Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: January 2019
Wednesday, 30 January 2019 11:44

Conspiracy theory

MY article last January 23 delved into the US conspiracy claims precipitated by an op-ed piece in the prestigious Washington Post. Insinuations about US President Donald Trump’s being a Russian spy are made more believable by his comportment during these past two years as president. His bending over to accommodate Russia, the former Soviet Union, and his kowtowing to the Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin, has been perceived not only by the Americans but NATO allies as an overly pernicious massaging of a perverted personal relationship. It gives a certain amount of credence to the suspicion of Putin’s stranglehold over Trump. And it did not help that the two have conducted several personal talks with only their interpreters in attendance, with no aides present. To top it all, Trump embargoed his interpreter’s notes. This conduct where a summit meeting is held between leaders of competing countries is unprecedented, leading to suspicions of surreptitious agreements inimical to American and democratic interests.

This aberrant bond goes back to long before the elections where Trump lost the plurality votes. Were it not for the byzantine electoral college, Hillary Clinton could have been the first American woman president. This complexity allowed Russia’s meddling into the 2016 electoral process, placing Trump’s legitimacy in question, prompting the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s comprehensive investigation into the Donald’s campaign group’s collusion with Russia. Close to two dozen of Trump’s campaign advisers, colleagues and operators have been indicted and awaiting sentencing by US courts. Campaign manager Paul Manafort has been found guilty of subsidiary crimes. And Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen has been “spilling the beans,” so to speak, to Mueller. Cohen too, pleaded guilty to ancillary charges and has been meted jail time.

And an FBI investigation on the allegations of the Donald being a Russian spy is ongoing, separately from the Mueller investigation. The noose is tightening around Trump’s neck as Mueller and the FBI are closing in on their prey (“A Russian Spy in the White House?” The Manila Times, Jan. 23, 2018). The Donald is perceived to be in panic mood as his defense is crumbling in the face of the “fact checking” being conducted by the liberal American media. His lies are being proven to be just that — lies!

Predictably, Trump’s strategy to face a political crisis head-on is to create another one. This is probably the cause anterieure immediate for the US government shutdown that has gone on for more than a month and has impacted not only 800,000 unpaid US federal employees but the US economy itself. The repercussions have gone far and wide and has negatively affected US tourism. My family had a firsthand experience when my grandkids went to Yosemite in California for the holidays. Some parts of the park were closed. The few park employees I talked to were either paid by privately managed resorts, or as in the case of the federal park rangers were technically on furlough and were simply unpaid volunteers. On our way back to Manila, US airports were inadequately manned by immigration officers. After more than a month of this shutdown, the air traffic control employees responsible for guiding planes to take off and land at US airports could be adversely affected and travel safety jeopardized.

But conspiracy theories are not exclusive to Washington. Closer to home is one involving the Deegong, Malacañang and Congress. In the best tradition of Filipino “tsismis cum conspiracy,” rumors are rife and currently circulating in social media, no doubt exacerbated by the election circus.

The dramatis personae are those on the top echelon of the country’s political leadership. The plot centers around the Deegong with Congress, the cabinet and the military playing all sorts of supporting and adversarial roles. The storyline starts with the pronouncements lately of DU30’s frustration with the pervasive corruption not only in the bureaucracy but even among his small coterie. His attendant acts of firing people on a “whiff of corruption” without undergoing serious investigation or following the protocols of fairness and justice, is eating into his political innards, wasting his political capital. His rants against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that initially found some adherents for their boldness and warped charm, have begun to run their course and are now simply prosaic. And his declaration that “I am not Catholic, I am Islam” has left many of his admirers even more befuddled.

This preoccupation and frustration with mundane and irrelevant matters are impacting negatively on his ability to govern; creating a dangerous vacuum in the running of the ship of state, further fueling a general perception that the Deegong is tired of it all. Perhaps he is. The public allusions to his failing health and his proclivity to repair to the confines of the comfortable and the familiar in Davao – could be misconstrued as a forfeiture of his presidential duties.

It does not help too that his alter egos in the bureaucracy have been reluctant to take the cudgels for him or, not surprisingly, his alpha-male trait may have intimidated them into acting logically as they should.

Thus are emboldened the political opportunists hovering over the presidency. Foremost among which is the House of Representatives where a battle for control over the country’s development is being fought, using the budget as the weapon of choice. The ultimate political survivor who now heads the HOR has her loyalists fighting a surrogate battle for the country’s agenda. They want Budget Secretary Diokno out. They may yet have their wish.

But the conspiracy theory doesn’t end here. The conjecture is that the chief sentinel of the economy and protector of its financial lifeblood must go. A traditional political component needs to be injected into this post and logically lodged on the speaker who is now on her last term.

Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, the professional and independently wealthy technocrat, is much more needed by PRRD as his Chief of Staff — the primus inter pares — to impose a certain sense of managerial discipline to the Office of the President (“The Gatekeepers Parts 1 & 2,” The Manila Times, Sept. 28 & Oct 5, 2017). And what to do with the ES? Appoint him to the Supreme Court where his father had served honorably.

And if one follows several articles I wrote about Gloria, (Game of Thrones, The Manila Times, March 15, 2018 and “Gloria en excelsis,” March 22, 2018) the “kuro-kuro” was for the constitutional revisions to happen and a transition to a parliamentary form of government before the mid-term elections. Now it’s too late. The Senate thwarted this plan and thus the presidential government under the unitary system continues: no constitutional changes, no parliamentary government and above all no prime minister — and the hell with federalism! Guess who was gunning for the prime minister post?

Thus, the importance of the finance and the budget portfolios. The other cabinet departments and agencies are presumably now being put under the effective control of GMA’s group — still totally loyal to DU30 — a paradox. The conspiracy continues…
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 30 January 2019 11:25

A Russian spy in the White House?

PRIOR to the internet, Kindle books, social media, Facebook, we read real books. Books we can hold in our hands with real pages one thumbs through; books that are either sold in bookstores, like National Bookstore and Alemar’s (in Metro Manila) or borrowed from libraries. With the advent of new technologies, books can still be read but mostly downloadable; worse, we just google the plot, read the synopsis and voila! — we have the patina of an intellectual and impress women with our “wide reading fare.” Unless the women one intends to impress also do the same — google the plots. In my day (which my son Carlo refers to as “during the dark ages”), to cheat, we read the comic book version of the classics; which means, we may not read the original tomes — Quo Vadis, Two Years Before the Mast, Moby Dick etc. — or if adapted on screen, we simply watch the movie.

But the books that I particularly like are seldom adapted into movies, unless they are international bestsellers. In which case, I read both the book and watch its movie version. Which brings me to my regular fare during the dark ages (1960s-1990s) – prior to the internet, which burst into the scene in its primitive version in the mid-1980s, but really came into its own and people’s consciousness only in the 1990s or thereabouts, upon the inception of the World Wide Web.

I love spy stories (I also love Henry Miller’s novels, particularly the classic Tropic of Cancer and similar ones of that genre). In college and shortly after in the mid-1960s I discovered certain authors that wrote copious books on espionage and political fiction. I was born and live through the Cold War, 1947 to 1991— the post-World War 2 decades of geopolitical non-bloody confrontation between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), now Russia, and the United States and its Western allies, chiefly Britain, France, West Germany and Italy, among others. The Philippines, as a former colony of America, was positioned smack into the Western alliance.

The Cold War era was reflected in the fictional literature of the times and produced my favorite contemporary authors with books I devoured. John le Carré, Ian Fleming, Richard Condon, Jason Matthews, Frederick Forsyth and Tom Clancy, among others. Many of these books became bestsellers and the Hollywood money machine turned some of them into iconic symbols of the period. Ian Fleming’s James Bond series has produced two dozen blockbusters, not so much due to the inane plots but for the fascinating gadgets, action and gore and more importantly, for some of my septuagenarian classmates (the author excepted), the “eye candy” exposition of Bond’s women in various stages of undress, arousing some primal memories of past engagements.

I prefer, of course, the political undertones of the novels of John le Carré that depicts the betrayal by a real British double agent, Kim Philby, who was recruited as a student in Cambridge, England, by the KGB, the Russian secret service. The book published in 1974, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was brought to the screen in 2011. This was followed by The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), and Smiley’s People (1979) with the same recurring theme; the co-opted British intelligence agents engaging in psycho-warfare with Soviet spies, exposing the weaknesses of both the democratic and totalitarian systems. The reader is invited to think deeper on the plot’s nuances, but the film version contrasts with James Bond, bereft of gadgets, violence and skin. Le Carré’s are the intelligent spy stories.

On another level is Jason Matthews, The Kremlin’s Candidate. This more contemporary novel depicts Dominika Egorova, a double agent for the US CIA planted in the Kremlin and gaining the trust of President Vladimir Putin who with his KGB concocted a plan to assassinate the CIA Director and substitute him with Putin’s mole in the CIA.

But the spy novel that hews closely to contemporary US politics is Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate. The original movie adaptation was in 1962, starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh. The Manchurian candidate was an American soldier captured and imprisoned during the Korean war. As the prisoner of war, Raymond Shaw (played by Harvey) was subsequently brainwashed by the North Koreans and repatriated to the US as a war hero. “After his discharge back into civilian life, he becomes an unwitting assassin involved in an International communist conspiracy. Officials from China and the Soviet Union employ Shaw as a sleeper agent in an attempt to subvert and take over the United States government.”

But the fascinating plot involves a deeply implanted psychological triggering mechanism that upon seeing the Queen of Diamonds card, Shaw is primed to kill the US presidential candidate, substituting him with the popular vice president who was Shaw’s stepfather, and who would, upon election, declare martial law.

This fascinating plot about the co-optation of an American hero by the Soviets could be adapted to the present political drama now unfolding in the United States. Real life follows fiction. We can twist the plot that hews close to scenarios now being peddled by the American liberal-leaning media.

President Donald Trump, as presented by these credible leading US news organizations, is the central figure. Inuendoes abound about his long secret relationship with Russia and Putin’s role in his election. Putin was once the head of the KGB and certainly an expert in the arcana of international espionage. The KGB “honeypot trap” is famous for ensnaring sexually prodigious unsuspecting victims that could be blackmailed. Innuendoes and reports on Trump having been a subject of this plot have been circulating among the US media cognoscenti on the existence of the “pee-pee tapes.” This and Trump’s sorry actuations in the Helsinki summit with Putin are being interpreted as the US President’s scornful role as a defense attorney for Russia — and worse the groveling marionette of Putin.

Fiction and reality could merge when Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller comes up with his report on the two-year-long investigation into Russia’s suspected collusion with the Trump campaign to pervert the US election process. And now, the Washington Post has published an op-ed that says Trump had been investigated by the FBI since 2017 as possibly an agent of Putin. The inference being that the capitalist Trump with several bankruptcies to his name has been saved and nurtured by Putin over the years making him vulnerable to Putin’s machinations. His constant declaration of “no collusion, no collusion” smacks of a forced and fake denial, insinuating the reverse. Putin could have sized him up years back and saw his vulnerability and worked on him as the “useful idiot” or an unwitting participant — or a combination of both.

In the next few weeks, we could see the unraveling of a conspiracy that could beat the best of John le Carré spy novels, Jason Matthews, The Kremlin’s Candidate and Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate all rolled into one: the Donald, the US President — the Russian spy in the White House.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 16 January 2019 15:45

Travelers’ travails

AS of this writing, we have been home in Davao for almost two weeks now and taking a vacation from a vacation. Flying coach on PAL is stressful enough, but with three grandchildren (3 to 7 years) in tow, it is almost unbearable except for the expertise of the parents who are themselves globetrotters. For one, Matt had the foresight to download to two IPads and two cellphones 12 hours’ worth of the kids’ favorite cartoons, games and movies. And with Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) on-seat chargers, batteries never run out. Max was surfing the inter-flight movie channels for his favorite “Star Wars” episodes. Lara had all the back-up toys, the teddy bears (named “Loveys”), bottles of milk, assorted snacks and diapers in color-coded satchels, bags and small luggage; all reachable at arm’s length.

In a four-seat configuration, two kids are seated anchored by nanny Belen beside the youngest on one end and the other by Matt with Sylvie. On the next row are Lara and Momsie putting Max in between them. And “Lolo” book-ending the row ,hoping all along that PAL would upgrade my Premier-Elite status to business class for at least having sired the next generation of Capitan Lucio Tan’s next generation of PAL travelers. Fat chance! This septuagenarian had to suffer the 11 ½ hours flight Manila (MNL)-San Francisco (SFO) and 14 ½ hours SFO to MNL in the sardine-like confines of a plane seat which has diminished in size (or has my bulk grown?).

The SFO immigration area was a breeze, particularly for the eight of us allowed to go through the US passport-holders line, as my grandkids and their parents are US citizens. Lolo, “Lola” and the nanny who are Pinoy just had extra questions to answer from a Korean-American officer, like: “…what is the purpose of your visit,” among others. This stern line of questioning possesses an undertone, not blatant, of course, of a slight suspicion of Lolo, Lola and nanny looking for temporary jobs, hinting on the possibility of being “TNT” (Tago nang Tago) in America. To that question, I was tempted to reply “…to spend my money to help the American economy.” I didn’t come through with that tongue-in-cheek response as my grandson Max was fidgeting to run to the nearest restroom. And, for all we know, this federal immigration employee may be one of Trump’s shutdown victims and was a brave volunteer — without pay.

Overall, our holiday was fantastic. First, my fears were unfounded. And my grandson Max could be right after all that the clash of the Pacific and North Atlantic tectonic plates along the San Andreas fault will not occur for the next 10,000 years or so. But we had our own little tectonic shifts when three tykes ages 6 ½, 4 ½ and 3 are packed into a Chevy Suburban with the two younger ones allowed their impedimenta keeping them occupied for any land trip; to the museums, toy stores or to the skiing areas, and even to Ghirardelli for hot cocoa and mini-golf, the Golden Gate Bridge for sightseeing or the grocery at Target stores; with a ‘devil-may-care’ of a driver of a son-in-law, Matt, who almost gave Momsie a heart attack. Frankly, he did well to chauffeur us safely all throughout — except I prefer my daughter Lara to handle the wheels from time to time.

Driving along American roads, either interstate highways or local roads and even mountain roads, is safe. This is because the roads are basically well-structured, superbly engineered, highly maintained, well-lighted with clear signs and directions. More importantly, traffic rules, regulations and the laws are applied strictly, evenly and fairly. Therefore, drivers are disciplined to drive safely. There are exceptions that could produce tragic results – drunk driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), overtaking, crossing solid painted lines, going through red lights and ignoring protocols on four-way STOP signs. I have been driving in American roads for decades and I drive safely and well with an American driver’s license – and no accidents.

But in Manila, for years I no longer drive. It is one of the most chaotic road systems in major cities with population of 10 million. With PRRD’s ‘build-build-build’ program, he needs to redo our road and traffic systems, especially in the megacities; more public transport, phaseout of jeepneys and ancient vehicles, more skyways, more feeder roads but more importantly, the forced education of drivers and the enforcement of the rule of law.

This program of the Deegong will effectively open resort areas, encourage visits to provinces and develop internal tourism and perhaps declog cities and eliminate environmental blight. DU30 with his proven political will to do things right has four years to do this. This is in fact more revolutionary than a revgov — at least to start with.

Our flight back, PR 115, was not entirely uneventful as the US immigration inspection areas were manned with a skeletal force — thanks to the shutdown. But the lone incident that got my goat happened at the NAIA airport upon arrival. With eight in our party (and three grandkids), we had 16 pieces of luggage, including car seats between us, inclusive of four balikbayan boxes of assorted pasalubong and clothing. Each of us had to hand-carry on board priority bags for the kids to survive the trip. This was where my fiasco with PAL began. On the ground past NAIA immigration, I remember leaving my black leather jacket at the overhead luggage compartment on row 65F. The ground PAL personnel were informed. As Sylvia and I were to board PR 2813 for Davao within two hours (without the kids) we were asked to proceed to the domestic part of Terminal 2. The PAL personnel were courteous and mindful of my complaint about by jacket informing them of my wallet of credit cards in the left inner pocket and a money-clip with $200 on the right pocket. At the domestic PAL lounge, two gentlemen from PAL security returned my black leather jacket, with my wallet of credit cards minus the $200 cash. My wife was more than happy to have my more expensive jacket returned. But I thought I should complain about the lost cash; which was also the advice of my classmate Sammy’s wife, Rose Lutz – a retired ground PAL supervisor. Thus, my letter to PAL president Jimmy Bautista today.

Overall, this incident did not mar my vacation with my grandchildren – courtesy of my son-in-law Matt and daughter Lara. But after this two-week interlude, I long to be back with my septuagenarian classmates who have been planning to go on breaks like this. Such type of trips is heavy on the pocketbook. On the other hand, septuagenarians have more compelling reasons; to go on the move as a herd as we take comfort in our dwindling numbers, our days are short and the possibility that many will not last the years we allot for ourselves; or illness will overtake our tired bodies leaving only the indomitable souls. But souls don’t travel well as a pack. So, here’s to the AdeDU class 1960’s romp to Coron, Palawan on February 14 — the day for lovers.
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 09 January 2019 11:46

Postcard from America

I NEVER did leave my heart in San Francisco. In fact, I never did leave my heart anywhere in America. But San Francisco was the first American city that I visited in the spring of 1980. I was privileged to have been an awardee of the Group Study Exchange Program (GSE) of the Rotary International and spent several weeks in the 4-State Rotary District 6110 of Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Since my first trip to America 39 years ago, I have been in and out of the country countless times. Although in terms of endearment, Cambridge and Boston are where I accumulated my baggage of nostalgia, having spent my sabbatical year for studies there. New York City should come next as my daughter and my grandchildren resided there.

But San Francisco has always filled me with dread as the San Andreas fault hangs as a Damocles sword over the place. It has triggered several earthquakes over the past century — from the 7.9 magnitude in 1857 that claimed one fatality, to the 1906, 1989 and 2004 quakes that destroyed great swathes of the city by fire and infrastructure collapse, reducing them to rubble, with thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage.

I am a moviegoer and the flick “San Andreas,” although a fictional depiction of the end of times for California, could be what scientists have been predicting all along; the splitting of the state from the mainland along the San Andreas Fault, the boundary between the Pacific and the North American tectonic plates. And there are perhaps a million kababayan residents, not to count my relatives living the American dream. That’s why I feel a certain trepidation every time I visit San Francisco or Los Angeles.

We are now in Yosemite, at least farther away from this part of the earth’s lithosphere; as if that were really a consolation if ever the “big one” comes. My seven-year-old grandson, Max, assured me that this catastrophe is at least 10,000 years in the future.

My grandkids miss the snow since they relocated to Manila and the closest to a snowman they can construct is the artificial snow at SM Megamall. Also, skiing is part of their DNA having been sired by an American father from St. Cloud, Minnesota, where snow cover during winter is abundant.

The park itself is generally open for tourists and visitors despite the President Trump-induced shutdown, which is now on its third week. With a reported close to 800,000 unfunded federal employees, certain sites are closed. Packed like sardines in a Chevy Suburban, we breezed through unstaffed but open entrance stations. The park service-provided information and orientation are somewhat available as there are a few and unpaid volunteers bravely manning the park, in effect keeping some visitor centers open, although the Yosemite museum was closed. Some campgrounds and hiking trails remain open and free public shuttle service around the valley is available. Thank God my son-in-law got a VRBO cabin at Redwood Parks on Wawona, about an hour from the Badger Pass ski area where a fresh powder of snow allows skiing lifts and runs open despite the shutdown.

And we did ski with the three kids, coached by Matt and Lara, down the “turtle run,” the slope reserved for beginners ages 3 to the teens. As a skiing tyro for 30 years, I still must brave the “green and black” runs, earmarked for accomplished skiers, which I did not attempt this time. But I have bragging rights as “master of the kiddie slopes.”

The National Park Service (NPS) that is responsible for managing all national parks is an agency under the US Department of the Interior. It is mandated “…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. Yosemite National Park covers an area of 747,956 acres and designated a World Heritage site; and famous for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, glaciers and biological diversity. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated wilderness.” (Wikipedia)

I can’t help comparing our national parks in the Philippines. The Mount Apo Natural Park (MANP) for one, was established as a protected area and acknowledged as an Asean Heritage Site, with an area of 54,974.87 hectares. Upon its designation as a protected area, 30 percent of the land area, or approximately 14,900 has., had forest cover. However, negligent government policy allowed conversion of the areas into agricultural use and for human settlements, degrading the forest and wildlife habitat. Illegal tree cutting has been prevalent and charcoal making for household use resulted in forest cover loss of 1,400 has. yearly.

Popular as a mountain climbing and trekking site, being the highest mountain in the country, hundreds visit the park yearly and a few climb the summit. But policing of the area is minimal. Toilet facilities and half-way cottages are practically absent, with climbers and tourists littering the trails with garbage and human waste. These could be the reasons why the park was taken out of the Unesco list of heritage sites.

What President Duterte did in Boracay could be a template in saving national parks and resort areas for Filipino and foreign tourists, but more importantly, for the enjoyment of the present generation and future ones. The internationally famous beach resort had deteriorated since the early 1970s-1980s prompting the Deegong to declare the whole resort as a cesspool, an environmental blight. He used the full powers of government to close the resort to tourists for half a year and clean the area, putting in a sewage system connecting 200 hotels and establishments to the sewerage lines instead of these effluents being discharged directly to the sea. He has forcibly dismantled structures that illegally encroached upon the shoreline, and has directed the widening of the streets to ease traffic. More importantly, he has closed businesses that are non-compliant with Philippine laws and local ordinances. There are still flaws in the management of the area which are under several government departments that include tourism, environment and natural resources and local government. But things are beginning to improve, restoring the resort to world class status.

But the local population is supportive of PRRD and the success of the rehabilitation of Boracay could be the impetus for similar initiatives for other resorts and national parks and could even extend to the cleaning of esteros and slum area development in the inner cities. Palawan resorts outside of El Nido and Amanpulo may be targeted next. These drastic measures have never been attempted before by any of our political leaders since the birth of the Republic, except for this oft-vilified President Duterte. Love him or hate him, this is what political will is all about. And this is what the country needs.
Published in LML Polettiques