Philippine politics: Now and then

Published May 10, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

BELOW THE LINE

By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE

Ambassador  José Abeto  Zaide
Ambassador José Abeto Zaide

The Philippine Supreme Court directed the lower courts to release prisoners facing charges for minor and nonviolent crimes who are elderly, sick, or have medical conditions. Some prisoners may be granted reduced bail or released on recognizance without bail payment. The House Justice Committee and the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology support the granting of earlier release of eligible prisoners to decongest jails. (Although the highest court has not yet ruled on an early April petition to release political prisoners who are sick, elderly, or have pre-existing health conditions.)

Solicitor General Jose Calida blocked the initiative to release on humanitarian grounds sickly, elderly, and low-risk prisoners. Calida asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition, asserting that “The issue of the inadequacy of the Philippine prison system to meet the very high standard of international rules does not warrant the release of prisoners.”

President Rodrigo Duterte also shows no indication that he will release prisoners: He ordered more quarantine violators to be arrested. To reports of police abuse, Duterte told law enforcement officials who encounter anyone “who creates trouble” to “shoot them dead.”

More serious is the President’s impasse with ABS-CBN. Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque told Congress that the President is “completely neutral” on the broadcast giant’s franchise renewal. But the President’s actions belie this: He lashed out against ABS-CBN for unfair news about him, bad-mouthed the network and its owners, saying it publishes trash. He accused the network of “swindling” him (failing to run his political ads during the 2016 campaign). He will file a complaint, “block” ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, and file charges of “multiple syndicated estafa” against the network.

The President is popular; but he should be sensible, find settlement on political hurts, and weigh well how far he thinks he can rule by edict or will. He needs to learn to live with a credible, even if critical, Radio-TV network.

Rodrigo Duterte won as standard bearer of the Philippine Democratic Party-People’s Power, a convincing 39% in the five-cornered presidential elections of May 9, 2016. Farther distant were Mar Roxas (23.45%) and Grace Poe (23.45%). Also — rans were Jejomar Binay (12.73%) and Miriam Defensor Santiago (3.42%). Duterte had a wide margin over the other four candidates. But he shouldn’t read more than that.

In the vice-presidential race, Leni Robredo won 35.11%; (not far from Duterte’s 39%). But she won as the candidate of the Liberal Party. She marginally bested Bongbong Marcos (34.47%, who was the real in pectoris VP candidate of Duterte). Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s party-mate for vice president, was a distant third (14.38%). The rest brought up the rear — Francis Escudero (12.01%), Antonio Trillanes (2.11, and Gregorio Honasan (1.92%).

***

Did our politics have more rhyme, reason, and forbearance then? My grade school memory recalls the 1953 presidential electoral contest between the re-electionist President Elpidio Qurino and his former Defense Secretary, Ramon Magsaysay — who was co-opted by the opposition Nacionalista Party as their standard bearer. Magsaysay won 2,912.992 (68.90%) votes, more than double Quirino’s 1,313,991 (31.08%). This repeated in the vice-presidential race, with Magsaysay’s VP Carlos P. Garcia winning 2,515,265 (62.90%) votes against 1,483,802 (37.10%) for Jose Yulo.

Quirino was saddled with political baggage, against the promise of Magsaysay, who had broken the communist insurrection. Two factors may also be credited for the runaway electoral results — Rafael Yabut and Raul Manglapus.
Rafael Yabut spoke high-pitched staccato at DZRH. He was licensed to sic “thieving BIR guys, chiseller city hall clerks, kotong cops, etc.” He spoke the patois of the common man and had the jeepney and taxi drivers and barbershop crowd in his spell. He dwelt “on government and politics, family values, trivia and entertainment.” Yabut saved the best for the Malacañang bedroom of President Elpidio Quirino, claiming he had a “golden orinola” And he would periodically pause to dedicate a song to Quirino — the jingle of Rufina Patis!

Raul Manglapus was patrician, as Yabut was plebian. Cool and collected, he spoke the Arrneow accent, and his cheerleading experience composed “Mambo Magsaysay,” the jingle which turned into many votes:

“Everywhere that you would look
“Was a bandit or a crook;
“Peace and order was a joke
“Till Magsaysay pumasok!

Refrain:

“That is why, that is why
“You will hear the people cry:
“Our democracy will die
“Kung wala si Magsaysay!

“Mambo, mambo, Magsaysay!

“Mabu-, mabu-, mabuhay!
“Our democracy will die
“Kung wala si Magsaysay!

“Birds they voted in Lanao
“At pati aswang pa daw;
“Ang eleksyon Lutong macao
Till Magsaysay showed them how!

“Too much people’s money spent
“But no honest government!
“No more graft or ten percent
“If Magsaysay’s president!”

When all is said and done, in those heady days when presidents were gentlemen, Magsaysay could even consult his predecessor Quirino.

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