Five-Way Test: Measuring up the two major political blocs

IBON NETWORKS | PAGBABAGO! People’s Movement for Change | Formulated in the form of a question, the Five-Way Test covers the most basic and important issues that Pagbabagto! believes should be addressed by the candidates, in particular those running for

IBON NETWORKS | Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change – To help guide the voters in choosing candidates, nationwide network Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change has devised the Five-Way Test– a simple means that can be used to assess the candidates, in particular those running for the Senate, Congress and under the partylist system. Formulated in the form of a question, the Five-Way Test covers the most basic and important issues that Pagbabago! believes should be addressed by the candidates. These are:

  1. Does he or she support the building up of national industries to create jobs and to increase wages while easing the prices of basic goods and services?
  2. Does he or she oppose the reduction of government subsidies and the privatization of public hospitals, LRT and other basic services?
  3. Will he or she campaign against corruption and the violation of human rights?
  4. Will he or she campaign for the distribution of land to the tillers and for the needed government support for farmers?
  5. Will he or she stand for the national interest of Filipinos?

Following is an overview of how the two major political blocs – the administration’s Team PNoy and the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) – measure up to the Five-Way Test.

Team PNoy

Team PNoy is a coalition led by the administration’s Liberal Party (LP) and also includes the Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), Akbayan Citizen’s Action Party and National Unity Party. Its candidates are Rep. Edgardo “Sonny” Angara (LDP), Benigno “Bam” Aquino (LP), Sen. Alan Peter S. Cayetano (NP), Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero (Independent), Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan), Sen. Loren Legarda (NPC), Sen. Jamby Madrigal (LP), Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. (LP), Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III (PDP-Laban), Grace Poe (Independent), Sen. Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV (NP) and Rep. Cynthia Villar (NP).

Because these candidates are running under the administration-led coalition, the review of their collective stance on the various issues will be based on the relevant policies of the Aquino government. The Liberal Party (LP) itself has acknowledged that the midterm elections will be a referendum on the leadership of Aquino. Believing that the track record of Pres. Aquino is unassailable as supposedly affirmed by his sustained popularity, Team PNoy has built its campaign on the presidential platform of daang matuwid. The slate has been hyping the “good governance is good economics” slogan, highlighting the high growth of the gross domestic product, credit rating upgrades, etc. supposedly as the direct result of the daang matuwid reforms of the administration.

  1. The Aquino administration, in its Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016, has identified tourism; business process outsourcing (BPO); mining; agribusiness and forest-based industries; logistics; shipbuilding; housing; electronics; and infrastructure as its priority industries. They were chosen supposedly because of their potential to spur growth and create jobs. But note that these are the same industries already promoted by past administrations, which failed to produce sufficient jobs, much less sustained growth. These are also the same industries being lobbied for government support by foreign interests like the Joint Foreign Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (JFC). Aside from motherhood statements on the need to create economic opportunities, no Team PNoy candidate has concretely outlined a program to generate jobs and livelihood sustainably. Meanwhile, the administration has also strongly opposed calls by workers’ groups for a substantial wage hike. Some like Hontiveros have instead urged the labor sector to “be more creative in seeking non-wage benefits”.  In terms of reducing prices of basic goods and services, Pres. Aquino has strongly upheld the policies of deregulation and privatization (such as in oil, power and water) that are blamed for the rising costs. He also opposed calls for the cancellation or even a reduction of the 12% value-added tax (VAT) on oil. However, other Team PNoy bets like Cayetano are calling for at least a reduction in the VAT on gasoline and diesel.
  2. Privatization is the centerpiece economic program of the Aquino administration through its public-private partnership (PPP) scheme. It has been pushing for the privatization of public hospitals such as the Philippine Orthopedic Center and mass transportation like the LRT 1. Government has also continued to provide profit guarantees to PPP investors in the form of regulatory risk guarantees. It has also been seeking to hike rates and fees to make privatization more attractive to the private sector while reducing state subsidies. The national budget remained skewed in favor of public debt servicing at the expense of social services, especially education, health and housing. But not all Team PNoy candidates are amenable to PPP such as Villar who is opposed to the privatization of government hospitals. Escudero has also called for increased budget for public regional hospitals to improve their services instead of privatizing them. Poe, on the other hand, wanted caution due to the country’s experience on power privatization but also recognized that private investments could help improve the delivery of services.
  3. Anti-corruption and government transparency are supposed to be the biggest advocacies of Team PNoy consistent with the daang matuwid theme. However, it is noticeable that much of the supposed good governance reforms of the Aquino administration are less about making corrupt officials (past officials like Gloria Arroyo and present ones like the controversial KKK) accountable and more about facilitating business operations in the country. Concrete reforms that could promote transparency and help curb bureaucratic abuses like the Freedom of Information Bill, which was one of Aquino’s campaign promises in 2010, have been trapped in the legislative mill and substantially watered down due to lobbying from Malacañang. The proposed Whistleblowers Protection Bill did not get support from Aquino as well and he even antagonized NBN-ZTE scam witness Jun Lozada. On the other hand, impunity and blatant human rights abuses perpetrated by the military and police continue including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, legal persecution, etc. under the Aquino administration. Many human rights cases remain unresolved and perpetrators remain unpunished like in the case of Jonas Burgos and others.
  4. One of the biggest issues against the Aquino administration is land reform due to the vested interests of the President’s family in the controversial Hacienda Luisita. The Supreme Court (SC) has been forced to order the distribution of the large estate only because of the persistent pressure from farmers and farm workers. In a move seen by some quarters as favoring the President’s family, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) asked the 6,212 Luisita beneficiaries to sign a promissory note stating that they will dutifully amortize the land. The candidacy of presidential cousin Bam Aquino has been criticized as strengthening the Cojuangco-Aquino political dynasty to protect their clan’s economic interests such as in Hacienda Luisita. Other Team PNoy senatorial bets like Hontiveros have advocated for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER). But farmers’ groups dismissed the program as even worse than the old CARP which failed to address peasant landlessness in more than two decades of implementation. Others in the slate are also facing land reform issues like Sonny Angara who is being accused by famers and indigenous communities of land grabbing in relation to the Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport Authority (APECO), which he and father Edgardo Angara authored and is supported by the President. Escudero, on the other hand, is open to allowing foreigners to own land in the country through Charter change (Cha-cha).
  5. The Aquino administration, through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), allowed the increased presence of US military forces in the country behind the pretext of countering the perceived aggressive Chinese posture on the South China Sea dispute. This created a series of new controversies involving US troops such as the dumping of toxic wastes in Subic Bay and the grounding of a US warship on Tubbataha Reef in Palawan. Among the Team PNoy candidates, Legarda has been the most vocal on the VFA but merely on the issue of protecting the environment and strict monitoring of the agreement. Others are staunch advocates of US military presence such as Jun Magsaysay who was one of the senators who ratified the VFA in 1999. While the Aquino administration is aggressive in pursuing the country’s claim to the Spratlys in the South China Sea, apparently to justify US military presence, it took a defeatist stance on the Sabah issue. In fact, it has been widely criticized for its handling of the Sabah crisis and accused of siding with Malaysia. Strong public opinion forced Aquino to state that the country is not dropping the Sabah claim while all senatorial bets have said that the Philippines must pursue the claim.

UNA

UNA was formed as a coalition by the so-called Three Kings – Vice President Jejomar Binay of Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and ousted President Joseph “Erap” Estrada of Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). Its senatorial candidates are Maria Lourdes “Nancy” Binay (PDP-Laban); Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco (PDP-Laban); Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito (PMP); Juan Ponce “Jack” Enrile Jr. (Nationalist People’s Coalition or NPC); Richard “Dick” Gordon (Bagumbayan – Volunteers for a New Philippines); Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan (Independent); Ernesto Maceda Jr. (PMP); Ma. Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay (PDP-Laban); and Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri (PMP). UNA used to have Escudero, Legarda and Poe as common candidates with Team PNoy.

At the onset, UNA made it clear that it is not an opposition and is supportive of the Aquino administration. Apparently, it recognizes the high popularity of Aquino and tried to identify itself with the good governance rhetoric of daang matuwid. But the as the campaign proceeded, the contradiction between the two major political blocs intensified. Team PNoy, for instance, compelled Escudero, Legarda and Poe to attend only their coalition’s sorties and not those of UNA’s which forced the latter to drop the erstwhile common bets. But aside from their conflict on the issue of common candidates, there is not much to differentiate the stand of UNA and Team PNoy on many issues.

For the discussion of the Five-Way Test, we shall refer to the positions taken by the primary movers of UNA as well as the individual stand of their candidates, if any, on specific issues.

  1. UNA has not defined a collective program that they intend to push to promote national industries, create jobs, raise incomes and ease the prices of basic goods and services. But when he was President, Estrada has campaigned for further liberalization of the economy including through Cha-cha. His medium-term plan also continued the globalization programs of the Philippines 2000 of President Fidel Ramos, his predecessor. On the issue of prices, some UNA bets like Jack Enrile, Magsaysay and Zubiri have been advocating for the scrapping or reduction of the 12% VAT on oil products. Magsaysay has also been campaigning to review the Oil Deregulation Law to address soaring prices. On the need of raising wages and income, UNA bets are opposed to the P125-wage hike being pushed by militant labor although some of them like Ejercito and Zubiri favor legislating a lower wage hike of around P70-80.
  2. On the issue of privatization, Zubiri has made a statement opposing government’s plan to privatize or corporatize public hospitals such as the East Avenue Medical Center, National Kidney and Transplant Institute and the Philippine Orthopedic Center. Zubiri, together with Ejercito, also called on government not to privatize the hydropower resources in Mindanao. When he was still Mayor of Makati, VP Binay opposed as well the privatization of Angat Dam. However, on the provision of housing services, the Binays and Ejercito are known to support the aggressive campaign to demolish urban poor communities. They involve some of the most violent incidents such as in Corazon de Jesus in San Juan and the Laperal Compound in Makati City. In the case of Nancy Binay, her family’s track record does not seem to support her claimed advocacy of housing reform agenda. Meanwhile, Gordon, when he ran for President in 2010, declared that he will push for a moratorium on debt servicing to fund basic social services.
  3. The biggest issue hounding the UNA is corruption because of the track record of its so-called Three Kings and of the individual candidates. Erap, for instance, was ousted in 2001 due to jueteng and corruption charges. When Erap again ran for President in 2007, he had no clear agenda in relation to the prosecution of Arroyo for graft and corruption as well as human rights abuses and electoral fraud. He also distanced himself from wide public demand for Arroyo to resign when he was given presidential pardon in 2007. Enrile has also been tagged in corruption issues including the latest on the so-called Christmas gifts given to senators. Binay himself has faced various corruption charges especially during his long stint as Makati Mayor although he weathered these accusations.  Magsaysay is also known as a staunch defender of Arroyo while Zubiri has been implicated in massive electoral fraud in Mindanao. The slate is also not identified with human rights advocacy with Enrile a former Defense minister during the loathed Marcos dictatorship. Some of the candidates have also pushed for the Human Security Act like Gordon.
  4. Erap once notoriously declared Danding Cojuangco as the “godfather of land reform” and pushed for corporate control over the country’s agricultural lands when he was President. During his term, massive cancellation of farmer beneficiaries’ Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) and Emancipation Patent (EP) has been recorded. Like Team PNoy, UNA is also being weighed down by the Cojuangcos’ vested interest in Hacienda Luisita with the presence of Tingting Cojuangco in the senatorial lineup. Some of the candidates supported the passage of the CARPER in 2009 like Gordon when he was still a senator. Maceda, meanwhile, said that the country should implement Cha-cha to allow foreigners to own land in the country.
  5. It does not appear that UNA has a cohesive stand on the issue of protecting the national sovereignty against foreign intervention. While Erap and Maceda, for instance, were among the senators who voted against the extension of the Military Bases Agreement (MBA) in 1991, the VFA was passed during the Erap administration and supported by Enrile, Meanwhile, Maceda was quoted as saying in 2011 that the VFA should be abrogated and the American troops in Mindanao be “kicked out”. However, it seems that Maceda has reversed his position in a recent televised “debate” when he said that the military presence of the Americans is needed to deter China. Erap, on the other hand, has expressed support for calls to at least review the VFA. Gordon, of course, is a known pro-American, having fought fiercely against the MBA abrogation when he was still Olongapo mayor. He reiterated this position in his presidential bid in 2010. On the other hand, all UNA bets claim to support the bid to assert the country’s claim to Sabah. Nancy Binay though seems to have a softer position on the issue, emphasizing that focus should be given to the allegations of human rights abuses against Filipinos in the disputed territory.

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