August 2007

Conrad DeQuiros’ column in the Inquirer, Monday, August 27, 2007. Direct, truthful, and provocatively eloquent. Emphasis added.

Hello again

By Conrado de Quiros
Last updated 01:49am (Mla time) 08/27/2007
MANILA, Philippines – GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) bids the “Titans of Hate” stop their “politics of destruction.” The titans of hate are Panfilo Lacson, Vidal Doble, and others who proffer proof she stole the vote in 2004 and the politics of destruction is their effort to reopen the “Hello Garci” scandal. She bids the Senate to not give in but to concentrate instead on priority bills.

She will in any case invoke EO 464 if Doble tries to appear in a Senate investigation. EO 464, which was slapped on Gen. Francisco Gudani and Col. Alexander Balutan a couple of years ago, prevents any official, civilian or military, from appearing in public without the express consent of the President, even if it is to call attention to the fact that this country has no President, only one pretending to be so.

GMA fumes: “I have a country to run. I have terrorists to fight. I have a peace to win.”

Nope. Not if you were never voted into power. If you were never voted into power, you do not have a country to run, you do not have terrorists to fight, you do not have a peace to win. You only have justice to face, you only have a crime to pay for, you only have a jail term to serve. Even now we should be saying: We have a country to save, we have a tyrant to stop, we have a life to revive.

There are no statutes of limitations on rape and murder. You do not stop being culpable for them till the day you die and long afterward. Any time is the right time to pay for those crimes. You can’t get a worse case of rape and murder than the theft of the vote. It rapes democracy, the sovereign will being the thing that beats at the heart of it, and it murders freedom, the power to choose being the life-force that animates it.

There and then you see the idiocy of the equation that the positive or constructive or responsible lies in “moving on” and the negative or destructive or hateful lies in criticizing and protesting. We heard GMA’s statements before when Ferdinand Marcos called Cory Aquino and the people fighting him “nattering nabobs of negativity,” stealing the phrase from Spiro Agnew who stole it from William Safire. In fact, Cory and company’s “negativity” was positive in the extreme. Far from being nattering nabobs of negativity, they were portentous prophets of positivity when they fought Marcos’s iron-fisted—and completely illegitimate—rule.

I personally would be flattered to be called a “titan of hate” if by that is meant that I titanic-ally hate it when our leaders lie to us, cheat winners of elections their due, and steal everything that is not nailed down to the floor. I personally would be flattered to be called a purveyor of the “politics of destruction” if by that is meant that I want to help destroy the sway of opportunist and malevolent politics, the rule of an unelected leader, and the reign of murder and mayhem.

While at this, haven’t they heard Art Panganiban’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down EO 464 as unconstitutional? Or didn’t they hear that common sense thunderously struck it down as tyrannical?

The Senate has no higher priority than hearing Doble’s testimony once and for all. Far from grinding government in gridlock, it will pull it out—and the country with it—from the mud and muck it has been stuck in for the last few years and allow it to truly, really, and finally move on.

At the very least we owe it to the troops fighting in Mindanao in whose name GMA would like us to forget she spoke to Garci. “I have a peace to win,” she says. Well, she will neither win war nor peace without competent field officers and commanders there, men who have been tried and tested on the front lines and whose valor has not been found wanting. The reason they are not there is that they are in jail. They are in jail because they are protesting the fact that their commander-in-chief is not really their commander-in-chief. You know there’s something deeply wrong when your only two living Medal of Valor recipients are in jail for that very reason.

You are led by people who have distinguished themselves in the field only by terrorizing public school teachers and manufacturing wrong election returns, you will be demoralized too. Is it a wonder the rank-and-file made Antonio Trillanes their number one choice as senator despite a direct order for them from the top to make him lose?

At the very most we owe it to ourselves. Did we mount a couple of Edsas just to throw ourselves back into deepest darkness? The people who keep warning us about the evils of coups and to be wary of people who contemplate them in whatever form are right. But they are wrong to think those plots are to be found only in the shadowy corners of the barracks or in the clandestine whispers of middle-level officers about withdrawals of support. They are to be found as well in well-lit corners of palaces and the very loud conversations between a President and Comelec commissioner about how best to screw the voter. The people who keep warning us to be vigilant to make sure coup plots do not succeed are right—except that one has and they can’t even see it.

If GMA did steal the vote in 2004—and a direct witness is prepared to attest to it—then what we have in fact is a coup regime. A coup regime no more and no less than the one RAM tried to mount in the past with tank and temerity, no more and no less than the one Marcos did mount in 1972. What is a coup d’etat but, as the very term indicates, a forcible seizure of the state? A forcible seizure of the state by the ballot is no different than the forcible seizure of the state by the bullet. The blood just comes a little later—as look at the flood of blood that has tumbled out of the bodies of journalists and political activists in “Hello Garci’s” wake.

“I have a peace to win?”

We have a plague to lose.


Back in July I wrote about the Philippine Government’s state of denial regarding human rights abuses (see July 4 article here). However, it seems that denial is not limited to human rights abuses, but extends beyond to two of the most explosive and critical events in Philippine history.

Yesterday, August 21, 2007, marked the 24th anniversary of the murder of Benigno Ninoy Aquino. To this day, the small-time soldiers who physically committed the murders are serving life sentences, but the mastermind behind the plot has never been officially identified let alone stood trial.

On Monday, retired Justice Andres Narvasa, a member of the team appointed by Marcos to investigate Ninoy’s murder, stated that the Philippines should “close the book” on the Aquino assassination. He stated that the investigative team completed its work and issued its report. There was no evidence implicating Ferdinand or Imelda Marcos or Fabian Ver. Narvasa went on to state that it was pointless to continue questioning Ninoy’s murder because if any evidence existed, the team would have found it. The best thing the country should do is stop wondering who killed him and simply honor Ninoy. “The case is finished, functius oficio.”

As the nation has been haunted by the unresolved death of Ninoy, so we continue to be haunted by the 2004 “Hello Garci” scandal, which insulted the principles of election and democracy. Like Ninoy’s murder, official charges have never been brought against anyone involved, Garcilliano ran (and lost) for Congress in the May 2007 elections and GMA remains in power.

Since 2004, the Arroyo administration has survived several coup and impeachment attempts and unending challenges to its legitimacy. Upon the termination of the May 2007 elections, several lawmakers as well as COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento expressed interest in reopening investigations into the “Hello Garci” scandal. The aministration’s reply was “Let’s just let this go. It’s a dead issue and the Filipino people are tired of hearing about it.”

Yesterday, former Army sergeant, Vidal Doble, Jr., came forward to say he was a member of the military operation organized for the 2004 electoral cheating and that he, himself, recorded the now infamous “Hello Garci” tapes. Doble’s testimony came complete with an technical explanation of how the wiretapping was conducted and names of other personnel involved. Doble claimed it took him over two years to break his silence because he and his family were held by the military in order to induce their silence. Earlier this morning, GMA responded by saying “I have a country to run. I have terrorists to fight. I have peace to win and a bright future to secure for these children…I embrace work and will just leave … to the pythons of hate to have a monopoly on the politics of destruction.” Notice how this “response” conspicuously lacks a clear acknowledgment of the charges as GMA once again sweeps the real issue under the rug.

Two of the most important issues in Philippine history remain unresolved. Let us first put aside the overwhelmingly obvious clues as to how these cases should be decided. What is more concerning to me is the attitude with which they are handled. Instead of urgency, frustration or passion to address these issues, officials say “Hey, it’s over. Let’s forget it.” Instead of doing actual investigative work and building cases despite the (alleged) lack of blinking red arrows, officials are content to say “Well, it seems they’re guilty, but there’s no evidence and so there’s nothing we can do.” In any other context, this attitude would be deemed laziness. Here in the world of Philippine politics, it is probably more accurately deemed corruption.

Is this the state of our government? Is this the quality of our investigative and regulatory officials? And finally, is this the fate we are doomed to; that instead of striving to resolve important issues we say “Gee, this is difficult. Let’s just forget it and move on.” 24 years after the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino, 21 years after EDSA I inspired the world, the Philippines has languished in its own filth, as aspirations of development, growth, and an actual, tangible improvement in the quality of life have remained unfulfilled. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. In the case of the Philippines, we do not even recognize the need to acknowledge the past. And so what can we possibly learn? And more importantly, if this trend continues, what will be our fate?

So, as it has been posted all over the media, Comelec is proceeding with Lilia Pineda’s request for a recount:

From my point of view, there are suspicious and dangerous factors surrounding this recount.

First, between the elections and the present day, the ballot boxes are housed in the municipalities. It is no secret that mayors in several key municipalities are members of the Pineda camp and Lilia Pineda’s son, Dennis, is president of the Pampanga Mayor’s League. While the affiliation of the majority of Pampanga mayors is certainly not satisfactory reason to question Board Member Pineda’s filing for a recount the fact that less than one month ago 15 of 21 Pampanga mayors spent four days abroad “bonding” certainly should suffice to raise some eyebrows. That one of the mayors felt it necesasry to tell the media via text-message that the trip was “at their own expense” recognizes popular conceptions (and in the underworld nature of Philippine politics, what people on the ground know is usually more true than what politicans claim) and belies a guilty conscience. Finally, that mayors such as Oscar Rodriguez of Pampanga and Eduardo Guerrero of Floridablanca, who are vocal non-supporters of Pineda, were excluded from the trip only acts to confirm suspicions that the trip was the first step in a master plan that we are witnessing unravelling.

Second, much has been made of the suspicious nature of Comelec’s speedy granting of Board Member Pineda’s request. The Comelec is notorious for its sluggish actions. It is a commission that is understaffed and overworked – just over 5,000 employees are expected to administer elections, enforce all election laws, investigate all complaints of violations of election laws and hold hearings for all formal complaints of election law violations. Let us remember that this is the same body that took over 1 month to declare 12 winning Senators in the 2007 elections, that filing for the disqualification of a candidate during campaign season has become no more than a propaganda tool because it typically takes Comelec over 3 years (past the next election) to decide on such cases, and that this body is supposed to be preparing for the upcoming barangay elections (which they have considered pushing back yet again due to underpreparation). This same body was able to read Panlilio’s request for recount, consider the request, reject it, and issue an order for recount within less than 24 hours. It seems that Comelec is even more efficient when it comes to acquiring money as the order for recount was issued on August 1st and on August 2nd a P4.8 million cash deposit from Ms. Pineda appeared in the Comelec’s financial records.

Although vote-buying and electoral violence make headlines leading up to election day, those who study Philippine elections know that the real danger surfaces after the ballots have been casted. The same dynamic mobilization of civil-society that occured during elections to protect votes and that brought candidates such as Gov. Panlilio to power must not wane, as the danger to those votes is still clear and present. The shame that coerced people not to vote according to who they received money from but who they felt was the better candidate must be extended to Comelec officials such as Commissioner Tuason. The Philippine people have proved, especially in these recent elections, that the sanctity of the vote is a value we hold dear. Let us not lay dormant as this value is challenged.