Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: June 2017
Part 2

COINED by the eminent author and chronicler of the Kennedy years, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in his book of the same title, The Imperial Presidency, the phrase has entered into the lexicon of political conversation. Writers have since used this expression to describe dictators, tyrants and despots. Even our own bloggers in social media, some critical of the Deegong, have equated him with this catchphrase. They are just partly right. A few writers, however, have avoided this “name-calling,” and refer correctly to the original intent of Schlesinger in writing his book. The book, which reviewed the US presidency from George Washington’s time to the Nixon period, traces the transformation of the office from its faithful adherence to the American Constitution to the seeping deviations that have ruptured its constitutional limits, sometimes leading to unintended consequences – the impeachment and a resignation of the most powerful man in America.

My take on this book is that the evolution of the American presidency has been impacted and eventually distorted by a combination of the acts of the occupant of the office himself, the non-vigilance of the Congress and the realities and exigencies of geopolitics; thus, giving rise to the imperial presidency.

One or two interesting cases pointed out by Schlesinger is that of the 16th American President, Abraham Lincoln, and the 37th, Richard Nixon:

“During the American Civil War, Lincoln assumed war powers as commander in chief of the military but made no claim that the Constitution allowed him these powers. Without congressional authorization, Lincoln unilaterally expanded the military, suspended habeas corpus, arrested citizens, proclaimed martial law, seized property, censored newspapers, and emancipated slaves. Lincoln justified the actions as necessary to preserve the country rather than by the Constitution. However, he stated that the presidential war powers would cease to exist once the national emergency, the Civil War, ended.”(Schlesinger, Wikipedia)

The profile of the presidency was altered in ways not anticipated by the US Constitution: the arbitrary but courageous act by the sitting President; the non-interference by the US Congress; and more importantly, the realities at the time that called for such drastic measures. After the deed was done, the slaves were freed and the war ended. the Supreme Court belatedly stated, “…the President must carry out the law and may not break the law. Presidential power was deflated following the Civil War.” (Schlesinger, Wikipedia). It was just the proverbial “slap in the wrist” but the onslaught on the US Constitution continued, eroding a “constitutional presidency” towards one with imperial character. Lincoln had to eventually pay for his act (the freeing of slaves) with his assassination by John Wilkes Booth and a Southern Confederate cabal.

The 37th President, Richard Nixon, caused the bombing of Cambodia and Laos without the knowledge and consent of Congress at the height of the Vietnam war, that already had made a casualty of Lyndon Johnson, his predecessor. On top of this, Nixon entered into defense agreements with Thailand and funded the Ethiopian Army, again in secrecy, keeping this from Congress. In effect, Nixon unilaterally hammered out a treaty with these two countries without Congress’ approval through a law approving the same. This was clearly a violation of the Constitution, underpinning in effect the imperial attributes of the US presidency.

In America, the impetus for the creation of the imperial presidency was its involvement in geopolitics, concomitant with the role the US carved for itself as the “world’s policeman”. In Nixon’s particular case, his foreign policy initiatives shut out and disregarded his authorizing environment: the Constitution, Congress, the press and the public. “Once established, the imperial Presidency then expanded into domestic issues”. (Schlesinger, Wikipedia)

Oddly enough, Nixon was impeached for his role in obstructing justice in the infamous “Watergate scandal,” not for his Vietnam war transgressions.

This is where I take off from the American experience described by Schlesinger and situate the Philippine presidency within a similar context.

Ferdinand Marcos personified both the “strongman” President and the apex of the Philippine imperial presidency. There was no question about the personality of the President as a singular “strongman”. His charisma and force of character were overwhelming, intimidating his peers and allowing him to fashion a personal following analogous to a “cult of personality” like Mao Zedong of China and Kim Il-sung of North Korea.

Marcos’ method was to create a series of scenarios that gave him “legal cover” for the policies and acts of the presidency. Employing deceit as a trigger (an assassination attempt on a Cabinet member), Proclamation 1081 was set into motion. What came next and over the next decade was the triumph of the Philippine version of the imperial presidency – a regime that did away with any pretense to the traditional democratic checks and balances by the abolition of the two houses of Congress, the emasculation of the Supreme Court and the supplanting of the Charter by a new “Marcos Constitution”.

The People Power Revolution of 1986 extinguished both the strongman President and the imperial presidency.

The governments of Ramos, to the lamented and short-lived Erap, to the corruption-beleaguered Arroyo administration to the incompetent Aquino regime, generated political developments that in the definition of Schlesinger could constitute the re-creation of an imperial presidency.

In last Thursday’s article (“The imperial presidency, or the self-castration of Congress, June 22), a hypothesis was proposed that the Deegong was inevitable; that what was needed by the country was a strongman President in “a weak state populated by weak leaders”.

Next week, we will examine the second part of the hypothesis: that the presidency is institutionally weak, allowing a strongman President to emerge and dominate. Thus, the imperial President Rodrigo Duterte.

(Next Thursday, Part 3 – The imperial presidency of DU30)
Published in LML Polettiques
Part 1

THIS column will attempt to interpret and understand President Duterte’s martial law declaration and his comportment after the fact and compare it to similar assertions by past Presidents—as seen from a combination of several points of view.

First, as an observer of presidential politics spanning five administrations with particular emphasis on Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Arroyo (GMA) who likewise declared martial law during their administrations; second, as a student of politics learning through experience from within government and extracting such lessons and concepts that could modestly add to the growing literature of Philippine political technocracy; and third, as an amateur historian drawing comparable features that are common to both the Philippine and American presidency, spotlighting the latter’s evolution from its creation in 1776 to the Nixon period. To this end, some reference therefore is made to the American author, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. in his book Imperial Presidency published in 1974.

Also, this exercise could reinforce a hypothesis that the Deegong’s role as a “strongman” President is inevitable given a weak state populated by weak leaders. If a Duterte failed to appear in the political scene, it would have been imperative to create one like him. The declaration of martial rule, the constitutional mandated “last resort” is the matrix upon which a “strongman” President is examined. I differentiate the “strongman” President from the strong presidency. The former simply describes the sheer tough personality of the President; the latter is a component of the majesty and institution of the presidency. I am making a case therefore of a “strongman” President, the Deegong, within an institutionally weak presidency.

Martial law comparisons

On May 23, 2017, the Deegong declared martial law covering the whole of Mindanao, triggered by the attack of the Maute/IS/Abu Sayyaf terrorists on the Muslim-majority city of Marawi. This elicited comparisons the December 5, 2009 declaration of martial law in Maguindanao province by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which was precipitated by the Ampatuan massacre. This only lasted for a week and was lifted upon the recommendation of GMA’s cabinet. There is not much to be discussed of GMA’s Proclamation 1959.

Proclamation 1081 of President Marcos on September 21, 1972 was a much more convoluted decision, ushering in martial rule lasting for nine years and formally lifted in January of 1981. The residual consequences of martial law were felt up to the overthrow of Marcos in 1986, but its reverberations on the political culture of the Filipinos is felt even up to now.

Historians and political pundits will continue to opine over the advantages and disadvantages of martial law, but the facts are now clearer: Marcos’ immediate trigger was the so-called attempted assassination of his defense chief (later declared as untrue by the defense chief himself). The declaration was likewise to stop in its tracks the drive towards the so-called leftist-communist conspiracy. The legitimate opposition was incarcerated; the writ of habeas corpus was suspended; newspapers were closed; both houses of Congress were padlocked; the Supreme Court was eviscerated; military tribunals were constituted; and the whole Philippines was placed under martial rule, among others.

Nothing of this sort happened under Proclamation 216 of the Deegong.

Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution empowers PRRD to declare martial law in any part of the country not exceeding 60 days within which the two houses of Congress have the responsibility and authority to review the declaration. PRRD also has the duty to report to Congress within 48 hours after the proclamation and Congress in turn has to convene within 24 hours to deliberate on the proclamation. Congress may then subsequently decide on whether to revoke or not the proclamation and lift martial law. This also did not happen.

The DU30 presidency may well be defined by his comportment on what transpired after his martial law declaration. He disregarded Congress and initially threatened to defy the Supreme Court. While it is true and justifiable that the President holds vital information about what is happening on the ground, it is still the primary role of the legislative body to check the constitutionality of the action taken by the President in this crucial situation. Despite this clear constitutional mandate, leaders of both houses of the legislature advanced the lame excuse that since the majority of members of each House anyway already supported the President’s declaration, then the constitutional protocols could be set aside. It is suspected by many however that perhaps the build-up and hype towards the “strongman” image of the President, his undisciplined language, his volatile temper and the “damn the torpedoes” attitude are intimidating to leaders of this co-equal branch. Some in the opposition likened this act by the legislative body as political self-castration by Congress.

Contradictory statements

And the Deegong went on to declare that he might extend martial law to encompass the whole country after the 60-day period; taunting the Supreme Court to determine otherwise. Some of the major assertions from the President himself are now known not to have been pre-processed by his Cabinet or his close advisers. In short, there is no “complete staff work,” the famed “CSW” that became the hallmark of the Ramos presidency.

Speaking to his troops, Duterte said: “During martial law, your commanders and you can arrest any person, search any house. There is no more warrant needed”. This contradicts what was earlier stated by the government information agency that warrants of arrest and search warrants should be issued and that “no person may be arrested and detained without orders coming from these civil courts”. It is simply alarming how PRRD blurts out unstudied statements with his communications officers trying to fix the damage subsequently. One from the military is its prediction contradicted by the civilian leadership that hostilities will end by the Philippine Independence Day, June 12.

This cacophony of contradictory statements emanating from the center of power suggests a core in conflict with itself reflecting negatively on a “strongman” President. It is a symptom of disarray in the office of the President when each subaltern, with good intentions no doubt, discerns or second-guesses the President’s body language and passes along these conjectures as official statements. The presidency is not served well if the President’s men are held back, perhaps driven by fear of the wrath of the President or much worse, there are no dissenting voices to counter the President’s. These are the circumstances that are the breeding grounds of an emerging anomaly in high political leadership – the imperial presidency.

(Next Thursday, Part 2 – The imperial presidency)
Published in LML Polettiques
THE online-only news site Rappler, funded by Americans and controlled by a mining and property tycoon, has done it again, this time claiming that President Duterte’s “costly” foreign trips reflect his exorbitant lifestyle.

This news site ignored, among other explanations, that the higher P387 million expenses is due to one simple reason. This President has had 21 voyages abroad in his first 12 months in office in order to quickly expand the country’s global network of supporters and to repair the damage done by his predecessor to our relations with China.

Duterte has had the most such trips among the past five Presidents. Benigno Aquino 3rd in same time frame had 11 foreign trips, his mother, 5.

Rappler has demonstrated its anti-Duterte bias through a propaganda trick it has invented that I’d call rapplering. which I bet it will do again and again : Distort data to exaggerate things to paint the Duterte regime black.

Rappler did it last year with devastating consequences for the country’s image when it distorted police data to report that Duterte’s war against illegal drugs had resulted in 7,080 summary executions as of September 2016 (See my column “How Rappler misled EU, Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time, BBC — the world.”)

While that figure has been totally debunked—it included all other murders the police was investigating—Rappler has not corrected it, and similarly biased Western media have used it to extrapolate that such executions total more than 10,000 by February.

This time, the news site boasts to have done an investigative-journalism piece by claiming that Duterte’s foreign trips “cost thrice more than predecessors”.

The lede of the piece immediately reveals its intent:

“President Rodrigo Duterte projects himself as a man of simple tastes, almost allergic to extravagance and unnecessary expenses. Yet Malacañang records show he spent about triple what his predecessors spent on foreign travels during his first year in power.” The article repeats this false message clothed in doubtful figures: “Duterte’s exorbitant spending contradicts his projected image of a thrifty and practical President.”

The article is classic “rapplering”.

Rappler claims its data were all from “Malacañang records” obtained through the Freedom from Information system ordered by Duterte. However, it was only the figures on Duterte’s trips that were acquired from Malacañang, and therefore accurate government info.

Rappler’s figures on the cost of foreign trips of Aquino and Arroyo are based on a single article in 2014 by the pro-Aquino Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) intended to show that Aquino was more frugal than his predecessor Arroyo—as well as other “media reports” it didn’t identify.

The PDI in turn cited “information from the Commission on Audit”, yet it didn’t report exactly what COA document this was. The COA doesn’t have any report on the actual cost of foreign travels of each president.

The PDI article in fact pointed out: “Inquirer.net has yet to receive the data requested from the COA in order to compare the expenses of past administrations. Comparison of travel expenses of each President will be the subject of another article.” There never was any such second article.

Rappler therefore may be comparing a report by the Duterte’s accountants meticulously counting every peso spent on his trips to comply with the FOI system, with reports by the past administrations’ media people understating the cost of presidential trips, and they were able to do this since there wasn’t any FOI during those times.

The big trick in counting costs for “foreign trips” – and I know as I have worked in Malacañang and this is the reason that as a journalist I never dealt with issues of costs of foreign trips – is that expenses for such foreign trips, except for plane fares and hotel accommodations, could be classified, depending on the accountants’ whim, with other items under the President’s or other department secretaries’ budgets.

For all we know, the Arroyo and Aquino administrations may have counted only costs of airfare and hotel accommodations, while an overeager accountant of the Duterte government counted all expenses to the last centavo when the President and his party were abroad, such as communication, restaurant bills, and office supplies.

While providing details on Duterte’s expenses, Rappler reported only the total expenses as claimed by past administrations, with no classification as to how much were spent, for instance, on airfare and hotels and other expense.

The more accurate assessment of the cost of Presidents’ foreign trips would be based on the item in the government’s Congress-made budget labelled “local/foreign missions and state visits”. As shown in the accompanying table, this amounted to P225 to P255 million for each year from 2010 to 2013.

However, Aquino doubled his travel budget to P551, starting in 2014, until its last budget, in 2016. This belies PDI and Rappler’s reports that Aquino had been frugal in his spending during his foreign trips: Why would he order his budget for trips doubled? The amount allotted for foreign trips in Duterte’s first budget, for 2017, was reduced a bit to P472 million, well within the claimed P387 million costs of his foreign trips in 12 months.

Rather than nitpicking on how much Duterte may have spent in his trips abroad, we should admire that this former mayor of what is really a frontier city has hit the ground running in visiting nearly two dozen countries in order to enhance our diplomatic ties abroad and to strengthen our role in multilateral bodies such as Asean, Apec and the East Asia Summit. His predecessor Aquino visited only 11 countries in his first year in office. I myself had not thought that Duterte with his clumsy, Bisayan English and ill-tailored suits would have the confidence to meet with world leaders.

Duterte had moved fast to thaw the very icy diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the world’s second biggest economy, China, that emerged as a result of Aquino and his American-boy foreign secretary Albert del Rosario’s suit against China over the Spratlys dispute. That was the first ever such suit against that emerging superpower despite its territorial disputes with over 20 countries. I’m totally convinced that Duterte’s quick reversal of Aquino’s American-inspired anti-China policy and moves will be one of his biggest accomplishments as president.

In a span of just a year, Duterte has managed to steer the country away from its century-old subservience to the US, drawing us closer to the two superpowers closer to us, China and the Russian Federation. I don’t think any other President could have, or would have done, that.

I suspect the Rappler reporter who wrote critically over Duterte’s trips has never travelled abroad. If she did, she would have an inkling that foreign trips on government time aren’t as romantic as tourist vacations shown in TV advertisements. Foreign government trips are the most hectic and tiring part of any President’s job. When I was presidential chief of staff during Arroyo’s administration, I selfishly begged off from further joining her trips after the fourth, sick of the sight of airports and of the smell of airplane food. I am certainly not suprised that after 21 trips abroad, Duterte has taken time off to rest and re-charge.

For a 72-year-old grandfather like Duterte, who is so tied to his Davao home and to his own bed, foreign trips would be a real struggle. Yet this American-funded, tycoon-controlled news site claims his foreign trips demonstrate his exorbitant lifestyle.
Published in Commentaries
Tuesday, 20 June 2017 09:41

Breaking the nation

AS it has been said, so it will be said, “our nation is built on the bedrock principle that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The consent of the governed was given May 16 in resounding fashion. Duterte was not the incumbent. He did not have access to money and machinery. He did not have control of PCOS and the operators that come with it. Clearly, legitimacy was settled right there and then.

But in less than a year, PRRD has been subjected to a concerted, pre-designed, loaded octane offensive to crucify him internationally and create a sandstorm domestically so he can’t govern effectively. Two things are clear: the growth and spread of illegal drugs, narco-politics and the destruction of institutions were hand-me-downs from Aquino, who consciously sat on it for reasons only he and his people can fathom; and the spread of terrorism and extremism, manifesting in Ibanga, Bohol and Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.

The framing offensive has painted Duterte with key words like EJK, killer, human rights violator, thug, etc. It paints him as a bully, reckless, unstatesmanlike, not ready for national politics. The Liberal Party designed it well, using their international connections to paint a canvas of a new leader who is the antithesis of liberal democracy and the rule of law. Paint at will they did and the Duterte team fell for the trap through a badly planned Oplan Tokhang and Double Barrel Reloaded. Talk about framing and priming, and the PNP surgically diced the political capital of Duterte. It defined the first 6 to 8 months of the administration, while improvement in frontline service deliveries were set aside. The media conductor of the opponents of Duterte wielded the baton well to the consternation of Duterte’s communication team. Theirs had the discipline to stick to message while Duterte’s was divided and unable to gain the upper hand.

Using human rights as a wedge, they got foreign countries to articulate their opposition to Duterte’s war against illegal drugs and got him to be painted further as ha ving committed “crimes against humanity.” The orchestration was seamless, from local to international. It used a network that was built meticulously by the Liberal Party and staged by an operator known for his skill at conjuring smoke and mirrors for a fee. The same information was used to file an impeachment complaint.

Paint Duterte in a congressional hearing using information on a dossier put together when he was under the radar of the Commission on Human Rights and further loaded for campaign use. Reel him in so the tentacles of illegal drugs are not disclosed. Give him more rope to hang himself and the public will get mad.

Marawi City proved to all that not acting on actionable information could break a nation. Such information was made by some people in the PNP as early as 2012. Some AFP officials likewise articulated the movements of the local counterparts of IS. A Singapore think tank also wrote and addressed the matter to the Aquino government in 2015. Nothing was made of the information until Duterte came into the picture. Take note, Mamasapano took place on January 25, 2015. Mamasapano is in Maguindanao, a province in ARMM. Marawi City is part of ARMM. Sulu is where most of the kidnappers hide their victims. Sulu is also in ARMM. The terrorists who landed in Ibanga, Bohol, came from Sulu. So, what’s with ARMM? And considering so much has been poured into ARMM, it is still one of the poorest regions in the country. Is it the national government that is to blame or the local leaders? So, should martial law be limited to Marawi City only? That it is just a rebellion and not terrorism? Believing that undermines the security aspect of landlocked Mindanao.

And then when so-called responsible people start spreading false news about the health and physical well-being of PRRD, one should stop and put the pieces of the puzzle together. In the guise of freedom of speech, they hurt the presidency. In the guise of dissent, they ruin institutions. And so we ask, when is enough, enough? Why can’t we throw the book at them so they start respecting the rule of law?

They are not even the opposition. They are not even the minority. They have gold, money and connections to pulp the incumbent because they don’t like Duterte. They don’t like his guts. Duterte is not one of them. They still don’t get it. Their abhorrence for Duterte is the reason they are out of power.

To ascribe death and having the leader in a coma is wicked and sick. These are said against a leader who visited 58 dead soldiers, paying respect for their sacrifices, holding the hands of the families and going around all major and small military camps in Mindanao. Easy work, right? Back channel work is also draining and he missed the “flag and the toast’.

But those were the optics of politics. “It isn’t really what’s going on that’s important; it’s what appears to be going on. It’s not the larking about on the golf course, fist bumping your friends immediately after discussing dreadful events; it’s being seen doing it that’s the problem. To rest therefore is anathema for those who love quacking.

Breaking the nation will take time because the people have joined together to stand and fight against those wanting to remove a duly elected President. Breaking the nation will be hard because we are in a VUCA world where disruptions need to be managed and all eyes must be on the ball. Indeed, “you cannot speak on behalf of a nation when you have no mandate to do so.” Live with it.
Published in Commentaries
Monday, 19 June 2017 12:03

Solons go for ML beyond 60 days

SEVERAL lawmakers said Sunday they would back the extension of martial law beyond 60 days should the need arise.

“We will work on extending martial law in Mindanao... President Rodrigo Duterte deserves the support of Congress to finally end the Marawi crisis,” said Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu. “We believe on the Chief Executive’s determination to end the conflict, and [that] he has no tendency of abusing his authority.”

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said he understands the openness of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to extend the 60-day period of martial law in Mindanao because of the ongoing fighting in Marawi City.

“I will support any extension as long as there is still an imminent threat of terrorism, rebellion and invasion perpetrated by ISIS, Maute group and Abu Sayyaf Group,” he said.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said he does not see any problem should martial law be extended as long as it is needed.

“Who are we to refuse if the conditions warrant a prolonged martial law to save lives?” Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said.

Parañaque City Rep. Gus Tambunting said, he too, would not object to an extension if martial law remains necessary and the situation is still not under control.

“That’s for the President to declare. If he does, Congress will support him,” Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque said.

But Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza underscored the need to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the martial law situation in Marawi City.

“We will assess first the situation, it is still a month away,” he said.

The 60-day martial law declaration will lapse on July 22 after the President’s declaration on May 23.

The group of Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman has questioned the President’s martial law declaration before the Supreme Court.

The Court has ordered the consolidation of two petitions seeking to compel Congress to convene in a joint session to review President Duterte’s martial law proclamation and his suspension of the write of habeas corpus in Mindanao.

In a resolution released to the media over the weekend, the Court said it would consolidate the petitions filed by former senators Rene Saguisag and Wigberto Tañada.

The justices also ordered the Office of the Solicitor General, as counsel for respondents Senate President Aquilino L. Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez to submit its comments on the petitions within 10 days.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte issued Proclamation No. 216, on May 23 declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao. This was a result of the attack of the Maute group in Marawi City, which is still ongoing and is the subject of military operations.

On May 29, the Senate, voting 17-5, filed a resolution “not to revoke the declaration at this time” while the House of Representatives issued a resolution supporting President Duterte’s declaration on May 31.

On June 15, the Court ended three days of oral arguments on three consolidated petitions challenging the constitutionality of Duterte’s martial law proclamation.

These were filed by opposition lawmakers led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, local Mindanao leaders led by lumad leader Eufemia Campos Cullamat and a group of women from Marawi led by Norkaya Mohamad.

The high court required all parties to submit their memoranda Monday, after which the case is deemed submitted for decision before July 5.

On Sunday, the Palace said the President would declare martial law again if an attack similar to Marawi takes place.

At the same time, the President has made it clear that he would heed the decision of the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of his martial law declaration, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

But on Saturday, the President slammed critics of martial law.

“If they… tell me there is no factual basis [for martial law], then I am ready to order the military to withdraw, and we will not move,” he said, speaking before the 4th Infantry Division in Butuan City.

“These justices, judges, arguing terrorism not rebellion. What do you want? That they burn half of Mindanao before we can call it a true blue rebellion? It’s crazy. It’s rebellion,” said Duterte.
Published in News
Thursday, 15 June 2017 09:53

Keeping it simple, getting more informed

THE voter enters the precinct. Voter’s ID is checked, given a ballot, goes to the booth, votes, drops the ballot into a box, puts the indelible ink and exits the precinct. The whole process takes approximately two minutes.

An election was held on Sunday, June 4, 2017, in the Kingdom of Cambodia. It was the communal election which is held every five years. Twelve political parties were registered to participate but only two major parties were able to complete a full slate of candidates in all 1,646 communes—the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) which is the administration party, and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

I was invited to be an election observer, being one of the representatives of Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI), where I sit as deputy secretary general. For this particular mission, our delegation was headed by Agung Laksono, vice president of CAPDI and a former Speaker of the Parliament of Indonesia. Our host was the Cambodia National Election Committee (NEC).

In the previous communal election held in 2012, the CPP garnered 62 percent of the vote. During the general election held the following year, in 2013, the CPP lost ground considerably with close to 49 percent of the national vote for parliament. This communal election would then be a preview of what could happen in the next national election for parliament slated for 2018. The stakes were high.

Since the late 1990s, the CPP, under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, has controlled the government of Cambodia. They have made great strides in providing political stability and economic growth. They were rewarded for their governance again and again in elections. The situation is different now. There are younger, more informed voters and they want change. The CNRP is the political vehicle for them to express their desire for change.

The CPP has responded to this challenge by promoting young, progressive, idealistic, and well-educated members into their ranks with major party responsibilities. Whether this will be enough to stem the desire for change remains to be seen.

This being a parliamentary system party discipline and party platforms are paramount in the political debate. Since the voter was voting for a political party, candidates with a common political agenda ran under their respective parties and their underlying platforms. Political personalities were still a major factor in the debate, with Hun Sen clearly identified with the CPP and Sam Rainsy (currently in exile) and Kem Sokha with the CNRP. The voters clearly understood that a vote for CPP was a vote for Hun Sen and a vote for CNRP was a vote for the opposition led by Rainsy/Sokha. Hence, no possibility for gridlock.

While talking to voters, I noticed how well-informed they were about the issues after the 14-day campaign period. The political parties did their grassroots organizational work long before the campaign period. Their candidates were carefully selected to follow the party platform. The result was a fully informed voter with a clear idea of where he/she wanted the country to go and as to which particular political party should lead them to achieve their goal.

This election was not devoid of the usual dirty tricks that is prevalent in all elections, parliamentary or presidential, especially in a country that lost its brightest minds during the Khmer Rouge regime four decades ago. The administration was accused of using legal means to trump up charges against the opposition to weaken the latter’s chances. There were also charges of vote-buying on the eve of the election, which was hard to independently verify. Cambodia’s democratic institutions are still weak and in transition to a more open environment. But progress is definitely being made. I noticed a clear desire among the voters to settle their differences peacefully via the ballot box. They have had enough of violence. Every voter I had the opportunity to talk to had a member of their family or relative killed by the Khmer Rouge.

Each polling booth could accommodate a maximum of 700 voters. The polls opened at 7a.m. and closed at 3p.m. The manual counting started at 3:30 p.m. There were representatives of each major party at the polling area during the voting and counting process. All the voter had to do was to check the box corresponding to the political party of choice. By approximately 5:30 p. m., the counting was done on the precinct level. By 7p. m., the nationwide results were in, albeit still unofficial. Official results will be released on June 25.

The CPP got 51 percent of the popular vote while the CNRP got 46 percent. Both sides accepted the results. The CPP was the winner but with a lesser mandate. The CNRP made substantial gains. Both claimed victory. There were no reports of violence and election monitoring teams where mostly upbeat about the conduct of the elections. But the real winners were the Cambodian people. A record turnout of over 89 percent of 9.6 million registered voters participated.

As I was observing the whole electoral process, what struck me the most was how engaged the body politic was, particularly the voter, in this communal political exercise. I wonder if this could happen if their system imposed on their voter the requirement to vote for over 30 individuals and one party on the party list like what we have here.

A parliamentary system promotes party discipline and a more informed electorate.
Published in Commentaries
NEARLY everybody I have spoken to would like to know why President Rodrigo Duterte failed to show up at the 119th Independence Day rites at Rizal Park on Monday, after cancelling the traditional vin d’honneur for diplomats earlier. As many, if not more, would like to know why, aside from raising the Philippine flag in front of a shell-shocked building in Marawi, the military, backed by the US Special Forces, failed to make good its promise to “liberate” that city from the Islamic State (IS)-backed Mautes.

It is no mortal offense for the President to miss an early morning flag-raising ceremony, especially if he had been running around from a military camp in Cagayan de Oro to Villamor Air Base in Pasay City the day before; but a simple official explanation, not several conflicting ones, would have helped. It took Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to say the President was completely fogged out after an exhausting all-night schedule that had taken him from Mindanao to Manila to pay his respects to some combatants who had fallen in the siege of Marawi.

This earned more respect than the lame statement from an unnamed Malacañang official saying the President was “not feeling well.” But why did it have to come from Cayetano? This was the job of the press secretary, if there was a functioning press secretary, or the presidential spokesman if he was up to it. But all Mr. Ernesto Abella, the spokesman, could say was that the President would not be able to come to the Luneta, without giving any reason for it. It was a cop-out, amounting to a dereliction of duty.

Counting the chicks prematurely

As for the “promised” dislodging of the IS/Maute militants from their dugout on the 119th anniversary of our Independence, that was subject to a host of variables, and could not be predicted with mathematical accuracy. There was no dishonor in missing the self-imposed deadline, which most people decided not to take seriously anyway; it only reminds us not to count the chicks before the eggs are hatched. It also tells us that the Marawi situation has become far more complicated than previously thought.

DU30 says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader in Syria and Iraq, had specifically ordered the Marawi attack, and a good number of IS-trained foreign jihadists, more than previously reported, have joined the Mautes. These reportedly include at least 40 Indonesian fighters, belonging to Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), and led by the notorious terrorist Aman Abdurraham, and anywhere from six to 28 Malaysians, including Dr. Mahmud bin Ahmad, also known as Dr. HandzalahApiyah, the alleged original “brains” behind the IS faction in Southeast Asia. Mahmud is reportedly being positioned to succeed “Emir” IsnilonHapilon, the current leader of Dawlah-ul Islamiyah Wilayat al-Mashriq (the Eastern Province of the Islamic State), should he get killed in the current fighting.

Mahmud, 39, is a former lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Malaya, who had trained with the al-Qaida in Afghanistan in the 1990s, after studying at the Islamabad Islamic University in Pakistan. He is known to have recruited Malaysia’s first suicide bomber, known as Ahmad Tarmimi Malki. In 2014, he came to Basilan as part of a four-man NGO team, gave some money to a local orphanage and a madrasah, left for Malaysia and then returned to Basilan, where he trained with the Abu Sayyaf Group on terror bombings, etc. He has since been linked to at least two terror attacks on the military. One of his three companions has been killed, but he continues to operate with the other two. In November 2015, he reportedly started to form the IS faction in Southeast Asia, which is now known as Dawlah-ul Islamiyah Wilayat al-Mashriq (the Eastern Province of the IS).

The presence of foreign jihadists tends to confirm reports that the IS has decided to make the Philippines, rather than Malaysia or Indonesia, despite their much larger Muslim population, the Southeast Asian center of militant Islamism. It seems safe to assume that the IS leadership is determined to supply the Eastern province with fresh recruits coming from Malaysia, Indonesia and as far as Yemen and Sudan, should the military, supported by US Special Forces, succeed in wiping out the Mautes. However, observers are amazed that despite the large number of troops that have been poured into the operation, the government has not been able to evict the militants from their lair. After 21 days of fighting, the Mautes have not run out of ammunition or food and other provisions, either. Obviously, the supply routes have not been cut.

The Mautes could be wiped out, but—

One assessment suggests the situation could change in another two weeks, and the military could overrun the Mautes’ position, despite their well-placed snipers. The Maute brothers, who are leading their group could finally get killed (amending earlier reports of their premature deaths), Hapilon himself could get killed, and his presumed successor Dr. Mahmud himself could get killed; but even if all these things happened, the IS pool of militants may not be easily exhausted.

Fujuri Indama, Hapilon’s deputy in Basilan, could make a bid for the leadership; or the Ansar al-Kilapa Philippines in Sarangani, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat whose leader “Tokboy” was killed last year, or the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao could seek to replace the Mautes. The IS, which is far more dangerous than the Mautes, could migrate to Lanao del Norte, or to the NPA stronghold in Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte and form an alliance with the NPA. Under the direction of IS international, more fighters could come from Malaysia and Indonesia and even from Africa.

The mass media report that at least 191 Mautes have been killed, suggesting a very high kill ratio against the Mautes. Our own sources from the ground, quoting alleged figures from the Operation Center, claim that 138 Mautes have been killed, as against 58 government troops, three policemen and 21 civilians. The same sources claim 91 government troops wounded, four policemen, and 124 civilians, and an unknown figure for the Mautes. Whether we are talking of killed or wounded, the risk is high that some civilian casualties may be mistaken for Mautes.

Many support, but only the US involved

China and some other countries have expressed support for the anti-IS operation, but so far only the United States has decided to get involved. The US presence is a source of encouragement to many Filipinos, and a source of distress to some others. It has raised hopes that the DU30 government would have an extra arm, like Russia and the US in the case of Syria, in its fight against the Islamist militants. On the other hand, it has also raised fears that as in Syria, it could give a foreign power an excuse to get involved in its internal politics. Both Russia and the US are helping Syria fight the IS, but the US would like to see President Bashar al-Assad out while Russia says the Syrian people alone should decide whether or not Assad should remain their president.

The US presence, according to some street protesters, has unduly “internationalized” the conflict, as though it were, in fact, a purely domestic conflict. In reality, it is a global and civilizational conflict: what the IS wants to impose on Western civilization is a World Islamist Government, against which Russian President Vladimir Putin, for one, has correctly proposed a coalition of all governments, working as one under international law to reject and evict the extremist menace.

Unfortunately, DU30 is now caught in his own rhetoric. He has threatened to “separate” his government militarily and economically from the US, and align it with China and Russia “against the world.” Since last October, when he announced this position during a state visit to China, he has initiated some loans and military purchases from Beijing and Moscow, but he has done nothing to disturb the Philippines’ security and defense agreements with the US.

These include the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty, which provides that an armed attack against either party within the treaty area would constitute a direct and immediate danger to the security of the other, and would be promptly responded to by that party, according to its constitutional processes; the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows US forces to make short-term visits to the Philippines to conduct joint military exercises, among others; and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the US to station its forces, equipment and facilities inside Philippine military bases.

With the Marawi crisis prompting DU30 to proclaim martial law and suspend the privilege of habeas corpus all over Mindanao while he was visiting Moscow on May 23, 2017, the military was compelled to call on the US for help and the latter responded by sending in its Special Forces. DU30 has tried to dissociate himself from this episode, by trying to make it appear that he had nothing to do with the request to the US. This of course is plain nonsense. Having declared martial law, despite the constitutional questions that have been raised against it before the Supreme Court, he has put the whole of Mindanao under his military control, and no foreign military personnel could possibly participate in the anti-IS campaign there without his consent.

Nation’s survival, not DU30’s wounded pride

But the real problem confronting DU30 and the rest of us has nothing to do with his wounded pride. The survival of our predominantly Catholic Christian nation with its mainstream Muslim minority, in the face of this global Islamist menace, takes precedence over all political agendas. If DU30 believes martial law is the solution, he must comply with the Constitution to make it a completely valid and legitimate constitutional exercise, whose only purpose is to defeat the IS, rather than to give him unaccountable and illegitimate power.

Since we cannot win this battle alone, we must try to win the support of all. In Mindanao, we should mobilize the various Moro groups in order to solidify and strengthen the mainstream Islamic community which alone can provide the antidote to extremism. Within Southeast Asia, we should try to win Indonesia and Malaysia to our side and organize our own regional coalition against this global challenge. In all this, DU30 must try to lead by following the rule of law and the Constitution, instead of trying to outsmart the legal order and everybody else.
Published in Commentaries
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 10:28


THERE are days when being a Filipino is oftentimes a hard act to do. Particularly on days when you want to be a law-abiding citizen and you see some undisciplined lout throw trash just anywhere, or enter a one-way street, or try to get one over another, to get ahead, to be first. But take a Filipino out of the country and just like that, he will assimilate and behave accordingly, you’d think that discipline was part of his DNA.

Put that Filipino in public office and you see a different person altogether. In a clip of three years, you see him/her developing certain habits that see public office as personal property. The rent-seeking is excessive, and they continue with such behavior without remorse even when we already had the PDAF/DAP chapter in our character-building moment. Today, you see or hear some saying, “it is our money” and “we worked hard for it.” That is the sad tale of pork politics, despite a Duterte winning the presidency. Can you consider them patriots?

Consider a vehicle availing of valet parking on a Sunday with a plate saying “Office of Presidential Protocol” in front, and the back plate having the seal of the Republic in some contraption of power. Mind you, this vehicle really went for overkill with a sticker of the PSG. Is he a patriot?

How about newly appointed officials trying to make a fast one since their heyday may soon be over due to “health reasons or ouster,” are they patriots? Is corruption a character-defining event in public service that very few come out clean?

A patriot is “a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.” A patriot is a “person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights, against presumed interference by the government.” A patriot is a nationalist, clear as day. But is a nationalist a patriot?

Can a patriot be for country and rue about martial rule? If one incites people to disobey the duly constituted government, are you a patriot? Can one be a patriot while destroying one’s country through coups, rebellion, terrorism and such crimes as defined under Republic Act 9372, or the Human Security Act of 2007, and the Revised Penal Code? Can journalists be patriotic even as they churn out false news or alternative truths? Or as they release a classified document to foreign media? Or act as a stringer and spin news in support of a certain goal? Are elected representatives of the people patriotic as they continue to plan the ouster of a duly elected President? Or when a cordon has been formed to run the day-to-day affairs of government because the elected leader chooses when he wants to govern? Or when individuals, learning the art and science of insidious propaganda for the past six years, using black and gray varieties, would today use ALT tactics with critical agencies and start issuing irresponsible contrasts just to paint a negative scenario against the incumbent, invoking free speech and democracy’s mantle as a cover for their manipulation?

Are people who allow the growth of terrorist cells in the country patriots? Take the case of Marawi City, which would not have been in such a bad state today if the terrorist cells had not been allowed to take root. Foxholes, heavy armaments, millions of cash and the like are combustible combinations that were allowed to develop, unlike in Inabanga, Bohol, where the community waved the red flag upon seeing motor boats landing in their area and decisively coordinated with their barangay and local police to dampen an explosive crisis. As it was close to Holy Week in Bohol then, in Marawi it was right smack in the middle of Ramadan. Would a patriot be religiously tolerant?

Since PRRD assumed the presidency, nationalism has become felt more. As others taunt Digong as being a “genius and great strategist” in the light of the recent New York Times and Forbes hammering our President very unfairly, we sometimes wonder if the framing done locally was induced by employment and tinted prisms, meant to project just one view. Nationalism in the Age of Digong is most welcome but nurturing and securing it will take a full term.

Nationalism is “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially, a sense of national consciousness, exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.” The Filipino consciousness is there but it will take more years for it to be the thread that binds the nation. This, despite 16 million voting for, standing by and defending Digong. They continue to stay engaged. A rarity in Philippine politics.

And then there are the 58 soldiers who died serving the flag, all patriots. They died because of country and duty. They died because they loved the country. How many of us are willing to do so for a chance to be a patriot? Talk is cheap, lives are not. Think about it.
Published in Commentaries
Tuesday, 13 June 2017 10:21

Duterte to US: Thank you

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday thanked the United States for providing technical assistance in the government’s battle against Islamist terrorists in Mindanao, after more than a year of cursing at Washington for criticizing his bloody campaign against illegal drugs.

While insisting he did not seek US help to end the siege in Marawi City, Duterte on Sunday softened his critical stance toward the country’s longstanding ally.

“My quarrel was not with the Americans, but that son-of-a-bitch [President Barrack] Obama,” Duterte said. “My quarrel was with the State Department and Obama who were reprimanding me in public as if I were a federal employee.”

Unlike Obama, President Donald Trump has been very supportive of his anti-illegal drug campaign, Duterte said.

Duterte thanked the American forces on the ground providing assistance to Filipino troops, albeit reluctantly.

“I have to be thankful. It’s already there,” he said.

Duterte said he can’t do anything about the pro-American sentiments of the military, many of whom were educated in US schools.

“This is really their sentiment, our soldiers are really pro-American, that I cannot deny,” the President said.

“Almost all officers will go to America to study... That’s why they have rapport and I cannot deny that,” he added.

Since Saturday, American Special Forces have provided help in aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance and training.

The military confirmed that while US forces were providing technical assistance, they did not join in the fighting.

Duterte, who came to power a year ago, has taken a very hostile stance towards Washington and vowed to abrogate various agreements signed between the two countries, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and announced Manila’s “separation” from Washington and shift towards Beijing and Moscow—all because of their criticism of his anti-drug campaign.

Washington’s envoy to Manila, Sung Kim said the US will continue to provide support to the military in the battle against extremists, but declined to say what kind of help his government was providing.

“I don’t think it is appropriate [to reveal] technical details of what we are providing,” he said when asked if US troops have been deployed to Marawi.

US Secretary of state Rex Tillerson said that his country “proudly stands” with the Philippines in its fight against terrorism in Marawi City, Mindanao.

In a statement, Tillerson said that the American government admired the resilience and strength of Filipino people in times of conflict.

“The United States proudly stands with the Philippines as a longstanding ally, especially as the country confronts challenges associated with terrorism and extremism, including recent attacks in Marawi City and elsewhere,” Tillerson said.

“We admire the resilience and strength of Filipino people in battling adversity and building a more prosperous and secure future,” he added.

The United States’ statement came days after its embassy confirmed that the US forces arrived in the Marawi to crush the Maute Group, through the Philippine government’s request.

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, 1st Infantry Battalion spokesman, said the assistance of the US was limited to technical support.

Tillerson said the American government will honor the 50-year US-Philippine alliance.

“On this special day, we honor the enduring US-Philippine alliance, built on our shared democratic values, growing commerce, and strong people-to-people ties,” he said.

“On behalf of President Trump and the American people, congratulations and best wishes to the people of the Republic of the Philippines as you commemorate your 119th Independence Day on June 12,” he added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday the help of the US troops in the Marawi siege was vital to providing troops with information about precise movements on the ground.

“What General [Carlito] Galves did was, he brought three people with equipment that can help with the surveillance of the movements of the enemy not only in Marawi but the entire Lanao Del Sur,” Lorenzana said.

The Defense chief added that the central bank and the Finance department were already tracing the source of the P72.9 million in cash and checks found in a Maute house in Marawi City.

The military’s engineering brigade, he also said, was on standby to help residents of the city rebuild their houses and government facilities.

He said he has already recommended a draft executive order to rehabilitate Marawi City at an initial cost of P10 billion.

Leftist groups on Monday criticized the involvement of American troops in the Marawi City siege.

The peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said the United States had a long history of instigating proxy wars.

“Wherever there is US involvement and presence of US troops, there is war and destruction, the group said in a statement.

The Gabriela Women’s Party also denounced the involvement of US troops, saying this showed the continued subservience to foreign interests.

“A country that gave rise to terrorists and launched wars in many parts of the globe should have no business in crushing terrorists and in supposedly restoring peace in Marawi City. US troops must be immediately kicked out,” Gabriela Party-List Rep. Emmi De Jesus said.

Earlier, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also questioned the presence of US troops in Marawi City.

“The question is did the US troops know beforehand that there would be a Maute/ISIS attack but allowed it to happen as payback for President Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric?” Zarate said.

“Are they now just offering their support because it is almost over and they want to again have a pretext for an anti-terror campaign in the Philippines?” Zarate said. “We must always be wary of US support.” With Sara Susanne D. Fabunan, Sandy Araneta and Maricel Cruz
Published in News
Friday, 09 June 2017 10:51

The (martial) art of peace

“NEVER again” was what most Filipinos who are old enough to remember Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos would have replied if you asked them about the chances of martial law being declared ever again. Now it has happened. The problem is that the term martial law has always been used as a synonym, a euphemism to refer to the Marcos dictatorship. And make no mistake, it was a dictatorship. The fact that the younger generation seems to know little about it and some of the older generation still refer to Ferdinand Marcos as the best President the country has ever had is a problem of what the Germans call Vergangenheitsbewältigung, that is, properly dealing with the past. The German lexicon defines Vergangenheitsbewältigung as “public debate within a country on a problematic period of its recent history”. Sadly, Vergangenheitsbewältigung has never happened here. This is why people get confused about the term martial law. Is it the beginning of a new dictatorship? Is it just a legal instrument, a toothless tiger?

This time, martial law is different. The authors of the 1987 Constitution decided to have built-in safeguards, still providing for martial law per se, but restraining its powers decisively. What’s different now from the martial law of Ferdinand Marcos? First of all, martial law can be revoked by Congress. Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution states that the President may “in case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it” suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the country under martial law. Also, the martial law period or suspension of the writ of habeas corpus shall not exceed 60 days. This is meant to safeguard individual freedom against arbitrary state action. Under a state of martial law the executive branch cannot override the function of the judiciary and legislative branches of the government.

In the light of martial law returning to the Philippines (or at least to a significant part of the national territory), how and why is it supposed to help the country? The declaration of martial law for Mindanao was an immediate response of President Duterte after the outbreak of violence in Marawi City. After years of downplaying the nature of armed groups–and this refers explicitly to the groups that actively oppose peace in Mindanao—it has become evident that this is not only about rebellion or separatism. Terrorism has found its way across the borders. And yes, this terrorism and the groups involved in it do not only idolize the so-called Islamic State (IS), these groups consider themselves a franchise of it. Even though the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group have repeatedly pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State, authorities and analysts have labeled them as mere bandits for the longest time. In fairness to those not granting those groups the status of extremist terrorists, the activities of the Abu Sayyaf have been characterized by kidnap-for-ransom acts rather than terrorist attacks for years. But terrorism knows no borders in a globalized world. Therefore, Abu Sayyaf and Maute constitute attractive targets for mergers and acquisitions in the eyes of bigger, more dangerous groups like Jemaah Islamiyah, or even the Islamic State. So, is the Maute Group that is behind the siege of Marawi City now truly a part of the Islamic State or just a violent group of bandits? The truth is probably somewhere in between. But the ongoing siege shows that they have capacities that go beyond those of bandits. And the siege itself shows that the Maute Group is following textbook IS procedures. With the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the President has made it clear that the threat we are facing is not just a group of bandits.

The current revelations appear critical considering its possible implications on the peace process in Muslim Mindanao. The history of this process has shown major groups committing themselves to peace and autonomy while radical breakaway groups continue the path of violence. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front are willing to work together with the government to achieve lasting peace and self-determination for the Muslims of Mindanao. The actions of radical groups like the Abu Sayyaf or Maute are what political scientists call spoilers to the peace process. The people of Mindanao have suffered enormously for decades in their pursuit of self-determination. Whether it will be federalism or a truly autonomous region, the goal is still within reach. But it needs continuing efforts from all sides, the national government, the major groups in Mindanao and civil society, to keep this goal alive. All sides have to accept and realize that the fight against spoilers of peace cannot be a military action only. Whether extremist groups can be defeated in one week or in one decade, the most important task for government and civil society is to invest in preventing violent extremism which will destroy the breeding ground for radicalism. Both Christianity and Islam are religions that are based on the core value of human dignity. A paramount prerequisite for a dignified life is peace. With peace within reach, Muslim Mindanao can start prospering into a region that provides the people with the economic means for a dignified life also. Only if this path to development remains open, will the young and marginalized see that violence and extremism are not a choice.
Published in Commentaries
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