tony Kho, Bong Bravo, Governor Dalog, Jose de Venecia, Nani Braganza, Telesforo Castillejos, Vic Ortega, Caloy Padilla, Bongbong Marcos, Dick Gordon, Bong Revilla, Raffy Nantes, Danny Suarez, Mar Roxas, Ferge Biron, Teddy Boy Locsin, Ed Angara, Noli de Castro.

Even former President Ramos got his pasalubong. So did Chief Justice Rey Puno, just for being there. Some people had obviously wanted to give Puno higher visibility by making him join the legislators who had been designated to accompany Mrs. Arroyo to the session hall. That is not much of a role, and it is exclusively for legislators, who are specifically named for that function. For the Chief Justice to be there is to invite undue speculation.

The glad-handing did not end with the politicians. Mrs. Arroyo also trotted in some Filipino high achievers to prove the benefits of investing in science education, which we are not doing enough of, if you listen to everybody else. These included: biochemist Baldomero Olivera of the University of Utah, who has been named Scientist of the Year of the Harvard Foundation; Robert Buendia and Wilson Alba, for bringing home the gold from the 2006 International Math and Science Olympiad in Jakarta; Ivy Ventura, Mara Villaverde, Hester Maria Umayam, Janine Santiago, Melvin Barroa, and Luigi John Suarez, for winning various awards in the Intel Young Scientists Competition in New Mexico; Amiel Sy for dominating the Mathematics World Contest in Hong Kong; and Diona Aquino and her team for winning the Youth Innovation Competition on Global Governance in Shanghai.

While demonstrators clashed with police outside the Batasan over human rights, and the anti-terrorist law called Human Security Act in particular, Mrs. Arroyo astutely deflected attacks over the controversial enactment by spreading credit for it generously among her Senate friends. She tried to minimize the gravity of the HSA by limiting its intended use to the protection of power transmission towers in Mindanao. But in pointing out that its final version was “ably crafted” by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who first filed the bill in 1966, with Senate President Manny Villar and Nene Pimentel, she very subtly reminded those who like to attach the name of legislators to certain laws that they were looking at an Enrile-Villar-Pimentel law, rather than an Arroyo EO.

Those who needed to hear something about corruption were told that “unprecedented billions” had been “provided for anti-graft efforts,” and that the Ombudsman’s conviction rate had shot up from 6 percent in 2002 to 77 percent.

If this is true, then billions are being spent to go after the small fry, and virtually nothing to land the big fish. How much of these anti-graft billions had been lost to the anti-grafters is a big question in itself.

Some points Mrs. Arroyo made are not debatable at all. For example:

1) It is never right and always wrong to fight terror with terror.

2) We need laws to protect witnesses from lawbreakers and law enforcers.

3) We need electoral reform.

They only need to happen.

But we do not need “empowered special courts to guarantee swift justice.” We only need the courts to function as courts in order to guarantee swift justice.

We do not need “harsher penalties for political killings” or the “harshest penalties for the rogue elements in the uniformed services who betray public trust and bring shame to the greater number of their colleagues who are patriotic.”

The present penalties are enough. We only need the killings to stop, and the killers to be apprehended, prosecuted and punished. We only need the military and the police to take their oath to the Constitution seriously, and to resist those who will misuse them for their own ends.

We do not need a stronger law against election-related violence. We only need to enforce the present law and make sure killers are caught, prosecuted and punished.

Mrs. Arroyo said she looked forward to stepping down in 2010. Her term, which continues to be disputed by many, ends in 2010. Her statement, therefore, should not raise anxiety or provoke any undue controversy. But some of those who are already posturing for the presidency are worried.

They seemed most uncomfortable when Mrs. Arroyo said, “From where I sit, a President is always as strong as she wants to be,” and it drew the strongest applause from the gallery. A strong President and a weak people are an absurdity. But the poor quality of our mostly unprincipled and purely opportunistic “leaders” has given, and continues to give Mrs. Arroyo so much undeserved superiority.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Who will lead the rebuilding of the Republic?

The President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) invites continued interest, even though it may have long lost its appeal to a good number of Filipinos. It provides the President an opportunity to report on what has been done the past year, and to anticipate to the nation what will be done until the next Congress. It also provides the opposition an opportunity to talk about “the true state of the nation.” The SONA, however, has mutated considerably from one President to another, and from year to year.

Under President Arroyo, the SONA has become primarily a show to convey the impression that she is firmly in the saddle, with the military and the police behind her, and that she also has the support of the local political leaders. All roads leading to the Batasan are heavily guarded on this occasion; close to the Batasan, the police, the military, the firefighters and their dogs outnumber and outflank any number of demonstrators, and freedom of speech and expression and the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances are casually set aside by the combined power of the truncheon, the tear gas, and the water cannon.

Legitimate political authority needs no such demonstration. But Machiavelli’s epigones seem to believe that without such demonstration, questionable authority becomes even more questionable. With thousands set to march on the Batasan and Malacanang to protest, among other things, the unsolved disappearances and political killings, and the enactment of a Human Security Act that terrifies those whom it is supposed to protect and secure, the government may be expected to assert once again the same view of power to suppress the demonstrations.

Inside the Batasan, the galleries will be packed by rented enthusiasts to provide the applause that will make the SONA itself completely incidental. Normally, speeches are interrupted by applause when they are good, or when the audience is magnanimous or polite. In the case of Mrs. Arroyo’s last few SONAs, it is the speech that has always interrupted the applause. The number of times the speech interrupts the applause is then recorded by the obeisant and superficial political press as the true gauge of the SONA’s success.

By that standard, the Sermon on the Mount and the Gettysburg Address would have to be classed as utter failures. But by that standard, today’s SONA will yet again be described as an outstanding success, no matter what it says and what it does not. If the speech rolls out as predicted, it will be one great storytelling again of how wonderfully the President has done to improve the economy which, by definition, is supposed to be run by market forces rather than by executive pronouncement or fiat. The poor are poorer, but the rich are richer, and the powerful infinitely more privileged and afflicted with hubris.

A lot of statistics will most probably be thrown in to support the claim of economic growth. Increased dollar remittances by a growing number of overseas workers, rising international dollar reserves, hot millions at the stock exchange, a peso out to clobber the no longer almighty dollar, phenomenal Chinese investments. None of these we should inhale.

One does not need to bring in Benjamin Disraeli or Winston Churchill to see that “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Our polling entrepreneurs will suffice. If only nobody at the National Archives had ever forged a document, and our official population statisticians have at least been able to accept the data posted in the CIA Fact Book or the UN website, then the government’s statistical claims would probably be less suspect.

But, even if we were so minded to accept its claims, the government itself has provided the very reason why we should not. It has, by its own admission, failed to collect taxes! How can a booming economy and a government that cannot collect taxes ever coexist? It just doesn’t add up. The average taxpayer has had no way of evading the EVAT; it is the rich and the powerful that have managed to avoid paying all sorts of taxes. So, assuming, arguendo, that the macro-economy has performed as advertised, the government has certainly not.

There will also probably be an effort to highlight infrastructure projects that have somewhat changed the landscape. These should never be dismissed, but the only way these can be fairly appreciated is by showing their actual costs, and allowing everyone to see that nobody is making a $200-million overprice on every major project.

The rest of Asia is bustling with huge infrastructure projects which the various governments have been able to implement without any scandal or hitches. In contrast, we have not had a single major project that has not sailed into charges of bribery, corruption, and other irregularities. These include at least two multi-billion peso deals with China, and the new NAIA terminal, which has been sitting there unoccupied while our “international tourism” makes do with the equivalent of a domestic airport in most of Southeast Asia.

When will this ever change?

I shrink several sizes smaller every time I arrive from a foreign trip and go through the rundown terminal with no decent toilets and hardly enough immigration windows, while the PIATCO-built facility stands in the distance, unused, a monument to political impotence and graft. I have once suggested, and I will say it again, just in case they are listening, that the Department of Tourism now package and promote the old NAIA terminal as a tourism attraction by itself ---a relic of the last millennium which tourists all over the world should try to be photographed in, before it finally becomes extinct.

But to go back to the main thread, I believe it is imperative that the President should try to make a distinction between the state of the nation and the state of government, and between her view of the nation --- or for that matter, the opposition’s view of it --- and the nation’s view of itself. I believe it would serve her well, and all the other politicians too, to find out what the Filipino nation thinks of itself.

Physical infrastructure, even in an electronic age, is indispensable to progress. But even more indispensable is the moral, social, constitutional, political, and intellectual infrastructure of the nation. What is the state of that? That is what we would like to find out.

When young and old, leader and led, rich and poor, lettered and unlettered can no longer seem to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, then the moral infrastructure needs to be rebuilt. When those who rule and those who are ruled have two different and conflicting conceptions of justice, then the constitutional infrastructure has to be rebuilt. When only dishonest and unprincipled men and women run for and are elected to public office, and clean and honest elections remain a Utopian wish, then the political infrastructure must be rebuilt. When the simplest truths can no longer be understood, and otherwise intelligent men and women can only communicate in grunts, sound bytes and sub-literate text messages, then the intellectual infrastructure must be rebuilt.

A SONA that takes an honest look into all these will have to conclude that the urgent task of rebuilding the society and the Republic cannot wait, but that none of the pretenders on the scene seem capable of leading it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Could we imagine ourselves being Mindanao Muslims even for just a while?

The death of 14 Marines in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan is but the latest painful episode in a cruel war that has raged for years in Mindanao, between the Manila government and the Moro rebels under different names. The beheading of ten or eleven of them is a crime against humanity that has no place in any war.

The fighting took place amid a ceasefire between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which are supposed to be engaged in peace talks, according to an agreed timetable. The Marines were on a search and rescue mission for the kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi, but the MILF claims the attack was triggered by a violation of the ceasefire.

The MILF admits having caused the fatalities, but denies any part in the beheading. This complicates the situation. If the statement is true, then others have perpetrated the atrocity for their own ends.

Government sources suspect the Abu Sayyaf could have been responsible. But supposing the Abu Sayyaf denies involvement, who will the finger point? Are there invisible parties who would like to see a larger and bloodier war?

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s order to the Armed Forces to hunt down those responsible is understandable, but redundant. It is a public display of anger, which is not necessarily synonymous with resolve, and does not ensure the rescue of Fr. Gossi or the end of the fighting.

The Armed Forces will do what they do best. They could fight this war to the last Marine. But we should all know by now that the military solution is no solution at all. Where both the Spanish colonizers and their American successors had failed, we cannot see the AFP doing any better.

The Moros will end their rebellion only when their reason for waging it disappears. That reason is scattered in the pages of our history from the time of Spanish colonization. It is not unknown to our historians, and our political leaders.

Until now, Manila’s political game plan has been to buy time. To postpone the effort to reach a permanent political solution, in the hope that the Moro rebels will finally have a change of heart, that the young mujahedins will simply stop coming, that they will begin to imitate their Christian counterparts elsewhere by migrating to richer foreign shores, that a powerful tsunami will wash away the problem, or that it will simply disappear as a result of climate change.

Ferdinand Marcos tried it first with the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. This was the agreement signed in Tripoli between the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front under Chairman Nur Misuari, on the grant of political autonomy to 14 provinces and 20 cities in Mindanao, subject to the consent of the inhabitants concerned. Put to a plebiscite in 1977, it was rejected by a majority of the provinces and cities covered by the agreement. The plebiscite resulted in the creation of two small autonomous regions.

In 1987, the Constitution provided for the creation of “autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and in the Cordilleras consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures, and other relevant characteristics within the framework of (the) Constitution and the national sovereignty as well as territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines.”

In 1989, Congress followed with an organic law creating the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). But, as in 1977, an overwhelming majority of the provinces and cities polled rejected membership in the ARMM.

In 1996, President Fidel Ramos proposed the creation of a Special Zone of Peace and Development in the areas originally mentioned in the Tripoli Agreement. This was fast tracked in Congress, over the objections of many Mindanaoans, who complained lack of proper consultations.

I actively participated in the debates both on the floor of the Senate and on the ground, in Mindanao. I went around the area, speaking to various groups. I was the only sitting senator whom Misuari met not once, but twice, after my official position on the proposal had been circulated and read by various groups in Mindanao. Ramos had agreed to grant the MNLF so many concessions – concessions which I thought were questionable.

The question I asked then was: What happens if, after the agreement with the MNLF is implemented, the MILF should demand a separate settlement? What concessions could the government possibly give them which it had not already given to the MNLF?

That question remained unanswered. But it turned out be more prophetic and enduring than anything else that has been said about the Government’s future relationship with the MILF.

In the run-up to the 1998 presidential campaign, I visited Camp Abubakar, and had substantial talks with Haji Murad who received me in behalf of Chairman Salamat, who was out of camp at the time. I came home impressed that an honest to goodness autonomy for the Muslims would be satisfactory to the MILF, despite all the bold statements about carving a separate independent Muslim state in Mindanao.

Murad, however, shared a joke with me during that meeting. Wondering how I had come with only a couple of Muslim women guides and one civilian assistant, he said that Speaker Jose de Venecia had preceded my visit, with elaborate security arrangements, while then Vice President Joseph Ejercito Estrada had asked to visit, and that they were eager to receive him, except that they had sent him word they could not guarantee his safety during his travel. It was obviously intended to test Estrada’s resolve, and he never came.

When Estrada became President, he launched an “all-our war” to take Camp Abubakar. This began as an all-out assault on the Abu Sayyaf, which had been involved in some notorious kidnappings, including that of the American citizen Jeffrey Schilling.

On the eve of the all-out assault, Estrada received a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton asking him not to carry out the attack, as it might endanger Schilling’s safety. The letter was hand carried to Estrada by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Estrada told Cohen it was too late to stop the attack. When Cohen suggested that Estrada at least talk to Clinton by phone, he said there was no point. Estrada later came to Abubakar, dressed in military uniform as Commander-in-Chief, after the military had taken over the camp, and marked the occasion by having a meal with the troops, where they served suckling pig, which offended the Muslims.

Arroyo subsequently reversed the policy by giving back the camp to the MILF. She also initiated the present talks with the rebels. But the policy has been an erratic one, marked by deviations and departures.

No conflict can permanently elude a solution. The Mindanao conflict is no exception. But the parties must now distinguish between peace talks that are intended to solve the problem and peace talks that are intended merely to allow the parties to say they are negotiating. Peace will never be achieved until the parties begin to deal with each other in absolute good faith, with the full intent of complying with every agreement, instead of trying to circumvent what has been agreed on.

At the 7th Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade last April, I listened to South Africa’s former President Fredrick de Klerk respond to a question on how they were able to get rid of Apartheid. His answer was simple: Place yourself in the position of the other side, and try to understand why they want what they want.

Could we now imagine ourselves as Mindanao Muslims even for just a while? Could the government imagine itself as the militant forces it is trying to crush, liquidate or put behind bars?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Will GMA forget herself for once?

How the nation is to be governed between now and 2010 is something we deserve to know, given the results of the midterm elections, certain statements from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, certain moves within “Genuine Opposition” (GO) and the need to prepare for the next presidential elections.

But who can tell us responsibly, intelligently?

Where it enjoys the people’s full trust and confidence, the government should be able to speak to this question with authority. But where it does not, a higher power must do so. The prejudicial question is, does the Arroyo government enjoy such trust and confidence?

The victory of seven GO senatorial candidates out of the twelve slots is clearly not a vote of confidence for Mrs. Arroyo. Even less is the election of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, the former navy lieutenant senior grade who remains under military custody for his alleged role in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny that had threatened to oust Mrs. Arroyo.

Trillanes ran just to make a political statement. Winning was apparently the farthest from his mind. He may still be trying to convince himself that he had really won. His election is clearly a repudiation of his jailers.

Yet, the reported move of GO Senators Manuel Villar, Francis Escudero, and Alan Peter Cayetano, who now belong to the Senate majority, to work with administration senators, who belong to the minority, just to elect Villar as Senate President calls to serious question some previous assumptions about GO.

In a normally functioning system, the majority chooses its leader without involving the minority. In this case, however, the three GO senators went over to the minority to cobble a new majority in support of Villar’s candidacy, thereby reducing the original majority to the new minority.

This move perverts the fact that most of the 20 million voters (out of the 45 million registered voters) who had voted for senators, actually voted for GO, and against Team Unity (TU). It also reveals that the senators concerned were nothing less than Malacanang’s fifth column in GO.

This unseemly move cannot be dignified as a vote of confidence for Mrs. Arroyo. There is another word for it, which we hope we will not have to use another day, but it does provide badly needed political help to Mrs. Arroyo.

It is not clear whether the members of Congress have any clear idea of a national agenda, but Mrs. Arroyo does have a personal one, and one could count on her to pursue it with fervor. Survival is the name of this agenda, but she will be free to confuse it with governance, which is quite another matter, and with the idea of creating or leaving behind a legacy, which is still quite another matter.

This is understandable, given the challenge Mrs. Arroyo has had to face from the time she took over the Presidency from Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 2001. Despite her initial success, however, the furies have not been stilled, and where her known enemies have failed so far, her friends could yet succeed, should she let her guard down.

But there may be some ways of surviving the furies while trying to insert oneself in the nation’s effort to define and develop its agenda. Not all the questions about political legitimacy have been resolved; they will probably never be resolved even after Mrs. Arroyo shall have long passed on. We leave it all to history.

But Mrs. Arroyo could help stabilize the presidency at this time, and even do some governing on the side, which she has not done much of, till now, if she could but lead or join the effort to prepare the nation for her unconditional departure in 2010. Only when everyone begins to see that she is looking forward to riding into the sunset by 2010 will she able to calm the furies and discourage any and all efforts, even from the most unlikely sources, to get her out of the way before then.

This will require a real change of heart, a real conversion of the soul. For starters, she will have to think less of what she wants, and more of what the nation needs. She will have to make the nation’s ambitions and dreams her own, rather than the other way round. She will have to forget herself for once, and think of the nation and the nation alone.

In particular, she will have to stop talking to the jobless, the homeless and the hungry about a booming economy that has produced so many billionaires but not enough money for food, water, health and education in the poor communities.

She will have to stop talking, within hearing distance of our dollar-earning overseas workers and exporters, that she has built up a huge international dollar reserve at the Central Bank, and that the peso continues to gain against the dollar. She will have to explain that the reserves commingle all proceeds from foreign grants and loans and the remittances of our overseas workers, and that since most imports are smuggled in, there is no big commercial demand for the dollar, so it has to lose value against the peso, just as it has been losing against all currencies around the world. But she must be brave enough to say it is the overseas workers and the exporters who lose money every time the peso gains a fraction of a point against the dollar.

She will also have to stop talking of the bulls in the stock market, which the overwhelming majority of the population knows nothing about, unless she is prepared to tell them that 80 percent of the $6 billion or so that circulates around the world every day is speculative or hot money, whose owners quickly pull out at the first sign of trouble, or as soon as they shall have made enough profit.

And she will have to stop saying she will now concentrate on the economy, as though we had a centrally planned economy. Most of us non-economists have always had the impression that in a free market economy, which is what ours is supposed to be, the government has no active role to play except to make sure that there is a stable environment, and a level playing field.

A President who blames all economic problems on externalities, but claims credit for every little good thing that happens to the economy reminds us of the story of the whale behind a World War II submarine which came ashore to distribute cigars every time the submarine fired a torpedo.

If there is anything Mrs. Arroyo can and should now concentrate on, it should be on how to regenerate and renew the self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth of every Filipino. Her government has done so much to shame us and to destroy our most basic values. All the decencies are gone; nothing is sacred anymore. The most unprincipled and amoral men and women occupy the highest positions of responsibility; public office has become a mere excuse for grand scam and grand larceny; corruption is now the most lucrative industry; the most outrageous offenses against human rights and human dignity are perpetrated and condoned in the name of justice and the rule of law.

It was a corrupt government Mrs. Arroyo took over in 2001. It will be a corrupt government she will vacate in 2010. But if, on account of what she finally does from today, more Filipinos, especially the young, should rediscover their sense of country and the common good, and decide to do battle, regardless of the consequences, against the multi-headed hydra of corruption, immorality, indecency, and political opportunism, then there could still be a chance that she will not have to worry too much about creating or leaving behind a legacy.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The political martyrdom of Joseph Ejercito Estrada

If memory serves, it was Lee Kwan Yew who said some years ago that “to name the enemy is to make him.” It is not a novel thought, but it is a truth worth keeping in mind when one speaks or does propaganda work for government. No government can afford not to know it, yet there is no sign that Malacanang propagandists were aware of it when they ran those full-page newspaper ads, “Erap: Guilty or not Guilty. Kailangan bang may gulo?”

Obviously they must have thought they were doing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a favor. That, they were preempting violent reaction from the opposition in case the Sandiganbayan finally convicts former President Joseph “Erap” Ejercito Estrada of plunder. The immediate result was a muddle of unintended consequences.

By that one mindless act, Mrs. Arroyo’s protectors succeeded in thrusting her, with or without her cooperation or consent, into the jaws of the tiger. By calling on Erap’s supporters to “let the law prevail” and not to react violently to his possible, if not probable, conviction, they made it sufficiently clear that his conviction was in fact imminent, and that they were afraid of the opposition’s reaction to it. That is naming, and making the enemy, indeed.

One columnist has taken up the cudgels for those behind the ads by asking, who can possibly be against “letting the rule of law prevail?” Let the courts decide, chorus the other defenders. Well, let us grant these defenders their good intentions, but let us ask them to look at things a little more deeply.

As a general principle, the courts should decide and we want them to decide. Where justice reigns, and justice and the rule of law are interchangeable, we want the rule of law to prevail. But where those in power have so casually misused the law for their own ends, and the courts do not have a record of standing up for what is right, regardless of the consequence; where the law has become a servant to power, instead of power being a servant to the law, we cannot really talk of a rule of law; we can talk only of misrule by law. This is the crux of the matter.

Because the Estrada case is in court, the court will have to decide. Yet it must decide on its own, and not just pronounce a decision made for it by others. It must not only decide justly; it must above all be seen to decide justly. But where the case is primarily, if not solely, political, can there be any just decision which does not declare the case political?

The question before the court is whether or not Estrada is guilty of graft and corruption, perjury and plunder. That can be decided either on the basis of the evidence, or on the basis of political pressure, if the court allows such pressure. But to a great many people, that is not the question at all. To them, the real question is constitutional, and involves one of jurisdiction----whether or not Estrada should be facing those charges at all, before he had fully served the six years to which he had been elected president in 1998 by the Filipino people.

It is settled jurisprudence that no President may be brought to court on criminal charges before the expiration of his elected term, unless he shall have been impeached and removed upon being found guilty of the charges against him in a Senate impeachment trial. Then and only then may he be formally accused in court of the same charges for which he had been impeached and removed, or of any other crime.

In Estrada’s case, he was impeached by the House of Representatives, but never found guilty by the Senate, where the court disbanded without concluding the trial. The failure or refusal of the prosecution to continue the trial against him and the Chief Justice’s failure to summon the prosecution back to court and reconvene the trial are, in fact, interpreted by some as amounting to the prosecution’s failure to prosecute, and to a verdict of acquittal.

For this reason, Estrada should never have submitted to the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction, just as then Opposition Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino never submitted to the jurisdiction of the court martial that found him guilty and imposed upon him the death sentence under Marcos; just as Saddam Hussein never recognized the jurisdiction of the international tribunal that tried him, sentenced him to death, and carried out his execution.

But Estrada finally submitted to the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction, despite initial statements to the contrary. That, in our view, was a fatal mistake, for which he would have to pay dearly. So he cannot denounce Mrs. Arroyo’s apparent or real influence on the court now, or any of the judges’ suspected desire to please her, without confirming his naivete for having completely misread everything.

From the very start, it should have been clear to Estrada that once the cases had been filed against him, it was no longer a question of whether or not he would be convicted, but rather when they would convict him. Had he agreed to the administration’s proposal, after his removal, that he sign a formal letter of resignation, or go on self-exile in a country of his choice, he would not have been arrested and detained for his alleged crimes. He would have been a free man living a sybaritic and completely irrelevant life in some foreign land, instead of being detained in Tanay.

But he insisted on staying, so he must accept its consequences, the worst of which is now about to unfold. It is most unfortunate that while the sword is about to drop, the artificial alliances Estrada had tried to create during the last elections are also about to unravel in favor of the administration. The old opposition bloc that had argued about Estrada’s legitimate claim to the presidency and provided real opposition to the Arroyo government from his removal in 2001 up to the run-up to the last senatorial election has been replaced by an artificial group that took up the opposition label for the purpose of winning the election, while retaining its hidden ties with the administration. Some of the newly elected “Genuine Opposition” senators have now formed a new bloc in alliance with the administration to ensure Senate President Manny Villar’s reelection, at the cost of Estrada’s sacrifices for the opposition.

It is highly doubtful that any of his allies will risk anything now to demand real justice for him, which is the other word for his freedom. This will most probably remain the prerogative of people like former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr., the man whose “I accuse” speech on the floor of the Senate on Oct. 5, 2000 had started Estrada’s long ride to Tanay. But the world may be forgiven for not being overenthusiastic about Guingona. His spiel about Estrada being a changed man, even if true, has little value except perhaps in a feel-good rally; the only relevant and worthwhile point he could make, and should make now, if he wants to right a grievous wrong, is to say that there was a grand political conspiracy to oust Estrada in 2001, that this conspiracy is continuing, and that the Sandiganbayan cannot afford to sentence Estrada even for a just single day in jail without transforming him into a political martyr.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The failure to inform, the failure to govern

One of the few blessings of our age is that you could always blame government for everything that goes wrong, even as it tries to claim credit for every little good thing that happens in spite of it. But can you ever blame media for their mistakes and get away with it? This is one of the more serious problems of our time.

The information revolution has made the media even more powerful than government. There is virtually no space, no crevice on the rock-surface where you may hide in order to escape their reach. In a globalized, unipolar world, world public opinion provides the only possible check to the might of the United States. Media is the other name for it.

In much of our planet, access to media defines one’s actual existence. The rich and the powerful exist because they have media access; the jobless don’t. As the unemployed in T. S. Eliot’s Choruses from the Rock puts it, “Our life is unwelcome, our death unmentioned in The Times.” In our own city, you are not officially dead until your obituary appears with the classified ads. At least, outside of the poorer classes.

Lest we be misled, the media are but mere instruments. Whether they are to serve truth or falsehood, good or evil, love or hate, peace or violence, prayer or pornography, grace or sleaze ---this all depends on the men and women who decide their structures, policies, and content. Thus, it is indispensable that those men and women have a clear view of what they, and the media, are there for, what grave responsibility they owe to the common good.

Unlike government, the media are not elected. They have no term of office, nor are their duties and responsibilities spelled out in the Constitution or statute. They are not obliged by civil law to be morally upright, responsible or intelligent, although these ought to be indispensable qualities. The possibility, therefore, of having an irresponsible, incompetent and corrupt media is not at all to be discounted, even when we believe we have a free press.

In recent months, international attention has been drawn to the growing number of Flipino “journalists” killed. This is truly tragic. The killing of any innocent victim is a scandal that cries to heaven for justice; but the killing of a journalist is not just a crime against a man or woman but a crime against the pursuit of truth and the free expression of ideas. It must always be denounced in the strongest possible terms. Yet for this reason, it is also absolutely necessary that the press report the killing of a journalist only when the victim was indeed a journalist, killed in the pursuit of truth and justice.

The position of the press is a privileged one. Its freedom may not be abridged; our Constitution forbids it. But while the state may not suppress that freedom, the owners, publishers, station managers, editors, news directors, producers, writers, reporters and correspondents themselves may yet succeed in doing so of their own accord. This happens every time they fabricate, falsify, or suppress facts to support their own agenda or bias, every time they allow their personal prejudices to rule the reporting or interpretation of the news.

I was at the 7th Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade last April when the first balloting in the French presidential election was being reported on Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN. No one had a majority on the first round; Nicolas Zarosky led Sigolene Royal by some five points. He eventually won the presidency by a decisive majority in the second round in May. But in April all the commentators were uniformly saying that Sigolene Royal, who was trailing behind Zarosky, was on her way to becoming the first woman President of France. Without the least scruples, they were pushing a propaganda line not borne by the facts available to all the televiewers.

This is neither an isolated incident nor a monopoly of global television. It happens in our media all the time. It is not necessarily caused by malice, but usually by ignorance. Far too many novices are thrust into the most sensitive media assignments; and they soon get so focused on trying to teach their public they never find the time to study and learn. Some get inebriated too early with the smell of “power of the press;” they end up misusing their freedom, and turning it into what Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin once called, “freedom without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

A few years ago, the head of a prominent accounting and auditing firm wished he could “buy all the newspapers in the country so he could close down them.” I am not sure this is something he would like to repeat today. But the last senatorial election provides an occasion for sober reflection.

The senatorial campaign opened with an editorial headline in one of the leading morning papers---“Circus begins!” or words to that effect. Then for the next ninety days the same newspaper led the rest of the pack in selling tickets to the same circus it had previously scoffed at. The media first denounced the exclusive inept focus on artificial personalities, and the utter lack of discussion on political programs. Then they proceeded to do their silly and saccharine personality build-ups of their favorite candidates. Not a single newspaper cared to point out that for the first time in the nation’s history, three political parties were each running two sets of senatorial candidates on the two opposing tickets, and that not a single candidate on either side was saying anything about it.

Today they report, without comment, that Manny Villar will be reelected as a pro-administration Senate President, after having won his second senatorial term as an opposition candidate. They also quote, without judging, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s statements that his agenda is to seek the ouster of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom the 2003 aborted Oakwood Mutiny, in connection with which he had been charged and detained, had failed to oust.

In both instances, the media have failed to point out the obvious. In Villar’s case, the least the media could have done, or do, is to point out that one dark depth should not necessarily lead to another, and so soon, too. In the case of Trillanes, they could have reminded him, or remind him still that a neophyte senator will have a lot to learn before he could take on the world. Someone should recount to him the story of the young MP who sat beside Benjamin Disraeli. After listening to all the others for sometime, the young MP asked Disraeli, “Don’t you think sir I should now be heard on the floor?” To which Disraeli answered, “Maybe not, better that they should wonder why you are not speaking than they should wonder why you are speaking at all.”

These are some of the things the media can do in confused times. The media cannot assume that their failure to inform and to educate, where they could and should, will be more easily forgiven than the government’s failure to govern.