Saturday, March 31, 2012

Numbers-based case backfires on prosecutors

People's Journal & People's Tonight
March 31, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

Sensing that their prosecution counterparts are laggards in math, the defense lawyers of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona have adroitly shifted the focus of the Senate trial to hard numbers, literally counting beans in front of the prosecutors' faces.

Now the House prosecutors are red in the face, but they have nobody else to blame but themselves.  Having launched their impeachment case on an audacious numbers theory, the prosecutors failed to anticipate that Mr. Corona's best defense would be numbers-based as well.

Cavalry charge

Responding to the cavalry charge mounted by President Aquino to impeach the Chief Justice, 188 members of the House of Representatives had sent eight articles of impeachment to the Senate after only several hours of a PowerPoint presentation that excluded the usual parliamentary debates.

“If you are for P-Noy, sign.  If you are against P-Noy, don't sign,” House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales reportedly cajoled the congressmen.  Several did not sign the impeachment complaint for various reasons, alleging among other things being “slow readers.”

For wielding a slow pen, several congressmen lost powerful committee chairmanships and  pork barrel allocations, Rep. Tobias Tangco, testifying as a defense witness, told the Senate impeachment court.

More computer numbers

Having started with the power of numbers, the House prosecutors unveiled a computer printout from the Land Registration Authority listing 45 alleged real estate properties of Mr. Corona.

Later the prosecutors consented to whittling down the list to 21 after the LRA chief, a self-confessed political protege of the President, admitted that the list had come from a random search done by a computer after being fed the names “Corona” and “Castillo.”  The latter surname is the family name of Mr. Corona's in-laws by marriage of a Corona daughter.

The defense methodically pared down the list of 21 to five after introducing evidence that Mr. Corona actually owned only five, as he had declared in his affirmative-defense reply to the Senate court.

The diminishing numbers have become the butt of Internet jokes, with some netizens suggesting that people should bet on the disappearing numbers in the ongoing lottery.

Cavalier arithmetic

Earlier, the prosecutors prematurely rested their case after introducing evidence for only three of the eight alleged constitutional crimes, bravely asserting it was all they needed to get a conviction.

Several senators called attention to the prosecutors' seeming cavalier approach to basic trial mathematics after they presented only 25 witnesses out of a promised 100.

The prosecutors' theory of the case---if there was one at the beginning---seemed to diminish with the numbers.  But they had more numbers up their sleeves.

All in the family

Before the Senate adjourned for its summer recess, a polling firm unveiled a survey, taken before the defense started presenting their case, allegedly showing that 47 percent of people polled believed Mr. Corona would be found guilty.  

The survey firms's owners are relatives of Mr. Aquino, critics replied in dismissing the results as part of the propaganda battle to influence the senators.  Six of the incumbent senators are running for reelection in the 2013 off-year elections.  The popularity of their impeachment vote is definitely something to think about in planning their political careers.

In the eight trial days before the recess, the defense lawyers had methodically presented evidence to show that the Corona family had enough legitimate income to pay for their real estate acquisitions.  But they still have to explain the source of Mr. Corona's dollar accounts, which they promised to do when trial resumes beginning May 7.

Numbers don't lie

Even if they are cavalierly treating their numbers, the prosecutors intuitively know where the defense's numbers strategy will go:  Mr. Corona has nothing to hide, the numbers will say.  And the prosecutors are increasingly getting worried,  finding it necessary to call a series of press conferences after the recess to punch holes through the defense's numbers.

But the defense lawyers are unfazed.  Before the break, they predicted they may not need to call to the witness stand either Mr Corona or his wife.  The evidence has established all they needed to show: the unassailable logic of numbers.

Numbers do not lie, the defense panel seems to be saying. That is a mathematically legal argument that the  numbers-impaired prosecutors will find hard to count.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Power crisis will get worse before it gets better

March 29, 2012

By Winston A. Marbella

President Aquino has taken a significant first step to solving the crippling power shortage in Mindanao.  He admits that the government response has  been too little too late.

Admitting that a problem exists is the first step to solving the problem.  Now the hard part begins.

But things will get worse before they get better, according to experts and lawmakers.

The President admitted Sunday that the government neglected to address the power shortage in Mindanao and appealed to the people to be patient amid the rolling blackouts that last up to 15 hours daily in some areas.

Government neglect

“I have to admit, we have neglected the power problem in Mindanao,” Mr. Aquino said in a speech  during the birthday party of Imus, Cavite Rep. Erineo Maliksi, the Manila Standard reported.

The President said it would take time before measures could be put in place, noting that the P2.6-billion rehabilitation of the Agus VI hydroelectric power plant would take up to 30 months.

“I did not promise that in two days we will already have solved the problem,” he said. “It is not like we are changing light bulbs here.”

Mr. Aquino said that the Agus VI transformer, built in 1953, was good for only 30 years, or until 1983, and that the past presidents, including his mother, the late Corazon Aquino, never addressed the problem.

“A thought just crossed my mind. Thirty years ago I was just fresh out of college. They [the past administrations] should have fixed this problem, so I do not have to deal with it now,” he said.

Power barges

Two proposed coal-fired power plants with a combined capacity of 300 megawatts would take two years to build, Mr. Aquino said.  “It’s not like you can just go to Home Depot and buy a building to house the power plants.”

The most immediate measure, Mr. Aquino said, was to build power barges, but the government was studying the proper rate mix to come up with an acceptable price for the electricity generated.

Earlier, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras said the power shortage in Mindanao would last until 2013.

Energy summit urged

On Friday, the Mindanao Business Council, the umbrella organization of all business groups in Mindanao, urged President Aquino to call an energy summit immediately.

Ramon Floresta, an MBC member and president of the Kidapawan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the business community had earlier rejected proposals to privatize the power plants in Mindanao.

“The Mindanao Business Council and the Regional Development Councils want the President himself to convene and host the Energy Summit because drastic actions are already needed,” Floresta said.

Floresta, also co-chairman of the Regional Development Council, said the business community in Mindanao opposed a plan by the Lopez group to buy the Agus hydrothermal plant in Lanao because they raised power rates by 70 percent after acquiring the Mt. Apo geothermal plant.

“Our businesses here in Mindanao are being killed. The small establishments have already closed shop,” Floresta said.

“As if being powerless is not enough, we now contend with paying more than P8 per kilowatt hour after the Lopezes increased the rates by 70 percent. The increase in the rates is aggravated by eight-hour daily blackouts.”

Higher prices

On Monday lawmakers warned Mindanao consumers and businesses to brace for higher power rates.

House Deputy Minority Leader and Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said the warning came from President Aquino himself when he said consumers in the region “should share the burden” of power costs.

The statement, she said, meant that Mr. Aquino would not subsidize the cost of power to Mindanao consumers amid accusations that the power shortage was artificial.


Agham Rep. Angelo Palmones, a member of the House committee on Mindanao affairs, said: “Making the people suffer crippling power outages is one effective way of making them submit to higher power rates. It is a simple case of ‘You want electricity? Then you must be willing to pay the costs no matter how exorbitant and expensive it will be.’”

The electricity generated from power barges, the short-term solution proposed by the government, would cost P13 to P14 per kilowatt-hour  as opposed to only P3 per kilowatt-hour for the power from hydroelectric plants.

The administration wants all Mindanao power plants privatized, but congressmen and senators are opposing their sale, resulting in a stalemate and eight-hour daily blackouts.

The Agus-Pulangui hydroelectric plants, for example, could generate 600 megawatts at full capacity if it were rehabilitated, enough to wipe out the 167-megawatt deficit in the region.

Palmones said the P3 billion needed to rehabilitate the plant could come from savings, or Congress might get the amount from the government’s P39.8-billion dole to the poor to alleviate poverty.

Story location:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mindanao-ing back to Cory's 'Dark Ages'

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Tonight
March 27, 2012

In recess from the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the Senate has finally taken notice of the crippling power blackouts in Mindanao, affecting 25 million Filipinos, and all eyes are turning to Sen. Sergio Osmena III, chair of the committee on energy, for “Noynoying” the problem.

Beyond Osmena, who is being prodded to action by both senators and a coalition of Congressmen from Mindanao, the blame fingers are pointing at President Aquino and his energy secretary, Jose Rene Almendras, who both stand accused of sitting on the problem for years---pointedly expressed in the current pejorative idiom, Noynoying, which has hit the pages of international publications.

Worse, the problem has affected the once sacrosanct image of the beloved President Cory Aquino, whose administration got hit by similar massive power blackouts.


The acute power shortage needs immediate intervention by the national government to avoid "widespread disastrous consequences," Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said. 

Senators, congressmen and Mindanao residents suffering daily power outages lasting up to eight hours have warned Mr. Aquino that the country could be thrown back to the “Dark Ages” of his mother’s administration in the late 1980s.

“If government is not quick in its response and reactions, we could be thrown back to the Dark Ages of the Cory administration,” Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III told the Manila Standard.

He was referring to the crippling brownouts that lasted up to 12 hours during the administration of President Corazon Aquino.

The late President Ferdinand Marcos had ordered the construction of the controversial Bataan Nuclear Power Plant that would add 630 megawatts to the Luzon grid to avoid an impending power crisis. But Mrs. Aquino ordered that plant mothballed because it was allegedly graft-ridden, although she did not order the building of other power plants to replace it.

'Worse than Cory's time'

“I agree with Senator Sotto, but we expect even darker ages because the eight-hour blackouts during the Cory administration were the worst for Mindanao,” said Ramon Floresta, president of the Kidapawan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

“Something drastic has to be done,” said Sen. Manuel Villar, who noted that privatizing the government’s renewable energy plants in the region had failed in producing more efficient or affordable power. 

“We have to let other players that will seriously invest in the power sector to bring uninterrupted power and help bring down the cost of power,” Villar said.  “The opposite is happening here. After we sold the plants, the prices went up and the power outages began.”

Conspiracy theory

Villar said he supported a Senate investigation being sought by Sen. Francis Escudero to find out if, indeed, the power outages were artificial and aimed at forcing the government to sell its remaining power plants.

“Just because this is not happening in the metropolis (Metro Manila) does not mean this problem is not important,” Escudero said. 

“One-fourth of our population lives in Mindanao. Immediate intervention must be given to this persisting problem given the already volatile peace problem in Mindanao.”

Escudero, a member of the Joint Congressional Power Commission, has asked the Senate committee on energy led by Senator Osmena to look into the power situation in Mindanao.

What about hydro?

Sen. Loren Legarda said the power shortage in Mindanao had been a long-standing issue.  

“It is not as if the problems became evident only this month. We have the Agus Pulangi hydro facility, still owned by the government, which can provide additional capacities once rehabilitated,” she said.  “The government cannot just put this facility to waste.”

“There is dormant asset lying in the electric cooperatives nationwide who have an asset base of P130 billion at any given time,” Escudero said.

Simple solution

“The Agus-Pulangi hydro power plants, which supply half of Mindanao’s power demand, need to be rehabilitated for at least P3 billion so they can generate additional capacity,” he said.

Senator Pimentel III recently pressed for an inquiry into the island-wide crisis amid conflicting reasons cited by government energy officials.  

The National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, which has drawn heavy criticism for the acute power outages, has repeatedly blamed the “lack of supply generated by power plants” for the shortages


But the Mindanao Development Authority (MDA) has accused the NGCP of creating “an artificial power shortage.” 

The MDA chairperson, former General Santos City Rep. Luwalhati Antonino, said the reason for this was that the NGCP wanted the government to privatize the Augus-Pulangi hydro power plants which would supply half of the island’s power demand. 

Pimentel noted that DoE officials, however, "are singing a different tune." They claim the acute power shortage could be traced to the electric cooperatives’ refusal to contract and purchase the necessary capacities in their areas.

With these different tunes, the forthcoming congressional investigations may end up waltzing to an old tune, “Dancing in the Dark.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mindanao-ing means running around in the dark

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Tonight
March 26, 2012

My friends from Mindanao say we are running around in circles---in the dark!--- trying to figure out the power crisis in Mindanao.  But anybody who knows anything about the power situation in Mindanao insists it is caused by what former Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri once elliptically described as “regulatory capture”---meaning the power monopolies have captured the  government agencies that are supposed to regulate them.

My sources pointed my attention to this recent news story in the Manila Standard Today to illustrate what they mean.  Electrifying excerpts from the report:

“The power shortage in Mindanao will last until 2013 even if the government moves to increase the base load capacity on the island by contracting more power barges and building coal-fired power plants, an official said Friday.
“'In 2014 to 2016 you have enough committed projects,' Energy Secretary Rene Almendras said during a Cabinet meeting led by President Benigno Aquino III. 'Our shortage really here is in 2012 and 2013.'
“Almendras said two coal-fired plants that will be built with a combined generating capacity of 300 megawatts would be operational only in 2014.
“A temporary solution to plug the power shortage on the island would be to contract at least seven power barges and rehabilitate the old transformers of the Agus VI hydroelectric plant.
“Almendras said two of Therma Marine Inc.’s power barges with a capacity of 100 megawatts each could be contracted. Therma Marine could also sign a contract with the electric cooperatives in Mindanao to deliver another 85 megawatts of power.
“Mr. Aquino, however, said contracting the power barges would result in higher electricity costs in Mindanao.  'You will have to share the burden,' he said.

Capacity available
“Meanwhile, the Energy Department on Friday said it had released the circular that would result in the freeing up of as much as 300 megawatts of electricity to plug the power shortage in Mindanao.
“The circular orders state-run National Power Corp. and the other power suppliers in Mindanao to make all available capacities for the use of the Mindanao grid. Mindanao was short of 150 megawatts of power as of Friday.
“Meanwhile, the lawmakers from Mindanao, upset over the crippling power shortage on the island, on Friday demanded the ouster of Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and other Energy Department officials for their supposed gross incompetence and dereliction of duty....

House investigation
“'We have to investigate to know what is going on,' Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said as he supported moves seeking to end Mindanao’s power shortage.
“Mindanao’s lawmakers are demanding the ouster of Almendras and the top officials of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp., National Power Corp., and the Energy Department’s agencies.
“'Almendras and his people allowed the power crisis to happen and worsen despite the fact that they are aware of the power shortage in Mindanao upon the assumption of President Aquino in 2010,' AGHAM party-list Rep. Angelo Palmones said.

'Cover up'
“House Minority Leader and Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay, a member of the House committee on energy, felt the same way.  'This is a very clear case of noynoying the Mindanao power problem,' she said.
“'No amount of technical, economic and financial justification is acceptable. Lying and resorting to disinformation and deceit to cover up the mess won’t work at all,' she added.
“'We cannot blame Mindanao’s lawmakers for seeking the ouster of these incompetent, insensitive and noynoying energy officials who are inflicting so much damage and suffering to the people of Mindanao.'
“Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong said Almendras and the other officials responsible for the power outages in Mindanao should resign immediately.  'If Secretary Almendras neglects to solve the problem in Mindanao, then he should resign,' said Datumanong, member of the House committee on Mindanao Affairs.  'Clearly, Secretary Almendras has failed to solve the power shortage in Mindanao again.… They were all aware of the power shortage and requirements of Mindanao.'

'Human greed'
“Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexi Nograles said the power shortage in many parts of Mindanao was a crime against the people.  'Mindanao could not be lacking in power sources,' he said.  'I hope it is not human greed that is causing all our woes.'”

Mt Nograles may be on to something here.  Secretary Neri implied that much when he said the government regulators have been “captured” by the oligarchic power monopolies they are supposed to regulate.  Maybe the House investigators will be able to speak in plainer English.

Story location:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Trial takes a pause that refreshes

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Tonight
March 25, 2012

If one can only get past Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago's shrill lyric-soprano voice, one can learn a host of life-changing lessons, tuition-free, to last a legal lifetime. 

But one has to keep an open ear to benefit from Senator Santiago's legal perorations, as one has to be discerning to catch the wisdom of the years that flow freely from the off-the-cuff rulings of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (A classic was Enrile's reply to Chief House Prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas, who had the gumption to ask Enrile for his legal citations: “A product of my own mind!”).

Both Enrile and Santiago are erudite no-nonsense legal scholars whose lives exemplify a devotion to the law rarely find these days.  And both have found in the law the culmination of a life's work that will benefit generations to come, whether as lawyers or legislators, or simply as ordinary citizens enjoying the fruits of the democratic freedoms that have been enriched by persons such as them.

Senator Enrile is playing out the last act of a checkered political career that shines in its devotion to the law.  Senator Santiago is moving on to a nine-year term as a judge in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, a job she would cherish to cap a career replete with a mastery of constitutional law, the Rules of Court, and criminal procedure. 

Our laws and jurisprudence are so much the richer  because of these two intellectual giants who carved out of modest beginnings outstanding careers through hard work and scholarly discipline.

Just another day in court

As he prepared to take on what is probably the most pivotal job in his  political career as presiding officer in the historic impeachment trial of a Chief Justice, Enrile was typically matter-of-factly. 

“I want to to have an open, clear, scene mind,” Enrile said as he prepared to curl up with impeachment books he had set aside.  “That has always been my method whenever I handle a case.  I do not watch any television.  I do not (listen to) the radio.  I read.  I study the case.  I study the rules so that I'm ready to handle the trial.”

Quest for impartiality

Other senators employed various methods to prepare themselves for the trial.  For Sen. Pia Cayetano, a soul mate of Senator Santiago's if ever there was one, the most difficult challenge was to learn how judges remain impartial while hearing cases.  She doubted that “objectivity comes naturally.”

“We are all born with our biases,” she said.  “I genuinely believe that we must learn the art of impartiality and I will actually be reading up on how to develop (it) and how judges practice (it).”

Armed with comfortable running shoes and an armful of books, she spent the pre-trial days in the cool mountain air of Baguio City to put her mind and body in shape for the trial.  She takes her job seriously.  That is why she empathized with Senator Santiago when the feisty former judge railed at the prosecutors for coming to court unprepared, trifling with the case recklessly in media to sway public opinion, and withdrawing five of their original eight articles of impeachment for lack of evidence and witnesses.

“I am terribly concerned that this might constitute unethical behavior in this trial court,” Santiago said, citing her storied experience as a trial court judge.

“That’s what the law calls frivolous when you say ‘I don’t want to present evidence on eight, I only want to present evidence on five.’ Let me remind you gentlemen, the lawyer’s oath: I will do no falsehood, not promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit or aid or consent to the same,” Santiago stormed, her sing-song voice rising.

“I was not born yesterday. We will be studied generations from now. This is a travesty. I request the secretariat to record in the journal that I said, ‘Wah!’” she said.

Sen. Serge Osmeña, a Cebuano, asked, “What’s the spelling of ‘Wah?’”

In the course of the trial, Senator Santiago dropped several practical tips during her mini-lectures.  Another practical tip she left is to keep a trial journal or diary so that lawyers will not get lost along the labyrinthine twists and turns of the legal process. 

This practical tip will be important to us also as we take a six-week Lenten break from the trial together with the senators.  Come to think of it, a daily journal will also help the senator judges keep track of the important points to remember when the defense resumes its case on May 7.

Day of reckoning

The House prosecutors say they have done enough to send Mr. Corona out of office and into shameful retirement shorn of retirement benefits.  A daily scorecard will be excellent reference when the senators decide Mr. Corona's fate around June, if schedules are met.

On Mr. Corona's day of reckoning, 23 senators will ponder his fate, their eyes blindfolded, their ears deaf to the roar of the thundering throng, armed only with the scales of justice in one hand and an avenging sword in the other, listening to a little voice in their heart called conscience, hoping to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws” with a growing lump in their throat.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fruit of Binay/Pimentel brotherhood

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Journal
March 23, 2012

It was a brotherhood born in the parliament of the streets.
In the turbulent days of the pivotal Seventies, two human rights lawyers forged a comradeship that was to last a lifetime and span two political careers  which would converge, 40 years later, in the fulfilment of one vision and two shared dreams.
The two lawyers were Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. and Jejomar C. Binay.  Their lifelong dreams converged recently, not by coincidence but by a confluence of historical events, because once upon a time in their idealistic youth they shared a vision of hope for a country and its people.
The younger man, Binay, now vice president, formally inaugurated and turned over to Pimentel, who has completed his constitutional term limits in the Senate, the leadership of the Pimentel Center for Local Governance at the University of Makati, which Binay had founded as a visionary local executive. 
It was a gift from a grateful protégé to a wise mentor, one still to reach the peak of a rising political career, the other bequeathing to another generation the wise counsel of an illustrious public servanthood.
The Pimentel Center, lovingly dubbed by local government officials who have attended its innovative programs as the Institute of Integrity, was blessed by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz and Bishop Deogracias Yniguez.  But typical of the way Binay and Pimentel worked together espousing libertarian causes, the center has been in operation for over a year, bringing its message of integrity in local governance to the far reaches of the archipelago.

High and low
Its graduates have included the rich and the lowly, famous and powerful men like Barangay Forbes Park Captain Jose Concepcion and a retired Overseas Filipino Worker like Narito Estuita, who has come home to serve his country in his twilight years.
The center is housed on the fourth floor of the main university building and boasts a formidable library on politics, biography and people-centered governance in the developing world.  Value-driven politicians like Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of Sen. Manny Villar, and retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno help form its glittering array of visiting professors.
The blessing was capped by the launching of a book, Reinventing Makati: A Vision of VP Jejomar Binay, a collaborative effort of University of the Philippines professors and U/Mak faculty headed by its president, Prof. Tomas Lopez.

Transforming a city
The book details the transformation of Makati from a sleepy municipality to one of the world’s best-run cities, largely on the bold vision and administrative skills of Mr. Binay and the boost provided by the Pimentel-authored Local Government Code, which devolved central government powers to the grass roots.
The decentralized concepts of government were forged largely in the hands-on experience of both Binay and Pimentel, who himself was mayor of Cagayan de Oro city before he was thrown in jail by the martial law regime for his advocacy of human rights.
Results-driven, hard-nosed   
As mayor of Makati, Binay built a reputation as a hard-nosed local executive whose results-driven populist orientation is examined in great detail in the book, which uses as framework another landmark book, Reinventing Government, by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler.  Students of modern political science will find Reinventing Makati a good template for replicating one city’s success in transformation leadership.
“This compilation of experiences and initiatives brings to the fore the compelling challenge for us and all government leaders and communities,” Pimentel wrote in the foreword.  “(L)ocal governments work best when led by dedicated men and women who, in good conscience, apply the principles of good governance.”
In seven months of work, the center has conducted seminars in ethics-driven governance for local government officials all over the country.  It aims to reach most of 40,000 local government units over the long term.

Changing of the guard
Two years before Senator Pimentel’s last term at the Senate ended on June 30, 2010, then Makati Mayor Binay invited his political mentor to join the University of Makati as head of the institute.  At noon of his retirement, Pimentel ended a sterling career in the Senate.  On the same day, his protege was sworn into office as vice president.
At the dedication of the Pimentel Institute a student, now vice president of the republic, paid tribute to the man who had mentored him well.  Dreams of people-centered governance, forged in brotherly struggle in the streets four decades ago, became a vision fulfilled for a senator and a vice president: an institute dedicated to good governance in a university that serves the people of a city proud of its populist heritage---a student’s lasting gift to a beloved mentor.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Budgeting for dummies

By Winston A. Marbella

March 21, 2012

The “iconoclastic” Rep. Tobias Tiangco (Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago's definition) brought to public consciousness how Malacanang uses the congressmen's pork barrel allocations as an instrument of political power.

In the congressman's gripping account of power politics at work in the real world, he recounted how the acquiescent members of the House of Representatives were herded to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona in exchange for public works projects for their constituents.

Expecting to work better on the economy this year, the government is promising a rosier economic garden next year.  It is targeting a 2013 budget of P2.006 trillion, up10.4% or P190 billion more than this year’s P1.816 trillion.

Geting involved

Like Congressman Tobias, the Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis (IDEA), Inc.  wants us to get involved in the budget process. “Beyond government initiative, however, civil society has been active in pursuing a participatory budget process,” writes Marianne Joy A. Vital , executive director of the Institute. 

“Since 2007, the Alternative Budget Initiative -- a consortium of CSOs, people’s organizations and advocacy groups led by Social Watch Philippines -- has been reaching out to legislators in Congress, proposing an “alternative budget” that reflects a more aggressive approach in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, subtracting wasteful programs and opaque lump sums that give way to rent-seeking and inefficient practices,” she says.

“But why is there so much emphasis placed on the national budget and the need for civil society engagement?” she asks.

Powerful tool

“For one, the national budget is a powerful tool in addressing the ills that plague society -- in particular, poverty, which entraps some 23.14 million people or about 26.5 percent of the total population in the country (poverty estimates from the National Statistical Coordination Board using 2009 data). When the budget is allocated properly, not only do we give the poor the chance to rise from poverty; in the long run we are also enabling a higher standard of living for society as a whole.

“Just think of all the possibilities of investing in, say, infrastructure, such as road networks, farm-to-market roads, and bridges in hard-to-reach areas. You’re not only giving families the chance to participate in market activities, you’re also taking away the roadblocks that hinder children from attending school.

“But then you need complementary investments in health and education to accommodate this demand, especially now that the conditional cash transfer program is in full swing after receiving increasing budgetary support from this present administration,” she continues.

“There are a whole lot of areas where resources can be directed. Unfortunately, the problem of scarcity dictates us to be wise in our consumption and investment decisions.


“To make such expenditures more cost-efficient, priorities need to be set -- priorities that would reflect real gaps in society and the preferences of the people on whose behalf the government serves.

“The national budget is a concrete expression of the government’s spending priorities. What better way to ensure that the people’s priorities are captured in the budget than by involving stakeholders to participate in the process of crafting it. With inputs from civil society, the budget will be more needs-based, more responsive, and more effective in pushing development.

“Inclusiveness has other merits apart from addressing the problem of information asymmetry between government and its constituents. Participation of civil society in policy-making allows transparency and accountability -- requisites of a democratic system of governance,” she stresses.

Diverging interests

“Moreover, the check-and-balance between the executive and legislative branches of government in budgeting is not enough to quell diverging interests. After all, the principal-agent problem remains an overarching issue, wherein the government through its elected officials and bureaucrats may not be able to represent the interests of constituents and maximize the latter’s satisfaction -- perhaps a product of democratic deficit credited to a flawed electoral system (but that’s a separate issue to contend with).

“This policy of the current administration thus appears to hold so much promise. Pending bills in Congress with a similar aim in view also augur well for extending this practice beyond the present term, which will definitely open up the country to a more citizen-centric regime.

“It is our hope, however, that the role of civil society in firming up the national budget will not be taken lightly. It is never enough for the people’s views to be just heard and noted, they need to be taken as real inputs in the policies set by the government,” she concludes.

Growth assumptions

The current budget assumes a gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 5-6%.  Last year, the economy  expanded by just 3.7% -- below a 4.5-5.5% forecast --  because of massive government underspending.  The  2013 budget mars a return to its 6-7% medium-term growth goal.

Other macroeconomic assumptions detailed in the budget memorandum released last week are a gross national income growth of 6.4-7.5%, up from 3.8-4.8% this year, inflation staying within 3-5%, a 364-day T-bill rate of 3-5%, and a forex rate of P42-45 per US dollar -- unchanged from this year.

Public spending, especially in infrastructure, plummeted last year because of delays in project implementation. Officials said this resulted from the government's cost reduction and anti-graft reforms.

As of November last year, the government spent only P1.346 trillion, well below the P1.711 trillion allocated for 2011. Infrastructure spending amounted to only P118.2 billion, less than half of the full-year target.
Paralysis kills.  Poverty kills.  Hunger kills.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Binay's stealth line: 'Ganito kami sa Makati'

By Winston A. Marbella

As in the old Frank Sinatra song, Vice President Jejomar C. Binay is taking it nice and easy.

Binay prefers to operate in stealth mode.  That has always been the secret of his success.

In the unpredictable world of Philippine politics, there is wisdom in staying under the radar until it is time to surface.

In Noynoy Aquino’s case, it happened right after his mother’s funeral.  The more difficult trick to read was the surprise pulled off by the vice-presidential campaign.

Binay was one of the original true believers of the Cory government.  In fact, in his presidential campaign, Aquino found no incongruity in brazenly nurturing the support of Binay’s chief campaigner, Senator Escudero. 

Binay unabashedly sought People-Power support by a perfectly timed campaign ad that showed him defiantly marching with Cory Aquino during the early days of the yellow revolution.

Math to victory

Philippine politics has always been a numbers game: Aside from the embarrassingly self-indulgent “What are we in power for?” one of the most enduring products of the Philippine experience has been the utterly pragmatic political maxim, “Politics is addition.”

Binay’s winning strategy was disarmingly based on the simple logic of numbers: He mobilized some 400 “sister cities” of Makati all over the country to harness the plurality needed to elect him vice president by some 800,000 votes.  That meant on the average only 2,000 votes per sister city---simple arithmetic, so easy to do.

The voters did not cross party lines to elect Binay as Aquino’s vice president over the equally qualified Senator Roxas simply because Binay‘s skin coloration indicated he had stayed more years under the blazing tropical sun working as a public servant.

Makati as model

The people chose Binay for a conscious reason: Aquino and Roxas were both lawmakers.  Binay’s main campaign theme was that he had aggregated many years of proven executive ability: “This is how we are in Makati,” his thematic campaign ad proclaimed.  ”I hope the whole country can be like Makati.” 

Then he rattled off a series of high-impact innovations in local governance that touched the lives of his constituents directly, including an increasingly growing segment of senior citizens.

Binay’s campaign message struck a resonant chord not only because it was refreshingly simple but also because it was accurately based on a track record of sterling public service.  Binay certainly knows how to run a city. 

Up from poverty

The campaign message implied, in the low-key, low-profile Binay style, that he may also know something about running a country, just a little bit of something to make him squeeze past Mar Roxas: his proven executive ability.

A legal-aid lawyer who unabashedly raised pigs to help his family rise from poverty, Binay was picked by Cory Aquino---figuratively sight unseen---to be officer-in-charge of the city government of Makati. 

Early on as a local executive, Binay understood the importance of education in levelling the playing field of opportunity for the poor.  One of his very first actions was to put up a publicly funded chartered school that is now the emblematic University of Makati 


The UMak, as it is endearingly known, provides quality education to poor students.  It is engagingly innovative to this day.  In July 2010, the university inaugurated the Pimentel School of Public Governance, which had waited two years for Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., to retire from politics. 

The school, now more popularly known by its moniker, the “Institute of Integrity,” trains government officials down to the barangay level in the craft of ethical governance.

Early this year, the university innovated again, launching an executive program that credits life experiences into college degrees so that undergraduate government employees could complete their career executive service eligibility requirements.


In the bombastic world of Philippine politics, Binay feels as refreshing as an April shower on a summer’s day.  The tropical sun burns you brown, but you stay comfortable in the gentle breeze. 

His political career is based on demonstrable performance.  He is like the archetypal Colombo of the old detective movies, who sort of stumbles his way to a brilliant solution of an almost perfect crime by dint of hard work and good fortune. 

In the more flamboyant world of James Bond movies, Binay is the sleeper hero who stays dormant until it is time to wake up.  Then he springs to life with eyes wide shut.

That is why it is so deceptively simple to underestimate Jojo Binay.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Poverty major plank in Binay's 2016 platform

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Journal & People's Tonight
March 20, 2012

The announcement of Vice President Jejomar Binay's powerhouse Senate candidates in 2013 marks an early assessment that the time is ripe to symbolically break with the Aquino administration.

Former Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri  admitted to be among those running under Binay’s United Alliance Party.  He made the announcement while he was in Bacolod City recently to open a regional sports meet,

Half of the 24 Senate seats will be elected in the local elections in May 2013.
Describing Binay as a “the healing president,”  an obvious swipe at Mr. Aquino's divisive political leadership, Zubiri said that Binay had stressed that they were not to be oppositionists to the administration but rather “critical collaborators.”

Powerhouse team
Besides Zubiri, those who have reportedly accepted Binay’s invitation to run under his coalition are Senators Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Gregorio Honasan, Aquilino Pimentel III and former Senators Richard Gordon and Ernesto Maceda.
The powerhouse coalition also includes Rep. Jack Enrile of Cagayan province, San Juan City Mayor Jose Victor Ejercito and Rep. Mitos Magsaysay of Zambales province.  Zubiri said that there were talks with former Rep. Cynthia Villar of Las Piñas City (Metro Manila) to join the team.
Congressman Enrile is the son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile,  Mayor Ejercito is a sibling of Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada.  Rep. Magsaysay is a popular opposition leader and a close ally of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  Rep. Villar is the wife of Sen. Manny Villar.
Yellow fever
In the 2010 presidential elections, Binay wore the color yellow, showing his support for Aquino's still-popular People Power constituency.

The early unveiling of his powerhouse senatorial team signals that Binay is charting a political course independently of Mr. Aquino.    Binay's move also implies that the administration is bogged down in politics and has neglected to address critical gut issues like jobs, poverty, rising prices, and dwindling food on the table. 
People are beginning to march in the streets---assailing “Noynoying,” or doing nothing.  Social unrest is simmering.  Political timing is critical.

Framework of platform
To better define his thoughts on governance, I sent the Vice President written interview questions last year.  Even then, he was already beginning to sound presidential, and his comments sounded like the beginnings of a platform of governance for the presidential elections of 2016.  Excerpts:

The 1986 EDSA Revolution restored democracy and gave the world a unique exercise of people power, Binay said.  But “EDSA is just half the battle won.”  The next half is fighting poverty.

“EDSA remains unfinished business.

“Unleashing the full potential of democracy requires alleviating poverty, if not eradicating it.  Democracy is nothing if it does not also democratize wealth.

“Democracy cannot thrive in a society whose population groans in abject poverty.”

“That’s what most Filipinos are.  They are poor.

“That is our greatest shame.”

 Integrated services for poor
“I am grateful to the President for giving me the opportunity to serve in two important areas of concern – housing and OFW affairs.  It allows me to contribute to the welfare of our less privileged countrymen,” Binay said. 
“There is a lot to be done in these areas, but for people-oriented programs to be more effective, we could progress into a stage where other key services for the poor can be integrated.

“I feel however that there is much more that I can do within this government and for this government. I share completely the President’s vision of rebuilding a new world from the ruins of the past administration, armed with the spirit of EDSA or People Power.”

Politics of unity
Binay identified priority programs that needed to be addressed:

“Raising our people from penury requires a comprehensive program whose design cannot be limited to those who are positioned in government.

“Every brilliant idea and strategy that comes from anywhere has to be considered, and anyone who has a positive contribution should be welcome, irrespective of affiliation and provenance. All worthy inputs should be synthesized into a coherent, unbiased, workable plan of action that leaves no stone unturned.”

Bountiful earth
“The second way to maximize, or conserve, it is to make the poor less poor. I go back to my proposition about poverty alleviation. Democracy means nothing if it does not also democratize the enjoyment of the earth’s bounties,” Binay said pointedly.

Very clearly, Binay is charting a path that builds on the legacy of People Power.  But he is differentiating himself very clearly, too, away from a politics of political vengeance to a populist politics of serving the poor through well-thought-out programs culled from the best and brightest ideas of the body politic.  Clearly a winning approach for a people growing weary of traditional politicians with muscle-bound power-politics brains.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Eyes wide shut, it's Binay in 2016

By Winston A. Marbella

Pinoy (Watch)Dog
Los Angeles, CA
March 18, 2012

It is so easy to underestimate Vice President Jejomar Binay.

In the flamboyant world of Philippine politics, the Vice President's low-key, low-profile style simply... well... underwhelms.

That is why it is so easy to underestimate him.
When a Manila broadsheet broke the news recently that he was running for president in 2016, the Vice President was quick to explain that what he  meant was that the presidency had crossed his mind, but that he still had to decide when the right time came.
He said so again lately when the topic came up again.

Nice and easy

He is taking it nice and easy, as in the old Frank Sinatra ditty.

He is not officially running---yet---but he is making all the right moves and saying all the right things. 

He worries for the Overseas Filipino Worker.  He worries about the economy.

He rarely talks politics.  He talks about jobs and poverty and bringing more food to the table---all the right gut issues in a country reeling in unemployment, grinding poverty, and children dying of malnutrition. 

In fact, his entire political career has been built on being easily underestimated, and that is easy to understand.  Being high profile is visibly dangerous in a political game as volatile as the one we have in the Philippines.

So Binay prefers to operate in stealth mode.  That has always been the secret of his phenomenal success.  But sometimes his eager followers let the cat out of the bag inadvertently.

Zubiri's zeal
In Bacolod City recently to open a regional sports meet,  former Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri  admitted to be among those running under Binay’s United Alliance Party. 
Zubiri said the team was still a candidate short because they have yet to fill up the 13th position that will be vacated by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who is joining the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands shortly.
Half of the 24 Senate seats will be elected in May 2013.
Besides Zubiri, those who have reportedly accepted Binay’s invitation to run under his coalition are Senators Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Gregorio Honasan, Aquilino Pimentel III and former Senators Richard Gordon and Ernesto Maceda.
The powerhouse coalition also includes Rep. Jack Enrile of Cagayan province, San Juan City Mayor Jose Victor Ejercito and Rep. Mitos Magsaysay of Zambales province.
Congressman Enrile is the son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile,  Mayor Ejercito is a sibling of Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada.  Rep. Magsaysay is a popular opposition leader and a close ally of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Zubiri said that there were talks with Sen. Allan Peter Cayetano and Rep. Cynthia Villar of Las Piñas City (Metro Manila) to join the team. For the 13th post, Zubiri said it was reserved for another candidate from the Nacionalista Party of Sen. Manuel Villar, husband of Rep. Villar.

'Critical collaborators'
Zubiri was in Bacolod as keynote speaker during the opening of the Western Visayas Regional Athletic Association Meet.  He said that Binay’s United Alliance would include political parties and independent candidates who were not allied with President Aquino’s Liberal Party, indicating they were ready to chart a course independent of the President's.
In the 2010 presidential elections, Binay wore the color yellow, showing his support for Aquino's People Power constituency that he had inherited from his late mother, President Cory.

In revealing their plans, Zubiri said that Binay had stressed that they were not to be oppositionists to the administration but rather “critical collaborators.”

He described Binay as “the healing president,” taking a swipe at Aquino's divisive leadership in sending former President Arroyo to jail and having the House impeach her appointee, Chief Justice Corona.

United for Mindanao
Zubiri said he had made peace with Senator Pimentel, who replaced him at the Senate after he resigned amidst allegations of cheating.

“Koko and I have agreed not to fight each other for the benefit of Mindanao,” Zubiri said.  They both come from Mindanao.

He also said that while Escudero was perceived to be a close friend of President Aquino, the senator from Sorsogon had decided to run under Binay’s party because he was “not comfortable with other members of the Liberal Party.”

Zubiri said that the administration party would likely field Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman.

Going by traditional timetables, it might seem that the unveiling of Binay's powerhouse senatorial team defies conventional logic.  He has gotten out of stealth mode quite quickly.  Why?
Maybe he detects that the time is ripe to start moving on his own, independently of Mr. Aquino.  Does he feel that the administration is bogged down in politics and has neglected the economy?  People are beginning to march in the streets---assailing “Noynoying,” or doing nothing.  Social unrest is simmering.  Soon it will boil over.
It is so easy to underestimate Jojo Binay.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Trial turns to numbers for truth

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Journal
March 18, 2012

There is a classic maneuver in chess – pedestrianly called a “waiting move” – that is considered one of the strongest moves a player can make in this game of strategy.  The particular application I recall was a quiet B-R1 (or was it N-R1? Chess historians are welcome to weigh in) that world champion Anatoly Karpov used in a championship match (against Boris Spassky, as I recall it).
The game had reached dynamic equilibrium, and the player who dared break the impasse ran the risk of weakening his position and losing the game.  Karpov found just the right kind of move  – and it merited an exclamation point (!) for its elegant simplicity  (In chess, “!” means a brilliant move.)
The move maintained the tension in the center without compromising his position.  Karpov's opponent had no such move available.  He punched through the front lines, unraveled the position, and eventually lost the game.
Consider, in turn, the Oriental approach to life in general.  There is innate beauty in a minimalist Zen landscape, for example, where a boulder  just stands powerfully amid a sea of sand simulating the concentric ripples created by a pebble tossed in a pond.
Going deeper in meditation, the Oriental mind contemplates space, not as the absence of anything, but the presence of nothing.
A contemplative game, chess invented “nothing”--the classic waiting move! 

'Tyranny of numbers'

The “tyranny of numbers” concept traces its roots to ancient Greece.  The author David Boyle has written a book using the phrase for its title, adding a biting subtitle, “Why counting can’t make us happy.”
Boyle tells the story of the 18th-century prodigy Jedediah Buxton in his first trip to the theater to watch a performance of Richard III.  Asked whether he had enjoyed it, Buxton replied that the dances had taken 5,202 steps to complete and that the actors had uttered 12,445 words.

Sound and fury
Boyle says in dismay: “Nothing about what the words said, about the winter of our discontent made glorious summer; nothing about the evil hunchback king.”  He continues:
“Buxton is in some ways a fearsome symbol of the modern age, in which we count everything but see the significance of nothing.
“...we encounter such ‘calculating’ man-machines almost every day: the  academic who refuses to pass judgment on any problem, no matter how urgent, because there hasn’t been enough research; the politician who is so obsessed with opinion polls he no longer trusts his gut instincts...”

Moral crutch
“The more we count, the less we understand,” Boyle asserts.  “Microscopic differences in definition create big effects.
“We have reached a point where measuring things doesn’t work anymore.  It is a counting crisis, born out of using numbers to distill the sheer complexity of life into something manageable.”
Boyle concludes: “The closer you get to measuring what’s important, the more it escapes you.  Because number-crunching brings a kind of blindness with it.” 

The Cuevas strategy 

At the height of the prosecution assault in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, we were deluged by the seemingly unassailable logic of numbers.  The prosecutors numbed us with Mr. Corona's income tax returns, his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN), and how these numbers purportedly do not add up to justify Mr. Corona's alleged properties, now reduced by the prosecutors from a high of 45 to a puny list as they stand.

A lawyer analyzing the trial on television observed that lawyers are not normally comfortable with numbers.  That would seem to be the understatement of the trial, at least in reference to the prosecutors.

The promised 100 witnesses.  They rested their case with a couple of dozen.  In their unbridled exuberance, they filed eight articles of impeachment; they rested with three (more like 2 and one-third), give or take a few decimal points. 

Elusive numbers 

The prosecutors boasted they had presented enough evidence to convict Mr. Corona and throw him out of office to face the hangman's noose.  It looks like the lawyer's observation about numbers easily slipping past lawyer's fingers holds true, especially if you did not take your numbers seriously.

In the context of the impeachment trial,  the numbers being presented by the defense  are turning to shreds the numbers earlier presented by the prosecution to prove Mr. Corona's alleged wrongdoing.  Former Justice Serafin Cuevas, lead defense counsel, waited patiently for the prosecution to exhaust their offense  based solely on numbers.  Now the same numbers are unraveling against the onslaught of the defense's more solid numbers..
When taken in context, numbers provide a way to ascertain the truth and lead to a just verdict. That is the dilemma that now confronts the prosecutors:  Having rested their case on the power of numbers, what will they do now that the same numbers are being offered in Mr. Corona's defense?  If they demolish the numbers, they destroy their own case. Let's watch them contort in open court.  Their number is up.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mr. Justice Cuevas starts counting beans

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Journal
March 17,2012

If I didn't know any better, I could easily jump to the conclusion that Mr. Justice Serafin Cuevas' strategy to save Chief Justice Renato Corona from impeachment is to bore all of us to death---senators included—-with lessons in Accounting 101.

A lawyer who serves as legal resource in the government television station's live coverage of the trial remarked that lawyers are not normally good at numbers.

In a full-page interview in a national broadsheet, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile recalled that a renowned professor for his masteral degree in law at Harvard once gave him books to read on managerial accounting because the professor sensed that the student could not cope with the intricacies of corporate law.

Using these two examples, I am inclined to agree that mathematics may not be a lawyer's cup of tea.

'In due time'

I also recall that at the height of the prosecution assault on Mr. Corona's Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth, or SALN for short, two of Mr. Corona;s spokespersons. lawyers Karen Jimeno and Tranquil Salvador, had been forced to announce that they had examined  Mr. Corona's assets and income and that they do add up.  They promised to show us “in due time” when their turn came up at the trial.

Well, that time has come, and we are all falling asleep watching the bean counters add up the numbers.  It looks like they will be at it till Holy Week, and now is as good a time as any for some acts of sacrifice.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estada was first to express impatience over the slow pace of adding up the numbers,  He has been joined by Senators Alan Peter Cayetano. Ralph Recto and TG Guingona, who have volunteered their services to help the court and/or prosecution and defense lawyers make some sense of the litany of numbers.

I can see no reprieve from the drudgery of counting beans until we are all numbed by the numbers.  But I can see no other way for Justice Cuevas, for all his legal wizardry, to alleviate the ordeal.  Beans are beans, in whatever shape or form.


Before the trial started, Sen. Joker Arroyo warned the public that the Corona impeachment trial may not be as spectacular or as riveting as the trial of President Joseph Estrada more than 10 years ago.

The senator based his prognosis on the contradictory nature of the evidence in each case.  In the Estrada trial, there were spectacular allegations of ill-gotten mansions,  illegal gambling payolas, and fictitious bank accounts. Arroyo described them “questions of fact” which the public can easily visualize.

In the Corona trial, the original articles of impeachment focused on interpretations of a string of Supreme Court rulings allegedly pointing to bias by the Chief Justice in favor of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  In other words, issues involving questions of law, which might excite lawyers but bore layman to death.

Removing the peripheral issues, the bone of contention seems to have become whether impeachment is a political, judicial, legal or constitutional animal.
Constitutional process

Boiled down to its core, impeachment is a legal process vested by the Constitution solely on Congress for the purpose of removing certain specified high public officials from office.

Conviction results only in removal from office and does hot preempt the filing of appropriate criminal and civil cases later.

Strict legal procedures are prescribed by the Constitution to ensure due process and protect the rights of the accused.

A conviction by the Senate results in the removal from office of the impeached official.  The person may also be disqualified from holding another public office.  After removal, the official may still be prosecuted for crimes in a regular court without violating a constitutional guarantee against double jeopardy, or being tried for the same offense twice.

The Philippines adopted its provisions on impeachment from the US Constitution, according to Carmelo V. Sison and Florin T. Hilbay, co-editors of the book “Impeachment Q&A” published by the University of the Philippines Law Complex in 2000.

Limiting power

“In the United States, the framers of the Constitution incorporated a provision for impeachment to prevent the President from becoming too powerful,” the authors said.  “They limited his authority and gave Congress the means to keep him within constitutional limits by establishing a mechanism for his peaceful removal from office.”

The authors cautioned: “However, they saw to it that this (power) may not be used readily to oust a President (and other impeachable officials) from office simply because of power politics.  Impeachment under the Constitution requires fairness and adherence to constitutional standards.”

The care that the framers of the Philippine Constitution placed against the use of impeachment for power politics is reflected in the  requirement of a two-thirds vote by the Senate to convict, or 16 senators.

Nobody said anything about the ability to count beyond 16 will also be needed.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pork barrel as instrument of political coercion

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Tonight
March 15, 2012

As if on cue, the defense in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona responded to the prodding of Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada to get on with their case and cut the preliminaries.

The movie actor Estrada was reacting to the opening-day witness of the defense, Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco, who narrated in grisly detail how President Aquino and his cohorts in the House of Representatives railroaded the impeachment of Mr. Corona via an hours-long PowerPoint presentation that excluded any form of parliamentary debate.
In the gripping account of Congressman Tiangco,   House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales brushed aside all debate on the “blitzkrieg” impeachment vote by the dismissive admonition: “If you sign, you are with P-Noy. If you don't, you are against him.”

In Congressman Tiangco's mind, it was clear what his choices were: stay with the ruling majority or uphold the independence of the Supreme Court from the heavy hand of a vindictive President marshalling his political clout in the House.  Tiangco resigned from the majority the next day and gave up his committee chairmanship.

Hero or heel?

The hypertensive Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, now as cool as a cucumber without the legal ineptitude of the prosecution to torment her, took the floor on the second day of the defense to pay tribute to Congessman Tiangco's act of political courage. 

Now he will either be hailed as a hero for standing up for the Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary from intimidation  by the executive and legislative branches. 

Or he will be condemned by his colleagues in the House as a heel or a traitor for spilling the beans, so to speak, of the unholy alliance between the President and the congressmen predicated solely on the juicy pork barrel money dispensed by Malacanang.

Senator Santiago paid Tiangco the ultimate compliment by calling him an iconoclast.  He gallantly indulged her by asking for a definition.  An iconoclast, she said, is one who seeks to attack or destroy popular ideas or institutions.  Such as the pork barrel system or the conspiracy of silence in the House.

The exchange between two iconoclasts and fiercely independent solons was as soothing as rain on a   summer's day.  But several senators were not amused.  They asked, What is the relevance of all this to the matter at hand, which is the impeachment of the Chief Justice?

On the surface, nothing.  Until one remembers a stinging mini-lecture that  Senator Santiago had delivered on the prosecution on the second week of the trial.

The storyline

“Don't you have a trial brief?” she asked as she deessed down the prosecutors.  For the uninitiated, a trial brief is not a piece of legal undergarment.  Rather, it is an outline of the case the prosecutors intended to prove. 

“What is your story?” Senator Santiago pressed on, seeking to make some sense of the prosecutors' legal meandering.  “What is the narrative you want us to believe?”

Senator Santiago was actually trying to help the prosecutors by reminding them of basic trial technique.   

But what was she talking about?  The story?  The narrative?   The credible, believable storyline?  What is this, a class in creative writing?  

A court case, my lawyer friends tell me, is like  our favorite novels, movies or teleserye.  The reason we love them is because they have a storyline that grips our imagination.
A trial is a metaphor of life, a distilled rendition of life's joys and tragedies, and everything else in between.  This is why we love watching those gripping television serials.  A good lawyer, whether for the prosecution or defense, constructs his theory of the case in similar vein to grip the audience or judges.

The story unfolds.  There are flesh and blood characters.  Their lives intertwine.  Complications build.  A crisis erupts.  Then a climax and resolution.

Beyond the intricacies of the plot, the characters, both lovable and despicable, lend texture, tone and tint   to the story.  Raw human emotions explode before our very eyes, consuming us, transfixing us, transforming us in the end together with the protagonists.

The motive

On the weekend before the opening day of the defense in the Senate trial, the Chief Justice supplied the flesh-and-blood texture to the conflict.  Why is Mr. Aquino out to impeach him? 

It's not because of some high-fallutin' objective like cleaning up the judiciary.  It's plain and simple vendetta against the Supreme Court for breaking apart the vast Hacienda Luisita, the crown jewel of the Cojuangco-Aquino feudal power and wealth.

The all-important human element of the story--- the motivation, as we call it in creative-writing class---has to be supplied to the audience, otherwise the story will be incomplete, not make sense, and sound incredible, even unbelievable.

We have seen the opening scenes of the defense storyline.  It's simple and straightforward.  They will show that Mr. Corona and his family had enough legitimate sources of money to afford all his properties.  They will have to make it interesting enough lest we fall asleep and switch to our favorite teleserye. Never mind the judges.

Senator Estrada: 'Let's get on with it!'

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Journal
March 14, 2012

On the very first day of the defense at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada prodded them to end the preliminaries and get on with the core issues, which to him were Mr. Corona's bank accounts.

The defense had consumed the entire day presenting the testimony of Rep. Tobias Tiangco, who narrated in great detail how the House of Representatives had railroaded the impeachment of Mr. Corona via an hours-long PowerPoint presentation that excluded a discussion of the complaint.

It was clear to him, the congressman said, that the objective was to remove Mr. Corona because President Aquino wanted his head.

A movie actor, Senator Estrada is familiar with scripts.  He already knows where the story is headed, so he wants to get to the climactic part pronto.

But the Corona defense is clearly following a game plan, what lawyers call the theory of the case.  For us who are more familiar with movies and novels and television soap, this is called the narrative arc.

A story begins, the plot thickens, the complications erupt, culminating in a resolution at the climax.  This is the narrative arc, the story trajectory that consumes the public.  Watch the next episodes as the story unravels.

Roots of conflict

On the dock for what could be a career-ending impeachment trial, Mr. Corona---in a media blitz over the weekend---gave the public an inside peek into the roots of his conflict with President Aquino.  And this was a unanimous Supreme Court decision (14-0) that gave the sprawling crown jewel of the Cojuangco-Aquino feudal wealth, Hacienda Luisita, back to its tenant-farmers. 

Mr. Aquino flatly denies this, but the issue of just compensation for the hacienda owners will still be decided by the Supreme Court even after Corona and other justices are removed from office by impeachment, which the House of Representatives has threatened to do.

Mr. Corona said the landmark Luisita decision, which implemented a constitutional mandate for land reform, was what triggered the President to have him impeached by allies in the House of Representatives.

At Manila's gates

Lost in the furor over the impeachment trial and Supreme Court decision upholding the right of farmers to own the land they till is the reason why we have agrarian reform at all.

In the turbulent Fifties, the communists were literally knocking at the gates of Manila, threatening to take it over.

The communist insurgency was largely fueled by the feudal land ownership system the American Commonwealth government in the Philippines inherited from  over 300 years of Spanish rule. 

Seeking to balance the economic and political power of the ilustrados, the Americans supported the rise of the middle class composed mostly of Filipinos with Chinese roots (See Cacique Democracy in the Philippines by Benedict Anderson).

This was how the Cojuangcos of Tarlac came to own the vast Hacienda Luisita estate from its Spanish owners. 

Conditional loan

President Ramon Magsaysay considered it the centerpiece of his anti-insurgency campaign to remove the mass base of the communists by breaking up the feudal landholdings and giving the land to the farmers.

In 1958 the Cojuangcos were granted a government loan to acquire Hacienda Luisita on condition that the estate be distributed to qualified tenant farmers after 10 years, in 1968.

Barely 11 months into her term in 1986, President Corazon Aquino saw a demonstration of farmers in Malacanang mowed down by government troops, leaving 13 dead. On June 10, 1988 she promulgated the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

On Aug. 23 that year, Hacienda Luisita was incorprated, allowing the distribution of stock certificates  among landless farmers instead of land. 

It was the first corporation to do so.  Many more followed.

Bloody past

On Nov. 16, 2004, a strike at the Hacienda Luisita led to the violent dispersal of protesters by police and military forces, leaving at least seven workers dead.  At least seven more were killed in subsequent violent incidents arising from the labor unrest, including an Aglipayan Church priest and a bishop.

In 2005, during the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. the Department of Agrarian Reform revoked the  stock distribution option (SDO).  The Hacienda went to court.  The recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the farmers after decades of delay was the result.

This may have been the easy part of implementation.  There is the more difficult part of “just compensation” for the Cojuangcos, which may take years to adjudicate. 

'Just compensation'

The amount of compensation will be decided by the Supreme Court, with Corona likely to still be at the helm because he retires in 2018, two years past the term of the President

In reacting to the Court decision, President Aquino said  that land reform must seek to achieve two goals – to “empower the farners” but also to ensure that landowners are “justly compensated” for giving up their lands.

This is the story behind the impeachment trial, as Mr. Corona would have us believe.  How his chief counsel, former Justice Serafin Cuevas, will weave this story into his theory of the case, is the difficult part worth watching.  It will take a master storyteller to do it, especially with Senator Estrada as part of the jury.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Senators prepare to weigh the evidence

By Winston A. Marbella

People's Journal & People's Tonight
March 13, 2012

As the defense begins to present its case in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the 23 senators will prepare to weigh the evidence in relation to the proof presented by the prosecution, which has rested its case on three of the original eight charges sent to the Senate

There is no doubt the senator-judges are taking their   job seriously.  If they had listened to one of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago's high-pitched mini-lectures to the prosecution, they would have learned one trick that will now prove very useful:  keeping track of the proceedings in a trial notebook, or a daily journal of what the defense will be offering to refute the prosecution.

As veteran trial lawyers know, things can get confusing without a daily record for reference, especially when judgment day comes.  A diary will help the senator judge get his/her thoughts organized and his legal staff sane.

'Business as usual'

For Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, a highly successful lawyer before joining government, it will be business as usual. “That has always been my method whenever I handle a case.  I do not watch any television.  I do not (listen to) the radio.  I read.  I study the case.  I study the rules so that I”m ready to handle the trial.”

Sen. Pia Cayetano says she will read up on the “art of impartiality” and “how judges practice (it).”  For the non-lawyer senators, filtering out outside influences can be tricky. 

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who is not a lawyer, said: “We cannot go by public opinion alone.  We also go by the Rules of Court, the evidence to be presented, the strength of arguments.  We need to factor in everything to arrive at an intelligent and justifiable decision.”

'On the merits'

The eminent constitutional expert Fr. Joaquin Bernas, who co-wrote the present Constitution as a member of the Constitutional Commission convened by President Cory Aquino under her revolutionary government, has written:

“Fortunately, the numbers game (in the House of Representatives, which voted to impeach in five hours,  without the usual hearings and debate) may not be easy to apply to the Senate composition today.... The alignment in the Senate is not easily figured out and there are tried and tested statesmen in the Senate who can influence the novices.  We can therefore have a decision that is clearly based on the merits.”

A two-thirds vote of the Senate (16) will be needed to remove Corona from office.  The non-lawyer senators are boning up on the Rules of Court because they will consider (not necessarily adopt in full) its  precepts. The Rules recognize three standards in making a decision: “proof beyond reasonable doubt” in criminal cases, “preponderance of evidence” in civil cases, and “substantial ecidence” in administrative cases.

Rules of evidence

There are strict legal definitions of each.  “Proof beyond reasonable doubt means moral certainty or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind,” legal experts say.

“Preponderance of evidence simply means superior weight of evidence as determined by the court  considering all the facts and circumstances of the case,” they say.

“Substantial evidence refers to such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.”

Whether an impeachment proceeding is criminal, civil or administrative in nature is still a subject of debate, according to Carmelo V. Sison and Florin T. Hilbay, co-editors of the book “Impeachment Q&A” published by the University of the Philippines Law Complex in 2000.  The authors wrote :

“At best, it can be said that an impeachment proceeding is one that is sui generis, or class on its own, in which the standards to be applied are circumscribed only by the Constitution and the oath under which the senators have sworn to do impartial justice.”

Bernas opinion

Fr. Bernas believes the weight of evidence needed in an impeachment trial may lie somewhere in between proof beyond reasonable doubt and substantial evidence.  He writes:

“Usually what is sought is evidence that is 'clear and convincing.'  You might say that this means stronger than substantial evidence but not necessarily satisfying the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt.... I must admit that it is a matter that is not easily measured.”

What this means is that, to borrow a phrase from the jury system,  the jury is still out on this one.  It also means that the Senate has a wide latitude to determine for itself the “quantum of evidence “it will require to remove the Chief Justice from office.

Here, policy considerations enter the decision-making process.  Political considerations may include a decision to be partisan and petty, or to serve the higher interests of the people as enunciated by the time-honored principles of the Rule of Law and the separate allocation of governmental powers expressed by the sovereign people when they ratified the Constitution and its system of checks and balances. 

Or, policy could be perversely construed from the fleeting popular will presumably expressed in periodic popularity surveys often quoted by populist politicians who cater to the lust for blood of a lynch mob to accumulate power.

These are the policy options before the senators when they decide the impeachment of Renato C. Corona.