Is President Benigno Aquino III Southeast Asia’s George W. Bush?


Is President Benigno Aquino III Southeast Asia’s George W. Bush?

Far from it.

Although Dubya was caught unaware when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, it took him just a few minutes to compose himself.

Not so with this other presidential son.

It took the popular Philippine President three hours to react to the bloodbath, a Manila Times editorial on Wednesday entitled “Who’s in charge?” said.

“And when the President did face the news cameras at around 12 in the morning of August 24 [a full twelve hours after the incident was reported] he couldn’t say exactly how many died during the incident, and even blamed the media for their faithful coverage of the event,” the editorial said.

It continued to say that “[t]his was the President’s first national crisis — the blame for which he can no longer pin on his predecessor — and the government appears to be fumbling all over.”

“Why did it take a full three hours before the Palace could respond to the crisis? Where was the much-touted Presidential Communications Group, which supposedly included a unit that could respond real-time using the latest IT?” the editorial asked.

Who knows? Was the communications group too busy tweeting?

Risks of Aquino’s straight path

(Jack The Scribbler is pleased to announce its first contribution: An analysis piece published in the Manila Times by its business editor, Arnold S. Tenorio. Arnold, an MBA graduate of the University of the Philippines’ College of Business Administration, deserves a wider audience since he’s one of the Philippines’ lesser-known but intelligent business journalists. And I say that because he’s not charging me anything for this piece, save probably for a few beers.)


In a press conference held shortly after Congress proclaimed him the Philippines’ 15th president, Benigno Aquino 3rd made a slip-up that would haunt his leadership for the next six years.

President Aquino said that unemployment data understated reality because they excluded people not seeking work.

Anyone familiar with the National Statistics Office lexicon — which adopts the International Labor Organization standard — knows that people not seeking work have been counted among the unemployed for the past five years.

Granted an economics degree hardly makes one an expert.

But unlike his mother — the late Corazon “Cory” Aquino who was thrust onto the political stage after the assassination of her husband — the President has opted to lead the life of a professional politician for the past 12 years.

During his nine years in Congress and three years in the Senate, Mr. Aquino served in the committees of trade and industry, and of banks and financial institutions — giving him ample opportunity to learn the country’s official statistics.

Beset by bickering

The President’s gaffe showed that like his mother, the presidency under him would likely be beset by bickering, as key allies entertain the idea of knowing better than their accidental leader.

Like his mother, Mr. Aquino was pushed to seek the highest office in the land largely because of the strong marketing appeal of a political symbol: Cory as the unimposing wife of a martyred opposition leader back in 1986; the 15th President as the unblemished son of two icons of democracy.

Like his mother, Noynoy won the presidency by tapping the majority’s disgust with the perceived corruption of the Arroyo government.

Beyond this criticism of the status quo, Mr. Aquino, as Cory back then, stood for little else.

His diverse political support — running from left to right of the ideological spectrum — indicates his allies also have nothing more binding them beyond their revulsion toward the Arroyo government.

That he secured the support of Big Business and a section of the country’s intelligentsia is owed partly to running mate Sen. Manuel Roxas 2nd, an Ivy League graduate and advocate of economic orthodoxy.

During the campaign, Mr. Aquino made no secret of his deference to Roxas when it comes to the economy.

Break rank
But Roxas’ defeat to former Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati City, who enjoyed the support of a section of the Aquino family, has emboldened the latter group to break rank from erstwhile allies.

As key supporters wash their dirty linen in public, Mr. Aquino’s presidency risks becoming a parody of his mother’s administration, which was plagued by struggles between left and right-wing supporters.

To be sure, a string of coups similar to those that rocked Cory’s presidency does not loom on the horizon, especially since the ringleaders of military misadventures during the former administration have all but embraced the electoral process, including one faction that threw its lot with the incumbent President.

Popular disenchantment with the polls does not exist, with the huge voter turnout showing that elections remain the preferred mode of replacing leaders.

Economy in better shape

The economy also is in better shape now than when Cory assumed the presidency.

The economic conditions facing her son are far from dire, with the Philippines faring better than its neighbors after narrowly escaping a recession last year.

The impact of the global crisis had been alleviated by government and election-related spending, with the domestic economy rebounding strongly in the first quarter of this year.

Recent official data — rising money supply, resilient remittances, and growing exports — point to the Philippines sustaining its growth momentum in the second quarter.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) officials have reveled in the absence of external payments crises over the past six years, with the country’s balance of payments intact despite the recent global financial turmoil.

Catch-all remedy

Beyond the absence of the political and economic bases for extra-constitutional dissent, many Filipinos saw their hopes raised by the victory of a candidate for president who proffered a catch — all remedy to their misery: Without corruption, poverty would end.

For a low-key scion of a wealthy family to enjoy a wide margin of votes over a popular second-runner such as former President Joseph Estrada is owed to more than just the moral overtones of Mr. Aquino’s campaign.

His campaign’s deft appeal to the deep religiosity of Filipinos was most evident in the then candidate for president’s final TV ad urging voters to opt for his straight path, not the crooked one laid down ostensibly by the former administration.

Expectations consequently ran high that the new government would improve the people’s condition. Whether the new President can deliver is another matter.

Uneasy alliance

During his inaugural speech, Mr. Aquino admitted that the road ahead is difficult.

His first year in office will indicate which faction in the President’s support base would have to go.

Given the diametrically opposed views on economic reform held by key allies, the new administration would likely suffer its first blood-letting when it takes on the urgent task of ensuring the country’s recovery from the global crisis.

For underneath the very public wrangling for credit on who brought the most to Mr. Aquino’s successful campaign is a more fundamental policy difference among supporters.

His straightforward campaign slogan hides an uneasy alliance between those who opt for huge social spending to eliminate poverty, and those who fear that such tack would unsettle the sound macroeconomic fundamentals already laid down by the former government.

Cracks to grow bigger
The President’s insistent refusal to raise taxes despite the contrary view held by the country’s foremost economists may please both strong-state and neo-liberal supporters in the near term.

But when the time comes to foot the bill, the cracks in the Aquino administration are likely to grow bigger.

The challenge of rebuilding the economy after the worst global financial crisis in decades, two deadly typhoons, and a prolonged dry spell point to the need to keep the public tap flowing.

In a symbolic break from the previous administration, the new government announced it was ditching its predecessor’s balanced-budget goal in favor of “managing” the fiscal deficit by raising the tax effort.

Having sworn against additional levies, the Aquino government is anchoring its revenue generation on pursuing smugglers and tax cheats, on top of administrative measures aimed at tightening collection.

Estimates of any windfall from these initiatives, however, come close to meeting only half of the expected budget deficit for this year.

Zero-base budgeting
The new government is also toying with the idea of instituting zero-base budgeting in a veiled attempt to reduce overall spending by limiting expenditures to priority programs and projects.

This entails redoing the budget proposal drafted during the previous administration, and risks a clash with a legislature that is used to dispensing the national spending bill as largesse.

A more dangerous proposal is to rechannel the proceeds of state asset sales to profit-making sectors. This is a roundabout way of enlarging the state’s presence in the market, and would undo more than two decades of privatization.

Financing the huge social spending requirements through borrowings also has its limits.

On the international front, Europe’s own debt crisis has unsettled financial markets worldwide, threatening another credit crunch.

In the domestic market, it remains to be seen whether liquidity would be ample, especially as businesses crank up borrowing to take advantage of record-low interest rates and to build up capacity.

This early, the private sector is asking the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to lift its single-borrowers’ limit on banks, thus signaling robust business appetite for funds.

Serious loss of face

The resilience of remittance-led consumer spending points to this pillar of growth as a source of additional funds for pump priming.

Raising taxes is the path of least resistance as far as revenue generation is concerned, but doing this would result in a serious loss of face for the President, eroding the goodwill that he earned during the electoral campaign.

This brings us to a second key issue his government must face: What to do with the former administration’s perceived corruption, given Mr. Aquino’s campaign promise to go after graft starting at the top.

Recent history is replete with lessons on how not to pursue one’s predecessor.

The previous administration sowed social strife when it prosecuted Estrada, while Cory’s attempt to deliver justice to martial-aw victims also ended in failure.

Distaste for corruption

Mr. Aquino’s key supporters may share a distaste for the perceived corruption of the previous administration.

But not everyone who backed him may agree on how and when to deal with this matter.

Unlike Estrada who was driven out of power, former President Gloria Arroyo has secured a seat in the House of Representatives — a toehold on power that she can use to parry the new government.

A policy of vindictiveness would roil Congress, distracting it from the task of securing economic recovery.

This in turn risks eroding business confidence, and wasting the country’s rare opportunity to have emerged from the global crisis relatively unscathed and ahead of its neighbors.

Equivocation on the issue of corruption, however, is equally fraught with risks.

Inaction would derail the President from his avowed straight path and dash the people’s newfound hope for meaningful change.

Why Noynoy Aquino owes us a beer

Yes: you, me, everybody, including Vetellano Acosta, Koala Bear, and Juana Change.

Throw in the whole caboodle of lunatics and psychos out there who grabbed the limelight, talked their heads off, wasted our time, wore out our patience, and dissipated whatever remains of our charity, Christian, secular, or otherwise — Jamby Madrigal, Bayani Fernando, and Anna Susano. These three losers also deserve a free round from Noynoy.

And let’s not forget the two other less-celebrated, brain-dead subhumans who provided some semblance of amusement: The Smartmatic technician who stored 60 automated voting machines in his house in Antipolo City and the backhoe operator who forgot to fill up his vehicle with enough gas, inadvertently introducing the rest of the world to the much-vaunted Ampatuan family temperament.

These two geniuses are also entitled to a cold one.

And it’s not just because Noynoy won the elections, which, in itself, is a good enough reason to celebrate, roll out the barrel, celebrate Oktoberfest in June, complete with Brazilian bikini babes.

It’s just that from the looks of it, a Noynoy presidency doesn’t look too promising.

A week or two before his proclamation, important people close to the President-elect have said that uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. — a known Marcos crony — have supported his bid to run for the country’s top position.

What’s the trade-off?

Easy guess: a substantial stake in San Miguel Corp., that’s what.

Twenty-four percent of what reportedly is Southeast Asia’s largest food company is being claimed by coconut farmers.

Worth some P24 billion (SMC closed at P70.50 apiece on Wednesday), the stake was bought using the coconut levy fund, which was collected from farmers in during martial law. The fund was administered by the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), which was then headed by Cojuangco.

Cojuangco reportedly used these funds to acquire the stake and claimed it as his own. (Using the same funds, he reportedly bought a separate 20 percent stake in SMC which he directly owns. But that’s another story and another case.)

In May 2004, the Sandiganbayan — the Philippines’ anti-graft court — has ruled that the funds are public.

But so far, authorities have yet to issue an order to return the shares to their rightful owners. Not that that would have any use right now.

In 2009, San Miguel Corp. management — led no less by Cojuangco — voted to have the 24 percent stake converted to preferred shares.

The move will earn its owners — the coconut farmers (not that they actually reaped benefits of ownership) — higher dividend payouts.

But the conversion of common shares to preferred will make farmers lose their claim on the company after a few years. The shares will be transformed into Treasury shares and will revert to San Miguel.

Meanwhile, from the get-go, our future man in Malacanang appeared to have been unable to give a categorical response regarding the matter.

And now that he’ll be president in a couple of days, what do you think he’ll do, given Uncle Danding’s support?

Another easy guess: Nothing drastic to upset an old, lovable uncle.

After all, the old geezer has had enough humiliation already.

When Danding was studying in the US, he reportedly worked as a gasoline attendant, according to Boss, an unauthorized biography written by Earl Parreño.

During this time, Noynoy’s mother, Cory, also a student, was doing volunteer work in the East Coast.

But, in any case, since I voted for Noynoy, I’ll give him a chance.

If he wants to get on the good side of his uncle, sure.

But not before I get that beer.

See you at the street party.


Picture from my GMANews.TV Oktoberfest blog, when I attended the 2009 launch of the event.

What this Aquino can do to those Marcoses

(From an email written by Ruben Carranza, a former official of Presidential Commission on Good Government, and addressed to Ricky Carandang, in reply to his questions regarding the latest proposed deal to “steal part of what was already stolen money.” The same email message was a note posted by Carranza on his Facebook page in which I was tagged.)

1. A PCGG-Marcos settlement is arguably barred now by the 2003 Supreme Court decision: it’s a final decision and it said that anything beyond the lawful income of the Marcoses from 1968 to 1985 is ill-gotten and to be forfeited.

The earlier SC decision in Chavez vs PCGG (sometime in 1999 I think) had laid down some requirements for transparency etc. in negotiating a compromise plus specified what can’t be included in one (e.g. no tax immunity, etc.).

But it can be argued that the Chavez case has been superseded by the 2003 decision as far as the validity of a compromise itself.

2. Just before I left PCGG, the last court document I drafted was meant to build an almost-idiot-proof/corruption-proof way of trapping the Marcoses and future PCGG officials in the finality of that SC decision.

The idea was to have a motion for execution of the SC decision filed in every case against the Marcoses et al (which is practically all PCGG cases) on the basic argument that the Marcoses already lost these cases once the SC said that they couldn’t legally claim to have earned more than $304,372.43 from 1968-1985.

While the 2003 decision involved the Swiss bank deposits, the reasoning applies to any Marcos assets — which is why Bong Bong’s admission — quoted in the same SC decision — is relevant because he speaks of all their Swiss assets — and we know that he is not referring only to the assets of the five foundations forfeited in that SC decision.

Here’s part of what Marcos Jr. said in open court — the last sentence is what the SC concluded about it:

ATTY. FERNANDO: Mr. Marcos, did you ever have any meetings with PCGG Chairman Magtanggol C. Gunigundo?

F. MARCOS, JR.: Yes. I have had very many meetings in fact with Chairman.

P[residing] J[ustice] GARCHITORENA: In connection with what?

ATTY. FERNANDO: In connection with the ongoing talks to compromise the various cases initiated by PCGG against your family?

F. MARCOS, JR.: The nature of our meetings was solely concerned with negotiations towards achieving some kind of agreement between the Philippine government and the Marcos family.

ATTY. FERNANDO: Basically, what were the true amounts of the assets in the bank?

PJ GARCHITORENA: So, we are talking about liquid assets here? Just Cash?

F. MARCOS, JR.: Well, basically, any assets. Anything that was under the Marcos name in any of the banks in Switzerland which may necessarily be not cash.

PJ GARCHITORENA: What did you do in other words, after being apprised of this contract in connection herewith?

F. MARCOS, JR.: I assumed that we are beginning to implement the agreement because this was forwarded through the Philippine government lawyers through our lawyers and then, subsequently, to me. I was a little surprised because we hadn’t really discussed the details of the transfer of the funds, what the bank accounts, what the mechanism would be.

Ferdinand Jr.’s pronouncements, taken in context and in their entirety, were a confirmation of respondents’ recognition of their ownership of the Swiss bank deposits”

3. So we then filed a motion for execution in what remained of Civil Case 141 (which was where the 2003 SC decision began) with respect to the remaining part of the case that involved about 1/3 of the Imelda Marcos jewelry now in the Central Bank (I see that the PCGG wants to auction them off; an Aquino administration auctioning them off would get a far better price because of (a) the credibility of the administration that would be taking that decision and (b) a sense of historic closure that certainly doesn’t hurt when selling proof of someone’s criminal extravagance.)

This same strategy of seeking the execution of what lawyers call the ‘ratio decidendi’ — the reasoning of the case — in the 2003 decision can be done, by way of different kinds of motions (a motion for summary judgment, ideally), in all other pending PCGG Sandiganbayan cases.

4. The part of the decision quoting Bong Bong was described by the SC as an admission by Bong Bong that he knows his parents acquired ill-gotten wealth and what these ill-gotten assets are (which he says is ‘everything’ and not just the Swiss bank deposits being litigated in 2003).

What does this mean if he becomes Senator? It means, first of all, that he is unfit for the office, and any Senator can move for his expulsion if the Senators agree that ‘disorderly behavior’ [which is the basis for disciplining a Senator] can’t possibly be more punishable that abetting and profiting from plunder;

(b) if he is elected, then the Constitution requires Marcos Jr. “upon assumption of office, (to) make a full disclosure of his financial and business interests” — so he cannot begin to discuss a compromise with the State without also disclosing the assets he claims to be his to compromise and

(c) he arguably may not even be part of negotiating any compromise with the State because the Constitution also says that “he shall not intervene in any matter before any office of the Government for his pecuniary benefit.”

5. If corrupt incumbents who have anything to do with any effort to surrendering the fight against the Marcoses can’t help it, then perhaps one option is to warn them of yet another constitutional provision: “The right of the State to recover properties unlawfully acquired…shall not be barred by prescription, laches or estoppel.”

A compromise — specially one that undermines a final SC decision against the Marcoses, that does not lead to the return of Marcos assets not yet found/frozen earlier by the PCGG, that essentially is being done in bad faith — can be undone and is not subject to estoppel.

6. A few final points about impunity: Just a few months ago, I was surprised to read — in a development that should have been but wasn’t well-covered in Philippine journalism — that the Supreme Court of Pakistan, faced with an earlier decision by the deposed military dictator Pavez Musharaff to unfreeze the ill-gotten Swiss deposits of the family of current President Asif Zardari (the husband of assassinated PM Benazir Bhutto), not only overturned this decision BUT cited the 2003 Philippine SC decision involving the Marcoses.

What we do with the impunity that the Marcoses still have matters to the rest of the world.

In my current work — going after the war crimes of ex-dictators and ex-warlords, helping governments and human rights activists and violations victims get compensation from the assets of these perpetrators, setting up truth commissions and war crimes courts to hold these violators to account — the half-finished effort to hold the Marcoses accountable for massive human rights violations and for large-scale corruption is still seen as an open question, one that matters to those fighting their own legacies of impunity everywhere else.

Whether to Peruvians dealing with Fujimori’s legacy and own efforts to return to power through his daughter, or to Serbs who can’t get Milosevic’s ill-gotten assets and whose own children and widow have taken control over those assets outside the country, or Indonesians who can no longer go after the dead Suharto and, it seems, even after his son Tommy, or to Liberians who cannot get a law passed in parliament to get Charles Taylor’s assets back because his wife and allies are Senators blocking that bill — how Filipinos deal with the Marcoses will shape their opinion of our moral standing as a people and will certainly impact on how international law, including the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court, is shaped.

If Aquino gets elected — and whether or not Marcos Jr. becomes Senator — the first order of business in fighting impunity mustn’t be a short-sighted effort to simply charge the Arroyo family with plunder for stealing a fraction of what the Marcoses stole and still possess.

It must be to (a) establish a truth commission that goes back to the start of the dictatorship and its repercussions up to now, with the power to recommend the creation of a human rights court to try perpetrators of rights violations during and after the dictatorship,

(b) possibly to abolish the PCGG and in its place establish a commission to implement the provisions of the UN Convention Against Corruption against anyone — Marcos/Marcos crony/heir and proxy of Marcos and Marcos crony in control of illicit-acquired assets — who falls within its ambit, with the power to file mutual legal assistance requests abroad as well as authority OVER the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) insofar as former and incumbent public officials are concerned.

The idea is to send a signal — to the Marcoses, to would-be Marcoses, to our own people, and to people everywhere who want to see our flag raised again in this fight.

Was Kris Aquino named after the word “crisis”?

It’s highly unlikely.
But a published account written by Cory’s speechwriter, newspaperman, and Makati City congressman TeddyBoy Locsin Jr. said that Kris Aquino was named after the word that has singularly defined the state of Philippine society (and arguably, her personal life).
“We’re gonna call her Krissy, for crisis,” Locsin wrote in page 320 of the book, Cory Magic: Her People’s Stories, citing Ninoy.

The book, Cory Magic: Her Peoples' Stories, remembers the former president and her funeral. (Picture from

The book, Cory Magic: Her Peoples' Stories, remembers the former president and her funeral. (Picture from

The remark was made over a dinner in August 1971, when Locsin was covering Aquino’s career for the Philippines Free Press.
“Ninoy and I immediately hit it off,” Locsin added, remembering the event more than three decades ago when the senator’s youngest daughter was just “a chubby, little baby girl” held by Cory whom he met for the first time.
In the meantime, Ninoy’s remark — as reported by Locsin — may have been flippant.
After all, it was uttered hours after grenades were thrown into a crowded Liberal Party (LP) campaign rally at Plaza Miranda in Manila, an event that Ninoy — an LP senator — begged off from attending at the last moment. The decision may have prolonged Ninoy’s life although he would later be assassinated exactly twelve years later to the day at the airport now bearing his name.
Now, more than thirty years later, Ninoy’s words about Kris sounds prophetic.
Just this week, Kris reportedly cursed and caused a scandal when she visited the house of her husband’s fan, a certain Mayen Austria, in an upscale village east of Metro Manila.
But Aquino immediately denied the incident in a text message.
She only expressed her feelings about Mayen’s “actuations” toward her husband, basketball player James Yap, she said.
The incident could have been easily set aside.
Except that Kris’ brother Noynoy is running — and is the leading contender — for the presidency of the Philippines.
And no spin doctor worth his bag of tricks will miss this opportunity to reduce Aquino’s popularity.
This explains why political operators of all shapes, shades, and sizes are working overtime, only to make sure that the incident — no thanks to Kris and her husband — renders the most maximum damage possible to his campaign.
Already, a text message supposedly from Austria, has been making the rounds, accusing Kris of being “very mad, berating us, saying I always text and call james” and of “passing by the house to make me sugod [confront me].”
The lengthy text message ends with the question, “Do you want Kris to be in Malacanang?”
Whether the message came from Austria or not, Aquino’s political rivals are stopping at nothing to create — what’s that word again? — a crisis big enough to dent his lead in the surveys.
It enough to make you think whether Ninoy had the power to predict the future.
From the Acknowledgments Dept. Altered pic of Kris and Noynoy was copied from Karl Kaufman. Thanks, man. Picture of the book came from