Thursday, March 30, 2006

Pet Peeves: the Anti-Smoking campaign

Okay, level off: I am not a smoker. Never tried, never will. I personally believe it's a bad habit. I have nothing against my friends smoking, but I always try to remind them of the cost it has to their health. If after this they continue smoking, that's their call. They're old enough to know, and I'm cool with them exercising their freedom this way.

Now for the rant.

My point with the anti-smoking campaign comes from that age-old debate on education vs. regulation. Some - most - people would say that laws need to be enforced to control certain behavior in order to maintain a certain level of decency or responsiblity in society.

Take smoking for one. I am well aware of the issues surrounding this. The health reasons alone should give people pause, but part of the issue concerns smoker habits. There's second-hand smoke, which is more dangerous than buffing a cig as there's nothing filtering the smoke to the one unlucky enough to be in the path of a smoker's exhaust. Then there's the litter. During my time in the Ateneo, this was a very real problem: somehow, smokers, especially in the legendary coño bench near the College Caf, can't seem to make the extra effort to throw their cig butts to the nearest trash can, which in the Ateneo is nearly in every corner. Trash, especially smoking-related trash, became so much that we had to "quarantine" the coño bench as an example, deploying a canary-yellow police tape with "biohazard" written over it.

Yet, for me, it is far more effective to educate your people rather than regulating behavior through the enforcement of certain rules. A law was passed sometime ago limiting smoking in certain areas, especially in enclosed spaces. Smoking was also being banned in campuses, ostensibly to limit its access to students.

My contention with this is in its efficacy. What good is a law that penalizes smoking in restricted zones and the sale of cigarettes to minors if it is not properly enforced?

I always use this example to illustrate my point: one time as I was hanging out at Starbucks Kat, I saw a group of high school students lounging outside. I was surprised - and not a little peeved - to see them whip out cigarettes and start smoking them. My first thought was, isn't there a law against this?

The other day, I passed by a sari-sari store in my neighborhood. Two boys, perhaps late grade school or early high school, were buying some snacks. Between two fingers of one boy was a lighted cigarette.

What's the point in the law, then, if it fails in its intended task?

But what was its intent, in the first place? Like laws that ban prostitution, that make jaywalking a criminal offense, or prevent the sale of liquor to minors, the law on smoking was meant to regulate the behavior. These laws were crafted to enforce the thinking that society frowns on certain acts, as aids in ensuring "proper" behavior among the members of society and expose the young in the "right" attitudes and values.

But regulation for me fails to achieve this due to its main "educational" tool: fear and punishment. You avoid a particular behavior because it will be punished. Negative reinforcement may be fine with dogs (as Dr. Pavlov's experiments show), but humans are different. Isn't it an adage in this country that somethig is illegal only if you get caught? And how the hell do you regulate sales of "regulated" products like cigarettes among informal retailers? Will the cigarette boy or corner newspaper stand ask for ID? Heck, even some 7-11 outlets don't ask ID for liquor and cigarette sales, eventhough it's obvious that the one purchasing is a minor.

People don't get the reason for the prohibition if all society's leaders do is regulate. The minds of most people have spent a lifetime doing "correct" behavior because they fear punishment, not because a particular type of behavior is what it is, correct. How many persons avoid brothels because they refuse to degrade the dignity of their fellowman? How many young people avoid drinking liquor because they know their physiology may not be developed enough to handle it? How many people don't smoke because they know it can lead to seven cancers, and progressively weakens the body? How many people cross the street on pedestrian lanes and walkways because they know it is not only risky to themselves but hampers the easy flow of traffic as well?

True, people can and do continue with "undesirable" behavior despite education. A lot of educated people do a lot of things that would horrify the general public, in the same way that many "uneducated" people live upright, responsible and decent lives. But education entails being informed, especially in the truths and consequences of a particular action or behavior. So long as this holds, then we can trust people to make informed decisions.

And if they continue doing behavior contrary to the information, then that's democracy for you. At least they'll know why when you make them pay the cost for continuing with their "undesirable" behavior.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Real World

I'm supposed to be writing four concept papers. But after seeing Billy Esposo's March 20 commentary on Inq7's Viewpoints area, I realized I cannot continue with the aformentioned papers without getting this off my chest.

I remember an argument I had with a barkada, just sometime late last year. I was complaining about the horrid state politics in general, and politics in the LP in particular, has become following July 8. My friend took a jab at me by saying, in so many words, that what the hell was I complaining about when I, of all people, should have expected politics to be made up of nothing but dirt and shit. I argued, rather heatedly as the conversation turned into a full blown debate between us, that, yes, some compromises have to made with one's idealism (and even ethics!) to operate in the political sphere, but there are just some things you don't do. There's a line you draw in the concrete, I said, and you don't cross that.

Besides, I argued, not all politicos are horrid monsters. I passionately defended "reformists" in the political sphere, people who I thought stood for higher standards. I think this was where we started really arguing, because I insisted that, despite the murk of politics, there are people who you can still trust to fight the good fight and stay true to the ideals and principles they taught and made one believe in.

At the time of that debate with my barkada, I guess I thought I'd seen it all.

That was until 2 March 2006, when LA and a whole lot, if not an outright majority, of Party leaders decided to take matters into their own hands and take down Drilon and company from the leadership of the LP.

I wouldn't be much of an analyst if I didn't expect a countermove; duh. Of course there would be. Given the stakes of the game, I knew Drilon and his people would hit back. Their still had "weapons" in their arsenal, after all, resources at their command. Even worse (at least, for LA's group, from my perspective), some of the most well-known and those regarded as "progressive" in the LP were in Drilon's group. This, I thought, would make this whole contest really, really, interesting. But, I thought, truth will out. People, once told of what really happened last 8 July 2005, and why March 2 had to happen the way it did, will realize that, at the very least, the whole situation is more complex than simple a... corollary to the whole GMA-Garci thing.

I, too, have been guilty, many times, of overestimation.

Actually, Billy Esposo's article is not surprising; he's anti-Gloria, so given that context it's not really surprising he'd take the Drilon line, insisting that even what happened to the LP is intimately connected to GMA. Okay, maybe it is: if Drilon had not been tempted by suddenly becoming President - however acting - before 2010, maybe the LP wouldn't be in this mess.

It's in the... other sources of information, they way they treated this fiasco, that has shown me just how really ugly, dirty and thoroughly lacking in morals and ethics this world can be.

In a post made last March 9, PCIJ's blog showcased comments from Rep. Neric Acosta. In the post, titled "Filipinos Dying by a Thousand Cuts," Neric gave us a preview of the Drilon's group true mentality regarding the Atienza group, which I thought showed that any attempt to unite the Party, even if Ka Jovy Salonga was the one to mediate it, would not even get to first base. Again, this was not surprising. Neric is a person I respect and admire a lot, but he's like Chito in the way the adamantly stick to the positions they espouse on an issue, regardless of the context of other mitigating factors surrounding the issue.

What hit me was the way PCIJ - a well-respected institution, indeed regarded as the last bastion of objective, professional, investigative journalism - treated the LP issue. If you check the post and proceed to the comments section, you'd notice a post made by Phoenix Blue, asking why PCIJ has only showcased the comments from Drilon group people (Chito had already been featured a few days before).

I am Phoenix Blue.

Neric's comments are something that didn't surprise me, but PCIJ's treatment did. I have the greatest respect for PCIJ. I tell people that it was reliable, objective and professional, that it was one of the best sources for objective-yet-hard-hitting information this side of the Pacific. So it came as a surprise to me that PCIJ was suddenly seemingly taking sides. Like I said as Phoenix Blue, there had already been two posts made by Drilon people on the LP issues, but none from the other side. I said this somehow did not fit in my defnition of fair journalism, that giving airtime or print space to only one side can badly skew the perceptions of readers, even more so that PCIJ is regarded not just as a Gatekeeper of Information, but a Strategic Constituent as well.

Until now, there have been no "rebuttal" posts in PCIJ's blog.

Perhaps that's what's rankling. Anti-Gloria people claim to be so on the basis of morality: the little girl cheated (the constitutionally-guaranteed right of innocence-until-proven-otherwise aside), therefore she should go. For National Demcorats and Rightists to do what they do is something that will not bother me; I know them, I have been trained to stand against them, so I am not surprised about anything they do. Ditto for Erap people, because they really are just a... variant of the communist "everything for the revolution" (replace "revolution" with "erap") credo.

It is the way "our" people - the so-called Moderates, the ones in the center, the ones who call themselves liberal yet are as illiberal and unethical in their comport in this issue as the person they hope to supplant - have acted that hurts me so much. Since when did the morals and ideals that the Center stood for gave way to justifying any and all acts to achieve our objectives?

Look at Chito: he is portrayed as the paragon of all that is good and true in today's young leaders. But he suppresses dissent and different opinions. If you do not side with him, you are the enemy. He subjects you to the worst public humiliation you can ever have and you can't do anything because he is Chito Gascon. And if you won't bow down to him and his humiliation of you, he will try to erase you from the equation, like what he's tried to do to KALIPI, like what he's tried to do to me.

It is painful to see so many of those I admire and hoped to emulate on the other side of this battle. More so because I do not consider myself fully on any side: I said I will stand up against Gloria when she transgresses human rights and the freedoms we enjoy, rights and freedoms she swore to defend, but I do not automatically believe the Garci tapes are for real. I know too much. I know that the technology and skill to manipulate information is there. And it is absurdly amusing to see people who help put Gloria where she is right now - who ran her campaign, for God's sake - saying she cheated and therefore must be removed.

It is painful to see them there. And to hear them justify their acts be a hundred different reasons. It is painful because you know the truth. I was there in 8 July 2005, when a dolorous blow was dealt the Liberal Party by its very own President, by its own leaders, by the people the Party regarded as its paragons and bannermen.

Because if the people who supposedly represent all that is true, noble and good in the LP cloak their actions in shadow and deceit, in slander and propaganda... what and who else can you believe in?

I was there last July 8, and two days before that where Drilon and his factotums (to use a new term being bandied between LP camps) declared July 8 as "katulad ng ginawa natin ngayon," or similar to what we did today, "today" referring to July 6, which was a simple consultation. I was there. I know the truth. And I believe they know it, too. Yet they can appear in public and still claim the truth is otherwise. Unless they have started to believe their own propaganda.

Was my friend right? Was my Atenean idealism making me believe in an illusion?

Is this, then, the real world?

Friday, March 10, 2006

When a Party is Over: the long, drawn-out death of the Liberal Party

To say this is painful for me is an understatement.

I entered the Liberal Party as one who was cynical about politicians; as the head of the UCSC's intelligence directorate, being paranoid and cynical were part of the job description. Until that time in 2000, only one politician merited my respect (hah, and even he has lost that now). But you learned to love the LP, and being a liberal in beliefs if not in creed, it was but the logical conclusion to align one's self to the most visible and powerful symbol of liberalism in the Philippines. I was proud to be a Liberal, proud to be in the LP.

It is a testament to the extent of the... mess that the Party is in right now that one's pain is mixed so thoroughly in - and caused from - the confusion and disappointment that stems from 8 July 2005. Someone once said that what befell the LP was a mirror of what was happening to the country. Perhaps it is true: although one can see the battle lines clearly drawn, who are the protagonists? Who are the antagonists? Are the heroes totally pure in their motives, as heroes should be? Are the villains totally without basis for their percieved villainy, or are their actions justified by the acts of those they contend with?

For following the events of 2 March 2006 the manner of the escalation of this 8-month long debacle may have hopelessly shattered our once great Party. Yet this is no division where you can distinguish one part from another, and an attempt can be made to make it whole. No: the LP is shattered into a hundred million pieces, each minute shard being tossed in the winds of the dark fate released from July 8.

Isn't that where it truly begins? I still maintain that, despite Chito's points last March 2, he would have been answered in full if on that day itself, during that assembly and in the presence of the cameras of all the TV networks and notepads of reporters that March 2 happened becuase Drilon refused to heed the call of Party leaders and members to immediately convene the National Executive Council (NECO).

KALIPI asked for it not one week after July 8; I should know, I drafted that position paper, circulated to the members of KALIPI's National Board and to the major chapter leaders before we sent it to Drilon (this is contrary to what some people would claim; they said that we lack democracy in the youth wing since no consultation happens. How very far from the truth).

And when the Party's sectoral groups - KALIPI, the Liberal Caucus of Congressional Staff (LCCS) and the Liberal League of Local Legislators (L4) - met to discuss what was happening to the Party and what can we do about it, along comes Chito to tell us, in so many words that, yes, we were free to discuss, but we shouldn't, do anything that would, ah, affect the moves being done among "higher management." to resolve the issue. To my mind, this sounded so much like the Party's sectors were being told by the Drilon group to "keep off!" All we wanted to do was to discuss the problem, and call on the Party President to convene the NECO at the soonest possible time to resolve the issue. Drilon was right: the NECO is, short of the National Directorate, the highest policy-making body of the LP. During Butch Abad's time, no important decision was reached without at least consulting the NECO. The NECO's decisions would have been final.

Yet Frank Drilon, since 8 July 2005, refused to convene the NECO. Month after month after month. Until March 2 happened.

And they had the gall to refer to the LP constitution? So why didn't Chito mention anywhere that Drilon, too, had breached the LP constitution? It was clear there that the NECO should be convened at least once a year. The last time the NECO was convened was Nov. 2004, when Abad finally turned over the party presidency to Drilon. November and December 2005 came and went and still no NECO. Still no resolution to the conflict.

And there's that infernal "stand."

Let me level off here: I do not like Gloria. I think my previous post proves that. I am not entirely convinced of the Garci tapes - my training, both as an intelligence officer and as a communications major, prevents me from jumping too quickly to conclusions when a shadow of a doubt exists - but neither do I agree with the little girl who sits at the Palace. I think she should have let the impeachment through and fought it out in the Senate, hostile as it was after July 8; didn't the Filipino people show in 2001 that they cannot be hoodwinked? She shouldn't have done 1017, for that matter.

But the event involving the LP in 8 July 2005 showed the other reason of why I haven't gone so much against her: I cannot fully trust those wanting to bring her down, at least in terms of motives.

Wednesday, 6 July 2005: Party leaders met at Club Filipino for the first in a series of consultations. It ends at about lunchtime, with Drilon telling everyone in the table that, another one would be held two days hence and if they want to join that one, too, they were welcome to.

Friday, 8 July 2005: Party HQ personnel meet early at the HQ to get the equipment needed for that day's consultation. It was decided by the senior personnel present - me - that we would bring only the laptop (since Mario Taguiwalo, NIPS president, had a presentation) and some tarps since, as we were told, it was only going to be a consultation. I didn't even make a press release; what for? It was just a consultation, right?

Even when a whole phalanx of media people were camping in front of Kalayaan Hall, it still didn't feel as if something extraordinary would happen on our side of the planet. Yes, we were aware by that time of the Hyatt 10 and other people removing their support from GMA, but this is just a consultation, right? I mean, how can a stand be made when we in the HQ weren't ordered by the Party President to call the members of the NECO, at least for that purpose?

A vote was done inside the hall. A quick look showed some members of Congress. A few who were there were from the NECO, but no quorum. The vote to ask for Gloria's resignation I think reached 19, with impeachment being close behind it. So, at best, if say the NECO was there, the total votes wouldn't even breach 50. The LP constitution recognizes quorum for the NECO at 50%+1. At that time, the NECO was about 102. Do the math.

Media barged in for the 1:00 p.m. presscon. Still no alarm bells in my head. I heard someone ask Drilon after the vote what was the nature of the vote, and the people at the head of the table answer it was just an advisory vote. So, no worry, right?

At past 1:00 p.m., LP President Franklin Drilon was giving a statement that the Party was withdrawing its support from the President and calling for her resignation. If she won't resign, the LP will support moves to impeach her.

That was what happened that day.

Someone will contend my stiory? Fine, then: if even the Congressional Caucus of the LP agreed with this "stand," then how come 22 out of 33 Liberal congressmen voted to uphold the report of the Justice Committee, that there were no grounds for impeaching GMA? If the local leaders of the LP agreed with the July 8 "stand," then how come nearly all our governors, and city and municipal mayors were all expressing their support for GMA?

Go to and look up the roster of NECO members. 102 members. Let's say 3 senators support her resignation. Add to that the 11 congressmen who agreed to her impeachment in the House. Add Govs. Maliksi, Tupas and Padaca. Perhaps add Mayor Jesse Robredo. Add Chito, Mayor Soccoro Acosta, Chit Asis, Butch Abad, Rene Villa and Bobby Tañada. That's just 24. If we simply add the 22 congressmen who supported the Committee report to the remaining Governors and City Mayors who supported GMA, where would the math lead you? How about the none-elected members of the NECO?

Let us put aside the discussions of who was right or not last July 8. Given the Drilon's camp insistence on the NECO and the LP constitution since March 2, why didn't he just convene the NECO and get it over with? If what the anti-Gloria LP were right, then why were they afraid to convene the NECO? Didn't they want to put Atienza and his group in their place? What better way to do it than through the legal process of convening the LP's highest policy-making body and giving a final answer to the issue of where the LP was regarding Gloria?

Eight months. In all their pronouncements the Drilon group never once answered the question on why the NECO was not convened these last eight months to resolve the issue. The members of the NECO have put down everything for issues much less in impact to the LP; would they have shirked now that the existence, viability and reputation of the Party is at stake?

Even worse to not convening the NECO, Drilon and his cabal continued to foist the lie - and it is a lie, please make no mistake about it - that the LP had a stand and it was anti-Gloria. Stand? What stand? How can there be a stand when the NECO was never convened to ratify anything?

Oh, and there was something much worse: the muzzling of the sectoral groups and leaders of the LP. I mentioned the gathering of the LP sectors earlier, yes? The Drilon group attempted to muzzle that, prevent it from happening. When they couldn't, they sent Chito to put a spanner in the works and ensure that at the very least no concerete action would be taken by the LP sectors with regard to the issue.

KALIPI had a Mindanao Congress sometime after July 8. This was one of the decisions by KALIPI's National Assembly during its 5th Congress in Nov. 2004: owing to the fact that there was just one delegate from Mindanao, we would pursue an aggressive rebuilding in Mindanao by holding a congress for that Area. Yet we had to postpone it because calls went out to the our partner organizations and contacts among the local LP leaders that it was already cancelled. How can it be cancelled when the National Board had not even decided on the issue when some of Drilon's people called our Sec Gen to ask KALIPI to postpone it, in view of July 8? We heard that, following our strong position on the issue of July 8, there were fears that we would say some things on July 8 that some people won't like to be said.

I can go on and on here, but Drilon's people would only spout their line. No: let's deal with facts here, instead:
  • The NECO had not been convened since Nov. 2004, nor in the 8 months following July 8;
  • Drilon's group continued to say in the public that the LP was anti-Gloria, eventhough the NECO had not been convened for the discussion of a stand;
  • Actual records of LP members among the congressmen, governors, city mayors and other local leaders showed who these leaders of the Party were supporting;
  • LP sectoral groups and leaders were being muzzled, even if they were simply asking for forums where the problem could be discussed, and calls from them to convene the NECO fell on deaf ears
Liberals are supposed to be process-oriented, yes? The Party had a dilemma leading to the elections of 2004 because Raul Roco had a lot of supporters. And there were the solid-Erap supporters in the Party, too. So, in order to avoid what would soon befell the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), the LP turned to a process of selection. This process was drafted and presented to the NECO for its approval. When it was approved, it was executed. After execution, the results of the exercise were reported to the NECO, who, based on the reports brought back by the people who interviewd all five major presidential candidates, decided that GMA was the best candidate.

So much as I wish there were other options - Eddie Villanueva had not convinced me that he was the right man for the job; I have no doubt he is a good and religious man, but the presidency demands... something else than those - I wrote, "Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo" on the president's slot of the ballot because I had no excuse to my Party for going against its decision.

Process. That's what's important for Liberals. It is what separates us from other ideologies, our adherence to protocols that ensure all our decisions are reached in a rational and democratic manner.

The pain I feel over what befell the Party is magnified whenever I look at the roster of those in the Drilon camp: Butch and Dina Abad; Sen. Rodolfo Biazon and Rep. Ruffy Biazon; Neric Acosta; Bobby Tañada; Gov. Grace Padaca.

These and more are people I respect and look up to in the Liberal Party. Especially the Abads, Cong Ruffy, Ka Bobby, and Gov. Grace, they have added to that pride one feels in wearing the L-in-a-shield of the LP.

Yet... I cannot go over the fact that July 8 was wrong. I should know. I was a staff of the HQ then. We were the ones who processed these things for them, who organized activities for them. We knew what July 8 was supposed to be about and were shocked at what really happened. We were appalled by the actions that followed after that, and outraged when the Drilon people started picking us HQ staff off in clusters. Jan and Cali were the firs to go. Me, Mante and Donna were recently removed, just this February. Hah, Mante and I were told it was because our contracts expired. See, they made us sign something sometime in Feb of last year, but it was never signed by Drilon. And, oh: I've been working for the Party since 2000, Mante since 2003, if not 2002.

I am outraged by the callousness in which the Drilon camp touts their moral ascendency. Because I know, as someone once intimately involved in the workings of the Party, that their actions since July 8 bankrupted any claim they had to being right with regard to this issue. At the very least, they should have called for the NECO. But they didn't, while continuing to claim that they spoke for Liberals all over the country.

I cannot join my old comrades in the anti-Gloria camp because of this. Because they are there. Because if people who can bend even a political party's rules and laws for their own benefit are the ones I will replace with someone like Gloria... how different is that? I'd rather have Gloria. At least she had no pretensions. Or at least, if she made one, you knew it was just propaganda.

So do I say that March 2 was right? Not exactly. But I can understand what led Atienza and more than 300 local leaders of the Party to do what they did, given the context of July 8.

It's actually funny when you look at it: the anti-Gloria LP claim that their call for GMA's ouster, even through people power or whatever means, is because the constitutional processes to address the griveances brought about by the Garci tapes have either been co-opted or rendered ineffective. Resign, Impeach, Oust, yes? (God, that used to mean something good back in 2000...)

Yet when leaders and members of the Party did so, because they who hold the levers of power in the LP refused to go through constitutional channels to resolve the issue of July 8, they refused to recognize this, to even acknowledge the grievances that led to March 2.

And like some of Gloria's people, they even lambasted their opponents. I can never forget the... venom in which they looked down on the barangay captains and municipal mayors who were present last March 2. Aren't those Liberals, too? What makes a "lowly" barangay captain any less Liberal than the Senate President? What makes the voice of our Municipal Mayors any less than those in Congress?

Why am I surprised? Didn't they muzzle us, the youth wing and the other sectoral groups? Wasn't there a plan by Chito to raise a "new" liberal youth oraganiztion since KALIPI wouldn't side with them?

This is the most painful part. We are the Liberal Party. We were supposed to be the ones who will reform the political sphere. We were the good guys, for God's sake.

But if the good guys are so ready to set aside what is right in order to get what they want... where does that leave you, then?

Who do you believe in?

Who do you trust?

I thought I had seen enough, acheived a level of equilibrium between my Atenean-inspired idealism and the pragmatism needed to engage in politics. I thought I had found a group that resonated with my most cherished values and ideals.

Now, I'm not so sure anymore...

Maybe that's why mourn. Because something I loved so much is dead. Because no matter how this is resolved, the LP might never recover, at least in my lifetime. The wounds are too deep, too much blood has been spilled, and the warfare between the camps so total that the landscape is a devastated and desolate mess.

So... there.

Maybe Bam was right: we should give up on our elders. There are no paladins there anymore. Just a bunch of thugs in armor bashing at each other to prove who has the bigger sword, while the countryside burns and withers in the face of plague, poverty and pillage.