Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I had a dream


THAT MAN named Bong Revilla, whom the people elected in 2004 to be one among the senators of our republic, has now likewise accused him of being such a “Boy Pick-Up,” referencing of course how he supposedly drove the car that picked up the senator (and another senator) for a meeting at the Pangarap House of Malacañang. In that house, the President supposedly waited for them so they could all talk about some pressing issue that required the senators’ physical presence. Revilla alleges that Boy Pick-Up was obviously part of the plan to bribe senators into voting “Guilty” that would then convict a Supreme Court Chief Justice in an impeachment trial. Malacañang, confirming the meeting did happen, denied the meeting had anything to do with the trial. Whatever.
     Only recently, Boy Pick-Up had been getting such a hammering from the media (local and international) and the citizenry for his supposed mishandling of the Typhoon Yolanda tragedy and crisis. At one point, on an Internet blog, his chance of becoming President in 2016 (a personal ambition he has flaunted for about a decade now) was illustrated by a headstone, on which this inscription was written: “Here lie the political ambitions of Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II … ‘A Casualty of Arrogance and Stupidity’”.

image borrowed from http://kensanph.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/r-i-p-mar-roxas/
     It doesn’t matter that a week ago the mayor of Tacloban City, Alfred Romualdez, and Roxas patched up frayed relations. Roxas’ media image as a defensive and ambitious hijo who can’t take up responsibility for a grave mistake has perhaps now been embedded on many a citizen’s memory. Just as it didn’t help early in November last year when wife Korina Sanchez tried to correct the impressions of a CNN reporter named Anderson Cooper, an effort some say only pushed the Roxases deeper into the mud of popular abhorrence.


LAST DECEMBER 19, I hitched a ride to Tagaytay City on the van of Mr. Jun Castillo of the Philippine Coconut Society. He was also on his way to that meeting I was to attend, of the anti-pork barrel politics and direct democracy-advocating alliance called ePIRMA. Somewhere near the C-5 Road, we picked up one of Jun’s friends, Mandy Manaloto, a public relations man who—as we climbed the Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo Highway towards the mountain city—broached the problematic of a Mar Roxas candidacy in the presidential race of 2016. He said, “It would be quite a challenge for a PR team to try to create a turnaround for Roxas, make him smell good again.”
     And how was he supposed to smell good, in the first place?
     Well, Malacañang would likely deny it, but to many it’s been obvious the President had been helping Roxas get the spotlight on what might be the latter’s media run to the 2016 contest. After all, it could have been part of the deal when Roxas gave way to the President’s bid for the post in 2010, after the President became the more popular Liberal Party item of the sudden moment after the death of his mother, the country’s touted democracy icon, Corazon Aquino. Serendipitous death, some whispered, that witnessed an overwhelming support for the former President during a longish funeral parade, as if to prime Benigno III to the top of private surveys by association in that last year of years of corruption and impunity.
     Later, more than two years into his presidency, Benigno III appointed Roxas to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary portfolio, presumably to give the latter stronger exposure, this after the secretary got much of an earlier push when the President declared him the go-to man for the teams searching for then-DILG secretary Jesse Robredo’s body and the plane Robredo rode on that fell into the waters south of Masbate island. Roxas was given that nudge in his then-fresh capacity (a little more than a year) as Secretary of Transportation and Communications, and perhaps as the leading candidate to replace Robredo. And once appointed to the DILG post that Robredo left vacant, Roxas would become the logical civilian point man present at the scene of any oncoming high-profile event. These future events would include the Zamboanga City crisis and—most prominently—the Typhoon Yolanda devastation of Leyte and Samar. Before said typhoon made landfall, Roxas was already in Tacloban acting like an alternate mayor, telling people to batten their roofs with three-quarters-of-an-inch-in-diameter ropes tied to posts.
     Let us not go into the details of the criticism leveled against Roxas and his boss in their handling of the Typhoon Yolanda crisis from before the typhoon’s arrival up to the secretary’s replacement at the scene by a newly-appointed rehabilitation “czar” named Panfilo Lacson. Suffice to say that organizations as well as individuals were aghast at the series of faux pas by the Roxas and Aquino camps during the crisis, and albeit many of these were happily bloated by opposition groups, many were genuine complaints by organizations largely sympathetic to the Aquino government. Roxas and Aquino, all through the crisis wearing the yellow ribbons and yellow shirts of their party propaganda and still going through the photo-op habits of campaign tradition (distributing relief bags, raising babies), struck many a man and woman as sons of the political elite more concerned about their positions in situations than in the positions of the hungry and thirsty and frightened. Many asked whether the self-touted empathetic social liberalism in some/many of Aquino's policies was 100% personal or merely academic, and—if the latter—whether it would every now and then be accessible to the lobbying of self-serving people in his camp who can’t stomach the thought of being rid of their lump sum discretions.
     So, anyway, what Roxas and the fates will now try to surprise us with, beginning this day, for Roxas to regain a stronghold in the hearts and minds of voters through to 2016 . . . would be something to note down as one of the most phenomenal comeback plans in the history of PR. For, as we speak, the fact is that Roxas remains, as Mr. Manaloto on the van put it, “quite a challenge” to the specialty of spin doctoring. Is a Roxas rebound possible, something that no Binay could beat? If not probable, is it at least possible? We’ll see.


ANYWAY, LAST weekend I woke up from my sleep, from what could be described as a strange dream.
     Call me self-serving, intent on shaping personas into what I wish they were. But in the dream, perhaps because it was my dream and not another critic’s, Mar Roxas was said to be pushing a bill that would “revolutionize local government and governance.” His words in the dream, not mine. In the dream, he was sitting with his PR people, brainstorming with them over what the current impression on his person is (plastic son of the forever non-sympathetic elite and blindly ambitious, said a rather blunt member of the team). So he said, “How to reverse that? How do we create the impression that I have become the true champion of the people and have strayed a bit from the interests of my sugar industry and Pizza Hut neoliberal corporatism? How do we create the impression that my ambitions are not for myself but for the people?” Well, because this was a dream, one of his people took out a folder and waved it at the secretary.
     The secretary read what was in the folder. “This is it, then,” he soon said. “Turn on the machine and let this law roll!” They all made high-fives.
     And so, Mar Roxas deployed lobbyists to rally Congress people around his department’s bill, a bill that would introduce a special law governing participatory budgeting in local governments. Yes, you heard me. In the dream, Rep. Leni Robredo, who was one of the few who broached the idea before she was silenced at the height of the congressional effort at the Supreme Court to bring back Congress’ then-restrained pork barrel use, applauded Roxas in public, to the delight of Korina Sanchez.
     Interviewed by CNN again, Roxas announced an idea. Instead of following the Porto Alegre model, wherein districts elect delegate-individuals to participatory budget-planning sessions, Roxas had his lawyer write that barangays (or municipalities in the case of provincial budgets) can elect delegate organizations (NGOs and social enterprises and civic clubs) instead. And although budgeting sessions can be limited to ten delegate-organizations, these delegate organizations would have already amply come up with a budget program and prioritization plan each, that they would have already presented to their electorates (presentations that should be what made them win in the election in the first place), enough of a program each to please even the defeated organizations. Defeated organizations shall have to acquiesce to these programs and priorities as approved by the people, and elected legislators themselves, while reserving the right to reason against the implementation of a plan here and there, would have to accept that this is the way by which the taxpayers can have their say on whether a hefty sum should be spent on a town coliseum carrying the mayor’s pop’s name or on a mangrove development a town had been waiting for.
     But Roxas, in the dream, recognized that not every people-instigated thought is right, and so his allowances for a terminology that called the sessions “deliberations” instead of impositions. In these deliberations,  delegate organizations may end up convinced by the reasoning of the legislators and try to arrive at a compromise, or they may continue to defy the reasoning on behalf of the people. Whatever the outcome in every session is, the important thing is that the culture of participatory budget deliberations has arrived, a culture every cause-oriented NGO or social enterprise should feel indebted to Roxas for and should thence celebrate his name for his sponsorship of the idea alone. Further in the dream, Roxas explained: “Participatory budgeting is already a foot in the door leading to participatory auditing.”
     Now, I don’t know how it came about, but as my dream narrative recognized the fact that there can be no story where there is no conflict, one reporter (was it Anderson Cooper still?) had to come into the picture, asking with a bit of suspicion, “So are these delegate organizations for the municipal or provincial participatory budgeting sessions going to turn out fake ones, too, like what Janet Lim-Napoles did with her NGOs?”
     “Impossible,” said Roxas. “The organizations would have to campaign in their districts with their proposals. They would be telling the people what they think the municipality or province should invest in, bazaar buildings for street vendors to move to for instance, and shall perhaps be campaigning against the mayor’s announced plan to build a giant clock on the town plaza courtesy of his daughter working for a Swiss watch company.”
     “Secretary,” said Christiane Amanpour, “you seem to forget that the Philippine party-list system which sought to accommodate small-party representation in Congress ended up birthing hundreds of new small parties. Couldn’t this bill of yours produce the same Kessler effect?”
     “No, no, no,” said Roxas, agitated once again as if he was sitting in front of a Romualdez, “please don’t confuse my department’s bill’s delegate satellites with the confused astronomy of the party-list system. A town could come up with a hundred new NGOs vying for election, for all I care. But what they each will have to do is approach the people with a plan and not a mere NGO name with a mere slogan to vote for.”
     And as TV statements go, his speech was cut-edited to:
     “Enough of this representative democracy that has plagued our nation since the Katipunan!” Roxas continued, now flailing his arms after every word like an Italian. “It is high time the people rose up to decide for themselves what they want and what they need, and not just leave it to representative individuals or party-list system small parties all claiming to represent the voice of the people to tell the people what they need and want. Through the decades, we would find out disconnects between that representation—often fake—and what results when we directly ask the people. This is what my department’s bill is all about!”
     Roxas’ sweat from the effort flooded his shirt, and CNN became both embarrassed and excited by this lecturing.
     But instantly I awoke to the TV alarm that played a Korina Sanchez YouTube video. Disappointed by the dream’s being a mere dream, it took me about an hour before I could muster an appetite for breakfast. I decided to prepare pancakes and coffee only after I accepted the fact that, in the real world, Roxas’ advisers would only tell him about the usual need—“you'd need the mayors more than civil society to win, sir,” they’d say. And Roxas, being the political conservative of the Liberal Party that he is, would nod toward this supposed pragmatism instead of awaken to a new reality. [FIN]



BLOG POSTSCRIPT JULY, 2014:

Surprised to find out that Roxas did follow up on a bottom-up budgeting program that preceded his DILG appointment, which program elicited the fear of an economist, this according to journalist Tricia Zafra’s July 7 report titled “Bottom-up budgeting, mistulang pork barrel daw ni Sec. Roxas, ayon sa isang ekonomista”.

Then, on July 14, GMA Network posted a fearful report titled “Poor municipalities to receive P15M each in 2015—Roxas”.

Earlier, on February 19, Rep. Leni Robredo already filed her participatory budgeting idea as a bill. Click here to read that bill.

But what’s missing in Robredo’s bill that is also missing in Roxas’ implementation of his DILG-based bottom-up budgeting program? You guessed right. It's that part where community districts are able to elect their delegates to the participatory budgeting council, as in the Porto Alegre model. Without that element, the participatory budgeting process can turn into another Napoles-like managed conglomeration of favored and even fake civil society groups pretending to “participate” in the budgeting process.

It’s that missing element that makes Roxas’ Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process suspect and makes the fear of the July 15 Philippine Daily Inquirer report titled “Loss of DAP shelves P2B in DILG projects—Roxas” (where Roxas seems to admit his projects were not bidded out or covered by contracts) perfectly understandable.

What Roxas is trying to do is dangerous because it's giving participatory budgeting a bad name at a time when we sorely need it!