Friday, February 28, 2014

Leading and managing separate men from boys

Occasionally, we walk into news stories that send us back to the classroom. The following is one of them. A short introduction is in order before we wade in.
Yogi Berra: 'You can observe a lot by watching.'

In graduate school, one of the more interesting dichotomies had something to do with the differences between managing and leading. I will explain by telling a war story.

Why a war story?  As the American idiom goes, times like these “separate the men from the boys.”

Courage under fire

During the Second World War, the legendary Gen. Douglas MacArthur liked to visit the troops in the frontlines by tooling around in an open jeep. In one trip, he must have overshot the lines and fell within sight of Japanese snipers, who forthwith opened fire.

As aides hit the dirt, MacArthur stood his ground, nonchalantly ignoring the bullets striking the soil around him.

‘Grace under pressure’

In the European theater, a German officer insisted on marching with his troops, although he was entitled to a military vehicle. He was measuring how much fight was left in his men by walking with them and eating their rations. His men fought for him till they dropped … from exhaustion.

Hemingway was fascinated by men who flirted with death and explored the facets of courage in his fiction.  He came up with an excellent definition of courage which President Kennedy liked to quote: “Grace under pressure.” 

It separates the men from the boys.

I bumped into these stories in an article on military strategy that was a suggested reading in a graduate class on “Managing People in Organizations.”  I will interject 11 such lessons as subheads in the following story that appeared in the Inquirer on Feb. 26, headlined:

‘...deliver or resign’

By Michael Lim Ubac

Expect heads to roll in the coming days as the President’s patience is wearing thin over the seemingly disjointed efforts, particularly at the local level, to help victims of disasters since December 2012.

President Benigno Aquino III appealed Tuesday for more patience from disaster victims amid the overwhelming challenges confronting his administration in the aftermath of back-to-back calamities that overshadowed the sterling economic growth under his watch.

Lesson 1: Leaders measure results, not effort

“Now, let me say this again, the problem is enormous—more than half of our provinces were affected—and I think the government demonstrated that we may not have been perfect, and I’ll admit that, but to say that we didn’t exercise a maximum effort, that’s a bit of a stretch,” he told reporters in Cebu City.

He noted that Supertyphoon Yolanda alone, the strongest storm to ever hit land, affected 44 of the Philippines’ 81 provinces, leaving the government with the herculean task of taking care of 16 million Filipinos.

But the President could not hide his exasperation over the pace of rehabilitation efforts in some areas.

Lesson 2: Cheer your troops in public, correct them in private

When reporters chanced upon him in Cebu City, where he presided over the country’s celebration of the 28th anniversary of Edsa People Power Revolution, a peeved Aquino demanded that power be fully restored in Davao Oriental, which bore the brunt of Typhoon Pablo in December 2012.

On Monday, Mr. Aquino had a town hall meeting in Cateel, Davao Oriental, to touch base with victims of Pablo and check on the resettlement site constructed by the government.

The provincial governor, Corazon Malanyaon, complained to the Chief Executive in a speech that electricity in 24 barangays, or 57 percent of the province, had yet to be restored, more than a year since Pablo barreled through Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur.

Lesson 3: Avoid grandstanding at their expense

In a clear warning to some officials he did not identify by name, Mr. Aquino gave them until next week to comply.

“We have work to do; do your job or (you’ll be) sorry,” he said in the interview, a transcript of which the MalacaƱang press office released to reporters.

Mr. Aquino admitted to the media that he was surprised that power had not been restored in Davao Oriental.

Lesson 4: Don’t embarrass them

“I am now asking all the concerned departments—why one year, over a year later” and [there’s] still no power in many places.

“There’s finger-pointing, blame-tossing around as to who should be responsible,” he noted. “Now, I let the concerned agencies feel that I’m not happy with them: ‘When would electricity be made widely available, or when would you submit your resignation?’

From Cateel, the President proceeded on the same day to inspect bunkhouses and a memorial hospital in Loon, Bohol, where a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck on Sept. 15, 2013.

Lesson 5: Manage by walking around

The following day, Tuesday, he presided over the anniversary celebration at the Cebu provincial capitol of People Power Revolution that propelled his mother to the presidency in 1986.

He flew afterward to Bantayan Island, where he distributed 100 boats to fishermen.

He had three more stops on his two-day tour of devastated areas, his way of commemorating the bloodless People Power Revolution that ended the Marcos dictatorship.

In the afternoon of Tuesday, Mr. Aquino inspected the site of a permanent relocation for typhoon victims and presided over the groundbreaking of the rehabilitation of Tanauan public plaza in Tanauan, Leyte.

From there, he flew to Guiuan, Eastern Samar, and inspected the town’s integrated transport terminal complex; and finally, to Tacloban City for the groundbreaking of the new Eastern Visayas Medical Regional Center.

Lesson 6: Don’t take criticism personally

In Cebu City, the President blew his top when a reporter of a local paper mustered the courage to ask about the apparently inadequate support for typhoon victims and the snail-paced rehabilitation efforts in Northern Cebu.

The reporter told of a growing restiveness among typhoon victims who felt neglected by the national government three months after Yolanda hit Northern Cebu.

This did not sit well with Mr. Aquino, who responded: “To say that no (relief goods) came seemed absurd. We’re going to Bantayan (Island) now. Perhaps, I wouldn’t be going to Bantayan if the people are mad at me, isn’t that so?”

Lesson 7: Avoid non-sequitur arguments; speak softly but carry a big stick

He said the reporter could just get all the data of government’s relief efforts from Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, but later decided to talk lengthily on what his administration has done, thus far, to help the victims get back on their feet.

Questioning the veracity of the reporter’s assertion, he said, “Well, I hope you have details (on the particular) place, so that I can answer directly.”

“And, if you want to, you can come with us to Bantayan. We’ll see if they hate us,” he added.

Lesson 8: Facts speak louder than words

To begin with, he said, Yolanda affected some “three million plus families,” or “16 million people.”

He asked if “someone could still surpass what we have done” to “physically (help) 44 of our 81 provinces” in a country visited by at least 20 typhoons yearly.

Mr. Aquino disclosed that in Bantayan alone, the government was on track to build 253 classrooms, (costing P133 million); three rural health units (P17 million); 28 multi-purpose barangay halls (37 million); and one public market (P5 million), for a total of 191million.

Lesson 9: Talk about completed work, not more plans

The President said the “funds are ready” but the government was still in the process of verifying the proposals submitted by local government units (LGUs).

“We have prepared a program to help rebuild municipal (halls) aside from other infrastructures such as (public) markets. Of course, (rebuilding) roads, bridges and restoration of electricity (is automatic),” he said.

He explained that requests for repair and or construction of new gymnasium, evacuation center or basketball court should follow the concept of “build-back-better.”

Lesson 10: Don’t lecture media on their job; it's their job

Mr. Aquino then appealed to the media to “highlight” positive developments, noting that some stories about the pace of reconstruction efforts were not accurate.

He said feeding 280,000 families in Eastern Visayas alone was “no joke,” noting that “every two days, 140,000 food packs” were being produced.


Lesson 11: No matter how hard your job, you asked for it

Take everything in stride. You are the President. Take it on the chin -- and just do it.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

We need 14M more jobs on top of new graduates

The poor live a hand-to-mouth existence:
(UPDATED April 14) - On cue to put a cap on our ongoing discussion on “jobless growth” that does not help the poor, the foreign chambers of commerce operating in the Philippines offered President Aquino some stinging advice.

The foreign chambers hold the key to attracting more foreign direct investments (FDI), considered critical to generating jobs that reach the poorest sectors.

The French news agency, Agence France-Presse, reported that the Philippines should create more investment opportunities in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and mining to escape the curse of jobless economic growth, experts and businessmen said Wednesday.

Broaden job-rich sectors

Economic growth in the Philippines has been among the highest in Asia in recent years. But the benefits have escaped the vast majority, particularly farm workers, they told an economic forum.

“If you want a major increase in employment, you have to broaden your basis of growth,” Julian Payne, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, told the forum sponsored by foreign chambers of commerce.

He said there must be more opportunities in “sectors that really have huge potential in long-term employment generation” such as agri-business, manufacturing, mining and tourism—with only the latter currently enjoying some success.

‘Jobless growth’

The economy grew 7.2 percent last year, the fastest since President Benigno Aquino came to power in 2010.

However, the foreign chambers of commerce said 22.3 percent of families still lived in poverty, barely changed from the figure in 2009.

The rate of unemployment and underemployment as of October last year was 24.4 percent, down only slightly from the previous year, government statistics showed.

Aquino reforms not enough

While they gave Aquino credit, the heads of the country’s foreign chambers of commerce said his reforms did not go far enough or were too slow.

While foreign direct investment in the Philippines had picked up, it was still lagging far behind its peers in Southeast Asia, they added.

“Competitiveness in the country is getting better but it is not enough,” said Takashi Ishigami, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce.

Needed: 14.6 million jobs

He and other foreign businessmen said the Philippines should scrap restrictions on foreign investment, keep the minimum wage from rising and further cut bureaucracy to bring the country to the same level as the rest of the region.

World Bank economist Rogier van den Brink said the Philippines needed to create 14.6 million more jobs for those already unemployed and underemployed, on top of those who join the labor force each year.

He said entrenched groups in the country were resisting competition and preventing the economy from opening up, AFP reported.

Rich get richer, poor get poorer

In a paper titled “GDP: A Flawed Measure of Progress,” an economic think tank called The Working Group said:

“Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has many deficiencies as a measure of economic well-being. […]  

“… GDP takes no account of how income is distributed.[…]  … the society may be divided between a small minority of the extremely affluent and a majority of the extremely destitute… […]

“GDP gives no clue one way or the other. Growth in the incomes of a few billionaires can produce impressive growth in GDP even as a majority of people starve.” […]

The new oligarchs

This is exactly the Philippine situation: The top 50 richest individuals and the conglomerates they control account for a quarter of our GDP.

The challenge to the Aquino government in its remaining years is how to make this growth reach the poor.

Besides influencing the inflow of much-needed FDIs, the foreign chambers of commerce operating in this country make a lot of practical economic sense which they offer freely to the government. President Aquino's mother was famously known for rejecting "unsolicited advice." Maybe the foreign experts should charge the government a consultant's fee to be taken seriously.

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Next challenge: How to make bread after freedom

IN THEIR BOOK Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Poverty and Prosperity, co-authors Daron Acemoglu, developmental economist, and James A. Robinson, political scientist, argue that the key differentiator between progressive and failed states is “institutions.” 

Next challenge after freedom: Jobs and shelter

Nations thrive when they develop “inclusive” political and economic institutions, and they fail when those institutions become “extractive” and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of a few. 

“Inclusive economic institutions that enforce property rights, create a level playing field, and encourage investments in new technologies and skills are more conducive to economic growth than extractive economic institutions that are structured to extract resources from the many by the few,” the authors write. 

Getting it right

“Inclusive economic institutions are in turn supported by, and support, inclusive political institutions,” which “distribute political power widely in a pluralistic manner and are able to achieve some amount of political centralization so as to establish law and order, the foundations of secure property rights, and an inclusive market economy.” 

Conversely, extractive political institutions that concentrate power in the hands of a few reinforce extractive economic institutions to hold power. 

The lesson of history, the authors say, tell us that you can’t get your economics right if you don’t first get your politics right. 

BRIC a brac

In a similar vein, Ruchir Sharma's book, Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles, shows why the “next economic success stories will not be where we think they are.” 
In a 2001 paper, Jim O'Neill popularized the acronym BRIC (for Brazil, Russia, India, China) to represent the rising new economies. Sharma, head of the emerging markets division at Morgan Stanley, names the Philippines as among the emerging economies he calls the breakout nations.

With Turkey and Indonesia, we make up TIP, poised to upstage BRIC.  BRICs are losing steam; the breakout nations (including Nigeria and Thailand) will speed ahead.  

New oligarchs

But Sharma worries that our country’s economy relies heavily on a few family-owned conglomerates dominating the markets. 

By contrast, Turkey’s breakout is happening because of its drive for greater inclusiveness; the masses, once excluded for their religious values, now play a significant role in the economy.  

Breakout nations will be distinguished by the quality of their politicians, Sharma stresses.

Poised for breakout

Sharma believes the Philippines is ready to exceed expectations.  He buoyantly recalls the good old days “back in the 1960s when the Philippines had the second highest per capita income in Asia, behind only Japan...”  He believes we have the sound economic fundamentals to get back on track, if our politicians get it right this time.

“The failure of the Philippines is typically attributed to chronic political instability,” he says. But that explanation hardly suffices. “Thailand has been even more unstable but its economy outperformed the Philippine economy through the 1990s...

“The difference is that at least until the 2000s, Thailand’s unstable leaders made better economic choices – from controlling debt and restraining crony capitalism to making the country more attractive to foreign investment, as Japanese car companies turned Thailand into their Asian factory away from home.”

Powered by revolution

To become a breakout nation the third Aquino needs “to create an environment in which businessmen are confident enough to invest – which in return requires tamping down corruption, taking on the family tycoons who still dominate the economy and enforcing contracts fairly.”  

Indonesia offers a good example: “(Its) relative success over the past few years shows what the Philippines could become: it takes only a modicum of political stability and some basic economic sense.” Sharma says.

All told, getting the people-powered revolution behind the breakout effort will take the government's syncopated efforts for the rest of Mr. Aquino's term. 

To make that happen in a largely feudal economy controlled by family conglomerates, Mr. Aquino will have to get going on the work his mother left behind – build institutions that will form the bedrock of our breakout, even if it means going against the oligarchies to which his family belongs.

Bread for the poor

Brought to power by a massive mandate to clean up the government, Mr. Aquino earned a job cut out for him: How to make a resurgent economy spread its benevolent wings to the poorest of our poor.

That would take intelligent economic planning and political will – the sort of stuff that the development economists prescribe to make nations succeed.

But first we have to go back to the grass roots and the rice paddies to get our bearings right. If that fails, the worst that could happen to us is that we finally shall have gotten our feet wet on the road to making bread ater freedom.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why living off a family legacy is dangerous policy*

*(Reprinted from the Inquirer 25th anniversary supplement on the 1986 People Power Revolution.)

THE BIGGEST ASSET of the second Aquino presidency is intangible—and that is why it is so elusive. It resides in our collective memory as a nation eternally grateful to the first President Aquino for everything she did to restore our freedoms and regain our self-respect as a people.

But this intangibility is also the current Aquino presidency’s greatest weakness, for it could lead to an indolence of the spirit, with its revolutionary fervor reveling in the glories of the past, forgetting the difficult challenges of making a country work, and building a nation on the hard-earned foundations of the 1986 People Power revolution.

After the euphoria of the revolution had died down, and for every year since then when we tried to rekindle the embers of a patriotic episode in our memory, historians and pundits have wondered—in almost an annual ritual of self-flagellation—how and why we have squandered so precious a moment in our history.

The lost opportunity rankles in our mind and we try to reach back across time to try to figure out where we missed the possibilities. It may be necessary to reconstruct the historical narrative to gain a handle on how to proceed.

Shackled to the past

Seven months into a 72-month term, Benigno S. Aquino III—like most of us—remained shackled to a past that vaulted him to a presidency largely on the strength of a people’s enduring affection for his mother. This historical fact was glaringly made visible again in the commemoration of President Cory’s birthday early in 2011.

Many of the people who engineered the first People Power revolution, who cleverly leveraged that precious legacy into another crack at historical relevance, know only too well how important are those memories in the current president’s ascent to the throne his mother had occupied.

In the subsequent retelling of the presidential election of 2010, campaign insiders, even those instrumental to convincing Mr. Aquino to seize the moment, have admitted publicly that the emotional outpouring that attended his mother’s funeral in August 2009 was too precious a moment to let pass.

Intuitive sense

Mr. Aquino sensed the historical impact of the moment himself. Unable to contain the flood of emotions that must have overwhelmed him while he rode in the family bus on that long, arduous trek to his mother’s tomb, he had taken off his formal shirt and, in his undershirt, ran with supporters toward his mother’s final resting place beside the martyr she had willingly given up for country, her beloved husband, Ninoy.

Mr. Aquino’s decision to run beside supporters for the rest of the way was instinctive. It will take many weeks more before he would intellectualize the moment and make a conscious decision to run for president.

There would still be the usual consultations with his four sisters and their families, and the almost ritual prayers for spiritual guidance with the Pink Sister nuns his mother had loved so dearly, before he would make a formal announcement.

But when he decided to depart the bus and run the rest of the way to her grave, he had, unconsciously perhaps, also made a decision to occupy her throne in the people’s hearts. In the fading hours of daylight the die was cast; his eventual election would be history.

Exploiting the memories

The Aquino campaign knew how to rekindle the memories of a poignant past to gain an early head start: The yellow ribbons that blossomed to welcome Ninoy Aquino’s homecoming. The patriotic songs tha ignited a nation’s passion over his assassination. The touching battle cry, “Hindi Ka Nag-iisa!” (You are not alone) that accompanied him to his grave. Even the defiant Laban sign boldly thrust in your face.

The symbols reignited emotions of old and the passions flared again.

Now what?

Search for meaning

To chart our future course, it may help to recall whence we came. To understand the legacy of Edsa we have first to know its meaning.

Edsa was not the end of the journey, but the beginning of one. The trek to the Promised Land continues, now in the presidency of the second Aquino. It is a work still in progress, almost a Pilgrim’s Progress, for it requires no less than a transformation of our inner selves to finish the job. It is almost like the Book of Exodus being replayed in our time.

After having led his people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses had to teach them how to build a nation, and how to deserve one. Moses himself never made it to the Promised Land, for they meandered in the wilderness for 40 years—two generations by biblical reckoning—to learn the rudiments of statecraft after having lived without a nation of their own for so long.

The parents and their children, born in slavery in a foreign land, had no clue about the responsibilities of nationhood, much less the tricky craft of governance.

Work in progress

President Cory led us out of slavery, both physically and spiritually. Hungry and thirsty, the people wanted more from her, as if what she had done was not enough for one life’s work. We did not know that she had done enough, and that her task was now ours to complete.

She parted the Red Sea to show us an ocean of possibilities—and we squandered the opportunities.

Leading us to the Promised Land now seems the easy part. Building a nation is the hard part—and nobody will do it for us. We will have to put our collective shoulders to the wheel and put our surgically enhanced tall noses closer to the grindstone.

A damaged culture?

Journalist James Fallows, writing for the prestigious The Atlantic, took more than the usual cursory look at the Edsa phenomenon in writing his piece, “A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines?” after staying six weeks in the country. Returning in 1987, he observed:

“Especially on my second trip to the Philippines, in the summer, many Filipinos told me that (Cory) Aquino had become strangely passive in office, acting as if her only task was to get rid of Marcos and ride out the periodic coups, rumored or real. As long as she did those jobs—that is, stayed in office—she did not feel driven to do much else.”

Asserting that not much else was bound to change in the Philippines, Fallows concluded: “America knows just what it will do to defend Corazon Aquino against usurpers, like those who planned the last attempted coup…. But we might start thinking ahead to what we’ll do if the anti-coup campaign is successful—to what will happen when Aquino stays in, and the culture doesn’t change, and everything gets worse.”

‘Cacique Democracy’

In fact, things got worse before they got better, during the term of Cory’s designated successor, President Fidel V. Ramos, and then got worse again. 

The following year, in a more thoroughly researched piece for the London-based New Left Review, “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and Dreams,” Benedict Anderson arrived at basically the same dark conclusion.

Because the Aquinos and the Cojuangcos of Tarlac had come from the same power elite that had ruled the Philippines since colonial times (Spanish and American), Anderson found it highly improbable that Cory would find the political will to dismantle the power structure whence she came.

Growing up

The similar conclusions seem to come from the all-too-predictable expectation that the sitting president can in fact will things to happen over and above a power structure of the same origins, and therefore the same inclinations, especially if we take seriously Anderson’s earlier scholarly work, “Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism.” 

In this landmark book, Anderson shared new insight into our understanding of how nations become functioning states: “In an anthropological spirit… a nation… is an imagined political community…. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion….”

In this sense, then, this is Cory’s enduring legacy to us: She gave us a sense of communion. Perhaps it is unkind—or even excessive—to expect much more of her.

Transitional leader

Unlike her husband, Ninoy, to whom politics was second nature, if not first, Cory was a convent school girl who had lived a sheltered life, yes, in a cacique family atmosphere. She had no choice in that life of privilege. But where she had choices to make, she embraced the difficult ones.

She could have chosen to continue living a life of privilege, and nobody would have faulted her for that. She already had given her country her husband. Yet she chose to serve, perhaps in her own mind just to preside over the transition back to freedom and a democratic state.

Perhaps, this was the “strangely passive” behavior that Fallows’ sources had noted early into her presidency. Thrust by historical forces outside her comfort zone, mostly at the urging of a patriotically driven people who would later do the same thing to her only son, Cory did not find governance her cup of cacique tea.

Moment of truth

She was out of her element and she knew it. And so she retired after one term, although constitutionally she could have aspired to a second. Why she declined a second term can be discerned in a conversation she had with the multi-awarded American journalist Stanley Karnow, who wrote America’s Empire in the Philippines:

“I reached the point,” she told Karnow, “when I knew that I was president, not Ninoy, and that I had to make the decisions.”

Karnow continued: “Certainly, she conceded, she had not done enough. But, as she phrased it, ‘there is no school for presidents.’ She was accumulating experience as she went along, and dealing (with it) “step by step…”

'Feudal society of rich oligarchies'

“After three years in office, though still popular, her reputation had eroded—largely because she could not have conceivably lived up to the image of miracle worker her own supporters had pinned on her…

“Despite its modern trappings, it was still a feudal society [she had inherited] dominated by an oligarchy of rich dynasties, which had evolved from one of the world’s longest spans of Western imperial rule [more than three centuries under Spain and almost 50 years under America].”

To have expected Cory to do more was indeed like expecting miracles: she had been born to reign, not to rule.

Martyred dreams

Not surprisingly, the same miraculous expectations are growing around her son, fueled largely by a carefully crafted campaign that—according to public confessions by insiders—shamelessly exploited a nation’s yearning to complete a mother’s unfulfilled legacy and a father’s martyred dreams.

Installed by a calculated exploitation of poignant memories, the current President Aquino is thus unwittingly shackled to the same ebullient expectations no mortal could possibly fulfill.

In remembering her birthday in early 2011, Mr. Aquino gave us a rare glimpse into a son’s personal perspective of his mother’s legacy. Calling himself a “saling pusa” (kibitzer) during his mother’s presidency, he said she and her Cabinet had “planted the seeds of the plants that will be harvested now.”

'No blueprint'

Strangely looking ahead at his own presidency’s end barely seven months into it, Mr. Aquino said: “I like to look at it as the last act of this particular play.” He recalled that when his mother was thrust into the presidency in 1986, she had “no blueprint” for managing the country, reinforcing Karnow’s “step by step” description of her style of governance.

“I will follow the formula to a large degree,” Mr. Aquino said ominously.

While this peculiar articulation of his mandate may carry with it a deferential respect for her memory, it casually ignores a basic historical difference in the two Aquino presidencies. Cory accepted the call almost reluctantly -- her son went for the job deliberately.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A democracy stained by decades of feudal deaths

(Third in a series of reflections on the 1986 People Power Revolution)

CORAZON AQUINO’S presidency would be permanently stained by a tragic farmers’ march to Malacanang (13 died in the violence) and agrarian unrest would continue to haunt President Benigno S. Aquino III’s turn at the helm.

Feudal bondage to a land they will not own

Even for nothing more, the second Aquino presidency will be remembered for its impeachment of a highly controversial Chief Justice. But that dubious distinction will remain shrouded in controversy because of the political events that swirled around the trial.

On the dock for what would be a career-ending impeachment trial, Chief Justice Renato Corona gave the public an inside peek into the roots of his conflict with President Aquino: 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.

Speaking candidly before supporters who had gathered at the Supreme Court to show support, Corona said the landmark Luisita decision which implemented a constitutional mandate for land reform was what triggered the President to have him impeached by the House of Representatives to permanently remove him from office.

Now the ghosts of impeachment past are coming back to haunt President Aquino.  The Inquirer has reported that two congressmen, who declined to be identified, are saying that the President paid out P5 billion of his pork-barrel funds, the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), to members of Congress to sway them to impeach the Chief Justice.


BARELY ONE YEAR into her term, President Corazon Aquino found a demonstration of farmers in Malacanang mowed down by trigger-happy government troops, leaving 13 dead.

On June 10, 1988 she promulgated the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. On August 23 that year, Hacienda Luisita was incorporated, allowing the distribution of stock certificates among landless farmers instead of land.  It was the first corporation to do so.  Many more followed.

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 termn of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Department of Agrarian Reform revoked the stock distribution option (SDO).  The Hacienda went to court.  The Supreme Court upheld the farmers after years of litigation.

Now for the hard part

In an earlier ruling, the Court ordered the  DAR to “immediately schedule meetings with the farm workers  and explain to them the effects, consequences and legal or practical implications of their choices.” In the wake of the last ruling, the DAR said they were ready to redistribute the land.  DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said, “Unlike the other agrarian reform cases, we already know the beneficiaries here.”

The preparatory work includes determining how the land will be divided and who will be given land titles. The DAR will also verify the 6,296 beneficiaries and check this against the list made in 1989, he said.  When the almost 5,000 hectares of land are parcelled out to almost 6,000 farmers, each will get about 7,806 square meters.

This may be the easy part of implementation. There is the more difficult part of “just compensation” for the Cojuangcos, which may take years to adjudicate. The amount of compensation will be decided by a Supreme Court, without impeached Chief Justice Corona.

President Aquino made a point of just compensation in remarks reacting to the Court decision. He said that land reform sought to achieve two goals: to “empower the farmers” but also to ensure that landowners are “justly compensated” for giving up their lands, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

Bishops' concern

The influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said the Court decision was just the first step in realizing true agrarian reform. It said the government must give farmers the needed support and services to assist them in their production and social enterprises. “Without this support, the farmers are always in danger of losing their lands.” the CBCP said.

The larger question, as the Catholic bishops feared, is whether the farmers will survive land reform without much help from the Aquino government. “President Aquino must show impartiality and political will to implement social reform law,” the CBCP said.

Historical aberration

There is a potentially good side to the historical aberration that Hacienda Luisita brought to the presidency of the second Aquno.

By bringing the country closer to the economic fruits of its political revolution, President Aquino III can truly begin building the institutions for economic growth that his revered mother left behind in her haste to retire. 


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US colonial rule in PH: 1 step forward, 2 steps back

(Second in a series of reflections on the 1986 People Power Revolution)

IN THE TURBULENT Fifties, the communists were literally knocking at the gates of Manila, threatening to take over the seat of power. 

Magsaysay fought communists with land reform^

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

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. That was how the Cojuangcos of Tarlac came to own the vast Hacienda Luisita estate from its Spanish owners. (See Cacique Democracy in the Philippines by Benedict Anderson)

Hacienda Luisita is born

Hacienda Luisita sprawls across parts of Tarlac City and the towns of Concepcion and La Paz in the province of Tarlac in Central Luzon, famous for its vast agricultural lands. The region is called the Rice Granary of the Philippines in history books.

Back in the 1950s President Ramon Magsaysay considered land reform the main thrust of his anti-insurgency campaign. To remove the peasant support of the communist rebellion, he sought to break up the feudal landholdings and give the land to the farmers.

In 1958, the Cojuangcos acquired the estate and a sugar mill from its Spanish owners partly through government loans, on condition that the land would be distributed to farmers after 10 years under President Magsaysay's social justice program.

In 2006, or 38 years past the deadline the Department of Agrarian Reform revoked the stock distribution plan. Hacienda Luisita took the dispute to court.

The Supreme Court decision affirming the DAR action put an end to a decades-long dispute emblematic of the country's feudal land ownership system.  An estimated one million more hectares of agricultural lands fall under the coverage of the CARP, with less than two years remaining for distribution.

Time is fast running out.

'Cacique Democracy

ACADENICS AND POLUTUCAL scientists are going back to our colonial history to determine how it shaped our political and economic institutions.

Reflecting on their book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, co-authors Daron Acemoglu, professor of developmental economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and James A. Robinson, professor of political science at nearby Harvard, wrote in an article:

“In the 19th-century after the collapse of the Spanish empire in the Americas, commercial restrictions were gradually lifted on the Philippines and a non-Spanish economic elite, often of Chinese descent, emerged.

US backs oligarchy

“They gradually acquired education and spearheaded the nationalist movement that ousted the Spanish shortly before the US invasion. Yet the behavior of the US administration was to turn this elite into a real oligarchy.

“First, they expropriated about 400,000 acres of land that had been church estates and auctioned it off. It was the elite that had money to buy this land.

“Second, right from the beginning they staffed the administration with locals, but these were positions that the educated elite was best placed to fill.

Political dynasties take root
“In addition, meritocratic criteria were not applied for recruitment into this administration, so the oligarchy could easily dominate them, as (the political scientist Benedict) Anderson pit it.”  (Anderson’s 1988 article in the New Left Review, 'Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and Dreams,' laid out a theory of the political economy of the Philippines.)

Acemoglou and Robinson continued: “Here is the origin of the ‘political dynasties’ —among them the Aquinos and Cojuangcos—which make Filipino politics so spectacularly different from those of any other country in Southeast Asia.

“Third, (the Americans) introduced elections first at the local level for provincial governors in 1902, then for the lower house of the legislature in 1907, then a bicameral assembly in 1916, and finally for the executive in 1935.

“Though this sequencing of elections, with local ones coming first, appears like a good idea in the abstract; in practice it allowed the newly entrenched oligarchy to dominate local politics and then to build on the skills they honed at this level to capture the successive democratic institutions that were opened up (albeit with a very restrictive property franchise)...

Marcos tried too late

“Indeed, the first serious attempt to break (the oligarchy) was by, none other than, Ferdinand Marcos, who after his election in 1965 introduced marshal law and suspended the constitution in 1972. He then ruled in this fashion until ousted in 1986 by Corazon Aquino and People’s Power....

“And why was Anderson so pessimistic in 1988 about the future of the Philippines? Precisely because, though he did not consider the Marcos dictatorship a success, it was followed after 1986 by the return of the oligarchy.

“So Anderson argues: the truth is that the President, born Corazon Cojuangco, is a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful dynasties within the Filipino oligarchy… Her marriage to Benigno Aquino, Jr., at various periods Governor of Tarlac and Senator, linked her to another key dynasty of Central Luzon.

“So People’s Power overthrew the dictator Marcos in order to reinstate the oligarchy,” the co-authors concluded ironically.

In other words, one step forward, two steps backward.

Photo: President Ramon Magsaysay,

Monday, February 24, 2014

Believing her job done, Cory quit a baby democracy

By Winston A. Marbella

(First in a series of reflections on the 1986 People Power Revolution.)

Second President Aquino leads traditional New Year toast

IT HAS BEEN almost three decades since the People Power Revolution of 1986.  Every year, on February 22 to 25, we will continue to grapple with the painful question: How did we lose our revolutionary fervor so soon? 
The answer is simple: By losing Cory Aquino, the mother of our revolution, so early in our childhood as a nation reborn.

Political scientists and social historians will long argue what we already know deep in our gut – that somewhere along the way we missed our childhood and the necessary formative years of adolescence as a nation.
Time to go

In opting out of a constitutionally legal second term of another six years, Cory Aquino gave no elaborate explanation. There is no public record  of what went on in her mind except, as I recall it, a terse declaration that she had  done what she had set out to do – restore democracy – and that was that.

She was misled, of course. She had not finished what she had started to do: Democracy was back but far from thriving. 

Her husband, Ninoy, was the consummate politician; he thrived in it; he lived and died for it.  By contrast, Cory grew up in a landed, aristocratic family and found fulfilment in simply being a housewife and mother. 

Destiny's child

But destiny had other plans for her. Thrown into the maelstrom of Philippine politics, she almost reluctantly stepped into her husband’s shoes to prove his words right:  “The Filipino is worth dying for.”

Ignoring unsolicited advice for her to run for a second term after losing much time fighting military-led coup attempts, Cory seemed almost relieved to pass the baton to her designated successor, her loyal defense secretary, Fidel V. Ramos.

Since the rubber-stamp Batasang Pambansa (Parliament)  had officially proclaimed Marcos winner of the snap elections of 1986, Cory had to legitimatize power by declaring a revolutionary government, abolishing parliament, declaring all elective positions vacant, and appointing a  commission to draft a new constitution.

‘Santa Corazon’

Cory ruled by decree until the commission finished its work in l987, and national elections normalized government functions. She could have done anything in the interim and nobody would have dared question her. She was a living saint in the crucible of democracy and they called her “Santa Corazon” only in half jest.

After she had finished her term, no amount of  legal mambo-jumbo could change the indisputable fact in her mind: She had served for six years, and enough was enough.

Maybe it was battle fatigue from fighting so many coup attempts. Or perhaps she simply did not relish politics as much as Ninoy did.
More likely, her simplistic notion of political propriety overwhelmed her practical sense of patriotic necessity.

Harnessing revolutions

In celebrating the anniversaries of People Power, we grope for answers. The political philosopher Hannah Arendt may have some clues in her book On Revolution.

Arendt asserts that new societies born of revolution need precious time to grow the institutions necessary for all citizens to actively participate in (a) building new political structures and (b) achieving their social agenda, which triggered the revolution in the first place.

Arendt stresses that the twin aims of political stability and a good life can only be achieved if citizens create an atmosphere of public freedom in which they can continue to engage in political activity inspired by the fervor of their original revolutionary causes.

Modern revolutions compared

A system of governance created by this revolutionary fervor is the primary means by which a good life can be attained, she says. In the Arendt model, economic and other social benefits flow from political maturity: “Wealth and economic well-being are the fruits of freedom.”

Arendt draws her conclusions from the great revolutions of the 18th century. Faced with poverty and starvation, the people of Russia and France were distracted from maturing their new political institutions by more pressing social problems. 

Blessed with an abundant land, the American people had more time to grow their political institutions before racial inequality and rising discontent with an unjust war in Vietnam blew up into major social conflagrations in the turbulent Sixties and Seventies.

Fumbling adolescence

In 1992, when Cory’s first term in office was coming to an end, the new nation she founded -- born in traumatic revolution -- was only six years old, an infant by political standards. It needed more maturing before its revolutionary fervor could set firmly enough in new political institutions to survive awkward adolescence and grow to a stable statehood.

Perhaps the nation instinctively sensed this more than it rationally understood it – that somewhere along the way it missed its formative growing-up years.

And that was perhaps also the reason why the nation missed her so acutely when she succumbed to cancer in August 2009.  Like orphaned children the people instinctively turned to her only son, Noynoy.

In death as in life, perhaps not entirely for our own good, Cory Aquino continues to influence our history – and shape our destiny.

Photo credit:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ruby turns some senators gaga over basketball

(UPDATED Feb. 24) -Socialite Ruby Tuason was called to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee to tell what she knew about the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam. Her testimony turned some senators into basketball-crazy fans.
Witness Ruby Tuason reading about herself:

We must thank former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban for his sober and scholarly assessment of Ruby Tuason’s story. It is all too easy to let the rousing passions of a basketball game overwhelm our sense of fairness. He reminds us what this is really all about.

To get the full flavor of the clarity of his legal commentary, following is a reprint of his column “With Due Respect,” in the Feb. 23 edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, titled:

‘Assessing Ruby Tuason’s testimony’

The televised testimony of Ruby Tuason before the Senate blue ribbon committee has been hailed as a grand “slam dunk,” only a “lay-up,” and a winning “three-point buzzer-beater.” These street-smart assessments of how the former MalacaƱang social queen pinned down her longtime family friend-senator are, of course, familiar to basketball diehards.

Purpose of testimony

After the effusive sports lingo, the assessments turned more serious from “sabotage” and “worthless” to “sufficient proof of conspiracy… enough to convict” another senator.

I think all these descriptions should be understood in their proper context. Tuason’s testimony was not about basketball or criminal law. Rather, her appearance was about assisting the Senate in crafting or amending legislation to stop graft.

For example, the committee could, as a result of its hearing, sponsor a bill on how to prevent suspects from leaving the country, and how to proceed against those who managed to sneak out, without violating their constitutional rights. Or how to make it easier for prosecutors to indict high officials, especially legislators. Or how to find novel ways to prevent and penalize new forms of graft.

Only in aid of legislation

Tuason did not testify in the Senate to defend herself in the plunder charge thrown at her by the Department of Justice. Neither was it to implicate or protect any of her co-respondents. It would be unfair to assess her testimony to show anyone’s complicity in any crime. These are simply not the purposes of the Senate hearing.

True, congressional investigation can sometimes engender the belief that a crime had been committed and that certain individuals are possibly guilty thereof. But Congress cannot indict them in court, much less pass upon their guilt and sentence them to jail. It may, however, recommend their prosecution to the DOJ or the Office of the Ombudsman, but the discretion on whether to indict them belongs solely to these two latter offices.

More exacting

Criminal procedures are more exacting than congressional investigations. First, the information (or charge sheet) must be filed in the proper court that has jurisdiction over it; and second, the information must be clearly and accurately worded to comply with the constitutional right of the accused “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him.”

Thus, the information must set out (a) the names of the accused, (b) the designation of the offense given by the statute, (c) the specific acts or omissions constituting the crime coached in ordinary and concise language, (d) the approximate date of the offense, and (e) the place where it was committed. As a rule, an information must charge only one offense.

In short, the information must contain the “essential elements” of the crime which must be worded clearly “to enable a person of common understanding to know what offense is being charged,” to empower him or her to prepare his or her defense.

Unless the foregoing safeguards are put in place, guilt or innocence cannot be deduced from the testimony of any witness. The reason is that the testimony must be received and admitted only when it is both “relevant” and “material” to the specific crime charged.

Furthermore, the questions must be propounded properly and clearly, without misleading or confusing the witness.


Finally and most importantly, the adverse party must be given the opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Despite the many scientific advances in crime detection and prosecution, the old-fashioned cross-examination conducted by a skilled lawyer is still the best-known way of testing the truthfulness and credibility of witnesses. Unless subjected to cross-examination, testimony is hearsay and cannot be used to convict or prejudice the accused.

In congressional investigations, questions are sometimes recklessly asked without sufficient predicate (or basis), thereby eliciting unresponsive, incomplete or wrong answers. Moreover, resource persons (they are not called “witnesses”) are not cross-examined by adverse parties, because there are no adverse parties in legislative inquiries.

The point is: Unless the safeguards in a criminal proceeding are observed, the testimony given in congressional probes cannot be used to indict or incriminate third persons, or for that matter, to free the guilty. This is why the Supreme Court has restricted (no longer absolutely banned) live coverage of trials.

Context and complications

At bottom, the street-smart assessments of Ruby Tuason’s performance should be understood in their congressional context rather than as legal opinions on criminal liability. Let us remember that her testimony was taken without any specific criminal indictment, without any safeguard for the rights of the putative accused, and without the benefit of cross-examination.

In the court of public opinion, these open and much-publicized congressional hearings can besmirch reputations, cause sleeplessness and anxiety, and lead to severe consequences to the conscience-stricken or mentally unbalanced. Some politicians may lose their charisma and political clout. Others may even go, as some have gone, to the extreme of  hara-kiri  or suicide.

In the courts of law, criminal guilt or innocence is not determined by the passing passion of the political thicket, but by a serene, quiet and rule-based trial speedily conducted by competent, independent and trustworthy judges, assisted by skilled, dedicated and ethical lawyers.

Photo credit:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pope keeps calamity victims in Lenten thoughts

(UPDATED Feb. 23) - Pope Francis has signified his intention to visit the poor calamity victims when he comes sometime in April.

Meantime, the President’s office has announced that for the first time in 28 years, the anniversary of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution will not be celebrated at the place where it happened.

Organizers said the festivities would be held not on Edsa but in the “Queen City of the South”—Cebu City—partly to accommodate President Aquino’s wish “to be one with the people,” the Inquirer reported.


Mr. Aquino will hold “town hall” meetings with victims of Typhoons “Pablo” and “Yolanda” and the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the Visayas region.

“He wants to be one with the people, especially those who were affected by the natural calamities,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing. He said the meetings would give Mr. Aquino a “good opportunity” to show his “solidarity with those people.”

Earlier, a group of Yolanda victims traveled to Manila to express their concern over the slow pace of rehabilitation in the Leyte area. The group asked for a P40,000 cash aid for each family to help them rebuild. 


The President has rejected the appeal, saying: “It’s easy to suggest, ‘Come, join us, you’ll get P40,000.’ But how long would it sustain their families? Would they be able to rebuild their houses with that?”

Before Cebu, the President will fly to Cateel, Davao Oriental province, struck by Typhoon Pablo in 2012, and then to Loon, Bohol province, hit by an earthquake last October.

After the Edsa rites at the Cebu provincial capitol, the President will go to Bantayan Island, then to Leyte and Samar provinces, devastated by Yolanda in November.

Not 'insensitive'

Lacierda said “the actions of the President have shown that he is anything but insensitive.”  

“We have a reason why it is better to give them homes rather than give them money,” he said. 

“We would prefer to give them employment rather than give them P40,000. We’d rather give them the tools to fish rather than just give them the fish.”

(Lacierda's statement contradicts a showcase project of the Aquno administration, the Conditional Cash Transfer program, which gives cash doles to the poor.

(But no matter: Lacierda's words somehow echo the essence of the Lenten message of Pope Francis to take care of the poor. It would do President Aquino well to ponder these words as he mingles with his poor people.)

‘Unjust social conditions’

Pope Francis has warned "unjust" social conditions like unemployment can lead to sin, financial ruin and even suicide, The Independent reported from the Vatican.

In his message for Lent, the Jesuit pope said depriving people of the dignity of work, education and access to health care can lead to "moral destitution".

He said: "How much pain is caused in families because one of their members- often a young person- is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling and even pornography."

‘Impending suicide’

"In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide," he added.

Pope Francis urged his faithful to "help and enrich" others by "our own poverty" ahead of Lent -- a solemn period in the run-up to Holy Week and Easter, which pays tribute to Christ's death and resurrection.

He added: "Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt."

This is not the first time the outspoken Argentine pope denounces the devastating impact of social exclusion and income inequality on the poor.

Capitalistic ‘tyranny’

In his first major work as pope, “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the Holy Father described capitalism as a "tyranny".

The Pope wrote: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

"This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.

"As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

The Pope also criticized trickle-down economics, financial speculation and the excesses of capitalism.

The British news agency Reuters focused on these points:

‘Reach out and touch the poor’

Pope Francis called for a fair distribution of wealth and equal access to education and health care on Tuesday in a Lenten message where he urged people to reach out and touch "the poverty of our brothers".

In his message for the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, he also said Christians should help those suffering from moral poverty, such as the "thrall" of alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography.

During Lent, which begins on March 5 this year, Christians are called on to carry out acts of self-denial and help those less fortunate.

‘Slum Pope’

Francis, who was known as the slum pope in his native Buenos Aires because of his visits to the poorest people, said the wounds of poverty "disfigure the face of humanity" and were crying out to be healed.

"We Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it," he said.

He again called on the wealthy to share their good fortune, to not be blind to the needs of others, and not to practice superficial solidarity or vain displays of self-denial.

"When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth," Francis said. "Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing."

‘Unemploymrnt takes away dignity’

Francis said material poverty and moral destitution were often intertwined.
"How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care," he said.

He defined moral destitution as "slavery to vice and sin," including alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography. "In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide," he added.

Francis' style is characterized by frugality. He shunned the spacious papal apartment in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace to live in a small suite in a Vatican guest house, and he prefers a Ford Focus to the traditional papal Mercedes.

‘Real poverty hurts’

In Tuesday's message, he said "Lent is a fitting time for self-denial" but condemned superficial shows of sacrifice or concern for the poor and needy.
"Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt," he said.

Francis has in the past attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny" and has said huge salaries and bonuses were symptoms of an economy based on greed and inequality.

Since his election in March as the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, the Argentinean has several times condemned the "idolatry of money" and said it was a depressing sign of the times that a homeless person dying of exposure on the street is no longer news but a slight fall in the stock market is. - (Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing byTom Henegh.)