Sunday, May 13, 2007

Q & A with Atty. Adel Tamano, Genuine Opposition spokesperson

In this year’s senatorial elections, the Genuine Opposition is by all indications leading the race. What will it do if it is cheated -– or it does win?


In this year’s senatorial elections, the Genuine Opposition is by all indications leading the race. All credible opinion surveys point to the Genuine Opposition as very likely to win the majority of the senatorial seats up for grabs in this year’s polls.

In its website, the Genuine Opposition describes itself as "the umbrella political coalition party of the opposition’s senatorial and local line-up for the 2007 Philippine Midterm Elections." It is further described as a "multi-party and multi-sectoral coalition" which includes the United Opposition (UNO), the Liberal Party, the Nacionalista Party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Aksyon Demokratiko, PDP-Laban, the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (Party of the A Filipino Masses), and a number of civil society groups.

Its candidates for the 2007 senatorial elections are: Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, Alan Peter Cayetano, Anna Dominique "Nikki" Coseteng, Francis "Chiz" Escudero, Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, Loren Legarda, John Henry Osmeña, Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Sonia Roco, Antonio Trillanes IV and Manuel Villar.

The Genuine Opposition’s lead in all credible opinion polls shows that the coalition will win hands down in a clean and honest election.

The coalition’s lead over the administration’s Team Unity ticket is interpreted as a reflection of the electorate’s disgust with the Arroyo administration –- which is under fire from various quarters for massive human rights violations, corruption, and imposition of policies described as "anti-national and anti-people."

In what direction is the Genuine Opposition headed? What will it do if it is cheated in the coming elections? What will it do if it does win in the coming elections?

This interview with lawyer Adel Tamano, the Genuine Opposition’s spokesman, aims to provide answers to these questions.

How does the Genuine Opposition assess the conduct of its campaign thus far?

From the surveys, consistently we’ve been doing quite well. The surveys have been consistent that at least seven to eight of our candidates will come in.

So within the context that we don’t have much funds and logistics, and our opponents have so much funds and so much logistics, and we’re the underdogs because we’re not in power and yet in the surveys we're leading -- I think that's a testimony to the effectivity of our campaign.

Many are curious about why the Genuine Opposition did not field candidates in many of the local positions. Is there an explanation for that?

We have 50 percent of the candidates for provincial posts, we have 69 percent in the congressional districts, 25 percent of mayoral posts. Now, it may appear that we have a shortage of candidates.

But we have set up already an anti-poll fraud team that would cover 95 percent of municipalities. Because the next question would be, "How can you protect your votes?" In spite of the lack of candidates, the scope, the reach of our pollwatchers will be enough.

The Liberal Party, which is part of the Genuine Opposition coalition, has been accredited as the dominant minority party. Because of that, they will be able to get the election returns at the municipal level, which is the primary document used for canvassing and to assail the canvass.

So that is where we will get our protection.

As a related point, we don’t really believe that there is a command vote anymore, in the sense that Filipinos are maturing politically. So in spite of the claimed command votes, I think the Filipinos will really choose to vote on their own, regardless of what their political leaders say, and we’re putting our hopes on that also.

Team Unity spokespersons have been going around the entire country telling people that their so-called "political machinery" will ensure them a 12-0 victory in the coming elections. What do you make of this?

You know, I was just at a forum with Noynoy Aquino, and what he said was good, he had good insights.

In 2004 he campaigned with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He was a part of their slate, he was actually administration before, and he joined the opposition only in 2005. They campaigned really hard throughout Luzon then.

This is the same machinery, basically, that they’re tapping for the 2007 elections. And in Luzon in 2004 –- and it was just one person that they were really pushing for, it was just GMA. GMA only won in two provinces: Pampanga and Tarlac. So this goes to show you that this machinery actually, it's vaunted, but in real practice, in application, this showed the weakness of the machinery. Because in 2004 they were campaigning for only one person, and yet she only won in Tarlac and Pampanga, which is her own base. Now they're campaigning for a full 12 slate, and as Congressman Noynoy said –- since he has been in elective office for nine years –- if you ask the local leaders to add one or two candidates to the senatorial slate, it’s easy… But once you start doing four, five, six – the local officials will say, boss, that's no longer easy, because the amount of work they will have to do –- first to campaign, if the candidates are really palatable; and if they're not palatable, to cheat in order to get that result –- it would just be too much for the local candidates. So on the basis of that, he sees that it’s not gonna happen, this 12-0 boast. It’s not gonna happen. It's been proven. It’s really not possible.

There has been no closure on what happened to Fernando Poe, Jr.’s votes in 2004, as well as on the "Hello Garci" tapes. Do you expect a repeat of these scenarios in the next elections?

Two things:

First, we hope it won’t happen again because if we felt really that there was no more credibility in the election process, then one of the options for the opposition would have been to boycott. And there were calls, really, to boycott the elections. So our participation shows that we still believe in the process, that's number one.

Number two, this is not the same opposition as in 2004. We have learned from our mistakes and also from the cheating methods that they undertook in 2004, and we’re more prepared for that and we're taking the necessary steps to protect the votes and to ensure that "Hello Garci" doesn’t happen again.

Because we really believe that the country is not ready and cannot take another "Hello Garci" scandal.

Now, going to the legislative agenda of the Genuine Opposition…

We have 10 agenda points. They’re pretty broad, but you can see common threads. Our advocacies –- one common theme in all of them is that we are not promising to do something we cannot do. At the start of the campaign period, there were some discussions on, "How about we promise to give a P200 wage increase?" or "Why don’t we promise that we'll scrap the EVAT (Expanded Value-Added Tax) Law?" but we felt that as an organization, we would lose our credibility. Even if we win on that platform and we don't deliver, we would lose our credibility… In the long term, our credibility, we give it more importance than the short-term gain of promising so many things. I think the common thread in our legislative agenda is that it’s doable. For example, we want a moratorium on new taxes. That is doable. So we do not promise anything we cannot achieve, we want that to be one of the hallmarks of the Genuine Opposition, which is that we promise to do only that which we can do.

In the Genuine Opposition’s legislative agenda, there is an item which says something about instituting reforms “to make the economy more dynamic, efficient and equitable and make the Filipino workers and enterprises more globally competitive.” Would it be reasonable to expect then that these reforms would be taking place within the framework of the globalization program?

Yes, it’s reasonable to… Well, globalization, that is a tie that we cannot really go against. It’s here. We don't have to create a program for that: it’s here. It’s a reality that we face, and…

One of the things also that you’ll notice in our legislative agenda is we did not make it too specific. Because we want to give our opposition senators the leeway to make investigations and to decide which way they're going to go. So for example, to institute the necessary reforms to make us more globally competitive, I cannot give you a very specific answer to what specifically we would do, because we really want to also have the flexibility.

But underlying that is the idea that we feel that there must be not just economic growth, but an equitable distribution of that growth. Because we feel that you can have 5 percent GNP (Gross National Product) growth and even 10 percent GNP growth, but if poverty still remains at about 53 percent, then you don’t really call that a success. In fact, one of our primary beliefs is that one of the first freedoms is freedom from poverty, and until we achieve that, we’re not going to have a free society.

One of the items in the agenda that I noticed as being more specific is that on increased budgetary allocation for education.

Yes, under the Constitution, education should be given the top budgetary priority. Unfortunately now, under the current dispensation, the number one budgetary priority is debt servicing. Now, of course that’s a complicated issue, there are a lot of pros and cons to that, but for us, we want to give life to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. In fact, if you take a look at the 2007 budget, even the ranking –- number one is of course, debt servicing, while education is not even at numbers two, three and four –- it’s number five, if I'm not mistaken. Ahead of that are the allocations for the military, infrastructure – education is not as high on the priority list for this administration, and in fact on a per capita basis, expenditure for education has gone down by about P200 per student, and that shows you that we really have a long way to go.

Another thing is the generation of jobs "through labor-intensive infrastructure projects in the rural areas."

We feel the big projects, capital-intensive projects do not take full advantage, or do not take full account of our competitive advantage. Our competitive advantage is labor. We have cheap labor, we have plentiful labor, and our labor is actually skilled.

And yet we’re focusing on mega-buck projects. The focus on mega-buck projects is because it is easy to get cuts and kickbacks from these, as opposed to a project that is labor-intensive. So we feel that there should be a shift of emphasis, we feel that we should make the most use of our comparative advantage.

And that’s why we’re pushing for more labor-intensive industries, technologies, etc.

Just for clarification: aren’t the jobs to be generated from these projects more short-term in nature, or are they also long-term?

Of course, whenever you make a plan for job generation, you have to look at the short-term, the medium-term, and the long-term. Now these labor-intensive projects are varied –- again, I cannot really specify, like what specific project we're going to implement, because you have to see what the needs are.

The principle is sound that instead of more on the capital-intensive, focus on the labor-intensive.

So whether it’s short-term, medium-term or long-term -– at least you are able to address the issues of unemployment, underemployment. Of course we want...

It’s not just job generation per se, it’s also quality of jobs, it’s jobs that really give you the sufficient income to keep body and soul together. For us –- in this country it’s not just the lack of jobs, in this country you can have a job and still be poor. Obviously at a 53 percent poverty self-rating, we don’t have a 53 percent unemployment rate. Which just goes to show you that there are many people who are employed but consider themselves as poor. So that’s how we differ with more developed countries. In developed countries if you have any job, even a minimum-wage job, you don’t consider yourself poor, because it’s enough to take care of yourself and your family, unlike in our country.

A recent study by the World Bank put forward the observation that our extreme dependence on overseas remittances is not sustainable in the long term. What then can you say about the labor export policy being implemented by the government?

Let’s go back 30 years: in the 1970s, when we had our first OFWs (overseas Filipino woorkers) leave the country –- I know this because I used to teach Labor Law –- if you take a look at the original administrative orders, the original quasi-legislative papers, memoranda that were issued by the Office of the President, their perception really was that this OFW phenomenon would be a short-term phenomenon. The thinking was that this was brought about by the –- at that time was the oil shortage, the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) –- their feeling was that it would only be short-term. In fact the idea was, eventually all these guys are going to return and everything would be normal. Because if you ask any Filipino, he’d rather stay home, right? Except the really rich ones who are more cosmopolitan.

But it persisted. Instead of being a short-term problem, it became a long-term problem. And in fact, this is a bit radical –- this is no longer the Genuine Opposition’s position, this is my own analysis –- one of the reasons why we don’t become competitive is that no matter what we do, no matter how badly we run this economy, we will always have that buffer, the OFW remittance that keeps the economy afloat. That’s the only reason this GMA economy is still afloat, it’s because of the OFW remittance.

So it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in the sense that of course we don’t want our people, we don’t want our economy to be destroyed, but it’s also a curse because it makes us lazy: it doesn’t force us to be competitive.

So it’s a very complex problem, what to do is to set up the legal and financial framework. Legal framework means we want to protect our OFWs, we want to strengthen the powers of the embassies and consuls to provide legal protection for our laborers. As an additional point, maybe give them insurance, other types of benefits outside of our country. And then the other component is the micro-financial component, because what we want is for our laborers, when they come back, if they save enough money, the government can give them some funding to set up small and medium enterprises so they don’t have to leave. I mean, that really should be the long-term thinking. The OFW phenomenon, it’s not a one-time phenomenon. We think they leave and don’t come back. But they go back and forth... Contracts, and then they come back and they spend all their money, and then leave again. It’s like that, it’s multiple exit and entry. And we have to really set up the legal and financial system so that if they return and they have money already, some savings, let’s give them micro-financing.

So they don’t have to keep coming back, because there’s a big social cost involved. You have to understand also that while economically it’s advantageous to us, the social cost –- in terms of families being destroyed, even increase in AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) amongst OFWs, health risks, of course those who get jailed or killed abroad –- all of these are social cost incurred because of the OFW phenomenon.

You know, I studied abroad, and I never met any -– even those who have fairly decent jobs –- (who would rather stay abroad). If you ask them, "If you could have the exact same job that pays the exact same amount of money in the Philippines, would you rather stay here in the United States?" and the answer is, "No, we’d rather stay in the Philippines." But precisely because they have no options, that’s why they leave our country.

I was at a recent miting de avance, and one of the performers there -– before giving his number – said something to the effect that the Philippines is presently "in danger" of having to go through another 1986-type scenario. Do you agree with that observation?

Well, if we’re talking about the 1986 scenario, if I recall in 1986 we won back our democracy because of People Power, so I don’t see anything so wrong with that. It’s not that I advocate revolution, but rather, if he was speaking in behalf of the administration –-

No, he was speaking against the administration.

Okay, if he was speaking against the administration, that’s something to look forward to –- that we’ll actually reclaim our democracy.

But I don’t want it to get to that point. The Genuine Opposition, our stand has been clear and in fact Joker Arroyo, at the start of the election period, said, "Well, the reason I didn’t join you is because you support revolution, you support unconstitutional means," so immediately we answered back and said, "That’s untrue, precisely we are participating in this election because we support constitutional processes in order to obtain reform." We do not want to have to go through that level, where we would have a revolution, in order to have reforms. We feel that there are sufficient constitutional processes under the rule of law that we can get the reforms through. Bulatlat

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