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FROM THE MANILA TIMES

BY RIGOBERTO TIGLAO: SONAs DON'T MATTER, A WASTE OF TIME
[I suspect Duterte, if given the choice, wouldn’t really prefer to do SONAs. Such speech as that he delivered yesterday could be his first and last. After all, SONAs consume a lot of a President’s precious time: the long discussions with his speechwriters and Cabinet members on what to include in the SONA, the back-and-forth process of finalizing the speech, and practicing its delivery].


JULY 27 -by RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO Since it had been part of my job as a journalist (and for four years as a Malacañang official), I have intently listened to and analyzed, privately or publicly, 30 presidential State of the Nation addresses. And sorry to be a party-pooper, but I have concluded that these don’t matter at all and may even be a waste of everyone’s time. Maybe that’s why such annual addresses to the legislature by the head of government are practiced by only a handful of nations in the world — Russia, Luxembourg, South Africa, and Ghana. For us, it’s really a vestige of our colonial mentality, as we aped it from the American President’s State of the Union Address. The SONA is mainly the one occasion of the year for the politico-economic and even cultural elite to get together to hobnob with each other, and for an aspiring political elite to be recognized as such. (I’m not sure this time, and I hope somebody checks, but the oligarchs, especially cronies of past Presidents, were conspicuously absent in President Duterte’s first SONA. Did he tell his people not to invite them?) Except for Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s sickening finger-pointing against his predecessor Gloria Arroyo in each of his SONAs, who remembers what any of the past five Presidents said in her or his speeches? Who remembers what they promised they’d do during their terms? READ MORE...

ALSO: By Yen Makabenta - Memo on the coming talks with China


JULY 27 -by YEN MAKABENTA HAVING worked with President Fidel V. Ramos in the past as an adviser, I have written this column in the form of a memo to assist him in the coming talks with China on the South China Sea—to which President Duterte has named him as the Philippines’ special envoy. After a brief impasse, wherein both China and the Philippines issued statements that appeared to close the door to negotiations (Beijing said there could be no talks if the Philippines brings the ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration to the table; Manila declared that the ruling will be central to any talks between the two governments), talks are again a high priority to both Manila and Beijing.New impetus for talks In Vientiane (the Laos capital), site of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to support the resumption of talks between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea. In a statement on Tuesday, Kerry said the Philippines and China should “turn the page” and hold talks over contested areas of the South China Sea after a tribunal shot down Beijing’s claims to the strategic waterway. Alluding to the request of Wang Yi, Kerry said in his statement: “The foreign minister said very clearly the time has come to move away from public tensions and turn the page.” “And we agree that no claimant should be acting in a way that is provocative, no claimant should take steps that wind up raising tensions,” he said. “I would encourage President Duterte to engage in dialogue, in negotiations,” Kerry told reporters in Laos. From Vientiane, Kerry flew to Manila for talks with Duterte yesterday. NSC meeting For a subject that is clearly the top foreign-policy challenge of his administration, Duterte surprisingly allotted only one innocuous sentence to the sea dispute in his state-of-the-nation address on Monday.
At the emergency meeting of the Nation al Security Council (NSC) yesterday, (which Ramos no doubt attended, being a member as a former President), the sea dispute and the forthcoming talks with China undoubtedly got more than one sentence or one minute in the discussions. I expect the meeting with Kerry and the NSC meeting has opened Duterte’s mind to the high importance of the proposed negotiations and Ramos’ mission. READ MORE...

ALSO: By Ricardo Saludo - Will the SONA deliver?


JULY 27 -by RICARDO SALUDO AS in past state-of-the-nation addresses, reactions to President Rodrigo Duterte’s first SONA ranged pretty wide. There were lawmakers looking for omissions here and there, and a veteran journalist and some academics lamenting what they saw as a lack of vision and an excess of distraction obscuring key policy thrusts. For others, though, the adlibs were central to the SONA message: they enabled Duterte to connect with the people and show that he speaks from the heart, truly cares for them, and is one of them, though he is now the highest and most powerful official in the land. Take it from someone who knows the longtime Davao City mayor from way back. In his article “Things not ‘right’ in Duterte’s SONA,” Sun Star Davao columnist Tyrone Velez rightly argues: “Duterte’s speech, adlibs and images connect … more to the audience of millions of Filipinos watching him. Here is a president [who] embraces the language and longings of the masses.” And more than just connecting with the poor, Velez notes, Duterte expresses heartfelt concern: “This SONA is not about stats and figures. Rather, it’s images of life that Duterte paints in his SONA: of widows and mothers orphaned by fallen combatants in battlefields, of middle-class people sleeping [on the street] just to be first in line to apply for passports and licenses, of OFWs stranded and in need of help, of urban poor settlers threatened by demolitions, of forests and farms threatened by large-scale mines, of Lumads and Moro people wanting the peace of the living and not the peace of the gun.” For those and other needy Filipinos, the most important takeaway from the SONA is still the assurance that Duterte and his government will resolutely and effectively address the mega-ills paining the people every day. So maybe the vision thing is something for a later speech, even the next SONA, assuming Duterte is into that. Meantime, he and the nation really want to get some enormous hassles and threats cut down to manageable, if not inconsequential size. Delivering the SONA agenda So what should be done to deliver the initiatives and outcomes put forth on Monday? That was exactly this writer’s job as Cabinet secretary for seven years till he became chairman of the Civil Service Commission in 2008: monitoring and ensuring the implementation of directives to the Cabinet, especially the SONA pledges. READ MORE...

ALSO: By Francisco Tatad - A boost for PDU30’s ‘independent’ posture


JULY 29 -by FRANCISCO S. TATAD
IN diplomacy, as in chess or any other sports for that matter, the professional player graciously yields when he sees he has lost the game. US Secretary of State John Kerry must have realized there was no way he could talk President Rodrigo Roa Duterte out of his decision to sit down with China, following the Philippines’ July 12 win at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, at The Hague, on Manila’s South China (West Philippine) Sea dispute with Beijing. Even while still in Vientiane, where he attended the Asean Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit ministerial conference and the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting, and had conversations with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Kerry was already talking about the claimants to the disputed areas “turning the page on past confrontations.” He expanded on this in Manila after his meeting with PDU30 and Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr. The more prudent course China has refused to recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction and the validity of its ruling, and the Asean has refused to take the Philippine side in its just-concluded foreign ministerial meeting. On his part, PDU30 has decided that instead of playing hardball and risking confrontation, as proposed by so many outsiders, the more prudent and productive course would be to engage China in the much broader area of economic cooperation, trade and investments. This is where our diplomacy is now heading. PDU30 named former President Fidel V. Ramos as his special envoy, even after Yasay had said there would no longer be any talks with Beijing. At one point, PDU30 threatened to name former DILG Secretary Rafael Alunan 3rd, if the 88-year-old statesman failed to accept his assignment. FVR came on board after reportedly consulting with his wife and doctor; this prevented DU30 from appointing the former senatorial candidate who, under the law, may not serve any government position (even as a deputy to FVR) within one year after losing in the election. Kerry changes the tune READ MORE...


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

SONAs don’t matter, a waste of everyone’s time


by RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO

MANILA,
AUGUST 1, 2016 (MANILA TIMES) 
July 26, 2016 10:01 pm RIGOBERTO D. TIGLAO - Since it had been part of my job as a journalist (and for four years as a Malacañang official), I have intently listened to and analyzed, privately or publicly, 30 presidential State of the Nation addresses.

And sorry to be a party-pooper, but I have concluded that these don’t matter at all and may even be a waste of everyone’s time. Maybe that’s why such annual addresses to the legislature by the head of government are practiced by only a handful of nations in the world — Russia, Luxembourg, South Africa, and Ghana.

For us, it’s really a vestige of our colonial mentality, as we aped it from the American President’s State of the Union Address.
The SONA is mainly the one occasion of the year for the politico-economic and even cultural elite to get together to hobnob with each other, and for an aspiring political elite to be recognized as such. (I’m not sure this time, and I hope somebody checks, but the oligarchs, especially cronies of past Presidents, were conspicuously absent in President Duterte’s first SONA. Did he tell his people not to invite them?)

Except for Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s sickening finger-pointing against his predecessor Gloria Arroyo in each of his SONAs, who remembers what any of the past five Presidents said in her or his speeches? Who remembers what they promised they’d do during their terms?

READ MORE...

Worse perhaps, many of these SONAs had been performances that had only served to fool the masses. I don’t remember what President Estrada, the first President who delivered his speech entirely in Filipino, said in his first SONA, but only the feeling roused in me, that at last here was a President for the masses. Three SONAs later, the second people-power movement would force this dolt out of power for massive corruption.

The yellow papers (see image) were ecstatic over BS Aquino, banner-headlining his preposterous SONA line “We can dream again.” His term turned out to be a nightmare.

Aquino may have been our most incompetent President, but he was a virtuoso in acting like a President in his SONAs, which were all delivered in a deep voice and in Filipino, as though in an attempt to connect with the masses. Yet, he was really a disaster for our nation, and barely a month after he stepped down, he’s been thrown to the dustbin of history, despised and ridiculed by most people.


It turned out to be a nightmare: Banner headline of Aquino’s first SONA

A SONA is really a President’s performance in which he tries to project to the nation, and maintain annually, a particular, mostly invented image for himself. The SONA is really a theater in which a President tries as best as he can to act the particular presidential image he has decided to adopt. That is why action movie star Erap and the characterless Aquino were really so good at SONAs.

What made Duterte’s SONA different, though, is that he gave the show away through his adlibs, and by his references to his speech prepared by his staff, parts of which he dismissed as not worth his time reading out to the public.

For those familiar with plays, it’s a bit like the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s strange, but brilliant, technique in which the actor reminds the audience that he is just acting, and that what they are watching is not reality but only a representation of reality.

If that Brechtian technique has the impact of making audiences think critically, and not being lost emotionally in the play, Duterte’s version of it emphasizes his authenticity, that he is not making things up and he means what comes out of his mouth when he sets the script aside.

A spectacle

My old friend, Nelson Navarro, in his Facebook post very well described its impact on him:

“What this spectacle brought to my mind was (actor) James Stewart in (the movie) ‘Mr. Smith goes to Washington,’ the everyman who suddenly became president and got to speak his mind to the nabobs of power, reducing them to utter absurdity but with the lightness of satire that was truly lethal because the accuser did not exactly accuse or play hero. He poked fun at himself and above all, his social and political betters who were clearly villains the people did not deserve and who created the big mess of their lives in the first place.”

Most importantly, it was Duterte’s stepping out of the script, his adlibs that connected with the masses, convincing my friend Navarro to conclude:

“I loved best Duterte’s great heart for the common people, the Muslims, the rebels in the hills, the squatters, all the outsiders of our country who have simply been shut out of the equation but without whom no real country can be built or expected to arise.”

Optimists claim that a really very good SONA would inspire our people to unite as a nation. I don’t think it ever will: Just looking at the main audience of legislators reminds one that a rapacious political elite exploiting the masses blocks our growth as a real nation. Whatever is promised in the SONA is forgotten two days later.

I suspect Duterte, if given the choice, wouldn’t really prefer to do SONAs. Such speech as that he delivered yesterday could be his first and last. After all, SONAs consume a lot of a President’s precious time: the long discussions with his speechwriters and Cabinet members on what to include in the SONA, the back-and-forth process of finalizing the speech, and practicing its delivery.

It’s a myth that SONAs are required by the Constitution. All it requires (Article 7, Section 3) is for the President “to address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”

To save us time, and spare us from boring SONAs, and for the President to instead have the initiative, it would be better for Duterte next year to instead use this “address” as an opportunity to tell these highly paid but mostly useless legislators what laws they have to pass pronto, and what bills they have been focusing on but will be useless for the nation.

* * *

CONSPICUOUS ABSENCE

Former President Aquino’s absence in that SONA the other day, when all of the three past living Presidents were there, was so conspicuous.

Was it his petty way of protesting that his candidate Manuel Roxas didn’t win? Was he so gutless and deathly afraid to see and maybe even sit beside Arroyo, whom he had detained and whose life he put at risk? Was he so insecure in his mind about the idea that his criminal negligence of the illegal drug plague has now been exposed? Or is it his way of saying, “Wala na akong pakialam sa gobyerno. Bahala na sila sa buhay nila!” He didn’t even bother to explain to the nation why he could not attend what the Republic considers as one of its sacred events.

Four weeks after he stepped down from power, Aquino’s absence from that event the other day tells us a lot about his true and very ugly character.
tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

10 Responses to SONAs don’t matter, a waste of everyone’s time
Rudi Miranda says:
July 27, 2016 at 5:36 am
Thank you! Bravo! Mabuhay! It’s a myth that SONAs are required by the Constitution. All it requires (Article 7, Section 3) is for the President “to address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”
To save us time, and spare us from boring SONAs, and for the President to instead have the initiative, it would be better for Duterte next year to instead use this “address” as an opportunity to tell these highly paid but mostly useless legislators what laws they have to pass pronto, and what bills they have been focusing on but will be useless for the nation. [I prefer it as such!]
Reply
Jose A. Oliveros says:
July 27, 2016 at 5:11 am
PeNoy’s absence at the SONA was noticed by almost everybody, specially journalists. But his absence was not missed by the Filipino people. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Reply
Gael Paderanga says:
July 27, 2016 at 4:10 am
Not most if the conclusions are valid.
Reply
Jaime Dela Cruz says:
July 27, 2016 at 1:24 am
Nice one Mr. Tiglao. I do hope the essence of your article reaches the ears of the president and as a result he ends this useless display of wanabes in government. I couldn’t agree more that a lot of the president’s time and the country’s resources are spent without a remarkable benefit to the people.
Reply
field says:
July 27, 2016 at 1:03 am
Noynoy is irrelevant now. Ewan kung sinong luku lukung businessmen ang magsi-seek ng advice kay Noynoy. mga estudyante lang ang mabobola ni Noynoy.
maganda pa din ang may SONA, para malaman natin kung ano ba ang plataporma ng gobyerno at presidente, at nang malaman natin kung na-aachieve ba ng gobyerno ang kanyang plataporma.
Reply
seb garcia says:
July 27, 2016 at 12:41 am
What about Duterte ? Has he told us that we have one of the worst internet and phone systems in the world ?
Same with electric power , the dirtiest, the poorest quality (brownout, voltage fluctuations, single phase, etc ?
Competition in all aspects of the economy……how do we get foreign investment in to compete with Hongkong and Singapore,,,,,,,what we need is massive CAPITALISM to improve our country and alleviate the brain drain of at least . we need competion from overseas where the funds are subject to their countries laws…not ours which are non existent (buy the SEC and the judges if you want a company,,,,,forget the stockholders
Reply
P.Akialamiro says:
July 26, 2016 at 11:48 pm
Du30 is proving to be a sincere president; not obsessed by the the prestige of the highest position of the land, but of serving the country, especially the lower and lowest strata of the Flipino society. How he did it, is a “stroke of a genius”. While a few of the past presidents knew what’s being clamoured by the people, they just didn’t have the political will power and passion to do to do it, like Duterte.
At last, we have a real President of all Filipinos! TGID! (Thank God It’s Duterte, as I wanted to be).
Reply
mikhail hieronymus says:
July 26, 2016 at 11:32 pm
Would it be too much for BS Aquino to do a Javert by the Pasig River?
Reply
Julio says:
July 26, 2016 at 10:58 pm
“that those who betrayed the people’s trust shall not go unpunished and they will have their day in court. And if the evidence warrants, they will have their day of reckoning, too.” – DU30
YARI KA PNOY ABNOY, ROXAS, ABAD, DE LIMA, OCHOA
Reply
Julio says:
July 26, 2016 at 10:48 pm
Go Mr Tiglao! Continue exposing Mr Aquino for his inept and incompetent leadership. People say we have to move on but Pres. Duterte said “those who abused their powers must have their day in court” obviously referring to Aquino.
Reply


Memo on the coming talks with China July 27, 2016 10:23 pm YEN MAKABENTA


by YEN MAKABENTA

HAVING worked with President Fidel V. Ramos in the past as an adviser, I have written this column in the form of a memo to assist him in the coming talks with China on the South China Sea—to which President Duterte has named him as the Philippines’ special envoy.

After a brief impasse, wherein both China and the Philippines issued statements that appeared to close the door to negotiations (Beijing said there could be no talks if the Philippines brings the ruling of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration to the table; Manila declared that the ruling will be central to any talks between the two governments), talks are again a high priority to both Manila and Beijing.

New impetus for talks

In Vientiane (the Laos capital), site of the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi asked US Secretary of State John Kerry to support the resumption of talks between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea.

In a statement on Tuesday, Kerry said the Philippines and China should “turn the page” and hold talks over contested areas of the South China Sea after a tribunal shot down Beijing’s claims to the strategic waterway.

Alluding to the request of Wang Yi, Kerry said in his statement: “The foreign minister said very clearly the time has come to move away from public tensions and turn the page.”

“And we agree that no claimant should be acting in a way that is provocative, no claimant should take steps that wind up raising tensions,” he said.

“I would encourage President Duterte to engage in dialogue, in negotiations,” Kerry told reporters in Laos.
From Vientiane, Kerry flew to Manila for talks with Duterte yesterday.

NSC meeting

For a subject that is clearly the top foreign-policy challenge of his administration, Duterte surprisingly allotted only one innocuous sentence to the sea dispute in his state-of-the-nation address on Monday.

At the emergency meeting of the Nation al Security Council (NSC) yesterday, (which Ramos no doubt attended, being a member as a former President), the sea dispute and the forthcoming talks with China undoubtedly got more than one sentence or one minute in the discussions.

I expect the meeting with Kerry and the NSC meeting has opened Duterte’s mind to the high importance of the proposed negotiations and Ramos’ mission.

READ MORE...

In dealing with China on the sea dispute, I expect that our government will hammer out quickly our negotiating position for the talks.

President Ramos is experienced in managing this kind of activity.

We will not play down but rather highlight our ace in the hole in the negotiations: the ruling of the Court of Arbitration that China’s claim to all of the South China Sea has no basis in international law.

We have to be firm about the rights of our fishermen to fish in the waters, which China still insists on blocking.

We are open to the possibility of joint exploration and development of resources that may be found in the disputed waters.
Beijing’s initial reaction to the ruling was apoplectic and uncompromising. The inflexibility has since moderated. Its call for talks and request for US assistance reflects a cooling down of tempers and suggests the possibility of change in China’s claims in the SCS.

Economist on China’s diplomatic hole

An article and analysis by the Economist in its July 23 issue suggests an explanation of why President Xi Jinping may be changing tack.

I will quote the article at length here:
“CHINA is smarting. A tribunal in The Hague ruled on July 12th that its claims to most of the South China Sea had no basis in international law. In the days since, China’s government has shown no sign of wanting to dig itself out of a diplomatic hole—or any sign that it thinks it is in one.

“Officials had two opportunities to be emollient and passed them both up. The first came when discussing bilateral talks with the Philippines, which had brought the case. Before the verdict the Philippines’ new president, Rodrigo Duterte, had said ‘let’s talk.’ But according to his foreign minister, Perfecto Yasay, China demanded the talks take place without reference to the tribunal’s ruling. When Mr Yasay said no, the Chinese side muttered that ‘we might be headed for a confrontation.’ China also continued to block Philippine fishermen from their traditional grounds.

“The other chance to step back came during a visit to Beijing by the chief of America’s navy, Admiral John Richardson. His opposite number, Wu Shengli, did not miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity. ‘We will never stop our construction on the Nansha [Spratly] islands half way, no matter what country or person applies pressure,’ he said, referring to China’s controversial building of harbours and runways on disputed outcrops in the South China Sea. At least they were talking….

“Two things are clear. One is that stubborn nationalism is a strong feature of China’s foreign policy. The other is that Xi Jinping—China’s president, Communist Party leader and commander-in-chief—is determined to control it, just he is to dominate all aspects of China’s politics. State media have dismissed the tribunal as an American puppet, but Mr Xi does not want anti-US fervour to disrupt his diplomacy. China’s navy is still taking part in biennial naval drills called RIMPAC, hosted by America and joined by more than 20 other countries, that are under way off Hawaii. It appears to relish the prestige.

“After the verdict, China’s social media started to call on people to boycott bananas from the Philippines and American brands such as iPhones and KFC, a fast-food chain. But the last thing Mr Xi wants are public demonstrations. (In the past century, patriotic protests have had a habit of turning against the government in China.) So this week, Xinhua and People’s Daily, a party newspaper, started criticising the “irrational patriotism” of social media. A picture that circulated on social media of a protest outside a KFC outlet was deleted by censors. If there is one thing more important than Chinese nationalism, it seems, it is party control.”


Seeking the truth from the facts

In her book Statecraft (Harper Collins, 2002), Margaret Thatcher has an insightful chapter on China that will be useful for our team in the coming negotiations.

Thatcher makes this observation about Chinese public statements: “The Chinese never mince words in their own public statements, but they expect everyone else to do so.”

Beijing did not mince words in its reaction to the arbitral ruling. The vituperation toward us and our friends was berserk. The verdict was a farce. The US fixed it. We are a lackey of the US. And so on.

Conversely, the incoming Duterte administration was already mincing its words even before The Hague award was announced. DU30 cautioned Filipinos not to flaunt or gloat over the ruling, if it is favorable.

Thatcher’s advice about such vituperative language is blunt: do not kowtow to them.

Finally, she shares this gem. She reports that Deng Xiaoping had an expression—“seeking truth from the facts” that can be useful in dealing with China.

Chinese leaders have gradually come to recognize the connection between the two—the truth and the facts—as they have sought to enjoy the benefits of capitalism. They are starting to see the importance of the rule of law.

The goal then is to persuade China to seek the truth from the facts in the South China Sea.


Will the SONA deliver? July 27, 2016 10:22 pm Ricardo Saludo


by RICARDO SALUDO

AS in past state-of-the-nation addresses, reactions to President Rodrigo Duterte’s first SONA ranged pretty wide.

There were lawmakers looking for omissions here and there, and a veteran journalist and some academics lamenting what they saw as a lack of vision and an excess of distraction obscuring key policy thrusts.

For others, though, the adlibs were central to the SONA message: they enabled Duterte to connect with the people and show that he speaks from the heart, truly cares for them, and is one of them, though he is now the highest and most powerful official in the land.

Take it from someone who knows the longtime Davao City mayor from way back. In his article “Things not ‘right’ in Duterte’s SONA,” Sun Star Davao columnist Tyrone Velez rightly argues: “Duterte’s speech, adlibs and images connect … more to the audience of millions of Filipinos watching him. Here is a president [who] embraces the language and longings of the masses.”

And more than just connecting with the poor, Velez notes, Duterte expresses heartfelt concern: “This SONA is not about stats and figures. Rather, it’s images of life that Duterte paints in his SONA: of widows and mothers orphaned by fallen combatants in battlefields, of middle-class people sleeping [on the street] just to be first in line to apply for passports and licenses, of OFWs stranded and in need of help, of urban poor settlers threatened by demolitions, of forests and farms threatened by large-scale mines, of Lumads and Moro people wanting the peace of the living and not the peace of the gun.”

For those and other needy Filipinos, the most important takeaway from the SONA is still the assurance that Duterte and his government will resolutely and effectively address the mega-ills paining the people every day.

So maybe the vision thing is something for a later speech, even the next SONA, assuming Duterte is into that. Meantime, he and the nation really want to get some enormous hassles and threats cut down to manageable, if not inconsequential size.
Delivering the SONA agenda

So what should be done to deliver the initiatives and outcomes put forth on Monday?

That was exactly this writer’s job as Cabinet secretary for seven years till he became chairman of the Civil Service Commission in 2008: monitoring and ensuring the implementation of directives to the Cabinet, especially the SONA pledges.

READ MORE...

The task was particularly challenging in the 2001 speech, which listed 55 time-bound and measurable targets to deliver.

Among them:
• Channel P20 billion a year to agriculture and fisheries modernization
• Cut by half the signatures required for frontline services
• Distribute 200,000 hectares of land annually, half public and half private
• Provide security of land tenure to 150,000 urban-poor families every year
• Build three new mass-transit lines in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

The Cabinet Secretariat (CabSec), part of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS), held regular monitoring meetings for the Cabinet secretary to review directives, address problems and, if necessary, propose adjustments in targets and timetables for then-President Gloria Arroyo’s approval.

More crucial, the President herself held Cabinet meetings every week or so to check on the progress of directives and lend her clout to clear bottlenecks, obstacles, and delays. One result: budget utilization exceeded 90 percent, as against a historical average of 85 percent in past regimes.

Depending on the current division of executive authority and functions in the Office of the President, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, or PMS Head Bong Go can oversee the SONA and other presidential priorities, with PMS and CabSec support.

But equally indispensable to Palace monitoring is Duterte’s constant prodding of agency heads to deliver on the targets and initiatives. Quite simply, if the chief isn’t watching the store, nothing moves.

Just look what happened under the last President who wasn’t keen on weekly Cabinet meetings. Even his pet program for public-private partnerships went nowhere in the first year, and fell way behind targets, just like overall infrastructure spending.

To deliver the SONA agenda, Duterte must constantly watch and drive the Cabinet and other agencies—as he did his Davao City executives for decades.

In future SONAs, he and the Cabinet may wish to go over various government initiatives and national concerns, and come up with doable, time-bound targets to be highlighted in the speech. That’s what Arroyo did in all her addresses to Congress, so that most if not all promised measures and undertakings will have a good chance of being done.

Winning against crime and drugs

In this and future articles, this column will look at particular SONA items and issues, and suggest measures that may be needed but were not mentioned in the speech. For this piece, we look at the anti-crime agenda.

So far, Duterte has focused on hunting down drug masterminds and offenders, and shutting down narco-lords in prisons. He has also targeted corrupt police and local government unit executives, including governors and mayors.

As noted in our Tuesday SONA article, which charted how the past administration spawned the crime explosion, another key factor in the scourge is unabated smuggling, which allowed drugs and guns to flood into the country.

To beat crime, Duterte must also stanch contraband—a crucial anti-crime and -drugs policy initiative not mentioned in his SONA and yet to be clearly spelled out.

Another seemingly missing plank against lawlessness is judicial and prosecutorial reform and upgrading. Plainly, if casework and trials are not handled well, crooks will keep getting off the hook. Then law enforcers will have to keep gunning them down—neither a sustainable nor a morally and legally right policy.

Lastly, it’s no secret that poverty drives many people to crime. Hence, any campaign against drug trafficking and other lucrative vices like jueteng must include a massive livelihood component to give alternative income for those told to end their killer trade.

Duterte’s SONA sent the right signals. Now it’s the hard part.


A boost for PDU30’s ‘independent’ posture July 28, 2016 9:37 pm FRANCISCO S. TATAD


by FRANCISCO S. TATAD

IN diplomacy, as in chess or any other sports for that matter, the professional player graciously yields when he sees he has lost the game. US Secretary of State John Kerry must have realized there was no way he could talk President Rodrigo Roa Duterte out of his decision to sit down with China, following the Philippines’ July 12 win at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, at The Hague, on Manila’s South China (West Philippine) Sea dispute with Beijing.

Even while still in Vientiane, where he attended the Asean Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit ministerial conference and the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting, and had conversations with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Kerry was already talking about the claimants to the disputed areas “turning the page on past confrontations.” He expanded on this in Manila after his meeting with PDU30 and Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr.

The more prudent course

China has refused to recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction and the validity of its ruling, and the Asean has refused to take the Philippine side in its just-concluded foreign ministerial meeting. On his part, PDU30 has decided that instead of playing hardball and risking confrontation, as proposed by so many outsiders, the more prudent and productive course would be to engage China in the much broader area of economic cooperation, trade and investments.

This is where our diplomacy is now heading. PDU30 named former President Fidel V. Ramos as his special envoy, even after Yasay had said there would no longer be any talks with Beijing. At one point, PDU30 threatened to name former DILG Secretary Rafael Alunan 3rd, if the 88-year-old statesman failed to accept his assignment. FVR came on board after reportedly consulting with his wife and doctor; this prevented DU30 from appointing the former senatorial candidate who, under the law, may not serve any government position (even as a deputy to FVR) within one year after losing in the election.

Kerry changes the tune

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Kerry must have seen DU30’s resolve to pursue his own diplomatic game plan and also the merit of the same. So, instead of adding his voice to the numerous US officials—Department of State Counselor Kristie Kenney, Sen. Chris Murphy, Sen. Brian Schatz, Rep. Ted Deutch, Rep. Donna Edwards, Rep. John Garamendi—who had come to try to persuade DU30, through Yasay, to shun talks with Beijing, he declared support for the proposed conversations. This was a game-changer.

While the US “expects the parties to the dispute to comply with their obligations under law,” Kerry said the US supports “mutually acceptable solutions” to the dispute, including negotiations between Manila and Beijing, and hopes to “see a diplomatic process between and among the claimants, without coercion or use or threat of force.”

Kerry underlined the value of talking directly with Chinese leaders when, in his meeting with Wang at the National Convention Center, in Vientiane, he expressed appreciation for “the serious way in which we have been able to talk to President Xi (Jinping), with you, with State Counselor Jiechi, and be able to have a successful Security and Economic dialogue, which we did early in the summer.”

An initial win

This was a genuinely positive boost to Philippine-US relations, and an initial victory for PDU30’s move to conduct a foreign policy “independent” of Washington. DU30 immediately convened the National Security Council to discuss the parameters of FVR’s mission. All four living former Presidents—Ramos, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and B.S. Aquino 3rd—and Congress leaders were in attendance; the Senate had to cancel its official session for the day to allow its top officials to attend. It was the first time the Council was convened in years.

What could happen in Beijing

After the Council has formulated the guidelines for FVR, we cannot tell him what to do or say in Beijing. But I would think it is entirely misplaced to expect him to try to compel the Chinese to recognize the arbitral ruling, which they have refused to recognize. It seems fair to expect Ramos to say that this ruling exists, but since it is the very point of conflict, which could raise tension and prevent the two parties from talking except to exchange political pyrotechnics, they must now find common ground so that their conversation could proceed.

I would imagine that neither party could or should dictate the terms of reference. The most important thing is for the two parties to be able to tell each other, “We want to talk instead of fight, what do we talk about?”

US earns goodwill

In supporting DU30’s decision to sit down with Beijing, the US gained a lot of goodwill even from its usual critics. Kerry did not leave Manila unrewarded, either. Right upon his arrival, the Supreme Court en banc, by a vote of 9-4, affirmed with finality the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the US. In the language of its fiercest critics, the EDCA, which allows the US to deploy its troops and facilities inside Philippine several major military camps and bases, has effectively turned the country into one large US military base or aircraft carrier.

Even from the perspective of the Left the SC ruling sufficiently assures Washington that DU30’s conversations with China are not likely to alter or water down Manila’s political and security ties with the US. This is not to say though that the EDCA issue will now quiet down forever. Although the SC is the court of last resort and is always right even when it is wrong, not enough lawyers are prepared to say the decision is right.

Erroneous ruling

The constitutional violation is so patent and so gross that there is no way one could assimilate it without violence into one’s system. As a nation of lawyers, I cannot see how our law schools and law professors, if they read the Constitution as it is written, will teach the young about the correctness of this particular verdict. The most they can say is, the ruling is wrong, but we must respect the Supreme Court always, as a matter of principle.

The petition, filed by former Senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada, and Bayan Muna lawmakers Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, had argued that in taking the form of an executive agreement rather than a treaty concurred in by the Senate, EDCA violated Sec. 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution. This is so clear.

The section provides: “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting state.”

Saguisag and Tañada were among the 12 senators who rejected the late President Cory Aquino’s 1991 treaty, which had sought to extend the term of the US bases by another 10 years, after the expiration of the original bases agreement. Her son B.S. Aquino 3rd must have been so afraid that his “own” senators would reject EDCA, just as “Cory’s senators” had rejected her treaty, that he decided to shut out the Senate, confident that he would be backed by the Court which he had destabilized by removing its Chief Justice and replacing him with his own.

Sereno’s invention

In her ruling, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno argues that the EDCA is but an implementing agreement of the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). With all due respect, the Chief Justice seems to be getting her data from Mars. Or she must believe she is talking to a population that had just landed from another planet. The facts are rather simple and well known to almost every journalist.

After the 1947 bases agreement expired and the bases pulled out, the MDT was the only defense treaty that remained. This allowed, in principle, the temporary visits of US troops for military exercises. But there was no agreement that defined the terms of their short-term visits and the rights and duties of the visiting forces. This was the reason the VFA was concluded between Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon, Jr. and US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard—as an implementing agreement of the MDT.

An implementing accord?

This is not theory; this is fact. And I know it firsthand because, together with the late Sen. Blas F. Ople and then-Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, I carried the main burden of the debate on the floor of the Senate in defense of the agreement. I defended the VFA not as a stand-alone treaty under Sec. 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution, but as an implementing agreement of the MDT, the mother treaty. Now, Sereno is telling us—and the rest of our posterity—that the EDCA is but an implementing agreement of an implementing agreement?

This is as absurd as the position taken by then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the US, and Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who has recycled himself out of retirement in order to kibitz on the South China Sea debate, that they could amend the purposes and scope of the MDT for the next 60 years, just by signing the so-called Manila Declaration on Nov. 16, 2011 on board the USS Fitzgerald in Manila Bay—reminiscent of the Japanese military surrender to the Allies on Sept. 2, 1945 on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Even absurdity must have its limits, and our learned justices must not be afraid to recognize those limits.

Two EDCA issues

There are two issues concerning EDCA. One is political, the other constitutional. The political responds to the question: Is the government in favor of enhanced US military presence in the country or not? This is for the executive to decide. This being a purely political question, the Supreme Court will have to throw out any petition questioning the wisdom thereof.

But once the executive has decided an enhanced military presence would be good for the country, the only question that remains is whether the agreement entered into is in full accord with the Constitution. This is the case of EDCA. So many Filipinos believe EDCA is a correct political decision. But they are compelled to oppose it because Aquino’s executive agreement, which has taken the place of a treaty, is a clear violation of the Constitution. It is not fair that just because people support the idea they have to turn a blind eye to the violation of the Constitution.

Referendum an option

And yet, with the High Court’s final ruling, there is no longer any legal way of correcting this error. Perhaps the only way to do so is to submit the issue to the people in a national referendum, pursuant to Sec. 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution. If the people confirm it, then US-Philippine military cooperation would be set on unshakeable ground. But this is not without its risks; if the people reject it, then we would have terminated our historic military cooperation. It is now for those who are talking of amending or revising the Constitution to consider what steps to take.

DU30’s decision to talk to Beijing is in full accord with his decision to pursue a comprehensive peace with all armed elements in the country—the CPP/NPA/NDF and Moro rebels. The US support was obviously the least DU30 was expecting from the nation’s closest ally. Kerry had no choice but to deliver.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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