In Defense of General Palparan

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the in the May 04, 2009 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 and S1/5.

I might be crucified for defending General Jovito Palparan, but some—the likes of Chip Tsao, Conrad de Quiros, and Manolo Quezon—would perhaps understand why I write this piece.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an essay about satire (BusinessWorld, 20 April 2009).  While doing research for that article, I came across an essay written by Mark Twain, titled In Defence of General Funston. General Funston was a berdugo, responsible for many extrajudicial killings during the Filipino-American war.

I suggested to Conrad, as a way of paying tribute to Twain, to write a piece with a similar title:  In Defence of General Palparan.  This was before Palparan’s proclamation as a congressman, thanks to a Supreme Court decision that expanded the number of party-list representatives.

Maybe, Conrad hasn’t read my suggestion.  So without waiting for Conrad to respond, I take the initiative of defending General Palparan.

This defense is not about Palparan’s astonishing human rights performance.  Much has been said about Palparan’s human rights record.  It is redundant to talk about what the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, Former Justice and current Commission on Elections chair Jose Melo, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston have said in lucid if not stirring terms.

Rather, I wish to defend Palparan for his being sworn in as a congressman.  The attacks against him have been fierce and relentless—that he is not fit to be in Congress, that he is an insult to Congress.

Satur Ocampo said “that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s loyal butcher does not deserve a seat in Congress or in any government office. “

Walden Bello was as ballistic as Satur:  “Palparan deserves all the insults because of his human rights record.”  In the same breath, Bello said that Palparan’s “presence would sully the institution.”

I beg to disagree with Satur and Walden.  Let me state my reasons why we must allow Palparan to warm his seat in Congress.

Satur argues that Palparan, “the notorious human rights violator” should be disqualified.  Not only Satur but the Supreme Court, former Justice Melo and Professor Alston want Palparan charged for human rights violations.  This should be pursued, but it is the judiciary system that will convict Palparan.  And as long as he’s not convicted, Palparan can claim that he’s entitled to his seat in Congress.

Satur’s reasoning to disqualify Palparan could be used by his enemies to turn the tables on him.  They would demand Satur’s disqualification because there are pending charges against him.  Of course, the cases against Satur are trumped-up.  But the point is we cannot be selective in the application of the law.  So until that day he is convicted, removing Palparan from Congress will be tough, despite the grave charges against him.

The argument that Palparan does not represent the marginalized is pointless.  Palparan says that his party represents the interests of soldiers and security guards. The underpaid soldiers and security guards, who are drawn from the peasantry and the proletariat, are indeed exploited  So why can’t Palparan represent the exploited in the same way that Jose Maria Sison, who comes from the landlord class, can lead the revolution of the Filipino masses?

We, too, should note that Palparan gained entry to Congress because the Supreme Court liberalized the rules for the party-list system.  Absent that decision, Palparan would be enjoying the perks of his appointment by Gloria as board member of the Freeport Services Corporation.  Without the Supreme Court decision, Walden and a few other do-gooders would not have become Congressmen either.

All sides—the progressives, the middle of the roaders, and the reactionaries—gained from the Supreme Court ruling.  Everyone should be happy.  The economists would describe the Supreme Court decision as optimal:  “No one can be made better off without someone being made worse off.”

Perhaps the legal remedy to remove Palparan from Congress is to have the Supreme Court rescind its ruling.  But that would also mean ousting Walden and other progressives who benefited from the Court’s decision. I paraphrase what my colleague Rene Raya said: Not even the top 100 Arroyo servants in Congress, including the Speaker, can match Walden’s intelligence and eloquence. Walden is indispensable; he should be in Congress even if this means accepting Palparan.

I will also argue that despite the addition of Palparan and other Arroyo valets in Congress, the Supreme Court decision hasn’t yielded significant advantage for Arroyo.   I differ with the analysis of Newsbreak’s Carmela Fonbuena that the Supreme Court ruling has made the “administration a bigger winner.”

Sure, pro-Arroyo forces constitute the plurality of new representatives.  But Arroyo already has an overwhelming majority; she doesn’t need extra people who will merely demand a share of her pot.  What Arroyo needs is to get the magic number equivalent to three-fourths of Congress so she can win the constitutional amendment for term extension.

But the new configuration in Congress arising from the expansion of party-list members has not led Arroyo closer to the magic number.  Political analysts from the Left say that the opposition gained at least one-fourth of the new party-list seats.  Count the non-aligned or middle-of-the-roaders, and it will be harder for Arroyo to get the number she needs.  So let’s be thankful for the Supreme Court ruling, even if it means having Palparan as a new member of the august body.

My last argument in defense of Palparan is the best. The Left in Congress should reaffirm its primary role in an Arroyo Congress.  Surely, the progressives have no illusion that their presence in Arroyo’s Congress will lead to good legislation.  Their task in Congress is to expose how rotten to the core this institution is.

When Walden said that Palparan’s “presence would sully the institution,” that was a momentary lapse. Even without Palparan, the Arroyo Congress is full of filth.

Palparan the butcher, the representative of The True Marcos Loyalist party, is the exemplar of the Arroyo Congress.  We should likewise be glad—perhaps to the horror of the beautiful Imelda, the prettified and nicely chiseled Imee, and the boyish Bonget—that Palparan’s ferocious face is the new symbol of Marcos.

Palparan’s visibility in Congress advances the cause of the Left and the anti-Gloria forces.  Let him stay.

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