Wake Up, Philippines!

Unprepared for crisis

Posted in Calamity and Disaster by Erineus on February 3, 2009

“The trouble with this country is that there are too many politicians who believe that they can fool all of the people all of the time.”
– Franklin Adams

UNLIKE in a parliamentary form of government where elections, since there are no fixed term limits, can be called at anytime and at short notice whenever a government in power falls into disrepute, and suffers defeat and disgrace from “a vote of no confidence,” we here in the Philippines have been preparing for the 2010 presidential elections since 2008 to an obsessive degree, and unmindful of the enveloping global economic crisis.

This country seems unprepared for any kind of crisis from economic to natural disasters either because of excessive preoccupation with the 2010 elections, or “last-two-minutes,” scramble, as it were, for deal-making, or project initiation, or presidential appointments, dollar salting, commission-taking, or self-serving legislative fiats, in view of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s imminent exit from office in just over a year’s time, notwithstanding desperate efforts to ram through Constitutional changes to coincide with the 2010 elections that would provide an excuse to postpone elections, and extend elected officials’ tenure of office, including the President’s, until further notice, so to speak, albeit now unacceptable and too late in the day.

First, nobody seems to be minding the “company store” either because our political leaders are too busy preparing for the obscenely expensive forthcoming elections, or the beneficial recipients of presidential blessings and patronage are also busy feathering their nests for the “political winter” when they will be the ones outside looking in.

In the meantime, for example, the Department of Labor and Employment seems ineptly unprepared to quantitatively forecast the spiraling unemployment trends that will follow the global banking industry meltdown and industrial and international trade shrinkage worldwide.

The 50,000 job vacancies that the DoLE is drooling about are unrealistic to say the least not only because the most needy of Filipinos do not qualify for these jobs but also because the openings are mismatched jobs of tailor-made specifications.

In short, there are no intelligent contingency plans for the increasing numbers of laid-off workers on the domestic front from industries to service to agriculture, and no contingencies for the redeployment and relocation of returning OFWs whose contracts may not be renewed that fast.

Second, what plans do we have to arrest the depreciation of the peso against other foreign currencies when remittances from OFWs and export shortfalls start impacting on our Gross International Reserves (GIR), savings from OFWs turn into dissavings, and the OFWs come marching home?

What measure are there to further curb smuggling, and improve collections from the BIR and the Bureau of Customs?

Third, while President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is on the right track by pursuing high-level infrastructure spending; generating jobs; encouraging consumption spending; and continuing social reform benefits, it is important to guard against wastage and corruption.

The methodology of dispensing the goodies, and attempts at stimulus initiatives leave much to be desired the way public works are undertaken and parceled out to contractors with local political patronage which, in the end, will only benefit the few, and widen further the gap between the sated few and the hungry many.

Where are the plans of action?

When all is said and done, while President Gloria Arroyo is doing the right thing by focusing on the economy, she cannot do much in her remaining watch as the global economic crisis, principally in banking and finance, deepens and lengthens not of our own making.

It follows that the burden of recovery and riding out the global economic storm will fall on the next Philippine President.

For these reasons, the next Chief Executive should not only be carefully selected but he should tower above ordinary mortals like us.

You be the judge. (For comments and views, please e-mail: chaff_fromthegrain@yahoo.com.ph)

Former Press Secretary

Militarization by other means

MANILA, Philippines — Soldiers erecting checkpoints, entering communities, and rounding up and interrogating residents in various parts of the country have become so commonplace in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime that we take for granted their lawfulness. Do soldiers have a right to do these things?

Not being a lawyer, I can only ask questions. The construction of the 1987 Constitution is easy enough to permit its commonsensical understanding by ordinary citizens. I turn to its words and the values around which it is woven whenever I am bothered by the actions of government. The Constitution is the self-defense and is a necessity of any democratic nation. Every citizen should keep a copy of his country’s Constitution in his pocket.

There is a division of labor between the military and the police that is recognized in every modern society and is upheld in the successive constitutions we have had in our country. The maintenance of peace and order within communities is basically the function of the police. Our Constitution states that such a police force is “national in scope and civilian in character.”

The same Constitution declares among its guiding principles and policies that “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.” I understand sovereignty to mean the power to govern oneself. To defend a nation’s sovereignty is to protect the nation against foreign invaders. To secure the integrity of the national territory is to protect it against forces that seek its dismemberment. On this basis, one may understand the active presence of soldiers in parts of Mindanao where secessionist movements operate. But how does one account for the presence of military patrols in the streets of Barangay Commonwealth in Quezon City?

I quote from a report that appeared in the Inquirer yesterday (3/3/07): “The military said the deployment of soldiers in some areas of Metro Manila was part of civil military operations in certain barangays where issues like poverty can be exploited by communist insurgents …. Army spokesperson Maj. Ernesto Torres said the deployments had been going on since November last year and were mostly in depressed barangays. Troops are sent to barangays where they stay and ‘talk to (residents), ask them how they are doing and tell them there are programs of government which they can avail (themselves) of,’ Torres said in a phone interview. Torres said this was a ‘holistic approach’ in addressing the insurgency problem. AFP spokesperson Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said such deployments were ‘normal’ as it was the AFP-NCRCom mandate to ‘protect Metro Manila’.”

Protect Metro Manila against whom? Against suspected communists? Sec. 18 (1) of the Bill of Rights is clear on this: “No person shall be detained solely by reason of his political beliefs and aspirations.” Last I heard is that no one can be penalized for mere membership in a communist organization. But as important, if Metro Manila is to be protected, whose function is this? I always assumed this belonged to the police.

There is basis for this assumption. The Constitution takes for granted that the maintenance of peace and order is not the normal function of soldiers but of the police. And so it specifies those exceptional instances when the government, through the President, may call out the military. Art. VII, Sec. 18 provides: “The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, or rebellion.”

The last time Ms Arroyo invoked these Commander-in-Chief powers was on Feb. 23, 2006 when she issued Presidential Proclamation 1017 declaring a State of National Emergency. Recognizing that these are emergency powers, the framers of our Constitution made their exercise subject to very stringent qualifications. The most important of these is the provision that ensures the undiminished validity of the Bill of Rights even during such emergencies.

The Supreme Court held PP 1017 to be valid insofar as it was an exercise of the calling-out powers “to prevent or suppress lawless violence,” but struck it down as unconstitutional insofar as it claimed powers for the President that did not belong to her office. These are: the power to issue decrees, to direct the military to enforce obedience to all laws including those not related to lawless violence, and to impose standards on media.

The question we must now ask is: Does lawless violence exist today in our barangays, towns and cities to warrant the engagement of the military in the everyday maintenance of peace and order in our communities? If there is, what is its extent? What is the basis for this assessment? What limits are there, if any, to what the military can do in the course of “suppressing and preventing lawless violence”?

If one goes by the 1987 Constitution alone, there can be no doubt that with these recent troop deployments, the military has overstepped its mandate. My fear is that the antiterrorism law (now euphemistically titled “The Human Security Act of 2007”) is aimed precisely at preempting these questions. By routinizing an undeclared state of emergency, the government lays the ground for the militarization of our communities.

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By Randy David
First Posted 06:18am (Mla time) 03/04/2007

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