Saturday, September 29, 2012

Philippine Class Structure, Revisited

The core of this article ran about a year ago. I've since added the class "Rational Climbers" and will now try to put it into a context that is useful.

This article is commentary. It does not pretend an academic or statistical foundation. It is a westerner’s impressions of Philippine society gleaned by living in this beautiful, vibrant country. Joe's aim is to understand the Philippines and contribute to the pool of ideas that encourages continued progressive development.

There are classist societies and there are classy societies. The trick is to get from one to the other by making sure there is an upward drive so that people gain by helping their nation gain. Helping it to be more productive, safer and wealthier.

As I observe the Philippines, it seems to me there are clear class distinctions defined by a person’s wealth, geography, education and power. Some are large, others small. There are walls between some of the classes and that is troublesome. It means people have a hard time moving up and the nation's character comes to lack the drive that is needed to progress with determination.

Going from bottom to top, hidden to visible, non-influential to influential, we have:

  • The Tribal Class: The mountain or island tribes. Almost no wealth, geographically isolated (a blessing and a penalty), limited education, and no influence outside the local community. This is the invisible class of Philippine society. Members have few roads and limited utility infrastructure, weak law enforcement, and no health care. They are the families washed away by mudslides and poisoned by mine effluents. And the rest of the nation forgets about them until there is another disaster that thrusts them onto the front pages of the newspapers.

  • The Subsistence Class:  The agrarian and laboring workers. This is the vast, sweaty core of a thin but broad Philippine economy. These are the people who work for P200 or less a day, with no future job promised. Career is an unknown word. Forget social security and health care. They work the rice fields, fish the seas, dig the foundations, haul the cement, climb the coconut trees, whack the weeds on the side of the road, drive the Jeepneys , staff the local stores, provide household services, and pedal tricycles. They are the Philippines, in its most honest, hardworking, fun loving and sustaining self. They don't have enough money to be corrupt but they have so little money they will sometimes "innovate" to get some more. They have lots of kids and send them to the fields early to help put rice on the table. They are the worker bees of Philippine society, locked into poverty by an overabundance of mouths to feed and almost no way out. That needs to end.

  • Low-End Skill WorkersMasons, carpenters, call center workers, store department managers, small store owners, shop foremen, bus drivers, military men, policemen. People in this class can support a family and send their kids to public school. They are the entry point to ambitious self-improvement, and could succeed if the points of progression were not all blocked. And if aspiration, like career, were a prized concept in Philippine society. It is not. But kids born to these parents do have a small chance to break out. They would have more of a chance if the public schools weren't such a mess of overcrowded, under thinking pools of obedience. Low-end skill workers cluster around large towns and urban centers. TESDA is crucial to their success and growth.

  • The Rational Climbers:  The class of Rational Climbers encompasses overseas workers and Filipinas who marry foreigners. Climbers boldly seek exit from three other classes: (1) The Subsistence Class, (2) Low-End Skill Workers, and (3) Professionals. They are rational because they intuitively do the math and decide the reward is worth the risk to embark upon a radically different lifestyle, and they are climbers because they have the clear aim of improving their lives. The motivation that drives them is best summed up in the statement: "Enough of this!" For professionals, the second part of the statement might be: "I have skills and am tired of struggling along on this measly income." For a young, single woman, it might be: "It is a choice of security and money, or babies, and I want security and money." For a worker, it might be: "Canada may be a giant ice cube, but businesses there pay real money", or : "The Middle East is strange, but they have oil and gobs of cash; I'm going to go get some." How do we bring them home? Bring families back together? That would also contribute to the character of the nation.

  • Professionals: Teachers, doctors, lawyers, business owners, tech workers, call center managers, government officials, higher ranked military and police officers, engineers, journalists, bank managers. They have college degrees and generally must know somebody to make the leap from sluggish career to meaningful career. Their family ties help in many ways. Funding their schooling. Opening doors. Establishing an ideal of a higher standard of living. They form a sound middle class with potential to move up. They look down on a lot of people for they know they have power over their clients, and a better education. Their professional skill levels are often, ummm rudimentary, but the country does not demand more. The professionals need to be challenged by competent competitors. They should not be able to get rich and be lazy just because they have a diploma.

  • The Priests, Imams and Assorted Other Men of Cloth: This is a small, isolated class of faith-based leaders. Each faith claims to have the sole ticket to heaven, and each condemns people who won't buy that ticket. It arches over the Professional class, from priests to archbishops. The ever essential problem is, as near as I can tell, there is only one God, indivisible. So someone has to be blowing smoke. Religion is a big deal in the Philippines, even if Superstition is the master religion that overlays all other faiths. Catholic priests, Muslim imams, Protestant pastors. They have such influence in the Philippines, but I know of none that claims any responsibility for the outcome. For the condition of the land. For the poverty. For upside down values that find cheating acceptable. This class can take care of itself, for it has institutions behind it. It is best ignored.

  • The Entertainers: This is another isolated class, pretenders (not meant in a disparaging sense) who are held in extraordinarily high esteem by the masses. A boxer, singers, actors. They are rich and live well. Their kids can attend the best schools and many move easily into the Connected class, spreading their wealth amongst their family and favorites. They live a life as far removed from the subsistence class as Neverland is from London. They pretend to be one of the people, for they must do this to succeed. But they are not. They are on pedestals. It is fantasy for them and it is often fantasy for their audience, a dream that people of little opportunity might also become rich and famous. Entertainment shows and advertisers leverage this dream for profit. Poor people remain poor.

  • The Connected: These are the movers and shakers of the Philippines. Legislators, business owners, media executives, judges, governors, mayors, generals. They thrive on favors and somehow get rich even if their salaries are not rich. They are all well schooled and well traveled. Their kids will be, too. Some have the same names as the streets in Manila. The Connected people make sure the Philippines does not change because they would be threatened by a system that demanded capability over favor as the basis for reward. It is important to open pipelines into this group, break down the country club atmosphere and mediocrity that thrives.

  • The Oligarchs: These are the parallels to the kings, queens, princes, earls, dukes, duchesses of the British monarchy. Their wealth is enormous. They are an amalgamation of historically powerful landed families and big business moguls. They own the television stations, the telephone companies, the financial institutions, the shopping malls, the beer company, and the housing subdivisions. The oligarchs fund the politicians and, under the system of favors granted and received, get laws favorable to their continued enrichment. And the public, and the well-being of the Philippines, remain stuck in place, static, years behind the rest of the world. We should do a parade for the oligarchs and ask them to wear bejeweled crowns, they are so anachronistic. Then ban nepotism.

So now the question becomes, okay, we see the different classes, what are we going to do about it? How can we build a dynamic that allows people and families to work upward based on aspiration, skill and effort?  How do we get to production based on aspiration, and wealth based on production?

  • Minimum wage. This is a classic two-edged sword. If you raise the minimum wage, businesses cut jobs. Much of the Subsistence Class works at unofficial wages, unreported, untaxed, below minimum. A constructive approach is to move in small steps to implement and enforce employee welfare laws. Edge toward formal wage practices nationwide. Establish government unions for certain laboring classes such as farm workers. The goal should be substantial reduction of the underpaid subsistence class in 20 year by pushing in small steps toward formality and a higher minimum wage that can be supported by the nation's growing wealth.

  • Education is fundamentally important to give young citizens the knowledge they can build on in order to move up the ladder. Broad-based schools, disciplined, with good teachers and fewer than 45 kids per classroom. The framework is there, and the budgets are generous under President Aquino. But the schools can't keep up with the birth rate. Plus, the curriculum is stale and argued anew every year.  Here's the secret. RH Bill or executive order promoting rational birthing levels. And the internet as a teaching pipeline. It can be the way pressures is released from facilities and teachers to focus on knowledge. 

  • TESDA is critically important to teach skills and to open an avenue up for the subsistence class and for low-skill workers to become high skill.  Fund the department generously and hold the leadership accountable for certain standards and results. Don't ignore this "applied" piece of the educational pie. It is hugely important as a migratory path bridging classes.

  • If education is a constructive plank, it is also important to do some deconstruction. The Philippines is too much a closed society of good old boys and girls plugging up opportunity and ensuring mediocrity; you see this in the family names plastered on Manila street signs and in the legislature. A Fair Employment Act that discourages hiring "friends, family and favorites" and focuses solely on capability can fix this. Anti-dynasty laws in governance can help. Anti-trust laws in business. Break the barriers to entry to the Connected Class and rebuild the commerce of the nation on the energy of capable, ambitious people. Let the oligarchs die off in favor of a new breed of honestly competitive managers.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Angry Maude Blasts Get Real Post

Guest Article
By Maude Garrison

My cousin is Joe America. We used to call him JoJo when we were young because he used to stutter and we enjoyed ridiculing him in the best Filipino tradition. Only we were Americans.

Well, myself, I am only half American. My father snuck up across the Rio Grande to impregnate my teen age mother somewhere south of Wickenburg, Arizona, on a blanket out amongst the rocks and cacti. "Some picnic" Mom used to say.

So I'm without a father, for that scoundrel scurried back to Mexico faster than a rattle snake on a chipmunk when he heard Mom was pregnant. I am also without a mother for Ma bit the bullet in Iraq01. Fortunately, she had already peddled me off to her sister, JoJo's Mom, when I was 11. So I learned to fend for myself. See, that's how come I relate to Filipinos so well. I was a hand-me-down kid, too.

Angry Maude
I went to therapy for a lot of years when I was in my thirties to try to get rid of the anger that seeped up from my bones and out my mouth now and then. I pretty much have it under control now, but some things just stick in my craw.

I live in the Philippines, too, not far from JoJo. It seems that I have taken to following him around the globe, but that's just because he is rich and I am poor, and so I squeeze off of him. This is in the best Filipino tradition, too, if I judge correctly based on how my neighbors live. Half of them have no jobs but seem happy enough, bumming here and bumming there. I'm happy enough, too, except now and then my girdle gets a little squeezed by the nitwits on these anti blog sites.

I don't know if you caught JoeAm's battle with the anti's on that blog site owned by Benny Kritz the other day. "The Weather On Neptune". What kind of name for a blog is that? It signifies space cadet to me, and I'd guess that what most of the visitors to that site are. I thought the article was written by me in one of my tormented moods, considering how emotional it was. Hysterical, some would say, like my sisters when they run riot during their special time of the month.

Benny was ripping on President Aquino for having gone with "Boom Boom" Trillanes as his back door man to China, trying to get those Chinese boats off that useless pile of rocks called Scarborough Shoals. Did Simon and Garfunkle write a song about that place? Funny name for Asian rocks. "Boom Boom" is the name JoJo says he is going to give Trillanes because he is a loose cannon, crashing about insulting people and undermining the best laid plans of mice and Secretary Del Rosario.

JoJo read Benny's blog as he is inclined to do for its normally fresh insights, but fired off an objection on this one, wholly civil in tone. We know how upstanding and polite JoeAm always is. Suddenly all of the Get Real Post followers jumped out of the Neptune woodwork onto Joe's back, screaming their normal generalized condemnation of the "yellows" in very unkind terms. Joe had to fight them off, about six against one. You ought to read that exchange. Joe laid waste to them all. Rambo with a dictionary, that's my cousin. Here's the link: "Shattered"

One thing you can be sure of is that those Get Real people travel in packs. They have to. For support of their flimsy arguments. They shuffle like gangs through the internet, chains rattling, tattoos flexing. They don't have what it takes to step out into the real world and argue like rational, independent real men and woman. Instead, they tromp the GRP intellectual line like cows heading to the barn in the evening, nose to tail with benigno in the front. Ganging up is their specialty. And sticking to the "Down with Aquino" line is their passion, in the face of fact and reason. They'll ride that line to the Get Real grave.

That's what poor BongV did, I'd guess. I visited his Anto-Pinoy site to have a look-see into the vibrant discussion that used to be there. It ain't there, folks. The longest thread I read had three comments. My toenails are longer than that.

I expect Get Real Post to go that route, too. I mean, how much credibility can you hold onto when you hammer the same line for three years, ever bitter that your man Gordon got beat? They're like some of those creatures I'd run into during my group therapy. Out of touch is a nice way to express it. Holding onto their kiddie blankets like it was Mama's teat. Tinny is the sound of their complaint. Or hollow. It is only loud because the pack of them howl together like a herd of rabid coyotes in heat. There is some strange umbilical cord running from brain to brain in that bunch of depth-deficient robots reinforcing each other with spit and venom. Maybe they are all from Neptune, now that I think about it. Aliens from a gassy planet.


I get sad, actually.

Here is a bunch of grown men and a woman who behave like teens. They need to prove their point so desperately they fail to observe that they behave exactly like the people they criticize. Insecure intimidators. Thuggish. An entire month's worth of their polite wouldn't spill over from a sake cup. They behave like Sotto. Exactly like Sotto. Puffed up with self-importance. No personal ethic. Just win win, manipulate and make excuses. And fer chrissakes, never own up to mistakes.

Have you ever noticed that benigno and Senator Sotto have identical core values?

Face it , any blog site that would ban a crisp thinker like Cousin JoeAm has an onion skin. What's the rationale? Joe doesn't swear much. He only gets personal in response to others who get personal. Can benigno be AFRAID of his reasonableness? His way of looking at things objectively? Afraid of the clout he brings to bear on issues with his sharp wordstyle? 

I figure these are courage-deficient girlie men, though I must offer apology to my liberated sisters for borrowing the insult. Arnie Schwarzenegger calls them like he sees them and I merely Sottoized his fine characterization of certain people of certain quality. Or lack thereof.

Benny Kritz of Neptune concludes his article as follows:

  • ". . .when a country cannot be regarded as a peer by other nations, it ceases to be a sovereign nation in fact if not in name – a hanger-on in the world community, treated with kind indulgence, perhaps, when it’s to others’ benefit to do so, but taken no more seriously in running the global household than the family dog."

Let me untangle this for you, for it is as knotty as the blanket sewed in a quilting bee by nine elderly ladies under the influence of a couple of gallons of Kickapoo Joy Juice.

  1. The Philippines has been embarrassed in the international community because Trillanes was outted as President Aquino's back door man.

  1. Therefore, the Philippines is a "lesser nation", not a peer, in the eyes of China, the US, and the rest of Asia.

  1. Therefore, the Philippines is no longer a sovereign state, just a hanger-on, not to be taken seriously.

Hysterical. Not in the funny sense of the word.

What did the revealing of Wikileaks secrets do to the sovereignty of the United States, I wonder? Carve America up like the remains of a fiesta pig on the second day, leaving the nation without any gonads, a jolly, ineffectual eunuch hanging on in desperation to the real nations of the world? You know, like that real nation China, for example? Or maybe those real nations North Korea and Cuba and Iran and Venezuela. These are Benny's right-behaving nations, I suppose, which gives you some idea of the legitimacy of his characterization of the Philippines.

These hollow, callow Get Real guys. Boy they prove their dedication to the Philippines every day in every way, don't they? Maybe they are on China's payroll, eh? They seem ideologically aligned, in attack mode.

I'm proud of JoJo. He is able to remain apart from these disingenuous men and woman. He sees the hollow in the  callow.  And he speaks to the heart of things.

Joe's been my hero since Mom dumped me on Auntie's doorstep on a cold Colorado night back when. Joe was always smiling then, and he smiles a lot today. The Get Real people probably can't relate. They only snicker if they have someone at the butt of one of their bitter jokes.

But enough of this. I'm a gonna go out and get real stinkin' drunk. Ease off a little steam. Blow some gas if you catch my drift.

My therapist said that's not really the best way to deal with anger, but she concedes it is better than ripping someone's eyeballs out with a fork.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

President Aquino: Ups and Downs

I've written in the past that President Aquino has the opportunity to be recorded in the history books as a superb president, a perfect combination of his mother's good will and his father's courage and determination. As a statistician, but not a gambler, I would put the odds at about 60 to 40 that his legacy will be the most memorable since Marcos. . . and maybe even before.

How long has the Philippines been corrupt?

You read of corruption in Rizal's works. That was one of his main complaints, along with classism reflected in the overbearing power of the Catholic Church and the land barons. History also records that the last half of Spanish rule was characterized by rotating governors who had no real interest in the well-being of the Philippines and a great deal of interest in self-enrichment. So add to the 150 years of corrupt Spanish rule to 115 years of Filipino-sanctioned corruption begun when Aguinaldo grabbed onto a huge pile of borrowed Mexican pesos for his nation and his personal estate, and you have at least 265 years of corruption.

Corruption has been rampant from the Palace to Jose's pig sty where the tin roof was extracted from some rich guy's construction project by a contractor who swapped it to Jose for a small piglet. Theft in the Philippines is not really a crime. It is business as usual. How many ways do Filipinos cheat the system? I was a math major and I can't count that high. Johnny Lin's abacus would probably sizzle and catch fire from the heat of the calculations. We have old math, new math and Filipino math, which is base 10 plus a markup of 35% for all the "gratuities" along the supply channel.

It will take 20 years to root corruption out of the Philippines IF we can find future presidents willing to dig it out all the way from the Palace to the pig sty. President Aquino has only gotten to the first circle of corruption. It is an important circle because it curtails much of the big ticket thieving. The first circle includes his cabinet officials, top generals, and maybe a governor or two.  He might get to the second during his term, the junior lieutenants in each of the executive departments.

The legislature is supposed to be policing its own but seems rather to take pride in a kind of corruption of values, avoiding good ethical behavior like the plague, sitting on SALN's, jamming up the FOI Bill, plagiarizing away and threatening the very foundation of democracy, the freedom to speak, with a bizarre and harsh internet libel clause in the Cybercrime Bill.  When the Legislature operates with hidden agendas, sits on laws aimed at transparency and women's rights, passes laws aimed at intimidating expression, and coddles its own ethically challenged members, it burden's the President's legacy with non-action and bad deeds.

Face it, the Legislature is not leading the charge for freedom and transparency and high ethical standards. It does not have the same sense of righteousness and purpose as the Executive Branch.

And what about the third co-equal branch of our government, the Judiciary? Sorry to report that the courts have not even gotten to the first circle because Chief Justice Sereno's bench is still being fumigated. We should check back with the Supreme Court in a year to see if anything has improved.

But I digress. I'm talking about President Aquino here.

To get past the first circle of corruption, President Aquino has to take three big steps and he appears reluctant to take two of them.

  1. Work the de-corruption effort through the cabinet posts into the top management layers across the nation. Then broader and deeper.

  1. Prosecute extra-judicial murders.

  1. Aggressively pursue transparency in government acts.

He is doing number 1, having given Corona the boot, jailed Arroyo, and being actively in the hunt for generals and governors who have been riding high on the taxpayer hog. Work is likely to become slow and hard because the corruption "out there" is smaller and sneakier and not always easy to spot. Take the matter of vote buying. Think we will see any in 2013?  Ahahahahaha ROFLMAO. Decentralized corruption is business as usual, as we saw regarding the roof of Jose's pig sty. Customs officials dipping, DENR dipping, LTO dipping, PNP dipping, judges dipping. I certainly have no statistics because it is a sumbitch to count, but I bet thousands of officials are dipping a hand in some poor slob's wallet. And that slob's wallet was probably obtained in a tax free swap or five-finger discount.

The two biggest achievements of the Aquino government are financial stability and the hammer brought to bear on corruption. And his cabinet secretaries are actively engaged in building better processes and results. But the President has to deal more explicitly with extrajudicial murders and freedom of information.

There are also some clear "downs" that the President might choose to learn from. We had a little flare-up about Under-Secretary Puno a few weeks ago. That buried the Sotto plagiarism and it was in turn buried by the Enrile-Trillanes mud-wrestling match on the floor of the Senate.

The media hereabouts certainly are single-minded, eh? They mosey from one scandal to the next, forgetting to cure, tie off or otherwise wrap up the previous one.

Some people were critical of the President on Puno, but I don't see what the big deal is. Robredo died, things were up in the air, and follow-through got a little disjointed, much akin to the chaos of the battlefield. It will all work out fine. Puno will be dealt with by proper investigation, not blogger investigations, and, if the President is wise and able to separate personal friendships from job performance, Puno will be invited to leave government. He's what is known as a "stigma" now.

The Trillanes back channel eruption revealed another stigma. It displays the President's main weakness, a tendency to adhere to friendships even when they go counter to the grain of his own success. Just as he supported Puno, the President backs Senator Trillanes even though it is fairly evident Trillanes is a hot-head with a non-diplomatic mouth. The incident seems simple enough: Trillanes has a contact of some clout in China and asked if he could work it. President Aquino said "yes". Indeed, the contact was instrumental in getting ships to stand down from the face off over Scarborough Shoals, but it did not get all Chinese boats to leave. The President's mistake was not saying "yes" to Trillanes. The mistake was not putting him under the direction of Foreign Affairs Secretary Del Rosario. It is never wise to go around one of your trusted executives. Plus it is a mistake to keep coddling Trillanes when he is clearly a loose cannon.

But these are minor incidents. They don't reflect the progress of the nation or the steam the economy is gathering.

The President often walks into the slapdash of media sensationalism when he speaks off the cuff, before all the facts are known and pieced together. The press then digs up its own facts and puts the pieces together in generally unkind picture that suggests the President is not trustworthy. The President would benefit by adopting a discipline of holding off on public comment regarding flare-ups until the facts can be put together and delivered to the press more comprehensively.

The President is not responsible for the incomprehensible ineffectual Legislature. He could get a lot more done if they worked harder on the RH Bill, FOI and other acts aimed at building a progressive Philippines. He should definitely work his contacts there, and jawbone them in public.

I rather see the President's "downs" as transactional, minor in the big-picture flow of history. Of concern, sure. Worth panic? For sure, not.

His ups are substantial. The Philippines is growing and stable and modernizing. Corruption is on the way out as a mainstream value.That's what I think will emerge as his legacy. To solidify that legacy, he needs to do more to:

  • Push both openly and privately for Legislative action on key bills.

  • Track down murderers and definitively end the era of extra-judicial killings.

  • Actively back FOI and RH bills as essential steps toward a progressive Philippines. There is no reasonable reason for them to be held back.

  • Develop two new personal disciplines: (1) be less reliant on friendships, and (2) refrain from speaking off the cuff to the press during flare-ups until all the facts are known.

The main point of this article is to suggest it is best to keep things in perspective, and not let a sensationalist press paint the picture we view as reality. The secondary point is to muse about what the President could do to build a striking legacy for himself and the Aquino family.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Founding Mothers: 1987 Edition

Reader and eccentric Mariano Renato set the scene for this blog the other day:


Well I sure cannot, for sure. 1987 was a nondescript year. I tried to recall what happened that year and came up empty. Well, I was in America, so I was irrelevant myself. In the Philippines, it was one year after Cory Aquino replaced Ferdinand Marcos. It was an important year.

 I suppose that episode was a little like America throwing the British out. The Free Philippines threw the Totalitarian Philippines out.

Well, tried to. It wasn't quite as clean a break as found in America, where the Brits retreated to England. The totalitarians in the Philippines ran for senate. And won. One of them is the Senate President, still a rebel hot-head after all these years.

Thomas Jefferson had a strong hand in writing the American Constitution but other "Founding Fathers" were also instrumental in defining the values and laws under which America would stand free and democratic.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution is actually the sixth Constitution the Philippines has had since it adopted democratic principles after its independence from Spanish rule:

  • 1898 The Republic under Aquinaldo
  • 1935 The Commonwealth Constitution under the US
  • 1946 Post WW II; the Laurel Constitution
  • 1973 The Marcos Constitution
  • 1986 Freedom Constitution (transition)
  • 1987 Current Constitution

I did have to google and wiki to discover just what happened in the Philippines in 1986.

Ferdinand Marcos was ousted and President Cory Aquino issued a proclamation that introduced a transitional "Freedom Constitution" aimed at holding things together during the writing of the permanent Constitution.

Ms. Aquino was one of the "Founding Mothers" of the current Constitution.

President Aquino's proclamation formed a Constitution Commission of 50 people responsible for drafting the permanent Constitution. It was a hodgepodge of notables from different disciplines, including congressmen, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion, Catholic Bishop Teodoro Bacani and film director Lino Brocka. The Commission included five people from the former Marcos government including former Labor Minister  Blas Ople.

The Commission elected as its president Cecilia Munoz-Palma who led opposition against Marcos after she retired as the first female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. While on the court, with Marcos in charge, she issued rulings challenging his ambitions. Later she backed President Estrada and opposed President Arroyo. She died in 2006 at the age of 92.

She is the second "Founding Mother". She organized the Constitution Commission.

The writing was contentious, with many heated debates and even walk-outs. Hot issues were the form of government, the death penalty, American presence at Clark/Subic, and economic principals (e.g., land ownership).

I can't imagine 50 people writing on one document. I'm sure they started with the U.S. Constitution and built their own framework, with much of the writing done by one or two members and staffers. They remain anonymous. No one raises them up, as do Americans, in appreciation of the wisdom and wordsmithing, particularly, of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams and Thomas Paine, three of whom became presidents.

If records do exist as to who did the main wordsmithing on the Philippine Constitution, I have not discovered them online.

The drafting was completed and approved by the Commission with two "No" votes. It was presented to the public for ratification in early 1987. It was approved by a vote of about 17 million "for" and 5 million "against".


President: Cecilia Munoz Palma
Vice-President: Ambrosio B. Padilla
Floor Leader: Napoleon G. Rama
Assistant Floor Leaders: Ahmad Domocao Alonto, Jose D. Calderon

Members: Yusuf R. Abubakar, Felicitas S. Aquino, Adolfo S. Azcuna, Teodoro C. Bacani, Jose F. S. Bengzon, Jr., Ponciano L. Bennagen, Joaquin G. Bernas, Florangel Rosario Braid, Crispino M. de Castro, Jose C. Colayco, Roberto R. Concepcion, Hilario G. Davide, Jr., Vicente B. Foz, Edmundo G. Garcia, Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon, Serafin V.C. Guingona, Alberto M. K. Jamir,Jose B. Laurel, Jr., Eulogio R. Lerum, Regalado E. Maambong, Christian S. Monsod, Teodulo C. Natividad, Ma. Teresa F. Nieva, Jose N. Nolledo, Blas F. Ople, Minda Luz M. Quesada, Florenz D. Regalado, Rustico F. de los Reyes, Jr., Cirilo A. Rigos, Francisco A. Rodrigo, Ricardo J. Romulo, Decoroso R. Rosales, Rene V. Sarmiento, Jose E. Suarez, Lorenzo M. Sumulong, Jaime S. L. Tadeo, Christine O. Tan, Gregorio J. Tingson, Efrain B. Trenas, Lugum L. Uka,Wilfrido V. Villacorta, Bernardo M. Villegas

The entanglements from the list of Commissioners is interesting. Attorney Felicitas S. Aquino is the wife of Senator Joker Arroyo. Joker Arroyo was previously an attorney opposing Marcos and defending those accused of government of misdeeds.  He was also counsel to Cory Aquino.

  • "I think that it is now the time to return the power to the people; let us have faith in them. And by faith, I mean real and abiding faith, not just looking at the people as some kind of a mystical entity in whose name the eternal political in some of us have done themselves proud. In other words, let the Filipinos chart their own histories." Constitutional Commissioner Felitas S Aquino, 1986

Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., J.S.D. is a Jesuit and is Dean Emeritus of Ateneo Law School in Makati City, Philippines.  He is a Constitutional law expert and burr in the Catholic saddles at times. You can read his blogs by going to The Blog Center.

 Christian S. Monsod is former chairman of COMELEC.

You can research the others at your leisure.

Today we hear occasional calls for re-write of the Constitution. Some argue that federalism is more important for a diverse nation situated on different islands. Others argue for a parliamentary form of government to run the nation more as a business would run. Many argue the Philippines should liberalize its rules for foreign investment so foreign residents and businesses can fully own properties and businesses, injecting both cash and know-how into the economy.

JoeAm argues, what's the point of a new piece of paper when the disciplines to enforce laws are so weak? The courts are stuck up in the trade of favors and inefficiency. Case law is highly unreliable because the decisions are so weak and tainted with favoritism. Bodies like the Senate do not operate according to the highest ethical standards, freely plagiarizing speeches and revealing state secrets on negotiations with China. One can not quite TRUST the motives of anyone calling for a redraft of the Constitution.

President Arroyo pushed trust out the door.

Until the agents of governance are more disciplined and clearly focused on public interest, any proposal to redo the Constitution will break down into acrimony and dysfunction, blocking progress toward the development of progressive ways and means.

Face it, the Philippine Constitution will never be a rallying point, as was the American document. It will never crystallize the ideals of a nation in words.

Filipinos far and wide are not so interested in words.

Rallying is best be done by Manny Pacquiao and Jessica Sanchez or lightning rods like China and America, when they act with offense.

Ideals are not something Filipinos are fond of, or deal well with. Like the nuances of freedom of speech and plagiarism, representing the good and the bad of ideals. Ideals are not rallying points here. Offenses are.

But I digress royally.

Kudos to the Mothers of the Philippine Constitution for getting crafted a sound anchor to laws in a rather lawless land.

information source: wikipedia; photo: public domain

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Libel and Onion Skin

This is not a legal forum. It is just a guy full of opinions trying to figure out how the Philippines works.

This whole episode about the libel provision of the Cybercrime Act is fascinating. Libel is one of those crimes that is extraordinarily difficult to prove because the prosecution must show intent to harm.

If you want a quick study on libel laws in the Philippines, please refer to this article, from which the following paragraph was extracted: Libel Laws of the Philippines,

  • Under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, libel is defined as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to discredit or cause the dishonor or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. Thus, the elements of libel are: (a) imputation of a discreditable act or condition to another; (b) publication of the imputation; (c) identity of the person defamed; and, (d) existence of malice.  [Daez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 47971, 31 October 1990, 191 SCRA 61, 67]

Reader GabbyD challenged my thinking on libel a couple of days ago by stating the challenging question:

  • "oh, then you are against the core logic of libel -- that words have REAL effects. "

It is a powerful challenge because I had previously acknowledged that words have effects, but are properly countered with words. A libel charge counters words with acts . . . like 12 years in jail or somesuch.

My response to GabbyD was, in part:

  • Words do have real effect, but sometimes words that person A finds negative are positive in a different context. I can call Senator Sotto a scoundrel, which he finds harmful, with the aim of encouraging other senators not to repeat his acts, or readers not to live according to his standards. So my words make him a personal sacrifice to a higher cause.

What is the point of free speech? It is that we ought to have the right to protest that with which we disagree, and not be punished for it. It envisions an open state where ideas put out in the public arena can help shape the values and institutions of democracy.

As I reflect on that, I would use a technology term and peg America as an "open-sourced" nation. Opinions are a part of the fabric that drives social values ever forward and upward.

The Philippines appears to want to be open-sourced, too, but some of the totalitarian players in government are having a hard time letting go of their own sensitivities, their own thin onion skin, to get there. I am quite confident that Senator Sotto does not have Thomas Jefferson's grasp of what a government free of totalitarian influence would look like, and act like.

We live in a world of gray. Not black and white.

To protest something is always an attack on somebody or something, and it is hard to know who is right or wrong. People seeking complete independence for the Philippines protest American troops on Philippine soil. So America is thrown out of Clark and Subic. The result is that the Philippines is more vulnerable to intimidation by China 25 years later. And independence is more at risk. What is right or wrong is murky gray.

Believe me, during those arguments, a lot of people were attacked for their views. Even called treasonous.  Just like Senator Enrile and Senator Trillanes have both accused other loyal Filipinos of treason during the recent dust-up over Trillanes engagement with China.

  • Does Senator Trillanes really believe Foreign Affairs Secretary Del Rosario should be thrown into prison for life?

  • Does Senator Enrile, a rehabilitated coup plotter himself, really believe Senator Trillanes should be thrown into prison for life?

Words mean what the speaker intends, not what the hearer hears. The speaker means "you are hurting the Philippines", the hearer hears "you want me in jail when I am innocent; that is malice."

Libel is difficult to prove, but it doesn't stop those who perceive an injury from  seeking redress and a few million pesos in the courts.

Libel does not mean words can't be hurtful or offensive. But hurt is one thing and malice another. Hurtful words are often descriptions with a punch, nothing more than protests. Admirable qualities in light of what the Constitution says about free speech and freedom to assemble.

Libel is something different. Something deeper. Something more harmful and intentional.  It is the point where the intent upon uttering the words is damage, not argument. Libel would be if Senator Enrile knows Senator Trillanes is not treasonous, but claims he is with the intent that he would be thrown into jail. It would take a hypnotist or psychic to plumb Senator Enrile's brain to find out what he really thinks.

Onion skin. Was it James Fallows of the Atlantic who coined this attribute of Filipinos in his commentary on the Philippines several years ago?  I referred to the Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary on "onion skin" and came up with two definitions:

(1) a kind of paper that is so thin you can see through it; ideal for tracing, and

(2) a condition in which human emotions that are so sensitive that every perceived criticism is taken as deeply personal, rendering candid dialogue impossible.

Big egos, thin skins. Put the legal tool of "libel' on the table in a culture of onion skin and suddenly the democratic premises of lawful protest and free speech stand at risk.  That's where we are today, in the Philippines, in dealing with characters like Senator Sotto.

They are trying to shift the definition of words to the hearer rather than the speaker. The words hurt; they must be libelous.

No, not if the overriding aim was to protest perceived wrongful deeds or achieve some greater good. Like encourage other senators to be ethical.

It is important, in looking for tomorrow's leaders, to find those who are confident of their own knowledge, and the limits of their own knowledge. Those who are open to contrary views without taking them personally.

I think the term "libel" should be stricken from all law books, and certainly from the Cybercrime Act. The word is itself a libel to the concept of free speech and right of protest. It is an intimidating word, seeking to suppress expression.

Look at the result. Actual injury. Not the use of words that are sometimes painful to an individual, but meant for good purpose.

Words can be countered with words. They need not be countered with jail time because someone with thin skin can't stand the heat.

So yes, GabbyD, I believe words have REAL effects. Most of the time, well intended, even if spoken in anger. We should legislate to a standard of thick skin, able to withstand aggressive protest and rabid free speech. Not thin skin, crying and running to Mommy Law at every perceived slight.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Age and the Philippine Presidency

President Aquino, a man of no great ambition, was thrust into the Presidency of the Philippines by the death of his mother and his determination to do good originating from the courage and principles of his murdered father. He has achieved a remarkable remake of foundational values of Philippine governance. The remake is not set in cement. Indeed, it is fragile and under attack. Even his best friends seem to weigh in against his values of honesty and good work.

But his is a break-out from the old tradition of public service for private gain. His cabinet is stocked with capable secretaries who also pursue his aim for a cleaner, more productive government.

The past, not the future?
The nation is benefitting from this refreshing, newfound honesty and the work underway to do a better job of taking care of the Philippines. It is seeing more investments, economic stability, confidence, growth.

Mr. Aquino's presidency illustrates the point that the fates sometimes have more to do with how things turn out than do manmade plans.

There are no guarantees for any presidential candidate. A president can be highly capable and have on his hands a war that kills hundreds and hundreds of thousands of citizens (Lincoln; American Civil War). Or he can be asleep a lot of the time and oversee economic revitalization and defeat of a nation (Reagan; Russia).

It raises the interesting question, can we shape the fates to our favor?

When we vote for a candidate, we know maybe 25% of what we could or should know about him or her. So 75% is guess or unknown. And beyond that is the unpredictability of natural disasters and bully nations and the global economy and political gangs within the Philippines (NPA) that shape the landscape. I'm convinced Gilbert Teodoro was marked down as a presidential candidate in 2009 because he lost the rubber boats that were needed when Ondoy struck.

Undone by a typhoon.


JoeAm's perspective on the Philippine presidency is shaped by a very broad idea that continuation of the Aquino breakout requires a president who is not motivated by the "old values" of personal gain, but the "new values" of honorable service and result.

Old dogs. They don't learn new tricks easily.

I see the productivity of young Sonny Angara in the house and I say "here is a young guy more interested in his future than immediate wealth." And I like it. In an environment that prizes honest behavior, the winners will be those who shoot straight rather than behave crooked. Those who do not gum the system up with favor and self-enrichment. Their enrichment will come from personal achievement. The money will follow that, naturally and cleanly.

So I like young Filipino politicians. They have not been turned into peddlers of favor over public interest.

Is it age bias? Is it bias to believe that old age traps us in inflexibility, and narrows us? Makes us more conservative? Reduces our energy. Makes us wiser but slows our problem solving? Gives us cultural values that are hard to shake?

Or is it perceptive? Real. Factual. Or at least "strategic" considering the dynamics of what it means to project a Philippines "going straight."

President Aquino, before he became president, lived a leisurely lifestyle, rich and connected with the movers and shakers of the Philippines. Including the Church. But he had no striking ambitions. Not to rule. Not to get rich. He probably would have been happy to find a wife and have kids and drive the expressways in a Porsche, a quiet man living a quiet life.

That changed in 2009. Now he has better things to do, and he will have them to do for three more years. He has grown in maturity during his three years at the helm. He projects more confidence. He's more relaxed. He is firmer in his views.

President Aquino was born in 1960. He was 50 when he took office in 2010. He has the vigor of a man in the prime of his life. He is no recalcitrant old fossil unable to deal with the stresses of an important job, locked into values that hold the Philippines back.

What about some of the people listed in various categories on JoeAm's preview of the 2016 presidential election? How old will they be in 2016?

Bam Bam Aquino
Sonny Angara
Jun Abaya
Atty Alex Lacson
Gilbert Teodoro
Grace Padaca
Kim Henares
Mar Roxas
Sergio OsmeƱa III
Jejomar Binay
Conchita Carpio Morales
Ramon "Jun" Magsaysay

Does it matter? Can a 39 year-old be wise enough, schooled enough to handle the presidency? Maybe not. Maybe he has simply not been tested enough. Has not had enough time to show what he can do.

And How about a 78 year-old? Will he have the energy and health and alertness to manage a nation that presents huge challenges? Maybe not. Maybe that is at the outer edge. Mr. Magsaysay would be 84 upon leaving office.

John Kennedy was 43 when he became president of the United States. Barak Obama was 48. Their youthful vigor undoubtedly contributed to their attractiveness as leaders. The presidency makes you old. The long hours, the stresses, the relentless reading to study up on issues. Do before and after photos of American presidents and you can see the toll they pay.

Vigor. Youthful vigor. It's a job qualification, I think.

But there are other advantages to having a young president than simply energy. There is the marketing advantage, the "presentation" of the nation to a world that has long looked at the Philippines as a hamstrung disappointment, an underachiever locked into the dysfunction of strife and inefficiency.

Today, for this time in history, the Philippines needs to project its youth to the outer world. It's vibrancy, its new blood, its vigor, its brains.

It needs to make a statement. We are the future. Here now. Fresh. Clean. Young. Ambitious.

No longer tied to the past. No longer muddled in confusion and coups and corruption.

It continues the breakout for honest values, purposeful work and achievement. Begun by Noynoy Aquino, carried forward by the young, the capable, the intelligent and the good.

That's why you will find that JoeAm assigns an advantage to youth as he works to identify First Class presidential prospects.

photosources: gulfnews