Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: February 2022

IT is axiomatic that the best part of going away on vacation and leaving home is coming home! In my case, the anticipation and excitement of traveling to America and back to Manila to be with the two halves of my grandchildren — Americans and Filipinos — far exceeds my travel anxieties in this time of Covid.

Unlike during the pre-pandemic days, all you need are your passport, plane tickets, credit cards and some cash and you are good to go. Not this time. To travel to America at the height of the pandemic, you need to be vaccinated — twice within two months, plus a booster shot two weeks prior to boarding time. You need to download into your cellphone a vaccination certificate (VaxCertPH) from the Department of Health proving you're vaccinated. On top of these, a contact tracing application, "Traze," with a quick response code (QR code) is required.

For the illiterate like me, the QR code encodes one's personal data in alphanumeric information downloaded into your phone to be read by a scanner at the airports. This is used widely to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 by making contact tracing better. How this works, I don't know, and I don't really care. Except without it Philippine Airlines will refuse to board me.

Outgoing flight

The hassle doesn't stop at the airport as you are required to wear a mask at the terminal building and inside the plane. It should be noted that only in the Philippines is the wearing of plastic shields on top of your mask compulsory, courtesy of Lo-Liong-Lao-Go, Michael Yang, the Dragon, and their not quite so anonymous sponsor. This refers to the billions of pesos of the corrupt arrangements between the Chinese-controlled Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. and our government (see my Manila Times column of Feb 9, 2022). Surprisingly, JFK never bothered with these documents except for your valid B1/B2 visa.

Coming home

A lesser tension pervades the vacationers coming home from America. At this time, the Covid variant Omicron was raging. A more infectious type but less severe. Nevertheless, millions have been infected with it like the ordinary cold. Thus, anxiety still prevailed on our flight to Manila. Remarkably, there was no hustle at Baltimore airport as we boarded our American Airlines (AA) flight to JFK, connecting to Manila.

The inconvenience starts at our side of international travel. The Philippine Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) requires PAL to accept only Covid-negative real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) passengers to Manila within 48 hours of departure instead of 72 hours. We postponed our trip back to Manila twice, as I was found to be Omicron-positive. But the hustle has been reduced somewhat by another IATF ruling that quarantine is no longer imposed in Manila for arriving passengers and that positive cases are allowed provided you present a doctor's medical certificate proving you have quarantined yourself (in America).

I came home after six weeks over our vacation time budget and several thousand US dollar deficits. Consider the following: Although RT-PCR tests are free courtesy of the University of Maryland and US taxpayers, the results are released only after 48 hours, outside of PAL's 48-hour window for RT-PCR submission. To get results in four hours, for our connecting flights from Baltimore to JFK to Manila, we pay a more expensive RT-PCR test of from $275 to $500 each! A lot of moolah went to four tests proving positive on top of the charges for flight cancellations, extra days accommodations and bayad sa kagu-ol (Bisayan for anxiety alleviation). Flight-related postponements plus other sundries doubled our vacation budget.

Lesson learned: Don't go on vacation to America until Covid/Omicron or another variant is controlled and beaten

Presidential debates

Our Manila arrival was uneventful as my GF and my wife (same woman) enjoyed a Valentine's Day breakfast, lunch and dinner — spending the entire day in bed (sleeping off the jet lag). And in time for Manila's presidential debates.

I witnessed similar US and Philippine debates. But this latest was unprecedented in more ways than one. First, it ran for over three hours on SMNI TV owned by "the Son of God" (SOG). Note that Pastor Quiboloy endorsed one of the presidential debaters. The fact that the SOG is FBI's most wanted criminal doesn't really impact on the debate itself but delicadeza should have prevailed. But what the hell! Delicadeza isn't a favored item in Philippine politics.

Second, except for Marcos, the four other participants rate within.09 percent to 2 percent in the latest polls. Leni, Isko, Manny and Ping declined, prompting lead panelist professor Clarita Carlos to praise the four present for "...political commitment and political courage to be part of this conversation."

Third, gorgeous moderator lawyer Karen Jimeno couldn't discipline the partisan crowds rooting for their candidates, whether their replies were correct, inane or simply stupid. And she couldn't cut the minutes allotted to the panelists for questions, particularly professor Carlos.

Fourth, the format was not fashioned for a debate but suited more for a job interview for an applicant to the Philippine presidency. Central to the concept of debates is for the presidential combatants to introduce their platform of government addressing people's concerns. Going "mano a mano," precipitating a clash of ideas is expected for the best ideas to emerge for the benefit not only of the listeners/voters but also for the combatants to learn from each other. There was no such engagement. All were either afraid of confrontations, knew extraordinarily little about the topic, or were simply ignorant.

A foreign policy expert, Carlos began the proceedings with a question on how, if elected, each will handle the QUAD security alliance. Unable to google QUAD on stage, discombobulated but safe answers were crafted belying deep knowledge on the subject. Carlos' deep and substantial questions flummoxed some of the candidates, exposing their unfamiliarity with the subject. Against an exceptionally knowledgeable political science professor of 50 years with a doctorate in defense and security, the presidentiables didn't stand a chance. It was downhill from then on.

The engagement turned into a display of sound bites, cute statements, canned ideas of motherhood statements passing off as ideological perspectives. But the choice of a dominant alpha female panelist in Carlos made the whole "non-debate event" her coming-out party. At every instance, she couldn't leave her classroom, interjecting her own positions at every turn, even announcing the book she is writing on regional fishing agreements, and a paper on the AFP abolition. "On a personal note, I wrote a paper on abolishing the AFP and I'm sure I got so many enemies...but if you're interested to read that paper, I can share it with you..." Marcos graciously replied that he was very, very interested.

This debate/interview/entertainment format left things to be desired. It was forgettable with listeners/voters retaining the same bias they left the hall with as when they entered. They were not uplifted. Methinks if there was a winner in this debate, it was professor Clarita Carlos who in a Jan. 24, 2022, TV interview with "Usapang Bayan" declared: "Maganda 'yang debate, para makita kung sino ang bobo at sinong may kunting talino." Unfair, brutal, but necessary!

Published in LML Polettiques

Last of 2 parts

FOR lack of a much gentler phrase, I substitute "political miscalculations" for blunder, debacle or catastrophe, contributory to the eventual demise of the President's legacy. My column last week detailed how the 18 hearings of the Sen. Dick Gordon's blue ribbon committee (BRC) left no doubt in our people's mind the extent of plunder precipitated by the "saga of Lao-Lo-Liong-Go" (named after the four stooges of Pharmally, in the first part of this series, February 9), the corruption scandal that obliterated Duterte's image as the nemesis of the corrupt and champion of good governance as he reduced himself to a blubbering despot attacking the BRC investigations while defending the indefensible — this Chinese criminal network headed by his erstwhile "economic adviser," Michael Yang, the Dragon, a suspected drug lord.

Political promises — a travesty

As Davao city mayor for more than two decades, candidate Duterte in 2015 entered national politics already conversant with the inherently defective Philippine system of governance, that the rot in our democracy is systemic. Thus, pragmatic and colorful candidate Duterte ran under a slogan "Pagbabago" — promising political reforms on popular issues reduced to sound bites.

These three pillars of his platform underpinned his legacy. Tokhang (Tok-tok hangyo!), a massive house-to-house campaign principally conducted in the slum areas and poverty-stricken communities purportedly to root out the drug pushers and users arresting the country's slide from becoming a narco-state. Instead, this drastic method experimented locally in Davao with mixed results turned into a human rights fiasco when applied at the national level.

The Duterte doctrine of whiff of corruption, a mockery of an anti-corruption drive in the bureaucracy that replaced the corrupt with sycophants to juicy government sinecures was instituted. Federalism and local autonomy — the linchpin of a structural reform that could have changed positively the dynamics of power between centralized and local governments units granting the masses a modicum of decision-making competences to run their own lives, was introduced. The latter required revisions to the 1986 Constitution. These imperatives for political reforms define the nature of the centralized authority of the presidency itself and how political and economic power are dispersed and dispensed with using the majesty of his office.

But the one factor that now threatens to unhinge this legacy is the Deegong's inability to incorporate these into a vision for the country translated into structures and institutions that must be put in place.

Indubitably he had successes in the economic front, foremost of which is his vaunted Build, Build, Build programs and many great pro-poor initiatives. But many of these liberal populist raids on the public's coffers are stopgap measures to alleviate poverty, a band-aid solution to the ills of society, which by their very nature were merely palliatives with dire consequences long after he leaves office.

Power an evanescent concept

But this slide to the depths needs to be recounted for future presidents to learn from; the concept of political power and the primary responsibility for those elected to seats of power must understand its purpose. That it must be used solely for the betterment of the people. That the task of leadership is to inspire and uplift the Filipino from their current condition to a point beyond where they need not be uplifted. Any deviation from its legitimate use is an abomination, be it in the abuse and misuse of power or even in its non-use. The powerful must understand too that such gifts by the people are ephemeral and may be taken away by the gift-givers themselves. When people's trust is violated, they have recourse to exact retributive justice. In this case such transgressions against the people demand collective vengeance. Corporal punishments are expected but no less painful and traumatic as the judgment of history.

Witness that of the Marcos père punished by history for similar lapses despite his reputation as an intellectual giant, a genius and a political conjurer who survived and flourished for two decades in power. Serendipitously, he left behind a loyal and driven son and a shrewd older daughter who painfully suffered his vilification through the years; to repair whatever legacy the father left behind while attempting to erase the collective memories of a sad epoch by creating an alternative narrative directed toward the restoration of a tattered reputation. This historical revisionism, which involves not only a reinterpretation of events but a reversal of moral judgments of the martial law regime, may succeed if the Marcos fils wins this election. In contrast with the Deegong's plight, despite the many successes of his economic and pro-poor programs, waylaid only by the pandemic, and facing the judgment of history, could Sara, Paolo and Baste, have what it takes to reprise what the Marcos siblings are doing; repair their father's legacy?

Fatal political endgames

What could have helped Duterte perpetuate his legacy was to fulfil all his election promises of political reforms and structuring of government to address the ills of society, stark poverty, injustices, impunity and the erosion of the rule of law with his political party. Although Duterte presided over a byzantine political party system he had at his disposal an ideologically driven party successfully forged in the anvil of desperation and hopelessness of the martial law era.

The PDP-Laban provided the underpinnings for the government platform. This loyal band of original mass-base ideologues and political technocrats, later usurped by opportunists from other political parties, needed only a spark — a serious display of real political will to initiate changes. At the outset, the Deegong's dominance over his political party and influential power brokers was palpable. The sheer force of his personality cowed the political/economic elite, the tradpols, the oligarchy, the Church hierarchy, a substantial number of the populace and even many corrupt bureaucrats.

But he mistook his alpha male demeanor of threats, use of expletives, misogynist language, brute, frontal and iconoclastic attacks as manifestations of political will. It was not. It was merely a façade.

Death throes

Never in the history of Philippine presidential politics was an outgoing president with 80 percent approval rating failed to provide for lasting political contingencies. He allowed this once revered party to split, thus presiding over the demise by his own hand of an emerging institution and the continuity of his program beyond his time. The chairman and party head instead bet on the ascendancy of daughter Sara to assume and perpetuate his legacy — one which she herself negated. An institutional obligation was substituted for a family matter, not a concern that involves the Filipino — but strictly Duterte personal. There is no way now that the PDP-Laban will survive with two factions irreconcilably at odds; Manny Pacquiao, the standard-bearer of one faction, and the Duterte/Cusi faction left in the doldrums playing with irrelevancy as Duterte tied his own hands by attacking the leading candidate, BBM.

He could at this late date endorse BBM. The latter must accept graciously.

But if he does win, Marcos will not forget the insults heaped by the Deegong upon the Marcoses — calling them "mga kawatan."

Thus, the ultimate nail on the coffin of a legacy.

Published in LML Polettiques

LOOKING back at the early years of the Deegong's rise, from the time he burst into the national consciousness as a maverick, straight-talking, dirty-mouth iconoclast, the promdi has always dominated center stage. He conducted a presidential campaign never before seen in the annals of presidential elections, hewing close to the precepts of the oldest classic campaign primer, "How to Win an Election" written by the first professional campaign manager, Quintus Tullius Cicero, for his brother Marcus, Rome's greatest orator, when he successfully ran for Consul of the Republic in 64 BC. With Duterte's DDS sycophants from Davao, where he ran undefeated in all the elections he participated in, he must have even improved on Cicero with a dash of Machiavelli.

He seduces the crowd with down-to-earth street patois seasoned with expletives never before heard in campaign sorties, nonetheless a language the young and the not-so-old found refreshing, even endearing, for its novelty and uniqueness. Projecting an image of "masa-bred barumbado," he later cashed in on this image as a demonstration of political will — erroneous but effective. Only the polite and well-mannered members of the elite, the oligarchy and the self-declared guardians of people's morals and the Catholic Church hierarchy were appalled and revolted by his actuations. But though powerful and influential, they could not prevent the deluge of perversions that was to sweep away the norms and conventions of good governance as reflected by his remarkably high popularity and acceptance rating sustained over his regime's entirety.

He was not an instant hit, but his alpha male personality gained traction growing into the voters' stream of consciousness. He was an acquired taste, unlike his opponents who never had a chance with recycled complex ideas of governance, tired old promises and platform of government coated in data-filled technocratic jargon; prostitutes proffering their virginity, again and again.

2 programs, 2 doctrines

His approach to problem-solving and conflict resolution is linear and exquisite in their simplicity. One core initiative is his illegal drugs program, preventing the Philippines from becoming a narco state. To stop the proliferation of prohibited drugs — just kill the drug lords!

The other is to eradicate government corruption in six months. He will "not tolerate any corruption in his administration and will dismiss from office any of his people tainted even by a 'whiff of corruption;' and he is ready to sack public officials even on a basis of false allegations of corruption." (Inquirer.net, March 30, 2017.) Thus was born the Duterte Doctrine on corruption.

These two flagship programs, along with a third, federalism and the systemic restructuring of government, constituted the leading edge of his simplified, clear, comprehensive and masa-directed initiatives forming a substantial part of his legacy.


Writers are fond of paraphrasing aphorisms. Relevant to this column is one from ancient China defining danger and opportunity. What transpired in the country these past two years was a time of great peril yet one of terrific opportunity — two faces of the same coin — one Chinese kanji with contrapuntal meanings.

The danger was the Covid-19 pandemic, curiously originating from China. This Chinese peril swept the world's countries bringing the world to its knees.

This was the point at which President Duterte's legacy began to untangle. The 18 Senate blue ribbon committee (BRC) hearings conducted by Sen. Richard "Dick" Gordon spanning over a period of eight months revealed that in the face of peril and danger, an opportunity was deliberately created by the Deegong's men, not coincidentally peopled by his Chinese connection.

The plot was simple as seen in the timelines. Taken from excerpts of my column in September 2021, I rephrase:

"When Covid-19 struck in early 2020, government rushed in to introduce grandiose-sounding laws — the Bayanihan to Heal As One (and Two) — by granting the President emergency powers to combat Covid with humongous funds. These laws were altogether an appropriate and worthy response. But as in any similar bills, the devil is in the details. It allowed the primary tools for graft: negotiated biddings on contrived bidding failures and sleight-of-hand transfers of funds, with leakage somewhere in between; employing obscure patsies "backed by the powerful." To wit:

– August 2019 Christopher Lao, an obscure lawyer, allegedly Sen. Bong Go's stooge (SBG denied this vehemently) was appointed Department of Budget and Management (DBM) undersecretary.

– Jan. 2, 2020, Undersecretary Lao is transferred to the DBM Procurement Service (PS-DBM). (Secretary Wendel Avisado, resigned as DBM head.)

– March 16, 2020, the Government Procurement Policy Board released a resolution incorporating face masks and PPE into common use supplies.

– March 27, 2020, the Department of Health started transferring funds to the PS-DBM, presumably illegally.

– April 16 and 20, 2020, PS-DBM, under Lao, bought overpriced surgical masks from various suppliers.

– April 2020 to June 2020, Lao awarded to undercapitalized Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. contracts worth P6 billion plus; the contracts that PS-BDM awarded to Pharmally reached more than P8.7 billion as a result.

– June 2021, Lao resigns. Offices of favored companies closed, addresses unknown.

Tales of Lo-Liong-Lao-Go

But this did not end here. Subsequent hearings disclosed President Duterte himself seeking to derail the hearings advising his people not to appear before the BRC.

– Health Secretary Duque's transfer of P42 billion of his (DoH) budget to PS-DBM could not have occurred without the "Go signal" of the Deegong.

– PS-DBM was at some point headed by a "musical chairs" of three undersecretaries, lawyers Lo, Liong and Lao, 2016 Duterte campaign protegees of Senator Go. These people, although they carry Chinese surnames, are Filipino, and my citing Lo-Liong-Lao-Go in a rhythmic unisyllabic cadence is not meant to disparage the Chinese or their Chinese ancestry.

– These three lawyers, all Lex Talionis fraternity brods of the Deegong, were slated to move to positions at the Ombudsman. A naughty mind may speculate they could cover their tracks by refusing to do what decent real ombudsmen would do — investigate criminal wrongdoing in the bureaucracy.

– The padrino of these people was established to be the shadowy figure Michael Yang, alias the Dragon, a Chinese national, the "pagador," the guarantor of Pharmally and its related companies, and a personal friend of the Deegong. Yang, who has been in Davao since 1999, claimed to speak no word of Bisaya or Tagalog and feigned illiteracy of the English language yet was at one time appointed by the Deegong as his economic adviser, seen to escort him around China on his visits. Such an escort service is known by many labels — consultant, facilitator, bagman, pagador or locally, in local slang, bugaw (pimp), depending on the package offered and bought.

All these brought to light by the BRC hearings were never contradicted except for denials. What should follow is the Senate approval of the BRC report and the subsequent full-scale investigation and filing of cases. So far, the regime's defense was simply ad hominem attacks on Gordon and his team and delaying tactics using the coming elections as an alibi.

But at this point, it seems obvious who the capo di tutti capi is — the Godfather of them all. But didn't we know this from the start?


Published in LML Polettiques

I CAN almost hear my long-departed friend Rey Teves proclaim from the great beyond in his original Bislish: "I don't afraid!" Translated into the much more colorful Bisayȃ — our common tongue — as "wȃ gyud ko mahadlok!"

Indeed, many global experts have declared that Omicron has mutated into a benign viral infection, roughly equivalent to the common cold prevalent during wintertime in countries such as America where I am now. Although the leading US expert. Dr. Anthony Fauci. says it's too soon to know if enough people build natural immunity to Covid-19 by catching the highly contagious Omicron variant. What the data shows, so far, is the infection rate of the unvaccinated Americans is very much widespread and more severe, clogging some hospitals. CNN reports that case counts in the US have dipped from 800,000 daily cases on January 22 to 250,000 on January 29 while hospitalizations and deaths slightly declined. Experts say these are early signs that the infection wave may be starting to peak. Even Bill Gates sees a silver lining to this massive global Omicron surge.

The vaccination mandate, particularly on federal employees, has become so politicized here that big demonstrations are being conducted in Washington, D.C. as we speak — protesting the mandates.

In social media the debate between the advantages or disadvantages of vaccination and boosters has been obscured by partisan politics with claims that mostly the Republicans who value more the concepts of individual freedoms and have fused to be vaccinated are prone to infections hinting further that they comprise the greater majority of those hospitalized and among the dead. There are no figures to prove or refute this allegation, but it is a measure of how deep the divisions have driven American society apart that these questions are even being considered.

Pandemic to endemic

As of this writing, several countries, particularly the United Kingdom, Denmark and Spain have declared Covid-19 and its variants as no longer posing a threat to society. As opposed to pandemic, an endemic is defined by the US CDC as "the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area." Endemic means "it is here forever" like the common cold. With a stroke of a pen and an official government declaration, Covid-19 has been degraded to a status equivalent to the common seasonal flu that appears from time to time. As a pandemic, Covid-19 is gone along with the memory of the millions killed since the winter of 2019. Those dead souls will thus become footnotes with those that died during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 that reportedly killed 100 million worldwide and the Black Death of the Middle Ages that decimated 30 to 60 percent of the population of Europe, Asia and North Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is, however, skeptical and thus ambivalent about the declarations made by some of its member countries. They maintain that the pandemic is still here with us until three billion of the seven billion people on earth will have been vaccinated. WHO and some holdout countries still maintain that unless 60 to 70 percent of the world's population have been vaccinated, herd immunity will not be achieved and Covid-19 continues to ravage the land.

Partisan politics —US and the world

The daily Senate hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol by former president Donald Trump's sympathizers continue to be highly partisan and toxic to the political conversation; and the civil and possible criminal cases now haunting Trump, his family and his allies impinge negatively on the American body politic, although Americans in poll after poll welcome this painful development perhaps as a purging mechanism.

On top of this is an issue of global import that has threatened to reprise the old rivalry between US hegemony and Russia's nostalgic longing for a return of the preeminence of the once formidable Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This saber-rattling in the Crimea and Ukraine by both sides may yet turn serious. NATO allies are now involved by sending ships and fighter jets — armaments of war — to Eastern Europe, putting forces on standby. America is again mulling over sending boots on the ground to allies in Eastern Europe confronting Russia's massing troops on its border with Ukraine. All this after the decades-long debacle in Afghanistan where America had to retreat reluctantly like it did generations ago in Vietnam. Now this European sortie could be the beginning of Biden's war — with perhaps the same results as in Kennedy's, "Dubya" Bush and Obama's wars.

Just this week, North Korea launched another test missile meant to irk not only the US but even its allies China and Russia. These moves by Kim Jung Un were always being in the past to divert the attention of his people from their dire straits, a raging pandemic coupled with its economy collapsing, and perhaps to squeeze concessions from its allies — while playing to his megalomaniac tendencies. But the timing this time while global tensions are running high are at best puerile and dangerous. South Korea and Japan are the two countries, allies of the US, that are on tenterhooks and can merely look toward America for a proper response.

Incongruously, on the other side of the globe, China is putting up its best face forward for the Winter Olympics in the next few days — although the US may boycott the affair.

PH scenario

Meantime back home, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) recently revised its guidelines for incoming international passengers. The entry, testing and quarantine protocols for arriving Filipinos and foreign nationals have been lifted for those fully vaccinated but still requiring negative results of the Covid virus from the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test taken 48 hours prior to departure from the country of origin. This is welcome news for the tourism industry. Although the country has not declared itself Covid pandemic-free, massive vaccination of citizens is still mandatory. This is perhaps one of the major triumphs of Duterte's initiatives in reviving the economy while minimizing the debilitating effects of Covid.

Personal predicament

There is however a personal issue to the RT-PCR tests. In the US, studies have shown that Omicron-infected people with pre-existing health conditions are immunocompromised for months, showing a lingering virus presence in their system, appearing as positive or false negative although asymptomatic. This prevents boarding on international flights. I have pre-existing asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). My household of seven, including three grandchildren aged 6 to10 years, were infected with Omicron on Dec. 23, 2021. By year's end, my family's infection was gone. Mine did not. As I write this, I have had two RT-PCR tests showing positive results and two home antigen tests proving negative. Yet PAL cannot allow me a plane seat home for months on end until my RT-PCR tests turn negative. I may be stuck here, imprisoned by Covid until after the May 9 elections and condemned to accept an incoming president I did not vote for. Both sad prospects!


Published in LML Polettiques