Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: January 2017
Beneath the gorgeous smiles and grace, Miss Universe contestants assume a critical role in terms of broader global and international politics. In essence, pageants like these represent another form of diplomacy, one that is softer and more amicable. International beauty pageants fundamentally cover political agenda or try to assume a normalized relationship especially between countries in dispute. Just remember how the netizens reacted when Miss Philippines Maxine Medina got cozy with Miss China for a friendly photo-op. Even this simple picture can launch a thousand tweets and become a subject to several diplomatic interpretations because of the territorial sea disputes between Philippines and China.

Though organizers try to suppress any forms of political agenda surfacing, women joining this pageant cannot help but become more careful of their actions as they were seen by the world not just any other women, but as representations of their homeland. And this is where political flavor inevitably comes in.

For example, controversies surfaced when in 2002, Christina Sawaya skipped the Miss Universe because of border tensions between Lebanon and Israel. Even the much awaited display of national costume can be a source of controversy because of how it depicts situations and practices in the countries the contestants represent. Yamit Har-Noy, Israel's 2002 Miss Universe delegate, had been controversial when she wore a national costume embellished with the map of Israeli state depicting the disputed territories of West Bank and Gaza. (CNN.com, 2015)

Miss Universe candidates have no immunity to racism and other forms of discriminations. Just take for example our very own 2013 Miss World Megan Young, who was thrown with racial slurs for being a Filipina by a Singaporean Devina DeDiva. The latter said that Filipinos are uneducated, poor and smelly, and that Miss Young do not deserve the crown. A Filipino filed a case against her. She reportedly apologized for her racist comments but still a lot of Filipinos were angered by her remarks.

The “dreaded” Q&A portion is also critical as the candidates’ answers become subjects to public debates. They have to formulate answers not only relevant to the question but is also sensitive to the audience. I remember in 1994, the beautiful and intelligent Sushmita Sen who gave a profound answer to the question about the essence of a woman. According to Miss Sen, the essence of being a woman is the fact that she is a mother and that entails the responsibility to share love and care. She was met with contradictions from other feminist groups, particularly from the West, who pointed that to define the essence of a woman within the parameter of motherhood is fundamentally limiting. Answers to beauty pageants are essentially relevant to the values held by the individual which is brought about by the society she lives in. Apparently, in India, such values are woven in its social fabric.

Unstable political environment sometimes intercepts the essence of Miss Universe beauty pageant especially when beauty queens carry political baggage with them as they join the competition. This is the reason why Miss Universe pageant organizers not only look into the preparations of the actual event but also the geopolitical affairs that may affect the whole course of planning.

In any beauty pageant, a woman is transformed into another being in the entire course. She becomes an ambassadress of goodwill, a representative of her country and an amicable diplomat. Concurrently, beauty pageants like the annual Miss Universe is an avenue for celebrating and embodying cultural sensitivity, diversity, respect, and racial harmony among all the contestants and the nations joining the pageant.
Published in Commentaries
The Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI) in partnership with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Province of Bukidnon will be gathering experts and government partners in synergizing efforts in propagating the roadmap to Federalism through an executive conference this coming 7 February 2017 at Hotel de Susana and Resort, Valencia City, Bukidnon Province.

With the theme, “Creating Synergies towards the Formulation of Federalism Roadmap,” is a call to cooperation in bringing forth all the mayors, vice mayors and provincial DILG. The conference will serve as a venue to discuss important suggestions and thoughts on Constitutional reforms. This collective effort is an initiative spearheaded by Centrist Democrats together with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Philippines, League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), and the City Government of Valencia to advance and explicate the salient preconditions towards the creation of the future Federal Republic of the Philippines.

Professor Edmund Tayao, Local Government and Development Foundation (LOGODEF) executive director, will be talking about the role of local government in pursuing federalism and the effects on the structures, political dynamics, finance and economic activities. This will greatly aid the audience in understanding the implications of Federalism especially in the economic aspect.

Atty. Raul Lambino, Deputy Secretary General of the PDP-Laban will be discussing the two forms of government system and how one differs fundamentally from the other. It is important to make such distinctions so as to have an extensive understanding of these two forms of government systems.

Mr. Conrado Generoso, core team member and consultant of the DILG Task Team on Federalism, will be prsenting the DILG Roadmap to Federalism, mainly, in the aspects of advocacy, public education and support generation.

Mr. Lito Monico C. Lorenzana, CDPI president and founder, will be tackling on the salient preconditions in pursuing Federalism and how each is important in the crafting of a real federal Constitution.

Atty. Rufus B. Rodriguez, president of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP), will be discussing the important roles of political parties in the future Federal Republic of the Philippines. Basically, the absence of real political parties will make federalism inutile as traditional patronage system will still prevail.

Atty. Emily O. Padilla, the DILG Underecretary for Legislative Liaison and Special Concerns, and Hon. Jose Ma. Zubiri, Jr., governor of the Province of Bukidnon, will be presenting the initiatives of government agencies and updates on the legislative agenda in pursuing Federalism in the Philippines.
Published in News
Monday, 30 January 2017 08:02

Humanism and the death penalty

In his 1950 Nobel Prize lecture, Bertrand Russell reminded us that “the main thing needed to make the world happy is intelligence.” This optimistic conclusion was derived from the belief that liberal education can foster the value and agency of each person. Liberal education looks into the sciences rather than biblical revelation in order to advance a way of understanding the world. The right thing to do, in this regard, is to introduce the human individual to secular principles that will ultimately make one’s mind truly independent.

For Cicero, humans are to be distinguished from animals through language. Speech, when linked with the power of thought, enabled citizens to dialogue with one another and live in harmony “under the rule of law.” Humanism teaches us that only an open mind trained in the arts, poetry, and philosophy can solve the problems bedeviling society. Thus, humanist education in our universities is an attempt to liberate the young from the stifling rigidity of ideology and dogma.

The Enlightenment taught that the love for humanity necessitates the love for reason. Humanism means the adherence to reason as the sole creator of virtue. Humanism, in this way, is an ideology as well as a religion. The humanist pursues one particular truth—that the human being is above all else. This is the spirit of the liberal tradition, which is also a way of looking at the world. It takes root in the nature of the individual as a free and rational being.
Humanism, of course, is an intellectual program. Its liberal stance primarily asserts the primacy and value of human freedom. A young man in college will learn that it is through the moral good that a person secures his place in the whole scheme of things. But what is the meaning of this moral good? The ultimate moral good, it can be argued, begins with the individual’s desire to do one’s duty to society. But this human desire must emanate from an unencumbered will.

Moral education in the country is based only loosely on the humanist tradition. This is because teachers themselves, including the school environment, unmistakably carry certain values that are already embedded in our own culture. “We are what we believe we are,” says C.S. Lewis. Filipinos are a result of an irreversible historical process. Philippine society has a very different situated identity from the West.

For instance, we have never been critically minded. We do not question the lack of decency of some of our public officials. But what is more appalling is that all the violence right now unfolding before our eyes might only come as impersonal. We no longer see the victim as a human being. Indeed, we must ask: What has happened to humanist education in this country? Have we Filipinos misplaced all the values of humanity?

The current mood of the Filipino public is that it thinks any individual can be sacrificed for the sake of our brand of social solidarity. As such, as long as public interest is used to justify the death penalty for a boy as young as 12, some Filipinos might believe that no moral wrong is being committed. Most of us reason that this very young “criminal,” who has now become an enemy of the state, himself knows that what he has done can bring him instantaneous death. Yet, in so doing, we have disregarded the reality of unjust social structures that served as virulent preconditions for the anatomy of a crime.

It is unconscionable for many among us not to realize that bringing the tragic death sentence back, even to a person who is so young, only makes manifest that our society has not overcome the pangs of elitist rule, and this is because the poor will remain at the receiving end of the infirmities of our legal system. In reality, those who are in power are just taking advantage of our tragic sense of nationhood that has characterized our fate as a people.
Published in Commentaries
Friday, 27 January 2017 10:01

Palace hails 6.8% GDP 2016 growth

MALACAÑANG on Thursday welcomed the 6.8 percent rate of economic growth in the country in 2016, the fastest full-year pace in three years.

Economic growth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), the value of goods and services produced by the domestic economy, last year on the back of increased activity in manufacturing, trade and real estate.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, GDP grew by 6.6 percent, moderating from 7 percent in the third quarter but faster than the 6.3-percent growth recorded in the final quarter of 2015. This was enough to boost the full-year pace to its fastest since 2013, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Thursday.

“The last quarter of an election year is usually weak with the government transition. However, in our case, it has actually improved,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.

“The 6.6-percent growth in fourth quarter is a testament that our economy remains robust and is growing at a healthy and steady rate. Also, the Philippine economy is likely the third or fourth fastest-growing economy in the fourth quarter of 2016 after China and Vietnam,” he added.

Growth in 2016 topped the 5.9 percent pace registered in 2015 and 6.2 percent in 2014. The economy grew by 7.1 percent in 2013.

“Among the major economic sectors, industry had the fastest growth at 7.6 percent, higher than the previous year’s 6.5 percent growth,” National Statistician Lisa Grace Bersales said in a news conference on the 2016 national income accounts.

“Services decelerated by 7.4 percent from 7.8 percent growth in the fourth quarter of 2015. On the other hand, Agriculture declined further by 1.1 percent. In the same period of the previous year, it dropped by 0.2 percent,” Bersales said.

Full-year growth settled within the 6.7 percent to 7 percent forecast range by private analysts polled by The Manila Times, and within the government’s 6 percent to 7 percent target.

At 6.8 percent, the Philippines could become the second fastest-growing economy in Asia for 2016. China grew at 6.7 percent and Vietnam at 6.2 percent last year, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

Outlook

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia sees the industry sector staying vibrant, with the construction industry expected to be in the limelight following the government’s commitment to implement critical infrastructure projects.

The services sector is expected to remain strong, supported by moderate inflation, tourism and retail trade, as well as a healthy financial system, sustained growth of remittances and the continued expansion of the information technology-business process management sector.

“Domestic demand has so far remained buoyant, and should continue to provide support to economic growth in the near to medium-term. Improved employment prospects and favorable income conditions will underpin the growth in household consumption,” said Pernia, the NEDA director general.

Given the 2016 GDP result, the government target of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent growth for 2017 is “highly likely” to be achieved, the Cabinet official said.

In the medium term, growth will strengthen further to between 7 percent and 8 percent, he said, forecasting the economy to expand by about 50 percent in real terms and per capita income by over 40 percent over the next six years.

“This should bring us to the upper middle income category standing by 2022. More importantly, we hope to reduce the poverty incidence to 14 percent by 2022, thereby lifting about 6 million Filipinos out of poverty,” Pernia said.

Risks

But the way toward the goal is not without risks, Pernia warned, citing the impact of bad weather, policy shifts in the United States and the geopolitical situation. “For now, our biggest roadblock is an extreme weather disturbance like that of the El Niño,” he said.

He called for the development of the agriculture sector to make it resilient to shocks.

“We are deeply concerned about the contraction of the crops sector in the fourth quarter following a contraction the previous year. More disturbing is the performance of the fishery subsector that remained in negative territory for almost seven years now, except only in 2013,” he said.

Pernia said nurturing entrepreneurship and attracting investments that produce higher-paying quality jobs, especially outside of Metro Manila, were among the government’s significant goals.

Such requires a secure and stable economic and political environment, he said.

“Moreover, we need to ensure that our sectors are resilient and diversified in both of products and markets. In particular, we need to champion innovation and diversification in the industry sector as it is still heavily dependent on external demand,” he said.

In the services sector, Pernia cited the need for a policy environment that makes it easier for firms to set up and operate businesses and heed regulations.
Published in News
Thursday, 26 January 2017 10:36

Zamboanga native hanged in Kuwait

FILIPINA domestic helper Jakatia Pawa was executed at 10:19 a.m. in Kuwait (3:19 p.m. in Manila) despite government efforts to delay the hanging, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday.

Lt. Col. Angaris Pawa told The Manila Times Jakatia, his sister, called at around 5 a.m. to tell her family of her fate.

The Kuwaiti daily Alrai reported that Kuwaiti prince Shaikh Faisal Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah, a Kuwait woman, an Ethiopian woman, two Egyptian men and a Bangladeshi man were hanged along with Jakatia.

Angaris, an Air Force official, recounted the phone conversation: “‘Kuya [Brother],’ she told me, ‘I’m saying goodbye.’ I said, ‘What kind of goodbye?’ She said, ‘Brother, tomorrow I will be hanged. Brother, this is my only wish. Don’t neglect my two children.’”

Jakatia, a 41-year-old single mother of two teenagers from the southern province of Zamboanga Sibugay, worked in the Gulf Arab state as a domestic helper in 2006.

She was accused of stabbing her employer’s daughter 28 times in 2007.

In 2010, Kuwait’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, upheld the death verdict handed down by the Court of First Instance in 2008 despite appeals from then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Amnesty International. Jakatia pleaded her innocence, claiming the killing might have been carried out by the victim’s relative because of the latter’s alleged illicit love affair with a male neighbor.

Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, told radio station dzRH an investigation had found that Jakatia’s DNA was not in the murder weapon. The motive was also not clearly established, she said.

Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, the DFA spokesman, said in a news conference the Philippine government had “exerted different efforts,” including tapping diplomatic and political channels, to stop the execution. The government also tried to go through “religious channels,” he said.

It was “the first time in a long time” that a Filipino was executed in Kuwait, he said. “We were unable to prove her innocence,” Jose said.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the execution “could no longer be forestalled under Kuwaiti laws.”

The family was convinced the government did its part to save Jakatia, Angaris said. The government paid for her lawyer, a relative of Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The government also assisted in Angaris’ travels to Kuwait in 2008, 2013 and October 2016.

Angaris said that in October, the lawyer assured him that his sister would be released this year.

“The opposite happened,” he said. “I just cried…it’s difficult for us, for our family.”

Following Islamic practice, Jakatia’s remains will be buried in Kuwait immediately.

At least 86,019 Filipinos are working in Kuwait, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

Jose said 88 Filipinos are on death row abroad.
Published in News
Thursday, 26 January 2017 09:40

Digong’s controversial alter egos



Part One

IN the light of recent events in the country that have merited glaring headlines, this column, A View from the Center, will attempt at elucidation using as a backdrop the author’s paper on political management while working on a postgraduate course at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the 1980s (access www.cdpi.asia)

This will draw heavily too from personal experience as both an observer and a participant in political dynamics in the two decades serving under four administrations in various capacities from Presidents Cory, to FVR to Erap and with GMA. I was not in any way involved with PNoy’s regime. I too am not currently involved with the Dee-gong administration in any capacity. My observations on his presidency however will form a substantial part of this three-part article.

I don’t claim any intimacy with these past Presidents as most people privileged to work along the periphery of the high and mighty are wont to insinuate. I will not fall into the temptation of bloating my minor role, but will present my views as a student and practitioner of “political technocracy”.

The past few weeks’ headlines screamed for the heads of Trade Secretary Art Tugade and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre. Both Cabinet members are victims of expectations—very high expectations—mainly the public’s. We are not privy to the presidential expectations but can only assume that their appointments were for the most part the result of PRRD’s assessment of their capabilities, experiences and competencies; and as classmates or alumni from the President’s university–-a not-so-light qualification given the Filipino culture of patronage.

The latter is critical as they have been designated as the President’s alter egos, and as such have the complete trust of the President and are expected to speak for and in his behalf in their areas of expertise. Such responsibility is a privileged one and both must understand the nature of the relationship.

For one, this bond is no longer a personal one, as in classmates, schoolmates or “tsokaran”. It has transcended the familiar and morphed into one containing the majesty of the office of the presidency. By this precept, both are custodians of presidential prerogatives, prestige and power; and adding their own to it to enable the President and them to do their task well. The sum of all these is the vaunted fragile political capital of the President with a sustainability dependent largely on a fickle citizenry.

All Cabinet members are by inference the President’s alter egos and must understand their roles perfectly well.

Cabinet members are heat shields and political lightning rods of the presidency. As such, part of their job is to deflect serious criticism from their respective publics and clientele of the presidency as a result of their official functions. As an efficient conductor of political heat, these honorable secretaries must prevent damage or serious erosion to the political capital of the presidency.

The high expectations of the riding public to solve the oppressive traffic situation in Metro Manila, which includes the unsafe and unreliable train system, has eaten into the perception of incompetence of the department head, hence the call for his dismissal.

Paradoxically by the above measures, the good Secretary Tugade has done well deflecting the harm to his principal, considering the enormity of the problems inherited from the immediate past regime and having occupied his office for only half a year.

The same is true with the Justice Secretary who acted to deflect from the presidency the failings of the justice system (the drug proliferation in the prisons); and more particularly the perceived anomalies perpetrated by the two alumni of their law school who very early in this administration had begun to put their dirty little fingers in the Office of Immigration.

Both Cabinet members did their job as political heat shield, but still have to prove their mettle by serving the public by doing the job they were meant to do; but the long-suffering public has understandably short patience.

The third case is the curious actuations of the head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on the alleged murder of a Korean national within the confines of his office. He claimed that a massive manhunt had been ordered personally by him to apprehend the perpetrators, only to find out from the media that the main suspect has been assigned all along at an office a stone’s throw from his. His claim once that a police rub-out suspect was freed upon the instructions of someone “higher in authority” was so inane and tragically comical as, in his job description, there is no person higher in authority than the President himself.

This series of incidents reflect his mis-appreciation of a job that catapulted him from a local provincial sinecure to the head of a critical agency in the national government. The general was utterly clueless reinforcing an elementary rule in political management that is the first duty of a presidential appointee: discovering what one’s job is. Job description at most higher levels, and in this case the top police general, is neither defined for you exactly nor “announced in the newspapers”. It is more or less the ability to “grab” authority and responsibility and incorporating the same into your own little rectangle (in the organization chart).

Calls for the resignation of these three presidential subalterns could be premature considering the short time spent at their jobs; they simply need to be on top of the learning curve. But along with the perks accorded top presidential appointees should be their readiness to prevent damage to the presidency and the country even at the risk of their own.

Such is the essence of their function as presidential alter ego; a duty to give all in the service of the President and the Filipino—and to discern well the sequence of that duty.

The phrase that they hold office upon the “pleasure of the President” is an absurd one reflecting indecisiveness. This puts the onus on the President and a wasteful withdrawal from his political capital.

(Part 2 next Thursday)

* * *

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 10:07

The urge to make a movement

In the 13 years he was dictator, Ferdinand Marcos systematically dismantled the parties that existed prior to martial law. His New Society demanded the resurrection of an old scheme. His model was the Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (Kalibapi) during the Japanese Occupation, which was meant to replace the political parties of the Commonwealth. His Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) was called a movement supposedly upon the request of former speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr., who asked that the Nacionalista Party be allowed to “go to sleep” for the duration.

Marcos’ desire for a one-party state was nothing new. One can argue that the political class’ built-in tendency is to have a single party to ensure everyone has access to patronage. This is why in 1957, for example, the Nacionalistas and Liberals considered reuniting (both traced their origins to the prewar Nacionalistas) in what was expected to be Magsaysay’s unstoppable second-term landslide victory.

Magsaysay himself liked the idea, as it would sideline party elders who were a thorn in his side. Presidents like the idea of inspiring a movement because while each one enjoys the support of the administration party that coalesces at the start of every administration, it requires bargaining with the leaders who bring the factions to the feeding trough; and that party remains supportive only as long as the trough is kept full and the president remains popular. If the president—or, to be precise, his or her people—are more ideologically minded, then a six-year shelf life is unsatisfying because it means long-lasting political change is impossible. You need a movement to accomplish that.

Every president since Edsa has hoped or tried to set up a movement that would become a permanent party. Cory Aquino had Lakas ng Bansa to push for the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, which became the LDP which transformed into the Lakas-CMD of Fidel V. Ramos. He hoped this would become the permanent union of political factions on the model of Malaysia’s Umno once the shift to a parliamentary government took place. To do this, he tried to foster movements to push for charter change (Arroyo would try to do something similar, rebranding it Kampi). Estrada tried to cobble together the Left and Marcos loyalists into his PMP. Aquino III tried to foster volunteer organizations even as he hoped the bloating of the Liberal Party wasn’t just a flash in the pan (it was).

All these efforts failed because our democracy is top-heavy. The barangay is our government’s basic unit, but it is supposed to be “nonpolitical,” which is like insisting that if you can make a pig moo, people will think it produces beef.

What the barangay really is, is demonstrated by the impunity its officials enjoy: freedom from fixed terms. Of course they technically have fixed terms but in reality, they have no regular, predictable expiration date. Other officials come and go like clockwork, but of all people, the barangay chairs remain the same.

This is because barangay officials man the political front lines; they are more useful the longer they’re in place, most especially during election season when everyone else has to campaign (and risk winning or losing). But being “nonpolitical” officials, barangay chairs have an excuse to stay on and hold the political machinery together. And so the only thing regular about barangay elections is how regularly they’re “postponed” and “rescheduled” to “save money” or ensure “efficiency.”

We saw it under Arroyo, we saw it under Aquino III, and in 2016 the “supermajority” in the 17th Congress labored half a year only to produce a mouse: its sole legislative output being the postponement of the barangay elections from last year to this year. Presidents may, from time to time, say how undemocratic this is. In the end their party leaders point out to them, in private, that to reform the barangays is to institute a circular firing squad. It would reform everyone’s political machinery out of existence.

For the methodically minded in the present dispensation, giving in to yet another barangay election postponement may be pragmatic politics but does nothing to effect changes that will outlast their dear leader. For Kilusang Pagbabago (the movement meant to liberate the President from his political kind) to finally achieve the vanguard dreams of its architect (Cabinet Secretary Evasco), a different model from the past is required. That can be found in the ’60s and ’70s, in the building of the CPP-NPA-NDF. Whatever path the cadres of those days subsequently chose, a chance for redemption is being dangled: Reunite the factions; recycle the red manifestos; work from within the corridors of power to mount a revolution from within.

But as we will see, this is turning out less easy than it first seemed.
Published in Commentaries
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 09:51

Mamasapano raid a ‘CIA operation’

THE botched Mamasapano raid that killed 44 police commandos in January 2015 was an operation of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that was covered up by the previous Aquino administration, President Rodrigo Duterte bared on Thursday.

Duterte met the families of the slain members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Action Force (SAF) in Malacañang and announced that he will form a seven-member commission to reopen the investigation into the incident, as well as declare a day of remembrance.

“Why did you hide the fact that it was an operation of the CIA?” he said, addressing himself to former President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

“Let it be brought out in the open. It was an American adventure with the cooperation of some, and apparently with your blessing,” he said.

The Manila Times was the first to report extensively on the US involvement in the operation in February 2015, citing a reliable source who said the SAF men went to Mamasapano, Maguindanao only to act as security escorts for American agents tasked to capture or pick up international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan who had a $6-million bounty from the United States government, and the Filipino terrorist Usman who carried a $1-million reward on his head.

The Times also reported that an American was among those found dead and apparently left behind in the evacuation.

‘Deles stopped rescue’

Duterte also accused former presidential peace adviser Teresita Quintos-Deles of stopping Aquino from sending Army men to rescue the SAF commandos who were attacked by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and allied groups, so as not to jeopardize peace talks with the rebels.

Analysis of the events surrounding the Mamasapano operation point to Aquino as the one who eventually made the “stand down” order, The Manila Times’ Chairman Emeritus Dante A. Ang reported in February 2015.

“Deles, I do not want to, you know, belabor. You were the peace negotiator. And for me, you were the one who told [Aquino] not to send reinforcements because war will break out, because then you have violated the agreement that you should not enter MILF territory,” Duterte said.

“So why did you enter into an operation which was really placing in jeopardy the lives [of the SAF members]?” Deles however said the issue raised by Duterte was not new.

“Thank God I’m in Kathmandu and Mt Everest stands by the truth! I hope media will remind him that I already went through the grill on that,” she said when informed of the President’s statement.

Like Agrava commission

Duterte said the Mamasapano fact-finding commission will be “independent,” composed of former Supreme Court justices, lawyers and civilians.

“I will create a commission, and appoint men of integrity and honor to investigate,” the President said.

“You can summon and even ask the United States government of their participation and where did the reward money went,” he added.

“We will bestow to the commission the powers exactly given to the Agrava Commission,” the President said, referring to the body that probed the 1983 assassination of Aquino’s father, Benigno Aquino Jr.
Published in News
Tuesday, 24 January 2017 09:56

Can Duterte keep both US and China?

WILL President Rodrigo Duterte still be all praise for newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump when/if the latter makes good his threat to go after China as a cheating trader and a regional bully?

Sooner or later, especially if State Secretary nominee Rex Tillerson joins the Trump team, Duterte may have to choose between continuing to cozy up to the next-door Mandarin suitor or swing back to good old Uncle Sam.

Or, summoning his skills in handling such triangular love affairs, Duterte may just succeed – to everyone’s relief – in positioning himself as a moderating influence in the seething regional rivalry between China and the US.

In his Davao home base over the weekend, Duterte was gushing over the inauguration of the 45th US President: “It was a very superb ritual and Trump was at his best.” He talked of looking forward to repairing bilateral ties that took a beating during the Obama administration.

Appreciating that the New York tycoon-turned-politico “talked from the heart,” Duterte said he liked Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan reminiscent of the martial law Marcosian “Make this nation great again” mantra.

But after the excitement of the inaugural wears off and everybody settles down to realpolitik, Duterte may have to spend time guessing how Trump would translate into policy and action his thoughts about the Asian dragon:

• China must be laughing at how easy it has been to take advantage of the US. Better to slap all its exports to the US a 25-percent tax to make American products competitive and balance out the trade deficit.

• The US must rethink the opening of its market to countries like China that “steal (e.g. intellectual property) from us” or oppress and violate the human rights of their people.

• China’s currency manipulation should stop. Although American products are better, Chinese goods are given a competitive edge by the currency manipulation.

• Pressure or motivate US firms to close their factories in China and relocate home to provide more jobs to Americans.

The US-China rivalry will loom bigger if Tillerson, an outspoken former Exxon Mobil Corp. chairman and chief executive, is confirmed as State Secretary and given a chance to influence and enforce foreign policy.

• Tillerson favors confronting China

TESTIFYING days ago before the Senate foreign relations committee, Tillerson batted for stopping China’s building of artificial islands in areas within the territorial seas of its neighbors – and the building of military installations on them.

He said the US must reaffirm its security ties with its regional friends. He did not mention the Philippines, a treaty ally, but cited Taiwan (which China regards as a renegade province) with which he said the US must renew its commitments. This departs from the standing One-China US policy.

Beijing bristled at the declarations of a figure who stands to become the key enforcer of a more aggressive US foreign policy that could put the US on collision course with China.

As the two superpowers gird for a showdown in the South China Sea, where will Duterte position the Philippines, a military pygmy and a medium-scale economic player in the region?

Assuming Trump attempts to catch up, will Duterte put on hold the multimillion-dollar development projects and aid that Beijing has started to position in the pipeline? Or will he just open the country indiscriminately to both Chinese and American assistance?

As reported by Reuters, Tillerson appearing for confirmation in the Senate described China’s building and militarizing of artificial islands as “akin to Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine – a move that triggered a US-NATO military response.

Asked whether he supported a more aggressive stance toward China, he said: “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” He did not elaborate.

Using a unilaterally drawn “nine-dash line” boundary, China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing territorial claims.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he could not guess what Tillerson was referring to when asked about the nominee’s suggesting blocking access to the islands.

• Pope warns against ‘populist saviors’

A NEW CROP of leaders of varying shades and styles of “populism” has sprouted in several countries, eliciting cautionary counsel from Pope Francis that “populism” in some cases could lead to the election of Hitler-like “saviors.”

In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais conducted as Trump was being sworn in as President, the Pontiff also condemned the idea of using walls and barbed wire to keep out foreigners.

“Build bridges, not walls,” the Holy Father once quipped after a visit to Mexico. Trump, then a candidate, had announced he would build a wall on the US border with Mexico to stop illegal migration and the smuggling of narcotics.

In his El Pais interview, the Pope said, “Of course crises provoke fears and worries,” but that for him “the example of populism in the European sense of the word is Germany in 1933… Germany was looking for a leader, someone who would give her back her identity and there was a little man named Adolf Hitler who said ‘I can do it!’”“Hitler did not steal power,” the Pope said. “He was elected by his people and then he destroyed his people.”

The Germans at that time also wanted to protect themselves with “walls and barbed wire so that others cannot take away their identity.” He added: “The case of Germany is classic… Hitler gave them a deformed identity and we know what it produced.”

As for the new US President, the Pope said it was too early to pass judgment on Trump: “Let’s see what he does and then we will evaluate.”
Published in Commentaries
Tuesday, 24 January 2017 09:40

PH, China firm up 30 projects worth $3.7B

China and the Philippines have agreed to cooperate on 30 projects worth $3.7 billion focusing on poverty reduction, the two countries announced after a meeting in Beijing on Monday.

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng announced the agreement without giving details, saying it involved an “initial batch” of projects that still needed to be finalized and paperwork still needed to be processed by the banks involved.

Duterte visit

In a statement from Beijing, Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez mentioned irrigation systems, hydroelectric power plants and railways, details of which, he said, would be fleshed out with Chinese officials during two days of meetings that end on Tuesday.

The deal is the first announcement from a two-day visit of a Philippine Cabinet delegation to China that comes three months after President Duterte visited Beijing to clear the way for new commercial alliances.

China has welcomed Mr. Duterte’s foreign policy shift away from the United States and toward doing more regional deals for loans and business under his “pro-Filipino” policy.

Relations between the Philippines and China “fully recovered” after Mr. Duterte’s visit, and “China supports President Duterte to lead the Philippines people in developing their economy,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Monday.

Hua was referring to Mr. Duterte’s fence-mending after relations between China and the Philippines were frayed by a territorial dispute in the South China Sea that Beijing lost to Manila in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last year.

After taking office in June last year, Mr. Duterte deferred assertion of the court’s ruling to ease tensions between the two countries and improve relations.

Chinese officials pledged $15 billion of investment to Manila during Mr. Duterte’s visit to Beijing in October last year, according to the Department of Finance (DOF).

Asked by reporters in Beijing whether US President Donald Trump’s economic policies would affect commercial ties between China and the Philippines, Dominguez said: “It’s better to be with good friends.”

“I’m not sure at this moment exactly what the new US policies [are], but I believe that the reorientation of our President to our neighbors really was very smart,” he said.

The Philippine delegation was scheduled to meet Vice Premier Wang Yang at Zhongnanhai, the Beijing complex that houses China’s central government, later on Monday.

In his statement released by the DOF, Dominguez said he had a “very productive” meeting with Gao and that they had discussed large projects in rural areas, as well as some smaller projects.

“This will be our second discussion [with Chinese officials about the projects] since November last year. We hope that [during] our visit here, we [will] be able to proceed with the projects that are ready to be implemented,” Dominguez said.

Matching priorities

“We submitted last November a list of projects to the Chinese government through the Chinese Embassy in Manila for their review. The Philippine team would like to get their reactions and determine what their priorities are and see whether this also match our priorities,” he said.

Dominguez said “the generous assistance offered by China to the Philippines is among the concrete results of the President’s foreign policy rebalancing toward accelerated integration with [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and its major Asian trading partners China, Japan and South Korea.”

“The President has recognized the importance of China in the region and he has redirected our economy more toward China and the Asean than to the West,” he said.

“I believe that China will continue to lead the world and continue to lead the Asean in becoming the engine of global growth,” he added.

Philippine delegation

The Philippine delegation includes Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.

Besides meetings with Gao and Wang, the Philippine delegation will also meet Vice Chair Wang Xiaotao of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s chief planning and strategy agency.

The Filipino officials also plan to meet top executives of China Investment Corp., a sovereign wealth fund.

“The meetings will cover discussions on the government-to-government projects signed between the Philippines and China, the proposed projects for financing and feasibility studies, the chairmanship of the Philippines this year of the Asean, and matters concerning the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Philippines’ flagship infrastructure projects,” the DOF said in a statement.
Published in News
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