Jun Lozada and the Senate hearings – Catalyst for Change

FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW”

 

© by Datu Jamal Ashley Abbas

 

In a speech in Wisconsin, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said that he is running for the US presidency because, quoting from Martin Luther King, of the “fierce urgency of now.”

 

Indeed, there is a fierce urgency for the US to change its foreign policy now. Bush’s adherence to the “Clash of Civilization” scenario is alienating America from international communities like most of the Muslim world, the truly non-aligned countries and even the still powerful Russia and the awakening giant China. Even tourists have shied away from the US.

 

Domestically, the “Clash of Civilization” mindset is pitting the so-called Whites – those of European descent – against their hyphenated co-citizens – the Blacks (African-Americans), Hispanics or Latinos (Mexican-Americans et al), Asians (Indian-Americans, etc.) and of course, the Muslims (Arab-Americans, etc.).

(See my Clash of Civilizations post )

IN THE PHILIPPINES

 

The Senate hearings have highlighted the fierce urgency for change now. The country is fast sliding to become a failing or failed state.

 

THE PRESIDENCY

 

First, the legitimacy of the Presidency is in question. The “Hello Garci” tapes and all other evidence of fraud in the 2004 elections is enough to convince any doubting Thomas that Ms. Arroyo could not possibly have won over the ever popular Fernando Poe, Jr.

 

CREDIBILITY OF ELECTORAL PROCESS

 

Second, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has no credibility at all. The involvement of the COMELEC Chair in the current ZTE-NBN scandal is proof positive that there was fraud in the 2004 and even in the 2008 elections. The mind-boggling “commission” allegedly asked by the Chair from the ZTE-NBN project is an indication of the magnitude of fraud perpetrated by the COMELEC in the last two elections. The COMELEC Chair was simply calling in the chips. As Mr. Joey de Venecia said, it was the Chair’s “last hurrah” before retiring.

 

With the COMELEC in such a situation, how could the Filipino people trust the outcome of future elections?

 

There is a fiercely urgent need to implement computerized elections. The computer system to be chosen should be able to greatly minimize cheating in the counting of ballots.

 

BLEEDING THE GOVERNMENT DRY

 

Third, the gigantic amounts of “commissions” allegedly being asked or given by government officials is hemorrhaging government coffers. These kickbacks are loans to be paid for by the Filipino people. The Philippines already has massive debts inherited all the way from the Marcos administration.

 

What would the common tao think of people getting kickbacks of US$ 130 MILLION (P 6.5 BILLION) or US$ 70 MILLION or P 3.5 BILLION (at P 50 : $ 1) or even just US$ 10 MILLION ( P 500 MILLION) to “back off” from a project? These are HUGE AMOUNTS.

 

And more kickbacks of that magnitude will soon be exposed. The Southrail project allegedly involves a minimum of US $ 70 MILLION DOLLARS kickback. The Cyber Education project cost is around 26 BILLION PESOS. Surely, there are MASSIVE commissions hiding there. After all, as somebody said in the Senate hearing, it is just like doing another “Knowledge Channel”.

 

The government should not be a milking cow for a few people. The hemorrhage of government coffers should stop now before the Filipinos are burdened with insurmountable debts.

 

MILITARIZATION OF BUREAUCRACY

 

Fourth, the militarization of the bureaucracy is becoming more apparent. Every Army and Air Force General Tom, Police General Dick and Admiral Harry, who retire from the service, is immediately given a government post. In the ZTE-NBN-Lozada scandal alone, former generals are involved — from Department of Transportation and Communication Secretary Mendoza to Airport Asst. Gen. Manager Atutubo . Even Jun Lozada’s former patron was a former general – Gen. Victor Corpus. The head of the Cabinet – the Executive Secretary – is a former general.

 

Civil Service Commission (CSC) chair Karina Constantino-David, in her valedictory speech, said that more than 90 former military and police officers are now enjoying top government posts. She asserted that these people are “not necessarily qualified.”

(See Civil Service chief: Govt needs to sack 20-30% of workers)

It is unfortunate that Ms. Constantino-David only found the courage to publicly speak up when her term was already up. The Civil Service Commission is an independent constitutional body. She was not there for the pleasure of the president. She could have spoken up while she was still incumbent and she should have initiated reforms in the Civil Service.

There is an urgent need to stop the militarization of the bureaucracy.

BLOATED AND MEDIOCRE BUREAUCRACY

This brings us to the fifth item, the bloated and incompetent bureaucracy. In the media report cited above, the former CSC chair said that “Around 20-30 percent of government workers should be removed from the service because of the excess number of employees being employed by the state.”

 

She further said that “4,000 qualified personnel were not appointed to executive posts because these positions were filled up by people close to the President. She said that of the 6,000 managerial positions in the government, 3,500 were filled up by presidential appointees instead of career officials.”

Like all politicians pandering to the government workforce, she gives the impression that career bureaucrats are necessarily qualified and competent. That is a non sequitur. In the first place, a great majority of so-called career civil servants got their jobs not because of competence or qualifications but because of padrinos who are either politicians or people within the bureaucracy. And a great majority of these bureaucrats get promoted depending on how good they suck up to the powers that be.

 

In fact, these bureaucrats act and think that they own the government. They call the political appointees like Secretaries and Undersecretaries as “transients.” These civil servants could not care less about the people. They certainly do not think they are servants to the people. In fact, most of them do not even act in a civil manner to the public.

 

In an office I used to work, the Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries were even afraid of the Treasurer or Cashier! This woman civil servant had the “power of the purse” and her superiors bowed down to her!

 

These career people get a lot of perks, too. They get to go abroad and even study abroad for free and at the same time still get paid their salaries. What is worse is that these people are sent to seminars or conferences abroad even when they know absolutely nothing about the topic of these seminars. The bureaucrats call these foreign travel “junkets”.

 

These countless junkets cost the Filipino people millions of US dollars a year. The bureaucrats get a clothing allowance and a per diem of US$ 200 per day for accommodation and at least US $ 100 a day for meals. This does not include the airline expenses and seminar / conference fees.

 

Once I went to such a conference. The topic was well within my field of expertise. I attended all the conferences and meetings, and gave a comprehensive report afterwards. I even gave back around half of the per diem because the hotel gave me a 50 % discount on the room accommodation as requested by the host organization. It is rare for a government employee to give back part of the per diem money.

But I saw officials from other Philippine state institutions who mostly played golf and didn’t even bother to attend the conference.

 

Also, it is very common for example, for a Treasurer or Cashier to be sent to a seminar in Europe on say, Petroleum Engineering or Geophysics, subjects which they have absolutely no knowledge of. This I know through personal experience.

 

The problem with our bureaucracy is not just the political appointees. The problem is MEDIOCRACY. Our bureaucracy is full of mediocre people. And because of their mediocrity, they become “mendicants”, as Mr. Lozada puts it, to the powers that be.

 

The Senate hearings revealed the extent of mediocrity in our civil service. A multimillion dollar feasibility study used a TABLOID as source of important data. Also, the former NEDA chief said that his staff tried to research on the INTERNET but could not find sources. This same NEDA chief had to ask a friend to evaluate multi-million dollar projects without any contractual obligations or accountability to NEDA or the government.

 

The fierce urgency of change in the Civil Service is obvious. A mediocre civil service invites graft and corruption.

 

RULE OF (WO)MEN, NOT LAWS

 

Sixth, while administration officials keep on trumpeting that they are for the rule of law, they keep on violating those laws. People are picked up by military or police without arrest warrants. And if they are unlucky like the son of the late Jose Burgos, they do not return. No less that a United Nations report concluded that extra-judicial killings are happening in the country.

 

Even congressmen are arrested on warrants issued decades ago and are already superseded by subsequent government policies.

 

Only in the Philippines one could find several congressmen / women seeking sanctuary in the halls of Congress because they would be arrested if they ventured outside the premises of Congress. Congressmen are supposed to be the law makers. Yet the government’s police force has no qualms in arresting them based on trumped up charges.

 

Senate subpoenas are not honored by the President’s men despite any Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

 

Arrest warrants issued by the Senate are ignored by the police. In fact, Police Chief Avelino Razon told the Blue Ribbon Senate Committee hearing that the police do not recognize arrest warrants by the Senate outside Senate premises despite any Supreme Court ruling.

 

Journalists are arrested without warrants and without grounds whatsoever. And they were arrested without being read their Miranda rights.

 

We must bring the prosper respect for law now before impunity becomes the norm.

 

SUPPRESSION OF FREEDOM

 

Seventh, basic human freedoms are suppressed. The right of the people to assemble and seek redress for their grievances, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, is undermined by the ‘no permit no rally’ rule of the government.

 

The freedom of the press is curtailed as evidenced by the arrest of journalists after the Trillanes episode at the Manila Peninsula hotel. The government has issued guidelines which the Press should follow in pain of punishment, such as revocation of the organizations’ media franchises.

 

And the most basic of all, freedom from want. Millions of Filipinos are without jobs, without homes and even without food.

 

As one American hero once said, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”

 

EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS

 

The Asian Human Rights Commission in 2007 concluded that “The continued failure to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances and other grave violations of human rights, illustrates how deep the problems concerning human rights are today in the Philippines. Despite repeated assurances, commitments and pledges by the government that it would take action, investigations are cursory at best and legal remedies for the victims and the families of the dead remain beyond reach. In reality, the perpetrators of these killings – whether they are the police, military or paramilitary groups – are not yet being held to account.”

 

The report continued with “United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, Philip Alston, visited the Philippines in early 2007 and concluded that the military are responsible for a large number of the political killings taking place in the country.”

 

Jonas Burgos, son of Press Freedom icon Jose Burgos, was kidnapped allegedly by the military and is still missing. I believe he was a victim of extra-judicial killings.

(See my post IPS INTERNATIONAL JOURNALISM AWARDEE JORGE BURGOS’ SON KIDNAPPED)

 

Jun Lozada would have been a number in the statistics in the extra-judicial killings had he not taken precautions by telling his relatives and friends that he would be coming that fateful day and so the media and Senate people were waiting for him at the airport.

 

Nothing demands more urgency than the cessation of extrajudicial killings.

 

EXPLOITATION OF WORKERS

 

Ninth, nowhere in the world are the workers more exploited than in this country. The minimum wage cannot feed a family of five. The minimum wage is just enough to pay rent for a decent apartment, the electricity and water bills. Most minimum wage earners either live with their parents or relatives or become squatters.

 

Most of these minimum wage earners have no insurance or health care. Worse, many are hired on a “casual” basis every 6 months. I know people who work for the government as “casual” for 20 years!

 

Even having education is not enough. Most fresh graduates are hired on a minimum wage. The money spent on 4 or 5 years of education – tuition and other fees, books, allowances, etc. amount to practically nothing. A fresh Accounting graduate can get as much as a janitor.

 

For on-the-job training of students, the students work in companies either for FREE or a minimum allowance (just enough for bus fare.) Worse, some companies even ask the student TO PAY to work in their prestigious firms. Where in the world can one find anything like these?

 

When I had my practicum in Germany, I was paid 800 Deutsche Marks a month. When I had my on-the-job training at ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia, I was paid US 1000 (one thousand) dollars a month.

 

I once met a Malaysian who was the Country Manager of CITIBANK. He did not even have a college degree! Aside from his high pay, he lived in an expensive condominium in Makati. It is unconscionable for a government to allow its college degree-holders earn salaries 1000 times less than those earned by non-degree holders from other developing countries.

 

The exploitation of workers has to stop now.

 

NO PEACE NO WAR

 

And tenth, in Muslim Mindanao, there is no peace but there is no officially declared war. But it is teeming with soldiers, including American soldiers.

 

The money spent on troop deployment, war materiel and other war expenses reach billions of pesos. Meanwhile, there is no development in Muslim Mindanao.

 

Even Christian populated places in Mindanao suffer because people are afraid to invest. Foreign investors are loathed to come to Mindanao, what with the regular negative travel advisories of the foreign countries and embassies.

 

More importantly the number of displaced people in Mindanao keeps on getting higher and higher. And of course, countless deaths of Moros and government soldiers simply add to the worsening situation in the land.

 

The “no peace no war” scenario in Mindanao and Sulu affects the whole country. Military spending is sky high, productivity in affected areas is practically nil, and development in nearby areas is hindered by fear of investors to come in. And the reputation of the country is impaired.

 

And pretty soon, the poverty of Moroland, discrimination against Moros’ development, militarization of Mindanao, wanton disregard for Moros’ rights, continued exploitation of Moro resources without benefits going back to them, continued Bush-like rhetoric against Muslims, etc. will finally take its toll. And when the Moros’ will feel that their backs are against the wall, they will have no choice but to rise again just as they did in the early 1970s. And like before, Malacanang’s cronies will not be able to help the administration.

 

It must be remembered that the Moros won the 1970s battles but they lost the war in the negotiating table.

 

The Mindanao conflict needs to be solved now. When the Bangsa Moro people(s) strike back, the Abu Sayyaf menace would be remembered as the good old days.

 

PANEM ET CIRCEM

 

Marcos and Imelda used the panem et circem strategy to the hilt. The cronies’ pockets were full but they were in the shadows not in the limelight. Inflation was low, employment was high, the peso was high and stable, and the people (except for Moros and communists) were generally well-off financially.

 

And the people were fed with circuses – the Miss Universe pageant, the Manila International Film Festivals, the constant media hyped parades, etc.

 

This time, like in the Erap administration, the circus is on TV – the Senate hearings. And the spotlights are on the cronies. They are the clowns. And the people get to see how much bread (commissions, kickbacks, bribes, etc.) are thrown the oligarchs’ way. Meanwhile, much of the people are suffering. The OFWs may have some money but they suffer socially – separation from families which causes so many dysfunctions such as break-up of these families.

 

NOT A DEMOCRACY

 

It is now internationally acknowledged that the Philippines is not a democratic country. We never were. We have always been ruled by demagogue politicians and their supporters – the rich oligarchs. Our form of government is plutocracy – rule by the wealthy.

 

The New York-based group Freedom House de-listed Philippines from a “free” country to a “partly-free country.” According to Freedom House “a partly free country is one in which there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Partly free states frequently suffer from an environment of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic and religious strife, and often a setting in which a single political party enjoys dominance despite the façade of limited pluralism.” (See

Tony Lopez’s column at Manila Times.)

 

NOW IS THE TIME FOR CHANGE

 

Before sliding further into chaos, the Filipinos are again called on to stand up and act. The act of granting independence to a country does not make that country a nation. So many nations-states created after World War II have now disintegrated. Kosovo has just declared its independence this week from Serbia, which was itself once part of the nation-state Yugoslavia created after World War II.

 

The process of nation-building is long and eventful. Nationhood cannot be taken for granted. After EDSA 1986, the Filipinos had the opportunity to correct all the wrongs done to it by the Marcos administration and his new oligarchs. But the people were not vigilant. The old oligarchs simply came back to power. And later, the old and the new oligarchs joined forces and cut the Philippine pie among themselves.

 

We do not have the luxury of having an Obama for a leader. But we can lead the change ourselves – each of us advocating for truth, transparency and accountability from the government. Sovereignty resides in the people, not in governments. The people must assert its rights – the right to a free press, the right to assemble, all the basic freedoms, especially the freedom from want, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

There is a “fierce urgency of NOW”. Before it’s too late, we must all act. We can all become co-creators of a new Philippines- a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural equitable society that is based on Freedom, Justice, Truth, Knowledge and Merit.

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